I hope this note finds you doing well and in good spirits. I am writing to tell you the story of how I got into designing and creating envelopes. So many people have asked me this question, and I thought I’d answer their questions by sharing my story.
Would you believe this entire situation is the fault of a disgraced warlord and rebel leader? It’s even painful to include him in this story, but to be honest, his greed and insatiable quest for power is the reason I am here, in the States. You see, I am a Liberian who came to the United States during the first Liberian civil war in October of 1991. I think the actual date I arrived was October 11, 1991.
After going through the war, my family had escaped to Ghana, where we lived for about a year. During that time, my mother eventually went back to Liberia while I remained in Ghana with my father, aunt, uncle, and some cousins. My parents weren’t planning on staying in Ghana long term, but they wanted me to continue my education and remain safe, so on one sunny afternoon, my father and uncle boarded me on a plane with a lady I didn’t know and sent me on my way to America.
I’d been to the U.S. before, so I wasn’t overly terrified of the journey. The lady I came with was a guardian of sorts…someone I could tag along with in case anyone tried to pull some shenanigans. I didn’t know her name, and I can’t even remember her face to this day. After we landed at JFK airport in New York, my godparents helped me get to Illinois, where I was going to live with my father’s sister, my aunt Olive. My aunt was a Methodist pastor, so you could call me a pastor’s kid (P.K.), I suppose.
And that is how my life in the U.S. officially began. I was ten years old. My parents and brother were back in Africa, and I was here wishing like hell that I was with them. To be honest, I don’t even know how many times I cried for my parents or wondered if they even thought of me. When you’re in situations like that where you don’t hear from people, you can feel so easily forgotten. Back in the day, we weren’t lucky enough to have social media, FaceTime, or Facebook Messenger. Calling people overseas was tricky at best and very expensive. If we were lucky, we could get a calling card with enough minutes for a quick “hello” and “how are things?”
But every once in a while, I would get a letter. An actual letter written by one of my parents addressed to me. I can still see my name written on those envelopes. They were usually sent as a favor to my parents in someone’s suitcase who was coming from Liberia to the States. They would be passed through people’s hands and eventually dropped in the mail somewhere. But they would find me eventually, and even though they were always in plain white envelopes, those letters were like gold to me. They would arrive creased in the various places they’d been folded and carried so much power.
Whenever I received one of them, it was almost like time would stand still as I sought out a quiet place by myself. There was so much anticipation in those envelopes. So much hope. So many thoughts would race through my head as I held them. They were spaces and moments where I was reminded that I wasn’t forgotten; that I was actually thought about. That I was loved. I’d re-read those letters over and over again, trying to see if I’d missed any expressions and sentiments of love in between. I would look at the loops of my mother’s handwriting as she told me to “listen to my aunt” (that’s Liberian for behave yourself and don’t cause any trouble) or that she’d sent some money for me or the short strokes of my father’s handwriting as he told me that he loved me. Sometimes, I would cry over those letters, cursing the day the disgraced warlord came and destroyed our beautiful country.
Those letters meant the world to me during those years, and there were so many times afterwards that I craved for more. Over the years, while my aunt moved around the country, I lost so many of those letters. In a plain white envelope, the sweet weight of the words my parents sent me has been lost forever. Those moments where I imagined them thinking about me and searching for the right words to say are gone forever. As I look back now, I wonder how much more of an impact they would have in my life now if I had the chance to re-read them.
When I became an adult and graduated from college, I started a handmade art studio to create art to encourage and inspire women. As many can attest, women have it hard in this world. We’re bombarded with so much in our daily lives. For me, I just wanted to do something about it; you know, help them see that they were loved. First it was just with handmade jewelry, then it was with art prints, and then I added greeting cards. I started selling my greeting cards at craft shows and regional trade shows around the country and nervously loving every single bit of it. My last trade show was in July of 2019. I had plans to hit up other shows in 2020, but the pandemic put a wrench in all of that.
Then early in 2020, a friend’s mother passed away. I hadn’t spoken to her in a while, but when I heard the news, I wanted to send her a card to offer my condolences. I remember writing the card out, putting it in the envelope and getting an urge to add a little something extra to it. Something to make her smile. I could just see the smile on her face when she received it. So, I pulled from my years of mixed media art background and collaged the envelope. There was something about collaging that envelope that settled me in a way. It felt like it was my “thing.” I remembered even praying about it and asking God what was next for me and feeling a whisper saying keep going with the envelopes.
