Archive for the ‘mail art musings’ Category


Calligrapher Alan Blackman has an unparalled passion for letters — both typographically and philatelically speaking.


Letters to Myself: The Calligraphic First Day Covers of Alan A. Blackman at the SF Public Library exhibits truly stunning work created by Blackman over the course of thirty six years.


Simply put: this is a beautiful exhibition: incredible calligraphy, wonderful philately, and ingenious design. I had the great good fortune of having the gallery (somewhat) all to myself when I stopped by to see the show; I  felt that I was able to spend time one-on-one with each of Blackman’s creations, free of distractions.


Alongside the displayed artwork, a video interview (linked below) with Mr. Blackman describes his work at the Rincon Annex postal counter, a P.O. near and dear to my heart. He also references “two shops selling stamps for collectors near my place of employment” — I’m hoping that’s a reference to US Stamp and Supply Company, another place dear to my heart (which closed up shop in SF last year.)


“For colored writing I used gouache in tubes or water-soluble colored pencils. I later learned how to grind a set of colored Japanese stick inks on individual ink stones: one stone for reds, one for blues, one for greens, etc.”

–Alan Blackman, courtesy of the SFPL Book Arts and Special Collections “What’s Happening On the Sixth Floor” blog


There have been some delightful interviews and reviews of this exhibit over the past couple of months, most notably by the good folks over at Social Correspondence and the SF Chronicle. And while I feel that I could spend hours writing up how inspiring (and inspired) this show is, I find that putting the exhibition into words is much harder than I thought it would be, simply by virtue of the fact that it is so overwhelmingly thoughtful.


In interviews, Blackman is modest about his work; he says that he was initially surprised by people’s positive reactions to his decorated envelopes. Presenting them at a monthly meeting of San Francisco’s Friends of Calligraphy, he remarks: “I was so shy and sheepish, I thought something as personal as this would not appeal to anyone else. I brought what I had of my collection at the time, very sheepish, thinking that nobody could possibly be interested.”


“To my astonishment, everyone was fascinated beyond my wildest expectations. It seems like there might be a law here… something like the more personal your work, the more people admire it, but I don’t know if that’s universally true.”

–Alan Blackman,  courtesy of the San Francisco Public Library’s YouTube channel

09_welsh dragon

What more can I tell you? Do yourself a huge favor and stop by the Koret Gallery at the Main Branch of SFPL. Exhibition runs thru October 13th, 2015. More details can be found here.


add’l resources:

What’s On the Sixth Floor? (SFPL Book Arts and Special Collections blog)

video interview with Alan Blackman (many of the above quotes are pulled from this video)

Alan Blackman Calligraphy (Mr. Blackman’s website)

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(warning: the following post is filled with a heapin’ helpin’ of words and is pretty low on visuals. But don’t worry: I promise LOTS and LOTS of beautiful eye candy in future posts!)

2014 has wrapped up and I have to say that it was one of the most interesting, educational, and inspired years in recent memory. Things started out with a bang: Ex Postal Facto seemed to be the pace car, setting the bar high for mail art interactions and postal socializing (postalizing?) From there, I jumped headlong into Red Handed Rubber Stamps and all the details a new business requires: sourcing, purchasing, designing, phone calling, marketing, and a thousand-and-one other niggling details that keep a girl awake at night.

That was May 2014. Sure there was a trip to NYC and a completed artist book as well as an interview with the USPS, but for the most part I kept my head down here in San Francisco, working on a handful of pet projects that had been put aside since 2013. By the time summer arrived, I was neck-deep putting together SF Zine Fest. My fellow organizers — an incredibly talented group of writers, illustrators, and zinesters — are some of the hardest working folks I know, with a refreshing take on the DIY scene (and small press publishing in general.) It was a pleasure to work with them (once again) in 2014.

