THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JULIE HAGAN BLOCH
THE MAIL-INTERVIEW WITH JULIE HAGAN BLOCH 31
Started on: 7-3-95
RJ : Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
Reply on: 20-6-1995
JHB: Well, It was probably around the early ’80’s…. 1983 maybe. It sort of pounced…. I’d been carving eraser-stamps for a few years & heard of a couple of rubberstamp magazines, Rubberstamp-madness & National Stampagraphic. I wrote to them and they both showed favorable interest in my carvings right away. Very quickly I was corresponding with some folks via the rubberstamp magazines, and also got in a group that exchanged mail-art on a monthly basis. I forget the name of the group now; it was in 1984 or 1985 , but I still correspond with Kay Sluterbeck & Tom Nelson whom I met in that group. That group may still be going on as far as I know; after a while I had to drop out because of being short of extra time! I’m still short of “extra” time, but I work around it!
Anyhow, these few contacts led to others & I just kept going with it! Always, though, what intrigued me most was eraser-carving. Still does. Other things get put aside so I can do more carving. One thing that’s so great about mail-art is it’s an ideal form for sharing carved images. Mail-art lets me feel in touch artistically, even though I live in a very small town. I truly cherish my fellow-artists/correspondents. I have the best of it all here – peace, quiet, & lovely surroundings, and contact with other artists. Our post-office enjoys the unusual variety that gets sent to me too. I give them samples of the artistamps I make, and they put them up behind the counter. Like my own refrigerator-display! (In your country, do the mothers of small children tape up the kids’ artworks on the refrigerator door?) Well, enough for that question, nu?
RJ : Well, maybe you should do a project on refrigerator’s doors? Mine is decorated with magnet-artworks I received through the mail…. Your eraser-carvings are quite well known in the network. Sometimes your work is even used as illustrations in books. How did you become so good? Maybe you could tell me how the proces of making one stamp evolves.
Reply on 21-9-1995
JHB: The first part is having an idea you want to work with! Then, tools assembled, do your drawing, work with it until you’re pleased with it, transfer it to the eraser, and carve it! Often, I continue the drawing process with the carving tools: refining, deleting, adding texture, or re-designing if I either change my mind or make a mistake! And I’ll let you in on a little secret: the end result is hardly ever exactly as I had envisioned it! But also, it’s hardly ever worth re-doing; time’s better spent on trying not to make the same “mistake” on another carving – or else using the information gained deliberately to create a similar effect.
The key to gaining skill in the process is not unique to eraser-carving. Practice. A lot (I’ve carved over 2,000 stamps by now.) Love the work. Put your heart & mind to it. Concentrate. Have fun with it! Be open to learn whatever you can from a variety of sourses. Recognize that all your skills are a gift, and use them with love & respect. Practice. Love. Attention. I made a stamp about this topic too: “ALL-PURPOSE MAGIC TRICK LEARNED WHILE CARVING STAMPS: Don’t work carelessly, thinking, “why be careful? I can’t do it well, anyhow.” because then, you’ll probably be right. Take the time and care needed, WORK AS THOUGH YOU EXPECT TO BE ABLE TO DO IT VERY WELL because then, you’ll probably be right.”
(This complete text Julie carved in a eraser sometimes in very tiny and precise letters. The carving shows her very wonderful skills when it comes to making eraser-carvings with very fine details)
Oh – a few, actually: “CHECK OUT the work of wood engravers and wood block carvers!” , “What to carve? Look around you! Look inside you!” , “Contents: Helpful, I hope, but NOT TO BE TAKEN TOO SERIOUSLY…. Do whatever works for you! Invent something new! JUST CARVE!!!”
(These are all on the back cover of my little carving book.)
Another point about skill in carving is keeping the enthusiasm fresh. One way I do that is to apply eraser carving to whatever my current interest happens to be. (For heavens sake, one can carve anything!) Lately I’ve been fascinated with ancient Egyptian art & hieroglyphs. (Sadly, I’m lacking a teacher for hieroglyphs, but I do have a couple of excellent texts to work with.) I’m having a wonderful time with it all, and of course it shows up in carved stamps!
