Mail Art

By Julia Riley


Mail art is art that uses the postal system as a method for delivery of the final product. For teens who grew up in the age of e-mail, sending and receiving, something exciting and unique in a physical mailbox may be a new experience. Examples of the different forms that mail art can take include zines (small, self-published magazines), artist trading cards, inchies (original works of art measuring 1 inch square) and three-dimensional objects.

Books to Share

1,000 Artist Trading Cards: Innovative and Inspired Mixed Media ATCs by Patricia Bolton
Good Mail Day: A Primer for Making Eye Popping Postal Art by Jennie Hinchcliff and Carolee Gilligan Wheeler
Handmade Hellos by Eunice Moyle and Sabrina Moyle
Mail Order Ninja series by Joshua Elder
PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives by Frank Warren

Books to Show or Booktalk

Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarity
Get Well Soon by Julie Halpern
Heart on my Sleeve by Ellen Wittlinger
An Order of Amelie, Hold the Fries by Nina Schindler and Robert Barrett
Regarding the Bees: a Lesson, in Letters, on Honey, Dating and Other Sticky Subjects by Kate Klise
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher


You've Got Mail

Display a mailbox with books and DVDs that feature stories where the mail plays an important role. Examples include PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives by Frank Warren, the Mail Order Ninja series by Joshua Elder, Heart on my Sleeve by Ellen Wittlinger, and Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Include promotional materials for the Mail Art Workshop and Trading Session you will be hosting.


Artist Trading Cards (ATCs)
  • Cardstock cut to 2 ½ x 3 ½ inches
  • Sheets of decorative paper, such as scrapbooking
  • Fabric scraps
  • Markers
  • Colored pencils
  • Crayons
  • Magazines
  • Glue


Artist Trading Cards (ATCs) are small, original works of art, usually about the size of a baseball trading card. ATCs are created to be traded with other artists but they also make great small pieces of art to display or carry around. ATCs consist of a 2 ½ x 3 ½ inch base that serves as a support piece for the art that is created on top of it. Because ATCs are small works of art, anything goes. Show some examples to get the teens started (search 'ATC' or 'artist trading card' on Flickr or check the Paper Crafts board on Craftster, They might draw, paint, or collage or use some combination of these methods to create their ATCs.

  • Cardstock cut to one-inch squares
  • Decorative paper
  • Fabric scraps
  • Markers
  • Colored pencils
  • Crayons
  • Magazines
  • Glue
  • Digital camera
  • Photo printer

Inchies are very similar to ATCs as they are also small works of original art. The only real difference that, like the name implies, Inchies are exactly one-inch square. Unlike ATCs, which rarely include photography, Inchies are often created with photographs. If you have access to a digital camera and portable photo printer, allow the teens to take photos of themselves and their surroundings to use in creating their Inchies. Otherwise, teens can use scraps of paper, fabric, markers, and other materials to create art on the one-inch square canvas.

Message in a Bottle
  • 16-ounce plastic water or soda bottles, with caps
  • Utility knife
  • Clear packing tape
  • Blank self-adhesive address labels
  • Markers
  • Small items to stuff into the bottle, such as confetti, pom poms, beads, small silk flowers and plastic trinkets
  • Epoxy glue
  • Paper
  • ATCs or Inchies (optional)
  • Pencils or pens

Start with a clean, dry plastic bottle. Make a slit down the length of the bottle slightly shorter than the address label. Depending on the teens, this might be something for an adult to do before the program begins. If desired, write a brief letter to send in the bottle. Insert the letter, ATCs, or Inchies, and anything else, such as confetti and flowers into the bottle. When you are satisfied with the contents, place a strip of packing tape over the slit. Address the self-adhesive label to yourself or a friend. Affix the address label to the bottle. To seal the cap, squeeze Epoxy glue on the inside threads of the cap. Screw on the cap and let it dry. Teens who wish to mail their bottle to a friend (or themselves) can take them to the post office.


Instructions for creating these small, self-published magazines can be found in the "Zine Workshop" program by Deban Becker in Time Twistin' TTR. 09, the Texas Teens Read! 2009 manual at

Games and Activities

Mail Art Trading Session

Part of the fun of getting involved in mail art comes from collecting art from many different artists. The collection of Inchies, ATCs, and similar art objects occurs via trade (they are not generally bought and sold). After the teens create a handful of ATCs and Inchies, they can trade with each other one-on-one or in a large group. You might also use this time to scan or photograph the Inchies and ATCs the teens have created for inclusion on the library webpage.

Web Sites

Mail Me Art
The gallery of mail art on Mail Me Art provides endless inspiration for creating mail art.

This is the web site for the book of the same title. It offers a community where people can mail their secrets on a postcard anonymously to the site. Secrets on postcards are shared online. Beware that some are a little racy.


Texas Teens Read 2011! Programming Manual / Going Global, Staying Connected!
Published by the Library Development Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Page last modified: August 15, 2011