SFZF always marks the beginning of autumn for me. The event takes place on Labor Day weekend, traditionally a time associated with the end of summer and the beginning of the fall teaching semester. Just like every other year, the last few months of 2014 were booked solid: SF Correspondence Co-op meetings, workshops at SF Center for the Book, teaching in the Printmaking Department at the Academy of Art. Recently, I’ve been completely buried (once again), hard at work putting together another artist book edition for the upcoming Dig show at Central Booking in NYC (but I’ll talk about that in a different blog post.)

Looking at the above paragraphs, it’s no wonder I haven’t had much of a chance to update the RLD blog! My time has been spent getting together with other artists, working in the studio, creating things with my hands  — activities which make all the (other) hard work worth it. Meeting people face-to-face is a far different interaction than sitting solitary behind a screen; 2014 showed me that I sometimes need more of one than the other, and that’s just fine.

So what does that mean for the RLD blog? Well, a bit of a re-tooling for starters — but nothing too too drastic, I promise! I’ll be trying a few things out, to see what you guys are interested in. Instead of my usual, super-wordy blog posts (do people even read that much these days?!) I’ll be posting more photos of mail art and postal related things: an occasional piece of mail, inspiring articles from around the ‘net, projects I’m working on. I’m hoping this will be a new direction of interest to all RLD readers, regardless of which side of the screen we’re sitting at.

That being said, my email inbox is always open (and my PO box too!) I love hearing your feedback, dear readers — your ideas help make a good blog even better! Back in 2009, when I started the RLD blog, it was a way for me to reach out to readers of Good Mail Day and connect with the mail art community on a deeper level. Today, I count that as a goal which has come to pass, and generated incredible interactions with each of you, on so many different levels. Together, with each letter/postcard/artwork sent and received, you and I are creating a new wave of postal Networkers. Our shared love of bonding via words, art, and writing is something I give thanks for every day.

Viva le Mail Art! (and happy new year to all!)


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envelope and artwork by Carl Chew...

envelope and artwork by Carl Chew…

The Italian Cultural Institute is currently hosting the exhibition “Guglielmo Achille Cavellini : 1914 – 2014” in San Francisco.

I stopped by last week to take a look.

title: "stamp homage to picasso"

title: “stamp homage to picasso”

title: "heirloom (text on felt)"

title: “heirloom (text on felt)”

From the art-agenda website: “In 1971, Cavellini coined the term auto-storicizzazione (self-historicization) after he designed sixteen different museum posters each featuring the years “1914–2014″ and the date of a solo exhibition celebrating the centennial anniversary of his birth.”


Also: “On view are 14 pieces among which are two pivotal series “Crates with Destroyed Works” (1966–1970) and “From the Page of the Encyclopedia” (1973). “Crates with Destroyed Works” is a collection of works Cavellini made by destroying the pieces he was creating and subsequently encasing them into crates. These works originated from an internal and emotional source, revealing an attitude brought about by a deep and obsessive self-search.”

title: "int'l postage 33" (close up)

title: “int’l postage 33” (close up)

And: ” “From the Page of the Encyclopedia” is a series of works originating from a theoretical and linguistic code Cavellini invented as a direct consequence of self-historicization. Starting from actual biography, Cavellini expanded his own life story to temporal hyperbolic appropriations. Fabric, objects, clothing and living bodies would become a direct canvas for Cavellini to “paint” his story.”

GAC artistamp...

GAC artistamp…

The works of Cavellini will be on display until June 8th; a comprehensive, 70 page catalog of the exhibition (published by Colpa Press) is available at the gallery. For more information visit the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco.

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photo: USPS Stamps website

photo: uspsstamps.com

It’s always been a dream of mine to be recognized in some way by the USPS; now that dream has come true! Way back in January (I guess it wasn’t really that long ago…) I was interviewed by USPS Stamps about my mail art activities, what motivates a person to make/send so much mail, and some all around thoughts on the state of the postal system.

photo: uspsstamps.com

photo: uspsstamps.com

The result is this lovely article, which I am hoping mail artists near and far will agree with. As RLD readers know, part of the artistic process of mail art involves the post office and postage stamps, as well as a certain amount of trust that our mail will get from Point A to Point B. “The Postal Moderns” captures this idea perfectly, and I thank USPS Stamps for such a wonderful write up!

