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Carolyn Gavin is a painter, illustrator, and designer based in Toronto, Canada. A flower child of the 1960’s, Carolyn grew up in South Africa, left to travel, and relocated to Canada where she currently lives with her family.

Earlier this year, Clarisse (aka CStar9) connected with Carolyn via webcast to discuss her creative origins, the unexpected path from a pile of wood to an abstract painting, and why most Canadians don’t paint their houses pink.

On the left half of the image, the Flower Box set of postcards is pictured. On the right, three postcards from Carolyn (from this set) are displayed.
The 10 cards that represent you in The Flower Box: how were they chosen?

I paint a lot of flowers and florals, so they took what was existing, which is lovely. If my work is picked up and used as-is, that’s a dream. I don’t have to sit down and create something for a job or art director.

You create such an incredible range of work – paintings, textiles, books. What was your journey to get there?

It’s taken a long time. My family is pretty creative. My mom did mono-prints, painting—everything under the sun. As a very young child, I was guided into the direction of painting and creating, including papier-mâché, pen and ink, watercolors, and more. I went on to do graphic design for three years, which launched me into a design career.

Then I traveled, immigrated to Canada, and my brother and I started a family business, Ecojot. First I designed, then illustrated the covers of our new eco-stationery line. Working with recycled materials and bright and fun colors, and making the notebooks locally right in Canada, was innovative at the time.

A mix of images of Carolyn's work, including art pieces and fabrics. All of them look happy and colorful.

One thing led to another and I was picked up by an agent, and my work took a turn for the commercial: apparel, bedding, editorial, book covers, book illustrations, and fabrics, etc. Recently I started teaching and doing workshops and retreats. But I’m also trying to focus on my painting! I’ve come full circle. I really just love to paint – that’s what I’d love to do all day.

How do your new ideas for your designs begin?

Some blocks of wood with abstract paintings on themOne thing can lead to another, creatively. A wood pile is my latest obsession. I’ve painted on wood panels for a long time. While I was in Belize, I came across a building site and found this pile of discarded wood. I picked up a bunch of pieces to use and loved the unevenness and roughness of the material. That seemed to dictate the direction of the painting—such a beautiful organic flow and I was so inspired. However, it was at the end of my time in Belize, just the last few days, so I was painting like a fiend all night long, trying to get it all out. And then I had to come home.

Tell us about your studio space.

Right now I’m in my small studio. It’s very bright, but it’s a small space, which kind of translates into small work. Sometimes I work upstairs in a bigger space that has an easel. That’s where I do my larger pieces. In winter I go to my studio in Belize. It’s a lovely get-away, a place for playing and experimenting. It took me about two months there this year to finally get into this new spate of work, which I feel is a nice new direction for me. So, I think each space where I’m at, dictates what I’m doing.

Art piece: watercolor flowers, ducks, chicks, hens, and a rabbit
You’ve said your work is strongly influenced by your growing up in South Africa. Can you tell us more?

South Africa is hot, colourful and noisy. I don’t know exactly how that translates into my work, but, I guess… people there aren’t afraid of color and vibrancy in their lives. I now live in Canada and when I first came here, I couldn’t believe how gray and dull the weather is. I think people maybe, as a result, are sort of scared of color and of standing out in that way. That translates into architecture too—they’re scared to paint the house blue or pink. In hot countries, however, it’s different. And so that’s how I grew up – with lots of color and pattern everywhere and a lot of nature around me. I was outside most of the time, immersed in it. It became a part of me. Now, when I go to a new country, it always inspires something new. When I’m here in my studio in Canada, I’m creative, I work, but it’s a bit more forced. When I am away, I might be more inspired. But of course that changes all the time. Tomorrow, I might feel very inspired.

A vase of flowers with multicolored birds in front of it, art piece: blue bicycle with flowers in the basket, art piece: cottage surrounded by tall, wild garden plants
Your work can be very intricate, especially with botanical forms. What does research look like for you?

I don’t really call it research. But if I am looking at something that needs more information, I probably go find it. You know, just on the Internet.

