Using Vintage Ephemera in Letter Writing

Hello! My name is Julia Neises and I am the lady behind Eva Moon Press. I got my start by working at neighboring letterpress shops in Berkeley, California. Now, I live with my husband in Portland, Oregon and run my business out of a tiny room in our home. The work I do includes graphic design for small businesses, stationery design, styling, and selling collections of ephemera.

I first caught the ephemera spark when I was introduced to traditional letterpress printing. But it was just last year when my in-laws gave me two giant boxes of my husband’s childhood stamp collection that really led me to stamp and ephemera collecting. Pouring over all the stamps in each glassine envelope, drawer, and album and learning about their origins brought together all my years of print production, design, and a general curiosity about the world. Since then, I have attempted to better organize the collection and add to it where I can. While I have a lot to learn about the ins-and-outs of philately, I find such delight in sharing my collection and learning from others.

Antique shops and vintage paper fairs are my favorite sources for finding materials. I love chatting with shop proprietors and dealers and hearing the history of the pieces they are selling. I am learning that if I take the time to listen, other collectors have a lot of knowledge to share! At vintage paper fairs, dealers are generally interested to know what you collect so it’s handy to keep a wish list. My wish list always includes airmail labels and first day covers, postcards of post offices, and post office labels from other countries.  

The materials I collect come in handy not just for design inspiration when working on a branding project, but also in letter-writing: 

- I love adding vintage post office labels to letters and envelopes. (Tip: Wrapping labels around an edge is a fun way to add interest on each side of a piece.)

- In addition to using the appropriate mint postage, I occasionally add a cancelled vintage stamp to an envelope for added color and texture. 

- I’m really drawn to airmail ephemera (I love stripes and primary colors, so it’s a perfect match) and collect airmail labels in lots of languages. When putting together an ephemera swap or letter for a pen pal, I will often include a vintage label from their country or a place they’ve traveled to. It’s fun to match pieces of my collection to people I know.

- Saving interesting package is a good way to mix old and new ephemera. I recently bough some seeds from Floret, a great flower farm in Washington, and their beautifully designed seed envelopes have worked their way into my letters! 

Because I correspond with about 20 different people across the world on a regular basis, it’s not easy to pin-point favorite letters sent and received. I am continually delighted by the creativity of my friends!

The favorite letters that do come to mind are in two categories: Ongoing missives and a special occasion. My first memory of receiving mail is a valentine sent from my grandparents when I was child (my grandpa has the best cursive!). They love receiving mail, so now I send them pretty postcards of things I know they will like with little notes about what I’m up to. For the special occasion, I created a paper booklet that unfolded with four pockets for my pen pal Victoria Vu’s birthday. Victoria and I share a love of paper and gardening, so I filled the pockets with vintage ephemera that I knew she would like. 

Polly, my dear friend and pen pal (we both live in Portland and are still pen pals!) is the queen of tucking sweet little treasures into her letters to me. Her generous spirit overflows into everything she does—even in the mail! She has a great eye for color and I love the way she combines old and new materials. One of my favorite pieces from her is a very simple white card with a vintage Canadian stamp on front and wrapped with delicate orange thread. So inspiring! 

Photos by Tanya Pavlova. http://www.tanyapavlova.com/

Visit Julia at http://www.evamoonpress.com/

Designer Q&A: Gold Teeth Brooklyn

My mom has always written me letters and cards. Anytime I traveled she would stuff a letter into my bag so I could find it later. It always made me smile.

We sat down with Jesse of Gold Teeth Brooklyn and asked her a few questions about how she got started and where she see the future of letter-writing heading. Be sure to check out the rest of our Designer Q&As after this. 

Write_On: Tell us about yourself!  What’s your background and what drew you to design cards and stationery?

Jesse: I took printmaking classes in college, including a summer studying the medium abroad in Greece, and fell in love with it. I loved everything, manipulating colors and how the ink felt on the textured cotton paper. Every little detail was magic! I was an art student, and it was important to me that I make accessible art. I didn’t see myself in the “real” art world, but I still wanted to be creative. When I started to make prints and cards I felt I could sigh in relief, there was less pressure than when you’re trying to be an artist. Ultimately, I didn’t care if my work was in a gallery or in a gift shop, as long as it was out in the world and everyone could interact with it. That's empowering!

Write_On: How would you describe your design aesthetic?

Jesse: I have fun putting a colorful and playful spin on everyday objects--I want people to smile! 

Write_On:  How do you use your designs to inspire people to connect in writing?

Jesse: I hope that people are inspired by the simplicity of my designs and objects, and that they are reminded of particular friends or family members. They might just write them!

Write_On: What does your process look like for creating a new card or stationery design?

Jesse: Usually I have an upcoming holiday that I need to create a new card for, so I'll turn to my daily surroundings for inspiration. For instance, my boyfriend wears these super old work boots that inspired me to create a Father's Day card!

Write_On: How have hand-written letters shaped your life and relationships?

Jesse: Letters force me to deeply consider the person I’m writing. They're more formal than a text or email, so I really reflect on the content before I put it down on paper. Writing a letter is like a private moment with the recipient because you're carving out time you wouldn't otherwise to think about them. 

Write_On: What do you find most difficult about writing a letter?

Jesse: There isn’t a delete button! Cards are precious. I know how much work can go into creating them, so I don’t want to write a sloppy letter inside. When I make a mistake it really bugs me! 

Write_On:  What does your letter-writing practice look like?

Jesse: I try to write letters for all the major holidays, sending girlfriends Valentine's Day cards, birthday cards throughout the year or just a letter saying that I’m thinking of you. A handwritten letter goes far. It can really make someone’s day, I know when I receive one, it definitely makes mine. Someone sat down and thought of me versus sending a 5 second text message. These days not everyone has stamps and addresses handy. You have to go that extra step and that makes it so much more special.   

Write_On: Modern times have made digital correspondence increasingly available and convenient. Why is it important for people to send handwritten cards and letters?

Jesse: Hopefully people will save their cards and letters in the way they don't save emails. If they don't, I worry that future generations won't have that sense of family history that can only be found in passed-down correspondence. Digital correspondence is wonderful, too. But we have to make time for handwritten letters.

Write_On: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about letter-writing?

Jesse: It's not advice per se, but my mom has always written me letters and cards. Anytime I traveled she would stuff a letter into my bag so I could find it later. It always made me smile. She still sends me cards for every holiday, even Easter and Halloween. It really rubbed off on me. I hope to do this for my kids, too. 

Write_On: What’s the next letter you’re planning to write?

Jesse: I'm getting married soon, and we're sending out our save-the-dates. It's the perfect opportunity to include notes to people that I’ve been meaning to write.

Q&A with Kathy and Donovan, Letter Writers Alliance

1. Tell us about yourself!  What’s your background and what inspired you to start the The Letter Writers Alliance?

The Letter Writers Alliance exists because Kathy and I grew tired of hearing people say that they loved letters, but nobody writes them anymore. We heard it all the time, so we figured we should try to connect these people who love letter writing so they don't feel like the only ones anymore. We decided to create the Alliance to network those letter lovers together. We created a website and came up with a concept for what a membership would entail and what kind of perks came with it. That was back in the Summer of 2007 and we’ve been growing ever since.


2. Describe The Letter Writers Alliance - how does it work? How many members are there? Can you talk about the intersection of the online world and the growing interest in letter-writing?

