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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Dog Walking Guide Book

In a rather radical departure from letterpress, that will explain my dearth of posts recently, I have been busy finishing a book that has just been published. For all you dog owners out there, who live in or near Buckinghamshire, England, grab yourself a copy of “Buckinghamshire – A Dog Walker’s Guide”.

I have spent the best part of the last year roaming the Buckinghamshire countryside with my Portuguese Water Dog, Figo, perfecting 20 of the best dog friendly walks in the area. I was inspired to write the book as I wanted to get out and explore the fabulous Chiltern countryside Bucks has to offer. However the issues for dog owners trying new places are different from simply rambling without a furry friend in tow.

Without directions or local knowledge, you might get lost or end up walking for miles along roads (possibly busy ones) as you don’t know where footpaths come out (reducing off-lead time for dog and enjoyability of walk for both), plus there are other dog related hazards, such as presence of livestock, blocked off stiles that are important to know for a safe and rewarding walk. So the walks have been designed with maximum off-lead time and minimum exposure to roads and each route comes with detailed information about livestock that may be encountered, the number and type of stiles, the nearest vet and, most importantly dog friendly pubs or cafes along the way!

I have always loved dogs but never owned one till Figo, as it is only now that I have the time to devote to a dog. I blame the Famous Five as I used to read the books to my two boys and they were inspired by ‘Timmy’. My eldest boy then badgered me for the next few years until I finally felt ready to take on the responsibility (as I knew it would ultimately be mine). Now I can’t imagine our family without him and totally identify with Gerald Durrell’s quote “A house is not a home until it has a dog’.

Portuguese Water Dogs are loyal, energetic, intelligent and sensitive companions. Figo brings us together as a family and hates it if any of us gets upset or shouts. He comes running over wagging his tail and instantly restores peace. As I am at home much of the time he is a perfect companion and our walks are an important and rewarding ritual for us both. I am now working on a series of dog-inspired linocut prints – more on this soon!

If you live locally the book is available in many local bookshops, otherwise it can be purchased online from Amazon or from the publisher’s website, Countryside Books.