Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Toucan Mail Art

We have a nesting pair of toucans in the tree behind our cabina. They have a nest in a hole in the trunk of a Mango tree. They are so beautiful; it is hard to believe how rich their colors are. Toucans are very skittish around people so getting photos of them is difficult. You have to stay out of sight and hope that they don't hear you.

I made this faux mail art post card in celebration of the nesting Toucans. The photo is of the male toucan , who was at the time of the photo sitting in one of the huge mango trees down the lane from their nest. I hope that we get to see the fledglings emerge before we have to move back to the US. What a treat that would be!
Addition on April 8, 2010
A few days have passed since I posted the above. Since then I have taken to setting up the video camera in the pasture where the Toucans live. I have left the video camera running for hours at a time and then taken the camera back to the house to watch and fast forward to activity to and from the nest. It has been very educational. After being educated in the habits of nesting toucans, I felt like I might have more luck at actually capturing them with my still camera. So off I went to the large mango tree where the toucans are nesting, equipped with the video camera on a tripod and my still camera around my neck. I knew that my approach would spook the sitting toucan and that she would fly off a short distance as a diversion. So I didn't try to sneak in. I just walked into the area and started setting up the video camera. As expected, the toucan popped out of the hole and flew away. Once the video was set up I went and consealed myself in a large planting of Bird of Paradise, thinking that when she flew back to her nest she would fly over and not see me, as I was covered by the tall leaves of the planting. It was mid-day and the sun was strong. The sunburn I had gotten from an extended walk the day before was stinging as sweat trickled down my back. Time went on and on, but no toucan flew overhead. I decided after awhile to change to a more shaded location. So I moved to the line of Mandarine trees that were directly behind the cabina. I hoped that the tree trunks would mask my location from the bird as she came back to tend the nest. Time drug by, those annoying little ants that bite and hurt like crazy had made lunch from my ankles, and still there was no toucan activity at the nest. I was beginning to worry about the unattended nest. I decided that I should leave the area and just be satisfied with the video, when I glanced around at something moving in the tree overhead. I met the stare of the male toucan who was sitting in the tree right above me.... I felt silly. Here I had been standing in the flower bed adding sun to my already crispy nose, and then providing fodder for the little ants from hell, all the while the toucan was concealed in the branches above me watching the show. So I took the opportunity to get some very nice close-up shots of him, packed up my gear and went home.
Later, after viewing the video I came to understand that the toucans had not left the nest unattended. Both toucans can fit into the hollow inside the tree, I just caused the male to come out to distract me, which he is obviously very good at...all the time he was watching me in the tree above me, she was sitting patiently on the eggs waiting for hubby to return so she could get a break from the nest. Obviously my toucan education is on going.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Faux Mail Art

   I feel strange. I am preparing to leave Costa Rica and return to the United States. Practically everthing I own is either in storage in the States or packed in totes to be shipped back when my son leaves on Monday. I will be in Costa Rica for another month at least, with only the bare essentials to live with. The kitchen is bare bones, most of the clothes that still fit are worn to a thread so they won't be going home with me, I have no books, no art supplies, no projects, nothing to cook with but a few pots and a knife... What am I going to do for a month?
   This is the first time since we moved to Costa Rica that I have had time to work on projects. I love what we've been doing here, but there has been no time for art. Now I have plenty of time, and nothing to work with. Sigh. Fortunately, I still have the laptop and internet so I have been playing around with some digital art. It is no muss no fuss, but not as satisfying as holding paper, paint and getting ink on my hands. I am happy though to have some sort of creative outlet.
    For the past few days I have been puttering around with some old images that I found on the computer. Some time ago I had scanned  into the computer a bunch of images that I collected from all over. I ran across them recently and have been pulling images from this forgotten trove, to make a digital faux mail art. Faux mail art because I can't actually mail it. There is no way to get it printed out. Here on the edge of the rainforest there is no Kinkos or photo processing place to get my things printed so I will have to be content with posting it to my blog.
    Actually, due to the wonders of the internet, I can reach more people with faux mailart than with the real McCoy! The only problem is... that it can't be mail art if it's never been through the mail.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mailart in the Mailbox

