What is a Postcard?

Is a card with a specific size and format for sending a message by mail without an envelope, typically having a photograph or other illustration on one side.

What is MailArt?

Mail art (also known as postal art and correspondence art) is a populist artistic movement centered on sending small scale works through the postal service.

Media commonly used in mail art include postcards, paper, a collage of found or recycled images and objects, rubber stamps, artist-created stamps (called artistamps), and paint, but can also include music, sound art, poetry, or anything that can be put in an envelope and sent via post.

Mail art is considered art once it is dispatched. Mail artists regularly call for thematic or topical mail art for use in (often unjuried) exhibition.

Kurt Schwitters, Opened by Customs 1937–8
Kurt Schwitters, Opened by Customs 1937–8

Project Objectives

Apply in one single project the techniques learned in the class.

Intentionally explore form and content to communicate an idea, emotion and/or narrative.

Explore the medium's concept of multiples, accessibility and artwork dissemination.

Project Description

For this project you will create a non-objective abstract postcard that utilizes the formal elements and principles of design. You will explore how both form and content can be utilized together to communicate an idea, emotion, and/or narrative to your viewer.

You will also explore the accessibility of the postcard and its ability to create multiples that are easily distributed by mail.

Your non-objective abstract composition should convey an aspect of your personality to the recipient of your postcard.

How can a two-dimensional image be utilized for self-expression?

How can it convey an emotion or idea to its recipient?

Required Materials

Drawing Paper, ArtAgain Paper, Bristol Board or Cardstock Paper Sketchbook Collage, Stamps &/or Paint Materials HB Mechanical Pencil Eraser Artist Tape Scissors Xacto Ruler Rubber Cement White Glue USPS Stamps

Project Resources

Mail Art Movement | TATE London
Mail Art Movement | WikiArt
Accessibility Presentation
Photographing your Artwork Presentation
Link to Purchase Stamps Online at USPS

Project Parameters

USPS Postcard Regulation
According to the USPS, to qualify for mailing at the First-Class Mail Postcard price $0.44, it must be:
• Rectangular
• At least 3.5 inches high x 5 inches long x 0.007 inch thick
• No more than 4.25 inches high x 6 inches long x 0.016 inches thick

• 9x12 inches Artagain paper and Drawing paper weight around 160g/60lb which is roughly equivalent to a 0.007-inch thickness. Meaning that the paper (material) has the minimum thickness approved to be sent as postcard.
• 11 x 17 inches Bristol Board weights around 260g/96lb which is roughly equivalent to a 0.011-inch thickness.
• If you use a different paper, make sure it respects USPS requirements.

Below there are suggestions on how to cut the Artagain/Drawing paper and Bristol board for maximum paper utilization within USPS accepted Postcard sizes. If you decide to adopt any other size or format, be aware that the price of the stamp will be the same as First Class Mail $0.60.

Project Considerations

Artwork should be placed mainly only on one side of the postcard – see template on last page.

Use Bristol Board, Cardstock, Artagain or Drawing paper

Materials and processes: You may use any combination of the materials and techniques implemented this semester – but think about what would be practical to reproduce in multiples.

The design must be NON-OBJECTIVE.

The design should aim to establish a dynamic and unified composition that establish a focal point, visual flow, and adhere to the rule of thirds..

Stamp side must include and area for the stamp on the top right side of the postcard.

Stamp side must also include a 1 or 2 word title/message along with your name and date, along with the name and address of the recipient (on the area under where the stamp should go. The title should indicate something about the contents of the postcard.

The text can be hand drawn, but you can also use some kind of stamped, printed, photo, typed, or collage method.

Step-by-step Directions


Step 1: You will need enough paper to create one postcard for each of your classmates, two for your professor and at least one for yourself.
We suggest you use the 9x12 inches Artagain paper as the base material for the postcards, but you can use Drawing paper, Bristol Bard or Cardstock paper.