In this era of instantaneous communication, a letter is a rare and wondrous item. The Letter Writers Alliance is dedicated to preserving this joy; neither long lines, nor late deliveries, nor increasing postal rates will keep us from our mission. With a combination of both online presence and in person gatherings we strive to give people the tools to correspond tangibly in our increasingly digital existence. As of this writing, we have over 10,000 members from all over the world. The L.W.A. offers free downloads of stationery and cards, members only products and projects, and a blog with all the goings on in the letter writing world. We also offer an optional pen pal swap between members, run contests, and have a special currency called Inklings that members can earn through community involvement and the turn in for free things. A lifetime membership is $5 plus shipping through our website and comes with a fancy member card and patch. We want to inspire you online to go offline and write more letters. We also hold Letter Socials, both the virtual and traditional varieties. The traditional socials are limited to a physical space, which is great for a fun gathering, but not great for being able to include all our members. Since we have so many International members, we saw the virtual social as a way to engage our entire membership community. The social runs for 24 hours of which you can participate in when and how you want to. To participate with the rest of the community, people can share their mail thoughts, letter photos, and mail stack by using the hashtag #LWASocial and share via Twitter and Instagram. We also broadcast live video of us writing at our studio for a couple hours. We often have a friend or two join us and we take questions and share tips. (The videos are archived on our site and YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2oEjZjrq-zjCTnsNr1vtlg )

We love how social media, blogs, and websites are helping people get inspired to get offline and write a letter. These outlets allow us to share our joy of letter writing to the digital world and find even more people with our love of mail. Thanks to active forums for mail like Postcrossing and the broader reach of something like Instagram, the concept of letter writing is being exposed to a wider range of people. We use the digital to add value to our community, such as with the membersite, which helps us connect with our world-wide community, as well as with online events.


3. How have hand-written letters impacted your life and relationships? Why is having The Letter Writers Alliance important to you?

Letters and mail bring us great joy and that is only compounded when you can share that joy with others who really understand and feel the same. I have met the best people through the mail. I found that I started to get to know a lot more diverse people through letters. I wasn’t just interacting with my peers or my political group or people who shared an interest of mine other than writing. Moreover, I discovered that the majority of people really are genuinely nice and thoughtful. I have been given so many different opportunities through options opened up to me through relationships started with letter writing. Letters bring together an amazingly diverse group of people and I am deeply honored and enormously pleased to be a part of a community of so many interesting people. It makes me so happy that so many people share this love and are willing to share it with others.


4. What does your letter-writing practice look like? How often do you write, and what types of letters do you write most often? What do you do for inspiration and to make time and space for letter-writing?

I am always writing letters. My spare moments are dedicated to returning my mail. I have developed a number of lasting pen pal relationships through the L.W.A. and consider it my goal to return letters in short order. I carry a bag with me that has stationery, pens, and my unread mail. I don’t read a letter until I have the time to respond to it. Otherwise, I get really bogged down in mental composition. I like to be very conversational in my letters and the quick response keeps it more natural. I have a tendency in my life to overwork things; so this is a nice change of pace. I probably write about 25 letters and postcards a week. Most of those are responses to letters I have received, but I do occasionally sneak in a fan letter or a thank you or a just because note. Kathy tends to write around 5 letters a month, sticks to simple paper and fountain pens, and tends to write longer letters. Her and I really show the span of the types of letter writers there are around. I find Instagram to be a super inspirational place for letter writing, and since I am the main author on the L.W.A. blog, I’m always hunting through the wilds of the internet for all kinds of letter writing goodness.

5. Modern times have made digital correspondence increasingly available and convenient. Why is it important for people to send handwritten cards and letters?

The act of writing a letter is a gift of your time and ideas. There is a sense of connection with your own thoughts that you don’t normally get when talking or writing an email, and I think this resonates with people. There is more of a journalistic thought process occurring when writing a letter and it is amazing how many times I write things I had no idea I was feeling or even solve issues I was having just by writing it out to a pen pal. If you reach back and remember the joy from receiving a letter, something to hold, to reread, to treasure and then imagine passing that feeling on to someone else. A letter means even more today than it used to. They became mundane, but are now almost sacred artifacts. Also, letters are extremely important primary sources for our collective experience of history. I wonder a lot about what is being lost with the advent of email and text and Twitter and how much history is sacrificed to the delete key. It's a small, very small, price to pay to touch someone the way that a letter can. You start by sending them out and the reward is receiving them. A lot of people just need to take the first step; send that first letter. You have to write a letter to get a letter, is what we say.

6. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about letter-writing?

I like to pass along that letter writing should not be a burden in your life. Every letter deserves a response, but the nature of that response is up to you. You shouldn’t feel guilty over unreturned letters. One of the best things about letters is that they don’t have expiration dates. Answer things in your own time, on your own terms. We aren’t the Letter Writing Police. We want everyone to have fun. If you get overwhelmed, try sending out a postcard instead with a “Hey, I got your letter. I’m a bit behind right now, but I hope to catch up soon.” Courtesy, kindness, and civility in conversation are all watch words for great letter writing relationships.

We get a lot of questions about the “proper”, “right”, or “best” way to write a letter. The answer isn’t that straightforward. It all depends on who you are writing to, the old adage of know your audience; a great letter to your grandmother is not the same as a great letter to your pen pal in London.  Also, embrace patience. Letters are a gift of your time. Learn to savor doing something slowly as a welcome change from the rest of your life when everything must be done yesterday.

7. When is it better to send a letter than an e-mail, phone call or text?

Letters are always better, with the one exception of trying to schedule something on a deadline. Emails are great tools. You’ve used it here to get your answers fast. I can tell you that my answers would have been different if I were handwriting this to send it back to you in the mail. The manner in which a response is made influences the nature of that response. I cannot judge whether or not one is more worthy than another, but I have definitely noticed a difference between a handwritten letter and a typed one. I don’t talk on the telephone hardly at all. If I have something important to talk about, I do it in a letter. Text and email are only for things like scheduling meetings or coordinating lists of tasks. All of my conversations are in person or on the page. Those people you message on Facebook, think of how much more impactful it would be for them to receive a real letter from you. That tweet you just sent, next time, write it down on a postcard. Make your message a part of the physical world and it will be a great deal more memorable than a few words on a screen. We always tell people that we aren't anti-email; we're just pro real-mail. Mainly, we just want people to write more letters.

8. What’s the next letter you’re planning to write?

I have two pen pal letters waiting for responses; one to California, one to Canada. I need to send a thank you for a donation. Oh, and I remembered that I forgot to answer a question in a letter about a particular type of material; so I plan to send samples of that material off to that pen pal. (It’s this crazy rayon mesh intended for origami that I use in mail art collage.) Lastly, I have an Inkling to award. A member in England sent a letter with a link I’m going to share on the blog; since it’s something for the community, they earned themselves an Inkling. We use Inklings as a way to encourage members to do more for the letter writing world, above and beyond just writing letters.

Sponsor Challenge Update: Hello!Lucky

My favorite thing is the way that it’s caused me to re-examine and re-appreciate all the people who have made a difference in my life.

We sat down with Sabrina Moyle of Hello!Lucky, a Write_On sponsor, to get a feel for how the 30 day challenge was going! Be sure to check out the rest of our Sponsor Challenge Updates after this. 

Write_On:  How many years have you participated in Write_On? 

Sabrina:  This is my third year participating - I'm the Hello!Lucky Write_On challenge representative!

Write_On:  What does your letter-writing habit usually look like? 

Sabrina: In the past it's been sporadic, but this year, it's becoming automatic and something I look forward to doing regularly.  There is just something so satisfying about writing by hand and expressing my gratitude towards someone on a beautiful card or stationery. I love it!  I try to write first thing in the morning or when I have a quiet moment in the afternoon.  I have a running list of people I want to write letters to - old friends, teachers, advisors, bosses, work colleagues, cousins, aunts, uncles, my deceased grandparents - the list goes on.  Part of my realization this year is that life is short and I want to live my life so that if I happen to get hit by a bus tomorrow, I will have left nothing left unsaid. Letters are the perfect way to do that. I tend to compose letters in my head while I'm driving my car or running errands; that way, they flow once I put pen to paper.