RJ : Yes, it sure does! Do you also carve in wood and make larger works?
Reply on 12-10-1995
JHB: I have carved in wood in the past, but haven’t for years. The grain of the wood always seemed to have a different opinion than I did about where a line should go, & we never reached a mutual understanding.
I also used to do larger works – when I was in art school ( a little over 20 years ago!) I preferred large canvases, say 4 x 6 feet, & 18 x 24 inch watercolors & drawings…. But as the time goes by I find that I prefer to work much smaller for many reasons: large pieces require physical strength to manipulate & lots of space for storage, & are harder to share with people many miles away. And large sized works are easy to accept as they are, in the sense of size, and the viewer remaining as is….. Small works seem to ask the viewer to become of a size to enter the work, because it’s too hard to see it well otherwise. One must change & enter into a different view of the world. I guess that sounds weird. That’s okay. Wierd is fine too. It’s good to help shake off the idea that some people may have that this existence is “normal”, whatever THAT is. Magic is normal, & it’s everywhere! Just walking outside today, in this gorgeous Autumn weather one breathes magic! It’s more than just the delightful beauty of scent & color…. it’s a feeling…. I love it!
It’s necessary for me to try to convey some of this in the thing I do. Wether it comes across or not, well, who knows? But it is important that I try, & the magic is ALL of it – the form, color, feeling, & my state of being as I work. I think people would do well to remember we can all do magic. Putting one’s heart and spirit into a made object – that’s magic and very healing for the doer & the viewer. I think one also receives the blessings of whatever the attention focuses on, and of course blessings are extended to the object or place or person or animal that is drawn or carved.
RJ : In the latest pieces of mail I received from you, I noticed that you are influenced by old historic subjects these last months. What is so attractive about the Eastern culture?
Reply on 2-12-1995
JHB: Ruud, I could say any number of things about this, but the main thing is that it just touches my heart. It is beautiful in a way that for me is magic, and it makes me want to be closer to it.
I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (in New York City) several months ago, standing before some acient Egyptian tomb carvings: scenes & hieroglyphs… tears came to my eyes and I wanted to know the heart of them, to be closer to that beauty. So since then I’ve been studying hieroglyphs when I can, & looking at the drawings, paintings and sculpture, in books or in museums. It’s magical, mysterious, seductive, lovely. It’s for the same reason I studied Chinese 15 years ago: the art captures my heart.
RJ : Is it the story of your life, that you always follow what your heart tells you to do?
Reply on 3-2-1996
JHB: What a beautiful question! I think that’s probably true for the major events of my life, and I believe that a lot of the time heart & head are in agreement…. or at least they conspire to make it seem so…. Even contemplating the question brings a smile to the heart & a feeling of love. What treasures these feelings are! To be in a space of love & beauty, just by thinking about them. Now there’s magic! Thank you for bringing it on!
ps. Sometimes the pull of love is so strong, it’s not a matter of choice: the only possible thing to do is to follow one’s heart. Nothing else exists.
RJ : Again you sent me some beautiful prints of your newest rubber stamps. Do you keep all your erasers? How large is your collection?
Reply on 21-2-1996
JHB: No, I don’t keep all my carvings. Some I make as gifts, some end up as gifts, a very few are commissioned pieces. But I do keep most of the carvings I make. I probably have about 2,000 and I like always to have at least arround 50 uncarved erasers on hand, plus some of the larger sizes of carving material like Nasco’s carving block, April Pease’s “P-Z cut”, & a few others which I can’t recall just now. Sometimes I get an idea to do a series of carvings that eats up my supply of erasers, so I need to be prepared! It’s best to go with the idea when it takes you by the hand. I love it when I’m able to just flow with the idea & draw and carve for long, uninterrupted stretches.
