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

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Recipe – Vianočka, a Slovak sweet bread

Back in the first years of the 2000’s, I lived in Slovakia teaching English. I learned a lot about Slovak cuisine and tried my share of baking traditional breads. Since I married a Slovak and we have two Slovak-American children, I prepare Slovak foods that we enjoy here in California. Here’s a bread I bake this time of year.

Vianočka is a common yeast bread in Slovakia. It is a braided bread, slightly sweet, and eaten often at breakfast time. Vianočka is available in just about any grocery store in Slovakia. It is so common in fact, that I’ve never seen or heard of any Slovak baking it at home. Why would you bake a basic bread if you could just pick one up at the local market?

Vianočka is also a good bread to bake for Easter. In Vienna I’ve seen this bread sold at bakeries with a few colored hard-boiled eggs set between the weave of the braids. It’s very festive.

I consulted several recipes and came up with my tried and tested version for authentic vianočka. To me it tastes almost identical to what you can buy in Slovakia. Below is the recipe and my directions:

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup (.4 liter) milk
2 rounded tablespoons sugar
2 packets (1/4 oz each) of dry yeast or 30 grams cake yeast
4 1/2 cups (600 grams) flour
1/2 cup (120 grams) butter
1 cup (225 grams) sugar
3 egg yolks (keep the whites to brush the dough later)
1/2 cup (120 grams) raisins
1/2 teaspoon salt
grated lemon peel

Directions: Mix the two tablespoons of sugar into lukewarm milk and add the yeast. Let the yeast rise and become active — this takes about 5 to 8 minutes. If you don’t get a good foam, put your cup, with everything in it, in the microwave for 20 seconds to make it warm again.

In a bowl combine the flour, butter, sugar, salt, egg yolks, raisins, and grated lemon peel. Add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture and transfer everything to a floured surface to kneed the dough thoroughly. Gather the dough into a ball and place it back into the mixing bowl, making sure to sprinkle the base so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Cover the bowl and set it in a warm dry place for an hour or so, until the dough doubles in size.

Kneed the dough a second time thoroughly until all the air pockets are removed. Separate the dough into eight equal sized parts and let them “rest” for another 15 minutes.

Make a braid with the first four pieces. From three more pieces make another braid that will be set on top of the four-piece braid. Cut the last roll in half, roll them thin, braid them, and place it on top of the three-piece braid (pictures above).

Tuck the sides under and brush the top with egg whites. Bake the bread at 350°F (180°C) for the first half hour and 325°F (160°C) for an additional half hour.

Note 1) To make the crust darker, start baking at 375°F.

Note 2) The recipe yields one large loaf. To make two smaller loaves, separate the dough into 16 pieces.

Piecing together a collage journal

The longer I experiment with collage art, the more fun it gets. It’s funny how little bits of paper can get me so excited and enthusiastic about the art of making a journal.

Previously I wrote about my trip to San Francisco in January to visit my friend and fellow correspondence-art artist Pamela, and how I fell in love with her collage book made with Reader’s Digest covers. I was very much inspired to make my own, and that’s what I’ve done here. Pamela got me started by giving me extra covers she had on hand, and then cutting down some file folders to make the pages. Once the pages were hole punched and everything assembled with rings, I was ready to go.

With this journal, the covers were no work at all. Reader’s Digest books, like this one from the 1970s, can be found in abundance at any thrift store. I didn’t like the rings at first, but now I can see that they are pretty useful in being able to move collages around. I’ve seen people use twine or other heavy fibers to bind hole-punched pages like in this journal. I might try that next time.

I didn’t have any themes in mind as I was creating, I simply wanted to use papers from authentic sources; no images from a craft paper pad or digital printouts. I used some vintage papers like from old books, but I also used things like postcards I have received in the mail over the past year, receipts from places I shopped, maps, forms, photographs, and postage stamps, of course. I also used washi tape and rubber stamps with ink.

More of the pages are here:

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Video is here:

The Process of making a journal cover

I’m not sure if I’ve shared much about the process of making journal covers. I do them all pretty much the same way, so I thought I should write a bit about it.

I start with cutting down some heavy weight card stock to the size I want. I don’t have specific measurements but it’s usually around 5 x 8″ with a spine of 1.5″.

