Category Archives: Mail Art, Lettering & Writing

Creating Comics


Comic books at Art Club! I had a number of requests for this one–it was time.

To begin, I drew a series of random blank pages with a charcoal pencil, copied a dozen of each and set them out. A long reach stapler like this is handy for bookbinding and strong enough for thick stacks.

The set up—choose your own paper and bind your book:


Commence creativity:

Finished (or  nearly finished) books:

And because it’s fall, a campfire and marshmallows to round things off:



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Filed under Bookbinding, Drawing, Mail Art, Lettering & Writing

Mail Art Inspiration

And this is how I lured them in…







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Filed under Drawing, Inspiration & Imagination, Mail Art, Lettering & Writing, Painting & Mixed Media, Stamp Carving

Carving Eraser Stamps: Small but Mighty


It’s dangerous, fun, challenging, and makes a bit of a mess. Perfect.

Stamp carving wisdom: Always carve away from your fingers, and have extra rubber ready to soothe the frustrated artists.

This is not one of the easier projects, and when my kids were little they basically gouged out marks, trying for a straight line, and that was that. They were proud then, and that was enough. Now, they have higher aspirations, and carving rubber is pretty unforgiving.

But some kids forgive the rubber, and use every last scrap for a doodle and design:


The great thing about eraser stamps is that you can buy a bunch for cheap, especially during back-to-school sales. The difficult thing is that they are so small it’s hard to hold and you run out of edge pretty quickly. We use Speedball Linoleum Cutters, changing the carving attachments as needed for varying thicknesses.

When it works out, it’s incredibly satisfying…


This artist used Strathmore 300 Tracing Pad paper to capture characters from Star Wars: Jedi Academy, then transferred them to the rubber. This also works for your own design if you don’t want to draw directly on the rubber, because it’s hard (impossible?) to erase graphite off a rubber eraser. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s true.

We consulted the inspiring book Making an Impression: Designing & Creating Artful Stamps by the talented Gennine Zlatkis. The best thing is that once you have a stamp, you can use it again and again! I made a hollow heart so I could watercolor, colored pencil, or pastel the inside for some Mail Art love.

Check out Carving Rubber Stamps: The Kids Mean Business next!


Filed under Crafting, Mail Art, Lettering & Writing, Stamp Carving

Mail Art to London


Sometimes my kids aren’t interested in a Fabulous Exciting Amazing Art Project I think they’ll love. I’m not terribly surprised when this happens. They’ve trained me well. Sometimes they love things I think they’ll hate, and sometimes they hate things I think they’ll love. That’s life, and they have every right to their opinions.


If it’s that Fabulous and Amazing, I’m either already doing it myself, or I’m about to start doing it. There aren’t any “kid’s art projects” around here. There’s just Art, regardless of age, entirely dependent on the artists’ interests and abilities: if you can whittle it, draw it, paint it, go for it. This is great for a lot of reasons—supplies are shared within the family, kids have access to good-quality materials, and projects can be done alongside siblings and adults. It helps young artists feel that what they’re doing is “real” art (if there was ever any question), and I don’t end up painting with crappy watercolors at the kitchen table by myself. I may be painting with really nice watercolors at the kitchen table by myself, and in that case I’m probably having a grand old time.  Often enough, seeing me doing a project they previously rejected gets them inspired to try it, or bring a different project to do alongside me. Mail Art, case in point:


I needed to send a small package that had been on my to-do list for at least two months. It contained a couple of old postcards, but required an updated note because it had been sitting there so long. Mail Art I can handle. Getting to the post office, not so much. I wasn’t in much of a mood to write, but doodle? Sure thing. I ripped a page out of a magazine I’d gotten from the library’s free bin (aka “Take This Junk We Don’t Want It”) that was destined for altered book/collage projects, and began sketching, scribbling, commenting, generally enjoying the heck out of myself. My kids wandered by, intrigued. I filled both sides of the page.


In it goes with the old letters, and a tiny hand-bound gift in a tiny package:


It was a few days later that I was going through some mail art samples for a class, when my older kids asked when we were doing Mail Art. I jogged their memories: “You said you didn’t want to.”

They stared at me. “We want to!”

“Okay, then. Tomorrow.”


Make something look interesting by enjoying it yourself, and they’ll probably join you. Be warned about reversing this process: it doesn’t work on ice cream. No matter how unhappy you look while eating it, they’ll still want some.


Filed under Drawing, Mail Art, Lettering & Writing

Art Club ‘Zine: Summer 2014


Art Club has met back-to-school season, but is not giving up! I figured an end-of-summer-vacation ‘zine was in order… Also wanted to be amazed by how many people  around me have never heard of a ‘zine. Ahem.

