frugal acts

Alice Fox Notes on the back of an envelope page detail

I’ve been playing about with old envelopes and have made a series of small note books using them.  I’ve always loved the patterns you get on the inside of many envelopes and often keep them ‘just in case’ they might be of use.  Now I’ve found a way of using them and giving them another life.  I’ve enjoyed playing with some of the printed marks on them, deliberately including bits of text, stamps and those little windows that allow you to see the address on the letter inside.

Alice Fox Notes on the back of an envelope inside found text

I’m reading Roger Deakin’s Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees at the moment.  Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know I’m a fan of nature writing and there is a pile of such books permanently on my bed-side table, either waiting to be read or ready for me to dip back into a favourite section.  There is a chapter where Deakin describes visiting the artist Margaret Mellis, which I read the other day.  Because he is focusing on trees and wood he is particularly interested in Margaret’s use of driftwood for her sculptures or assemblages. He also describes her drawings made on opened out envelopes and he makes an observation that really struck a chord with me:

Letters, like driftwood and ideas, arrive out of the blue.  They are gifts.  The envelopes, like the driftwood, had a former life, and would generally be discarded.  Mellis gives them new status and a function.  Ingeniously reusing an envelope, or driftwood, to make a picture is, in the context of environmental politics, a deliberately frugal act. Both were once trees, and what would otherwise have been wasted is turned to good use. (p 188).

The phrase ‘a deliberately frugal act‘ has stayed with me since I read it as I know that many of the decisions I make both in my life in general and in my artistic practice are just that.  I am excited by the possibilities of the found or discarded object and see it as a challenge to make use of them.  If by doing so I can reduce the consumption of new materials that is another challenge met.  This doesn’t mean I won’t use new materials but I am always considering carefully how and when I do.

I’m currently preparing for a series of workshops over the next month introducing people to printing and dyeing with rust.  I am gathering collected rusty things as well as a range of materials on which to make our rusty marks.  Fittingly, the first of these workshops next weekend will be held in a salvage yard.  I’ll let you know what we find and how we get on.  If you fancy making some notes on the back of an envelope then the little books are available here.

7 thoughts on “frugal acts

  1. I saw a fabulous exhibition of Margaret Mellis’ work at the University of East Anglia Sainsbury’s Gallery a few years back. I remember her envelope drawings. We bought a dvd about her and her work. It is very inspiring. If I can find it I will post it to you.

    • Thanks Rosie. I’ve seen various people using envelopes for books. I met someone recently using a notebook he’d made himself out of various re-used paper and we had quite a conversation about such things.

  2. re-purposing is always a treat to recycling. and even better, to me, when it’s arty 😉

    my own artistic journey is a challenge between allowing myself full expression (after years of guilt), and being deliberately frugal. at some point, i hope to fully frugal and green with my art, i’m certainly there with my textile works.

  3. I too have a drawerful of old envelopes with interesting patterns on them, have occasionally made a collage with them but now have another idea of making a sketch book, thanks for sharing with us.

  4. All you say has great resonance at the moment – currently doing C&G course with current Module, ‘Loosely Lettering’ so have been collecting envelopes and have become fascinated my the inside patterns. Roger Deaken’s book is a favourite and guess what am about to have a go at rust printing – a friend has a magnificent ‘scrape’ heap and I have been invited to have a go …so I start next week – any top ten tips would be greatly appreciated!

  5. Margaret Mellis’s envelope drawings made a big impression on me, years ago, so it was a double pleasure to hear a new acquaintance tell of how she had been to lunch at the artist’s home – making her way through a garden full of driftwood, and inside the house was also a treasure-trove of materials waiting to be used, even as far as the kitchen table, of which a small corner was cleared for eating. Obviously a woman for whom life and art were seamless.

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