Postcard Substrates–What to Use?

As part of the Summer Mail Art Swap, I’ll be posting ideas, links, and tutorials, hopefully every Monday. This week, let’s talk about the postcard substrate–in other words, what you’ll be creating your original postcard art on.

possible postcard substrates at amyhoodarts.com

You can buy blank postcards, of course, such as the watercolor postcards pictured above, but you don’t have to. This is just a pad of 4″x6″ sheets of watercolor paper. It’s far cheaper to cut watercolor paper down to size yourself.

The yellow pad is Bristol board. I’ll admit, this is one of my favorite surfaces for collage and postcards. It cost about $6 for 20 sheets, each of which can produce 4 postcards. (It was $10, but I had a 40% off coupon at my local art store.)

However, you don’t need to buy a thing. Save your cardboard boxes from the recycling bin–they make great surfaces for postcards! The blank inside is perfect for writing on. You can paint or collage right onto the side with the image, or you can cover it with gesso first to start with a blank white surface. If you want to do that, here’s how.

First, I cut off the side, top, and bottom flaps so I have two even rectangles. Then I lightly sanded it with fine sandpaper. This roughs up the surface so the gesso goes on better.

prepping a cereal box for gesso at amyhoodarts.com

Then apply a layer of gesso, which you can find in art stores or big-box craft stores in the art supply aisle. I’m not using a fancy brush; I got this one at the hardware store for probably a dollar.

painting gesso on cereal box at amyhoodarts.com

Once it was dry, I decided I wanted a second coat, so I lightly sanded again and painted on another coat of gesso. All done–ready to be worked on!

gessoed cereal box at amyhoodarts.com

You can cut them to size first and work on them small, or collage and paint first and then cut them down, as I demonstrate here.

Karen has a helpful post with 10 “cheap or free” items you can use for postcard substrates, too.

Summer Mail Art Swap For Kids (And Their Adults!)

Summer Mail Art Swap at amyhoodarts.comMy kids and I thought it would be a lot of fun to host a handmade postcard swap for kids and families. They’ve seen me participate in some and get some really neat artwork back in the mail, and they’d like to do it, too. So we’d like to invite you to join in the Summer Mail Art Swap For Kids (And Their Adults).

The details are simple. Make some handmade postcards. I’ll post ideas, links, and tutorials over the next several weeks. Mail me your postcards (details below) by July 31, and we’ll sort them and send them out to someone else. Look for your one-of-a-kind artwork to arrive in the mail in August.

Why are we having them all mailed to us first? To avoid disappointment, mainly. It’s bad enough participating in a swap and getting nothing in return as an adult; it’s really, really disappointing for kids. I’m borrowing heavily from fabulous interviewee Karen’s instructions for her swaps (with her permission), with one added step. I don’t want my physical house address up on my blog in this post, so if you plan to participate, email me at amyhood at amyhoodarts dot com with the subject line “Summer postcard swap” and I’ll send you another copy of the details below, along with my mailing address.

I’m not posting a theme for this—go ahead and make any sort of postcard you want. Keep in mind it won’t be mailed to its final recipient in an envelope, though, because it’s a postcard (postcard dimensions are included in the details below). You could….paint, draw, collage, write a poem or a story or a cartoon, use a photograph, stitch, anything at all that you can think of, as long as it can be mailed. Like I said, we’ll share ideas here, too. And THIS IS OPEN TO ADULTS TOO. Because we make art together, you see, and the kids don’t get to have all the fun. Wouldn’t it be great to sit down for a family postcard-making session? However, I do want kids to get kid postcards, and adults to get adult postcards, so check the details on how to mark them.

Questions? Let me know. And share this post! This is open to anyone who wants to participate—you don’t need to have purchased a zine or be a regular reader. The more the merrier. Let’s have a summer of postcard creation and sharing!

The detailed directions:

Each person who makes and sends a postcard will get one back, addressed to him or her individually. Submit as many postcards as you want per person, all in the same envelope to me (you will get back the same number you send). Make sure you insert waxed paper or parchment in between the cards so they don’t get stuck together in the envelope, though.

Write “Summer Postcard Swap” on the back of your card, and please add an A if the card is by an adult and a C if it’s by a child.

