The moment I saw Lucy Halcomb’s Instagram feed my heart did a little leap. There’s been a huge renaissance in beautiful mail lately, something I’ve been deeply immersed in as I’ve spent the last year learning calligraphy. A massive community, overwhelmingly female, is resurrecting the art of the post, with ebullient modern scripts, vintage stamps, and watercolor accents. But I hadn’t seen anything quite like this.
Halcomb uses bold colored envelopes, and paints whimsical illustrations on the backs of them. She seems to have a radar for joyful subjects (joydar?), which include festive decorations like Christmas trees and lights; small dogs; summery fruits like strawberries and watermelon; small dogs; everyday joys like bunny slippers and striped socks; and cakes, cookies, and other treats.
While these designs are delightful on their own, they’re even more so when you imagine them in a mailbox, peeking out joyfully amidst the stacks of junk mail and bills. An envelope like this is a like a friend waving in a crowd of strangers. The bright exterior promises good news inside, building anticipation, which research has shown can intensify joy in a powerful way. (Though you’d be forgiven for not being able to handle the suspense, and opening it on the walk up from the mailbox!)
Like so many analog artifacts in a digital world, the mail is not actually dying a slow death, but seems to have acquired a new vibrancy. Yes, important stuff travels by email or Fedex these days. But that means that Snail mail, having been relieved of its duty to carry urgent missives, now has a purer claim to joy. One might dread sitting down to a full inbox, but composing a handwritten letter is a pure pleasure.
On a broader scale, I’m fascinated by the way that a new technology can do this: rather than killing off preceding technologies, it frees these old technologies to be more experimental, playful, intuitive. (Even modern.) Think of painting after the advent of photography. Suddenly freed from the burden of having to represent tangible reality, painters were able to explore new ways of capturing ephemeral qualities of experience, giving rise to impressionism and abstraction. Similarly, as the mail bears less pressure to communicate facts, it creates a space more for feelings: gratitude, condolence, affection, and of course, joy.
Images: Lucy Halcomb’s instagram feed @lucy_mailFebruary 29th, 2016