Sunday 12 August 2018

Summer Art Journal Week Three

Week three of the Slamseys Creative Summer Challenge is about 'acting like a tourist'. In other words, looking at the world with curiosity, without rush, and with openness to joining in with what the culture and lifestyle of a particular place might offer.

From an artistic point of view, it's an invitation to look around at one's environment in a fresh way. It's also an invitation to play. Being a tourist on holiday, whether at home or abroad, is as much as anything about having the time and space to 'stand and stare', to play rather than work. It suggests a mindset that says, 'why not?' instead of 'why?' in response to whim and opportunity.

These things are sometimes easier to respond to, after travelling somewhere new - the trappings of ordinary life are distanced; new sights and sounds are in front of our nose, without having to look for them; the journey itself eases us into a new mode. The difference of being in a new context, gives us permission to be more relaxed and go with a differently paced flow of living. Conversely, that can be less easy, if one has not left home.

Pondering this week's prompts, which you can find here, I started this week's 'tourist trail' by thinking about my postcard habit. This goes back a long way - as a small child I was encouraged, when on holiday, to write and send postcards home to my grandparents. In the 1970s, postcards were two a penny in any tourist attraction and as an older child, I always went on holiday with a meticulously copied out list of my school friends' addresses. I spent many happy hours, choosing cards and writing as much as possible in the space provided. (I had this down to a fine art by cultivating very neat and minute handwriting and by writing up the sides of the address panel, probably much to the Post Office's annoyance). I would then post the cards off from wherever we were - Wales, South Devon, France, Greece, Italy, or wherever. If it was a seaside holiday, the recipient probably got a card of sea and cliffs, or a landscape. If it was a city-break-type holiday, then a cathedral stained-glass window or a painting from a museum, or gallery was the norm. I loved the postcard racks of art galleries and museums. I still do. Sadly, in this day of selfies, electronic image sharing and texts, the old-fashioned postcard is a bit under threat and the ubiquitous, steeply banked racks of yore, with their dizzying array of choice, are often now sadly diminished to a more limited and demurely select few.

You can still buy them though, even if the business of acquiring stamps and locating the local post-box, in which to post them, can be something of a mission. Especially abroad. And especially if operating with limited local language skills. Trying to buy stamps for my postcards in Russia springs to mind, for example, where the Russian Post Office queuing arrangement was as clear as mud and almost impenetrable, despite the best efforts of a kind Russian in the queue endeavouring to explain to me how to short-circuit the system. I got there in the end though.

But the arcane mysteries of Post-Office protocol are not unique to Russia. Here in the UK, not twenty miles from home, in the main Post Office in Oxford, techno-post is where it's at and whatever counter you queue at, (assuming you can battle past the roaming predators seeking to deflect you to a machine rather than a human being), it's always the wrong one and unless you have a ticket from the machine, nothing happens, even if you happen to have struck lucky and got the right one. Heaven knows how foreign tourists, without much English, cope in there.

Undeterred however, I still make it my business to search out the nicest postcards I can, when I am away to send home to friends and family and to add to my own stash - I collect postcards of food still-lifes to insert in the appropriate pages of my cookery books, for a start.

Of course, posting times from abroad can mean that one is back at home before the cards one has sent have ever arrived. That never bothers me. I still get a thrill from posting abroad, wherever I am and knowing that the same card in my hand, in Berlin, Vienna or St Petersburg, for example, will arrive on my parents' doormat in due course. It's to do with a physicality of connection, I think. Sending an emailed pic of my own from my phone simply doesn't cut it.

So, this is by way of a long preamble to this week's art journalling, which you will not be surprised to hear, has revolved around exploring making my own postcards in a variety of media.

I looked through my box of assorted (and as yet unsent) postcards to identify some images I might run with as design possibilities. Old travel posters, wood-cut images, vintage-feel scenes with a bit of text, landscape paintings, still-lifes - all possible sources of inspiration.

We have a large fig tree in our new garden, planted against an old, south-facing wall which has produced a number of large, beautifully ripe fruits this year. I have been indulgently eating them for breakfast on these hot, blue-skied summer mornings. It has felt reminiscent of being in Umbria or somewhere. Very summer holidayish so I got the idea that may be I could design a lino-cut still-life postcard of figs on a plate.

My initial sketch, I quite liked - a reasonably clear and simple design that looked not too challenging to cut. Lino-cutting is not my comfort-zone - I find it hard to keep the lines clean and it's all too easy for the blade to slip and ruin the whole image. Clearing away enough depth for the space you want to leave white is not always easy either - I hate getting those tell-tale streaks on a print that say, "Ha ha! You didn't cut away enough background!". A few light streaks can add to the charm of a print but you don't want too many. The resistance of traditional lino can be challenging too, if your blades are not razor-sharp, (which mine no longer seem to be).

I wanted to print on some blank watercolour-paper postcards I had but the texture of the paper seemed to make it tricky to get a clear image. Smooth cartridge paper, cut to size, worked better although it doesn't have the heft and feel of the blank postcards. A bit of behind the scenes work on my lino block by D with an eye-wateringly sharp Stanley knife blade, to tidy up a few of my wobblier lines, was helpful too! This is one of the best prints. Most of the others are rather less good, which is a bit disappointing.

Slightly disheartened by the uphill climb of lino-printing, I moved across to explore other media. Not wanting to waste any more expensive paper, I retrieved some cardboard from the recycling bag, located a pot of gesso and got to work. I wanted a nice big canvas to play around on that I could discard without a second's hesitation, if I didn't like the results.