I love seeing all those hands joining in creatively. Taking turns is not always as great as squeezing in at once. Each child got their own page, signed the “made by” page, and joined in for a collaborative cover. I had the kids collate the pages and staple their own books together. I haven’t made a ‘zine since I was 13, but now I remember why it’s so much fun.  It came out even more awesome than I thought it would 🙂

(Click photos to enlarge.)


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Filed under Bookbinding, Collaborative Art, Drawing, Mail Art, Lettering & Writing

A Guide to Public Art for Young People


Saturday morning mother-son date: hot chocolate, tea, and collaborative art on a cafe patio. His favorite highlighters, Jenny Doh’s Creative Lettering, and a little Vengekeep Prophecies read-aloud.


My eight-year-old son was inspired to leave some art on the patio for others to enjoy. He knew the pictures might be taken down fairly quickly, but we had a good time imagining these bits of creativity going on an adventure, going home with someone we’ve never met.


WP_20140809_011Wherever you live, I hope you and your kids will leave some temporary public art for others to come across. It can be hard for some kids to let go of a drawing, and that’s okay. Don’t try to force it. Offer to make copies of their art if they’re interested but hesitant to let it go. And if you start creating public art, they might join you.

A few ways to inspire public art appreciation and creation as a family:

* Sticky Notes: Draw on post-it notes and leave for others on railings, public mail boxes, meters, etc. (Just don’t overdo it or it becomes litter.)

* Walk a Stapler: Take a walk with some sketches and a stapler. Spruce up a few telephone poles. It’ll make them so happy.

* Lost Posters: Make some imaginary creature posters. I saw this one in Philly a few years back. Lost Unicorn, friendly disposition! (click to enlarge)IMAG0521

* Yarn Bombing: If you knit or crochet… If you’re the only knitter in the house, have the kids help design and attach the finished product. This one was in Philly, wrapped around a meter post, and made me so happy as I passed by. Thank you to whoever made it 🙂IMG_5123

* Chalk Art: Take after Bert from Mary Poppins, and make some art on your driveway, sidewalk, or a park path. Also, check out Julian Beever’s sidewalk art.

* Nature’s Art:

  •  Cairns: I love coming across stones stacked up by train stations, in empty lots, and even in a clearing just off the Appalachian Trail. (click to enlarge)
  • Leaning Sticks: I love when branches are leaned against a tree, sometimes creating a sculpture big enough for a child to fit inside of. It seems that many people have contributed a stick as they passed by, until the tower is massive. My kids love adding their own, to be part of something so mysterious. (This probably began as a way to simply clear the trail, but became art!)
  • Wildflower Street Art: Gather wild flowers, interesting grasses and weeds, then hold them against a telephone pole, while someone else wraps a string around the plants and pole a few times to keep the bouquet in place. They will dry beautifully. Whoever did this outside my house, thank you!
  • Mandalas: Anywhere you go a mandala can appear: parks, parking lots, trails. You can use sticks, rocks, grass, shells, flowers, feathers, sea glass… This is a lovely beach mandala from the good people at Sparkle Stories. Also, find some photos of traditional mandalas for your kids to see so they know where this is coming from.

* Paths: Check out the painted stone path captured on One Crafty Mama! As a child, I knew an artist who had a path to his studio laid with embedded, oversized marbles, sticking halfway up out of the dirt like tiny crystal balls. I was mesmerized by this, wondering how they ended up there. I bet a lot of kids would have a blast digging small holes into a path and planting marbles. I wonder how long such a planting would last in a public park…

* Little Free Library: These are amazing. I recently saw a Little Free Library nearby, created from a repurposed newspaper vending machine. This seems like the perfect container: water tight and now full of free books to borrow, they painted the box beautifully.

* Isaiah Zagar: Philadelphians, take your kids to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens in South Philly, and then enjoy spotting more of Zagar’s amazing mosaic art around the city. Try it at home with dishes you’ve accidentally broken (or on purpose!).

* First Friday: Go out as a family on First Friday to see art shows in galleries, and consider organizing a children’s FF Art Show in a library community room. We need more non-competitive art-centered events for and by children, and libraries often have a very small donation fee for use of their meeting rooms.

* Events: Look up public art events in your town. Here’s the Association for Public Art in Philly.

* Graffiti: Enjoy it whenever you can, because graffiti can be beautiful, colorful, exciting, and meaningful. Not suggesting you encourage your kids in graffiti arts, ahem… But in some areas it’s impossible to avoid and can be an avenue for discussion. Check out Happy Graffiti: Street Art With Heart, Written on the City: Graffiti Messages Worldwide (probably best for the over-14 age group), and the Popular History of Graffiti (from cave art to the present). Take time to talk about graffiti with social meaning, and why illegal art can propel a deep message.

