WHAT: If you have ordered something from my Etsy store recently, or if you get a Christmas card from me, you will find inside one or both of the following invitations for #12daysoftomsbeard.
These tags are intended for drawing on or decorating, then sending back to me, so that I can hang them on Tom’s beard each day from December 25 to January 6. During that time I will take a crazy picture of the results to put on social media for people to find when they search for the hashtag #12daysoftomsbeard. Last year Tom and I experimented with different lighting effects, backgrounds and filters to come up with something unusual each day. Last year I tried to group the beard art items, background and filters by color because bright colors usually go far toward cheering and inspiring me.
Here are some examples of tags I decorated last year, a couple that people sent in to me, and a few images that resulted.
WHY: We mostly like to do this because it’s a lot of fun, and it makes us laugh! You should have seen my MIL’s reaction when she saw the orange picture of Tom! “What have you done to my son!!!” We could do this without any participation from others, but we appreciate it whenever anyone wants to join in. It’s an extra creative challenge to use something someone else sent in, and it’s a way to connect with people who are sometimes separated by distance or who I don’t even know in “real life”.
Why do people paint rocks and leave them for others to find? Why do Jeep owners put rubber ducks on random other Jeeps? Why did I put a banana peel on my head earlier this year and have my picture taken with it on? Why did people in Toronto make a memorial display for a dead raccoon and share it on social media? Group activities and performance art projects are a satisfying activity for some reason, for quite a few people. I will probably write more later about the psychological reasons why that is the case.
Earlier this year I started a SWOT analysis of #12daysoftomsbeard to try to use some of what I learned in marketing class to try to increase participation this year. I didn’t finish the analysis yet, but I will keep adding onto it in the future as I finish sections. Here it is if you want to read what I have written so far – SWOT Analysis of #12daysoftomsbeard.
HOW – One idea I want to try for increasing participation is to provide some more specific instructions. The wording on the invitations reads: “To play, color, glue, punch, stamp or otherwise decorate this tag.” For some people, that will be enough guidance, others might feel comfortable with something more specific.
I am going to suggest techniques to try, and post examples here on this page. Watch this space as I add them! Since I like to use mixed media a lot, it will be a challenge for me to use just one technique at a time, so maybe I’ll try that. Enjoy!
?????????? – What other techniques could be used?
Here is a link to a slideshow of images from the web page of IUOMA – The International Union of Mail Artists. I’ve been uploading the beard pictures to this gallery as I go. Intermixed are images that other people are uploading of conceptual art that they are both sending and receiving. This slide show changes daily as new images get added and older ones drop off. It might give you some ideas! Sometimes I put this slideshow on the screen while I’m working for extra inspiration!
A SWOT Analysis is a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat Analysis. Here I am using an outline partly based on an unpublished paper I wrote for Marketing 5000 class last spring to create a SWOT analysis for the #12daysoftomsbeard project. My unpublished paper, titled “(Name of Fantasy Company) Marketing Plan” was based on an assignment and outline given to us by Webster University professor Dr. John Jinkner.
I’m going to publish a small portion at a time, because it will take some time to write. I hope you enjoy it!
I. Executive Summary
#12daysoftomsbeard is a conceptual art project engaged in by Carolyn (Me) and Tom Winkelmann as part of our annual Christmas tradition. This is a young tradition for us, having been recently practiced for only the second year in a row.
The activity was inspired by several things. I have a long history of engaging in conceptual art through Mail Art, the ‘zine scene, and various art experiments involving photography, handmade books, ephemeral art installations, Pop Art, Dadaism, and more. There are two definitions of conceptual art in an interesting article I found, “If You Don’t Understand Conceptual Art, It’s Not Your Fault”. One definition, the one I gave to my husband off the top of my head while I explained why I wanted to take pictures of him with things in his beard, is that conceptual art is a form of art where the idea is the art and the tangible object created is not considered important. The other definition in the article is that conceptual art is a set of plans or strategies (Kaplan).
Tom has been letting his beard grow more often and is frequently teased about his beard by his family. Last year I decided it would be fun to turn the teasing into humor and art so I showed up at Christmas Day celebrations with colorful paper circles and squares with a few collage elements on them and writing implements for family members to color and draw on to put in Tom’s beard to take pictures of. The idea for hanging paper or art items from a beard is not original with me, there are people who use their beards as mini art galleries and vehicles for Christmas decorations.
