A Day at the printer’s fair

I’ve been waiting for the printer’s fair at San Jose History Park to happen this spring for quite some time. Over the last few years I’d heard there was a fair hosted by the San Jose Printer’s Guild, but I never managed to make it. This year I actually put a note in my calendar so I wouldn’t miss it.

One of the many presses on display

It was awesome!

So much to see! I brought the kiddos but it was tough at times. Even though there were plenty of kid-friendly events and printing demos, my 6-year-old was complaining quite a bit. Thank goodness for the hot dog truck and the promise of a choice of candy from the candy shop to keep him content. Yes, I bribe my children from time to time. My 9-year-old was much more engaged; I guess she takes after me.

For many of the vendors, printing presses are a hobby. We met Maria who came down from Santa Rosa with her printing presses. She was so good with the kids, having them make their own bookmarks.

I was surprised to see that type is still sold though what I understood from listening to other people’s conversations around me, presses are no longer made.

Here are the presses at the Patrick Reagh Printers table.

Then, there was a booth with these. It’s a counter, but I’m not sure how it works. I think it needs to be mounted on some kind of handle.

There was a crowd of people around and the person behind the table was too busy to talk, but she had a lot of them.

I mean, a lot of them.

She also had something else that had most of my attention:

She had a big selection of wooden type trays. I’ve always wanted one. I’m not sure what I want to put in it, but it’s a fabulous piece for displaying on your wall. So for $15 I came home with one. I don’t have any place to hang it at the moment, but that’s not the point. The point is, it’s mine. Yay!

I also came home with a big pile of paper ephemera that was free for the taking but donations were appreciated.  I got some lovely font type books, like this one from the San Francisco Type Foundry. The pages are a heavy card stock so will make wonderful postcards eventually.

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And lastly I came home with this little “Pied-Type Necklace”, made by Tin Dog Press. I love the little quilling paper heart inside.

What a fun day! I’ll be back next year.


Busy making postcards

Many paper elements collaged on a postcard-sized substrate.

I always seem busy, making collages in my gluebooks. I have several of them going on at one time, but haven’t taken the time to show them here. I need to work on that and get writing.

But I’ve also been busy making postcards that get sent to my various mail art pals near and far.

lots of different kinds of paper elements make up a collage. Some text, some just for color, some with an illustration.

Sometimes they come together quickly like this one above. I started with a piece of my daughter’s 3rd grade homework and loved the colorful stars. After that, I looked for some matching colors and plenty of styles of black text. The dog came from a Trader Joe’s flyer.

collage with ink bottles on washi tape, a dictionary page, a postage stamp, and a postmark

This one started with the ink and rubber stamp on the washi tape. Once I had that piece, all my other pieces had to correspond in some way.

Meanwhile, here are some great postcards I’ve been receiving lately:




Vintage in the desert

Last weekend my husband and I attended a workshop on making tiny houses, in Joshua Tree, CA, at the Atomic Trailer Ranch. There’s a lot of information in that sentence and even more questions — What was I doing? Where? And why?!!

Tiny houses are cool. I’ve got an interest in them. People should have options on alternative housing if traditional housing is too expensive or they want to live more simply. I wanted to go to a workshop to 1) listen why people were choosing to go tiny, 2) learn options on how they are built (on a trailer or on a foundation), and 3) how tiny houses are integrating into communities.

The workshop was organized by Derek “Deek” Diedricksen and his brother Dustin who travel around the country, touring and filming tiny houses. Deek wrote a book called Microshelters, and he and Dustin are experts in making tree houses too. The workshop was a couple of days in the desert where we could have hands-on experience building a tiny structure. Even though I’m not interested in a tiny house of my own at present, the experience was interesting and I enjoyed it.

Joshua Tree in California is a special place. It’s named after the Yucca brevifolia plant that is native to the Mojave Desert in the southwest part of the US. Now in spring it’s beautiful — warm and dry, but when the breeze picks up, pretty darn cold! Of course Joshua trees are everywhere in this area, but also there are plenty of beautiful desert plants filling in the landscape.

