It seems that commercial birthday cards tend to fall into one of three categories: too feminine, too goofy, or too somber. Sure, buying pre-made birthday cards saves time. However, if you make one yourself, you can control the “feel” of the card and work on your art and lettering skills! In today’s tutorial, I’ll show you how to make a festive hot air balloon-themed birthday card and a corresponding envelope.
1. Grab a Blank Card and an Envelope
Pre-folded blank watercolor cards work great for tutorials like this one! However, if you don’t have any watercolor cards around, it’s easy to make one. Just cut a piece of watercolor paper to 10″ x 7″ (254 mm x 178 mm), and fold it in half.
This tutorial requires using a bit of watercolor on your envelope, so you’ll want to ensure that it’s made from high-quality paper. I always have good luck purchasing envelopes from Paper Source! Try not to buy envelopes from chain craft stores as they are usually flimsy and don’t hold up well to watercolor/moisture.
2. Draw an Outline and Lettering
We’ll start by making the birthday card! First, use a pencil to trace around a circular object in the upper part of your blank watercolor card. Your goal is to make a large circle — one that’s big enough to accommodate the “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” message.
Next, use your pencil to freehand draw two curved sets of guidelines. Within each set, the guidelines should be ~5/8″ (16 mm) apart. Leave a space of 1/8″ (3 mm) between the two sets. Once you draw the guidelines, use a ruler to mark the middle of the card. This will help you to center the lettering that you’ll use these guidelines to make!
Now, observe the Circus Lettering Exemplar and use it to help you write “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” on the curved lines. For a project like this, I usually start from the middle and write outward to ensure proper centering. So, for the word “HAPPY”, I wrote the first “P” first, then the “A” and the second “P”, then “H” and “Y”. You don’t have to do this, but it can really help to keep your words centered!
3. Add Embellishments to the Circle
Next, use your pencil to add embellishments to the circle. Any horizontal embellishments should follow the contour of the lettering guidelines that you drew! Try adding vertical stitches at the top that follow the contours of a ball. Again, all this contour work will contribute to the realism of your illustration.
4. Add “Strings” to Transform Your Circle into a Hot Air Balloon
Now, draw a squished halo shape about 1/2″-3/4″ (13 mm – 19 mm) above the basket.
Use a ruler to make several lines that connect the lower part of the halo shape to the bottom horizontal embellishment in your circle. The top part of the halo shape should connect to the bottom of the circle.
Finish up by using several vertical lines to attach the halo shape to the basket. Then, add a few crisscrosses and some weight bags to the basket. If you want to, you can embellish the balloon further at this step (I added some additional embellishments just below the line of circles under “BIRTHDAY”).
5. Add Watercolor
Get out your favorite watercolor palette, and add a little bit of water to a yellow value and a red value. Let the water soak for a minute or two to moisten the pans!
Use a medium-sized paintbrush to add some yellow to the balloon. Then, before the yellow dries, put some red on top of it. The red will spread out and blend a bit with the yellow, giving the illustration a bright, artistic effect!
Continue to paint until you’ve added color to the entire ballon except for the lettering.
6. Go Over Pencil Lines with Ink
Use a black gel pen to trace over any pencil lines with ink. I like to use a Pilot G2 Extra Fine pen for this purpose, but you’re welcome to use whichever black gel pen you prefer!
Continue to trace until no pencil lines remain! Once you’ve done that, you’re finished with the birthday card.
7. Make the Envelope
Readers often ask for corresponding envelope design ideas when I post card tutorials, so here’s what I suggest! First, write out the recipient’s address in the lower right portion of your envelope.
Next, use the skills that you learned while making the birthday card to draw pencil drafts of three simple hot air balloons.
Now, add some watercolor to the hot air balloons.
Again, wait for your watercolor to dry (~2 minutes). Then, use your pen to trace over the pencil lines and add embellishments to the balloons.
Add some postage stamps — preferably in colors that correspond with your balloons — and the birthday card and envelope pair is ready to send!
As a side note, if you’re concerned about the watercolor or the ink on your envelope running, then you can waterproof the envelope. I usually don’t bother to do so, but if you live in an especially humid area, it’s not a bad idea!
I sincerely hope that you enjoyed this tutorial! It’s not something that you’ll be able to whip out in a matter of a couple minutes, but it does provide a relaxing artistic retreat. If you have time this weekend, I think you’ll really enjoy creating both the birthday card and the envelope! If you do make this project — either this weekend or some weekend a year from now — I’d love to see the results on Instagram! You can tag me @thepostmansknock or use the hashtag #thepostmansknock.
Thanks very much for reading TPK; I always appreciate that you’re here!