I invited family members, many who I know like to paint and color, to use pens and markers to add to the paper pieces, which I then clipped to Tom’s beard with mini clothespins. Then I took photos for Instagram and posted one each day for 12 days, with the hashtag #12daysoftomsbeard. The idea for hanging paper or art items from a beard is not original with me, there are people who use their beards as mini art galleries and vehicles for Christmas decorations.
Since I like to art journal as a creative development and self-care activity, when I was done taking pictures of the paper pieces in Tom’s beard, I mounted them on art journal pages, some of which I planned to exhibit in the then upcoming art show, Back To Our Roots which opened in February 2020 at the historic Arcade building in downtown St. Louis.
II. Environmental Analysis
There were several parts to the #12daysoftomsbeard project as executed in the 2020-21 holiday season. Since I was anticipating only distance Christmas activities due to the pandemic, I decided to send out tags and invite people to alter them and send them back to take picture of in Tom’s beard.
1. I made a black and white version of collages that Tom and I made together to use in our Christmas cards, then had copies printed out on white cardstock. I traced shapes from Christmas cookie cutters onto the back of the cardstock and cut out shaped tags. I made stickers for the backs of the tags that explained the project and featured a QR code so that people could easily check the results of the #12daysoftomsbeard Instagram feed with smartphones if they wanted to.
2. I put tags in most of the Christmas cards we sent out. I also included in many of cards some scrap paper pieces and examples of faux postage that Tom and I made to use in Christmas artwork, for people who might want to join in but don’t have a ready supply of art materials around. Some of the paper scraps were examples of Christmas faux postage that I’ve made on my own and with my husband so if people didn’t end up using them in the project they might want them for some other craft or just something to look at as part of a Christmas greeting. For a few of the people that we hand-delivered cards and gifts to, we punched a hole at the top of a tag, attached a loop of cord for hanging, and put one on their doorknob.
3. I made a graphic to use as a social media header that included the QR code and images from last year’s beard series to raise anticipation and awareness. I also wanted to cheer people up with some bright colors since I knew a lot of people who were feeling sadness over separation from loved ones and the loss of loved ones during the holidays. I know from personal experience that the holidays and winter are often difficult for many people even in more typical years depending on their current situation in life.
4. To help people get started sooner if they were eager, since we weren’t as early as I would have liked getting our cards mailed, I made graphic that people could download and print out that had tag templates on it, instructions and the QR code.
I posted the template graphic in social media for download, and mailed and emailed a few copies to people I thought might be particularly interested.
5. In keeping with the theme of bright rainbow colors I had started, I prepared 12 little collages made from colorful upcycled hardware store paint sample cards so that I would have something to put in Tom’s beard if no one sent me any art pieces to use. On some days I made extra items to fit the color theme of the day and also incorporated found objects if I was inspired. For example, those two guys in the right picture above were cut out from a piece of junk mail. Some of the paper pieces there were parts from older Christmas card designs.
6. When taking the pictures, I had a lot of fun experimenting with different eyeglasses on Tom and taping things to the lenses of my clear protective goggles to make crazy compositions. I installed some new photo filters on my smartphone to make the pictures even more fun and colorful before I posted them to Instagram.
7. Tom and I were feeling lonely over the holidays and thought that since we were staying home, it might be fun to have a New Year’s Eve themed #virtualartparty, an ongoing series of online meetings I started when the pandemic began, with the purpose of cheering people up who were missing out on their usual social activities.
We ended up cancelling the New Year’s Eve edition of #virtualartpary because our cat Griffin was terribly ill that day and we were sure we were going to lose her. Griffin has been with my husband for 21 years and Tom needed my support and attention so he could be with Griffin, and I thought we were going to be dealing with grief on New Year’s Eve and not in the mood for a party. But to our grateful surprise, Griffin recovered and is doing very well now. At her age we know she won’t be around that much longer, but we aren’t eager to lose her any earlier than we have to.
I had been planning to talk about #12daysoftomsbeard on December 31 as part of the #virtualartparty, the timing made sense since I was taking a daily photo from December 25 through January 6. I made some sequential social media header graphics with colorful beard pictures and the hash tag #virtualartparty to help build interest. I didn’t have time to make a header graphic for each of the 12 days, but maybe next year I should.
A. The Marketing Environment
Even though #12daysoftomsbeard is not a commercial activity, we do need to market the project in order to persuade people to participate.
