Making Photo Cards

Several months ago, I got it in my brain to use some of the photo’s I’ve taken and turn them into photo cards that I can mail people. I’ve learned quite a few things since I started making these cards, and I’ve now created well over two hundred of them. Here’s some of what I’ve learned.

The most important part are the photos themselves. I’ve used three different services for getting photo prints: Walmart, Target, and Snapfish (online only). Walmart was the worse. Their photos have a weird texture, and it really drove me crazy. Target was good, but their machines are finicky. I really prefer Snapfish.

When you’re uploading files to snapfish, I made the mistake the first time of not editing them ahead of time. So when they were printed, they were cropped poorly in order to fit the 6×4 size. For the next batch, I took each photo into Paint.net and cropped them exactly to 6×4, and that worked so much better. The photos arrive after about a week, and they’re very high quality prints. THey are perfect for this use.

The next most important part is the card stock. I bought this from my local Office Max: Neenah Creative Collection 11×17. This is enough card stock to make 100 cards @ 2 per sheet. Cut the card stock so that you have two 6 1/4 in by 8 1/4 in pieces. You’ll have some scraps. I recommend using a paper cutter for this. I don’t have the kindergarten skill required to use scissors very well.

The best glue I’ve found for this is Scotch Wrinkle-free Glue.n In the beginning I was making sure to cover every part of the back side of the photo before gluing it onto the card stock. I’ve discovered this isn’t really necessary, and creates too much of a mess. Just get some glue on the back of the photo and it will be great.

Here’s the whole process:

  1. Cut your card stock. I tend to cut a large pile of them, so you can get an assembly line going.
  2. Fold each piece. Some people use a bone thingy for this, but I like using a very smooth rock I found on a beach here in Oregon
  3. Glue the photo on. Align against the fold. The card stock is larger than the paper, and you’ll be cutting the excess off later.
  4. Apply pressure and let it set. I usually put a stack of cards underneath some books or other heavy object and leave them overnight
  5. Trim the edges. Once again, I prefer a paper cutter for this, but you might be better with scissors than me

And that’s all!

Introduction to Fountain Pens

About eight months or so ago, I decided on a whim to buy a fountain pen. I bought a Lamy Safari, and kind of hooked ever since. I recently added a Pilot Metropolitan with a medium nib, and tomorrow another Metropolitan with a fine nib should arrive. I wrote a three page letter to someone today using the Metro, and it was a wonderful experience. The pen writes very smoothly and the ink flow was much better than with the Safari.

Using a fountain pen is a little more complicated than using a regular ball point or gel ink pen. The ink flows differently, and because the pen doesn’t hold as much ink, you need to refill it more often (every few days to few weeks, depending on how much writing you do). Refilling ink involves getting either new cartridges, or filling ink from a bottle. You also need to maintain the pen for best ink flow and protect it against damages (did you know that there used to be such a thing as a pen repairman? That’s how the Parker of Parker Pens got his start). Since it’s all so complicated, and I’m still a beginner myself, I thought I would link up one of the really helpful resources I’ve discovered:

Fountain Pen 101 – The Goulet Pen Company

If you’ve never tried a Fountain Pen before, I really recommend it. The Pilot Metropolitan is less than $15, and comes with a cartridge so you don’t have to worry about refilling it. If you decide that you like it, you can just get some ink, and you’ll be good to go for a long long time.

Good luck and have fun!

Seal it with Wax

My Wax Seal - An Atom

I write a lot of letters. For a while I was writing one nearly every day, though with the events of this summer, I ended up missing some days, and missed more in the fall. But now I’m back in the swing of things for the most part.

My letter writing has evolved over time. Years and years ago, it was pretty uncreative. Words written on lined notebook paper. There is definitely nothing wrong with that. Letters are awesome, no matter what form they take. I’ve been experimenting with quite a few different things.

Pens

A year ago, I was pretty much a sucker for the Pilot G2’s. I thought they were pretty much the best pens ever.  This culminated with a purchase of the Render K, a pen that is machined out of a single block of aluminum and takes the Pilot G2 refills.  This is an amazing pen, and remains one of my favorites.  For Christmas, my friend T got me some colored G2’s, and they’re quite awesome as well.  I’ve found that I really like letters written in different colors of ink, and multiple colors of ink as well.

Last spring, I made my first Fountain Pen purchase. I bought a Lamy Safari with blue ink cartridges.  Using a fountain pen is a different experience, and I’ve grown to really like it. On certain surfaces, they don’t work that well, including card stock, though.  I recently added my second fountain pen, a Pilot Metropolitan with a Medium Nib.  I think I like this one even better, and I think I’m going to get another one, with a Fine Nib.

My Pens

My Pens. The bottom two pens are my fountain pens.

Paper

I am such a sucker for paper.  I started out this year by getting some heavy Linen paper, only to be really disappointed when I noticed the watermark.  I don’t like having a watermark on my paper, especially if it’s for personal letters.  I guess other people see it as a status symbol?  I think those people are ridiculous.

The next paper I tried was parchment paper, and while I like it, I wish the color was more solid.  That’s not a big issue, and so I tend to use it quite a bit in writing letters.

When it comes to colors, I received a large package of neon colored paper, and I’ve used it a couple times now for letter writing.  I actually prefer to use that paper for typed letters, with each page a separate color.  I really like how those turn out.

A few times, for something different, I’ve used graph paper.  I drew a map of my adventures that day with a little commentary, and I really like how it turned out.

