Postmark Mail Art: Book Week

I’ve finished the first stage of the Postmark Mail Art project; every child and teacher in the school has set their names in type and printed them on their postcards. Now I have to print the backs of the cards with the formal postcard bits and the relevant official school and government logos (I’m using photopolymer plate for this) and then we can do the fun colour printing by hand with all sorts of things like foam and plasticine and found objects.Last week (22-26 August) was National Book Week, and I was asked, as part of the residency, to hold book workshops for each class. I was also asked to dress up for the book parade as my favorite book character! So here I am, dressed as Professor Snape, alongside the school’s own art teacher, Julie, who was an excellent Sybil Trelawney. My beaker contains potion of fizzy drink with blue food colouring, which I told the children was made of  ‘slugs, snails and snot, plus one blue jellybean’. None of them wanted to try it.

I wanted to introduce the idea that books could be different shapes, and could work in different ways, so I decided to show the children examples of artists’ books and teach each class a different structure. I bought a stack of gorgeous coloured paper, and with the help of my local TAFE (Canberra Institute of Technology, CIT) who kindly allowed me to use their industrial guillotine (bless you, CIT), I chopped the stack into various shapes and sizes to help the class run smoothly.


With these children, all aged 4 or 5, I kept things simple, and we made what I call ‘Secret Pocket’ books, using the ‘Pants’ fold and cut technique that I use when I show people how to make concertina books or zines. I don’t know what the ‘normal’ title for it is.

You can see here how we folded the paper into eight parts: fold lengthwise in half, then fold the width in half and then each side in half again. Then I made a dot on the third fold, and the children cut with scissors up the long fold to the dot (then the paper looks like a pair of trousers, which is why I call it the ‘pants’ fold. I make them walk for the children before we fold it). We then folded the sections back and forth and around the corner to make a concertina book, and sticky-taped up the corner fold to make a pocket. I’d shown them one I’d made earlier, with pictures of vegetables I like on the pages, and a picture of a vegetable I didn’t like stuck in the pocket, like a secret. They loved the story, and when they started drawing, they came up with all sorts of ideas.


I decided to up the ante and get the 5-6 year olds doing some origami folding to make simple but fabulous books using the waterbomb-base technique. It was a bit like herding cats for a while, because the last bit of the folding can be a bit tricky, but we had a great time (and some help from Adam, one of the parents — thanks!) and everyone came out the other side with something that they loved.

Year One

Year One and Year Two both made flag books, but I kept the Y1 (6-7 year old) version simpler with only two rows of panels. Again, it was like herding cats for a while as we folded the centre concertina, trying to keep the outside covers unfolded, but once they got drawing and sticking a lot of fun was had. They did some wonderful narrative work, often making each panel into something akin to an animation still. I tried to encourage every class to use coloured pencils rather than textas, as textas tended to just soak darkly into the paper, but the pencil pigments sat on top of the coloured paper, and kept their vibrancy, also working in collaboration with the background colour.

This is the outside of Ruby’s ‘Twirly Whirly Picture Book’.

And this is the inside!

Afterwards they all sat in a circle and read their books to the class, one by one.

Year Two

When I told the Year Twos (7-8 years old) that they were doing a trickier version of what Year One did, they puffed themselves up and showed themselves totally deserving of my expectation.

The best bit of the class was having time at the end to show them lots of my book samples and to be able to really have a close look at the catalogues I’d brought along.

(Year Two have media clearance, so I can show you photos that show their faces properly… of which Imogen is taking full advantage!)

They were particularly taken with my flip books. One is a commercial book I’d picked up from the National Film & Sound Archive, of the moment in North by Northwest when Cary Grant is swooped by the plane; the other is one I’d made myself, of my head bouncing up & down like a rubber ball.

In fact, Year Two liked me so much that they’ve asked me to come back for another session, to make a tunnel book with them, another form they were very taken with when I showed them an example!

So I think Book Week was a success, and expanded every child’s notion of what a book is. I also have a renewed admiration for the teachers at the school and all their hard work and energy. I will be wholeheartedly supporting their industrial action later this coming week, as ACT teachers are among the lowest paid in the country. Also, this week is National Literacy and Numeracy Week, so I’m doing pen & ink sessions with them all, using bamboo pens with the littlies and real handles & nibs for the older kids. Fun!