Mail Art – Send someone something good in the post

Christopher Skinner, a UK graphic artist, blogger (Lestaret), bookbinder and dabbler in many creative graphic outlets, recently introduced me to the concept of Mail Art. He is a member of IUOMA – aka the International Union Of Mail Artists, a community of people who enjoy sending and receiving visually interesting stuff through the mail.

When I commented recently on his blog about his fab contributions to the mail art community he kindly offered to make me a piece of mail art. Being fellow dog lovers (he has recently acquired a Whippet and I have a Portuguese Water Dog) he said he would create something inspired by dogs. His work is quirky, original, inspiring, incredibly detailed and created with meticulous care.

I had forgotten how exciting is is in the digital age to receive something other than bills, junk and corporate communication in the mail and Christopher did not disappoint. Here is what he sent me:


Inspired by his walks with his new canine companion I received this small hard bound ‘field notes’ guide which opened ingeniously to describe one of his local walks in such detail that I could (if I lived nearby) have retraced his steps precisely.The cover felt like a brown woven sackcloth and inside he included moody black and white photos which perfectly complemented the style of the book and of the flat, East Anglian landscape.


The cover opened as a regular book would, however due to the clever construction of the book from a single, un-cut sheet of heavy paper, the rest of the ‘pages’ were joined together on different edges and the book had to be re-orientated each time to read them.


Coincidentally I have been reading a book by David Jury called Graphic Design before Graphic Designers (highly recommended) and discovered that in the 19th century, to save money cutting and binding pages, pocket size booklets called chapbooks were produced this way, as a means of getting popular folklore and writing to the masses.


When fully opened out the book reforms itself into the single sheet of paper from which it was created. It was also particularly relevant to me as I spent a year with my dog researching and writing a dog walking guide to my local area (Buckinghamshire, England), so it bought back many memories of the process of documenting the walks.


Due Christopher’s characteristic attention to detail and originality, this was a charming and personal piece of mail art. Thank you! A reply is now on my to-do list!


How to sharpen linocut tools with Arkansas stones

linocut tools & arkansas stones

Traditional Arkansas sharpening stones are natural quarried stones. They are graded by hardness (density) rather than grit and are finer than manmade sharpening stones. They are known as oilstones because you need to use oil when sharpening tools with them. The oil is called honing oil and is usually a light mineral or petroleum based oil. Cooking oil is not recommended. The oil acts as a lubricant and suspends the steel shavings, preventing clogging. I use Wahl oil which is a lubricating and cleaning oil for my dog clippers.

My Arkansas stones have different shaped edges which are useful for the internal edges of the U and V gouges. I use Swiss made Pfeil woodworkers gouges to cut my lino plates.

Put a couple of drops of honing oil on the oilstone and smear it over the surface with a finger. You just need a thin film of oil between the blade of the gouge and the stone.
V-gouges have 3 areas that need sharpening – the 2 slanted edges and the central gouge, where the slanted sides join.
sharpening a v gouge
Place one of the slanted sides of the V gouge so it lies flat on the stone. Now lift the handle of the gouge up so the angle between the blade and the stone is about 22 degrees. You are aiming to keep the bevelled part of the blade, at the very tip, flat on the stone.
Now gently push the blade along the stone as if you are shaving a very fine slice off the top of the stone. Repeat several times, then turn the V gouge over to sharpen the other side in the same way. A burr will develop in the centre of the gouge where the 2 slanted sides join.
v gouge sharpening

removing the burr in the centre of the v gouge

Now choose the best size v-shaped edge of the Arkansas stone (to match the size of the V gouge) and, with a dab of oil, run the stone’s edge inside the gouge a few times to remove the burr.
Place the U gouge blade on the oiled stone at a similar angle (22 degrees) as above. Again the aim is to keep the bevelled tip of the blade flat against the stone.
You now have to move the blade of the U gouge in 2 different ways at the same time!
sharpening a u gouge

sharpening a U gouge

First, move the blade of the U gouge up and down the stone in a circular movement (red arrow on picture). If this was all you did then only a small part of the U shaped blade would stay in contact with the stone and get sharpened.

In order to sharpen the whole U shaped profile of the blade you also need to slowly rock the blade from side to side (blue arrows on picture), at the same time as you are going up and down the stone in a circular motion. It sounds like trying to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time, but it’s not as bad as it sounds, once you give it a go! Keep at this until the blade is nice and sharp then use the curved edge of the stone to remove any burrs on the inside edge of the gouge.

sharpening a u shaped gouge

removing the burrs on the inside edge

Finally clean your stones with a little more oil by rubbing it in a circular motion with a rag across the surface of the stone. The small metal particles need to be removed from the stone or else they will clog it up. Then wipe with some clean rag or kitchen paper. Rinse the sone under running water, then dry thoroughly.

I hope this helps keep your tools nice and sharp. Happy cutting.