Faux Postage Q & A

(reprinted from the TangleCrafts blog, (c) 2010, Su Mwamba)


Artists’ work above includes faux postage by Bridget Cougar, USA; Kristina Howells, France; Pod Pod Post, USA; TangleCrafts, UK; Wacky Stuff, Canada; Sylvia Weise, Germany

What is faux postage? (Or what are artistamps?)
Faux postage is the name given to handmade postage stamps – ie artwork which is designed to have characteristics resembling those of a real postage stamp but which has no legal value as payment for postage. Another name for faux postage is artistamps (don’t you just love portmanteau words?); they are also variously known as cinderellas, postoids, and all sorts of other things. I use the terms faux postage and artistamps interchangeably. See the Wikipedia definition here.

Faux postage & artistamps can sometimes be almost indistinguishable from the real thing, sometimes they are deliberately & indisputably homemade.  Like all art, there is no right or wrong: you can make your artistamps however you like.

How do I make an artistamp?
However you like! What medium do you usually use for your art or craft? That will be fine! Photography, papercrafts and printmaking obviously lend themselves best to reproduction, but you can work any technique in miniature, if you try. Alternatively, create a piece of artwork that is postcard sized, or even poster-sized, scan into your pc, and reduce down to postage stamp size using a photo editing program. Draw a border (or make the border part of the full scale piece) et voila! [Embroidered faux postage postcard, right, by Betsy Preston, USA]

Does my artistamp need to be perforated?
No! It doesn’t even need to have the appearance of perforations. I recently noticed that the new self-adhesive postage stamps (that come in booklets or folded sheets) that you can buy in the post office have faux perforations around the edges. Why? They are individual stamps, unconnected to each other, that simply peel off the backing paper. Perforations are practical for a sheet of lick & stick stamps, ready to tear off and use; but the faux perforations of self-adhesive stamps serve no practical purpose at all. Of course, I am all in favour of them for aesthetic purposes; I just find it interesting. Back to the point, you are creating faux postage. You are the designer: you can give it whatever qualities you prefer. If you are happy to cut individual stamps from a sheet, the matter is resolved.

But if I want perforated stamps, how do I do it?
Okay, okay, if you are determined to be a stickler for tradition, you have lots of options. The easiest of which is to have your stamps made for you (from your own artwork) by an online service, such as Royal Mail Smilers, in the UK, or Zazzle, for the USA. The next easiest (though by no means most economic!) is to buy pre-gummed & pre-perforated stamp paper from the Olathe Post. If you want to DIY it, though, you could try…:

  • …using an unthreaded sewing machine (I personally cannot use a sewing machine, and could not control it sufficiently to punch straight lines of holes; but I’ve been assured it’s possible)
  • …rolling a (spiked) dressmaker’s pattern wheel over your stamp paper (whilst rested on a padded surface)
  • …hand stabbing with a push pin (again, on a padded surface). This gives you more control over spacing of holes but from experience, I can tell you that this is incredibly time-consuming and tedious, not to mention painful. You will discover aching muscles that you never suspected you had!
  • …trimming stamps individually, using stamp-edge scissors. This and the option above are great for small quantities of artistamps, but less so for large quantities. Also, the scale of the faux-perforated edge may appear disproportionate, depending on the size of your stamp design.
  • …using the perforating blade of a paper trimmer. By far the simplest of these suggestions, and giving a very practical perforated result. I don’t like the aesthetic appearance of the ‘slitted’ perforations, but nonetheless, it is the method I use most frequently.
  • …cheating. Add a row of dots to the edges of your stamps to give the optical illusion of perforations. Admittedly this does not stand up to much scrutiny, but I usually combine the printed dots with the slitted perforations above, to give a reasonable simulation.

And how about stickability?
Again, this is faux postage. You are an artist/crafter with an arsenal of glue products at your fingertips (I’m sure I’m not just generalising here!). You can make self-adhesive stamps by printing your design onto label paper, or applying lick & stick glue to the reverse (available from craft stores, or you can mix your own). But if you are just applying an artistamp to an envelope, for your own (and the recipient’s) entertainment, no-one is actually ever going to know what kind of adhesive you used to stick it on with.

Your stamps come from Tangledom. Do I have to invent a country? Do I have to include a currency?
Nope! My stamps come from Tangledom because it must be said that I am (ahem) slightly obsessive. It ‘finishes’ the stamp, for me – but depending on how you work, it really might not be necessary at all, for you. Or if you don’t want to invent a whole country/mythology, why not adopt an existing one, instead? For example, what do you think the stamps in Narnia, or Gormenghast would look like? Would a fictional land adhere to the same formula as the real world when it comes to their fictional postal system? Probably not! So use creative license, and add exactly the details you want to include in your artistamps.

Where can I find more resources to help inspire my artistamps, and give me practical advice, too?

Just a few to start you off!

  • A Mini DIY Guide to Artistamps (the TangleCrafts mini zine, including most of the info above with extra bits, plus a recipe for lick & stick glue plus DIY stamps to design, cut out & stick)
  • IUOMA – international network of mail artists (discussions, galleries, mail art calls, specialist groups & more)
  • Mirkwood Designs (offers a free masking template for producing sheets of faux postage)

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