With the wood in Belize, I asked them, what kind of wood is it? (It’s Emery wood.) Where does it come from? What do they use it for? So I’m not just painting on a simple piece of wood. I like to know the background of something, especially if it’s found or discarded by someone.

How do you know when a piece is finished?

That is a difficult question, especially when you’re doing abstract. You can go on forever. That is something I’m learning along the way. I can’t stop learning about how to paint. It never ends!

When it’s finished is when I guess I just feel that sense of, Stop! You’re going to overdo it! And then you step back. When you come back the next day, you may add a little line here, a little bit of color there, but that’s basically when it’s done for me.

Since we’re talking to an audience who loves paper mail and especially postcards, can you tell us about your relationship to paper? And to snail-mail?

I love paper. I mean, every kind of paper. I love thick, textured paper, and Japanese paper, and handmade paper. I go to a mill in Montreal sometimes in the summer, and I pick up the most amazing handmade papers, all from 100% rag recycled from t-shirts. It’s the only mill I know of that still does this kind of stuff on a very artisanal basis.

I don’t ever write a letter anymore to anybody. But I used to, and I used to love getting mail in return, so I do love the whole notion. It’s a beautiful thing.

What’s a type of media that you’d love to learn?

I’ve been trying to work bigger, but that of course depends on the space that I have at the moment. I want to do monoprints, and cyanotypes. And work with big oil pastels.

You teach a lot of workshops and retreats. What’s your teaching philosophy?

screenshot of information about a May 20 art workshop, via Windowsill Workshops I love to impart my energy and some of my experience to other people and give them joy, and to teach them how to make their own joy. I think art is so meditative and therapeutic. When I’m painting, I kind of lose myself in the painting and go somewhere else. And that is very joyful.

Art is a very creative process that gives people a way to cope with stress in their life. Musicians do it – everybody in the arts world does it. It’s not a new thing. But if I can help others do it in my own small way, I think that’s important.

What are you working on now?

A Joni Mitchell quote: “Love must be the birds in spring. Only lovers hear them sing.” It’s from one of her songs; she is a poet!

I love type and words, and I love to illustrate around them. This is where my graphic design background comes into play. I can put elements together on a page and they work. Well, not always! But, anyway, here’s another one. This is from a book: “The birds are singing.” I painted the type first and then the birds and flowers around it. It all works together in terms of shapes and balance.

Screenshot of Carolyn Gavin during the interview, holding up a piece of art that says 'The Birds Are Singing' with flowers and hearts around them

To learn more about Carolyn, check out her website and Instagram page. There’s also a studio tour and a fun art demo to paint along!

And now, for the traditional giveaway: Clarisse is planning to send 4 postcards from the Flower Box set to 4 randomly picked postcrossers! 🎉 To participate, leave a comment below sharing a flower that is special to you, and come back this time next week to check out the winners!

And the winners of this giveaway, as chosen by Paulo’s random number generator are… duck2006, martha66, KimberKS and nisnoopy3! Congratulations, and thank you all for participating!

Inge Löök

Inge Löök is a Finnish illustrator and gardener who is perhaps best known for her “merry aunties” character postcards – an enduring favorite of postcrossers. She was previously featured on the blog over 10 years ago, and was kind enough to make time for an email interview with Clarisse (aka CStar9), for her series of conversations with illustrators and postcard makers. Enjoy!

Please tell us about your studio.

The place where I do my drawings is not very large; a table, a chair and the rest does not require much space. I prefer an enclosed small space where my thoughts stay together and do not wander away into other spaces. The house where I live is also small and the purpose of the house is solely to live in it. The nature outside is eternal and if I start to feel cramped I only need to open the door.

You take special care to create postcard sets of your art. Why postcards?

The old-fashioned way of sending letters and postcards is beautiful. You get to hold and touch the same paper the sender has touched. It is a gift and a thoughtfulness that requires planning in a completely different way than electronic messages.

For new ideas, what is the first step to getting an idea from your head to the page?

