Posts Tagged ‘letter writing’


I can’t quite remember when Hope Amico of Gutwrench Press first found her way to my mailbox. However, I do remember that feeling of “holy cow! What is this beautiful printed thing here in my hand?!” The postcard was a little dinged up (that’s what happens when you send soft printmaking paper through the cruel machinery of the postal system) but the scritches and scratchings only added to the mystery of the card itself.


Through a handful of addresses and cities, Hope and I have always managed to keep in touch postally. Her artists books and prints are a world unto themselves: beautifully printed, lovingly bound together, thoughtfully written. Her “Keep Writing Postcards” project is a natural extension of fine art works, a call-and-response with friends and strangers, using the medium of the post office.


Oakland-based gallery E.M. Wolfman is exhibiting “To Get A Letter, Send A Letter: Selections From the Keep Writing Postcards Project” through the month of August. Graciously, Hope took a bit of time to answer some questions for Red Letter Day readers about her process, what the “Keep Writing Postcards” project means to her, and the future of the project itself.


Jennie Hinchcliff: In general terms, can you describe for RLD readers what the “Keep Writing Postcards” project is all about?

Hope Amico: It started as a way to keep in touch with friends as I moved away and began college. I started printing one postcard a month, using the handset type and presses at my university, mailing about 60 to friends on a mailing list. Within the first year I began collaborating with friends on the cards and began offering subscriptions to strangers. By the time I was finishing up school, it had evolved into the thing it is today: each month I letterpress print a folded card, consisting of two postcards. One postcard is something I’ve designed, illustrating a story or a quotation that I like. The other half has instructions for the recipient, usually somehow related to my design. Recipients fill out their half and mail it back to me. I post it online and sometimes share them in gallery shows.


JH: Describe an average month (from start to finish) for “Keep Writing Postcards” (i.e. what’s your working process like?)

HA: Ideally, on the first of the month, all the cards for that month are in the mail.  Usually they make it to the post box a few days later and sometimes get mailed as late as the middle of the month.  I spend a few days working out an idea, drawing, scanning, searching clip art, writing text and revising.

Then I spend about 2 days towards the end of the month making plates and printing.  I trim the cards, bring them to my home studio and spend a few hours listening to radio shows while scoring and folding, taping and stamping.  At some point I remember to print mailing labels from my subscriber list spreadsheet.  Sometimes this takes a minute; sometimes, on bad computer days, it can take hours, during which I reconsider the time-saving measure of printing labels. (ed note: HA! indeed…)

The last step is best.  I write at least “hello” and sign my name on all the cards, writing longer notes every few cards.  Sometimes I bring a stack with me if I am going out to eat alone.  Then I drop them in the mail box and start again.

all the tools

JH:How do you decide on each month’s theme?

HA: I have a list in my journal of potential ideas. Some months there is an event or holiday I would like to highlight or work with but sometimes I have a technique I want to work with.   I try to mix it up so that some months ask for a story, followed maybe by a fill-in-the blank image or sentence and then maybe a drawing-friendly idea.  That’s the ideal.

But sometimes I plan a few months ahead only to think of something more appealing to me at the last minute.  I like the month to month variety but sometimes I print everything in silver for two months in a row.   I want to plan two months ahead but I also like having a thoughtful but open enough prompt that many people want to respond. There is a balance between offering enough guidelines and specifics to inspire and be clear while leaving room for all the creative answers.

And some months I just want a break or want to give everyone a break or have an idea for a card without a response so I print that. Everyone needs a break from obligations to keep them fun, right?


JH: Each of the postcards that you send out are beautifully letterpressed and oftentimes incorporate an image you’ve collaborated on with another artist. Can you talk a little bit about the nature of collaboration, both in the postcards you’ve created and the works you’re receiving from participants?