Then, another friend posted that she was dealing with the health issues of a family member. I wanted to encourage her, too, and so I sent a note in a dressed-up envelope. As the pandemic raged, I started to think about the doctors and nurses who were in the trenches trying to help people overcome COVID-19. They had to be encouraged too, so I sent out more notes. And I just keep going. It almost feels like I can’t help it now, and the ideas haven’t stopped coming. I want to test the limits as to what you can do with an envelope.
Even though I design and sell greeting cards, I feel like everyone should send out notes in a dressed-up envelope. Now, I make envelopes to send out to people who sign up to receive some encouragement and also as a way to say thank you to the people who make a purchase from my shop. With each decorated envelope I send out, I want the weight of my words and designs to be felt. Words truly matter, and I want to make sure people know that I carefully chose the words to say to them, meticulously designed, created, and curated an envelope from my collection just for them. I want them to know and feel that someone truly thought about them and that they were seen and that their story matters.
All of it is very intentional. That’s what these envelopes have become for me. They are messengers. They carry stories, secrets, ideas, dreams, experiences, curiosities, thoughts, and what-nots. Little captured moments of life, like little seeds of hope. I see envelopes as sacred spaces that have been asked to provide safe passage to so much of the significance that happens in everyday lives. They are the places where conversations travel, where love is eloquently spoken, where hearts are poured out, where hope is freely given, where forces combine, and where fires are maintained. To me, they are a place to remind us that we are loved, remembered, cared for, and worthy. A place of hope, power, magic, and anticipation. Those white envelopes my parents sent me carried so much for me, and it is my intention that my envelopes carry much to the people who receive them.
My process for creating envelopes is very organic. I tend to go with the flow, so every envelope is unique. Even if I have an inkling of an idea to tinker with, I find that the challenge of working through a piece to see what it morphs into from start to finish is very exciting.
To start off, I will either create an envelope from scratch by using an envelope punch board, or, if I don’t want to create an envelope, I will typically use a basic kraft one. I like to use either watercolor paper or the Distress line of card stock to create an envelope. The kraft envelopes are a heavier weight of paper than the basic white ones, so that’s why I use those. Basically, I use paper that is going to take my wet mediums well.
After I punch out an envelope, I like to add color and create a background. This is the foundation of the envelope, and everything else I do from this point will connect with my background.
There are a variety of ways to add color and create a background. My favorite is using Distress spray stains and oxides. I love to mix colors and often find that sometimes more is more. I have learned that when you’re bold with your colors, they make the most unique and exciting backgrounds.
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” — Galatians 6:7
After I add color, I like to stamp images on the background to add interest. I use waterproof ink on top of my inky background.
After my background has dried, I use ephemera, vintage or new, to create a collage. Collages are my go-to, especially when I am short on time. To collage, I layer my pieces until I find a layout I love. My focus is always on what’s going to keep the recipient looking for more. I want them to engage with the piece and keep finding little bits of newness.
I also love to decorate the flap as well! It doesn’t have to be as detailed as the back of the envelope, but I find that adding something to the flap to tie it into the collage creates a cohesive look. After collaging, I like to look for additional ways I can add some more details. This can come in the form of additional stamping, adding smaller pieces of ephemera, or doodling.
I also create a flatlay and photograph each piece because I’ve come to understand the power of honoring your gifts. My flatlays are my way of saying thank you to God for giving me this gift. I don’t see it as bragging or showboating, but more so that I am grateful for what I have been given. It’s a way to respect my offerings for the day and to open the door for more creativity to flow through me. I believe that the more honor I give to my gifts, however small or abundant they may be, I am telling them and me that they are seen, they matter, and they have an important purpose.
Most people wonder if the envelopes are mailable, and the answer is yes! To mail my envelopes, I enclose them in a clear cellophane bag, address them and add stamps on the outside of the bag, and send them off to their destination. Simple as that.
Well, that’s it, Jo. Now you know how I started and how I create my envelopes. I truly hope it sparked your interest in creating your own to send out. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my story. I am deeply honored and grateful. If you or your readers have any questions, please let me know.
Sending you lots of good cheer from Michigan.
All the best,