I do not use sketchbooks but I tend to use the back side of used photocopy sheets. Today I mainly draw postcards and if I get an idea I quickly note it down on any piece of paper with a few lines only so that I later remember how I envisage the theme for a new post card. An idea can emerge at any time, even in the middle of the night, and if so, in the morning I must swiftly note it to not forget it.

A stack of postcards sits on a table. The postcard on top features an illustration of 2 old ladies, having fun in a carnival ride
Please tell us a bit more about the origins of the Aunties characters in your art.

My closest neighbor lives around 30 meters from me in a house as small as mine. We think along the same lines and are in daily contact. She is actually one of the aunties in my illustrations, and I am the other one. In fact, we’ve played out most of what happens in my illustrations of the aunties. We’ve had wine in a tree, cakes under the table, and what we haven’t done, we wish we could do. This includes sitting high up in a clock tower with dangling legs. We are old now but know exactly how it felt when we were small and searched for messages in bottles.

An illustration featuring giant poppies overtaking a door Nature seems to be almost its own character in your work. We are treated to many detailed scenes that are infused with such attention and care – gardens, forests, fields, barns. How does a sense of place inform your art?

Nature is everything. I’m interested in the little and the small. I often sit with a magnifying glass and study the details of, for instance, flowers or a feather. As I see it, the big and the large then is space which offers fantasy experiences because we are unable to go there. I’ve got equipment for bird watching, and it is not only birds I look at, but the environment as a whole.

What is on the horizon for your art this year?

I’ve always had a hard time planning the future. The future has never really existed, but rather, it has merely appeared, which means that I have then had to face it as it appears.

To learn more Inge Löök and her work, visit her website or check out her Instagram.

If you’ve made it all the way here to the last bit, here’s a little bonus: Clarisse has 4 Inge Löök postcards to send to 4 postcrossers. To participate in this mini-giveaway, leave a comment below and let us know what adventures you imagine yourself on with your best friend, that would be worthy of being featured on a postcard! 😊 Check back this time next week for the winners!

And the winners of this giveaway, as chosen by Paulo’s random number generator are… LisaMonsterken, ozpom, Nalara and Bossmare! Congratulations, and thank you for your enthusiastic participation!

Maybe some of you remember we used to have a series a loooong time ago on the blog featuring illustrators and postcard makers? We loved those posts… but the interviews were really time-consuming to put together, and we don’t do them very often. Recently, postcrosser Clarisse Hart (aka CStar9) reached out and offered to interview some artists they admired for their blog, and we were super excited at the prospect of being able to publish these on the Postcrossing blog too, so that the community could learn more about these fantastic artists! So here it is, the first of many delightful interviews. Enjoy! -Ana

Rachel Ignotofsky is a New York Times Best-Selling author and illustrator.

box of Women in Science postcards - Rachel Ignotofsky smiling - Women in Art postcard box

Rachel’s first book, Women in Science (2016), was published as a postcard box set in 2017. Her newest book-inspired postcard set, Women in Art, hit shelves in 2022. Thousands of these cards have since traveled between postcrossers’ mailboxes and inspired us to learn how our foremothers made a difference in the world.

This spring, I was able to catch up with Rachel via web-stream from the big red chair in her California studio.

Tell us about your studio. What might surprise us about the space?
screenshot of Rachel during the interview, smiling in her red chair

I always end up taking over the living room because it’s the biggest room in the house. I have these two giant bay windows that go out to the patio. I open them up while I’m working and I can hear the birds. I have four screens going at once – a big iMac and a 6K display, and a drawing table that’s set up at an angle with a very large iPad. I go back and forth between typing and using a track-pad with my left hand and drawing with a Logitech pencil with my right. Ergonomic stuff that I’ve learned over the years, to protect those joints!

And next to all that is a laptop that’s playing the Great British Bake-off. So, there’s a lot going on.

You obviously do a lot of research for each subject you cover – and then you narrow the content down to simple elements. Tell us about that process.

What’s great about illustration and graphic design is that you can do a lot of the storytelling with just a simple drawing.

For me, I always start with the research. The research informs everything that I’m going to draw.