HA: When I started the project, the first year was just a single postcards that I printed.  Then I thought I’d try a year of collaborating with a different artist friend each month.  A few of my friends are printers and they sent me 150 cards partially printed  leaving the rest for me.  Those were fun but took a lot of coordination.  If someone was late, then I was behind schedule. And some of my friends are not printers at all and had wild ideas about what to make.  Collaborating every month was fun but not practical.

bicycle postcard

I wanted a way to hear back from people, so that it wasn’t just my story being told but my part of a story, my point of view.  So I began these cards with a tear-off response card, allowing people to choose to participate but the project continues even if some people never send cards back.  But sometimes, when they do, it adds something unexpected.   One month, I drew a map of my neighborhood in New Orleans, as I remembered it, and asked recipients to send me back a map of anything. One of my favorite responses was from my best friend and former neighbor who drew the same neighborhood from their perspective.  It was lovely.

Having a card with my address already printed and a question to be answered meant I would hear back from people, sometimes people I would not expect to write back.  My best penpals do not necessarily send the most postcards, but my little (now 30 year old and married) cousin had an amazing streak of responding to every single card.  It often surprises me who I hear from the most often.

all the tools

JH: Did you find that it was an easy transition to think about the work you were receiving at your mailbox in relation to a gallery show? Did “Keep Writing Postcards” start out with the intention of an eventual exhibition?

HA: This started out as a personal project but I was spending so much time on it while in school for my printmaking degree,  I realized that it was worth getting credit at school.  But I was so protective of it I didn’t share it much until its 3rd year, entering my final year at school. By that point, I knew I wanted it to be part of my senior show, that I wanted to spend all my time making postcards.  This is when I started printing the cards in the form they are now, an interactive piece with responses to share.  So, from that point I knew they would be shared.

When I graduated and moved to Oakland, I knew I wanted to have another show and share the work again.  I also work in other forms, but this project is definitely what is most dear to me — it is the one that is easiest for me to be excited about and to share and explain. I like creating environments in which people want to sit and read the cards, where it is clear that you can handle the art work and participate.  I like that intersection of function and involvement in a gallery space. I want it to feel like home, so I have included a lamp, a desk, a writing utensil and even a tape player with headphones to listen to music written especially for the show (another kind of collaboration!)


JH: I’m super excited to see the show at E.M. Wolfman! What sorts of additional activities will there be, in relation to the show itself? How long will the show be running?

HA: The show is up through the end of August. There is a box with this month’s postcard so gallery-goers can participate. I am taking the responses from this card (about neighborhoods) and making a map for people to give themselves a self-guided tour at the end of the show.  I want to do this every few months: have a mail box stationed at a certain place, asking for input from whoever comes by.
Also, every Saturday in July from 1-3 pm I will be there writing letters. You can join me. There are postcards and stationery for sale and I think I’ll bring a few other fun surprises to share. On July 22nd, I’ll be giving a brief talk about the project too during the Post A Letter Social Activity Club event at E.M. Wolfmann.

for more information:

“Postcard Artist Trusts the Message Will Be Delivered”, SF Gate, July 1st, 2015 (Evan Karp, author)

— Hope will be vending her lovely wares (including subscriptions to the “Keep Writing Postcards Project” at this year’s SF Zine Fest, September 6th at the SF County Fair Building in Golden Gate Park.

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February: already?!?! I can’t believe it. And yet, I look at my calendar and the proof is right there in black and white: today is February 4th.

This month heralds many things to the postally-minded: construction paper hearts  of bright pink, the debut of the USPS’s annual Chinese new year postage, a smattering of red glitter and glue stick. The days are (slowly) growing longer, which means a few additional minutes to dash over to the P.O.


The end-of-year holiday bustle is over (whew!), so that also means there’s a bit more “breathing room” when it comes to doing things just-for-fun. To that end, I discovered something I’m excited to share with you, RLD mail art creators!