1. Competitive forces. Other sources of entertainment, amusement or hobby activities are the main competition for the attention and time that potential participants might allow for just understanding what our #12daysoftomsbeard project is, much less time to participate. With the amount of time that people spend in front of a screen or with a smart device in their hand, it is difficult to get anyone’s attention away from anything that isn’t corporate in origin. As Dr. Jim Taylor lamented in an article for Psychology Today, the nations of the former Soviet Union, Italy, Spain, Germany and nations conquered by the NAZIs, Cuba and North Korea have experienced decades of suffering because aspects of their authentic culture were abusively removed and replaced with a synthesized totalitarian culture (Taylor, “Popular Culture: We…”). I would add China and the United States to that list also. Dr. Taylor’s article reminds us why there are so many organizations throughout the world dedicated to cultural heritage and cultural preservation. I quote Dr. Taylor in this excerpt:
“As individuals, a genuine popular culture instills a sense of ownership and empowerment in our society because each of us knows that we contribute to that culture. We are more likely to act in our society’s best interests because we know that those best interests are also our own. An authentic popular culture also gives us a sense of shared identity, meaning, and purpose that transcends differences in geography, race, ethnicity, religion, or politics. All of these then encourage us to lead a life in accordance with our culture’s values and norms because they are our own (Taylor, ‘Popular Culture: We…’)”
In other words, if we throw away our authentic culture for synthesized corporate culture we should not have to wonder why so many of our citizens have been programmed to serve the interests of large corporations so thoroughly that they are literally waging war on their behalf with people that they formerly were able to co-exist with. Many people trust screens far more than they trust friends, neighbors and even family members that they have known for decades. The manner in which many people experience the world is corporate-based with life beyond a screen regarded as if it is fiction. They allow corporations to tell them what the world outside is like instead of going out and finding out for themselves. People are told that their own judgement is not to be trusted and they need corporate “fact-checkers” to tell them what is ok to read or hear about. I overheard art teachers as far back as the 1980s trying to urge some of my fellow art students to use their own authentic experiences and senses of self to create art instead of just drawing corporate cartoon characters and corporate based entertainment characters and content. I know so many people, who if you removed corporate consumer culture from the topics they could talk or think about, there would be almost nothing there. Teaching art or trying to market an art activity without corporate branding attached to it is inherently very difficult. We know that children can’t distinguish advertising from entertainment, that is widely acknowledged, but I don’t know many people who admit that a lot of adults can’t either. Most people I know aren’t aware that when they are entertained they are actually being marketed to and they are not the customer for the entertainment – the advertisers are the actual customer.
The #12daysoftomsbeard project is not completely devoid of corporate content because it includes found objects and some clothing with logos. However, by basing it on the universal human experience of personal grooming and running it from December 25 to the Feast of the Epiphany (the day we Catholics observe it, my understanding is it varies depending on tradition), I intended to bring attention to authentic human and authentic Christian culture and away from the corporate way of celebrating Christmas for just a little while, just to give Tom and I and others a break and a reason to look at each other while really seeing and interacting each other. What would my slightly weird Christmas cards look like next to other cards designed by corporations? What do people think when they see the resulting pictures? What did they think about while making an art piece to send back?
Kaplan, Isaac. “f You Don’t Understand Conceptual Art, It’s Not Your Fault.” Artsy, 2016, www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-if-you-don-t-understand-conceptual-art-it-s-not-your-fault. Accessed 22 January 2021.
Mitchell, Grant. “Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat (SWOT) Analysis.” Dotdash, 2020, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/swot.asp. Accessed 15 January 2020.
Taylor, Dr. Jim. “Popular Culture: Too Much Time On Our Hands.” Psychology Today, 2009, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/200909/popular-culture-too-much-time-our-hands. Accessed 15 December 2020.
—. “Popular Culture: We Are What We Consume.” Psychology Today, 2009, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-power-prime/200912/popular-culture-we-are-what-we-consume. Accessed 15 December 2020.
This year I made two Christmas card designs. This first version started out as a mixed media art journal page. I scanned it and used Photoshop to add background shapes, manipulate colors and to add details. I started it two years ago, and got it out again last year, but I just didn’t get it to where I wanted it until the third try. I added in some of the faux postage designs Tom and I made a few weeks ago and that was finally the finishing touch it needed!