When I was doing research for the “Women in…” series, for some of the women, there was a lot of information available, especially for the Nobel prize winners. But for some of the women who really made significant contributions, sometimes their obituary was where I would have to start research-wise, and through that I could find some primary sources to learn more.

One of the women I featured, Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark: her alma mater Columbia University did an amazing audio archive of her talking about her life. It’s hours long and she talks about her entire career and her childhood, and what was it like prepping for the Brown v. Board of Education case, and what it was like having her husband be the face of the operation. It was such a wonderful resource.

A closer look at the boxed set of Women in Science postcards
The Women in Science postcard box

So, again, I start with all of that – and that informs how I’m going to organize the information. I know graphically how I want it to look. And in the back of my head, I have these buckets I’m trying to fill with text: What’s going to be in the bucket of the main 500-word write-up? Then what are going to be the fun facts: things that are relatable and sticky in our minds? Some pieces I want to be more revealing: what was their character like, or their childhood? For the main illustration, I want to have little elements of their style and career that inform the reader about who they are before they read a single word.

I write about topics that people – for example, those who aren’t in the sciences – might feel insecure approaching. But when I use graphics to teach them before they start reading, it gives them the confidence to start.

You’ve spoken about your learning differences and how when you were young, comic books helped you approach information in your own way. Can you tell us more about that?
Rachel in her studio

When I was a kid, I really struggled with reading, and it wasn’t until I started reading densely illustrated nonfiction books – books like DK readers – that I felt successful. There was something about being able to bounce around the page in a non-linear fashion that allowed me to keep my attention long enough to actually read everything on the page.

When learning to read, I remember holding my hand up to the line and struggling to follow my finger to read every word in order. But illustrated books that are more playful and less linear allow you to explore as you read. I didn’t feel like I was breaking any rules by reading the way that I naturally wanted to on the page, and that gave me the confidence – and the excitement and joy – to keep reading.

I’m now working on an elementary book series that’s all about backyard biology – introducing kids to the science that they’re going to be learning in elementary school, but in this really fun way. You could read it straight through, or you could bounce around the page and explore and learn different terms. Like, look at what these worms are doing in the soil. It’s all about freedom and joy when I’m creating my work.

It’s also about reaching as broad of an audience as possible. You reach neurotypical people, and I’ve also gotten a lot of people who have emailed me and been like, my kid has autism and really likes your books. I’m always trying to reach a 10-year-old and someone with a PhD at the same time.

I love how your illustrations of women scientists show that science is about more than just test tubes. There are flowers and there’s lava – these ladies are super dynamic!

There’s still a lack of diversity in representation in science. But since this book came out in 2016, there’s been a lot of work done to have more representation in media – more people of color, different genders in science. But many people still don’t think about the diversity of career paths in science.

That was actually a metric I used to decide who was going to be in the book. It wasn’t all going to be chemists. It wasn’t all going to be people who discovered new elements. That’s why there are so many people from the natural sciences – so many botanists or conservationists like Rachel Carson and Sylvia Earle and Jane Goodall. Some are amazed that I put psychologists in as well, but I’m like, yeah, because they’re scientists.

cover of the new book, What's Inside a Caterpillar Cocoon, showing a brown emperor moth and green caterpillar Inner pages of What's Inside a Caterpillar Cocoon, showing differences in wings of moths and butterflies
Cover and pages from Rachel’s newest book, What’s Inside a Caterpillar Cocoon?

I’m doing a new book series for elementary school science – it’s called the What’s Inside series. What’s Inside a Caterpillar Cocoon comes out in September. The cover has my version of an emperor moth. The book follows the journey of moths and butterflies. Everyone always writes about the monarch. Yeah, the monarch’s cool, but it’s a big Order of insects, guys.

Kids naturally are curious. They naturally are drawn to the sciences. It’s the rest of the world that tells them – that’s not science, this is science. Kids want to go outside and play in the mud, and they have questions about the natural world. Those questions are the curiosity that creates a young scientist. So if we can create resources that say yes, this is science – this is more than just playing with flowers and being an outdoor kid. It actually is the beginning of a very rich journey. I’m hoping it sparks young kids to be more scientifically literate in the future, whether or not they choose that as a career path.