RJ : You sure are lucky that you can do that, and the results are really wonderful. When I myself got involved with the mail art network the magazine Rubberstampmadness was quite interesting for mail artists (as you told also in one of your previous answers). The most recent issues I saw of the magazine were completely different to the ones from the beginning of the 80’s. It has become a very large glossy magazine with lots of advertisings. What are your thoughts on these developments, that rubberstamping has become big business?
Reply on 5-3-1996
JHB: There is room for everybody & for all of it. RSM has evolved from charming, down-home small publication to classy, professional larger publication. It reaches more people now, yet has information on networking for many levels, some really cool artists, & so forth. Folks who wish to be less “glossy” are not prohibited from being so, for heaven’s sake! I think it’s a waste of good energy to get upset with people or entities for changing, as long as others are still free to go their own way. National Stampagraphic is a lot like it used to be years ago, very low-key, & lovable. That’s the key, I think, to why these 2 (RSM & NS) are still around – love. It’s not how “glossy” you are or aren’t; it’s how much love you work with – (and, of course, simply staying in business is due in part to luck!) – and both are full of love. There’s so much “us” versus “them” in this world – it’s time people realized that there is no “THEM” ; it’s ALL JUST “US”.
And what’s wrong with glossy, anyhow? I can’t find fault with better reproduction of original pieces, more information on cool toys (via – ‘gasp!’ advertising!) – show me where this causes harm? If there’s to be a complaint, let it be with real problems – like polluting our lovely Earth, torturing animals or people, stupid wars, supressing of others’ beliefs, other forms of bigotry (religious, racial, social, etc.) OY VAY! You want problems? EASY to find. You know what else? I’m a lot different than I was in the beginning of the 80’s too! And it’s great! (and so are you, dear; you got me going on that one, didn’t you!)
P.S. I bet there are lots of other rubberstamp publications out there that are very low key – this world is full of surprises!
P.P.S. I could get more in-depth philosophically, but it makes my ears itch. Enough philosophy already, let’s make art!
RJ : Yes, I got you going there for a while. Sometimes it seems that art & money don’t mix, but in reality they seem to be completly connected. In the 70’s and 80’s there were these discussions that mail art and money don’t mix. Nowadays, with the high postal rates everywhere, the mail artists of the 90’s know too well that money is needed to keep the post going and lots of recent larger mail art shows are sponsored to pay for the costs. What are your thoughts on this subject?
Reply on 2-4-1996
JHB: It seems to me a bit like complaining about the weather. Like it or not, what can one do about it? Individual solutions: make more intense (whatever THAT means!) art & correspond with fewer people, making a stronger individual connection; do mass-mailings but less frequently; get a grant; work with people in a smaller area & personal contact (within art schools, for example); pray for postal rates to go down! In fact, Ruud, I saved (somewhere – can’t find it at the moment) a little quote you mailed me a year or two ago, something to the effect that one might reconsider methods if one is continually sending a mass-produced letter about “Sorry I’m sending a mass-produced letter, but I don’t have time to write”. Why not pare down the number to those with whom quality correspondence is enjoyed? Mail art is supposed to be for enjoyment (isn’t it??). Or, admittedly, at times to make a social or political point – but I suspect most of us do mail art because we like to. And in honesty I must admit that I seldom respond to “calls for mail art” for any given event unless the call is accompanied by a personal letter of some kind. Of works to do, I have plenty already, thank you! As I said: for me, it’s about love, not how many pieces of mail I can move in a day.
As far as art & money mixing – well, sometimes they do & sometimes they don’t! Clearly, one needs to survive; and clearly, art needs energy, love. time, & other resources. It can be more subtle, too. In 1991 I got breast cancer. I know why I got it; I was depressed because, due to having to take a “real” job, I couldn’t make art.
(…wow – I had to stop a moment & the moment stretched to over 2 weeks! Time-ways!)