As often happens, while scanning in and manipulating the faux postage designs to use as accents, I got another idea and was in the mood for some brighter colors so I made another card design. I had both cards printed and sent one design to half the Christmas card list and the other to the remainder.
Besides the digital manipulation, the art and craft media and techniques that went into this card design consist of the following: rubber stamps, hole punches, collage, stickers, design tape (washi tape), and image transfers.
The picture on the left shows how a lot of our Christmas cards went out. We each made two sheets of faux postage. Tom didn’t care about having color copies made of his or displaying them as full sheets, so I scanned his two faux postage sheets to make black and white versions for coloring. Last year we were able to invite family members to help color in and draw on paper items for Tom’s beard in person but this year we are not doing gatherings in person so we are encouraging people to mail things in for Tom’s beard. We made the black and white shaped tags to give people something to color on in case they are stuck for an idea.
For those who got a little envelope of paper bits, those are for designing and collaging with if you choose, or you can just enjoy them in different paper projects if you have any. I made a Pinterest board on which I collect ideas for things to make with scraps. Scraps and paper ephemera are endlessly inspiring to me.
Tom is a good sport and is having fun thinking of places to take the photos each day and also helping pick out filters. I downloaded a couple of new phone apps that have some crazy filters in them and I’m enjoying using them to help make an art statement.
Here are the results for Day 1. I added a hint of a grunge frame, the hashtag in text and a border in Photoshop after sharing it on a couple of social media sites first. As I get used to how the sharing process works with the new filter apps I’m trying out, this part should run more smoothly.
#12dayoftomsbeard lasts until January 6, so there is still plenty of time if you want to send something in! Some people probably don’t even have their greeting cards yet since I was a bit late getting them out due to school. I’m used to having to throw together holiday themed promotions at the last minute because often when working for a company or clients we would not have much time available to plan so we’d have to wait until client work slowed down right before Christmas to even start. It was and is frustrating to have to hurry through the planning and execution because we could have been so much more effective with more strategy and care. It was good practice for doing things fast though – I had to work fast once again this year because I’m in graduate school and there is very little time between the end of class and Christmas to work with. I don’t have much time to make gifts so a little fun activity and putting some extra work into the cards is the best I can do. I’m having fun with it – I hope other people do too!
Here is one of our new Christmas traditions. For the second year in a row, here is #12daysoftomsbeard! Last year we distributed tags to family members on Christmas day to color on and decorate. We invited them to look for #12daysoftomsbeard on Instagram from December 25 to January 6. This year since we may not see family members in person on Christmas, I’m using the mail to try to get decorated tags to put on Tom’s beard. You are invited to decorate a tag from the image below and send it to us in the mail. Click the image to download a PDF to print out. Enjoy!
Tom and I are spending part of this weekend planning our Christmas crafts, card list, and gift list. 2020 will be our third Christmas as a married couple! It’s always been part of my tradition to participate in as many Christmas crafts as possible. Since we are Roman Catholic, Christmas lasts a long time – over a month. Both for cultural and religious reasons, the Christmas season for us is from the day after Thanksgiving to January 6. Activities all through this time period are how I celebrate Christmas, I don’t just celebrate it for one day. Integrating crafts and creative pursuits as much as possible is one way I show gratitude to God for the gift of being able to share creativity with other people, whether through a handmade gift, a piece of mail or a social media post. There is probably going to be more inspirational holiday sharing online this year than ever before and I’m going to try to do my part!
I’m noticing that Tom and I are developing our own set of Christmas traditions, incorporating some things transferred or revived from our families of origin, combined with activities that are unique to us as a couple. In no particular order we participate in:
1. St. Nicholas Day – we used to celebrate this when I was young, and since it is very special to me we have brought it back.
4. Reverse Advent calendar food pantry donation – we did this last year and found it worthwhile so are going to do it again this year. It is a great way to remember to be grateful, keeping in mind what other people might really need instead of just what we want.
Today I’m going to focus on this year’s Christmas Faux Postage. It’s going to play a part in this year’s card design and possibly other craft projects too so I’m working on the faux postage first. As I did last year, I printed out two each of templates for making faux postage that I made available online, and Tom and I each started building compositions on two sheets. Here are two articles I wrote last year showing how I made designs with the two templates, including links for downloading the templates.