In all things postal —


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ben franklin knows best!

ben franklin knows best!

Hello RLD postal pals! March has already found its way into my mailbox – how can that even be possible?! I want to thank each and every single one of you for the incredible letters, postcards, and artwork you’ve been sending; springtime greetings, XPF thank yous … I’m always inspired by your creativity!

let this be a reminder to us all...

let this be a reminder to us all…

Speaking of XPF: in the days and weeks leading up to Ex Postal Facto, I found that my sense of time was wrapping around itself: there was either too much time or not enough time. Each minute of every single hour was filled with something to procure, a phone call to be made, or a question to answer.  My collection of lists for the weekend was something Santa Claus would aspire to (if he’s into ephemera!): scraps of paper safety pinned to lists of artists which were stapled to venue phone numbers.

please, please, pretty please...

please, please, pretty please…

The fact of the matter is: I LOVED putting together Ex Postal Facto. There were speed bumps, to be sure. But here’s the truth: from our very first planning meeting (one year ago!) to the final Sunday night dinner at Absinthe, I loved the exhilarating whirlwind of postal modernism and shared experience that has come to be known as Ex Postal Facto.

XPF badges, designed by Happenstance Type-O-Rama...

XPF badges, designed by Happenstance Type-O-Rama…

What else is there to say? I love organizing events. It’s a habit started in high school and I’ve never really stopped. Nightclub parties, catwalk shows, monthly get-togethers: event planning is something I’ve always done. There’s a certain kind of magic that happens when like-minded folks are in the same room, talking about the things they love; a shorthand language is created, steeped in excitement and the fact that certain things don’t have to be explained, are just understood. When all the details have been orchestrated just so and that magic happens, it’s unlike anything else in the world.



The Ex Postal Facto Conference was not only about meeting people for the first time, it was about meeting people you thought you’d never have the chance to meet. It was about gaining a deeper understanding of mail art culture and community (if you’re relatively new to the scene) or being reminded why you got into the scene in the first place (if you’ve been involved for awhile). The weekend was a fuel-injected shot into the mail art Network; for individual artists, it was a validation/reaffirmation that this thing we do (i.e. sending mail via the posts/creating connection) is not only alive and well, but more important than ever before.

“So, what’s next?”

A lot of folks have been asking me that question lately. While I won’t go into specifics here and now, what I can say is that things are already shaping up. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing these exciting developments with RLD readers: items like teaching/workshop dates, Correspondence Co-op get-togethers, and (!!!) a project-of-epic-proportions which I think you’ll find very exciting. There’s never a dull moment here, and 2014 is proving that once you get the ball rolling, things just keep gaining momentum!


PS: interested in ordering an exhibition catalogs for the “mail/art/book” show? Info can be found at the Ex Postal Facto website.

PPS: there are still a handful of XPF logo rubber stamps and XPF logo badges which can be ordered via the RLD online store; once they’re gone, they’re gone!

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Celebrating Art's Birthday on January 17th, 2010 -- thanks to Robert Filliou & the Eternal Network!

(edit: it’s becoming somewhat of a tradition that I post this particular article on January 17th. Read further to see why!))

You may or may not have known, but today is Art’s birthday.

You remember, you’ve met Art before: the last time you snatched up a fountain pen, inked a rubber stamp, or folded a snazzy envelope…that’s Art.

is this Art? yes -- I believe it is...
is this Art? yes — I believe it is…

The idea of Art’s Birthday was introduced by Robert Filliou in 1963. The idea goes something like this: 1,000,000 years ago, there was no art. (!) But one day, on the 17th of January to be precise, Art was born. (!!) According to Filliou, it happened when someone dropped a dry sponge into a bucket of water. (!!!) And thus a new holiday was born. Art’s birthday is celebrated in a wide variety of ways throughout the world; there are accounts of musical/noise recordings, get-togethers in which artists build/exchange “gifts” to/for Art, or all-night birthday parties/celebrations.

