28 April 2011

Fictional Mail: Making Faux Postage Stamps

Example of Artistamps/Faux Postage by mixed media artist, Lisa Vollrath

The making of the Summer Wizarding Event is starting to pick up steam.  My designated area is the contents of the Post Office.  This means I am having insanely-fun fun making all kinds of fake mail!  Or as our Headmaster refers to it, wizard junque mail!

Two samples of mail art by John Fellows.
The more "really real"* it looks, the better.  My father-in-law, Professor Science, asked me if I wanted some old postage stamps he had.  (He'd taken them to be appraised and was told they weren't of much value.)  They are of value to us, I told him gratefully.  So our postage will mix truly real with the really real.

Once I get a decent array of stamps made, I will post some images here. But you don't need my examples to get started!

Making faux postage (also called artiststamps in the related universes of rubber stamping and mail art) is pretty straightforward and a lot of fun.  There are several ways to go about it.


Stores like Michael's and JoAnn's sell rubber stamps, but they are often aimed at folks doing scrapbooking or weddings.  I happened upon a trio of faux post cancellation mark stamps at Michael's the other day, but the pickings were mighty slim.

There are lots of rubber stamps companies to be found, most of them selling online now. One needs to do a lot of browsing to find companies selling postage related stamps, but they are out there.  Here are a few I found by Googling. (Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of them.)


Making postage is not just fun, it's tremendous creative play. You can do it by hand, or using rubber stamps, or via computer.  The perforation marks can be drawn in, or made using a dressmaker's tracing wheel, or running the sheets through a sewing machine sans thread. Craft scissors with "postage stamp edges" are also used (I found one for a mere 99 cents at Michael's the other day.).  Or you can go top level with pre-perforated, dry gum paper designed especially for artistamps, special rubber stamp templates, plastic stamping templates - the whole show! 

Tracing Wheels (available at places like JoAnn Fabrics)

 One brand of postage-edge craft scissors (Fiskars)

Cathe Holden, at the endlessly creative and generous site, Just Something I Made, had a 2009 post on how to convert a standard sewing machine needle so that you can "sew" more realistic stamp perforations.  Here's that link.

There are so many folks out there who have posted on the making of artistamps/faux postage, that rather than try to not-plagiarize their work ;-) I will show you some examples of what I found and give you their links. 

Lisa Vollrath, a mixed media artist and designer, is a veritable queen of faux postage and a gazillion other powerfully and playful creative stuff.  Her artistamps are exquisitely precise and "really real."  She also makes "art money."  Her own website is here.

But if you go to her extensive article here, you can get a full rundown on the how-to and where-for of making faux postage.  This page includes a video on how to make faux postage rubber stamps.

Beate Johns wrote up a short, illustrated piece on making faux stamps  She includes two templates in PDF format to get you started.

Tangledom Stamp

TangleCrafts is a blog devoted to mail art and faux postage.  In addition to this article on making stamps, there is a list of mail art and postage-making links.

Bill and Kathy Porter, of the site called The Olathe Poste, provide a lot of stamp making supplies, including pre-perforated, dry gum paper for stamps.  The folks at the above-mentioned 100 Proof Press also have pre-fab paper for stamps, in smaller amounts.

* The phrase really real was gifted to us by one of our soon-to-be new wizarding students after he got his copy of the first issue of the event newspaper, The Monthly Seer. See this earlier post for that report.

24 April 2011

A Typewriter for a Wizard

One aspect of the Summer Wizarding Event is to be a mobile Post Office.  We've been finding a lot of inspiration from images like the one above.  But we also want the office side of of things available to our new students.

ttelyob, a Flickr photostreamer, has a few images of the interior of a 1950s era village post office in England that is giving us lots of ideas.  Of course the amount of stuff in this P.O. will not fit onto the wagon/trolley device we are designing.  But we liked the"activity" going on behind the wire screen and the little forms placed out in front of it.  This inspired the idea of having a small typewriter out on a fold-out counter along with some faux telegram and aerogram forms for the Post Master/Mistress and our new students to use.  