First: some background info. Located in Berkeley, CA, Castle In The Air is a heaven on earth for folks who can’t get enough of the following things: the smell of fountain pen ink, the feel of finely milled paper, and the sound of hand bound journal pages softly whispering through the air. A world unto itself, “The Castle” is a nook you never want to leave — a fairyland of shelves and drawers filled to the brim with pens, nibs, books, and things of beauty. (personal plug: they also carry Red Handed Rubber Stamps!)


store photo via businessinsider.com

Castle In The Air loves correspondence and all things related to mail art, letter writing, penmanship, and beautiful missives. They believe in old school correspondence so much, they have a gem called the “Blue Castle Badge”, which I KNOW you are going to want.

But you have to earn it!


How do you earn a BCBadge of your very own? Start off by heading over to the website, and perusing the guidelines for mailing

Some additional advice for readers of the RLD blog:

  • –address your letters/postcards to “Blue Castle Badge/Castle In The Air”, etc. etc. ; this will help the Castle sprites sort your missive into the correct place and stack.
  • –interested in creating a themed postcard or envelope? Show/tell Castle In The Air why you love letter writing, correspondence, mail art, fountain pens, calligraphy — anything related to the paper or book-ish arts!
  • –if you’d like, feel free to mention that you read about the Blue Castle Badge right here at the RLD blog.

In return, you’ll receive a lovely enamel pin to wear proudly on your label. Or, perhaps – if you’re like me – it will adorn your pencil case!


Happy creating! Go forth and share your love of correspondence and let me know what you send off to The Castle!


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Seen recently at a SF garage sale:


And here’s the reveal:


(included: 24 “letterhands” and 12 envelopes.)

Inspired? Get out there and write something!


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clay street PO is keepin' it old school...

clay street PO is keepin’ it old school…

Alyson Kuhn has a fantastic write up about the Correspondence Salon for Ladies and Gentlemen, which took place at the National Postal Museum on September 22nd. If RLD readers will remember, I journeyed there myself — meeting some fantastic folks in the process and taking part in the shenanigans of the day.

Jump on over to Neenah Paper’s blog “Against the Grain” and take a look at “On the Real Mail Trail” — I can hardly wait for the second installment! (and if you’re feeling so inspired, leave a comment and let Alyson know what you think!)


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photo by Von Spa

photo by Von Span

Back in the day, there was something called a “telegram”. Today we just call it “social media”.

Last week really was a red letter day for me, when it comes to buzz. Monday morning brought an email from “Good Mail Day” co-author Carolee Wheeler. “You’ll never believe it,” she excitedly penned. “ABC News has reviewed GMD!”

And review they did. Coming in at paragraph four (right underneath Martha Stewart!), journalist Jennifer Forker had nothing-but-nice things to say. From “the authors of “Good Mail Day” think a good day brings good mail (not that junk stuff) or, better, artsy envelopes” to “…their book includes an array of inspiring, four-color examples” (thanks Von Span!), we couldn’t be anything less than thrilled with ABC’s review. Thank you Jennifer!

photo by Von Span

photo by Von Span

In the April issue of Nylon magazine, GMD contributor Jennifer Pappas wrote an article titled “Urban Planning” which shows takes us down to  South America and shows us a good time — everything from tango to trapeze swings are covered! In her contributor bio (p.68), Jennifer gives a shout out to mail art in general (yay!) and GMD specifically (super yay!). If you’re reading this Miss J., I’ve put a little something in the post for you… 🙂

photo by Von Span

photo by Von Span

And then, at the end of the week there was more great news to come!

Saturday morning brought the launch of a fresh new online magazine called  “Letters & Journals”. FAB! I’ve contributed an article titled “Stationery Secrets of the City by the Bay”, so if you’ve ever wondered where an envelope obsessed, mail art junkie like me would shop here in SF, well — mystery solved! I share three of my all-time favorite places, as well as a bit of history about each. I’ll let you wander over and discover the whole magazine for yourself. Editor Jackie Flaherty has plans to bring “Letters & Journals” into print at the end of the year.