This year to start off our stamp sheets, Tom and I sat down with the printed templates, stickers, red, green and white image transfers that I made last year, collage papers and various markers and pens.
I’m in the process of finishing up those stamp sheets by treating them in a similar manner as the ones in the two tutorials linked to above, Low-Tech Faux Postage parts 1 and 2. I have stamped out some tiny words such as “US Postage” on strips of scrap paper and am gluing them down where there is room on the stamps designs. I’m making borders with mixed media. I’ll add some postmark stamps to the sheets and use stamps and perhaps stencils to add a little fine texture here and there where I think it’s needed. When the stamp sheets are done, I’ll get color copies made and cut up the copies into individual stamps to use on all kinds of Christmas paper crafts.
Back in 2019, I made a couple of square mini accordion books, 2″ x 2″ in size when folded up. While sending out my 2020 Christmas cards, I finally made envelopes for holding four of them and I sent them out to a few people in my Mail Art network. Here is an article I wrote about how I made that batch of little books – Made From Scraps: Mini Accordion Books.
In the spring of 2020, shortly after the pandemic started, my husband Tom and I started hosting a #virtualartparty online for several weeks in a row to help ourselves and people we know cope with loneliness and anxiety. During the second session, I demonstrated how to make these little accordion books since they can be made from scraps and supplies many people already have around the house. At the end of this article is the archived video of that accordion book session. I started two books that afternoon, which I finally finished recently.
The image below shows the first book, titled “The Wonder of Life”. The top two images are of each side semi-folded. Below that are some close-ups of different sections of the book. To make these mixed media collage compositions, I combined found paper scraps, rubber stamping, design tape, stencils, marker drawing, and image transfers made from clear packing tape. Here is an article I wrote about how to make the image transfers – Art Journaling With Stencils and Image Transfers.
The next image below shows several examples of image transfers I was making next to sections of the stretched out accordion books that I was trying to coordinate with. I knew I would not know exactly how the semi-translucent transfers would look when they were laid over the underlying paper collage, but to make sure they were at least somewhat harmonious I looked for images for my transfers that reflected the colors and shapes of images I used in my first layer.
I made a template for an envelope to fit the books or any thin 2″ x 2″ object for people to download and use to make an envelope for their book if they so wished.
I used the above template to trace two envelopes onto cardstock. I cut the envelopes out and made folds where the dotted lines are in the template so that the envelopes would be thick enough for the little books. With a circle punch I cut little circles to use for making a string closure. I made extras knowing I was going to put transfers on these circles – I wanted to be able to choose from several to get ones that looked good with the finished envelopes.
My next step was to paint the fronts and backs of each envelope with clear acrylic medium, letting the medium dry before I flipped them over to coat the other side. This step was for three purposes – to increase durability, to reduce wrinkling when I later applied layers of transfers and paper, and to make the paper more receptive to the slick tape transfers. When all was dry, I applied transfers to the outsides of the envelopes using clear medium as the glue and burnished them well to remove any air bubbles. After they were dry I trimmed the transfers to the edges of the envelopes.
For the insides of the envelopes, I used the acrylic medium to laminate a pieces of paper with a matte finish to the insides of the envelopes. I wanted a matte finish for the insides instead of a shiny finish so that the envelopes would not stick to the books when stored.
The final steps in finishing the book covers were to attach the small cutout discs I made earlier with small brads, and wind embroidery thread around the discs to make a string closure.
2. With some light colored markers or colored pencils, color around the outside edge of the faux stamp sheet and inside some of the open areas inside the stamps.
3. If you own any rubber stamps with postal type words or sayings on them, get them out and stamp them on some white or light colored paper to make parts to collage onto your stamp designs.
4. Tear or cut the words out and glue one onto each rectangle.
5. Take some border stamps and stamp them in black ink around the composition to make a border. I used some fairly bold stamps because the black rectangles in the original printout are pretty bold and dark so a strong border will help balance the whole composition.
6. Add some color with other rubber stamps from your collection. I’m currently working on Christmas cards and party invitations so I used some rubber stamps that would fit into use on those kinds of items – either on the actual card or on the envelope.
7. When I make a stamp sheet like this that is designed to be viewed as a whole composition as well as single stamps, I take the original and get color copies made of it. Then I cut out individual stamps from the color copies to use on other projects and keep the original to display intact.