Once primed with gesso and dry, I added acrylic paint with a big brush to the cardboard panels, pasted down some torn book pages, from an old and damaged poetry book, picked up in a jumble sale, and then added some textured prints from leaves, bubble wrap, my trusty tomato tray and even the end of a kitchen roll tube, in acrylic paint, on top. The results were surprisingly pleasing and enabled me to cut out a good number of 'postcards'.

Like a peek? Here they are:

You'd never know they started life as old cardboard packaging! I'll never throw out a tea-bag box or Amazon book sleeve again. The thicker corrugated cardboard from the soya milk box is not quite so satisfactory but nonetheless surprisingly useable.

Scrolling around for further postcard-making inspiration and with Ellie's inspired suggestion about translating my collaged landscapes into felt in the back of my mind, I turned to textiles and thread rather than paper and paint.

A fabric postcard? Why not?

These fabric landscape postcards are just made out of scraps of fabric, appliquéd onto a base panel with Bondaweb, stitched down and then sandwiched with extra firm interfacing (Pellon Decor Bond, to be precise) and a backing panel. Looking at them now, I realise I should have cut the 'fields' with the stripes in the fabric slanting, rather than perpendicular. Too late now, however.

For the backing panel, I used a packet of photo fabric I bought for a project a few years back and never used. I found an image of the blank back of a postcard which I could download, printed off four of them to a page, wrote what I wanted, then scanned the result. I printed the scan onto a sheet of photo fabric, cut each image out and stitched it down onto a base piece cut to match the front. It's a bit of a silly conceit, I suppose, but it appeals to me! I printed the little summery quotations on the front on the same photo fabric and appliquéd them in the same way. The fabric cards are not perfect - but they are fun. I hope they will make the recipients smile, anyway. I might make more - they have possibilities, I think. And you could clearly go to town with further embellishments - beads, embroidery, buttons etc

I made six of these fabric postcards and have sent five of them out into the big wide world. I chickened out of just sticking a stamp on the fabric, in case Royal Mail's sorting machines got frisky and mangled or dirtied my efforts, in transit. But that doesn't mean the envelope needed to be boring old white, or brown. No, siree! Some of the trial gelli print papers from the last couple of weeks made nice, homemade, decorative envelopes.

D cut me a cardboard template for these - makes running them up a doddle - a quick draw round with a pencil, some quick scissor-action to shape the tabs, a bit of folding, a dab from a glue stick and Bob's your uncle. If there isn't enough white space to write the address on, I just add a sticky label, strategically positioned not to interfere with the imagery.

I love coloured / decorated envelopes and always get a frisson of delight when I receive them or find them on sale, which may be sounds strange. This beautiful one I found on sale in a bookshop in St Petersburg.

Far too nice to put in the post unless I know it will go to a fellow envelope-fancier who might keep it, (for a while anyway).

I wanted to keep one of my fabric postcard experiments for my journal but didn't want to glue the fabric to the page. One of the homemade decorated envelopes stuck on the page however, works perfectly and allows the added charm of fishing out the postcard to look at it and then tucking it away again. I know, I know - tiny things please tiny minds!

And just to finish up my postcard-making, I cut and pasted the left over scraps of the painted cardboard panels to make four extra cards. Their surface is a bit uneven on account of the different cardboard weights but that gives them quite a nice tactile quality, I think. Just need to make some more envelopes to go with them!

E x 


  1. Dear Mrs T
    Love, love, love the postcards and envelopes. The appliqued postcards have worked beautifully too. The colours in the first image are very Egyptian (well, in my head, anyway) - turquoise, lapis lazuli and gold spring to mind.
    I have also decided that I need to make my own envelopes, especially if I am sending a hand made card, although your envelopes are much more unique and original than mine, which are just made out of patterned paper.
    Have you tried a softer lino rather than the traditional brown stuff - it might give you that cleaner look which you are after? Handprinted are a printing company and they have done some tests on various lino printing blocks, which you might find interesting. (
    I am really looking forward to seeing what you create next!
    Best wishes

    1. Thank you so much Ellie! As I say above, I thought your suggestion was inspirational and thank you so much again for it. I'm quite keen to have another go with another design now. Yes, I take your point about the softer lino substitute you can get - I have used it in the past and it is certainly easier to cut although not absolutely foolproof, I've found! But that may be rather more to do with the operator than her tools! Have a lovely week, Ellie. E x

  2. Fabulous! Fabulous! I adore your take on this theme. If you brush a watered down PVA solution over the cards, it will give your prints a bit of protection.

    Do you remember the airmail 'letters' that folded to make envelope and letter in one? Your envelopes remind me of the moe heavyweight illustrated version of these letters that my mother sent off with me to college.

    1. Thank you, Anne - I've really enjoyed making these and exploring the possibilities of the different media. Good suggestion about the PVA glaze for the painted cards - I'll do that. Yes, I do remember those all-in-one letter/ envelopes - I think another template may be called for! E x

  3. My long comment, embarrassingly flattering of you, was lost in the Netherlands. But I wanted you to know I am impressed with your challenge and will research gel papers and photo fabric and lots else you have on your table. Big hugs.

  4. My whole family did postcards and traveled so I truly understand the feeling they evoke. I have saved some from special people or places through the years in a shoe-box sized cedar box. I do warn against saving cardboard however as I am a recovering cardboard hoarder and I can tell you it always starts with boxes, and then you move on to the cardboard that stiffens a shirt, and...well you see where this leads, do be careful!! ;)


Thank you so much for taking the time to visit me at Mrs TT's and comment. I love to read what you write.