    I was participating in mailart long before I knew there was such a thing. Decorating the envelope or making my own stationery seemed like a natural extension of my letter writing. Actually, many of my letters were  journaling done on decorated pages and sent to my friends. These creations were not especially well done or of the wonderfully colorful and well designed ilke that you see today, but they were original. I would tuck in different flotsam that I found here and there and put aside to share. Things like Cracker Jack toys, theater tickets, pieces of wrapping paper or ribbon. Just something to be a surprise or flutter out of the envelope when it was opened. In return I would get fat letters full of blow by blow stories about "he said, she said", and some blurry photo they took of themselves. It was wonderful! I would take their tokens, except for the photos which I kept in my scrapbook, and pass them on to someone else that I was writing to.
    Actually, I think that a lot of the mailart things that are practiced today were invented by teenagers. The Add and Pass of today resembles the draw something and pass it along, that teens were always passing around in high school. By the time the note got back to the owner, the drawing would have grown to cover the page and would be a collection of doodles, stickers, quotes and I luv's. The Add and Pass of today would be a xerox of something that was interesting to the sender and the sender's address,(on the back of the page). The originator would then put the page in an envelope, seal it, decorate it and mail it off to someone on their mailart list. The recipient would then add something to the page, maybe an impression from a favorite rubber cut, or a used postage stamp or better yet their newest artistamp. After adding something to the page, the recipient would copy the address of the originator (if they didn't have it already), and add it to their mail artist addy list.Then they would turn the page over and add their mailart moniker and address to the back, stick it in an envelope, decorated it and send it on. The idea being that when it was full, the last person to add something to it would mail it back home to the original sender. That is, of course after making a color copy or scanning it for their own collection!
    I entered the present day world of mail art in an effort to de-stress after then death of my mother. I needed something to do to take my mind off my pain and to give me something to look forward to. I started looking for mail art trades online and found some that didn't seem too involved. I made my post cards and decorated envies that I stuffed with hand made mini envelopes, used postage stamps, flyers from music events, and stickers as well as a handwritten note, poetry or quote. I made my way to the post office and opened a P.O. Box so that my return mail would not be coming to my home address. Once that was accomplished, I mailed off the letters and postcards with my new moniker and Po Box address on them and waited for what seemed like forever for something to appear in my P.O. Box window. Actually, it wasn't that long, since I had chosen a couple of "I'll send you one when you send me one", post card trades and an "write me three letters and I'll write you three back", to start off with. In a week or so I had my very first response, a hand made postcard from a trade and the next day two more postcards from another trade. They were humble beginnings, but worked wonders on my heavy heart.
    As time went on I graduated to mail art calls with a theme and started mailing to the people that were on the documentation lists I received from the calls I participated in. With each mail art call there is usually a promise of documentation of the names and addresses of the participants in the call. Sometimes the documentation came at the end of a call, sometimes periodically during an on going call, and then some documentation was to have your piece of mail art posted to a website, where your art could be seen and you could see what else was sent to the call. So my list of addresses grew exponentially and my mail box almost always had something in it when I checked it.
    After my first year of sending and receiving mailart, I had collected so much mail that I had to start recycling some of it. Not every piece I received was actually "art", many of the things I received were add and passes, regular post cards or slightly decorated envies with goodies inside. These were used to create new pieces and sent on to bring a smile to someone else's postal worker as they stuffed the mail boxes. The ones that were truely pieces of art I have preserved in acid free folders or document protectors with the intention of keeping them long term. The beauty of mail art is that you can use whatever materials you have, recycle, reuse, and send on so that soon you can have a mailbox full of fun and interesting mail to brighten your day.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Lifetime Love of Letters

    The art of letter writing has been all but lost to us with the advent of e-mail. The daily anticipation of  correspondence waiting for us in the mailbox has been supplanted by the instant gratification of the e-mail box.  Nothing can compare though, with the joy of opening the mailbox and seeing your name handwritten on the front of and envelope. A letter isn't just a piece of paper conveying thoughts and information, it is evidence that someone took time out of a busy day to think of you and connect with you in a tangible way.
    Letters can be held in the hands, read and re-read, saved for years and read again. They are time capsules that hold your personal history safely in their pages. It is conversation at its best, each person gets to have their say, uninterupted. Words can be thought out, editted, and read for clarity before others hear them. The process of letter writing helps to hone the skills of meaningful communication.
   I have had a life long love of letters. Being an Army brat, frequently having to say good-bye to friends and move away, letters helped to ease the loss. I could stay connected with those I left behind. Writing helped me to push back the sense of isolation and receiving a return letter helped me bear the lonliness of being the new kid in town.
    Some of my letters have traveled with me all over the world. The pages may have aged and yellowed around the edges, but every time I open one of them, I can still hear the voice of the author. The words speak to my heart as clearly today as the day they were first opened. Some of the letters represent voices that may no longer speak to me in person, family members who have passed away and friends that I have lost contact with. By opening their missives I can remember them as they were, untouched by age, loss or death.
    I wasn't really aware of how much I depended upon mail until last year. I moved from my homestead of 20 years to a farm at the edge of the rainforest in Costa Rica. Here my address is 600 meters North of the Plaza, Sabalito, Guanacaste, Costa Rica. With an address like that, I'm not too likely to have mail find me, even if there were a mail box for it to be delivered to! The closest P.O.Boxes are located at the back of a motorcylce sales and repair shop, 12 bumpy, curvey, kilometers away in Tileran. We actually have P.O.Box #7,  but for the last 10 months, nothing has been delivered there. It has either been returned undeliverable to the sender, or disappeared without a trace. So, with much reluctance I have resigned myself to e-mail communication.
    E-mail allows for impersonal, one sentence notes, where u replaces you and 2 replaces to, or even worse the forward, of a forward, of a forward. I can't touch the surface an e-mail, smell the faint scent of the cologne the writer was wearing, or relish the small artworks called stamps, that grace the upper right hand corner of the envelope. I miss the comfort of words on paper that I can carry with me from place to place, tied with a ribbon, to remind me of the people I am seperated from by miles and time. I am always happy to have an e-mail, don't get me wrong, some news is better than no news, but it just doesn't feel the same. 
    One bastion of hope for the future of letter writing is mail art. Within the mail art community are many people from diverse backgrounds and cultures who have taken hold of a common thread, the writing, decorating and sending of mail. The unselfish act of sending mail to total strangers opens up a wide world of possibilities for connecting with people and in some cases making lifelong friends. The mail artist will respond to a mail art call posted on the web, or just send a handmade postcard to a random address, with no expectation of a return letter. It is an act of benevolence, a gift, a random act of kindness, and more often than not, is rewarded by a return letter or card. As mail artists all over the world know; you have to send mail to get mail, so why don't you start today? Send a real letter to someone you haven't seen in awhile, or look up mail art calls on the web and choose one to respond to. Wade in, reach out, and enjoy finding little gems with your name handwritten on the envelope mixed in with the bills and junk mail in your mailbox!