Today’s mail art tutorial has three benefits: first, you’ll learn how to use a dip pen and ink to draw. The technique is simple, and utilizing it will help you to build an illustration foundation that you can keep adding to! Second, after completing the tutorial, you’ll be rewarded with a unique piece of mail…
The Nikko G nib is a fantastic calligraphy nib — but did you know that it was originally developed to be a drawing nib? I’ve used it to illustrate several fun projects like a lace butterfly and a henna bluebird! The objective of today’s mail art tutorial is twofold: first, I want you to end up with an artistic envelope that you love. Second, I want you to get a basic introduction to drawing with the Nikko G because next month I plan to explore pen and ink drawing techniques a bit more with you!
1. Make a Pencil Draft
Start by getting out a light-colored envelope of any size. Use a ruler and a pencil to draw a horizontal line about 1/8″ (3 mm) above the bottom of the envelope. Then, draw another horizontal line 1/4″ (6.35 mm) or so above your first horizontal line. Draw eight densely-spaced lines (about 1/16″ [1.5 mm] apart) above the second horizontal line.
Next, freehand draw some simple lines to signify mountains. These mountains should look roughly like an EKG reading, and there should be three of them: one on the left, one in the center, and one on the right.
Finish up your draft by drawing some triangles behind the original three mountains to represent more mountains in the distance. You can see what these triangles should look like in the photo below. Once you’re finished, use your ruler to draw two faint lines 1/8″ (3 mm) from each edge of the envelope. These lines will act as a boundary for you; in the next step, remember not to draw outside of those lines or the bottom 1/8″ line!
2. Add Ink
Before you start adding ink to your envelope, accept that none of the lines that you draw are going to be perfect. Perfection is not part of drawing by hand, and that’s why it’s so appealing! Once you’ve geared yourself up mentally, get out your favorite black ink; sumi and India are both good choices. Fit your Nikko G nib into a straight dip pen, and hold the pen any way you want. (In calligraphy, there’s a certain way to hold the pen [you can learn the grip in this course], but in drawing, anything goes!) Dip your pen in ink, and use it to fill in the back mountains with densely-spaced lines that originate from the top left and go down to the bottom right.
Next, cross all of the lines that you just made. Space all of the new lines just as close together as you did with your original lines, and try to meet the original lines at a 90 degree angle.
Now, draw less densely-spaced lines in the first of the three foreground mountains.
Next, fill in the second foreground mountain with lines that incline from left to right.
Finish up by filling in the third mountain with lines that decline from left to right.
At this point, you’ll want to trace over all of your horizontal pencil lines except for the bottom two.
Then, fill in the space between the remaining two pencil lines with lines that crisscross.
3. Write the Address
The mountains that you just drew are fairly imposing, so they require strong lettering to balance them out! I recommend sketching out your recipient’s first initial and last name in Roman Style hand-lettering that’s just shy of 1″ (25 mm) tall. Let portions of some of the letters disappear behind the mountains for a cool visual effect!
For the address, I’d use a less imposing style like Sans Serif. Write the address small — three to four stacked address lines should fit to the right of the recipient’s name. Once you’re satisfied with your hand-lettering layout, go over the pencil lines with your Nikko G nib and ink. (If you want to, you can do as I did and leave some sections of your Roman letters blank — it’s a cool effect.) Wait a few minutes for the ink to dry, then erase all of your pencil lines and put on a stamp. Your mail art is now ready to send!
Before we move on, I want to mention that you could use a regular pen to do this tutorial. However, you’ll find that sumi or India ink dries a very vivid black tone that regular pens have a difficult time achieving. Furthermore, gel pens like the Pilot G2 tend to smudge when you go to erase pencil lines. Archival pens like Micron do okay, but a little bit of their sheen comes off with the eraser when you’re getting rid of pencil lines as well. Finally, dip pens tend to be more forgiving than other pens. They’re less responsive to your movements, so any hand shakiness is actually less of an issue!
If you feel intimidated by this mail art tutorial or you simply don’t have the time to make it, I digitized the drawing for you! You can find it on two free printable envelope templates by clicking here. One of the templates features the original drawing, while the other template doesn’t have the criss-crossed layer at the bottom.
You can find visual instructions for how to assemble the envelope templates in the product listing. If you have the time, I of course encourage you to follow this mail art tutorial because it will improve your drawing skills and give you some relaxation! But if you are short on time, the printable envelope templates offer a great solution! You can still get creative with your hand-lettering in writing the addresses on them.
I hope that you enjoyed this mail art tutorial and free printable! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments. It’s always a pleasure to hear from you and be able to connect over our shared creativity! Thanks so much for reading TPK, and have a wonderful weekend!