The holiday season offers many delights, among them the chance to gather with loved ones, share meals and conversation, and reflect on the turning of the year. What of our far-off friends, though? I’ve found that, short of an in-person visit, the nicest holiday treat is the exchanging of artfully made letters.
Over the years, I’ve gathered literal bushel baskets full of charming correspondence from friends, family, and the customers and staff at Castle in the Air, the shop and classroom I founded in 2001. It’s a friendly place where creative dreams really do come true.
In these pages, two of our teachers—Alice Armstrong and Ben Yates—share techniques of calligraphy and paper arts that, along with my own secrets, will get you started making heartwarming rainbow-colored letters to share with loved ones during the holidays and throughout the new year.
Confidentiality is key in any letter exchange, so the correspondence examples shown here are between characters from fairy tales. Rest assured, though, that sending letters like these is an act of real-life magic!
● Watercolor palette for mixing paint
● Tubes of artist’s watercolor or gouache
● Watercolor brushes, large and small
● Old newspapers
● Low-tack washi tape
● A stiff-bristled brush or toothbrush
● Pans of metallic, shimmer-effect watercolor such as Kuretake’s Gansai Tambi Starry Colors set
● A large book or other flat weight
TIP: Keep your paint vibrant by limiting the number of colors you mix together—too many pigments will make it muddy.
1. Try tinting your stationery using this method, which I learned from Ben Yates. Place a pea-size amount of watercolor in your palette wells, mixing in water to achieve the desired tones.
2. Lay down several layers of newspaper on your work surface. This will protect your table and absorb excess water while you work. Lay your stationery sheets atop the newspapers.
3. Block out any areas you want to keep dry (i.e., free of watercolor) using washi tape. You’ll carefully peel up the tape at the end of the process, once your paper has dried completely.
4. Using a clean brush, apply water to the areas of your stationery you plan to paint. This will help the watercolor to spread once it’s applied.
5. If your envelopes have moisture-activated adhesive on their flaps, they may stick to your work surface once they are wet. Prevent this by lifting them from time to time and resting them on a dry surface.
6. Use a large brush to lay washes of color onto your paper. Layer on a second color or other effects while the paper is still wet. You’ll notice that the tone and evenness of the color changes as it dries. This can lead to unexpected magic and beauty!
7. You can add spatter effects by dipping your stiff brush into a new color and flicking it to spray paint atop your washes. Metallic paint spatters dry to a beautiful sparkle.
8. Once your finished pieces are completely dry, press them flat under a heavy weight, such as a book.