It’s a good idea to write your return address on the back of the postcard (in case of postal delivery problems). You may also want to include an (adult’s) email address or website so the recipient can thank you. If your family is sending multiple postcards, you may receive postcards from various families. You might make some new friends!

A note for your partner is a nice touch. But remember I need half the postcard for the address. I use washi tape to divide my postcard backs, but drawing a line works too. Anything to help remind yourself to leave that right half blank.

Write what you want on the left side. Leave the right side open.

Include a mailing label with your name and address for each card you create. I’ll attach them to the cards I mail back to you. Return address labels work for this too. Please include the proper postage for each postcard you send (see below for postal guidelines).

International swappers are welcome–the postage cost is $1.15 per card and you can send that to me via Paypal (amyhood at amyhoodarts dot com).

DO NOT attach the stamps to your postcards, because I might be sending it to someone overseas! Just slip them into the envelope.

Postage and Card Size

You are welcome to make any size postcard you want, but please pay attention to the following postal guidelines:

In order to use the postcard rate ($.34) your card cannot be bigger than 4.25 x 6 inches, and it must be thin and flexible.  A 4×6 card that is thick, lumpy, or doesn’t bend needs more postage.

If your card is a rectangle bigger than a postcard, but still flat and flexible, a regular “forever” ($.49 ) stamp is what you need.

To keep things simple, stick to a basic rectangle so you can use one of those two stamp options.

You can find all the postal specifications (and a handy postage calculator) here: http://postcalc.usps.gov/

Again, questions? Email me at amyhood at amyhoodarts.com.

Working My Way Through Paint Lab

{Jen has a review and giveaway of Art Together Issue Four: Mixed Media. Leave her a comment by Saturday for a chance to win–and go check out what she has to say!}

I bought myself a present recently–my own copy (versus the library copy) of Paint Lab: 52 Exercises Inspired by Artists, Materials, Time, Place, and Method, by Deborah Forman. I have some other books in the Lab Series, but this one has so many exercises I want to try that I decided to make a list and work my way through them. I’m not going in order–I’ll go back to skipped ones when I get the materials I’m lacking. For instance, Lab 4 requires glazing medium, and I don’t have any.

I’ve completed two and started a third, though, and I’m enjoying the exercise-ness of them. They remind me of art class assignments. It’s very much just working things out. I think maybe framing something as an exercise lets me sink into it in a different way. Sometimes I am playing around with technique or method while I’m art-making. Sometimes I’m trying to achieve a specific design or image. And with exercises it’s a bit of problem-solving within a framework. These different ways of working engage different parts of my brain. I remember enjoying my design class exercises in college, and these remind me of those in some ways.

Paint Lab #1 at amyhoodarts.com

Paint Lab #1

This is layers of watercolor. All those dots? Pretty meditative. Not boring to do at all.

For Lab #5, Forman suggested doing the same design (created by collage first, then transferred) in two different color schemes. I also used two different types of paint and paper. The results are very different. In this first version, I used acrylic paint on canvas paper. I decided to use red, yellow, white, and green. Red and yellow are both warm colors, and green is red’s complement (it lies across it on the color wheel).

Paint Lab #5 at amyhoodarts.com

Paint Lab #5, version 1.

For the second version, I used watercolors on watercolor paper. I used the analagous colors of blue, blue-green, and green, with orange, which is blue’s complement.

Paint Lab #5 at amyhoodarts.com

Paint Lab #5 version 2.

I’ll keep posting these exercises as I do them. If anybody else has a copy of Paint Lab and wants to join in, please feel free to share links to posts or photos. It would be pretty cool to find others who have or who are working their way through the book, too.

Meet Karen

Karen Isaacson, interviewed in Art Together Issue Four

Karen Isaacson, interviewed in Art Together Issue Four

Karen describes herself as a “paint flinger, salamander catcher, and all-around goofball,” and I can attest that she is as fun and interesting and quirky in person as she seems on her blog, I Am Rushmore. Karen began art-making well into her grown-up years, and she approaches it with the sense of exploration, curiosity, and enthusiasm for the process (versus a focus solely on product) that I hope to nurture in others through Art Together. So I was happy she agreed to be interviewed for Issue Four, which focuses on mixed media–something Karen does so well.