Write_On: How's it going? How many letters have you written? Are you trying to write daily?

Sabrina:  It's going really well. So far, I've written about 20 letters. I got warmed up by writing thank you notes for birthday gifts that my twin sons received (just my luck, their birthday is at the end of March!) - the kids dictated what they wanted to say (usually something short and sweet like "thank you for the X. It is super awesome!", and I wrote it down since they're still learning to write.  I've written letters to my college room mate, who I first met by letter; to a Facebook friend wishing her a belated happy birthday; to my cleaning lady and her daughter; to my kids' teacher; to The Mosaic Project, a non-profit I love; and to my college advisor letting her know how much she's influenced me.  I've also been including a short handwritten note of appreciation with checks for bills!  I've been writing 2-3 letters every other day.  The process has inspired me to write essays about the value of letter-writing, such as this one.  It has truly been life-changing!

Write_On:  What do you find most difficult about writing a letter?

Sabrina:  Usually it's the feeling that I "owe" someone a letter. Guilt is the biggest letter-writing blocker. When I notice that feeling, I just let it go and tell myself that no one is expecting anything - that's the beauty of writing old-fashioned letters!  I also remind myself that if I write a letter out of obligation, the recipient will feel it and I might as well just send an email or text.  The beauty of a letter is its authenticity and sincerity - it should be a joy to write and a joy to receive. 

Write_On:  What's been your favorite thing about Write_On so far? 

Sabrina:  My favorite thing is the way that it's caused me to re-examine and re-appreciate all the people who have made a difference in my life. Once I started following that thread by answering the question "Who should I write a letter to today?," the number of people I could think of was practically unending. There are so many people, from childhood to the present day, who I have enjoyed meeting, learned from, and appreciated. I would love to eventually write letters to all of them to make sure they realize what a profound influence they have had on the people they've touched.

Write_On:   How have hand-written letters shaped your life and relationships?

Sabrina:  I've had many relationships in the past where hand-written letters were pivotal. One of my first crushes in high school was someone who lived in a different city and we exchanged letters for a short time until the flame burned out. I remember to this day the smell of the paper he wrote on and the shape of his handwriting, and how exciting it was to hold and piece of paper that I knew he had held and written on. It was very intimate and romantic.  I first met my college room mate by letter, and it was the beginning of a long friendship that unfolded organically and continues to this day - it's been more than 20 years.  My grandmother was an amazing letter-writer - she used to type letters from her cottage on a lake in Minnesota, and I still have her letters - they remind me of her, and of the summers I spent there fishing, swimming and hanging out with my cousins.  My aunt, who died of cancer a few years ago, was a wonderful artist and writer. She would include make her own cards with beautiful hand made wood block prints; I have several of them framed in my house.  Through Write_On, I've been reconnecting with people who have been meant something to me, both at the time and in retrospect. I'm looking forward to deepening my relationships with old friends and acquaintances by becoming snail mail pen pals.  I feel like everyone has entered my life for a reason, and exchanging letters is a great way to explore why. There is just a level of reflection, expression and creativity that a letter provides that you can't find in email and social media. 

Write_On:   What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about letter-writing?

Sabrina: I think the biggest influence on my letter-writing practice has been scientific research on the benefits of compassion, altruism and gratitude, as discussed in books like The Compassionate MindSelf- Compassion, and Altruism.   Once I realized that compassion has benefits to individuals' health and well-being, as well as society overall, it was like a switch was flipped. Suddenly, I realized that writing letters is way to practice compassion: to send love and good vibes and to let another person know they are seen and valued. Whether it's a person I know well, or a total stranger, there is something profound about connecting on a vulnerable, intimate, human level through a handwritten letter.

Write_On:  What’s the next letter you’re planning to write?

Sabrina:  I'm planning to write a letter to the crossing guard at my kids' school - her beaming smile lights us up every morning!  

Q&A with Sarah Schwartz of Stationery Trends Magazine + The Paper Chronicles

The Write_On effort gave out 10,000 kits in preparation for April, National Letter-Writing Month, but over at ThePaperChronicles.com, lovers of correspondence can get free, fabulous stationery anytime just by writing into Sarah Schwartz, its founder and the editor-in-chief of Stationery Trends.

And, throughout April, she will be giving out five special write_on kits of 30 greeting cards courtesy of Chronicle Books and the other generous Write_On sponsors— read on to learn more about her Letter-Writing Campaign and snag one for yourself.

1. Tell us about yourself!  What’s your background and what drew you into the business of writing about the stationery industry?

Like countless others before me, I came to New York City with the hopes of becoming a writer. After graduating from NYU’s journalism school, I jumped around in publishing to see what suited me best. I wrote copy for an ad agency (definitely not a fit!) and was an assistant editor at HarperCollins’ illustrated book division for nearly a year before being laid off when my division closed.

In those days (1997), one still looked for jobs in the Help Wanted section of the New York Times — and it was there I found a listing for a market editor job at Gifts &  Decorative Accessories, a trade magazine for the gift industry. I still vividly remember interviewing for it and my ensuing “test” — essentially, writing a product page for candles. I must have done okay on it, for I landed the job and started covering stationery there.

Stationery was definitely the underdog amongst all the categories the market editors covered — and as such I slowly fell in love with it. Who would have ever guessed that it would endure (albeit slightly weakened) while then-hot markets like collectibles completely fizzled?

2. Can you tell us about your blog and Letter Writing Campaign series?

It has been personally rewarding to see stationery — and by extension, letter-writing — make it into the 21st century, with a whole young generation of correspondents embracing the age-old form.

We launched Stationery Trends in 2008, and as it took off and blossomed, I realized that there is so much going on in the industry that I could not fit into print — and there the premise for The Paper Chronicles was born. It seems there is always something going on for me to write about.

The premise of my Letter Writing Campaign is simple — you send me a letter on your favorite stationery, telling me what makes it so, and I send you some free stationery swag from one of my many generous sponsors. Typically I request they donate 4-6 cards so that the correspondent will keep writing.

It has been beyond heart-warming to make so many new friends on paper. When I open my post office box, I never know what will be waiting for me.

3. Have you always been a fan of snail mail?

I have always loved finding something special in the mailbox. I did have a few pen pals growing up, but I remember really enjoying sending letters home from camp. My mom saved some, and most are essentially lists of what I destroyed and/or lost as well as explanations of how — but they provide a glimpse into that time in a way that memories cannot. (And a premise such as that is a great spark for writing. In college I had a creative writing class where you had to bring in a story each week — and if not that, than a page-long explanation of why you had no story. Sometimes those were more interesting than the stories people labored over for hours!)

In your opinion, is writing letters less prevalent today? If yes, why?

To my great discontent, it would seem letter-writing has diminished in terms of volume — but that doesn’t mean there aren’t many who find great meaning and derive great joy from it! After all, a letter is an act of intimacy between two people over time and space.  Hand-written on the writer’s stationery of choice, it’s not seen through a generic screen like the rest of our digital fodder, it must be held in the hands and focused on exclusively. There is no equivalent to it. I do think there are plenty of millennials who are hip to this, thank goodness. At this point they are the medium’s future. 

4. How have hand-written letters impacted your life and relationships?

Several years back, I got in the habit of saving letters (mostly thank-yous) I’ve received. Most are from designers I’ve featured in Stationery Trends thanking me for featuring them. Mind you, I only save those that digress from the generic thank-you form.

About a year back I cleaned out my desk drawer and started putting them in a blank album, rereading them in the process. Taken together as a group, they are really powerful — and remind me of what has become the best part of my job: Helping artistic types see their dreams bloom. It is an honor to play any role in that process!

