The Christmas Card Conundrum

Well hey there! What’s it been – almost two months since I’ve made an appearance here? I tell myself every year that I’m not going to let Christmas creep up on me this time, and every year, it does just that. I had grand plans for making everyone a handmade gift this year and I was about 2 days into December when I realized I would have to let those plans go. My deadlines at the Day Job were tighter than usual this year and there are only so many hours in a day. So, I settled for going the extra mile when it came to this year’s Christmas cards.


I wanted to do something more than a family photo with some generic holiday saying. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s just that…well…I tried that once:

A couple of people still have this hanging on their refrigerator, six years later. SUCK IT HALLMARK!

With my new found love for hand lettering, I wanted to work that into this year’s card design somehow. Here’s where I should be a good designer and tell you that I sketched 20 thumbnails before I narrowed my selections down to three layouts that I developed into roughs. I typically sketch out a ridiculous amount of layouts before I move to the computer, but this time I literally did one sketch. I would totally regret this later.


The one sketch thing isn’t because I’m a master artist. It’s because this was close enough to the idea that was in my head and I was impatient to get started. This was a total rookie mistake. I spent more time on the computer refining the letters that I probably would have if I had just done a few more sketches before I scanned it in.

Once it was scanned in, I brought it into Illustrator and began to set up my artboard to start vectorizing the letters. On the final card, I wanted the letters to go from bottom left to top right. Since these letters are a little more rigid than typical hand lettering, creating the letters on a flat plane first was going to be my best bet. After rotating the photo and setting up some guides, I was ready to get started.


I could go on and on about how all young designers should use the Pen Tool and rock those bezier curves, but I will save that rant for another post. Seriously though, if I see one more design that has been released out into the wild that relies solely on Image Trace, my eyes are going to bleed.

Once I got about three letters deep, I realized that I REALLY should have taken the time to do those extra thumbnails. My letters were a variety of different weights, ranging from “heavy” to “sloppy” to “lazy”.

And apparently by the last letters, the weight went right to “f*ck it”.

Once the letters were vectorized and I was happy with the sizing and kerning, I was ready to move on to laying out the front of the card. My final card was going to be 7″ x 5″, so this is how I set up my artboard. Once that was done, I brought the vectorized letters over to the new document and used the Transform Tool to get the angle I wanted.


I had a particular color palette in mind for this card, so from here I built upon that.


Now that the front of the card was done, I had to figure out what was going to go on behind the letters. The old, single-lane truss bridge on our road was replaced over the summer, and I knew I wanted to work that in there somehow. Originally, I wanted to include an illustration of the front of our house, but the simple style that I wanted to use for the house wasn’t tying in well with the illustration of the bridge.

Too much going on here for something that I pictured as a simple illustration.
Too much going on here for something that I pictured as a simple illustration.

After much back-and-forth and almost throwing in the towel, I settled on a photo of the bridge from a Facebook post…

Thanks, Aunt Holly!
Thanks, Aunt Holly!

…added a Posterpress filter…


…and added the text on the top.


At this point, I could have uploaded the art to your typical, cheap online print vendor and received some pretty mediocre postcards for my trouble. I wanted to put a little more love into these cards – something that felt nice and sturdy in your hands. I wanted to put just as much thought into the paper as I did with the art. I ended up ordering through WHCC, and was not disappointed.

See that texture? That's exactly what I was hoping for.
See that texture? That’s exactly what I was hoping for.

As for the inside of the card, it was honestly a toss up between a Clark Griswold or a Homer Simpson quote for a little while. But, there are some members of my family who may not find the humor in a line like, “Hallelujah! Holy Shit! Where’s the Tylenol?”

So I settled for a more Grinch-ey line instead.


Oh and did I mention that I also decided to use gold calligraphy on the outside of all of the envelopes?


Yeah…that’s a story for another day.