ask yourself a question...
ask yourself a question…

Mail artists feel a special affinity for Art’s Birthday; Filliou and Fluxus artist George Brecht introduced the term “Eternal Network” to the art world (circa 1965), and mail artists have adopted this phrase for their own usage. Filliou himself believed that art didn’t have to express itself as an object (i.e. a painting/sculpture/tangible something-or-other). He saw art as a form of play that could even occur as unrealized notions, which is a view which stays with us today, stronger than ever.

tools of my trade...
tools of my trade…

One of the important ideas attached to the Eternal Network, (or “La Fête Permanente”/ The Constant Festival as it is also known) is that “the artist must be aware that he is part of a larger social network, part of the “Constant Festival” which surrounds him everywhere and elsewhere in the world.” For mail artists, this notion is always at work — creating, sending, and receiving in return are the gears that keep postal machinery running and mailboxes full.

Filliou went on the travel the world, as well as conduct interactive art experiments and events. His constant study of Zen Buddhism led him to incorporate many of it’s core beliefs into both film and art works. In 1987, after creating his final piece (Time is a Nutshell), Robert Filliou passed away.

hand carved, hand perfed, hand stamped!
hand carved, hand perfed, hand stamped!

We are left with a yearly celebration, a time to consider how important this thing named “art” is to us. Take a moment to create, to reflect, to share. How do you live with your art/works? What promises do you make to Art, and yourself?

Making is doing. Creating is learning. Art is all around us, in big things and tiny glimpses.


PS: the recent book “Felt: Fluxus, Joseph Beuys, and the Dalai Lama” by Chris Thompson is a fascinating look at the way western art met eastern philosophy when Robert Filliou and Dutch artist Louwrien Wijers arranged a meeting between avant garde artists and the Dalai Lama in 1982. Definitely worth a look if you’re interested in avant garde art history and it’s intersection with eastern philosophy.

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hip hip hooray! 2014 starts today!

hip hip hooray! 2014 starts today!

Happy New Year to all Red Letter Day readers and visitors! May your year be filled with boundless creativity, many smiling faces — and of course: a cavalcade of artful mail and delicious missives.

Go forth into the new year armed with your best rubber stamp, fountain pen, glue stick, or ephemera scrap knowing that each letter and postcard sent is destined to brighten someone’s day, whether near or far.

With that in mind, I hereby declare 2014 to be “The Year of Creative Correspondence”! How will you participate? Do any of your 2014 resolutions revolve around mail art or letter writing? And how will you continue in the spirit of Creative Correspondence, for the upcoming year?

In all things postal —


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from the ground up...

from the ground up…

Today I was going to share my recent Halloween doin’s — the postcard edition I’m working on, the rubber stamp I’d been carving to use in said edition. However, my Halloween cards remain unfinished, due to the stupid cold I find myself encumbered with. I guess I’ll put Halloween on hold until next week.

the days are getting shorter & shadows are growing longer!

the days are getting shorter & shadows are growing longer!

Instead, I’ll show you something else paper-ish and book-y.

don't call it "frisco"...

don’t call it “frisco”…

Two weeks ago, I was running to catch the train at Montgomery Station and caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a beautiful, old ledger book. Lying face up in the ticket taker’s booth, the ledger appeared to just be hanging out. It seemed like such an anomaly, especially in a San Francisco Muni station. I continued on to the train platform.

yes, this is the "talk window" where you'd converse with the ticket taker...

yes, this is the “talk window” where you’d converse with the ticket taker…

I didn’t make it very far.

Turning around, I headed back to the ticket booth. “Can I take a photo of your book?” I breathlessly asked. “I think it’s wonderful and I’d love to have a photo.” I knew that this would most likely lead to a why-would-you-want-to-take-a-photo-of-this? conversation, and I wasn’t let down. “This? It’s just a book,” the employee said disdainfully. “But I think it’s beautiful, ” I repeated. “What do you use it for?”

yep -- EXACTLY like you imagined!

yep — EXACTLY like you imagined!