5. What do you find most difficult about writing a letter?

I think it’s finding the time and gathering all the materials (stationery, pen, stamp, address), which is ironic since I seem to find the time to send dozens of emails a day— and writing an actual letter and getting everything you need on hand doesn’t really take much longer.

6. What does your letter-writing practice look like?

Many of my letters are actually drafted in a Word doc. As a working writer, I tend to be something of a perfectionist with anything that leaves my desk. And, any writer will tell you that most of writing is rewriting. Then it’s mainly a matter of writing it out legibly. Then I pick a washi tape to seal it with and a pretty postage stamp and return address stamp (I have several different designs of both) to make the envelope as enticing as the sentiments within!  

7. Modern times have made digital correspondence increasingly available and convenient. Why is it important for people to send handwritten cards and letters?

I’ve yet to see anyone preserve an email like they would a letter. There is something enduring and timeless about a letter — each is a glimpse into that moment in space and time, as well as the personality of the writer and the recipient.

8. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about letter-writing?

It was for writing in general, but I think it applies to letter-writing as well. Don’t get self-conscious and worry too much about the person eventually reading it — instead, focus on being true to your thoughts and everything else will fall into place.

9. When is it better to send a letter than an e-mail, phone call or text?

If someone is sick or has suffered a loss, emailed sentiments don’t cut it. When you want to show someone that you are willing to go the extra mile for them, whatever they are going through — marriage, birth, loss, a transition of any kind — even the effort of mailing a letter speaks volumes beyond the actual words it conveys.

10. What’s the next letter you’re planning to write?

I have an ongoing pile of thank-yous that never seems to diminish in size. For all the talk we hear about making gratitude a big part of our lives, I have found these to be the best way to channel and express it. There is something almost therapeutic in articulating my feelings, writing them down, then sealing them up in a pretty package and sending them out into the world. The next thank-you at the top of my pile will no doubt be for Egg Press, who is generously donating those five fat bundles!

So, if you want to snag one of these babies for yourself, again all you need to do is write me on your favorite stationery and tell me what makes it so. Send it to me at P.O. Box 22133, Beachwood, Ohio 44122 & with any luck I will feature your missive in April on ThePaperChronicles.com!

Q&A with Lea Redmond: Letters To My series

Hand-written letters simply don’t need to have the same kind of structural coherence as, say, an essay. It’s okay for letters to roam a bit; it’s part of what makes them beautiful. They’re more like a spontaneous conversation or a daydream.

We sat down with Lea Redmond, author of Chronicle Books Letters To My series and asked her a few questions about how the idea was born and where she see the future of letter-writing heading. Be sure to check out the rest of our Q&As after this. 

photo provided by Chronicle Books

photo provided by Chronicle Books

Write_On:  Tell us about yourself! What’s your background and how did you get started with your Letters To My Series and Leafcutter Designs?

Lea: My first love was art. And my second, Philosophy. I eventually found a way to combine my love of objects and my love of ideas, and have spent the past decade designing dozens of thoughtful, playful items that encourage people to find creativity and meaning in their daily lives. I started my design studio, Leafcutter Designs, on a bit of a whim, with a quirky art project called the "World's Smallest Post Service." One day when I had my teeny tiny post office set up in San Francisco, an editor from Chronicle Books stumbled upon me there, and that's how our many collaborations began.

Write_On: What inspired you to create the series?

Lea:  The "Letters To My..." series is inspired by an assignment I enjoyed back in high school. My 9th grade teacher had us write letters to ourselves, to be returned a few years later upon graduation. I love how such simple tools -- paper and pen and time -- allow for us to essentially time travel, corresponding directly with our younger selves. So simple, yet pure magic! 

Write_On:  How do you come up with the writing prompts in your Letters To My series? We’ve found having prompts or reasons to write so helpful.

Lea:  My creative process is based on intuition and profusion. I make a big list of prompts that sound fun and interesting to me, and then my friends, family members, and editors help me reduce the list to just a dozen prompts per book. The goal is always to design prompts that will resonate with almost anyone and everyone--prompts that get to the essence of the relationship the book is highlighting. Also, I try to write prompts that are specific enough to be provocative, yet also open-ended enough that the letter writer can truly make it his or her own. I want to be the spark, not the answer.

Write_On:  Have you always been a fan of snail mail? In your opinion, is writing letters less prevalent today? If yes, why?

Lea:  Oh yes! I have had quite a stationery collection since I was a young girl. Also, I have a wax seal with my initial on it and I'm not afraid to use it! Certainly fewer letters have been sent since the explosion of email and text messaging. Their speed is seductive and we are always anxious for news! On the one hand, this is super sad. At the same time, I love emojis! So, I think what's most important is to remember what each communication format is best at, and to choose wisely. If you want to quickly let your boyfriend know you're thinking of him, sure, text him a quick emoji kiss face. But if you want him to know how you really deeply feel, consider composing a heartfelt love letter on real paper and dropping it into the mail. Or, if you're going to break up with him, probably best to meet face-to-face! The key is to thoughtfully choose the best medium for what you have to say, and not to just send a text message or email simply because they are fast, easy, automatic, or addictive. 

Write_On:  What do you find most difficult about writing a letter?

Lea:  I truly love writing letters. Once I get started, it's too much fun to be difficult. But getting started is the tricky part! I know that composing a good letter takes time and thoughtfulness, so it can be tough to carve out the time to slow down and actually do it. Last week I wrote a nice long letter to a friend from a cafe without wifi. It can be helpful to go someplace without internet to write letters, and to turn off your phone! Make a date with your stationery and postage stamps. Put it in your calendar and make it a special treat for yourself. It can be such a pleasure once you get some momentum!

Write_On:  What does your writing process look like?

Lea:  Most of my writing happens on my computer and I must admit that I love the copy/paste function! Writing a hand-written letter is a very different game because you cannot copy and paste. To make the linearity of a letter a little easier for me, I sometimes jot down a list of topics I want to address in the letter, so I have a bit of a plan in my head before I bring my pen to the paper. Also, I've realized that hand-written letters simply don't need to have the same kind of structural coherence as, say, an essay. It's okay for letters to roam a bit; it's part of what makes them beautiful. They're more like a spontaneous conversation or a daydream.

Write_On:  Are the Letters To My intended to be written over time? Are they meant to be gifted or held onto?

Lea:  All of the "Letters To My" books are intended to be kept together as a bound keepsake collection of letters. If you writing in "Letters To My Future Self," then of course that book is for you to keep and enjoy in the years and decades to come. You can even start opening them before you've written them all. If you're filling out "Letters To My Baby," then you can simply write a letter whenever you're inspired to, especially because your baby won't be able to read for quite some time anyway! You might want to gift the book to the "baby" at age 18 or 21. Generally, with the series, you can write all the letters immediately and gift the keepsake book to its final recipient ASAP, or you can slowly complete the letters over time, eventually gifting the book whenever its ready. It's up to you!

Write_On:  What can you tell us about the connection between writing and personal relationships?

Lea:  One of the joys of relationships is beautiful, heartfelt, clear communication. Letter writing is important because different words come out of us depending on whether we are writing them, typing them, texting them, or saying them in person. I think letters are a wonderful opportunity to say the most complex and deep stuff--things that otherwise might go unsaid forever!  

Write_On:  Modern times have made digital correspondence increasingly available and convenient. Why is it important for people to send handwritten cards and letters?

Lea:  Most importantly, writing and receiving letters is a joy! It's a tangible pleasure to choose the stationery and postage stamp, to carve out a contemplative moment or two for some thoughtful writing, and to send it off to someone you care about. Sure, you can write a heartfelt email; but why not put those words onto a beautiful piece of paper, drop it into a mailbox, and let your recipient's hands hold that same exact piece of paper that was once in your hands? Somehow, this just feels a little closer, a little more intimate, a little more heartfelt. And the world always needs more heart.