* Mural Arts:

  • Watch out Dallas Clayton’s video where he paints his first mural and talks about taking chances on new opportunities.
  • Visit murals in your city, bring a camera, and put together a homemade book of photos. If you live in Philly, you’re in luck.
  • Consider painting a family mural in your home (I know, it’s not public, but it’s a start), an outside wall of your house, a door, or designs on your yard fence. These are three spots inside our house where young kids painted and drew:

    If your kids enjoy this, you can look into opportunities where older kids and adults can volunteer on a public mural. Or get a group together and propose painting a mural on a blank wall at your community center, school, library, or wherever seems to be calling out for it. This is a great guide for indoor murals, and here’s a brief overview for outdoor painting.

Art is everywhere. Take time to notice the modern geometric designs on crosswalks, mural-arts garbage trucks, artistically decorated solar trash cans, cafe and restaurant signage. Before long, your observant kids will be pointing out art that you’ve missed, and asking you to slow down to check it out.

Creating public art makes a place more personal, a town more creative, and offers the chance to leave a positive message for the people around us. My son’s artwork is not at the cafe now, a week later. For whatever time it was hung up, it likely made a few people smile. And hopefully inspired them to leave a creative treasure somewhere, too.

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Filed under Crafting, Drawing, Mail Art, Lettering & Writing, Nature's Art, Painting & Mixed Media, Photography

Snail Mail for Art’s Sake


Many people love getting mail… when it isn’t bills, unwanted coupons, or advertisements, right? Unfortunately, for most this doesn’t happen too often. And for kids, it generally happens only on birthdays when they received cards from older relatives.


Email can easily, instantly link people across the world. I have dear friends far away that I have yet to meet, so I’m incredibly grateful for the ability to connect with them this way. But paper mail that you hold in your hands, with someone’s unique scrawl on it? Mail that takes a stamp and days to arrive? It’s something special.


There’s no need to wait for a birthday or holiday. In fact, it’s better if there’s no reason at all for the mail. Sit down soon with some fun postcards or blank paper and pen a note with your kids to someone who is likely to write back. Older folks are pretty amazing this way!

My son sent my writing mentor, Zee Zahava, a doodled card with only his and her names on it. He decided to include an origami cyclops eye he’d just painstakingly made, and then we sent it off. He let it go. That’s how mail works. You can’t follow that letter, rush it, see when it’s opened or if the other person is bothering to respond. It’s an act of faith.

 I don’t think he even remembered that he’d sent it (he’s that zen at letting mail go), so what came back was a great surprise. He received a postcard with Frank Lloyd Wright’s colored pencils, and a note just for him on the other side.


If they’re not the writing type of kids (mine aren’t), no biggee. Mail can still be in their lives. A young artist can turn a  “letter” into a collage of magazine clippings, a doodle page, a place to put a recent sketch, or even make an illuminated letter (literally, just one letter, illuminated!). We’ve mailed collaborative altered books, mini photo albums, and origami birds. There doesn’t have to be a whole lot of writing involved in mail. Pretty cool like that. They call it Mail Art. All you really need is a recipient and the sender’s name—boom. Snail mail of the artistic persuasion! Don’t forget to decorate the envelope, too. That can be the best part: art on the outside—a treasure arriving in a stack with bills and junk mail. This will make someone’s day, and hopefully soon, you’ll get something back in the mail that will affect your kids in a way email can’t.


We’ve had a lot of fun sending tiny mail in our family—both in the house and in the greater postal system. I figure, if an address and a stamp can fit on it, then it’s big enough to survive the post office. I’ve used the throw-away wrappers that cover tea bags for envelopes, as well as made our own from magazine pictures, paper from the recycling bin, and maps given to the artistic cause. Illustrator Tasha Tudor’s Sparrow Post Valentines are deliciously small, with instructions on envelope-making. Here’s some miniature mail from artist Maya*Made and her Swallow Post.

If you don’t get a response or if your child doesn’t have anyone they’d like to write to, consider someone you don’t know yet.

IMG_2991Yep, that’s a magnifying glass. A tiny one, sent from Lea at the World’s Smallest Post Service which is, as you can imagine, just about the coolest site ever. Being the makers that we are around here, we do this kind of thing ourselves, but Lea does sell many awesome bits of inspired littleness, including a Tiny Stationery Kit.IMG_2988

My daughter loves miniatures and dollhouse paraphernalia, and makes most of what she wants herself. She was pretty smitten when we discovered Lea’s talents, and decided to write a tiny letter to her. And Lea wrote back—sending a tiny envelope with a tiny letter inside, a wax seal and itty-bitty snail stamp (of course), all safely inside a cardstock-and-plastic frame (so it doesn’t vanish when you sneeze!), and a magnifying glass with which to read it. The letter was so sweet and personal, and I know it made an impression on my daughter. Reaching out really does affect people, and when they reach right back, it’s a very sweet thing.




Filed under Crafting, Drawing, Mail Art, Lettering & Writing