Art Challenge: Make an envelope into a piece of mail art

Art Challenge: Make an envelope into a piece of mail art

Welcome to the New Year. If you’re the resolution-making type, or if you just like arts and crafts, we have a few suggestions on how to infuse a little creativity into the coming days.

Following our foray into the world of unusual bookbinding, we are turning our attention to the art of mail. In particular: the envelope. A humble canvas, the envelope hugs whatever message you might be sending, carrying it through a network of sorting systems until it arrives safely (hopefully) at your recipient’s mail box.

Elevating your envelope game can be as simple as drawing a border around the mailing address or adding a fun sticker to the seal, sort of like a wax stamp. But for more elaborate inspiration, consider this Art School episode featuring Oakland-based artist David Wilson.

“The beautiful thing about a piece of mail is that you have someone’s undivided attention, so you have really a very powerful voice and also a very focused ear in that kind of moment of exchange,” says Wilson, who was working on a collaborative project called DESI at the time the episode was filmed.

In the video, the artist walks viewers through how to create a collage masterpiece out of scrap paper, adhesive and a photocopy machine. If you don’t have access to a copier, take the following steps as a light suggestion for what’s possible and adapt it to whatever you do have. This could mean using ink and stamps to create a collage, or even tracing various objects around the house onto a piece of paper to come up with an interesting design.

To start, Wilson instructs viewers to cut up paper — he uses colored pages and Elvis portraits — to arrange into a collage that fills a standard-size piece of printer paper.

“I like to kind of just cut out things a little bit at random, and then start to combine the collage,” he says. “Play around, loosen up, and then use those materials and combine them into something.”

Once you’ve landed on a design you like, secure your abstract work to the page. (It should be noted that there is no rule that says you can’t do this as you go. Whatever works for you.)

After everything is secure, Wilson instructs participants to run the collage through a photocopier, transforming the multi-colored composition into a black-and-white iteration of itself. As he points out, the end result takes on a distinctly zine-like quality, with the gradual differences in tones giving the work its texture.

“The photocopy machine is its own layer of the artwork,” Wilson says. “So you’ve taken away the color, but you’ve kind of replaced it with some of this interesting tone.”

He also advises running it through the copier one more time so that the pattern is printed on both sides of the paper (creating a little surprise for the recipient when they open their envelope).

The final step involves taking apart an old envelope and using it as a template to cut out and fold up your art into a mailable form. What you choose to include inside, of course, is up to you.

“Now you got yourself a sweet envelope,” Wilson concludes. “Connect with someone you know, maybe send some support to someone that is is need of it right now. Perhaps you want to use your voice and share your current thoughts about the world to your elected officials.”

Whatever you decide, good luck!