How to use mail-art templates

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It’s been a while since I shared my mail-art on this blog, so I thought I’d show you some of the envelopes I’ve been making and painting lately. These are all my original drawings but instead of drawing them directly onto the envelopes as I normally do, I printed these from templates I created for my Mail Art Colouring Book

If you haven't come across it before, this colouring book contains 62 original mail-art designs, ready for you to download, colour and personalise so that you can make your own mail-art that looks like (your own version of) the envelopes on these pages. The designs vary in complexity (some are detailed and intricate for folks who like to colour for mindfulness and relaxation; others are quite simple so you can make beautiful mail in minutes, or get the kids involved), and there are loads of designs and themes, including several for Christmas and other holiday mail. 

Each month, I also share new templates in my free newsletter, which will re-start in the New Year. So with all these templates floating around, I had a thought… if you use the newsletter or the colouring book (or both!), maybe it might be useful if I was to provide you with some tips on really making the most of these designs for your mail. All the templates are super easy to use and personalise, but in this blog post, I've tried to answer all the key questions that people ask me about making my own mail-art. Things like the paper and card-stock I choose, painting and colouring tips, and thoughts for maximising their chances of success in the post. 

Even if you don't use the templates, I've created a download below that you might like to use. It summarises these tips, but also includes a blank envelope template for you to create your very own mail-art design. Either way, I hope this helps you. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments if I haven't answered them here, and I'll try to update the post to help you. Likewise, I’d love to know if you have other mail-art tips you could share here with others, and would be thrilled to see what you create! 

Finally, if you’d like to sign up for my free newsletter with the monthly templates, or buy the Mail Art Colouring Book for yourself or a friend, simply use the buttons below. 

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Step 1: Choose and print a design

Follow the link I give you (either in the free newsletter or the colouring book) to access the template. It will be a PDF document, A4 size. That means you’ll be able to print it onto standard copy paper (either A4 or US Letter) to fold into an envelope that is approximately 16 x 11 centimetres (or 6.33 x 4.5 inches) in size. 

Choose the paper or card onto which you want to print. These envelopes can definitely be made from standard copy paper. People worry that this is too thin to survive the post, but think about the business envelopes you receive in the mail - they are just as flimsy, sometimes even more-so! 

Personally I like the look of brown, recycled kraft paper. I try to find paper that is a little bit thicker (copy paper is normally about 80gsm and the envelopes you see in these pictures were made with 120gsm paper), because I choose to paint my envelopes, and paint can buckle the paper. If you can’t find thicker paper or don’t want to, you can flatten painted envelopes by resting them under some heavy books overnight after the paint has dried. 

Step 2: Make the envelope

Cut out around the edges of the template. Now turn it over so that the design is face-down on the table. Fold the back up, and the sides in. 

Now run a glue-stick down the sides, and press the back to them so that they create the envelope. I always say use a glue-stick because liquid or paste glues are too bumpy, and spray glue is too hard to keep to just one space (you don’t want to end up glueing your envelope shut!). Fold the top of the envelope down, ready to be sealed later on once your letter is inside it. Now turn it back over. 

Step 3: Colour the design

You may want to paint, like me, or use pencils, markers, pastels (with a fixative afterwards) or anything else you like. I use watercolour and gouache, outlined in waterproof ink. Whatever your medium, here are some tips to help make your mail sing. 

* Shadows: look at the designs and think about where the shadows would be in this picture. Things get darker in corners, for example, or under ledges (under ridges of shelves or pot plants, under leaves when one overlaps the other, under the chins of animals, etc. Look for curves in the picture and think about where shadows might be. I tend to paint my ‘standard’ colours first, then add watery patches of blue or grey to the shadow areas. So for example you can see greyish-blue making shadows on the white icing of the bundt cake above, around the base of the hanging pot-plant, and on the faces of some of the letter-boxes. Other times I just use a darker version of the colour I’ve chosen, to create shadows. 

Shadows make your pictures seem three-dimensional. Even if there aren’t obvious places for shadows in the designs, you can create this three-dimensional effect by imaging the scene is next to a window, with the light streaming in from just one side. So in the mail with the tea and cake, for example, you can see shadows on the left-hand side of the cups. And the same on the posts of the letter-boxes. 

* Colour: bright or subtle, it’s up to you. But you need to make sure that the postie can easily read the address and this means keeping the areas where you’ll be writing the address light and bright. In the post boxes, for example, I made some of the ‘writing’ areas white. On the Australia Post box, which is normally red, I added some white so the black text would still stand out. On the barn door, ordinarily that would have been a darker brown but I lightened it to make the address pop. 

In the areas where you write the address, it’s also wise to keep things simple and stick to just one colour or shade. But in other areas, mixing things up a little will make your design look that much more special. So for example on the Christmas holly wreath, I chose to make the leaves light and dark instead of just flat green. It’s hard to see in this photograph but there are also two colours to the berries - dark red and a kind of fire-engine red. It doesn’t look like much but if the colours were all the same, the picture would be a lot more flat. 

Step 4: Get it ready to post

Write the address where it belongs in the design. To help you, there are suggestions at the bottom of all designs in the Mail Art Colouring Book indicating the best place (or places) to write names and addresses. Of course there are no rules and you can switch things around if you need to, but I’ve planned each of these illustrations to help you create lovely mail-art and ensure that the postie can see where to deliver it. 

Make sure the address is written in something waterproof (like waterproof ink) so that the address won't run or blur if rain gets on the envelope. 

If you think the address might be even a little hard to find in your design, use arrows or words (like “Kindly deliver to”) to point the postie’s eyes to where the address starts. 

Put a stamp on the top right-hand corner of the envelope. You’ll need to look up your country’s postal rules to learn how much this needs to be. These envelopes are standard sized, but depending on how thick or heavy you make them, and how far they go, this will impact the cost of the postage. If you think you need to add more stamps and they won’t fit without ruining your design, write a little note underneath the stamp saying “More stamps over,” then add more to the back of the envelope. 

On the back of the envelope, write the words “Sender” or “From” and then your own address. This way if your mail-art can’t be delivered, it will come back to you and you can try again. Make sure that if you have put stamps on the back of the envelope as well as the front, you do write the word “Sender” or otherwise above your own address, so the postie doesn’t confuse this for the recipient’s address. 

Once you’ve put your letter and anything else you want to send inside, close the envelope, and seal it up with glue-stick or sticky-tape. Add anything else you feel like. A wax seal, a sticker in place of a seal, washi tape… whatever suits your style! 


Don't forget your free download!

Use the printable below as a handy list to recap all my tips above. Use the blank envelope template to create your own mail-art design (be sure to leave space for a stamp at the top-right, and make sure the address area is clear for the postie). 

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