…so – with that diagnosis came the renewed determination to do what I believe I came here to do: show love for this amazing All-of-creation with my art. Please understand, this doesn’t imply I’m any kind of world-class master artist. It just means that, for my own personal life, I must work with beauty, with love. Like birds who must sing, no matter what their song: crow or lark (I like them all!); no matter if they’re heard or not…. though, to be sensible, I suppose the song often serves to attract mates or announce territorial borders… but I bet they’d sing anyhow. Lovely things, birds. Like listening to Kiri te Kanawa, for example, or Kathleen Battle…. like angels singing. Healing to the spirit.
Back to the question – yes, it is a shame when folks can’t afford to mail as they’d like. When I was first married, money was very tight – though we had enough to physically survive, thank god – & I do remember not mailing as often as I would have liked, in order to save money… but what I did then is to do what I could do, & not get my shorts in a bunch, so to speak, because of what I couldn’t do. I don’t have enough time to waste it on being critical like that. As I said before, do what you can do, and with love.
RJ : The envelope you sent your answer in was made from a page about astrology. What does astrology mean to you?
(On April 25th I received a first e-mail message from Julie Hagan Bloch. Nothing special, but just a test if she could reach me that way. I replied that here first e-mail arrived and that she could send in her answers that way too. However, I also told her that I would enjoy her snail-mail more because of the wonderful stampings she always uses).
Reply on 4-6-1996 (internet)
Yes, I will be sending you some goodies in the mail but I’m feeling a tad guilty at how long it’s taken me to respond to the last question so I’m answering with the help of Thoth Ram Dos (I did tell you that’s our computer’s name, didn’t I?).
Astrology. I guess for me it’s another bit of potentially useful information. Seems to me that this whole universe is pretty much all of a piece, as it were, and that everything is therefore interconnected. I’m not an astrologer. Not enough time to devote to it. But now and then something I’ll read in an astrology journal or and ephemeris will ring a bell and help me to gain a little insight. For example, the time I got breast cancer was when transiting Pluto was squaring my ascendant. (Yes, I know it sounds like gobbledygook. Well, it can’t be helped.) Pluto has to do with deep transformation, sometimes pretty heavy duty. The ascendant is one’s self in this body, for lack of a more succinct explanation. So. Does that help?
On a different subject, David does the grocery shopping for our household, bless his heart. Last time he went, he brought back a golden orange pepper, “just because it was so pretty”. Now, I ask you, is that man a treasure or what? I’ll be sending you a few little eraser carvings I did using that pepper as a model. It really is a lovely thing, that pepper. The color is exquisite, and the shape of it is wonderful. The funny thing about it is that, since the U.S. Post Office recently issued a commemorative stamp of one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings (the red poppy), I was looking through a book I’ve had (for almost 20 years!) of her work. I had in mind to think a bit about her and what she did, and perhaps carve a print or two in her honor. Looking through that lovely book, I was struck most by her just working with what delighted her eye. And that evening, David brings home the pepper. Aha! So in a way, the pepper prints are in honor of Georgia. What an incredible woman she was.
I’m also thinking that perhaps I’ll go to the grocery store myself (I hate to shop, but maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it’s for art supplies, so to speak), and see the shapes and colors in the produce department. In the seed catalogues I see lovely fruits and flowers and vegetables…peppers, for example, in red, green, yellow, orange, white, purple, just to name a few!
I’ll send the prints off to you in the morning. Meanwhile, happy Spring!
RJ : Now I think of the subjects of your eraser carvings, it has mostly to do with daily life as well. You latest answer came in by e-mail (you actually wrote it a few hours before I got it today!) and I wonder, what is a computer too you, and what do you think of e-mail?
(this next question was sent only 30 minutes after I received her answer, by e-mail of course!)
reply on 2-7-1996 (internet)
JHB: HA! I just remembered where I put the interview question. Oy… when I get behind with paperwork, things do get lost! Okay, the question was about Thoth Ram Dos, our computer, or computers in general.