Of course, Sunday night was the National Geographic wing-ding.

I’m hoping one of y’all recorded it for me!

Needless to say, it was a busy week. There are plenty of other exciting projects in the hopper; I’ll share the late-breaking news of the moment with each and every one of you as it happens!

In all things postal, I remain —

PS: two wonderfully paper-ish items of interest this weekend, if you’re here in the bay area…
: the Vintage Paper Fair
: PCBA’s Printer’s Fair

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In which I will introduce you to a photographed beauty from my archives, with attendant (short) story to match…

mail slot from SF estate sale

Last summer, the Baron and I found our knick-knack starved selves at another estate sale, this time in SF’s Telegraph Hill ‘hood. While the sale had little to offer in the way of ephemeric treasure, I quickly snapped the building’s mail slot on the way out…

PS: later in the week: a run-down of teaching those “Mail Art 101″ and Mail Art 202” classes at SFCB…

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Kitchen table: still life, with pens

You know what I love, more than fresh baked chocolate cookies or cute puppies or a really crackin’ pair of foxy heels?


That’s right. Some of you know precisely what I’m talking about, because you’re part of my gang.

Why do pens top my list? Do I really have to explain it? Pens won’t come back to haunt you in the summer time (swimsuit season) reminding you of the (delicious, not fat-free) eggnog you had at Christmas. Pens definitely will not chew on your sexy stilettos (puppy teeth marks are impossible to get out of suede). A good pen is like an old friend: you can pick up exactly where you left off, with no need to explain where you went, or for how long, or even why. And like any true, stand-up friend, you always wish the two of you could spend more time together, and wonder what makes that friendship so easy, so effortless…

It has recently come to my attention that one of my best friends, the disposable Pilot V-Pen, is going to be retired.

How sad does this make me?

Pretty darn sad.

The Pilot V was one of my first loves, discovered in the wilds of a Tokyo twenty-four hour office supply store. I thought I had died and gone to some sort of heaven: jet-lagged and unable to sleep, I stumbled into an emporium of highlighters, envelopes, and glue — two floors of office supplies in the heart of Shinjuku. At that time, the Pilot V seemed like just another disposable fountain pen in a sea of many, but I decided it might be fun to give it a try.

The next afternoon was spent sitting in a Harajuku cafe writing postcards to friends back home — I was hooked on the Pilot V. Here was a pen that cost about three dollars, wrote smoothly, and had a range of nib sizes (S/M/L): everything a girl like me needed. I went back to the store and bought half a dozen more, intent on giving them to other fountain pen acolytes when I returned stateside. Since that first trip, I’ve never looked back.

But now, there is sadness. Sure, sure, there’s a “replacement” pen (also made by Pilot), and my spies tell me it is a fine and mighty replacement. The new kid on the block is named “Pilot Varsity” (what’s not to love about the name?!); it comes in a few different colors (purple, turquoise) and has a jazzy design (stripes). I’m sure it writes fantastically and is easy to hold and can program my DVD player for me. I bet it’s wonderful.

letters from Japan, circa 1954

My heart is still broken.

My coping strategies? Well, I went ahead and ordered all the Pilot Vs I can get my hands on and cleaned out all of my local sources. Even though I know hoarding pens is not the most reasonable solution, I can’t help myself. I plan on sharing these precious pens with folks that I know will love and appreciate them, folks who will use them and write letters and create beautiful mail art. I’ll pass on something that I love, even though it means saying goodbye to one of my favorite and most trusted friends.


You can order a range of pens/notebooks/office goods from these companies; they specialize in Japanese office supplies!

