Transcript for SSL7

The Zillman Art Museum presents STUDIO SESSIONS: A virtual hands-on-art making lesson with Senior Museum Educator Kat Johnson.

Hello and welcome! My name is Kat, and I’ll be walking you through today’s lesson of STUDIO SESSIONS: Mail Art. Through this process, we will use everyday household items to create a unique piece of art. We will begin with a brief history on mail art and its components, go over the materials list, then work through the lesson step-by-step together to create a fun object.

Feel free to pause the video at any time to prepare your materials, set up your work station or stretch your legs! So, what do you say? Let’s make some art!

In the 1950s and 1960s, a movement emerged that sought to give space to the art that otherwise would not be included in the contemporary exhibition setting. The origins of Mail Art can be traced back to Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters and the Italian Futurists, and include postcards, packages, emails, faxes and blogs that share art outside for the conventional commercial channels. Because this form welcomed the serious and silly without judgement, several marginalized groups were able to connect and create community across large geographic space.

Ray Johnson, a Neo-Dada collagist associated with Pop Art was one of the largest contributors to the movement.  Johnson created hundreds of small collages, prints of abstract drawings and other ephemera that he sent via post to other art world notables. He asked the recipients to add or alter the work in some way and pass it along to another artist. Postal workers were even encouraged to join in when Johnson asked them to add wavy red cancellation tape to his mailings. These collaborations grew and eventually became the New York Correspondence School.

Today, the movement continues as artists share their work via mail. Ray Johnson expert and guest curator for the “Pushing the Envelope” – an exhibition of Mail Art organized by the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art at the Lawrence A. Fleishman Gallery in Washington D.C. (August 2018- January 2019), had this to say about the art form: “…Nothing beats the experience of receiving classic, tangible mail art… it can never really be replicated digitally…When you open it up, you are responsible. It’s like How do all these things connect? And I think because you’re taking them out one by one and having that experience – of putting the puzzle together – materiality is really, really important.”

For this lesson you will need:

Cardstock, or very thin cardboard cut to size

-These should be cut to standard postcard size: 6”x11”, 5.5” x 8”, 4”x9”, 4.25”x 5.5”,

4”x 6”

Pencil and eraser

To sketch out your ideas

Markers, paint, pens, paper and glue

To create and decorate your mail art. Today we will created a painted postcard as well as a collaged work for our Mail Art

Stamps and addresses

To send your work out to a friend or collaborator

Take a moment to gather the items you need to join in art making.

The first thing we need to do is decide what size we want our postcards to be. For my first postcard, I will be using the 4” x 9” template. I really like the wide, landscape look of these dimensions. And for my collage postcard, I will be using the 4” x 6” size. My first postcard will be on this black cardstock, so I’ll use my pre-cut template to trace the parameter onto the page. You can simply use a ruler to measure the correct size directly onto the page. Once you have it drawn out, simply cut off the excess. Repeat with your other postcard. Great! We’re ready to move onto the fun part – creating our Mail Art!

I’m going to start with my illustrated postcard. I decided already who I want to send this card to, and that person is going to be the inspiration for the image I make. This person loves plants, a cool, modern aesthetic, so I’ll be keeping that in mind as I work on this image. You can use anything you like as your inspiration – have fun with it! Just be sure to fill the space and try to create a complete composition. Great! I’m pleased with that. We’ll set this aside for now, and work on our next Mail Art piece.

And now I’ll work on the collage postcard. I’ve already gone through some magazines to find interesting images. I’ll cut these up, arrange them on the surface and glue them down. Wonderful. I’ll let that dry and add some final finishing details with pen before adding my message and address.

Now, how to correctly address it. Turn over your postcard so that the longest side is parallel to your work edge. Come in about a third of the way into the card, and using a ruler or a straight edge, mark a vertical line to distinguish between the address area and where you will write your message. On the right you will add name, street, city, state and zip, and on the left you can add the letter portion. Now we need to put our stamps in the upper right-hand corner, just like you would a letter. I’m pretty sure this would be fine with one stamp, but I’ll add another just to be sure. And now, your postcard is ready to go into the mail!

Here are my finished postcards. I had a lot of fun creating work for people I know and care about. I know how exciting it is to receive a letter in the mail, and I can’t wait for my friends to receive these. While you have your supplies out, create more postcards and letters for your family, friends and collaborators. Bring a little happiness and creativity to someone’s day!

For more information on all of the educational offerings at ZAM, please visit our website –

Thank you for watching this video from The Zillman Art Museum… Maine’s Museum for Modern and Contemporary Art.