Meet snail mail expert: Naomi Bulger
Those of you who have tucked into our jam-packed postal issue of Creativity magazine may have spied our delightful blog of the month, Naomi Loves. The inspirational site is run by Naomi Bulger, in amongst her busy life as a journalist, author, illustrator and mother. With a novella about snail mail under her sleeve, a plethora of beautiful mail art on her blog, and an upcoming book about the snail mail revolution, her passion for post is evident. We sat down to discuss crazy ides and writing letters.
1. When and how did you first get into snail mail?
Snail mail for me was really all about gratitude, in the beginning. Back in 2011 I had written an obscure little novella and I thought it would be a nice thing to write to people who bought the book, to say thank you for their support. Later, I just kept on writing, extending that gratitude to people who read and subscribed to my blog.
Snail mail soon became an avenue for creative expression. I began to decorate the envelopes before I posted them, at first simply with string and wax seals and decorative typography. Then a friend gave me a book called ‘Floating Worlds’ that shared the correspondence between illustrator Edward Gorey and writer Peter F. Neumeyer, and it was one of those beautiful ‘A-ha' moments that arrive so rarely in life. Gorey’s envelopes were the first time I’d ever seen this thing we call ‘mail-art’ – before that, it hadn’t even occurred to me that illustrated mail would be allowed to travel through the post! For me, that was it. It changed everything. I started doing line drawings and paintings on my envelopes that incorporated the address into the illustration, and haven’t looked back.
2. What is it that you love about it?
Essentially, it represents all the things I love: arts, crafts and all things handmade; mindfulness, gratitude, and slow-living; personal, one-to-one connections (as an antidote to this digital era of likes, pokes and followers); and something tangible, a keepsake or artifact of a relationship that can be kept and enjoyed for a lifetime.
3. Where do you find inspiration for all of your mail art?
I find inspiration for mail art everywhere! Sometimes, I’ll be thinking about the person I’m writing to, and create an illustration that will mean something to them. A pie if they like baking, a cat or dog that looks like their pet, a Parker chair if they’re into mid-century modern furniture. I try not to think too deeply about it. Once I drew a fox because the recipient’s surname was Fox.
4. Describe the first envelope you ever decorated. Who was it for?
The first envelope I ever properly decorated was of an American civil war soldier, and it was for a seven-year-old boy named Darcy. Darcy’s mum, a dear friend of mine, had been visiting us, and I bought a book to give to him. Rather than just have his mum hand the book over, we thought it might be a thrill for Darcy to receive his gift in the post, because who sends letters to kids any more? I painted the little civil war soldier as this was a big passion of his at the time, and wrote the address as though it was shooting out of the gun. Actually, I’m still writing to Darcy. These days he’s into the Aztecs, so at Christmas time I sent him mail art inspired by the Mayan calendar.
5. What can we expect from your upcoming book?
I am super-excited about this book! It is a real labour of love, given what writing letters has come to mean in my life, and I’ve been getting up at 5am to write before the day begins for the past two years so that I can get it done. I’m almost finished!
There are close to 100 mail-related stories, heroes, resources and ideas in the book, and each of them includes inspiration, guidance or tips so that readers can take direct action. The book introduces readers to a fairy post office hidden in a national park; places to find pen-pals and join creative mail-swaps; a hidden, stamp-related game on a city’s streets; and a modern take on the secret language of stamps.
6. What inspired you to write it?
There are plenty of books about mail out there, and a lot of them suggest that email and social media are killing the post, but my book is the first to explore the growing number of international projects that are actually making positive use of the Internet to facilitate offline activities (like snail mail). I felt that there was a real gap in where to find this kind of information. Whenever I shared about these kinds of projects on my blog, people were super-positive and wanted to get involved.
7. You’ve lived in both New York and Australia (Sydney and Melbourne); how do the two craft scenes differ?
One of the things that struck me when I first moved to New York was the amazing energy and support in that city for any crazy, creative scheme you might have in mind. In Australia, if you announced a crazy dream to a bunch of strangers at a party (like, say, “I have a dream to quit my job as an accountant and sculpt one-of-a-kind snow-globes”), you’d meet with a fair degree of scepticism, and most people would likely warn you not to quit your day job.
In New York, if you announced the same thing at a party, few if any of those strangers would question your dream. Most likely, someone would say “I have a friend who does glass-blowing: here is his number, call him up.” And another would say “My friend is exhibiting miniatures in a gallery downtown: here’s her number, call her up.” And so-on. That’s not to say that people in Australia aren’t creative or supportive – they are both, in spades! – but I experienced a kind of creative “Go get ‘em” energy in New York that felt completely freed from practicalities or social expectations.
8. What advice would you give to someone looking to start sending snail mail?
The first thing I would say is not to question your capacity or ability, just go ahead and write someone a letter! Don’t be put off because you think you don’t have the time to write a long letter, write a short one! Don’t worry if you think you’re not creative enough to paint an envelope, use craft tape instead, or cut out a picture from a magazine, or make an envelope out of a page from a colouring book.
I can 100% guarantee that if you write someone a heartfelt letter – or even a postcard – you will absolutely make their day. A lot of people say snail mail is a dying practice. I don’t agree with that, because every day more and more people are returning to this more personal, creative and mindful way of reaching out.
In addition to this, there are a few things you can do to ensure your decorated letter is more likely to survive its journey through the post:
⦁ Make sure all elements of the address are clearly visible to the postie, especially if the address is incorporated into the image.
⦁ If you’re using paint, be aware that water-based paints might run if your letter is delivered in the rain.
⦁ If you’re using stamps rather than postal labels and they won’t all fit on the front of your envelope without ruining your design, it’s ok to put more on the back. Just leave a note for the postie.
⦁ Despite all this care, sometimes your letter will still arrive bruised and battered, or even torn. Don’t let it distress you overly. See any wear and tear as marks of the journey, of the great adventure that your mail has taken across land and sea.
If Naomi has left you feeling inspired, make sure to check out issue 82 of docrafts Creativity magazine, for decorated mail art, happy mail scrapbook layouts, wax-sealed envelopes, DIY postcards, crafty care packages, postable scrapbook pages and more!
Check out Naomi’s blog where you can also find her free newsletter and e-book.