The United States Post Office prefers that return addresses be written in the upper left corner of envelopes. Despite that, I generally create envelope art featuring a return address on the back. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to follow USPS recommendations! Enter this tutorial: it features a beautiful front return address with flourishy hand-lettering and a…
International readers may be surprised to learn that in the US, it is standard practice to write a return address in the upper left corner of an envelope. In fact, I have heard of envelopes being returned to the sender because return addresses were written on the back flap! Regardless of whether you have experienced the misfortune of a returned envelope due to a back flap return address or not, however, this tutorial is worth a go and will appease any US post office.
To make a return address design like this, you’ll start by using a ruler and pencil to draw two guidelines. One guideline should run 0.25″ (6.35 mm) parallel to the top edge of the envelope, and the other should run 0.25″ parallel to the left edge of the envelope.
Next, use a dip pen and waterproof black ink such as Ziller to trace approximately 3″ (76.2 mm) of the horizontal line and 0.75″ (19.05 mm) of the vertical line.
Freehand draw a short horizontal line extending from the end of the vertical line, then draw a square on top of the newly-created horizontal line, as pictured below.
Now, draw a line that extends down from the left side of the square. The line should extend about 3.5″ (90 mm) down, and it should feature an interruption in the middle that causes it to recess just a couple of millimeters to the right.
Next, draw a little shape resembling a tulip just to the left of the recessed line.
Draw lines on either side of the tulip shape; these new lines should run parallel to the recessed vertical line.
Once you have drawn the two lines on either side of the tulip shape, draw a small circle surrounded by petal shapes in the square that you made earlier. While you wait for the ink to dry, use a ruler and a pencil to draw a straight line from the bottom of the vertical lines to the right side of the horizontal line.
Trace over the diagonal pencil line with ink.
Next, find a small, circular object (such as a small ink jar), and use a pencil to trace around it in the middle of your newly-formed triangle.
Once you have drawn the circle, use the pencil again to make two parallel curved lines extending from the bottom left of the circle. You can use a vertical line to “close” those two lines, then draw a right-curving line on top of the shape that you just drew. Soon, this will be a banner!
Continue to draw lines (both curved and straight) with your pencil until the shape on the bottom left of your circle looks like the one pictured below:
Now it’s time to move on to the right side of the circle! At this point, you’ll want to use your pencil to draw a second curved rectangle.
You can draw a triangle under the shape on the right to simulate the cut end of a banner or ribbon.
Now, use your ruler to draw two lines that are parallel to the diagonal line. It’s okay if these lines intersect your circle and/or banner! The lines should be a little over half an inch (12.7 mm) apart, and the bottom of the two lines should be just a couple of millimeters above the inked diagonal line.
You will now use the two lines you just drew as guidelines to hand-letter your city, state, and zip code! I used a variation of Roman Style lettering to write “Lawrence, KS, 66044” below. It doesn’t matter what style of lettering you use, though: as long as it fits in the allotted space and it looks good to you, it will work!
The next step is to write your street address into the banners! I used Sans Serif lettering because it doesn’t take up a lot of space and is easily curved to follow the banners’ contours.
In my opinion, this next step is the fun part! Brainstorm what your area or region is known for, and make a simple illustration depicting that thing. In the envelope below, I’m using wheat because … Kansas. 🙂 I’ve made Colorado envelopes that feature mountains in the circle as well, which I’ll show you at the end of this blog post. Feel free to get creative here!
The last pencil step is to write your name in the space that’s left at the left and the top. Don’t fret if you can’t fit your first and last name! You can just write your first name, just write your last name, or write your first initial and your last name.
Once you have written your name, you can go over everything with ink!
Again, make sure you are using a waterproof ink. You’ll be painting a bit with watercolors shortly, and you don’t want them to cause the ink in your illustration to bleed!
Once all the ink has dried, use an eraser to get rid of your pencil marks.
When the pencil marks are gone, you can use the watercolors of your choice to add a pop of color to your illustration!
You may finish up by adding additional swirls and embellishments to the piece. You can see in the photo below that I’ve added a couple of curved lines and flourishes here and there to give it some pizazz!
Finally, it’s time to address your mail art! You don’t want to visually compete with the return address, so I would suggest a simple calligraphy style like the Kaitlin.
Add a stamp collage to the right corner, and your envelope is ready to be sent on its merry way, USPS-approved return address format and all!
If you’re curious to see another example of this technique at work, you can check out the Janet Style envelope below! Notice that I included mountains and trees in the circle to reflect a well-known aspect of Colorado.
This artistic return address may look intricate upon first glance, but the beauty of it is this: break it into steps, and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish! USPS will appreciate your efforts to stick to their “return address in the left corner” policy (that so many, myself included, often ignore), and your recipient will absolutely love how beautiful the envelope art in their mailbox is!
If you have any questions or suggestions about this piece, please don’t hesitate to comment. Thanks so much for reading today’s tutorial, and enjoy the rest of your day!