The ranch where the workshop took place is called the Atomic Trailer Ranch, and is the place of the artist Cary Ezoll who spends some of his time there in the desert, and the other half in the Los Angeles area. At his place in Joshua Tree, he created “the bottle house”, a structure with walls that are made with glass bottles. Deke made a video with a little tour of the place, if you’re curious.

But what I absolutely loved was all the old automobiles, old car and tractor parts, street signs, motel signs – some still with working neon, and all kinds of vintage bits and pieces scattered all over his property. It was such a treat to walk around the whole place and find interesting things to see along the way. Here are some of things I photographed:

I loved the way Cary placed old pieces over the land, being careful to let the vegetation shine through.

There were signs like this one you could see in the daylight.

And then others that looked amazing at night.

My favorite piece had to be this wagon.

Parts of the wagon tongue were patented in the 1790s?!! I’m not sure if I’ve interpreted that correctly.

Still, I wonder what it was used for.

At the end of our workshop, we headed back into town and had dinner at a place called the Rib Co., where they had, you guessed it, lots of different kinds of ribs. Our evening entertainment was competitive bean toss, on ESPN2. Say, what? Bean toss? Yep. You don’t see that every day.


The Eclectic-page notebook

Sometimes it’s the background paper that creates the initial spark in me for making a collage, so I decided that I wanted a notebook of a bunch of random papers for collage art.

A couple of years ago I bought a used Zutter Bind-it-all, which is a tool to cutting holes on the side of a page, and then closes a wire coil to bind the pages together. I decided to use the Zutter for my notebook. The good thing about it is that you can add or move pages around if you really want to.

I made a couple to sell in my Etsy shop, but the dog got a hold of one and started chewing the corner. Since I could no longer sell that one, I used it to begin making collages.

I started with the cover, but after that I chose pages in random order — which ever caught my attention that day. There are around 20+ pages, all approximately 4″ x 6″

Margarete's gluebook

This was great fun! I’ll definitely do more.


The Pantone postcard project

Earlier this year I received a box of around 50 postcards, all of different Pantone colors, from a good friend of mine.

Without much thought I realized these cards lend themselves to having collages created on these colorful backgrounds. So without any planning I went to work using up scraps and little paper bits to create some collage art.

I started with using no more than 3 pieces per collage, like I did with this blue one.

I’m not sure what to do with the cards once I’m done. The initial plan was to mail them off to mail-art friends. Now that I’ve got a collection of them I’m reluctant to break them up. I could punch a hole in the corner and put them on a ring, or put them all in an album. But wait a minute… . Why are people like that? Why do we want to collect things and hold on to them?

No, I’ve got enough things that I’m holding on to. I’m going to be firm and mail these off. I can keep the pictures though.


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Jumping into the digital ephemera arena

digital ephemera

I enjoy making vintage junk journals. Every time I make one, I try to think of creative ways to embellish the pages. I don’t like to write or “journal” in my books, I prefer to add collages or do artwork to fill the pages. In turn they become tomes of paper treasures that I have fallen in love with.

Over the years I’ve been collecting paper ephemera that I use in my collages. When I go to antique malls or search online, I’m looking for papers that are typically from 1945 to the 1800s. I look for receipts, postcards, letters, legal documents, photos, trade cards and advertisements, calling cards, and currency.

ephemera organizer

Now that I’ve got a nice collection, I have a better selection to choose from when collaging pages in my vintage journals. Sometimes I scan pieces before I use them, other times I don’t. There have been a few times when I have found that there are a few pieces that I like to use again and again because they are so interesting to look at, and so versatile. It is these pieces that I have decided to make public and sell as collections through Etsy.

Thus far I have created two collections: the Theo Jessup Collection and the Lucile Holt Collection. Each one consists of 4 pages and each cost $4 to download.