A page showing an arctic ecosystem in a bottle - polar bear, arctic fox, and underwater creatures
A page (also sold as a poster) from The Wondrous Workings of Planet Earth
Can you tell us about your relationship to snail-mail? And to postcards specifically?

I only had one “real job” before working for myself, and it was 4 years working for Hallmark Greeting Cards. Cards, paper product, and snail mail is where I cut my teeth as a professional designer. It was my internship junior year, and then I got the job right out of college. I made an entire line of cards called Studio Ink that had, like, hot dogs with smiley faces that said, I’m a weenie, happy birthday!

At Hallmark, it was all about this idea of, how do you make something that’s so general that it applies to everyone, but it feels specific – like it only applies to you. That is something I’ve applied to my entire career. When I make a book, I want it to be able to relate to everyone but when people pick it up, I want them to think, wow, someone made the perfect book just for me.

I do send snail mail. I have a big stack of thank you cards. I used to send more snail mail when my grandparents were alive; I would send them cards constantly because they loved them so much. Now I am always mailing my friends and family packages. I’m big into package mailing. I also run a shop so literally I’m at the Post Office once a week. When the PO people know you and how you’re doing – that’s thumbs up.

We celebrated Mother’s Day last month in the USA — were there any striking themes around parenthood that emerged from the biographical stories you researched for the Women in… series?
one Women in Art card, showing Harriet Powers making a quilt

I know my work is often read together with parents and their kids. I love to put in fun facts and moments that they can bond over. For example, when Primatologist Jane Goodall began her field research, she took her mom with her on her earliest trip to Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve. Vera Rubin is the astronomer who discovered the first real proof of the existence of dark matter, and her love of astronomy started when she built her first telescope with her dad! There are intergenerational moments of love and support throughout, which I think is very special.

Do you have a character or idea that has yet to make it to the page?

I have to be quiet about my ideas. I can tell you I’m about to work on a new book that’s all about dinosaurs and prehistoric life. And I just wrapped my last project – What’s Inside a Bird’s Nest? I got to draw the embryo development inside the egg. I like it when I get to draw gross things and make it pretty.

How do you know when a piece is finished?

When it’s due. You could work on something forever if you wanted to and really nitpick yourself. When it comes to being a professional artist, discipline is the name of the game. That’s what takes it out of the hobby space and into the professional space. A level of discipline that tells you to work when you don’t want to work, and also to put down the brush when you need to put down the brush.

To learn more about Rachel and her work, check out her website, where you’ll find free downloads as well as links to previous interviews she has given. You might also enjoy this live art demo with the New York Times! Her postcard sets can be found at Penguin Random House’s website and through a number of other popular retailers.

For those who’ve made it all the way to the end, we have a giveaway for you: Clarisse is planning to send 4 postcards from Rachel Ignotofsky’s sets to 4 randomly picked postcrossers! 🎉 To participate, leave a comment below sharing the remarkable contributions of a woman from your country — someone who you would like to see being featured on a postcard. Check back this time next week for the winners!

And the winners of this giveaway, as chosen by Paulo’s random number generator are… Hohdin, little_coffee_bean, chrisbonham11 and FutureCatDVM! Congratulations, and thank you for your enthusiastic participation!


We first saw Kehvola's cards on a pop-up postcard fair organised by the Finnish Postcrossing Friends Association in Tampere, and I confess I was instantly smitten! It’s no secret I have a sweet spot for illustration, but their playful style and daring colour palette was what got me hooked.

At the time, I sent the postcard on the right to a booklover friend, and stocked on others… though I’ve been very reluctant to part with them!

At the time, we talked a bit with the owners, Veera and Timo, who were staffing their booth at the fair, and Timo agreed to answer a few questions for the blog. So ladies and gentlemen, here he is to tell us more about Kehvola!