Step 2: Cut out the paper (9x12 in Artagain, 9x12 Drawing paper, or 14x17 in Bristol board) to the proper Postcard size (see USPS specifications). At this time cut only the number of cards in one sheet of the paper you chose to use. (9x12 inches paper , 14x17 inches paper yields twelve (12) 3.5x5 inches postcards).

9x12 inches Artagain or Drawing Paper cutting suggestion:
Yields four (4) 4.25x6 inches postcards

  • Using ruler and X-acto knife trim the paper to 8.5 x 12 inches.
  • Divide the paper in four (4) equal parts. This is very important since If one card is wider than 6 inches by 4.25 inches it cannot be mailed as Postcard.
  • Cut one sheet first to get the sense of cutting the paper. Measure the postcards yielded to ensure they are the correct size.
  • DO NOT attempt to cut several sheets at once. THEY WILL BE CROOKED. Post office does not deliver!

14x17 inches Bristol Board cutting suggestion:
Yields twelve (12) 3.5x5 inches postcards

  • Using ruler and X-acto knife trim the paper to 15 x 14 inches.
  • On the 14 inches length divide the paper in four (4) equal parts of 3.5 inches each.
  • On the 15 inches length divide the paper in three (3) equal parts of 5 inches each.
  • Cut one sheet first to get the sense of cutting the paper. Measure the postcards yielded to ensure they are the correct size.
  • DO NOT attempt to cut several sheets at once. THEY WILL BE CROOKED. Post office does not deliver!
ways to divide the different paper sizes to conform with USPS postcard sizes requirements



Step 3: Choose one (1) adjective from the list below to serve as your overarching concept and to help guide your narrative and design decisions.



Step 4: Choose one (1) shape to be the main element – “the star” – of your postcard. You will take this shape through some kind of transition or journey. Think of the narrative as a day in the life of your shape.
Write down the name of the shape. You will have to commit to this shape and share it with your Prof. and classmates.

Step 5: Your postcard will use the formal elements – Line, Shape, Space, Texture, Value, Color and maybe Type – and design principles – Balance, Emphasis and Focal Point, Rhythm & Movement, Scale & Proportion, Unity – as tools to help create a non-objective narrative.
The formal elements will help establish a “mood” for your postcard.
Study each of the elements' characteristics so they can best communicate the content/mood you want to convey.
What sort of shapes and textures communicate a humorous tone versus a serious or solemn tone?
What types of lines are fast versus still? Would you use high or low contrast for something dramatic versus something quiet?
Jot down some characteristics for each of the below formal elements that would best suit your concept.

Line: __________________________________________________________________________________
Value: _________________________________________________________________________________
Texture: ______________________________________________________________________________
Color: (black and white is okay!) ___________________________________________________
Space: _________________________________________________________________________________

Step 6: Choose at least one (1) design principle and strategy from each of the following columns that best fit the concept of your postcard. These are just to get you started, you may use any number of strategies discussed throughout the semester.

Compressed/Expanded Space
Directional Conflict
Directional Dominance
Figure/Ground Reversal
Implied Line
Linear Perspective


Step 7: Thumbnail Sketches | Create three sketches on the postcards you cut out or draw thumbnail areas in your sketchbook with the same size of your postcard.
Jot down what is going to happen (the basic narrative) on the postcard image side.
Note: The stamp/address side must include a 1- or 2-word title. You can hand draw, use stamps, printed text, photo, typed, or collage for the text.

Step 8: Next to each thumbnail, write the materials you intend to use. Collage, Pencil, Paint, Pitt Pens, Papers, etc. Note that mailing may make it difficult to add materials that have texture and volume. .



Step 9: Share your proposed cut out postcards, concept, sketches (design) and the materials you intend to use.

Step 10: Review your thumbnail sketches and completed pages with 2 or 3 classmates. Ask each other the following:
• Which design most successfully depict your intended concept?
• Are your proposed materials suitable for a mailing postcard and production of multiples?
• Are all of the project guidelines adhered to?
• Ask for suggestions on how you may strengthen the overall postcard to support your intended concept.

