Started on: 7-3-95
RJ: Welcome to this mail-interview. First let me ask you the traditional question. When did you get involved in the mail-art network?
Reply on: 20-6-1995
JHB: Well, It was probably around the early '80's.... 1983 maybe. It sort of pounced.... I'd been carving eraser-stamps for a few years & heard of a couple of rubberstamp magazines, Rubberstampmadness & National Stampagraphic. I wrote to them and they both showed favorable interest in my carvings right away. Very quickly I was corresponding with some folks via the rubberstamp magazines, and also got in a group that exchanged mail-art on a monthly basis. I forget the name of the group now; it was in 1984 or 1985 , but I still correspond with Kay Sluterbeck & Tom Nelson whom I met in that group. That group may still be going on as far as I know; after a while I had to drop out because of being short of extra time! I'm still short of "extra" time, but I work around it!
Anyhow, these few contacts led to others & I just kept going with it! Always, though, what intrigued me most was eraser-carving. Still does. Other things get put aside so I can do more carving. One thing that's so great about mail-art is it's an ideal form for sharing carved images. Mail-art lets me feel in touch artistically, even though I live in a very small town. I truly cherish my fellow-artists/correspondents. I have the best of it all here - peace, quiet, & lovely surroundings, and contact with other artists. Our post-office enjoys the unusual variety that gets sent to me too. I give them samples of the artistamps I make, and they put them up behind the counter. Like my own refrigerator-display! (In your country, do the mothers of small children tape up the kids' artworks on the refrigerator door?) Well, enough for that question, nu?
RJ: Well, maybe you should do a project on refrigerator's doors? Mine is decorated with magnet-artworks I received through the mail.... Your eraser-carvings are quite well known in the network. Sometimes your work is even used as illustrations in books. How did you become so good? Maybe you could tell me how the process of making one stamp evolves.
Reply on 21-9-1995
JHB: The first part is having an idea you want to work with! Then, tools assembled, do your drawing, work with it until you're pleased with it, transfer it to the eraser, and carve it! Often, I continue the drawing process with the carving tools: refining, deleting, adding texture, or re- designing if I either change my mind or make a mistake! And I'll let you in on a little secret: the end result is hardly ever exactly as I had envisioned it! But also, it's hardly ever worth re-doing; time's better spent on trying not to make the same "mistake" on another carving - or else using the information gained deliberately to create a similar effect.
The key to gaining skill in the process is not unique to eraser-carving. Practice. A lot (I've carved over 2,000 stamps by now.) Love the work. Put your heart & mind to it. Concentrate. Have fun with it! Be open to learn whatever you can from a variety of sources. Recognize that all your skills are a gift, and use them with love & respect. Practice. Love. Attention.
I made a stamp about this topic too: "ALL-PURPOSE MAGIC TRICK LEARNED WHILE CARVING STAMPS: Don't work carelessly, thinking, "why be careful? I can't do it well, anyhow." because then, you'll probably be right. Take the time and care needed, WORK AS THOUGH YOU EXPECT TO BE ABLE TO DO IT VERY WELL because then, you'll probably be right."
(This complete text Julie carved in a eraser sometimes in very tiny and precise letters. The carving shows her very wonderful skills when it comes to making eraser-carvings with very fine details)
Oh - a few, actually: "CHECK OUT the work of wood engravers and wood block carvers!" , "What to carve? Look around you! Look inside you!" , "Contents: Helpful, I hope, but NOT TO BE TAKEN TOO SERIOUSLY.... Do whatever works for you! Invent something new! JUST CARVE!!!"
(These are all on the back cover of my little carving book.)
Another point about skill in carving is keeping the enthusiasm fresh. One way I do that is to apply eraser carving to whatever my current interest happens to be. (For heavens sake, one can carve anything!) Lately I've been fascinated with ancient Egyptian art & hieroglyphics. (Sadly, I'm lacking a teacher for hieroglyphics, but I do have a couple of excellent texts to work with.) I'm having a wonderful time with it all, and of course it shows up in carved stamps!
RJ: Yes, it sure does! Do you also carve in wood and make larger works?
Reply on 12-10-1995
JHB: I have carved in wood in the past, but haven't for years. The grain of the wood always seemed to have a different opinion than I did about where a line should go, & we never reached a mutual understanding.