LEA REDMOND is a creative consultant and the brains behind the Letters to My series, The World's Smallest Post Service, Connexio, My Museum journal, Lucky You!, the Tandem Activity Book, and Conversation Dice. Her creative workshop, Leafcutter Designs, offers curious goods, surprising services, and projects for participation: www.leafcutterdesigns.com. She lives in Oakland, California.

CHRONICLE BOOKS

One of the most admired and respected publishing companies in the United States, Chronicle Books was founded in 1966 and, over the years, has developed a reputation for award-winning, innovative books and quality merchandise. The company continues to challenge conventional publishing wisdom, setting trends in both subject matter and format, maintaining a list that includes titles in fine art, cookbooks, children’s books, music and popular culture. To visit Chronicle Books online, go to www.chroniclebooks.com.

Sponsor Challenge Update: Sakura of America

To me, writing a letter is thinking about the past, writing a note in the present and sending it off for someone to receive in the future. A letter can travel through both space and time and that is pretty cool to think about.

We sat down with Michaela of Sakura of America, a Write_On sponsor, to get a feel for how the 30 day challenge was going! Be sure to check out the rest of our Sponsor Challenge Updates after this. 

Write_On:  How many years have you participated in Write_On? 

Michaela:  This is my third year participating and I couldn’t be more thrilled!

Write_On:  What does your letter-writing habit usually look like? 

Michaela:  I don’t write as often as I’d like, but I do enjoy writing cards for the holidays along with our family photo and thank you notes to let people know just how grateful I am for their generous gifts. I also really like lettering and sending “Congratulations!” cards for graduates, friends who work hard and get promotions or new jobs, or if anyone is expanding their family – weddings, babies, even new pets. I have been really into hand lettering so sending a letter I also a good excuse for me to practice and decorate my envelopes. 

Write_On:   How's it going? How many letters have you written? Are you trying to write daily?

Michaela:  I have been pretty diligent about writing my cards and it has been so nice to have a good excuse to send out “I am thinking of you just because….” cards. It’s like sending a hug! I have 15 cards mailed out, although some days I am playing catch up and write 2 in a day.

Write_On:  What do you find most difficult about writing a letter?

Michaela:  Making the time has been tough! Since I have a new baby, it’s been hard going out to dinner with friends or socializing like I used to. Sending cards that just say “Hello! I’m still okay and I’m thinking of you” have actually been pretty fun to write. As a busy person, it’s easy to come up with excuses of why there isn’t time to connect with people. But Write On has shown me it’s actually quite easy to sit down, have a thoughtful moment, and reach out to a friend.

Write_On:  What's been your favorite thing about Write_On so far? 

Michaela:  I’ve had a lot of fun coordinating pens with cards. Working for a pen company is a nice perk because any color I need is right at my fingertips. It’s also been so wonderful seeing all of the posts of Instagram and seeing how excited people are just sending letters. This simple act seems to bring a lot of joy to people – both the sender and recipient. It makes me feel really happy to have the job I do. I get to spread the word about pens for people to express themselves in a colorful and unique way. 

Write_On:  How have hand-written letters shaped your life and relationships?

Michaela:  I would write long letters to my parents when I first started college, when email was still a bit new and they hadn’t gotten the hang of it yet. I would write down my intentions for the semester, check in on them and let them know how I was doing. My mom would write back and send care packages, which was so comforting to receive when I was homesick. I would post her cards up and look at them when I was studying. It was nice to see her penmanship and have a piece of home in my new place. It was just a bit more special than a phone call. We all still have those notes saved.

When my boyfriend (now husband) and I were first living together we were both working odd hour jobs and going to grad school so often times we were just two ships passing in the night. We would leave silly notes about chores or to-dos for each other. But he would always leave a nice love note along with his updates. It made me feel really special and appreciated. I still have a lot of those notes in a keepsake box.

This past year when we had our baby we received so many well wishing cards from friends and family. I am keeping them for when he is older to let him know how many people we excited for his arrival.

Write_On: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about letter-writing?

Michaela:  That letter writing is like a meditation. It is an opportunity to sit and slow down in the crazy busy world of ours and just reflect. To me, writing a letter is thinking about the past, writing a note in the present and sending it off for someone to receive in the future. A letter can travel through both space and time and that is pretty cool to think about.

Write_On:  What’s the next letter you’re planning to write?

Michaela:  I plan on writing a note to my mom and let her know how helpful and kind she has been to me as a new mom. I appreciate her now more than ever! And even though I tell her all the time, I think it would be nice for her to hold something in her hands that lets her know just how grateful I am to have her.

LA Pen Pal Club

Whenever you’re thinking of someone and wish to let them know, try writing your sentiments in a letter or card. The experience you’ll have and the impression you’ll make will be so personal and cherished.

We sat down with Victoria of LA Pen Pal Club and asked her a few questions about what sparked the idea and where she see the future of letter-writing heading. Be sure to check out the rest of our Q&As after this. 


Write_On: Tell us about yourself! What's your background and what inspired you to start the LA Pen Pal Club?

Victoria: Pen Pal Club was originally one of the clubs held at Reform School. There I met Margaret Haas, who organized the Pen Pal Club meetings. She and I (of Paper Pastries and Paper & Type, respectively) grew to be friends, and we kept in touch by letter when she moved away for a while. Upon her return she was eager to reestablish the club and invited me to help co-host. So, LA Pen Pal Club began (again). 

Write_On: Describe the Club. How often does it meet, and what happens during a typical meeting? Do you pick a theme? Read each other's letters? Provide writing prompts? How many members do you have?

Victoria: Anywhere from 5 to 15 attendees—a mix of regulars and new—fill our seats each month. There is space for members to quietly write, or to engage in conversation and show-and-tell of recent mail and postage finds. And while we don't direct the meetings in any particular way, we do provide a spread of stationery and supplies.

Meetings are usually held at Margaret's stationery studio/shop, but we're portable! We recently brought our club over to Announcement LA, an event and co-working space.

Write_On:  How have hand-written letters impacted your life and relationships? Why is having a Pen Pal Club important to you?

Victoria:  Letter writing has always been my primary way of staying in touch with faraway friends, so I very much treasure this practice. I enjoy the pace of connection through letter writing. And I appreciate the openness and intimacy and relief that it allows as well. With letter writing being such a personal activity, LA Pen Pal Club provides a welcoming, dedicated space to gather with others who also endeavor to keep handwritten correspondence. It's good for the soul, and refreshing! Plus, I get to spend some time with Margaret.  ;) 

Write_On:  What does your letter-writing practice look like? How often do you write, and what types of letters do you write most often? What do you do for inspiration and to make time and space for letter-writing?

Victoria:  I keep a small folder stocked with essentials: stationery, postage, strips of washi tape, and my Letter Ledger. I enjoy writing away from my desk whenever possible—at the park or in a coffee shop or wherever I may be with an extra moment—so this kit comes in handy. I try to write once a week or every other week, whether it be a few (post)cards or one longer letter. My pen pals and the LA Pen Pal Club keep me inspired. I love seeing each person's unique way of starting out a letter or addressing an envelope. Simple pleasures!

Write_On:  Modern times have made digital correspondence increasingly available and convenient. Why is it important for people to send handwritten cards and letters?

Victoria:  Handwritten correspondence brings delight, comfort, or pause. It's become extra meaningful and it's less fleeting than other forms of communication.

Write_On:  When is it better to send a letter than an e-mail, phone call, or text?