Computers are great. E mail is a big help for quick communication (well, it CAN be…!) and can be fun besides. What’s not to like? The regular postal system still can be used for sending pictures and what not. It’s good to have both. The more options, the better. It’s not as though use of the more traditional mail systems is now prohibited, for heaven’s sake!
Besides the e mail, I hope eventually to be able to use the computer for producing our books, which is the reason we got it in the first place. We still need to get a scanner, though, and until we do we can’t do the books from the computer. There’s a program that can use my own calligraphy and use it as a font. (First have to have the scanner!) I like doing a LITTLE calligraphy, but it’s getting so that my hand and shoulder cramp up too quickly to really enjoy doing an extended session of it. I do want to use my own lettering in our books, though, and having it available as a font is the way to go. Besides, that way I can spend more time drawing and carving, which I prefer. There I think the computer will be a help, too. In fact, that’s the argument my husband used to get me to consider a computer in the first place. He said: “Think of being able to have your original artwork, blow it up big on the computer, touch it up, reduce it back to the original size, and have it camera ready.” I told him, “Oh, you tempter!”
And so Thoth Ram Dos came to live in our house. I love the drawing and carving but I do not like to do the fiddly work involved in getting an image camera ready. Once an image is carved, I want to do something else! There are so many things that I’d like to carve!
RJ : Besides the e-mail there are also the sites and homepages where people put their information on-line. What do you think of that?
Reply on 11-7-1996 (via e-mail)
JHB: I don’t yet have a lot of experience with this part of the internet. I’ve played a bit with it, of course, but it still feels like getting a new foreign language textbook and skipping to the middle or end chapters: sometimes one is able to make sense of bits of it, and it is fun to work with it, but to really GET it a bit more study is required.
My impression as a novice is that one could easily spend a great deal of time in it…. So far, I’ve not had a lot of luck using it as a research tool. Although it seems almost everything is represented in some capacity, the representation usually is rather superficial. At present, I have far better luck in a good big bookstore. It isn’t as time consuming to “download” pictures in a bookstore, either! Using Georgia O’Keeffe as a reference again, I found a scant few illustrations of her work on the internet, but in a bookstore, aaah! Lovely illustrated volumes, and the main problem is to choose which to buy! Such riches…
At any rate, I’m sure there is much good material in magic cyberspace, for one who knows how to access it. I’m sure I will eventually. I did have some luck, surprisingly enough, in finding eraser carving related items on the internet! The luck consisted mainly in having friends tell me the home page addresses (if that is the correct term) for them. I found yours, Ruud, and a few others. What fun! Yes, I can see how one could spend a LOT of time there!
Incidentally, Ruud, my lack of expertise is the reason for the delay in responding to your question. I don’t have a lot to say that means much. But heavens, for not having much to say, I sure did natter on, no?!
This kind of communication is a far cry from that of even 50 years ago. I wonder what will be available in another 50 years! I guess that’s all for now. Be well, dear. Love and blessings, Julie
RJ : Another subject I would like to ask before we end our interview is, “your archive”. Do you keep all the mail that you get in? How do you deal with the flow of incoming mail?
reply on 5-10-1996 (e-mail)
JHB: Your last question related to archiving: “Do you keep all the mail that you get in? How do you deal with the flow of incoming mail?” As you can tell, sometimes the flow of incoming mail does not have a corresponding outflow very soon! Some mail is answered quickly, such as orders for the small books I publish; I try to fill orders and mail them out again within 48 hours. Questions about carving I put at the front of my “mail to be answered” stack. I must confess that though I like to answer mail promptly, often that stack waits a while for me to attend to it. The nearly three month interval between your last question and my answering of it is surely a case in point! It was an interval, however, that saw the completion of the camera ready copy for the next haiku book, which is now at the printer’s awaiting its turn on the press. (I am glad about the book’s reaching that stage, for sure!) Usually when I begin a correspondence with somebody, I warn her/him that while I do answer my mail, the timing of the answer is totally unpredictable.