Faux postage is a really fun mixed media project to make because it’s relatively non-threatening to create tiny works of art in a format that everyone is familiar with. There are lots of craft products you can buy that make it easier to make artwork that looks like postage stamps. A long time ago I designed some rubber stamps for this purpose and some of them are currently for sale in my Etsy shop. You can make this project with any other small stamps that you own also and a selection of paper crafting supplies. Enjoy!
1. Download and print out the two-page PDF file Low Tech Faux Postage. You’ll use the first page for Part 1.
2. Cut out some paper rectangles that are 1 3/4 inches tall and 1 3/8 inches wide from dark paper. You will need at least 16 rectangles.
3. Trim the edges with a paper edging scissors and arrange on your Low Tech Faux Postage sheet Page 1. You can think of your sheet as one composition made up of 16 tiny compositions if that helps you to get ideas. Glue down your trimmed paper rectangles.
4. Use a 1″ square paper punch and start by punching out one square for each rectangle from a selection of random scrap papers. Arrange until you are satisfied. If you have similar sized paper punches in other shapes such as circles, feel free to try them out. As you look through your scrap papers, you might get inspired to cut out other shapes. If you are moved to do so, go ahead and cut out whatever you like and glue down on your sheet without worrying about whether or not you’re “inside the lines”.
5. Take some tiny rubber stamps with words, phrases, numbers or symbols that have to do with philatelic stuff like stamps or cancellations. Stamp them in permanent black ink on light colored pieces of scrap paper. When the ink is dry enough to handle, cut or tear out what you have stamped.
6. Glue the torn or cut pieces to the collage work you’ve already done to help make each rectangle suggest a postal stamp design.
7. Continue to add embellishments to your stamps until you think they look finished. Here are some suggestions for what you can add:
More cut collage papers, found or commercial
Drawing – paint and gel markers are interesting choices to experiment with because you can write with them on slick surfaces and sometimes dark backgrounds as well
Stenciling Image transfers
8. When your stamp sheet is done, you can frame the whole thing to display it, cut apart your stamps to make tiny artworks, make color copies then cut apart the color copies, or put the whole thing in an art journal. Your imagination is the only limit and the most important thing is to have fun!
Many years ago, as one of my Mail Art projects, I used to fold two-inch wide pieces of paper into little accordion books and decorate them with rubber stamps and pieces of paper that I cut out from incoming Mail Art and decorated envelopes. I carved a rubber stamp with a little graphic of a Mail Box and the words “Bits of Mail” to stamp on the little book covers. Before sending them out, I dated and numbered them on the back. I saved one example for my archives and made a few color copies to use later as collage inspirations. While I was getting the color copies made, it came up in conversation with the copy center worker that one of the black and white machines had red toner in it. I made a lot of copies with the red toner because I knew I’d find uses for the copies later!
Some of my old collage papers along with my Mail Archives had been in storage unseen for 20 years or more. I’ve been getting some of them out lately as I move stuff. With fresh eyes, I’m getting some new ideas and inspiration for improving old ideas. I decided to take these old copies and make new versions of the mini accordion books.
First I cut up the copies that weren’t already in strips into two inch wide pieces, the same size as the originals. Then I folded them and glued one red ink copy to one color copy back to back to make longer books.
I had a large paper crafting stash by 1998 already because I started making collages in 1985 in my first college design class and I’ve been collecting interesting papers for collages ever since. In the intervening years, there are a lot more paper crafting supplies available and some of them are a lot more to my taste than what was available in the late 1990s. Back in the day I would have said I was a “weird” stamper not a “cute” stamper. I also enjoy sophisticated antique imagery and have a lot of papers from two of my favorite brands, Tim Holtz and 7 Gypsies, in my stash. I decided that the Tim Holtz idea-ology Correspondence paper pad was a good fit for this project and I glued some of the postal themed textures onto a selection of the blank pages of my books. The dominant colors in this series are red white and blue which looks good with the red toner ink on some of my papers and the postal motifs fit the “Bits of Mail” theme.
Next I went through I box of paper scraps that I keep for teaching a card class that I run from time to time on how to make greeting cards from little scraps, rubber stamps and stencils. I took out a selection of papers that I thought would make good backgrounds and glued them in a random fashion to every other page, leaving some blank.