Victoria:  While it's easy to email and text Thank you or I miss you, a handwritten note means the sender took time to focus care from his or her heart to pen to paper to envelope and into your hands and eyes and heart. Whenever you're thinking of someone and wish to let them know, try writing your sentiments in a letter or card. The experience you'll have and the impression you'll make will be so personal and cherished. 

Write_On:  What's the best advice you've ever received about letter-writing?

Victoria:  This is more from my observation, but: send postcards! They're the simplest way to get into the habit of sending mail. And the postcards needn't be from faraway places; local cafés and boutiques often have fun postcard takeaways you can use to send to your pen pals.  

Write_On: What's the next letter you're planning to write?

Victoria:  I owe a thank you note to a dear friend!

Photography: LA Pen Pal Club

WRITE_ON + BUILD

Write_On brings letter-writing to college and elementary school students

We're super excited to introduce you to one of the Write_On's 2016 non-profit partners, BUILD (Berkeley United in Literacy Development). BUILD is one of the largest literacy programs in San Francisco's East Bay, with UC Berkeley mentor teams providing one-to-one literacy support to 21 after school locations in the Berkeley and Oakland public schools.  We’ve donated over 600 cards, generously provided by Write_On sponsor Chronicle Books. 250 college mentors will be writing and helping 600 elementary school students write their own letters this month.

On Friday, April 8, Sabrina Moyle of Hello!Lucky and Tess Darrow of Egg Press visited BUILD at UC Berkeley to introduce Write_On to over 50 college student mentors.

We were curious to see what the response to letter-writing would be from 18 - 21 year-olds, who’ve grown up with social media and have probably written very few letters so far in their lives. We were pleasantly surprised!

One BUILD mentor shared how she had written a letter to her future self when she was 13 and had opened it recently; it was really meaningful.  Letters are in fact a way we can connect the dots of different phases of our lives.  The choices we make and the experiences we have at each life stage influence and build the foundation for future phases, so visualizing and setting intentions for the future or coming full circle to the past through a letter-writing can be an illuminating, satisfying exercise.

Another BUILD mentor shared how one of her scholars (what BUILD calls student mentees) had written a thank you note to a children's book author.  The author is passionate about creating children's books that reflect diversity and had donated several of her books to the scholar’s school. They are hoping that the author will write back!

Sabrina reflected on how she had first met her college roommate through letters. She recalled receiving her first letter from someone named Laura Christian in Katonah, New York, and how much she learned about her future friend just through the form of her handwriting and the things she chose to express.  There was an unraveling sense of mystery as she and her future roommate exchanged letters, and their friendship continued to grow organically. Fast forward to the present and they are still best friends, about to attend their 20 year college reunion. Sabrina shared that she had just written a new letter to her, reflecting on how much her friendship had meant and expressing appreciation about all the aspects she admires in her former roommate.  Even though they see each other regularly and communicate by text and email, the letter gave her a way to pull up from the day-to-day and reflect on the bigger picture. What is it like to meet your college roommate for the first time, today, she wondered?  Is it a flood of Facebook and social media information?  Does it remove some of the mystery and intimacy of developing a unique one-on-one relationship over time?

We exchanged tips about letter-writing with children:

+ Ask open-ended "who, what, when, why, where" questions like:  Who matters most to you in your life?  Why are they your friend?  What do like most about them?  Can you remember a time they did something kind for you? How did it make you feel?

+ Encourage them to write on a piece of paper and then tape the finished draft into a card.  Children who are learning to write often need a few tries before they are happy with the result.

+ Let them know it's okay to mess-up and either scratch out your mistake in a "beautiful oops" (to quote best-selling children's book author Barney Saltzberg), or start again.

+ Keep a positive, open-minded, low-pressure attitude. Letter-writing is fun and gives you a chance to make yourself and the recipient feel good - it's not an obligation.

+ Write to an adult who is likely to write back.

+ Mentors could write a letter to their mentees about child and what they appreciate about him / her, and perhaps about their hopes and dreams for them -- to be either delivered now or in the future.

Big huge thanks to Carrie Donnovan and Rosa Ortega for coordinating our partnership with BUILD!  We’ll be sure to share any images and stories about the BUILD team’s Write_On adventures over the rest of the month!

Postcrossing Giveaway!

Today, Write_On is very excited to be partnering with Postcrossing on a giveaway! Postcrossing is a project that allows people to receive postcards from all over the world. By sending a postcard you can turn your mailbox into a box of surprises and meet new people from all over the world. In February they reached 34 million postcards sent -- what an awesome movement!

Head on over to the Postcrossing blog to enter to win a collection of stationery supplies from the likes of Social Preparedness Kit, Gelly Roll Pens from Sakura, Chronicle Books, and the generous Write_On sponsors.

Designer Q&A: Red Cap Cards

Connection through hand written letters in invaluable, we should all do it more often….

We sat down with Carrie Gifford of Red Cap Cards and asked her a few questions about how she got started and where she see the future of letter-writing heading. Be sure to check out the rest of our Designer Q&As after this.

Write_On: Tell us about yourself!  What’s your background and what drew you to design cards and stationery?

Carrie: When Hal and I started Red Cap Cards I was directing children’s theater and Hal was running a coffee roasting company. We always wanted work together and had a lot of ideas brewing at the same time. In 2005 were playing with 3 business ideas. A brewing company (Hal’s a beverage man), a toy company ( I was making dolls) and last a card company. Long story short… our future was in the cards.  

Write_On: How would you describe your design aesthetic?

Carrie: Our cards are art driven. I have a storytelling background and I tend to curate art of this nature. The artist that we work with are animators, painters, designers and illustrators that all have a distinctive look and an amazing capability to tell a story in one picture.

Write_On: How do you use your designs to inspire people to connect in writing?

Carrie: I think when people find our cards they are inspired by the art. They see a story that’s familiar or intriguing and make it their own. They want to share what they’ve discovered and they sit down and write. I love how our cards can trigger a memory or create a dream world that people want to connect through.

Write_On: What does your process look like for creating a new card or stationery design?

Carrie: It all begins with the artist that we are working with. Every artist is different so the process is always changing. Our goal is always the same, to support our artists in creating work that they love. We typically give our artists minimal direction in the beginning, such as an occasion to help inspire a story or perhaps a general story concept, then we let the artist create what they feel. Creating art for greeting cards is not as easy as it seems. We often receive beautiful artwork, but then you have to figure out how to turn it into a card. That can be tricky.

Write_On: How have hand-written letters shaped your life and relationships? 

Carrie: All I can say is that anytime I’ve ever sat down to write a letter it’s always felt amazing. I think the process of sharing our feelings with someone through pen and paper is a healing meditation and a great habit.

Write_On: What do you find most difficult about writing a letter?

Carrie: These days it’s just the discipline of sitting down to write. 

Write_On: What does your letter-writing practice look like? 

Carrie: Well it’s not as creative as it was when I was in 7th grade. Boy, those were the days. The amount of time and effort I put into writing was beyond! I must have written a million letters a day. Not to mention I had pen pals. Do you remember having those? I had a teacher that set us up with complete strangers in other countries and we’d write to them every week. How awesome is that. It makes my current letter writing process seem very sad. That’s why I’m looking forward to your challenge!

Write_On: Modern times have made digital correspondence increasingly available and convenient. Why is it important for people to send handwritten cards and letters? 

Carrie: Recently my Dad passed away and I found a box in his desk with all the letters and cards I had written to him over the years. Each letter was a bit different. I thanked him for money, I wished him a happy birthday, I reminded him of favorite childhood memories, but in each letter at some point I always express my love and gratitude for him and my mom. As I read each letter I realized how important they were to him and how grateful I was that I took the time to sitdown and let him know how I felt. Connection through hand written letters in invaluable, we should all do it more often….

