Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Glimpse into the Process: Handmade Cards--The Watercolor Collection

For several years now, I have sent handmade birthday cards to our family members--and our list has grown significantly in those years. (I'm up to 70 cards per year) I usually carve out several days (like Christmas break) to work on a large batch at a time.
First, I start by thinking. I think about the past year, and what pops into my head when I consider my family members. For some, it's easy. Some of them do ridiculous things--or have outlandish hobbies that just beg to be immortalized in a birthday card. For others, I am more kind and heartwarming and create a card that might (if I'm lucky) bring a tear of liquefied love into their eyes. For others, it's a toss up. They might laugh or they might have to smother irritation with me when they open the card.
But I figure if I enjoy making it, hopefully they will enjoy opening it and receiving it. Nobody has complained so far.
I haven't always sketched the cards out ahead of time, but I started doing it last year, and it's nice to have a catalogue of what I've done. I am not very diligent about keeping records of cards I've made, so this is a way I can look back and congratulate myself on my creative genius. (So, these are sketches for the fall 2013 birthdays.)


After I've completed the preliminary sketches, I start making the individual cards. Last fall, I had a moment of what I now recognize to be stunning brilliance in which I tried reversing my process. It has saved me precious hours (which I have employed doing my other favorite thing: reading) and wasted watercolor paper. I had always started by sketching on the watercolor paper in pencil, then painting, and then outlining in pen. Last fall, I (get ready: here it is) REVERSED the last two steps. Yes, that's right. I outlined first and then I painted. I know what you're thinking because I've already thought it myself So Many Times: this girl is a revolutionary artistic genius.
Yeah, so anyway, after I ink them all in, I start painting.


Those of you who have gratefully received my cards in the past, don't be put off by these next pictures. Although what you see may look like a Henry Ford induced assembly line, it is not. Nope, not at all. I am simply cutting a few (very unnecessary) corners in the boring part so that I can devote MORE quality time to reading making your cards more amazing. Plus, it saves me the hassle of mixing the colors so precisely for skin tones. Urg. That part's a little annoying, I'll admit.


Of course, after filling in all the fleshy parts, I get to do the fun stuff: details of hair and clothing and shoes and backgrounds. This is what makes the painting part so fun. This year, I splurged and bought myself a really nice detail brush, and it made painting the really tiny parts a work of great joy.


I'm not sure whether I like the final stage best or whether it's tied with sketching and drawing and painting, but I do like crafting the lines for the bottom. I really love tiny things: babies, robins' eggs, espressos, truffles, stuff like that. When I think about it, I realize that's why I like this last step so much: each card tells a really tiny story. Some of them are hands down hilarious (ask my dad to see his Father's Day card from last year--or Micah's birthday card--those two still make me laugh till my belly hurts) and some of them are so heartwarming you can shed your sweater (you know, 'cause your heart's hot). But all of them capture (I hope) a tiny piece of the recipient's life as I see it.


My family gets involved in the last stage because I make them sit down in a row next to me and we all sign the cards. Then, I carefully slide them into envelopes, address each one, and seal them with fun tape ('cause I hate licking envelopes). I organize them by the date they need to be mailed and put them in a basket. Today, I finished up the first 20 for this year. I'm set through April. Only 50 more cards to make! 
You know, my family is a blessed family--blessed with the gift of giving. Birth. (Remember when you said that, Dad? In Bible study at church when we were studying I Corinthians 12?) And I'm blessed to be a part of such a wonderful collection of people.

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