Friday, January 29

Imagining Someone Else's Life

This is a picture of a worker with Amar Touring Cinema, in India. The card describes that he is respooling the film between showings of whatever movie was in circulation at the time.

This is from a set of Bollywood postcards I picked up at World Market, way back when they still had a brick-and-mortar outlet around my city. There were two, in Roseville and Bloomington and I think we went to one in Spring Lake Park or further out, but they weren't doing well here so all their outlets shut down. This was heartbreaking for me because I used to love to just wander around in there and look at everything, dreaming of where it came from, dreaming of how it would look in my crappy little apartment if only I had a substantially greater income.

But they closed, and one of my parting gestures was to pick up a square, tin box of these Bollywood postcards. I like the trend that suggested nicer postcards should be packaged in little metal boxes, you know? Nicer than shrink-wrap, though they're doing some cool things with cardboard boxes and Velcro/rare earth magnets, lately.

These postcards are themselves square, which means they incur a 13¢ additional handling fee, regardless of domestic or foreign postage. Being that I don't have any 13¢ stamps--indeed, they are not printed in this country--the best that the Postage Stamp Calculator can suggest is one 98¢ stamp and two 10¢ stamps. That's fine, that's only a little over, it's not going to drive me into ruin. (No, two months of joblessness would drive me almost up to the front door of ruin--and still require a tip.)

One of the cards featured a man sitting on the bonnet of his pick-up truck, on which had been mounted large wooden-case speakers and a couple placards. He was also part of a traveling cinema display troupe, like the guy in this picture, driving from village to village and showing movies out of the back of his truck, throwing the image up against a bed sheet or the side of a building, depending upon resources and size of crowd. That sounds like a fun life to me: I could do it for a couple months. In fact, I was so inspired by the other card (not pictured here) that I wrote a short story about it. Not knowing much about India, of course, I was careful not to make any distinct cultural references. I only made vague references to environment and appearances, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks or simply accept the story in its own context.

The Bollywood cards I'm sending this time around (my Postcrossing limit has gone up to 10 cards at one time!) are headed to China and Finland. I made sure to clarify that the scenes depicted did not occur in Minnesota, though there's probably no confusion over the matter.

Monday, January 25

To Slice, Glue, and Rearrange

I first read about this form of collage as "Victorian collage," probably in The Surrealist's Handbook or something. Victorian women used to amuse themselves by cutting out pictures from newspapers and magazines and gluing them together in whimsical, imaginative rearrangements. You can imagine how appealing a group like the Surrealists would have found this and soon it was the rage. Even today, when someone wishes to represent the jumbled thoughts of insanity, an artist may find it convenient to fall back on Victorian imagery for a somewhat nightmarish effect.

I have no such imagery. Well, I do, but it's in its original form and I'm not going to savage it just to make tawdry, half-conceived artistic stabs. I do, however, have other magazines with beautiful, stylized photography. For this card I used an old map of Tokyo, recreated by Cavallini Papers & Co., and then cut out pictures of arms from an old issue of Flaunt Magazine. The hand with the compass was from a Hennessey ad, the girl's hand from an ad for Bioshock, and the jack-all-points arm from some tedious photo shoot for a clothing designer. You know how those go. Well, they're not entirely without worth, as you can slit out a limb or maybe an intact garment for superimposition.

I had an X-acto knife on hand and recently purchased extra-strength glue stick. I glued the blank postcards onto the back of the map first and then cut them out, to ensure they would lay flush to the edges. I had no vision for the imagery to start with, just cut out an arm and then found two more. I lucked out with the "tomorrow calls," though, also unplanned.

And many people on Postcrossing object to homemade cards (for reasons unknown to me) but I still think cards like this will come in handy in special occasions. And I can scan them in for my own portfolio, and even upload them to any of the dozens of online postcard-printing operations (I've had success with Zazzle in the past) that have sprung up in recent years.

Update: Made some more cards. Expanding collection will be archived here.

Monday, January 18

Scanning the Stamp Collection

I've got a free evening to myself, so what do I do?

1) Get drunk and watch Jackie Chan movies.
2) Go out with friends to a local bar I've always been curious about.
3) Take a long bath and read in bed.
4) None of the above.

That's right: I went through the stack of postcards I've accrued from a year with Postcrossing and scanned in a couple dozen stamps. I'm very prompt about scanning the fronts of the postcards in, yes, but for some reason I let the stamps accumulate over great periods of time.

Well, tonight Rebecca was off at her book club so I sealed myself in the office, played They Might Be Giants at a modest volume, arranged a dozen postcards on my flatbed scanner, and carefully picked apart and cropped the stamps in Picasa's very handy photo editor. And it's not enough for me to crop and retouch the stamps, but once they're in my online album, Philately, I label each one by its country of origin, type in some appropriate tags, and then affix each stamp to its respective location on the globe.