I also used to do larger works - when I was in art school ( a little over 20 years ago!) I preferred large canvases, say 4 x 6 feet, & 18 x 24 inch watercolors & drawings.... But as the time goes by I find that I prefer to work much smaller for many reasons: large pieces require physical strength to manipulate & lots of space for storage, & are harder to share with people many miles away. And large sized works are easy to accept as they are, in the sense of size, and the viewer remaining as is..... Small works seem to ask the viewer to become of a size to enter the work, because it's too hard to see it well otherwise. One must change & enter into a different view of the world. I guess that sounds weird. That's okay. Weird is fine too. It's good to help shake off the idea that some people may have that this existence is "normal", whatever THAT is. Magic is normal, & it's everywhere! Just walking outside today, in this gorgeous Autumn weather one breathes magic! It's more than just the delightful beauty of scent & color.... it's a feeling.... I love it!
It's necessary for me to try to convey some of this in the thing I do. Whether it comes across or not, well, who knows? But it is important that I try, & the magic is ALL of it - the form, color, feeling, & my state of being as I work. I think people would do well to remember we can all do magic. Putting one's heart and spirit into a made object - that's magic and very healing for the doer & the viewer. I think one also receives the blessings of whatever the attention focuses on, and of course blessings are extended to the object or place or person or animal that is drawn or carved.
RJ: In the latest pieces of mail I received from you, I noticed that you are influenced by old historic subjects these last months. What is so attractive about the Eastern culture?
Reply on 2-12-1995
JHB: Ruud, I could say any number of things about this, but the main thing is that it just touches my heart, It is beautiful in a way that for me is magic, and it makes me want to be closer to it.
I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (in New York City) several months ago, standing before some ancient Egyptian tomb carvings: scenes & hieroglyphics... tears came to my eyes and I wanted to know the heart of them, to be closer to that beauty. So since then I've been studying hieroglyphics when I can, & looking at the drawings, paintings and sculpture, in books or in museums. It's magical, mysterious, seductive, lovely. It's for the same reason I studied Chinese 15 years ago: the art captures my heart.
RJ: Is it the story of your life, that you always follow what your heart tells you to do?
Reply on 3-2-1996
JHB: What a beautiful question! I think that's probably true for the major events of my life, and I believe that a lot of the time heart & head are in agreement.... or at least they conspire to make it seem so.... Even contemplating the question brings a smile to the heart & a feeling of love. What treasures these feelings are! To be in a space of love & beauty, just by thinking about them. Now there's magic! Thank you for bringing it on!
PS. Sometimes the pull of love is so strong, it's not a matter of choice: the only possible thing to do is to follow one's heart. Nothing else exists.
RJ: Again you sent me some beautiful prints of your newest rubber stamps. Do you keep all your erasers? How large is your collection?
Reply on 21-2-1996
JHB: No, I don't keep all my carvings. Some I make as gifts, some end up as gifts, a very few are commissioned pieces. But I do keep most of the carvings I make. I probably have about 2,000 and I like always to have at least around 50 un-carved erasers on hand, plus some of the larger sizes of carving material like Nasco's carving block, April Pease's "P-Z cut", & a few others which I can't recall just now. Sometimes I get an idea to do a series of carvings that eats up my supply of erasers, so I need to be prepared! It's best to go with the idea when it takes you by the hand. I love it when I'm able to just flow with the idea & draw and carve for long, uninterrupted stretches.
RJ: You sure are lucky that you can do that, and the results are really wonderful. When I myself got involved with the mail art network the magazine Rubberstampmadness was quite interesting for mail artists (as you told also in one of your previous answers). The most recent issues I saw of the magazine were completely different to the ones from the beginning of the 80's. It has become a very large glossy magazine with lots of advertisings. What are your thoughts on these developments, that rubberstamping has become big business?
Reply on 5-3-1996
JHB: There is room for everybody & for all of it. RSM has evolved from charming, down-home small publication to classy, professional larger publication. It reaches more people now, yet has information on networking for many levels, some really cool artists, & so forth. Folks who wish to be less "glossy" are not prohibited from being so, for heaven's sake! I think it's a waste of good energy to get upset with people or entities for changing, as long as others are still free to go their own way. National Stampagraphic is a lot like it used to be years ago, very low-key, & lovable. That's the key, I think, to why these 2 (RSM & NS) are still around - love. It's not how "glossy" you are or aren't; it's how much love you work with - (and, of course, simply staying in business is due in part to luck!) - and both are full of love. There's so much "us" versus "them" in this world - it's time people realized that there is no "THEM" ; it's ALL JUST "US".
