For over two decades, The Graceful Envelope Contest has been a cherished tradition, bringing together the best in envelope design and calligraphy. This year, I had the honor of exploring the 2023 entries, each brimming with innovation and artistry. Join me in celebrating the envelopes that embody the spirit of this beloved contest!
The Graceful Envelope Contest was created in 1995 by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Postal Museum, and it has stood the test of time, celebrating the art of lettering and design for over two decades. This year, I had an exclusive look at all of the 2023 entries, and I’m incredibly excited to share the inspirational pieces that I saw.
Judging the Graceful Envelope Contest 2023 Entries
A couple of months ago, I was one of three judges in this year’s Graceful Envelope Contest. The theme was “Fan Mail”. Participants were prompted to “design an envelope that captures the attention of an actor, artist, athlete, politician, singer, writer or other public figure, living or dead.”
When I agreed to judge the contest, I had no idea what an inspiring treat it was going to be — nor how overwhelming! We happened to have friends from Germany visiting, so I enlisted their help in making my choices. I also showed the envelopes to my Supplies Shop packagers to get their opinions.
In the end, I had several favorites in all categories. There were too many to share them all, so today I’m going to show you my (and my posse’s) 10 favorite envelopes from the adult entries. Then, I’m going to give you details about the 2024 Graceful Envelope Contest — which I sincerely hope you’ll enter!
1. Karen Kain Envelope by Anastasia Good (Graceful Envelope Contest Best in Show)
I had a tough time choosing a “Best in Show” envelope because the competition for this contest was so stiff. In the end, though, my eye kept coming back to Anastasia Good’s Karen Cain envelope. To me, the movement, color, and seamless incorporation of stamps was simply stunning. It’s amazing what Anastasia did using — essentially — two colors: gold and various shades of black. What a composition!
2. Maurice Sendak Envelope by Karen Burgess
In this fabulous entry, Karen Burgess not only celebrates Maurice Sendak — she gives him a run for his money! Karen shows flawless use of the crosshatching technique to depict some of Sendak’s most beloved characters while Sendak himself smiles upon them from a portrait on the wall. My (unsolicited) opinion? Karen would do the world a favor by deciding to illustrate children’s books herself!
3. Elizabeth Poett Envelope by Mary Lou Johnson
Believe it or not, I overlooked this entry at first. Its color scheme was so elegant and subtle that I didn’t fully appreciate its skillful execution. Upon second glance, however, I came to appreciate the loose watercolor style — a favorite in Western art. The impressively varied lettering styles here are the icing on the cake. No doubt about it: Mary Lou’s got some serious skills!
4. David Cassidy Envelope by Debbie Ruggles
Some of you will shake your head at this, but I’m a millennial, so I initially had no idea who this envelope celebrates. I just knew that I loved the color scheme and the general funky style. When I sent a photo to my mom, her enthusiastic response helped me to appreciate the envelope even more. “It’s David Cassidy from The Partridge Family!!!” Mom exclaimed. “‘I Think I Love You’ is a song they sang in the show, and it became popular in real life — everyone loved David Cassidy! And at the beginning of the show, partridges would walk across the screen, like she showed for the zip code!” Well played, Debbie, well played.
5. Graceful Envelope Contest Envelope by Julie Gray
Julie Gray’s envelope celebrates “The Graceful Envelope Contest” itself as the celebrity, which we (the judges — Patrick, Suzanne, and myself) agreed wasn’t quite in line with the contest rules. After all, entrants were instructed to celebrate a person. That said, the envelope was so skillfully done that it couldn’t be ignored. I have seen some of Julie’s past GEC entries, and I can’t wait to see what she submits in the future, too!
6. Amelia Earhart Envelope by Brigitte Stermann
Past Graceful Envelope Contest winner Brigitte Stermann is at it again with her whimsical, skillful art and lettering! Her entry celebrates my fellow native Kansan Amelia Earhart with a portrait, plenty of aviation-themed goodies, and an appropriately airy color scheme. What’s not to love about this gem of an entry?
7. Anthony Fauci Envelope by Gerry Jackson Kerdok
You probably won’t be surprised to read that Gerry Jackson Kerdok, creator of this incredible envelope, is a professional calligrapher. Her skill with a dip pen is jaw-dropping and versatile! She beautifully penned Dr. Fauci’s name in a broad-edge style, then she went on to add in a healthy dose of pointed pen work and block lettering. One of my judging helpers pointed out that this piece resembles a medical degree, which is another clever aspect of the entry.
8. Abraham Lincoln Envelope by Colin Welden
In his Abraham Lincoln envelope, Colin Welden opted to use colors that simultaneously bring to mind the days of yore and the marble that keeps Honest Abe seated in the Lincoln Memorial. I am loving the loose illustration style, the quotes, and the hand-drawn US “Air Mail” stamp.
9. Madonna Envelope by Valerie Louis
Strike a pose! Here’s another Canadian envelope that puts a black and gold color scheme to work with incredible results. Valerie wrote Madonna’s lyrics in just the right places — avoiding the eyes, hair, and ear — to help the face stand out properly. The ample flourishes and three different styles of lettering help this envelope to be just as iconic as its featured celebrity.
10. Dolly Parton Envelope by Pamela Day
Again, as a millennial, I’m not sure that I fully appreciate all of the cleverness of this envelope. I am positive that Dolly sitting at a table with her two friends alludes to something that’s not in my knowledge bank. But, the envelope does include enough that even I recognize its cleverness: the story on the left peppered with song titles, the doll-themed stamps, and Dolly in all her big-haired goodness. This is, without a doubt, the perfect tribute to the queen of country herself.
About the 2024 Graceful Envelope Contest
I hope that seeing some of the 2023 Graceful Envelope Contest entries gets you excited to enter the contest yourself. You don’t have to submit the most skillfully-executed envelope to win; you just have to combine your stamps, illustrations, and lettering in a clever way that adheres to the theme. This contest cycle, that theme is “Mapping the World’s Cities”.
The world’s great cities have distinctive landmarks, cultures, histories, cuisines, or geography that are said to put each town ‘on the map.’ There is even a tradition of depicting such characteristics on actual maps. Your challenge is to pick a city and consider what contributes to its unique character. For example, what makes New York bustling, Paris romantic, Tokyo energetic, and Sydney beautiful? Then—using artistry, lettering and the integration of postage stamps—create some sort of map on your Graceful Envelope that captures the spirit of the city of your choice. Artistically address your envelope to: The Graceful Envelope Contest, P.O. Box 3688, Merrifield, VA 22116.
Judging the 2023 Graceful Envelope Contest was a real treat for me, and I look forward to the day when I have a bit of extra time to enter the contest myself (maybe 2025?). If you enter, I’d love to see your envelope on Instagram (tag @thepostmansknock, or email it to me at [email protected])! And, if you have a moment, comment on this blog post to tell me which entry was your favorite for 2023. Which envelope would you have picked if you were a judge, and why?
Thanks so much for reading, and — seriously — consider entering the contest. I know for a fact that there are countless TPK readers, you included, who have the creativity to win. It’s just about finding the time to put something fabulous together!