My most recent paper addition is something called Tamoe River Paper from the very creatively name paperforfountainpens.com.  I actually haven’t written any letters with it yet, but I have experimented quite a bit with it and different pens.  Unsurprisingly, fountain pens work really well on it.  The paper is very thin, but it soaks up the ink really well.  I created some line guides to put behind it, so my letters might even end up being pretty straight.

Most of my letter writing has actually been on card stock.  I purchased some prints and handmade a bunch of cards that I’ve been sending out.  I think I’ll save that for another post, though.

Handwriting

The one thing that paper can’t fix is handwriting, and mine is horrible.  I recently asked my friend if it had gotten any better this year, and they simply said, ‘sorry, but no.’  I think I’m improving a little bit, though, and moving forward, I’m really going to focus on improving this.  I really want to be able to craft truly beautiful letters.

Packaging

The final part of creating a letter is sealing it up.  For a long time, I really overlooked the envelope, and I rarely kept them on from the letters I did receive.  I regret that now, and I keep everything.

The first thing I recommend doing is use up the stamps you purchased at the bank or wherever, and head over to USPS.com  Check out the much larger variety of stamps that they have for you to use.  This year, I’ve built up a pretty good collection.  I like having a variety to choose from that I can match to the person receiving it.

Stamps waiting to be used!

Stamps waiting to be used!

I also started putting seal of some kind on every letter.  I have several different seals to choose from.  The first are just regular stickers.  These can also be matched to the person receiving the letter, and I think it’s a nice touch.  I’ve added both gold and silver seals if you want to go a little more fancy.

But the fanciest has got to be the wax seal.  I splurged and purchased a nice aluminium seal a few months ago.  I had decided that I wanted something scientific and represented hope, so I chose an atom.  Instead of going with red sealing wax, which is admittedly more traditional, I’m going with blue, which is more representative of me.

Today I added the last little bit of fancy to it.  I bought some metallic silver ink and dipped my seal in that before making the wax impression.  It really emphasizes the shape of the seal, and I really like it.

I think that’s pretty much the end of the road for traditional letter writing.  The last thing I really need to add is improving my handwriting, but I think that’s a more long term project.  Any future craziness from this will surely transition into being Mail Art, and not longer be a simple letter.

Documentary: Making Mail

I don’t jump on twitter that often, and when I do it’s kind of like trying to drink from a fire hydrant. But today I hopped on while waiting for something, and I happened to see a tweet from the USPS:

I LOVE the USPS. I really think it’s one of the greatest institutions in the history of the world. For literally cents, I can put something in a box next to my home and have it delivered to someone else’s home with in a few days. If I want it to go to another country, it’s just a little more. This tweet caught my eye, because I thought it would be a documentary on the USPS (side note: if anyone knows of such a documentary, please let me know).

So I eagerly opened up the link and started watching. It’s not about the USPS at all, although it does show just how awesome they are. This documentary is more about people who turn sending mail into an art form. Their letters are crafted constructions, and they’re wonderful. You can see many samples of mail art on the making mail tumblr.

I send a lot of mail, and I kind of feel like I’ve been heading in this direction. I started simply by getting different stamps and including seals on my envelopes. But now I’ve added a wax seal some times, and my letters are usually on simple hand made photo cards. This documentary was inspiring though, especially as I start the project of making holiday cards to send out this year. I feel my creative juices flowing.

Take an hour and enjoy this free documentary.

Write a Letter Everyday

Writing Tools and Materials

I am a letter writer.  Expressing myself via written word is very natural to me, and I enjoy sitting down and writing things that I can’t seem to figure out how to say out loud.  I think everyone loves to receive a handwritten missive, and I like being able to bring happiness to other people this way.

Letter writing takes time.  From the moment I start with “Dear [person]” each sentence takes consideration and care.  I first try to figure out what is the main thing I want to say.  Sometimes I’ll have an idea ahead of time, but usually, I spend a few minutes thinking about the person I’m writing to.  I think about what I feel about them, what I know about their recent activities, and start going from there.  I think it’s incredibly important to spend this time thinking about them, even if the letter ends up being mostly about what I’ve been up to.  By taking that time, my writing ends up being much more personal.  Short cards might take as little as fifteen minutes to write, but I’ve also spend hours on just a few paragraphs.

My major goal for this year is to figure out how to be more social.  My major strategy for that is to focus much more on other people and not so much on myself.  Letter writing has been a great tactic in working towards that goal.  I’ve sent more letters in the past few months than I have in years, reconnecting with old friends, congratulating people on their accomplishments, sending encouraging words to friends who need it.

For the past few months I’ve been writing at least one letter everyday.  I’ve been writing and sending a handmade card to my best friend every day, and I just passed fifty sent messages to her.  This has been a very rewarding activity for me, and I believe she has enjoyed it too.

Writing every day means that you’re creating something every day.  Writing to someone you love every day means that you are exploring those feelings every day, learning to understand what that really means.  It means exercising empathy, which gets better the more you use it.

Most importantly, it creates a tangible artifact for someone; a keepsake for them to hold on to.  A monument to the connection you share with them.

I really encourage you to spend some time writing to someone you care about.  Start simple.  Get a sheet of paper and just write some words about someone you love.  Write about why you love them.  Write about a moment you’ve shared together or something you think they would like.  Don’t worry about rules.  Just speak from the heart.  Then send it to them.  You will feel good, and they will be thrilled.  I guarantee it.