That's right: through the magic of Google Maps, I get a special little thrill in seeing the thumbnails of these stamps floating over the Earth itself! I enjoy seeing how widespread my little collection is, and I'm curious about the nations I've never heard from. For instance, I have a dozen postage stamps from Finland and Germany each, but out of all of Africa I only have five stamps in South Africa. I even have three stamps from the South Moluccas, which isn't a nation and never legally produced postage stamps, and yet I don't have one single stamp from Norway, Iran, or Argentina, among many other nations.

Okay, I guess I don't expect to collect stamps from Iran or North Korea, but still. You can still see the other stamps I've got now.

Making Your Own Cardstock Envelopes

Okay, here's a little something: when sending the holiday cards, we ran out of envelopes. I had to make my own, a process to which I am no stranger, but the cards themselves were almost square. When compensating for a little room beyond the card's edges, the envelopes were almost completely square. The bad thing about that is, square envelopes and postcards incur a 13-cent penalty. Granted, thirteen cents isn't going to bust the bank, and room for stamps isn't an issue since you can put stamps anywhere you like on the face of the envelope (they told me so at the post office), but... call me a traditionalist and a stingy bastard: I didn't want to spring for the extra postage.

So I designed an envelope. I'll update this post with a nicer PDF copy of it, that will be my gift to you, my four readers, but here are the photos of the process.

Okay, in the first picture, what are we looking at? The envelope itself is two separate pieces of paper: the front is a nice decorative piece of cardstock, and the back is a very simple, very plain monochromatic piece. The top line drawing is the back and the bottom cutout will be the template for the front piece. I chose those angles for the tables completely arbitrarily: I'm guessing it's about 30º. You could use a 45º angle or whatever you like, actually. The important thing to understand is that the front piece has two side tabs that will be pasted on the inside of the body of the envelope and one large tab on top that will be folded down on the outside of the back. The back piece only has one bottom tab that will be folded up into the inside. I think you can see where I'm going with this.

The second picture represents each piece cut out in the desired materials. My wife found an excellent book of patterned cardstock, available at any scrapbook place for certain. Should be available in any craft store or some stationery outlets, perhaps.

The third picture is how you will lie the bottom tab of the back piece onto the low edge of the front piece. I made that flap extra big on purpose because I'm using that double-sided window insulator tape. Actually, I should've made all the flaps that big. No reason to give myself less surface area to work with, when using that double-sided tape, which I actually had to slice in half lengthwise for this project! That's ludicrous, no one should have to go through that.

But yeah, you tape (or glue, if you have an excellent glue you're comfortable with; I do not recommend glue stick unless you're very confident of its affixing properties) the large tab from the bottom of the envelope back to inside the bottom of the envelope front.

Now, the left picture shows the beauty of double-sided window insulator tape: you just leave that waxed strip on there until the last second. Were it not for that, you'd be stuck eyeballing how the two pieces will line up before you slap them together and clamp them down, praying to your deity of choice that you didn't miscalculate anything in this imperfect analog world. This way, you can line, align, and realign to your heart's content. When everything's perfect, just lift one corner of that waxed paper backing and whip it away. I think it's fantastic.

I'm not sure what the second picture represents. I took it about a month ago and its meaning is lost on me. I think I was just trying to represent how you shouldn't be afraid to shave off an edge if your measurements are slightly off. I'm definitely glad I invested in a self-healing cutting mat and a metal ruler (though sometimes that Xacto knife actually shaves slivers off the metal ruler, no joke).

With the large tab on the bottom of the envl. back affixed in place, it's nothing to tape/glue the side tabs of the front piece into place. Really, all the work of lining up the two pieces lies in that bottom tab. This is when it's invaluable to use that double-sided tape: line up the two pieces, pinch the right end of the tab, start peeling from the left, compress it there and peel the rest of the way. Simplicity itself.

All you need to assemble are the three sides of the envelope, and leave that fourth tab alone until you fill the envelope. Or, if you're giving a pack of these envelopes to a friend, leave that waxed paper strip on the fourth flap for a handy touch. Like I said, I'll draw up a PDF of the proper measurements. The two most important things are:
  1. Find a strong cardstock that won't crumple in processing, and
  2. Make tabs large enough to accept a strip of double-sided tape, and then some.

Friday, January 15

Update, Such As It Is

Uploaded new postcards from Postcrossing.

Not much else going on, I'm afraid. You'd think with only too much time on my hands (due to unemployment) that I'd be exploring all my creative projects. Not so: a portion of my day goes to job hunting and the rest is frittered away on Facebook games. I'm not proud of that but I've got to be honest about it.

I started a new blog where I take one picture of myself every day, 365 XN in 2010, and I've resumed writing one short story a day, but I've fallen off the wagon on that last bit. Einstein knew what he spoke of when he suggested the best job for a brilliant, creative mind was mindless drudgery. Under that yoke you would seek out and pursue creative projects to relieve your mind, but left with too much free time--as I am--I just become doughy and sluggish.