I don’t keep all the mail that comes to the house. There’s just too much of it. I keep what is special to me personally for one reason or another; and most of the rest of it I pass along. Some things that are not “keepers” but are of a large enough size, I use to line the bottom of the rabbits’ cages when I clean them. I have to use something, after all! Mail art is sacred in the sense of the communication that takes place, but not necessarily as an object once its purpose has been fulfilled. Besides, paper does not keep forever, and space is somewhat limited. The more one has, the more time is necessary to take care of it. I have fantasized about dumping the entire contents of my files into a bonfire, and enjoying the lightening of spirit that accompanies lightening of posessions… but then when I go to weed out some of the files, I end up keeping most of them after all. “I can’t throw THIS away…”. The trick in not becoming inundated in paper is to be strong in the first place and not let the paper enter the file at all; pass it along right away. It isn’t easy. When a piece has been put together with a lot of care and love, it is hard to let it go. But then, it is also fun to share nice work with mail art friends. It is a bit of a paradox for me. I like to have interesting things on hand to look at and respond to, but I don’t like to be responsible for a lot of stuff to take care of. And I like things to be fairly tidy and clean, and of course the more things there are in a space, the more complicated that becomes. I find it easier to think clearly in a clean space. Not only a physically clean space, but also a mentally clean one. If I have too many things to do, I often find it hard to accomplish anything beyond the most essential tasks. The mental system (or mine does, anyhow) gets overloaded with too many things to do, it seems, and fizzes out. Poof! It’s a great exercise in focus, though, to concentrate on one bird in the flock, as it were. It is an interesting question: if a system is best served by simplicity, then why is there the tendency towards complexity?
Ummmm, I dunno. I’m a slow learner, maybe??? ; ) Back to you, Ruud, and I hope you are having a fine Autumn. It is so very lovely here now. I love this time of year. The trees are so spectacular in their blazing brightness, and the clean, crisp air is ambrosial. Aaaaahhh!
P.S The lift of spirit that follows the letting go of possessions is mild compared to the lift felt after completing a major task. It’s almost as though a physical weight were removed from me. ( I wonder if it’s like that at the time of death, the feeling of a major job completed, great relief and lightness, and now it’s time to move on to the next thing…) I love the work I do, but completion is nice too.
There, that was my after midnight nattering!
RJ : Well, maybe it is time to round up this interview. It started in March last year, so if we don’t stop now we might ‘natter’ on year after year (just joking). Was there anything I forgot to ask you?
reply on 26-11-1996 (e-mail)
JHB: I don’t know if you forgot to ask anything or not, but there is one more thing I’d like to put out there for people: There is a great light at the very core of your being that is made of nothing but love. Find it. And realize that the light wears your form, has your tendencies, your loves, your brain, your skills, everything that makes you who you are. You ARE good enough. You are great, just as you are. You must do what makes your heart happy, what you know is right for you in your own circumstances. Honor who you are. Everyone has this light; it is everywhere and in everything. We are surrounded by love.
One of the finest things about mail art is that people share their own unique vision, freely and without external judging. They share who they are. We are surrounded by love.
Well, Ruud, no doubt there will be something else I’ll remember after this is all done, but I can live with that! I suspect that the “nattering” will continue in any case! In the snail mail printout of this that I’m sending, I’ll enclose the latest haiku book, hot off the press, as it were. I hope you like it! Now it’s back to answering other mail, trying to fit in as many projects as possible (one of the first of which is revising my carving book. It’s hard to believe it’s been out for almost ten years…products have changed, and there is more I want to share with those who’d like to carve! The more I teach, the more I notice patterns of things people keep asking, or not realizing that they need to know. I need to address that in the book) , and not wear myself out…well, not too much, anyhow. Bless you for doing this project. It’s led me into some helpful contemplations, and I hope that it may be of some interest to the readers. Be well, be happy, and remember that you are fine, just as you are, and made of love.
Love and blessings,
RJ : Thanks for this interview Julie!