As an early childhood educator, I preached the benefits of process-oriented art with young children. The toddlers I worked with never cared about what they were making, they simply delighted in the act of creating. I sat on the floor and played along with them, and it was the favorite part of my day. Perhaps I’m just a slow learner, but it never occurred to me that this same spirit of open-ended, joyful exploration could be applied to adult art experiences.

The rest of Karen’s interview can be found in the latest issue, along with lots of other inspiration and ideas. Along with her personal blog, Karen also maintains the website Mail Me Some Art, facilitating a mind-bloggling number of themed mail art swaps. She has several open swaps right now, including tape postcards, favorite city postcards, and handmade envelopes. She scans and posts all the artwork she receives (2500 pieces last year!) before sending them on their way through the postal system, so the site provides a constant stream of gorgeous art inspiration.

I hope to continue including interviews in future issues of Art Together, because I think it’s so encouraging to get to know people who are pursuing their artistic passions right now. There are so many ways to do that! I’m not sure that reminder can come often enough.

Art Together Issue Four: Mixed Media

Art Together Issue Four at amyhoodarts.comA week later than planned but worth the wait, I hope: Art Together Summer 2014: Mixed Media is out in the world today. This is Issue Four, which means a year ago, I was just fleshing out my idea for this zine. Now my green Moleskine that I use as my external brain for this project is full of notes, to-do lists, and brainstorming, and four whole issues exist in reality.

My goal all along has been to provide encouragement and inspire confidence, to demystify art supplies, terms, and techniques, so adults can feel comfortable playing and exploring right alongside kids. Art-making is so much fun and I’ve discovered how vital it is to my sense of well-being. It’s not fair to leave it all to the kids; we adults need it too. And exploring together has been so wonderful for us.

This issue’s focus, Mixed Media/Collage, so easily lends itself to play. Mixed media really is as simple as using more than one artistic medium, in other words, combining art materials. In this issue we learn about the artist Joseph Cornell and create our own assemblage boxes. We play with found paper, collage, photographs, and whatever art materials we choose to combine. We make our own collage book and learn about different types of glue. And we interview Karen Isaacson, the organizational mastermind behind Mail Me Some Art.

We have some fun things coming up, too–some give-aways, an excerpt from Karen’s interview to share, and, inspired by her swaps of mail art, my kids and I will be organizing a mail art swap for kids. That’ll be open to anyone who’s interested, of course, whether or not you purchase Art Together. Check for details before the end of June (hopefully as soon as next week). Here’s to a fun summer of art-making!

All the details on Issue Four, including how to purchase, can be found right here. (Psst: Use code ARTPLAY for 20% off through July 31.)

Making + Listening::11/2014

Making this week…we had some sun, so we made sun prints. I pulled out our package–I keep it in the light-proof envelope it came in, inside the cardboard box it was shipped in, inside a closet (overprotecting, much?)–and saw the advice to use within six months of opening. I’m pretty sure we’ve had this package two years, but we gave it a try. Below you can see some of the sun prints on the old paper, which is smaller, versus the new paper I went out to buy that afternoon because somebody was a little disappointed.

sun prints (old paper vs new) at amyhoodarts.com

The blocked areas aren’t as bright white, but otherwise, it works. I like using sun prints in collages. Now that we know we have to use it all up this summer, we will.

N and G have been making maps, some in collaboration and others separately.

kid-drawn maps at amyhoodarts.com

Collaborative maps, mostly drawn by N with idea input by G.

kid-drawn map at amyhoodarts.com

One of G’s maps.

Unable to find the bleach pen I know I have somewhere (time to clean out the studio, perhaps?), I bought another one and played with some denim scraps that Jen gave me.

bleach pen on denim at amyhoodarts.com

As for listening, Tuesday night Jen and I got together and listened to each other–adult talk!–for a couple of hours. That was a treat and a joy.

Linking up with Jen again this week…

An Announcement or Two

sketching irises at amyhoodarts.com

G and I drawing and painting irises in the yard this weekend.

