A friend once lamented that the loss of handwritten, mailed letters included losing the drawn-out anticipation of a reply. When letters were the only way to correspond, it took days or weeks to receive that response and – at least according to him – created a delicious sense of possibility. In our culture of instant response, the sweet sensation of waiting to hear back is blunted by immediacy.
While we don’t need letters to keep in touch anymore, mail art is the perfect way to create and connect. If you find the right pen pals, it can really spark a creative exchange. My friends and family are well aware of my love of this type of artsy endeavor and I’ve received some fun mail over the years! Once I even got a cigarette box stuffed with letters shipped all the way from England. I bet the mailman hadn’t delivered one of those before.
For this week’s project, you’ll create four postcards to send over the course of four days which form a complete work of art. I sent one set that made a drawing, and one that was a serialized story. Here’s how:
Step 1: Pick your idea and think about materials.
Are you going to write a story? Draw a picture? Is it some combination of both? I made two different versions to send to two different places – one a drawing in four parts and one a story in four parts. The story was definitely harder, but I liked the challenge of writing a short story with cliffhangers at the end of each day. I’d say it was a medium successful attempt, but most importantly, I had fun!
I also gave my friends a heads-up that something was coming. This was in part because I wanted them to understand what I was doing for this blog post, but it also allowed them the sense of anticipation. I told them they’d receive four postcards over the course of four days that would create a complete work of art, but I didn’t tell them anything other than that. I invited them to do something in return if they wanted to.
Step 2: Choose your postcards and sketch out the plan
This was one of my favorite parts. I’ve long had a love of postcards and had a box full. Sorting through looking for the perfect four postcards that fit both my artwork and the personalities of my friends was loads of fun. I settled on these groupings.
For the drawing, I laid them out together and loosely sketched in where things would go. The story was a little harder. I wanted each section to create anticipation for the next card. And of course, I had to make sure the paragraph would fit on the day’s postcard. I tested the number of words that fit on other postcards, and then aimed for that. I wrote the story on the computer first, keeping a close eye on the word count for each paragraph. When I was reasonably satisfied, I wrote them first in pencil to make sure it fit. Then I rewrote it in ink. Success!
Step 3: Make Art!
Step 4: Mail them, one day at a time.
A word of caution here – for the optimal experience, you have to remember to send them every day! I prepped all mine, and started on a Tuesday (it was Labor Day week, so no mail on Monday) to utilize the full week’s mail service. I set them all by the front door so I’d remember to put them on our mailbox each day. Of course, I still forgot to get it out there on the second day, and had to run to the post office before their last pick up! In my defense, it was raining that day and I didn’t want to clip my beautiful artwork out there too soon and end up with a soggy mess.
But my point here is to make a plan for mailing them and then stick to it! It will still work, even if they aren’t delivered on consecutive days, but it’s definitely more fun if they are!
Don’t forget the cool stamps! When you’ve mailed these, start on your next idea. Everyone loves to get mail!
A Postcard Story
She’d texted: “9:30 a.m. I’ll wear a red jacket.” I’d studied her face online – tongue out at the photographer, duck lips in the mirror – so I’d know her even without the jacket. In the car on the way to the date, I worried about awkward conversations. What if I knew someone sitting near us? Could I be charming? Or would I blurt out some embarrassing tidbit to her and the imagined, eavesdropping acquaintance?
I pushed the accelerator deeper, swinging around the Lawrence Bypass, nearing my exit and hoping to be on time. Was a morning first date odd? Maybe it meant she didn’t want to be seen with me, imagined eavesdropper notwithstanding. My phone buzzed in the passenger seat. Was she cancelling?
I dug for my phone between the seats. “I know exactly how you feel,” she’d written in her last email. We connected on so many levels. (Where was that damn phone?) I didn’t want this to be over before it began. I glanced up and something large and black dominated my path. My heart plummeted.
I swerved to avoid a black SUV parked on the shoulder, several yards from a woman kneeling in the ditch. Her dark head bent low as she pressed a thin cross into the dirt among spinning pinwheels and plastic blossoms. I glanced in the rearview as I tried to calm my breathing. She sat back on her heels and pointed her phone at the shrine as I zoomed on toward my date.