“We use it to record incidents that go on here in the station. You know, if somebody loses something or we have to call the police.”

“I see. I didn’t realize you still wrote everything down by hand.”

“Some stations do. Some stations don’t.”

It was clear that our conversation was meant to be short lived. I snapped my photos and (again) headed down to the platform. So what if I’d missed my train? Another one would be along shortly. As I waited, I thought about the fact that in this most tech-centric of cities, there was still a train station where notes are handwritten, what a rare thing that is these days.

from a bygone era...

from a bygone era…

I wondered when this change away from the handwritten had taken place, had I even noticed that it was occurring? I feel like I’ve been aware of it for sometime now: every month seems to bring a “death of cursive writing” article in my newsfeed, every semester presents a fresh faced group of students who’ve never written a postcard (no joke).

A single person cannot stop the march of technology; this is the way of our world now. An incident like the one above reminds me that there is a balance to be maintained with both our “retro-tech” and our “future-tech”; discovering what that balance is will be different for each person. For me: I like to have a foot in both worlds, able to reach many readers at once via a blog (like this one!) or connecting with people individually through the mail. It is this choice that we have that makes all the difference.

Halloween next week, I promise. 😉


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these folks want to sell you some fireworks...

these folks want to sell you some canceled postage…

The season of the “big boom” is upon us. Already the smell of burnt paper wrappers and smoke is wafting through my neighborhood, along with the sound of M80s that folks seem to be so crazy about. Of course I’ll join the San Francisco masses, wending my way carefully along the Embarcadero in order to find a choice spot for fireworks viewing on the fourth of July.



I’m assuming most of you know that Benjamin Franklin was our first postmaster, way back when. Via the National Postal Museum‘s website, I also learned that Ben got axed from the job in 1774 for “pernicious activity” relating to the affair of the Hutchinson Letters as well as his extended absences from the colonies for diplomatic work in London. The fact that our first postmaster was an active political agitator rings true today, when mail artists and correspondents are rallying together to support the USPS and save individual post offices in any way they can.

flapping gently in the breeze...

flapping gently in the breeze…

Many readers of the RLD blog are likely familiar with Jane Davies’ story from last year (she rallied to save her small size post office and won!) Mail artist (and amazing printmaker Art Like Art has also wrapped up the successful “Save the USPS” mail art project. Everywhere, artists and fans of the post office are raising a hue and cry.


How can YOU get involved? It’s easier than you think. All you have to do is write a letter to your postmaster or the president, letting them know you are concerned about the current legislation around America’s postal system. Delivering for America and Save the Post Office are both great resources for keeping currently on the ever-shifting sand that the PO finds themselves sitting on. Once you’re ready to get your hands inky, you can design your own cards to mail out or download the adorable postcards from Afternoon Pity Party. Another option? Sending out these amazingly fabulous “tiny post office” cards from Power and Light Press.

Thomas Printers strongly encourages you to "save the USPS"...

Thomas Printers strongly encourages you to “save the USPS”…

But there’s more! Letterpress mavens Thomas Printers in Carlisle, PA. have issued a call-to-arms via this year’s HOW Design Conference. Four times a year, for one full year, they will graciously send you a set of pre-stamped, letterpress printed cards! “Helping us save the US Postal Service will also help save the little part of us that loves paper, print, and postage,” they eloquently state on their blog, and I couldn’t agree more.

Cascadia, hard at work...

Cascadia, hard at work…

Artistamp maker and mail artist extraordinaire Cascadia Artpost has just clued me in on his latest mail art CFE, centered around the theme “Keep the Post Office Public”. Motivated by the “current attempts in the US to downsize the postal workforce, discontinue Saturday service, close POs, et. al.”, Cascadia is encouraging all types of mail art relating to this idea; the time is write — ahem — right!

Deadline is September 30th, 2013 and artwork can be sent to: POSTAL CALL/Cascadia Artpost, 4609 Briggs Drive SE, #304, Olympia, WA. 98501.5515. Knowing Cascadia, I’m already excited about this project and looking forward to getting something in the mail ASAP!

do your part to support this man!

do your part to support this man!