I had planned on lending this machine from my small collection.  It has a nice, easy-to-read pica typeface; can handle the hard hits from young hands unused to the strength it takes to make typewriting keys strike well; and looks sort of friendly-like.  Its only downside was its weight.

This and all following photos by me

A couple of weeks ago I was using it to type a letter to one of my pen friends, though, and the entire mechanism that governs the shift-key/upper case activity broke or seized up.  The keys still work but the line of type is all messed up.

As it happens, I was at one of our local resale shops last week looking for cool items to include in the postal game when I saw a small, rather flat, ivory-colored case on a bottom shelf.  It was half open with the cover lying at an unforgiving angle.  It looked broken. The case looked like something that might hold a mini drill set or vintage office machine of some kind.  But it had that tell-tale curve to its top that made me think it just might be a typewriter.

Eureka!  (Though I said it under my breath.)  It was indeed a typewriter; remarkably small and in seeming good condition.  Having bought "seeming" machines too quickly in the past, however, I didn't assume my luck was true.  Usually I carry a small piece of paper with me to test typers when I discover them.  I didn't have that and could only test it by striking each key, checking to see if the various mechanicals worked (shift key, tabs, margin stops, ribbon advance, etc.) 

All seemed well.  I checked to see if the cover, which had been lying off kilter on the shelf, attached properly.  It did, creating a tiny, very chic and slightly funky-looking item.  Then the most excellent discovery: the price sticker.  This little lovely was priced at only $4.99! 

I was surprised to see the Smith Corona label.  Unlike the above machine which has all the battleship-solidity of which many in the Smith Corona line of machines tend to boast, this one is lightweight and has a plastic body rather than metal.  It looks just a little otherworldly - though the imprint on the back only says Made in England.

Dear Reader, the wee typer is now sitting with my other Wizarding Event supplies and equipment.  It needs a little cleaning, and I am thinking that I will paint the "Owl Post" postmark I designed onto its cover.  

A nice final feature: when I got home and tried it out with paper, the words typed along in a kind of bouncing fashion.  I was looking for odd and friendly - I think I found it!

20 April 2011

Fun on Bikes

Bicyclists from the 2011 Tweed Run in London
Image source

I've previously noted the deeply delightful and often poignant local travel blog, Spitalfields Life. The Gentle Author has done it again, with an entertaining piece on a bicycling event known as the Tweed Run.  A few lines from the post will, I do hope, intrigue you (and the photos of the event are a great deal of fun as well).
"Just in its third year, no wonder the magnificent Tweed Run is already a global sensation. Beginning with one hundred and sixty cyclists arrayed in tweed for a turn around London in January 2009, it has now inspired copycat events in sixteen other cities across the world including New York, Paris, Sydney and Tokyo. Elegant in its simplicity, the notion of enthusiasts for traditional cycling attire banding together for a beano, enjoying a high old time, lifting the spirits of a city and raising money for bikes for Africa, the Tweed Run is one of the things we can be proud of giving to the world."

Two Dapper Gentlemen

16 April 2011

Arcana Via Magical Mail

One aspect of this Summer's Wizarding Event will be a Post Office.  Since the cost and training of a bunch of owls a la Hogwarts is out of our pay grade ;-) we've modified the notion.  Our new wizarding school is located in the Middle Midwest of Upper North America, a region with a storied tradition of mail delivery by animal post: the Pony Express, for instance, and carrier pigeons.

World War I carrier pidgeon transport vehicle
Image source

So the notion of an owl post shall be retained in the post mark and design of the Portable Post Office (on a wheeled cart we're hoping!).

The narrative for the day is still being worked on, but we know that at least once, and possibly twice, the kids, er, new students, will be receiving packets of mail.  The mail, which I have the honor and great pleasure of creating, will consist of flyers, postcards, letters, and - most importantly - packages.