This is the day I’d planned to have Issue Four of Art Together available, despite spending half of March sick with a bad cold and losing a week in April to the flu. But last week I became sick again, and it turned out to be strep, and that was the last straw. So I requested a week extension from myself, and Myself listened, weighed the facts, and granted it. Mainly it’s just the tech stuff left to do, which does, in fact, require me to be conscious. I had no idea strep was more than just a bad sore throat! I could barely keep my eyes open for a while there, but antibiotics are lovely when you truly need them, aren’t they? Like magic.

Speaking of Issue Four, which focuses on mixed media + collage, if you’re interested in a review copy and/or giveaway, drop me a line at amyhood at amyhoodarts dot com and we’ll discuss.

And finally, if you’re in southern Rhode Island this summer, you can now find my pockets and cards in Thrifty Sister in Peace Dale. This is a great consignment store that also carries work by local artists. (It also happens to be an excellent source of interesting found paper for mixed media and collage.)

Making + Listening::10/2014

pockets in progress at amyhoodarts.com

This week I have been making basic pockets. That’s a stack with zippers sewn in, waiting to be top-stitched and sewn up (which took place about nine hours after I took the photo; I mostly sew at night after my youngest is in bed). Along with last week’s chicken, this stack contains more embroidery, some stamped images (you can see the bottom edge of an anchor), and some that are both stamped and embroidered (four more trees in various colors). I’m waiting until after this weekend before adding anything new–including the cards and notebooks that didn’t sell at last weekend’s fair–to the shop, because I’m meeting with a local shop owner on Saturday to see about consignment. (The store that carried items last year closed around Christmas and I figured it was time to look into doing that again.)

As for listening, like many parents of young children, I have been listening to my kids sing this. My 5yo especially belts it out, dressed in both her blue sparkly capes (this one layered under this one). “Let it Go” has been stuck in my head all week. Sometimes I belt it out too, when I just can’t hold it back anymore…

Linking up with Jen again this week.

Circles: Sketchbook Page Inspired by G

Saturday morning, while not-waking-us-up-early, my 5yo drew a page of “Thomas wheels” (as in Thomas the Tank Engine).

5yo's page of circles at amyhoodarts.com

I love them. I love the vibrant color, the repetition of a theme, the way they’re all a little different. I love the way that, because she’s five, she doesn’t stress herself out to the point of paralysis with the idea that the circles should be perfectly circular. When I got a chance, I sat down with my sketchbook and drew some circles to color in, too. I told her she had inspired me.

circle sketchbook page at amyhoodarts.com

These were so much fun to draw and color. I like the equality that goes on, artwise, in my house. Ideas and techniques don’t just flow in one direction, from adult to children. We inspire each other. It’s a fabulous, natural way to nurture confidence and a willingness to try new things.

(I’ve added a few more sketchbook pages to my flickr sketchbook set.)

Raising Readers (Or, Why I Don’t Approve of Book Logs)

Why I Don't Approve of Book Logs at amyhoodarts.com

Last week I had a little twitterrant about book logs and similar assignments that extend a teacher’s reach into reading a child does for pleasure on his or her own time. I’ve made a lot of mistakes as a parent, but one of the things I’ve got right is raising kids who love to read. I’ve been at it for over a decade now, and my methods have been proven successful, so I really bristle when school reaches in and messes with it. My oldest and only schooled child is in sixth grade. None of his teachers have bothered him with a book log since he began school in second grade; he entered reading voraciously and well beyond grade level. Earlier this spring his teacher went on maternity leave, and the sub decided he needed to fill out a book log. At parent/teacher conferences several weeks ago, I brought it up and got him excused, pointing out that he’s often read the assigned 20 minutes per day before he even gets to school, because he reads on the bus. He also frequently reads entire books in one school day because he finishes his work early and they have nothing else to offer him. Last week, he came home and told me she’d now assigned him to write a weekly summary of a book he read on his own time for fun in place of the book log. This is beyond the reading-related assignments he does for school. She told him she wanted to make sure he understood what he was reading.