How did Kehvola get started? Could you tell us a bit of the story behind it?

Veera (my wife) had previously worked as a store manager in the Finnish National Gallery’s museum shops. There she noticed that there are no nice Helsinki cards available. She started the company and asked the nearest and the cheapest illustrator (me!) to draw a set of Helsinki postcards. This was just four years ago.

We’re fascinated by how coherent your collection is — despite being illustrated by different people. How did this group of illustrators get together? And how do you choose the themes for your pieces?

We are illustration fans and we’ve been very lucky with our artists. So far everybody we’ve asked to join us had said yes. I think our illustrators all have something in common yet they all have their own distinct style. Our illustrators have all illustrated children’s books and are capable of creating narrative pictures with strong sense of atmosphere.

Illustrators are free to offer their own ideas but most of them prefer clear orders from us. I myself think what I would like to draw (this could be an old bike or a rubber boot, a big bookshelves, elvis, tiger or an apple pie) and then consider with Veera would somebody be interested in such a card. If we like the idea enough we print it anyway.

Kehvola good times
If you could define Kehvola’s style in 3 words, what would they be?

Narrative, colorful, warm.

Are you letter or postcard writers too?

Always when travelling. I love bookshops and museum shops and browsing through their postcard selection. Writing a postcards in a cosy pub or cafe after a long day of walking is an essential part of my traveling.

Could you show us your studio, or the place where the magic happens?

Here’s a picture of Kehvola’s "headquarters”, where I also do the drawing:


Thank you Timo, that was lovely! Besides their shop, you can also find Kehvola on their Instagram and Facebook pages.

Oh! And now for the best part: Timo kindly offered a set of postcards to give away to one lucky postcrosser! For a chance to win it, check out Kehvola’s shop, and leave a comment below, telling us which design or designs were your favourites. We’ll randomly pick a winner by this time next week, and announce it on this post. Good luck! :)

And the winner of this giveaway, as chosen by Paulo’s random number generator is… LesCheris, from France! Congratulations, and thanks everyone for playing along! :)


Living in a touristic area can be a bit challenging. While postcards are easy enough to find, they’re usually über-touristy, featuring the beaches and little else. It gets boring after a while… which is why I was delighted to discover Rosa’s postcards on our way back from a trip to the market in Olhão. Turns out, her mom has a little store by the waterfront that showcases local art and products — including Rosa’s gorgeous postcards and art.

We thought it was time we had another post on our stationery makers’ series, and reached out to Rosa and ask her a few questions. Turns out, she’s been drawing ever since she could hold a pencil, and makes more than just postcards! :)

Joana Rosa Bragança
Could you introduce yourself briefly?

I’m Joana Rosa Bragança (but you can call me just Rosa!) and I’m an artist & illustrator based in Olhão, a fishing town in the Algarve region. I love living near the sea! Besides drawing and painting, I also like to spend my time photographing with film cameras, walking in nature, reading, sewing and trying cake recipes. I love mornings, cats, artisanal ice creams, fresh figs and old books.

What inspires you?

I get a lot of inspiration from the people I see, not only the people of my hometown, with their strong characters and looks, but also the foreigners who pass by, who are a lot these days. One of my favorite themes is the beach and bathers, and here I have plenty of “models” to observe! Still, not all my characters are inspired by real people, some of them happen to be really bizarre and come directly from my imagination. I also love to draw all sorts of animals and plants.

Joana Rosa Bragança
Are you a postcard or letter writer yourself?

I used to be, I even had pen friends when I was a teenager… then the internet appeared and made me forget it a little. Nevertheless, I love sending the orders of my online shop inside envelopes full of doodles and postage stamps. Postage stamps are awesome! My favorites are the ones with illustrations or photos of fauna and flora.

If you could define your style in 3 words, what would they be?

Dreamy, joyful, ironic.

And could you show us your workspace, the place where magic happens?
Joana Rosa Bragança Joana Rosa Bragança

Thank you so much, Rosa! You can check these and other postcards and art on her online shop. And if you know of other stationery makers we should check out, let us know in the comments!