Postcards and the Storyteller

Postcard Storyteller logo

I started collecting postcards back in my late teens when I joined the International Youth Service (IYS). That was in the age of actual snail mail, well before email and the internet. Yes, back in the day when people knew how to use rotary dial phones, and we had this thing called a rolodex instead of the contact list on your phone or email account.

IYS was a student penpal service, matching young people with their preference of country, gender and age. For a minimal fee which you paid in international money order, you sent a form to Finland and waited to get an address to write to. I found some friends with whom I corresponded with for many years. One in particular, Clara from Hong Kong, has been a friend even to this day. Although there was a long lull in our correspondence, we managed to find each other again a few years back, reuniting in Hong Kong in 2018. We started writing when she was about to end high school, and I was about to go into college. She was able to visit the Philippines several times as a tour escort for outbound groups from Hong Kong to Manila, which is how we managed to make so many memories together through the years. I would’ve attended her wedding if I could, but that was not meant to be. Years passed, she was widowed and now with a grown daughter, and thanks to Facebook, we found each other again.

I learned a lot about other cultures through the many friends I found via snail mail, and one of the favorite ways by which we introduced each other to our respective countries was through postcards. Even back then, I considered them my window to the world. I really couldn’t travel out of the country then but found myself visiting all these foreign lands through these postcards.

When I started collecting, I collected all the postcards that I was sent, sending back postcards printed by the likes of National Bookstore, Bookmark, Goodwill, etc. Back then, at least half a row of shelves, and not just a rack, was devoted to different types of postcards, alongside 4-5x as many greeting cards. This was when people found a greeting card indispensable to send greetings and messages to friends and loved ones for any and all occasions.

Vintage postcards in my collection

I have to admit that at the start, I bought the Philippine postcards purely to exchange and send out. It took me a few years before I realized I should be keeping a copy of each card I sent, even before I made a decision to leave for New York.

When that time came in my mid-30s, my postcards made it to New York with my then fiancée, in one heavy shoebox. Another shoebox travelled with my balikbayan box when I finally moved in 2000. That, along with my pencils, were the only collectibles I took. I gave away my hardbound books and coffee mugs. (The mug collection would later make a return as I got into Starbucks mugs, a passion to this day.)

As I started my new life in New York, the postcard collection grew. I joined Yahoogroups and billboard lists which published postcard collector’s names and mailing addresses and collecting interests. We had roundrobins and swaps and swaplists. I can’t remember when it was that I started drifting towards maps and lighthouses. As I learned about different collecting categories and meeting people who collected them, I found myself just fascinated by these two. There were specific group swaps organized with these cards in mind. My collection grew. During local travels and vacations overseas, I looked for the maps and lighthouses. We even incorporated visits to lighthouses during our road trips when we could. When I suffered two miscarriages as we were trying to have a baby, we retreated to Montauk to visit the Montauk lighthouse and spend the weekend to heal. But I will not get into my fascination with these two categories today. That’s for another time.

Vintage lighthouse postcards

I somehow ended up drifting away from postcards as life got busier when I eventually had my son in 2004. There’s a definite demand on time and resources when you get into actively trading postcards, and although I never stopped collecting, I slowly lost interest in direct or group swaps. It was also around this time that I started sending postcards home every time we travelled, this time addressed to my son. I would pick up postcards wherever we went, and chronicle our trip and I would send them from the places we visited. Even when we were visiting family in the Philippines, I tried to send back postcards to give him something to go back to when he was older. All this time, I made sure to keep one postcard in mint condition for my collection.

Then around 2012, I discovered Postcrossing.com which seemed to be an interesting way to get back into the hobby. There I met other Filipino collectors, most notable of whom was Raine, a much younger then student of Architecture in the same University where I took my prelaw degree. She and I shared not just a passion for postcards, but a love for personal art and art exchanges. Because of Raine, I got into Artist Trading Cards and found Swapbot and ATC trading groups. I went back into postcards with a newfound interest in Philippine postcards to help me reconnect with everything I left behind. Swapbot also got me back into active swaps with other like minded collectors of postcards and other items. By this time, I had refined my collecting interests to include Vintage and Modern Philippines, New York and Paris. The first two were the places I called home, and the third, my favorite city after two visits many years before.

Vintage Philippine postcards

I got back into postcard swaps and trades with the same gusto as I did before and continued to add to my collection.   I joined a postcrossing group of Filipinos on Facebook under the banner of Postcrossing Philippines.   I  even got to attend two “unofficial” meetups in Manila while continuing to meet with Raine whenever I came home through a period of 4 years or so.. until some personal challenges made me stop once again.

In the beginning of 2020, I had tried to make a more determined effort to destash and shed the things that I no longer needed or didn’t have a use for.  The Pandemic and the lockdown that began in March 2020 made me look at my collection and I decided eventually, that the best way to trim it down to what I really wanted, was to go back to trading or swapping in postcard groups.

I started again in September, but the global slowdown of mail hampered my effort.  I picked up in November and December and have been back since.  I started an instagram account dedicated to postcards and my growing collection, under the handle “postcard_storyteller”.  I believe that every postcard is a way to tell a story, and I have a lot of those stories to tell.  Beginning with this one, and then some.