He takes standardized tests that measure reading comprehension. He writes summaries and does assignments for books assigned as class reading. I know he understands what he’s reading because I talk to him about what he’s reading. A book log is a tedious exercise in time wasting, and writing a summary of a book you chose to read for pleasure just so school can check a box is odious. Both of these activities attach a chore to reading for fun, which is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing if we want to raise kids who like to read.

I’m not just against book logs for established readers. My younger son, who was schooled from K through second grade, was not reading fluently when he began second grade. It hadn’t clicked for him yet, by which I mean he hadn’t crossed that magical bridge when you cease to think about reading and find yourself simply doing it. When his teacher assigned a book log, I explained that we wouldn’t be participating. I knew my child; he has a contrary streak and requires ownership of his learning and doing. I worried that if he got a whiff of an idea that reading was something he should do because school said so, he’d decide it wasn’t for him. Also, writing down everything you read is, as I’ve said, tedious; I’ve tried it. I wanted him to come to reading in his own time, without pressure, and develop into someone with a lifelong love of books. I wanted that much more than I wanted to not be the Difficult Parent.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both teachers with whom I’ve had to discuss book log requirements have said they didn’t like to read as children. Book logs begin with the assumption that kids won’t read unless we force them to and then hold them accountable. I don’t like this assumption. To me, the fact that schools require them as a matter of course demonstrates that schools have given up on the idea that kids will read for fun and they view it as one more thing that needs to be forced down kids’ throats like medicine. That’s not the attitude my kids have towards reading. So, how did we do it?

My husband and I both read, and the kids see us reading. But setting an example isn’t enough. We hope the kids love to read, but having that hope isn’t enough. We have a family culture that values books and reading, and I feel that’s why we’ve successfully passed on our love of reading. Our words and actions are all in line with the idea that we value books and time spent reading. I’ve been taking my kids to the library since they were infants, as much for my sake as for theirs. We remain heavy library users, and librarians at all three branches of the town system we use the most know all my kids by name. I can’t even begin to estimate how many hours of my mother-life I’ve spent reading aloud: it surely must be in the thousands. And not just stories before bed; we have shelves packed with books, and I will read aloud at any time of day. Some days it was all I did, reading entire chapter books to ill little boys. (Those are good memories!) While we ask the kids to save their own money for certain purchases, they know I’m a soft touch when it comes to books. Unless we decide it’s a book they’ll finish quickly and never re-read (in which case, it’s borrowed from the library), I will hand over money for just about any book purchase.

As a result of allowing the kids to learn to read at their own pace without external pressures, valuing reading and books, taking time to read aloud every day and almost whenever asked, providing the kids with books they ask for, talking about what we’re all reading, demonstrating in word and deed that my own reading time is just as important to me—as a result of all of this, I have kids who love to read, who won’t leave the house without a book in hand (and an extra, if they think they might finish the first one en route), who don’t understand why anyone would not want to read. Sometimes my boys and I, or the boys and my husband, will read the same books and discuss them. The boys pass series back and forth. My oldest has subscriptions to two adult science magazines and chooses his library books from all sections of the library: kids, YA, adult, fiction, nonfiction. My almost-10yo will still choose picture books even as he ranges up to the YA section for chapter books. He also loves nonfiction as well as fiction. My daughter can’t wait until she can read, too; she’s already planning to re-read favorite series that we’ve read aloud together. I have never once told any of my kids they had to read at least twenty minutes per evening and then hand me a list to prove they did.

I realize teachers don’t know what happens in every household, but I was and always will be my children’s first teacher. I expect any classroom teachers they have to be my partner in this; information goes back and forth so we can both do our best. If our goal as teachers and parents is to nurture children who love to read and freely choose reading as an enjoyable leisure activity, then when my kid is doing just that, we’ve met our goal. Back off with the book logs and busywork summaries; they’ll just undermine the idea that reading can and should be fun. As for kids who aren’t there yet, introducing the idea that you read because school says so leaves no room for the idea that reading can be intrinsically fun. Rating books by level, telling kids what sorts of books they should be reading, valuing one kind of book over another, requiring a certain number of pages read in a certain time period…none of this creates a culture of reading. It creates a culture of control, and that’s no way to nurture kids who choose to read for fun.

(I never forced my kids to eat vegetables, either, and you know what? They all love them.)