This is where I am hoping that you, Dear Readers, can assist in this grand and creatively silly adventure.  The idea is that each young person will receive a fancily wrapped package that contains some Perfect Thing.  It needs to be on the smallish side - say no larger than 6x6 inches (though something 4x8 inches or 3x10 inches would be ok as well).  I've collected a few items so far, but cool, small, arcane objects are not always easy to come by.  Can you help me?

So far I have an antique magnifying glass similar to this (though no where near as valuable!):

A handheld abacus very like this one:

(p.s. This link includes good info on how to use an abacus!)

A handful of keys - both modern and old-style (which I am thinking of spray painting in all sorts of colors and putting on very large rings).  I could use more of the antique kind, the odder the better.

The kinds of things I am on the hunt for are similarly familiar and yet not something the average 21st-century kid is likely to have seen but would think is "totally cool."  Things made of metal, things that have mechanical workings, things that come in cool little wooden or decorated boxes, things with lenses or gears, etc.  Perhaps you have some odd or obscure object that you really like but don't want to just recycle or give to Goodwill.  It doesn't even have to be old - just unusual in some way.

Nothing valuable or expensive, please.  And smaller treasures are welcome too - in that case, we would create a package containing more than one item. (We want to be sure each child's package is approximately the same in size and contents.)

I cannot pay you (this is the first year we are putting on the event, though we hope it turns into something regular and looked forward to in the community).  What I will do is send you a hand-written -- or typed on an old manual typewriter -- thank you note in a decorated envelope and, as the items are made ready as Perfect Postal Packages for the day itself, I will take photos and post them here in my ongoing reports.

If you think you have something you think would amaze and amuse a young wizarding student, please email me at dantes_wardrobe (at) yahoo (dot) com (be sure to include the underscore "_" in the name as I've typed it here).

Ideas for cool stuff (but certainly not limited to this).

(p.s. This link includes info on how to use read a compass 
and use it with a map.)

Small spyglass/telescope in a box (not in a box would be nice too)

Navigational Tools

Wooden Boxes
They can be new, old, painted or unpainted. We'll put cool stuff inside them!
Our "Props People" love to play with this kind of thing!

Thank you!

08 April 2011

Creating the "Really Real"

The making for the Summer Wizarding Event continues.  This week we sent out the first newsletter.  We're calling it that but it's really just a fun, faux newspaper aimed at getting people intrigued and excited about things.

Our goal is get everyone involved to imagine this could all actually happen, to suspend their disbelief.  So this newspaper -- we're calling it The Monthly Seer -- has to look authentic.  Our first review came in yesterday: a young reader who will be participating as one of the "new students" pronounced it "really awesome" and commented how much he loved "how old-looking it is" and "really real."

Why it worked:
  • The Seer was printed on heavyweight newsprint paper which was also a little over-sized.  This gave the paper the look and feel of being a real newspaper.
  • We didn't "dumb down" the content.  The stories, ads, and images were written "straight," i.e., as though they referred to actual events, objects, and people.
  • It came in the mail!  The layout of the newspaper included a panel with space for the name and address for recipient, postage, and the return address of the "wizarding school" it was sent from.
Essentially, The Monthly Seer is an elaborate prop for this live role play/theater event. The most successful props are ones that look the most authentic.  Paper props are always a challenge.  For a stage production, the documents only need to look credible from a distance.  

Actual Letter Envelope
Image source

Prop Letter Envelope

For an immersive event, such as a murder mystery game/party or live action role-playing game (aka: LARP), document prop authenticity is vital to maintain the believability of the event, to help the actors all stay in character, and, ultimately, to emotionally and psychologically satisfy the event makers and participants.

Players dressed in character at a LARP event.

Actual Western Union Telegram

Prop Telegram Blank
Real Theater Ticket (1941)
Prop Movie Ticket (used in movie Hancock)

Paper documents are often easier to make than 3-dimensional props,  but getting them to look "really real" can take time.  Some inspiration and resources for making prop documents can be found at these sites.