To date, I have also created a Youtube channel under the same handle and plan to produce more videos about the hobby.  I have joined a few other groups to widen my swapping circle.  All of those are stories for another time.  For now, it’s just me announcing to the world that I’m back, once again.  I don’t think my “return” will be complete without dedicating a portion of the blog to this newfound return to postcards, so let’s start off with this.  Here’s to more postcards heading my way, and heading out into the world to the homes of like minded souls who look through the same window to the world.

Mail Art Postcard Series: Philippine Map 1 (Zentangled Background)

I’m trying to be more focused about what personal art I indulge in.  One of the things that I have decided to keep doing is make my own postcards for trading.  It’s just that I had decided to confine the effort to drawing Philippine Map postcards, the first of which is pictured below.

Mail Art Postcard: Philippine Map 1

I have 10 templates ready for drawing and one uncolored print out for reference. You can read about the process I followed to create this and the materials I used at Gotham Chick.  It’s something anyone can come up with given enough imagination and the patience to draw in the zentangle patterns which I went to Tangle Patterns to for reference.

I have a short list of people to send the first 5 to 6 postcards but if you’re interested to be put on the distribution list, please e-mail me at postcardmailbox at gmail.com.  I’m sending out the actual artwork and keeping a digital copy for my own files.  This is a long-term project and it takes me anywhere from one hour to one day or more to complete one piece, but I’m going to try to send out at least two a week.  This plus the JOURNAL ON A JOURNEY should keep me creatively busy. 

I want to start sending the out by the middle of the month and keep going from there.  The means by which the Philippine map is shown might change in time, but being a map postcard collector, this is of special significance to me.  I had meant to be actively trading postcards again, but that has slowed down because of other swaps.  That is why I’ve made a decision to confine my swaps to minimal effort undertakings so that I veer away from the pressure.

I’ve greatly enjoyed exchanging postcards with the fellow-Pinoy postcard collectors over at the Facebook Postcrossing Philippines group.  I don’t really care much what is sent to me, but I enjoy sending back postcards to help their individual collections grow.

Postcard collecting has changed through the years — be it my own collecting method and interests to what is the norm these days.  Postcrossing has become rather popular in recent years, although this would work for those collectors who are trying to grow their collection in terms of size of postcards received or countries received from.  My collection was initially geared that way, but I had long since confined my collection to anything Philippines (meaning vintage, new, unused and stamped), anything New York, Maps, lighthouses and anything Paris.  (That’s the francophile in me.)

This is but another “variation” of my collecting method — sending out my own map postcards of the country where I was born and raised it.

Scraps and My "Happiness" Journal: A Happy Life

I hate throwing away paper.  In fact I’ve been rather careful saving the bits and pieces of My Altered Book (a.k.a. My Happiness Journal) that I’ve been cutting out.  They might come in handy for “repairs” or do-overs, or I might need them for a totally unrelated layout.  Paper is paper.  When I like working with a certain “surface” or texture, I will save even the cut-outs.

I have painted flowers on such scrap papers with watercolor, drawn and defined them with a sign pen and then cut them out.  The idea is to use these flowers (most of them cartoon-like and whimsical) as embellishments for the “happy” pages of my book.  While I was doing these flowers, I was rather pleased with the way they came out and I am seriously thinking of doing a video of how I produced these embellishments.  Nothing so out of the ordinary, but rather a video for non-artists like myself to show that hey, we CAN do this, too, even if we don’t have the skill and talent of those artists whose works and layouts we drool over.

I even finished a card that is now on its way to my dear, dear friend P.  Watercolor background, and a collage of layered watercolored flowers.

Hand-painted card for P

One thing I’ve learned is that it helps to browse these great pages and look at the beautiful layouts of the real artists for inspiration.  While I cannot duplicate nor equal those masterpieces, they show me what colors I can look at working with, what styles I can try — and then render them in my own way, crude as it may be.  I try not to pressure myself about producing masterpieces — I just have fun.  (I know, it’s so cliche and sounds so “American Idol” like. LOL)  And I AM having fun.  Seeing my book progressing and the layouts taking shape one by one is very fulfilling, and that by itself helps to bring a smile to my face.

The Happiness Journal is a good way to force one’s self to look for optimism.  I end up browsing at least once a day for a happy or happiness quote I can add, and when I find one, I scribble it down or work on a layout that will represent it in my happy book.  At the end of the day, you find yourself remembering those positive thoughts and it actually stays with you.  No matter what happens that upsets that positive energy as your day unfolds, or when something allows frustration to creep into your heart, the “happy” exercise stays.  And at the end of the day, there is that time when I browse the pages yet again.  Even if it’s to paint another page a special color and do a certain layout, or just so I can see if the pages are holding up, the happy vibe stays with me.

I haven’t had the chance to do much today except “retouch” a few things I’ve already put in, and stamp one layout with a floral border.  I brought home a word art “block” I rendered in Microsoft Word with very elementary word art and I want to slap it on to one of the pages to get the journaling going.  Perhaps before the night is over.

Bits and pieces.

The pages are a work in progress simultaneously.  I am even skipping a whole set of pages to work on another layout first.  I have groups of pages all relating to one layout, and yet in those pages, you will find different entries.  (Eventually, that is.)  Time to sleep…