Sept. 18, 2022

R5 Mail Art Primer Re-issue

R5 Mail Art Primer Re-issue

This episode is the mail art primer.   (re-issue)


Cling vinyl stamps allow the stamps to be used with an acrylic handle for support. 

Three-color stamps


The TAM Rubber Stamp Archive has a collection of prints of rubber stamps mail-artists have used since 1983. 

 Harriet Tubman stamp for the $20 bill


East Asian seals 


Mulready stationery



R5 Mail Art Re-issue

Evan: [00:00:00] Welcome to stationary orbit we're off this week, doing maintenance to our, , space station. And research on everything in the stationery sphere of influence. We're gonna be back in a few weeks with a new episode, but for now, enjoy this classic episode. 

John: Today's episode is the mail art primer. I'm gonna start out by saying that there are two definitions of mail art that I'm going to be using. There is going to be the traditional definition of mail art, which refers to American artist, Ray Johnson in the New York correspondent school and all of the offshoots of formal mail art that have come up since then, especially during the mid eighties, that form of mail art refers to a network of artists.

They use stamping envelope, art and ephemera to share art in a space that is much less formal than juried competitions, exhibitions, or galleries. My definition of mail art is more about the embellishments that are applied to letters to make it stand out and make it more personal and make it more fun for the recipients.

While [00:01:00] I completely understand that there are certain amounts of overlap between the formal definition of mail art and what I consider to be mail art. I just don't want there to be a confusion there that somehow what I am talking about is part of that network of mail artists. I'm just talking about stuff that we can do as individual letter writers that make our letters stand out, make them more fun, make them more fun for us to write as well as for the recipient to read.

So I'm gonna be talking about several different categories of embellishments, stamping envelopes, ephemera. Which those make up the traditional mail art categories and then washi stickers and hand lettering, which round out what I consider to be more mail art items, starting out with stamping. You have rubber stamps, which are craft all of their own.

They're usually carved into rubber blocks and. Rubber block is then applied to a pad of [00:02:00] ink or they are self inking in some cases. And that stamp is applied to paper, which produces the image for the stamp. The rubber that's carved is usually mounted onto a more stable object, such as a wood or acrylic block with modern vinyl cling stamps.

They're applied to acrylic blocks for support. These clinging stamps are easier to store because they can be peeled off of the acrylic block and placed onto a vinyl sheet for storage. They are also a lot easier to apply because that acrylic block is clear. It's easier to align the stamp on the piece of paper.

And a lot of them also have alignment grids on the. Acrylic block. One of my favorite versions of the acrylic blocking and vinyl clinging stamps are known as three color stamps, and it resembles more of a printing process where you're creating the same image, but you're applying three different varieties of that image with three different colors of ink.

So it creates [00:03:00] layers and creates more depth for the final stamped image. Stamped images can also be embellished with the addition of chalks, inks, paints, fibers, and a variety of ephemera and embellishments. One of those is to use a stamp with archival or waterproof ink, and then to watercolor over the stamp, creating something that's more colorful and fun.

Hand carved rubber stamps. As I mentioned are really a trademark of the mail art movement and there is a, an entire stamp archive at the Tam rubber stamp. These have been collected since 1983. And I will include a link to that archive online in the show notes. One thing that rubber stamps and mail art have in common, other than the use of rubber stamps in mail art is the idea of subversion and trying to make a statement about the current systems and current society.

And there are [00:04:00] a few different varieties, right? Of rubber stamps that are subversive or trying to get out a different kind of a message and doing it through stamps that are actually applied to currency. And one of those is the Harriet Tubman stamp for the $20 bill where it has alignment blocks on it. And you actually apply the image of Harriet Tubman over the image of Andrew Jackson.

Since the us treasury department couldn't be bothered to do so there are a group of activists that are doing it for them. And you also have occupy George, which is part of the occupy wall street movement. And those are various infographic stamps that are applied on currency to make statements about social inequality and economic inequality.

There's also in drones, we trust, which is. A website where the artist is producing small stamps of predator, drones that can be stamped onto [00:05:00] currency up in the air, like over the white house next to in God we trust thus in drone, we trust. And there's also stamp stamped. Which has registered stamps that allow the person who gets hold of the bill to go back and track it.