The Cartographer's Guild - A site for those interested in creating maps. Includes mapmaking tutorials and a library of free symbols, textures, and fonts.

Prop Replicas by Indy Magnoli  - A personal collection of props inspired by the Indiana Jones movies and TV series.

H.P.Lovecraft Historical Society -- These folks have created an extensive paper props collection, some available for free download and some for sale on CD.  NOTE: "Permission is granted for individuals to print copies for their own personal use in role-playing games, but any theatrical, commercial or illegal use is prohibited." 

Propnomicon - [from the site] "Propnomicon focuses on horror and fantasy props of interest to fans of H. P. Lovecraft and players of the "Call of Cthulhu" role playing game. That includes items directly inspired by Lovecraft's writing, DIY information for creating your own works, printable paper props, and source materials related to the 1920's and 30's, the "classic era" of the Cthulhu Mythos."

Eric Hart, assistant props master at the Public Theater in New York City, and a longtime prop maker, has posted some useful links and instructions on using Flickr to locate visual resources for paper props.  That link is here.

04 April 2011

Versions of Things Beloved, Part 2


Midway in the course of our life. I found myself within a dark wood . . . "

Thus opens one of the most profound, evocative, enriching, and complex poems in human history: Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy (La Divina Commedia).  The poem Dante writes in the first person describes his journey through three realms of the dead: Hell (Inferno),  Purgatory (Purgatorio) and Heaven (Paradiso), a journey taken over a six day period in the year 1300 from from the night before Good Friday to the Wednesday after Easter.

I've managed to get through it only once, and that was only because I was reading it for an undergraduate course and the professor -- not unlike Dante's guide Beatrice -- got us through the thing.  Since then, I've tried to read it on my own; I've never gotten much further past the midway point of Purgatory.  It just becomes a light show after that!

But that hasn't stopped me from collecting multiple editions of the poem.  Each translation varies, reflecting the respective translator's times, training,  intentions, and poetic insight.

The Commedia has also keenly inspired artists over the centuries. the most noted being Gustav Dore (see the first two images of this post). As much as Dante's epic journey of the soul, these images have found a place deep in my imagination and psyche.

Barry Moser

Salvador Dali

William Blake

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Wayne Douglas Barlowe

Sandro Botticelli  

Rudi Keimel


The Dartmouth Dante Project - a searchable, full-text database of Dante commentaries.

The University of Texas at Austin's DanteWorlds. [from the site] "an integrated multimedia journey--combining artistic images, textual commentary, and audio recordings--through the three realms of the afterlife (Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise) presented in Dante's Divine Comedy. The site is structured around a visual representation of Dante's worlds: it shows who and what appear where."

Digital Dante Project from Columbia University's Institute for Learning Technologies. [from the site's about page] "In essence, the Digital Dante Project is (or will be) a multimedia translation of The Divine Comedy. It is admittedly not a translation like the Mandelbaum, Sinclair, Singleton, or other, more traditional, text translations. Indeed, the Danteum, in this incarnation, is not even an "original" translation in that it relies entirely on the Longfellow translation for its English text of the Commedia.

In our view, however, the Digital Dante Project does constitute a translation because it integrates (or will integrate) multimedia, as well as hyperlinked text commentary and other materials, into the reading of the Commedia in an innovative way -- a way not previously possible in non-digital media. The Digital Dante Project is essentially a twenty-first-century illumination -- one that intends to take advantage of the existing technical possibilities of our contemporary culture to create a viewpoint -- a twenty-first-century dantisti viewpoint -- of contemporary and historical culture, much like Dante's original work was (in addition to allegory) a thirteenth-century viewpoint of then contemporary and historical culture."

ORB ONLINE REFERENCE BOOK FOR MEDIEVAL STUDIES DANTE ALIGHIERI: A Guide to Online Resources. An extensive collection of links to e-texts, of Dante's works, bibliographies, illustrations, music, societies, conferences, etc.

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