There is an old trick that I learned in drawing class long ago to help get unstuck if you are facing a blank piece of paper with no ideas – draw a quick frame around your drawing area before you start. This helps because it’s less daunting to start drawing on a paper that you’ve made some marks on than a blank surface. I get the same creative boost from using scrap papers for perhaps a similar reason – there is already some content there, however sparse and random, and that is often all I need to get me going in a creative direction.
The little accordion books I’ve made are pictured above ready to add content. What kind of content would that be? There are lots of things I could do with these little books. I could write, draw, stamp or paste in words and/or images to make a finished artistic statement. I could use them as a storage and display folio for tiny works of art such as postage stamps, faux postage stamps or tiny photos and images. I could send them off into the Mail Art network as an “add and pass on” project. What would you make?
For additional inspiration, here are some samples of tiny books made by other people that I’ve received through the mail over the years. People of any age and ability level can make tiny books. Why not try one?
I’ve been out of the Mail Art and ‘Zine scenes for over 20 years now, and to my surprise for some reason I’m getting nostalgic about it and thinking about getting back into it a little bit. I’ve never stopped making faux postage designs, rubber stamped art and Dada-influenced collages, but I stopped networking except through my web site because I got spooked by some of the extreme networkers I was occasionally in contact with. I figured I no longer had the stomach to participate in the “underground”. I mainly was networking for art and creativity and I’m still inspired creatively by what I did back then. I was not in it for anarchy, political change or social change except for some social commentary that I occasionally included.
I think part of the reason I feel like possibly participating again is that when I got spooked, I was in the middle of a couple of Mail Art group projects that I didn’t finish and I never sent out the documentation. I’ve felt guilty about this for a long time. One was called the “Turn Off Your Television Project” and another was called the “Fish Tapestry Project”. After writing the research paper I just published yesterday, I think I might want to finish that documentation and fulfill the obligation I took on myself 20 years ago. I probably won’t be able to get in touch with all the people who participated but I can try.
My friend Mark Reed who co-hosted the fish tapestry project with me passed away late last October and it would be a great tribute to him if I could finish that one too someday. I have only this week been able to bring myself to look again at some of his artwork that his family gave to me. I always thought he threw away too much of his old work and I’m glad that I have some of it. I may even finish some of the stuff that is unfinished. We collaborated and shared ideas a lot back in the day. I think he would like that.
I would be pleased if someone finished my old work after I’m gone. I’d rather have that happen than it be thrown away. I always have a lot of unfinished projects that I take up and put down at various times. I’m sure I’ll be leaving some unfinished ones behind someday. Actually it’s been painful for me to look at a lot of my old work and archives for a long time because so many of the people that I lived that time of my life with are dead. Maybe now I’m finally able to start dealing with the memories. Also I felt like much of my old work was an embarrassing failure. Looking at it now, some of is indeed embarrassing but some of it is not so bad! A former abusive relationship made me feel like I should not do any art because I was no good and didn’t deserve to do it just because it was good for me and made me feel alive. There was a time when I wasn’t sure I was ever going to take it up again.
My Mail Art name was Carolyn Substitute, my ‘zine was called the Lime Green News, and my faux postage was produced under the name “Lime Green Post”. I decided today to do an online search and see if I could find any references to my old Mail Art activities.
If you would like to explore this world I found the following:
stardust Memories Mail-aRt-Links and projects – bless this person for putting a link to my old web site on archive.org! I haven’t seen it in so long. I redesigned it in 1999 and I don’t think I looked at the old one since then because it made me so embarrassed!
Lime Green Evolution World of Art – 1997-1999 – My first web site, how I transitioned from analog networking to digital networking. Thinking back on it, printmaking class in 1987 led to rubber stamping, rubber stamping led to Mail Art, Mail Art led to ‘zines, ‘zines led to taking a class to get better at desktop publishing, which led to published a web site, that led to being a web designer, which led to doing marketing which led to me working on a marketing degree. No wonder I called my first web site Lime Green Evolution. And I didn’t even put in all the other tangents I followed along the way! I used to stay late a lot after my web design job ended at 5 pm to work on my personal web site and wait for the traffic to die down.
One of the things we are studying in my Mass Communications class is how people make media meaningful for themselves. Back in the ‘zine / grunge / Mail Art era we used to do a lot of collages, small press publications and mixed media projects. I’m sure there are still people out there doing these things and with technology we have a lot more options available. Most likely I’ll be exploring this in a future research project.
Edit: here is my new page on the International Union of Mail-Artists web site. I’ll be putting some old and new work there.