Here’s my Etsy site, if you are interested in seeing them:  https://www.etsy.com/shop/mellowmiller

Additionally, I made a video on how I use them to give people ideas on how they might use them in their own projects:

The pieces in the Theo Jessup Collection were inspired from making journals using the digital download kit Gentlemen and Scholars from Ephemera’s Vintage Garden. I’ve made two journals with this kit and have been really happy with the results of adding my pieces to this amazing journal kit. Debbie-Anne Parent, the artist who creates many wonderful digital kits at Ephemera’s Vintage Garden, recently posted a video showing how she integrated my ephemera pieces in a journal she made with her Gentlemen and Scholars kit. It’s such a lovely book and am so pleased to have contributed a little bit to its charm.

Global Priority Mail journal

Recently I put together a postal-themed journal for a postal-friend of mine who has sent me some wonderful no-longer-in-use forms and papers from the USPS. I constructed the cover using a flat Global Priority Mail envelope that I cut down for the front and back.

I used another envelope to cut the length of the spine. I used a piece of Tyvek sandwiched between the 3 cover pieces, and cardboard I used as a backing and to make it more sturdy. The Tyvek allows it to bend at the hinges to make a cover (See my post on making journal covers if this makes no sense to you and you want to read more).

After I sewed in the three signatures to make up the journal, I asked some fellow mail artists to make some postcards to include in the journal.

The whole thing came out beautifully and I was so excited to mail it off to its destination in Tennessee.

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The recipient loved it, I am happy to share. She sent me a wonderful response saying, “There has never been one made that is more loved or appreciated than this one!”

I’m so pleased 🙂

Postage stamp art

In the last few months I’ve been playing with postage stamps, using them in collages and art projects here and there. A very talented artist and a friend of mine who is very interested in working with postage stamps, has been working on a postage stamp glue book that I fell in love with.

I’ve been holding on to the perfect little travel notebook that I found in a giftshop some years ago and there I began experimenting with series postage stamps, paint, and pigment color.

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These “painted” pages are a little more time consuming, though I thoroughly enjoyed working on them, but I also wanted to do more straight gluing of stamps in groups. These have been a lot of fun to make. I’ve only started. I’ve got a lot more to do.

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I get the stamps from a couple of different places. Ebay, of course, is an obvious place to search for stamps in large quantities. They are relatively cheap and there is such variety to choose from. I also get some stamps from my local stamp club. It’s worth it to do a little research to find out what kind of stamp connections you might have near by. I’ve also attended my first stamp show not too long ago and enjoyed it. It definitely was a new experience.

I love working with postage stamps though I have to stress that I am not a collector. I’m not looking to have anything of value. I like to sort by theme and color, and I like the cheapest stamps best. That way there is no guilt when I glue them with a glue stick into my pages.


In Search of the Cutts Building in downtown Los Angeles

Having an interest in vintage papers and ephemera means that old photos that are part of your own personal history are all the more valuable to you. I have a handful of photos that I wanted to find out more.

My grandfather (b.1900 – d.1982) liked to take photos as a hobby. Growing up I saw albums at my grandparents’ house that my grandmother kept and allowed us grandchildren to look through. When, as an adult in my early 20s, I became interested in photography and in my grandfather’s photos, my grandmother let me borrow a shoe box full of negatives for me to print whatever I wanted. I made my selections and spent close to $200 getting many developed at a specialty photo store for old BW negatives.

Since my photos are reprints I have no information on them. My grandfather died when I was 7 so I couldn’t ask. Most of the photos are from the time my grandfather immigrated to the US from Nurnberg, Germany in the mid 1930s, where he settled in Los Angeles. When I came across buildings in some of the photos, I really didn’t have much hope in discovering where they were. When I came across the same building, taken in many photos, my curiosity was piqued. This one, for example:

And then this one:

And this one:

Hmmm. It looks like an office (with two telephones!). Online I looked for lists of historic buildings in downtown Los Angeles. It took me a couple of hours to compare buildings, but I found it. It’s called the Sun Drug Building on 700 Hill Street. It’s 12 stories, which was pretty impressive when it was built in 1921/22. It’s on the corner of Hill and 7th. Here’s what it looks like on Google Maps. Today it’s a jewelry exchange among other things.