Write_On: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about letter-writing?

Carrie: Not to edit. To let go and free flow. 

Write_On: What’s the next letter you’re planning to write?

Carrie: I think it’s time to send a love letter to my husband. It’s been a long time and I think it’s overdue.

Live Well, Write On!

One evening, 100 people, and 100+ letters

Last Thursday evening, over a hundred people gathered at Coffee Bar in San Francisco’s Mission District to do something unusual: write letters.  Hosted by the Write_On Campaign and The Dinner Party, the event was called “Live Well, Write_On” and invited people to reconnect and deepen their connections through the written word.

As guests of all ages, backgrounds, and persuasions entered the room, they found group writing tables set up by theme:  Thank you, I love you, Please forgive me / I forgive you, and Sympathy.  Each table was stocked with stationery, pens, and writing prompts.

Sabrina Moyle of Hello!Lucky kicked off the program with a welcome and background on the Write_On Campaign. Launched in 2014 when Tess Darrow of Egg Press challenged herself to write 30 letters in 30 days, Write_On has grown into a national movement. This year, we’re giving away 10,000 free letter-writing card kits and thousands more free cards, thanks to sponsors Sakura of America, Mohawk Paper, Chronicle Books and nine independent card studios.  People worldwide, ranging from people who grew up writing letters to kids in the public schools, are taking up the challenge to bring back letter-writing.

Why?  

Sabrina observed that in today’s world, we have more social connections than ever but many of them have taken on a superficial, performative quality. Handwritten letters provide a way to deepen relationships, to say things that would be too awkward or embarrassing to say on social media or in person. They are private. They are personal. They are permanent. She went on to share three personal examples: of her six year-old son’s letter to a homeless man, a funeral where a letter written to the deceased was at the center of the service, and a letter she had just written to her college roommate, whom she had first met by letter.

Lennon Flowers of The Dinner Party, a non-profit organization that brings together 20- and 30-somethings over potluck dinners to talk about loss and life after, then gave her own examples of why letter-writing is important. She spoke about a friend of theirs by the name of Dr. Ira Byock, one of the world's leading palliative care doctors. After decades spent working with patients living with advanced illness and their families, Dr. Byock found that there are just four messages that patients wanted to say and hear at the end of their lives: “thank you,” “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” What better way to express those messages than in a handwritten letter? And what better time than now? To write a letter, she observed, you don’t need an address. Each year, one of The Dinner Party’s members goes down to the beach, opens a bottle of beer and writes a letter to her dad, who was a surfer.  She then puts the letter in the bottle, and tosses it out to sea.  

Guests then got to watch Dear You, a short video of people reading letters they’ve written and received and were treated to readings by Shelby Cowell (author of the blog Future Stella, I Love You), Eliana Bruna (826 Valencia), Eva Silverman, and Christina Tran.

More than one hundred letters were written that evening. As participant Bobbie Pinto noted, "I aways knew I liked writing letters. Now I understand WHY".

Join the Write_On Campaign at www.writeoncampaign.com and #Write_On. Our next San Francisco event, The Last Letter, will be on April 28th from 5 - 7 p.m. at Chronicle Books and will feature Letters to My… author Lea Redmond. Find out about more Write_on events here.

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Love letter to Pam

We received an anonymous Write_On submission that we just couldn't pass up sharing...


About 30 + years ago the mother of a school-friend died rather suddenly and, after clearing out her things, the daughter asked if I would like all her old dressmaking patterns and hoard of fabric. They were a well-to-do family and the mother was always effortlessly elegant and soignée and here were some beautiful items of both pattern and fabric from the 1950's when she had been a debutante.

Some years later when I went to use one of the patterns I found this letter inside the Lanvin Castillo design. 

I've no idea if anyone ever knew of the admirer/lover, somehow it's more poignant not knowing - a little touch of Madame Bovary or a sub-plot from a Trollope or Dickens novel.

-Anonymous

Designer Q&A: Fugu Fugu Press

I love it when I receive a letter and it tells me something about that person I didn’t know about.

We sat down with Shino of Fugu Fugu Press and asked her a few questions about how she got started and where she sees the future of letter-writing heading. Be sure to check out the rest of our Designer Q&As after this. 

Write_On: Tell us about yourself!  What’s your background and what drew you to design cards and stationery?

Shino: I was an illustration major at a college, then a freelance illustrator for a number of years when I started working for my friends who owned a letterpress greeting cards company.

Write_On:  How would you describe your design aesthetic?

Shino: I love Scandinavian designs, vintage children’s book and advertising illustrations, and Japanese character designs.  My Japanese upbringing definitely shows through when I design our cards. I try to design cards that communicate immediately, and evokes some sort of emotion.  They tend to be more of ‘illustrations’ than ‘designs’.

Write_On: How do you use your designs to inspire people to connect in writing?

Shino: My hope is that people see our cards and somehow make them think of specific people in their lives, and inspire people to send the cards.  When I design, I usually have specific person in my mind for that particular design.

Write_On: What does your process look like for creating a new card or stationery design?

Shino: I have so many papers and half-filled sketch books lying around everywhere - printshop, computer desk, dining table, on a night stand… I brain storm constantly. Once I have a rough idea, I sketch it out, and sometimes do a finished drawing to scan it into Photoshop, or I re-create the image in Illustrator, depending on what feels right.  

Write_On:  How have hand-written letters shaped your life and relationships?

I used to write long letters all the time to my friends when I was a kid.  My family and I moved around within Japan and then from Japan to Texas when I was 13, and there was no Skype or email then, so I wrote.  I’d check the mailbox everyday to see if my friends wrote back.  Then when I started college in California, the rest of my family moved back to Japan, so again, I wrote to them.  My mom would send care packages, I still have many of the letters my mom sent to me from those days.  After college, some of my friends and I sent little comics to each other about what’s going on in our lives.  I still have those as well, and they crack me up.  We were pretty silly.  I also made zines for a short while, and it was exciting for me to receive letters from total strangers requesting to purchase them.  I think I sold them for something like $3 each.

Write_On:  What do you find most difficult about writing a letter?  

Shino: It’s really weird, because I used to LOVE writing letters, and now I don’t know what to write about!!  

Write_On: What does your letter-writing practice look like?

Shino: I still write to my friend from college (she is an avid letter-writer and a mix CD sender), but other than that, they’re pretty limited to writing notes to our customers and also birthday and Christmas cards to friends and family.

Write_On: Modern times have made digital correspondence increasingly available and convenient. Why is it important for people to send handwritten cards and letters?

Shino: Both personally and professionally, a hand-written note or memo immediately makes whatever that’s written so much more personal.  When I receive a hand written note, I can imagine the person behind the writing.  Not as much with emails or texts.

Write_On:  What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about letter-writing?

Shino: I don’t remember if I ever received any advice about writing letters.. but I love it when I receive a letter and it tells me something about that person I didn’t know about. So I try to do the same when I write to other people.

Write_On: What’s the next letter you’re planning to write?

Shino: To that college friend/pen pal. I owe her a response.

Seasonal Letter-Writing with Jaime of Send More Mail

Summer

Throwing a letter-writing get together in the summer lets you take it outside.  Gather up your friends and some stationery bits and bobs and get writing – by the lake or in your local park!

Summer tips:

Use the shade from a great big tree and spread out your picnic blanket(s).

Pack a cooler with cold lemonade, fruit salad + homemade brownies.  (Maybe even iced coffee?)

Set out your supplies. Cards, paper, envelopes, pens, stickers and postage stamps.  Keep things summery with bright and cheery colours.  My favorite thing to tote along is a teeny-tiny watercolor set.  Pooling together your stationery supplies makes for a fun and thrifty way to spice up your letter-writing game.  One person’s everyday washi tape is another’s gem!