And lot of those are stamps that specifically say this currency is not to be used to bribe political officials. It's its own political statement in a stamp form. Lastly, I wanted to talk about the Eastern tradition of seals because most of those are actually stamps. They've been used in east Asia since about 221, BC, both individuals and organizations have official seals and they often have multiple seals in different sizes and styles for different situations.

East Asian seals usually bear the names of the people organizations represented, but they can also bear poems or personal motto. Sometimes both types of seals or large seals that bear both [00:06:00] names and motto are used to authenticate official document. Seals are so important in the east Asia community, that foreigners who frequently conduct business, there also commission engraving of their own personal seals.

East Asian seals are carved from a variety of hard materials, including wood subs, stone, sea glass, and Jade, east Asian seals are traditionally used with a red oil based past consisting of finely ground cinnabar which contrasts with the black ink traditionally used for the ink. Red chemical inks are now more commonly used in modern times for ceiling documents.

The next category are envelopes. I think everyone has seen some variety of an illustrated envelope or a pictorial envelope. And these envelopes actually have their start in a variety of envelope called Mulready stationary, which was an experiment by the British government to standardize postage.

And they wanted to. Using illustrated [00:07:00] envelopes while they were a short lived experiment because traditional stamps caught on and those are now used for postage, but the Mulready stationary caught on in terms of being able to send out illustrated envelopes and now painted envelopes. Are a definite part of the mail art movement painted envelopes are also a, just a neat thing to get in the mail.

So that's definitely an alternative. I intend to use stamps on envelopes that are artistic in nature. For the exterior of the envelope, as well as the wax seals that I tend to apply to them. The last of the traditional mail art categories is ephemera and ephemera just refers to anything that's usually supposed to be a transitory in nature.

Usually a written or printed document or piece of art that usually isn't readily made to be retained or preserved, but artists tend to preserve them and incorporate them [00:08:00] into the mail art either by taping them or pasting them or just including them as a separate page in the letter. So I'm gonna move on to my categories.

The first one being washi, as I had mentioned in the paper episode. Washi is Japanese paper. So washi tape is Japanese paper tape and they tend to use an adhesive that's formulated so that the tape is repositionable. So you can apply it, peel it off, stick it onto something else, move it around. So letter writers tend to use washi tape to create patterns on the letters to create borders, to seal the letters.

There are a lot of various uses for washi tape in letter writing. And it's just a matter of being creative. There is a really nice article on jet pens and I'll include that link in the show notes where they talk about some of the uses in letter writing, as well as using washi tape around the house and in crafts and arts.

The [00:09:00] next category are stickers. Stickers tend to be everything. It is everything from sticker packs for kids to official seals, sometimes even bumper stickers, even tamper evidence stickers for using in packaging where the adhesive. Comes off in little parts and it makes it a lot harder to remove those stickers.

You can apply them in fun ways. You can apply them as seals for the envelopes. If you really wanted to. They're just a lot of fun ways of doing that, where they kind of either take the place of stamps or they help augment stamps that are being used on the letter. Then finally there's lettering and a lot of folks tend to fall into one of two categories.

Either you use cursive script or you use block print. And for the folks that use cursive script, there are a lot of different resources out there for copper plate Spencerian Denilian or Palmer [00:10:00] types of cursive script. Then you also have the traditional calligraphy script, which is more driven by actual calligraphy nib.

You also have brush script, which is driven by brush pens. And then you also have cursive italic nibs, which help the cursive of script in terms of line width variation and the presentation of that script writing. For block print, there are a lot of ways that you can embellish hand lettering. And I actually found a really nice tutorial where she goes through inline versus outline inline details, texture patterns, floating shadows.

Angle shadows, faux calligraphy flourishing, and I've included a link to that tutorial in my show notes. And it's just a really nice way of taking your block script and adding a little something to it here or there for like the salutation. There also have architect nibs out there that help [00:11:00] people with block print, also stub nibs, help some people with block print with their presentation of their handwriting.

Well, that does it for the mail art episode. And please join me next time for my pen pals primer. It's gonna be a great ride.