Snailmail: A Vintage Revolution in an Age of Instagram

An Interview with Snailmail Artist Laura Fearon

Imagine an entire subculture where strangers exchange intricately designed letters through the postal service to each other. TypeThursday Founder, Thomas Jockin, spoke with Snailmail artist Laura Fearon about Snailmail subculture.

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Laura Fearon

Thomas Jockin: Hey Laura, thanks so much for joining me today.

Laura Fearon: Hey Tom! Happy to be here, well where I am, not where you are… I’ve never conducted an interview via google docs before. This is very 2018.

TJ: I know. Technology is crazy. That’s why I wanted to interview you for TypeThursday. You’re involved in something called snailmail. To my understanding, it’s a subculture that shares incredibly detailed postcard designs made by hand and mailed to strangers. Is that an accurate understanding?

What is Snailmail?

LF: Snailmail as a noun is probably a much broader concept than that. I think it’s pretty much anything you get in your mailbox. Not the one in your phone- that constantly alerts you about privacy updates and sales on pillowcases, but that archaic item in the lobby of your building or outside your house. The one where most of us get bills and therefore generally avoid. I think anything that arrives in that box — be it a handwritten letter or a postcard or a parcel is part of the general snailmail world. The subculture that I am most fascinated by is the mail art aspect of it though. The mail itself being a piece of art.

Lately I’ve been working towards a more artistic letter and using brush pens and adding flourishes.

TJ: Could you share more what is incorporated in the mail art aspect of snailmail?

LF: To me, the entire process is an artform in a way. Starting with the desire to share a story with a friend. (I am admittedly not that great of a writer) But I think I’m a decent story teller so it starts with this desire to share a story… Sometimes that means I sit down at typewriter, and sometimes that means I scribble a note on an old postcard. Lately I’ve been working towards a more artistic letter and using brush pens and adding flourishes. However the letter is just part of the art, I usually include some sort of card or flipbook. Sometimes I upcycle old file folders into portfolios of a more “scrapbook” or “collage” type art and then I slip the letter inside of it somewhere. Almost like a paper advent calendar. Then I sit down and make the envelope. Honestly the envelope is usually twice the work of the letter. I know there are some purists in the snailmail community that feel now you should put it into a padded envelope, you add tracking, and you send this art piece off and follow it every step of the way. I sort of feel like our mail system is part of the art process. I throw some stamps on it, maybe a few extra pieces of scotch tape and then cross my fingers that it makes it. If the machines mangle it or it gets wet, I just see that as the collaborative part of the art process.

How did Laura Discover Snailmail

TJ: This is so fascinating. The total process is considered an artform. How did you get introduced to this subculture?

LF: It started with a desire to explore something creative. I am an accountant so I wasn’t going to find that at work. I’ve also always loved getting mail. About a year ago I started writing to friends in other cities. Most people found it charming but maybe a little overwhelming? Anyway I was frustrated and really wanted responses so I went on the internet in search of penpals. Kind of ironic. I stumbled upon the hashtag #snailmailrevolution on instagram and it was eye opening

I was really surprised to discover people younger than myself but who were really interested in stamp collecting and letter writing.

#snailmailrevolution

TJ: How was the instagram tag #snailmailrevolution eye opening?

LF: First of all I think I had this expectation that it was only going to be people my grandmother’s age. Instead there were tons of young people interested in this old world form of communication. I was really surprised to discover people younger than myself (who grew up with cellphones and email) but who were really interested in stamp collecting and letter writing. Until that point I think I had also considered art something exclusively reserved for artists. Either people that had gone to school for it or had some sort of formal training. Maybe it was naive of me but I was really impressed by the amount of self taught calligraphers and all of these artists who were doing these amazing collages and mail art pieces.

I remember finding this profile of this woman who made these intricate paper projects. I am struggling to find the word. It was like origami combined with collage art and it had all these moving parts. Little bits that folded out and revealed a tea bag for the recipient or you folded it a different direction and there was a little envelope with stickers. She had also hand sewn these vintage papers together and made these letter books, with each fold revealing a new image or collage. And I feel like even as I am describing these I am missing the most important part which is that she made these all with the purpose of mailing them to a stranger. This wasn’t art for her to sell or even to enjoy herself. All of her art is made for someone else. She mails it to them and then never sees it again. So her instagram became an art piece in itself because it’s a catalogue of all the pieces she’s made. Anyway I found her page and then discovered about 15 other accounts just like it. I started following them all. I made a snailmail instagram account the same day and just delved right in.

At one point over 150 people from around the world were sending me things.

TJ: How many penpals do you currently have? I am getting the impression this is a lot of work to produce these snailmails.

LF: Currently I think I am corresponding with about 30 people. I have a different relationship with each one of them. So some penpals I’m just swapping cool found vintage postcards with or dropping a note back when I have a moment to write. There’s a handful of people that I make the more intricate art for. I recently started cataloging it all on my computer and discovered at one point over 150 people from around the world were sending me things but honestly it was kinda stressful so I’ve cut back. I feel comfortable with the expectation levels now too. A year ago I felt like I needed to write everyone back the day I got a letter. Now I write when I have time. I create when I feel like it. And I try to put more time and energy into the friends I enjoy swapping art with.

There are certainly more efficient ways, but I really find solace in addressing envelopes.

Laura’s Motivation to join the Snailmail Revolution

TJ: Is it fair to say you partake in snailmail because it’s a creative outlet for yourself?

LF: Oh absolutely! It’s much easier to sit down at my keyboard and write an email to a friend. If the reason I was doing this was to simply communicate with people- there are certainly more efficient ways, but I really find solace in addressing envelopes. My grandmother emails me a couple times a week and usually I reply with a letter or a postcard. It gives me an excuse to use my hands. It enables my compulsion to buy all the pens. And it’s a nice side effect that my doodling and my little mail hobby brings joy to her actual mailbox.

TJ: Laura, it’s been a pleasure to learn more about snailmail with you. Where can people find your work online?

LF: The pleasure was all mine! People can find me on instagram


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