Taking the time to address and send a single postcard is no time at all, when you think about it. When the message is already composed for you (Afternoon Pity Party), and the postage is already affixed (Thomas Printers) there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be sending something to someone, somewhere. Every day, individuals use the PO; every day they take a variety of PO offerings for granted: the ability to quickly and easily send a postcard or package, the convenience of over-the-counter postage or the option of purchasing a money order. The USPS provides Americans with such a wide variety of services and options, so I feel it is time to give something back.

With sparkler in hand and a red ink pen at the ready, I’d love to hear more about the ways in which you support the PO on a daily basis!


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hard at work...

hard at work…

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling and teaching lately, which means I’ve been taking a look at the “how” and “why” of my travel mail art kits – the goodies that I can’t live without when schlepping through airports, train terminals, and bus stations. Taking stock of my inventory is not only enjoyable, but I tell myself it’s something I absolutely have to do – I mean, what if I need a new pen? A twee, portable glue stick? Or a pair of folding scissors that can make it through airport security?

I think you can see where this is heading.

coffee? check. pens? check. airmail stripes? check!

coffee? check. pens? check. airmail stripes? check!

On my writing desk at home, the laptop and “real time” writing implements share equal space. (scandal?) Admittedly, I am incredibly susceptible to the charms of a delicious fountain pen or smoked glass ink bottle. But this weekend took the proverbial cake! Lurking in someone’s attic at a garage sale, I ran across this cast iron inkwell. Gleefully, I transported it home, selected three of my favorite fountain pens, and settled down to address some envelopes!

my pen collection at home... (I wish!)

my pen collection at home… (I wish!)

But I don’t usually spend a whole lot of time writing at home. If anything, I find that my “transit time” is best used affixing stamps, writing in a jaggedy hand (thanks muni!), and mapping out which PO I’ll pass by (in order to send missives on their merry way). When I’m running errands around San Francisco, this is the kit I usually bring along.

delicious on the outside...

delicious on the outside…

Originally, this zip case held drafting tools; the minute I spied it in a thrift store, I knew it would make an absolutely perfect caddy for pens, postage, and postcards. The case itself is sturdy enough that it can be used as a flat surface for writing. Removing some of the original spaces and places for drafting tools, I gave the inside of the case a makeover: grey-blue bookcloth seemed like a wonderful complement!

...and the inside!

…and the inside!

Long distance travel is a whole different creature, when bringing along art-making tools. So many questions to address: is there such a thing as too many pens? Do I bring both glue stick AND double stick tape? (absolutely.) Does an ink pad dry up quickly, when used in a pressurized cabin for 11 hours? (the answer is “no”…) Invariably, I always thank my lucky stars that pens and drawing implements are long, narrow, and lightweight – that means I can bring along a few items that aren’t necessarily “necessities, but fun nonetheless.

a long-time friend and travel buddy...

a long-time friend and travel buddy…

These are the tools that I always travel with, no matter what. Upon closer inspection, you’ll note there are a couple things that aren’t mail art related, per se, but they certainly help out in a pinch! Believe me: in a foreign country, when you have a killer headache there’s nothing like good ol’ fashioned Advil to take the edge off. Bandaids are sometimes needed (exacto cuts can happen anytime, anyplace, anywhere!) and batteries (oddly enough) have come in handy more times than I’d like to admit.

all these items, in that unassuming pencil case!

all these items, in that unassuming pencil case!

While these are some of my tried and true favorites, I’ve been trying out some new things lately. The “storage box” from Kiosk is the perfect size for tucking into your carry on and filling with postcards. Having a mini return address rubber stamp is a most efficient thing to own, whether on the ground or in the air. And although I’m a Pilot Uniball girl when flying (who wants to deal with pen “accidents” mid-flight?), I’m eager to give the Parker “Flighter” a chance.

Sending you summer postcards from afar –


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