Step 11: Make any needed adjustments after your peer review and produce the first postcard.
Is there any step you can simply or improve?



Step 12: Make sure to share your mailing information in Blackboard Discussion Board by opening the Forum Addresses for Final Project, selecting the Thread: Reply to this post with your address, and clicking on the Reply button. In the reply add your first and last names as well as mailing address with town and zip code.



Step 13: Produce as many postcards as the number of students who shared their addresses.

Step 14: Name | Adjective | Shape | Date on the back opposite from the addressee and stamp in small but clear writing.

Step 15: Address and stamp the postcards. Photograph all the addressed postcards front and back and upload them to Blackboard under Final Project. Also upload a tight shot of the front and back of the postcard.

Step 16: Write the self-critique and upload to Blackboard under Final Project.



Step 17: Mail the postcards.

Delivery E-Portfolio & Written Statement

Both the image & the writing assignment should be uploaded to Blackboard by the middle of Class 15.

Once you complete the project:

PHOTOGRAPH or SCAN your postcard at 300ppi and upload it to your online e-portfolio.

  • Submit one image file for each side of your postcard along with the image of all the postcards you produced together front and back.
  • Each page should be submitted as a separate .jpeg file.
  • The assignment is graded on completion of assignment and quality of photos. Refer to Photographing your Artwork Presentation

  • Write your written critique. Refer to the project's guidelines and vocab words to help you with proper use of the vocabulary.

  • Submit your written critique.

Answer each of the following in full sentences (type and save in Word before submitting to Blackboard):
The text should have no less than 200 words and no more than 600 words

  • What is the concept of your design? List the adjective that you chose and how you interpreted it.
  • Describe which shape you used and what the basic narrative of your design.
  • How did you use the formal elements (line, shape, value, color, texture, space) to help communicate the overall concept?
  • Which Design Principles and strategies did you utilize and how did they help communicate the overall concept and narrative?
  • What accessibility aspect did you observe? How did you addressed it?
  • What are the most successful and unsuccessful aspects of your postcard? What would specifically rework if you had 1 more week?


    Project Grading Criteria


    • Editions Craftsmanship (up to 2 pts):
      Have the final postcards been executed in a professional manner? (front and back)
      Do all editions utilize the designated materials with care, effort, and attention to detail?

    • Technique and Accessibility (up to 2 pts):
      Do your postcards demonstrate a command of both design materials and techniques?
      Were all the postcards addressed and stamped?

    • Elements of Design and Composition (up to 2 pts):
      Are the elements of design and their characteristics well researched, well chosen, and designed? Is the “star” shape apparent in all pages? Are implied lines, high and low value contrast, figure/ground value reversal, concave and convex shapes, shaped value gradation or shaped texture utilized effectively?
      Does the postcards design apply basic composition principles (activate the entire picture plane, rule of thirds, focal point, and visual flow)?

    • Principles of Organization (up to 2 pts):
      Does the postcards design demonstrate understanding of basic principles of design (repetition, figure/ground relationships, proximity, continuation, direction, contrast, etc.)?

    • Form & Content (up to 2 pts):
      Is your concept evident in the final postcards?




    • Uploaded Final Project during Final Assessment class (up to 1 pt)

    • Written Statement to E-portfolio (up to 1 pt)

    • Vocabulary (up to 1 pt)

    • Analysis (up to 1 pt )

    • Presented and shared your postcards with your classmates (up to 1 pt)

    Each bullet point will be graded on the following scale:

    • 2 points: Exceeds Standards
    • 1.7 points: Meets Standards
    • 1.4 points: Approaches Standards
    • 1.1 points: Does Not Meet Standards
    • 0 points: Did not complete



    Mailing Postcards:

    You will not be graded for mailing the postcards but you should plan to do so. A postcard only becomes MailArt after it receives the post office mailing stamp. Also, sharing your physical work will create a stronger connection among your classmate and will help you have a stronger feeling of completing the class.