Get writing and chatting.  It’s so nice to socialize while cutting, pasting and writing pretty mail.

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Winter

There’s no other way to describe winter letter-writing parties other than cozy.  When it’s a snowy Saturday in February it’s the perfect time to catch up with friends and write some letters while you’re at it.  Anything goes: birthday cards, thank you notes and for-no-reason-at-all letters.  (Honestly, receiving those out of the blue letters always delights me in the very best way.)

This is the time to put on the kettle and make a few pots of tea.  Hot chocolate works like a charm too.  Treat it like a mini potluck.  Each friend can bring along a snack or sweet.  Since you’re indoors, break out your typewriter and turn on your local jazz radio station.  (Typewriters are always a hit since not everyone has one of their own.)  Get super crafty with rubber stamps, stencils, glue, paper scraps and twine.  

Thank you Jaime for sharing these inspiring ideas! For those of you wondering where you can find the vintage stamps featured in this post, Jaime has a beautifully curated online store called Send More Mail! She also has a not-to-be-missed Instagram account for endless letter-writing eye-candy. 

Mail Carrier Q&A: Tips & More

We sat down with a veteran mail carrier to find out what it's like to be on the other end of the mailbox.

I hope people keep sending letters. You know, it’s more of a personal thing. Right now, people are keeping in touch but they use this (points to the cell phone) but it’s not personal. Someone likes to open letters – especially older people. That’s their joy. Sometimes they’re right there by the box waiting for it.

Please note: interviewee requests to remain anonymous for this interview. 

Write_On :    How long have you been a postal worker?

Interviewee: I’ve been working for the post office since 1985. So 31 years. 

Write_On :   What is your job title? Or what do you like to be called? 

Interviewee: Mail carrier. Not post man. No. 

Write_On :   What is a typical work day for you? 

Interviewee: Getting up in the morning, getting there around 8. And I’m a rural carrier in a small town, I’m different from the normal carriers so when we finish our deliveries we go home, we don’t have a set schedule. When I’m done, I’m done. It’s nice. 

Write_On :    Sometimes we want to stop and say hi, or ask our mail carrier questions but we know you're on a tight schedule. What is the etiquette there?

Interviewee:  Well, I’m very flexible. I usually chat with customers, we can’t take too long, but we’re very polite to our customers and friendly. 

Write_On :   What is your favorite part about your job?

Interviewee:  My customers. Getting to see people every day. I have a regular route that I’ve been doing for seventeen years. So I know everyone pretty well. I have lots of friends around. We’ve become friends. My route is 25 miles. I drive and deliver in a rural area, outside of the city limits. So I can’t walk, even if I wanted to. 

Write_On :   and your least favorite?

Interviewee:  The politics. 

Write_On :   Have you noticed any changes in the amount of letters being sent? More or less?

Interviewee:  It’s a lot less. There’s not that many personal letters. It’s mostly emails. The only personal cards we get is when someone passes away you’ll notice that. Otherwise it’s someone’s birthday or something like that. 

Write_On :   Is there a time when you noticed a decline in personal mail being sent? 

Interviewee:  When these came out! (laughs and points to cell phone). Devices. The internet. 

Write_On :   How often do you get to see beautifully decorated mail?

Interviewee:  The ones that have a lot of artwork are usually from prison! Usually they’re the ones that have drawings and stuff. But otherwise pretty envelopes you see mostly around Easter, Valentines. 

*Sakura recommends Gelly Roll pens to decorate the outside of your envelopes! They are waterproof and archival and will withstand the weather. The bright colors will provide a fun and cheerful greeting for your recipient. 

Write_On :    Describe a unique piece of mail that caught your attention. 

Interviewee:  I’ve actually received a coconut in the mail from my co-worker who went to Hawaii. I’ve seen messages in a bottle, but mostly regular envelopes. 

*For alternative surfaces like cardboard, wood, plastic or metal, try Pentouch or Permapaque markers. The water proof inks are durable and the opaque colors and metallic shine inks stand out on darker colors.

Write_On :   What are some tips you can offer for anyone sending a letter? Any dos and don'ts?

Interviewee:  Always put your return address. Because if you don’t do that it can go back to what is called “Dead Letter”. And it could stay there for quite a while. The inspectors have to open it up. Always put your return address because it can get stuck to a piece of equipment, or get stuck to another letter and can go from California all the way to New York before it comes back! 

Write_On :   What do you hope to see in the future of mail?

Interviewee:  I hope people keep sending letters. You know, it’s more of a personal thing. Right now, people are keeping in touch but they use this (points to the cell phone) but it’s not personal. Someone likes to open letters – especially older people. That’s their joy. Sometimes they’re right there by the box waiting for it. 

Write_On :   We started Write_On to promote joy, creativity, expression and connection through hand-written correspondence. How do you hope this campaign can help people to connect?

Interviewee:  The way we get paid is by how much people mail! That’s how they figure out our pay. (Laughs)! The best thing to do is write to someone in the hospital or who is down or isn’t feeling well. They love to receive mail. Older people love to get mail. Sometimes that’s their whole day.  Young people, it’s their phone. But older people – the highlight of their day is when they see the mail carrier. We’ve gotten invited to weddings by our customers. They’re like our family now. We’re a small town. We know everyone.

Ready to Write! A Letter-Writing Toolbox

Of course, all you really need to write a letter are paper, pen, and thoughtfulness, but being organized and having a few extra tools can make it more likely that you'll write more often and generally make the process more enjoyable and one that reflects your personality.

Read on for some of the tools you'll find in my own letter-writing stash!

  • Vintage paper clamps to bundle outgoing mail, stamps, etc.
  • Handy paper snips for cutting ephemera, washi tape, etc.
  • Special paper that inspires you to write. This is woodblock printed paper from Haibara, est. 1806. I recently spotted Mr. Carson carrying a similar style in a brief scene in Downton Abbey! 
  • The letterpress Possibilities Notebook from Social Preparedness Kit for planning and plotting. 
  • Social Preparedness Kit Tear-Away Notes for letter-writing on the fly. There have been several occasions when I was kicking myself for not having this in my car glove-compartment AND my purse.
  • Little goodies! I love to send little treats with my letters like tea bags, seeds, and candy.
  • Social Preparedness Kit pouches. These come in a range of sizes from pen pouches to document size. I love to use them to gather up a whole stack of cards, stamps, and address book and go work on some letters at a cafe.
  • Postcards. Sometimes you aren't feeling very verbose and just want to send a funny joke, a few words of thanks for an awesome dinner, etc. It's nice to have a limited space to write!
  • I haven't painted since 5th grade (as you might be able to tell!) but I've been inspired by all of the Spring blooms in Portland to try my hand at water-coloring. “Strathmore Artist Papers™, a division of Pacon Corporation. ® and TM used under license from Mohawk (Write_On sponsor!) has these terrific watercolor postcard pads. I've been having so much fun with them. Perfect for a little plein air painting AND letter-writing!
  • A collection of brush pens (I like the Pilot Futayaka) and various paint brushes.
  • Vintage stamps! These are from Send More Mail, a wonderful curator of unused vintage stamps who sells them in packets which are all sorted by color.
  • Social Preparedness Kit card sets. I can't really imagine life without these. I use them as mini-card writing stations with one in my kitchen, one on my desk, and one on my livingroom table. Writing letters is hard! It's so important to have things at the ready whenever YOU'RE ready.
  • PENS! Gelly Roll pens from Sakura are so painterly and fun and perfect for addressing envelopes. For the inside of my cards and letters I'm devoted to the Japanese Pilot Hi-Tec-C pens. They have a very fine tip but don't drag. I recently bought the white refillable jumbo pen so I can have all my favorite colors at hand.