Andell Family Sundays Anytime: Mail Art

May 30, 2021
Karen Satzman, Director, Youth & Family Programs

Have you ever received a letter, birthday card, or postcard in the mail? It’s pretty exciting, right? You know what is also exciting? Getting art in the mail! 

Mail art isn’t a new idea. Artists have been creating this kind of work for decades. Mail art can be one-of-a-kind collages, painted envelopes, or hand-made postcards, but it can also be photocopied mass-produced works, even sculptures—you name it! For some artists part of the challenge is to see how they can test the limits of the postal service. 

Over the last year there has been a rise in mail art and it’s not too late for you to join the movement!

Here are three things that I love about mail art:

  • Cheap to make and send
  • Supports the post office
  • Unexpected collaboration! (The postmark added by your post office.) 

Look at Art! 

Girl with dark hair smiling
Jeffrey Vallance, A Nice Girl mail art, 1978, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Robert L. Smith, © Jeffrey Vallance

Artist Jeffrey Vallance drew and sent this piece to the director of a Los Angeles art organization and that person donated the work to LACMA. 

See the circle on the girl’s chin and the wavy lines on her shoulder? The artist didn’t stamp that on—the post office did, becoming an art collaborator without even thinking about it! 

Take a good look at the circle on the girl’s chin. If you look really closely you can see the name of the city where the mail art was mailed from. 

Let’s Make Some Mail Art! 

Step 1—Gather Your Supplies: No Need to Buy Anything (except stamps)!

Postcard, markers, gluestick, scissors, and collage materials
Postcard-making supplies

Postcard-making Supplies (or you can use a premade postcard): 

  • Cardstock or thin cardboard (cereal box thickness is perfect)

  • Pencil

  • Scissors 

  • Ruler or straight-edge

Art-making Supplies: Choose all or some from the list (your choice!)

  • Drawing materials: markers, colored pencils, etc. 

  • Collage materials: scissors, magazine cut-outs, glue stick

  • Rubber stamps

  • Stickers

  • Pen to address your postcard 

  • Postcard stamps, 36 cents to send within the USA

Step 2—Make a postcard

Mail art doesn’t have to be on a postcard—but it's a super easy and affordable option. 

I had some blank postcards at home, but you can make your own postcard or buy a postcard that you can transform.

To make a postcard, cut a rectangle out of cardstock or thin cardboard.

To get the right shape, cut to size following these measurements:  

  • At least 3.5 inches by 5 inches
  • Not bigger than 4.25 inches by 6 inches

Tip: If you are cutting your own postcard, try tracing around an old postcard! 

Postcard with instructions on what goes on each side

Step 3—Make It into Art! 

Colorful collage on postcard

Using your art materials, add your creative vision! You can draw, collage, stamp, write, paint. You can even sew! The choice is yours. 

I love to collage so I used magazine cut outs and rubber stamps to make my art. Warning: with collage, sometimes the glued down pieces fall off in the mail. For me, it’s not a problem. For you, you’ll have to decide.

Be sure to leave enough room for the name and address of the friend or family member that you are sending it to. And leave room at the top right corner above the address for the stamp! 

Who are you going to send your mail art to? 

Hint: Grandparents and friends love to get mail and they always love your art. It’s a winning combination!

Step 4—Put It in the Mail

Four colorful postcards

Write the name of the person you made the postcard for and their address on the card. Print clearly! 

Stick the stamp on it and mail it. You can take it to the post office, drop it in a USPS box, or put it in a place where your mail carrier can pick it up. 

Step 5—Bonus! 

Start a mail art exchange. Encourage your friends and family to also make mail art. If you receive mail art, send something back! 

Collage post card with green, pink, black elements
My mail art to Merrill Goldstein

I sent this mail art to artist Merrill Goldstein in Burlington, Vermont. 

This inspired her to make and send this mail art to her son in New York!

Green, white, brown collaged pieces on white background
Photo credit: Merrill Goldstein

I sent this to artist Meredeth Vogler in Los Angeles.

collaged postcard with an image of lamp and fox
My mail art to Meredeth Vogler

Which inspired her to make this piece for a friend:

Blue and orange stamped postcard
Photo credit: Meredeth Vogler

(Meredeth and Merrill both participated in LACMA’s Create+Collaborate printmaking class designed for older adults.) 

If you make some mail art, tell us about it. Share your artwork on social media, tag us at @lacma! We love seeing your art!

Join us on YouTube on Sunday, June 13—and anytime after—to make a flipbook zine with artist Elly Dallas. 

Discover other family-friendly art-making blogs on Unframed and check out all our creative video content on LACMA’s YouTube channel

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