And what's wrong with glossy, anyhow? I can't find fault with better reproduction of original pieces, more information on cool toys (via - 'gasp!' advertising!) - show me where this causes harm? If there's to be a complaint, let it be with real problems - like polluting our lovely Earth, torturing animals or people, stupid wars, suppressing of others' beliefs, other forms of bigotry (religious, racial, social, etc.) OY VAY! You want problems? EASY to find. You know what else? I'm a lot different than I was in the beginning of the 80's too! And it's great! (and so are you, dear; you got me going on that one, didn't you!)
P.S. I bet there are lots of other rubberstamp publications out there that are very low key - this world is full of surprises!
P.P.S. I could get more in-depth philosophically, but it makes my ears itch. Enough philosophy already, let's make art!
RJ: Yes, I got you going there for a while. Sometimes it seems that art & money don't mix, but in reality they seem to be completely connected. In the 70's and 80's there were these discussions that mail art and money don't mix. Nowadays, with the high postal rates everywhere, the mail artists of the 90's know too well that money is needed to keep the post going and lots of recent larger mail art shows are sponsored to pay for the costs. What are your thoughts on this subject?
Reply on 2-4-1996
JHB: It seems to me a bit like complaining about the weather. Like it or not, what can one do about it? Individual solutions: make more intense (whatever THAT means!) art & correspond with fewer people, making a stronger individual connection; do mass-mailings but less frequently; get a grant; work with people in a smaller area & personal contact (within art schools, for example); pray for postal rates to go down! In fact, Ruud, I saved (somewhere - can't find it at the moment) a little quote you mailed me a year or two ago, something to the effect that one might reconsider methods if one is continually sending a mass-produced letter about "Sorry I'm sending a mass-produced letter, but I don't have time to write". Why not pare down the number to those with whom quality correspondence is enjoyed? Mail art is supposed to be for enjoyment (isn't it??). Or, admittedly, at times to make a social or political point - but I suspect most of us do mail art because we like to. And in honesty I must admit that I seldom respond to "calls for mail art" for any given event unless the call is accompanied by a personal letter of some kind. Of works to do, I have plenty already, thank you! As I said: for me, it's about love, not how many pieces of mail I can move in a day.
As far as art & money mixing - well, sometimes they do & sometimes they don't! Clearly, one needs to survive; and clearly, art needs energy, love. time, & other resources. It can be more subtle, too. In 1991 I got breast cancer. I know why I got it; I was depressed because, due to having to take a "real" job, I couldn't make art.
(...wow - I had to stop a moment & the moment stretched to over 2 weeks! Time-ways!)
...so - with that diagnosis came the renewed determination to do what I believe I came here to do: show love for this amazing All-of-creation with my art. Please understand, this doesn't imply I'm any kind of world-class master artist. It just means that, for my own personal life, I must work with beauty, with love. Like birds who must sing, no matter what their song: crow or lark (I like them all!); no matter if they're heard or not.... though, to be sensible, I suppose the song often serves to attract mates or announce territorial borders... but I bet they'd sing anyhow. Lovely things, birds. Like listening to Kiri te Kanawa, for example, or Kathleen Battle.... like angels singing. Healing to the spirit.
Back to the question - yes, it is a shame when folks can't afford to mail as they'd like. When I was first married, money was very tight - though we had enough to physically survive, thank god - & I do remember not mailing as often as I would have liked, in order to save money... but what I did then is to do what I could do, & not get my shorts in a bunch, so to speak, because of what I couldn't do. I don't have enough time to waste it on being critical like that. As I said before, do what you can do, and with love.
RJ: The envelope you sent your answer in was made from a page about astrology. What does astrology mean to you?
Continue with Interview . . .
Mail-artist: Julie Hagan Bloch, 51 Mongaup Road, Hurleyville, NY 12747-5406 USA
Interviewer: Ruud Janssen - TAM, P.O.Box 1055, 4801 BB Breda, NETHERLANDS