Tokyo Pen Shop

Jet Pens

— if you’re interested in talking/learning about pens of all types and kinds, you might find Stylo Forum interesting…


PS: thanks to catwrangler for giving me the tip about the Pilot V’s disappearing act…

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vintage nibs and inkwell

Break out those fountain pens, fancy stationery sets, perfectly sharpened HB pencils. Take a moment to write a holoalphabetic sentence such as “The five boxing wizards jump quickly” or “Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs” — these are also known as pangrams (sentences which incorporate all 26 letters of the alphabet). Write your chosen sentence not once or twice, but several times, and once you’ve done that, look over the sum total of your work. Do your J’s swoop? W’s dive below the baseline? Perhaps your penmanship looks similar to a doctor’s prescription, as opposed to the handsome script of your third (fourth?) grade teacher, the one who first introduced you to the idea of cursive writing. Each of these quirks make up your handwriting, a tool utilized every day and often taken for granted. Consider your handwriting to be a personal seal, almost like a fingerprint of sorts; your handwriting is unique to you. No one else can copy the way that you write. (Forgery — now that’s something altogether different…)

Many people consider Platt Rogers Spencer to be the grandfather of “fancy” lettering. This was a man obsessed with penmanship; as per WikiPedia: “Platt was passionately fond of writing and, because paper was difficult to obtain at the time, Spencer wrote on birch tree bark, sand, ice, snow, the fly-leaves of his mother’s Bible and, by permission of a cobbler, the leather in his shop”. In 1840, Spencer realized the need for a penmanship style which could be written both elegantly and efficiently, for use in matters of business and commerce. Over time, the Spencerian method of penmanship was adopted in school systems and became synonymous with standardized writing.

Take a look at your sentences one more time. Do you like your handwriting?

Many people are dissatisfied with one aspect or another of their handwriting. There are penmanship fixes, and they are usually pretty simple. For example:

–Chicken scrawl? S-l-o-w down a bit. The tendency to rush through a written message means that the end result will often look messy. As you write, pay attention to what you are writing and give it your full concentration. I know, I know: it sounds silly. But really, I promise — it will help.

–Perhaps there’s ink all over the page, or strange smears in all the wrong places. Adjusting the way that you sit or the angle of your writing hand may be the answer. Sometimes folks don’t even realize that they are gripping a writing pen too tightly or leaning forward at an awkward angle. Changing these routines may be the solution.

In the book “Script and Scribble” by Kitty Burns Florey, it is mentioned that Spencer’s last request was for his pen, and he passed away with it clutched in his hand. One can only wonder what his final written message was (I’m sure it is recorded somewhere…) but we can be certain that it was written in an immaculate hand.

Some further reading:

–“Spencer’s New Standard Writing“; scans of an original penmanship lesson book from 1884

–“Teach Yourself Better Handwriting” by Rosemary Sassoon

–“Handwriting in America” by Tamara Plakins Thornton

Want to try your hand at Spencerian script? John Neal Booksellers has all the tools, equipment, and instructional books that you would ever want or need

Happy Handwriting Day — go out there and write something beautiful!


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Postcards at Blue Bottle in SF

Postcards at Blue Bottle in SF

Do you take the time to write letters? Send postcards? Lick postage stamps?

There are a legion of folks out there who also do those things, although at times, you may feel as if you are the only one.

When asked what one did over the weekend for fun (while standing around the watercooler on a Monday morn), you will hear very few proclamations of  “I wrote some letters” or “I made postcards for a friend”.

With that in mind, I ask you “Why not?” Why not carry an addressed postcard in your handbag or backpack, ready to be filled out and mailed off? Why not write five (or more) words on a drinks coaster from your favorite cafe and toss it in the mailbox to a friend? All it takes is a postage stamp (easily transported in your wallet!) What about an envelope folded from the menu of your local brasserie, created as you are waiting for your dinner to arrive tableside? The waiter will be charmed, I guarantee, and you may even get a complimentary glass of wine (it happened to me!).

Sending a letter doesn’t have to be an orchestrated process; often something spontaneous is just as effective. The most important thing is to send. To get a letter, send a letter: it’s as simple as that.


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