After I cut the board, I cut a piece of tyvek paper that will cover the width of the spine and a half inch over to the front and back covers. Tyvek is a “paper” made with plastic fibers that help give the joints strength so the book covers don’t tear off over time. I use double sided tape to attach it.

Once the tyvek is in place I cut down the paper I want to decorate the cover with and glue it or attach it with double sided tape. I create 6 pieces: 3 for the front, spine, and back, and then 3 for the inside front, spine, and back. In this photo I’ve moved the pieces below the cardboard so you can see the layers. Normally the pieces of decorative paper would be flush, or very near the edge of the page.

The cover should be in one continuous piece by this point. Lay it flat on your work space with the side you want to be on the inside covers lying up and take 2 large pieces of white tissue paper, laying them on top of your cover. Cut the two pieces of tissue a quarter of an inch larger than your covers, on all sides.

With a paint brush and some matte medium or glue, attach the first piece of tissue paper over your cover. I usually start with the spine and move out to the covers. With the tissue paper glued on, there should be a bit of extra paper hanging off the edges.

Once it is dry (I usually use my hair dryer to quickly dry it), take your scissors and carefully trim off the extra tissue paper. Turn it over and lay your second piece of tissue paper down. Use your paint brush to glue down the second sheet. With the extra quarter inch, wrap it over the edge and use the medium to glue it down.

Dry everything again. Now the fun begins with paints, dyes, and whatever tools you’d like to use to decorate your covers. I like to use Distress Stain, acrylic paint, rubber stamps and permanent ink, and lately Gelato pigment crayons.

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Here’s the cover I made with these:

This cover has a simple element from a rubber stamp and ink. Simple but effective, I think.

This one also has a rubber stamped impression.

After you have done enough to your covers, seal them with a varnish. I use Liquitex Satin Varnish but I think just about any varnish will do. If you have experience with Mod Podge that might work too. I ruined an important piece of art with Mod Podge (I couldn’t get rid of the tackiness, even after days of drying it, and it stuck to something else causing major damage to the cover and the other piece next to it) so I never touch the stuff anymore.

I sometimes attach metal pieces or other decorative elements. Some planning is needed for that, but they do get attached once the varnish is dry.

 

 

Un petit cadeau — of postcards

One of the neat things about sharing your art through the internet is that other artists reach out to you and connect with you over shared styles and interests. That’s how I came to be in contact with Trishia at the French Kissed Postcards shop online.

Trishia and I both love collage art from vintage paper sources. We initially connected through our interest in Mary Green‘s glue book art, and then I learned that Trishia herself is a wonderful source of some really gorgeous vintage postcards.

But first let me explain about my interest in postcards.

I use postcards a lot in my artwork. When considering a postcard I look for several things:

  • The image on the front: is it in color or black and white (I look for both kinds). Is it interesting?
  • The back for writing: is it blank or has someone written a note? What does the handwriting look like? Is it legible? What language is it in?
  • A stamp: does the postcard have any stamps? More than one? Are the stamps attractive and in one piece? Is there a postmark? Is it legible?
  • A date: is there a date either written by the author or on the postmark?

Sometimes I place the entire postcard in my journal, in a page pocket for example.

Other times I will glue a postcard down so that just a single side is showing. I do that if I am making a larger collage and need only one side as an element in the over all piece.

It’s handy when you have a bunch of old postcards and either the picture on the front is ugly or boring and therefore you don’t feel guilty about covering it up permanently, or if the note on the writing side is dull (or it’s blank), then I don’t feel guilty about gluing it down.

Trishia knows I use a lot of postcards and she sent me a packet of vintage postcards that are just beautiful. She sent me some that are a perfect example of classic penmanship and some that are written extra fancy.

Here’s one with a nice illustration and a stamp with postmark all on the front. I haven’t see many like this.

She also sent some with neat illustrations or photos. My absolute favorite are postcards with architecture. This one is of architecture with the bonus of writing on the same side. Wow!

Trishia specializes in French postcards. At her shop she sells vintage postcards as well as digital images of postcards for quick download. Those are useful too for printing at home and using for personal projects. Check out her shop if you are looking for some really unique pieces of postcard art.

She sent me more postcards but I didn’t photograph all of them. I did take a picture of the card she sent them in. It’s so pretty I’m tempted to use this in a collage too!