A mail art approach to artistamps making
By Ruud Janssen , October 2011
Mail Art is a funny thing. When you discover about this network a complete process starts to change your life. Not a standard change. It is different for everybody. When you go with the flow that the network brings you one way or the other brings you the knowledge of the artistamps. You will discover that mail-artists also design and create their own postage and just stick that on envelopes and postcards too.
Mail-Artists tend to want to try all things they encounter too. When they get mail they start to send out mail. When they see rubberstamps are used, they want their own rubber too. And seeing those artistamps, well that triggers the thoughts of how to do that yourself too.
There are many ways to make artistamps. I remember seeing an exhibition of the works by Donald Evans (Donald Evans was an American artist (1945–1977), who was known for creating hand-painted postage stamps (artistamps) of fictional countries. Evans died in a fire in the Netherlands in 1977). Every single one of his artistamps was a handmade drawing. He arranged them in several series and even made exhibitions with them.
The reproduction factor is one of the factors that is involved in the creation of artistamps. In the early years of Mail-Art the Xerox machine made it possible to duplicate designs and to make editions to glue to your mail. The color machines came later, but that was a possibility that was very powerful.
The more difficult factor in artistamps is the perforating of the sheets with designs. There are only few Mail-Artists that actually have access to such a machine. In the 90-ies I sent my papers to Book and John held Jr. in the USA and they would perforate for free (and as thanks could keep a few of the sheets for their collection.
Once you start to make artistamps you automatically also become a collector of them. You keep at least one of your produced sheets for your collection and send complete sheets to others who collect. In return they send you sheets. Somehow the Mail-Artists that have the collecting attitude in them, build their collection. You will discover inside the network who they are. The largest collection I encountered was by Jas W. Felter. He kept a complete database of his collection and I even have a print of his historic list.
In the beginning and especially end of the 90-ies the computers became really accessible for the network to produce their art. Designs were printed, perforated, and also color prints were possible. Something new was created then as well the new e-mail artistamps, an idea of crackerjack kid (Chuck Welsh) and he called it the cyberstamp. I see it is even now written down is online encyclopedia’s like Wikepedia.
And the last factor that connects mail-art and artistamps; the rubberstamp to be used for the cancellation. Not all like that idea. Some rather have the formal postal office cancel the artistamps as a kid of recognition the artistamps is like any other postage stamp.
Besides trying to make the artistamps look like real postage there is also the creative use. Some example are the random perforations that sometimes are done (a trademark for John Held Jr.). And I also know how Joki (Jo Klaffki from Germany) used his artistamps to integrate in his drawings. Sometimes he even decide the real postage was better and he used that instead in an altered way. No limits to creativity.
For me the artistamps also played a role in the play with the postal office. The main difference between artistamps and postage stamps is that the last one is formal payment for the transportation of your mail. In the last years all postal offices introduce their stickers and even automated printed postage stickers. Not the beautiful small artworks anymore but cool and bureaucratic pieces of paper to control the automated process. The charm of seeing the hand cancelled mail has been taken over by machines.
The Mail-Art I still get, still sometimes has artistamps on it. The new generation of mail-artists also work online to document what they receive, plan to send and have sent. So even in 2011 newcomers in Mail-Art start the process of learning about the wealth of possibilities creative communication can have. The message has changed though. The times are fast and the world is a small place with these online connections. I know I still like paper more than bits and bytes. So anything of paper is more valuable to me than all those computers. What I discover on the IUOMA network is that the learning process of what Mail-Art can be also goes quicker nowadays. If you invest the time you can learn in a few weeks what used to take years of sending out mail in the previous decade. The times they are a changing.
Will the artistamps survive? It all depends on if communication through envelopes survives. The rising postage in every country and the upcoming vanishing of postal systems makes is also difficult to actually use stamps. The old generation goes to sleep while the new generation discovers. But will the smartphone take over or not. That is the question. The new generations of students I see every year send out less and less mail in their lives……..
Ruud Janssen , October 1st 2011

Source for details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Evans_(artist)

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artistamp for an article with interesting details on the historical aspects.

See: http://iuoma-network.ning.com/ for a network where new and old mail-artists mingle together with over 2,000 members still doing Mail-Art where the connections are made online first.