I looked for information on the Sun Drug Building and found out it was once owned by George Cutts from the late 1920s to the early 40s. Now it made sense to me as I had heard that in his early years in California, my grandfather worked as a person who stood in the elevator and pressed the button of the floor you wanted to go to. Here he is in his uniform.

This looks like it was taken on the roof. I found other photos of what I think is the interior of the Cutts Building. I couldn’t find any pictures online of the interior of the Sun Drug Building to compare them.

And one of the street outside.

The door on the left has letters above that say CUTTS BLDG. When looking for old photos online of the Cutts Building, I found one on the street with those same letters so I’m fairly certain this photo was taken next door.

And then there is this one:

This was the Warner Bros. Theatre, exactly cater-cornered to the Cutts Building. One of the movies on the marquee is “Blackwell’s Island”, which was released March 2, 1939.

Here’s the image from Google Maps:

The side-by-side:

Pretty cool, I think. Now since I don’t live in LA, I need to find someone who goes to downtown often, and can step into the Sun Drug Building and have a look. What does the lobby look like now? Is there still marble on the walls by the elevators? Has everything been redone or are there any signs that show its 1920s character?

One more picture of my grandfather, William Hurn in 1939.

Getting started with collage art


Collage art has become a very important type of art that I work on. The more I do it, the more I love it.

When I started doing collages a few years ago I had no idea how to begin or what to do. Now that I have reached a stage where I am much more comfortable and confident in creating collage art,  I’d like to pass along some advice for anyone who is new to collaging, or looking for new inspiration to do collage art and glue books.

Based on feedback comments on my youtube videos, I see two types of groups interested in collage art. First are people who have valuable, family history pieces like photos, letters or documents, and want to display them in some kind of collection, like in a journal for example.

Second, are people who simply want to use up scraps, images they’ve torn from magazines, leftover project remnants, or whatever paper ephemera they have on hand to fill up a page. It’s this second group I will be focusing on in this post (I’ll get to the first group at another time).

One of the great things about doing art is the sense of accomplishment after a project is done. I feel that sense of accomplishment after I complete a collage, and it doesn’t matter how big or how little it is. A collage can be done on a canvas or a journal page. It can also be done on a postcard, index card, or a playing card. It can be great for people who feel like they don’t have a lot of time to devote to art but feel the need to do something creative.

Here are collages on index cards.

index card art

A low stress, exercise collage book, as a way to relax and have fun using up scraps is a great project to take up. It’s also a great place for you to experiment with your creativity and practice improving on how you put your collages together. You won’t always love what you create but practicing what you do will make you better.

So what kind of paper should you use for glue books and collaging?  

For me it’s good to have a mix of things like text, illustrations, images, color, black and white, paint, handwriting, etc, but  paper choice is arbitrary. As individuals we are drawn to things that interest us. The reason why you like something may or may not be important, and often it’s better not to think too deeply when considering what to save or not. For me, it’s a split-second decision to keep something or discard it. If I pause longer than a few seconds or come back for a second look, it’s worth keeping.  

If you are starting out fresh and need some ideas of where to look for paper ephemera and scraps, here are my notes:

Where should you make your collages?

You’ve got many choices here. I mentioned before, you can go as large as a canvas, or as small as an index card, or smaller. My friend Pamela has a Rolodex project with a collection of collages on hundreds of Rolodex cards.

Pamela rolodex project

If you want to create a book or journal, I recommend starting off with something simple. Craft stores or discount retailers like Target have basic 5 x 7″ journals in their bargain bins that you can get for a dollar. These are good because you are going to be tearing out pages to thin out the book. For every page, tear out 3. It seems like a lot of pages you are getting rid of, but your little book will have a big alligator mouth unless you take drastic measures.

If you’re starting a brand new collage project, it’s good to remind yourself of what your plans and goals will be. Here’s a forward I wrote to myself.

art book - forward

For a more in-depth look on creating a collage book, as well as my thoughts on how much is enough when it comes to scraps, please see the video I made.