Note: I am very aware that me writing this is seriously hypocritical – having not actually constructed or sent out a holiday card in, well, forever. But, you know, I’ve thought about it. And I sort of think that counts. Plus I’m rather an expert at birthday cards, albeit late birthday cards, and how different can they be?
Things you will need, aka supplies:
Construction paper and/or poster board
This is totally and completely a personal preference/artistic vision sort of thing. Construction paper is much easier to deal with. It’s lighter, more flexible and comes in all sorts of nifty colors. Which can, when abused, ruin a card. So use sparingly. But if you are planning on going heavy on glue or 3-D objects of any sort, construction paper might not be the best for you. Poster board, while stiffer and, unfortunately, severely uncooperative when it comes to folding a nice crease or cutting a straight, smooth line – is much sturdier and will hold up under the strain of an insane glitter glue attack.
Pens/markers of various colors, shapes and designs
Why pens over crayons? Or chalk? Or grease pencils? Because poster board, if that is your chosen canvas, just doesn’t cotton well to crayons. Construction paper doesn’t have many issues with them, but pens come out more vibrant. And you don’t have to exert all of your energy pressing down hard, trying to achieve that perfect state of magenta. Also, chalk and grease pencils smear and stain your clothes if you happen to forget what you’re doing and lean on your project. And that’s bad. Mmmkay?
Elmer’s glue/rubber cement/paste
Once again, a personal preference thing. Though there are some factors to consider.
1. What are you doing here?
Are you gluing bits of construction paper shapes on a construction paper base? Making a collage of pretty, shiny boys made up of pictures cut from magazines you stole from your little sister? Putting button eyes on as the final touch for your perfect snowman?
If you’re sticking to construction paper and these lightweight activities, any of the three will work. But use Elmer’s, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, with care, as it tends to be a bit much for construction paper. You might want to keep that in mind. From personal experience, I can say authoritatively that if not used sparingly and properly it can soak through, cause colors to run, and just be generally unpleasant. Not to mention a bitch to clean up. Paste would work here, plus it’s got that bonus nostalgia factor! It still, by the way, does not taste good.
Now, if you’ve delved into the world of poster board, paste is more than likely not the way to go – the stick factor isn’t the best. I’d stick to glue or, my personal favorite, rubber cement. In fact, if I were to heartily endorse any of the three, I’d be all for rubber cement. Oh, rubber cement, how I love thee! How I wish to compose odes to your honor and glory! So, yeah, I may be biased. A bit.
2. The messiness quotient.
Paste tends to behave fairly well. I mean, it’s not flying anywhere off that stick unless you get into an unforeseen paste battle. Which is not unprecedented, by the way. And even if it does fly it is easily picked up and placed back in the jar.
Glue, on the other hand, is not. It runs everywhere. Sometimes, when it gets bored of running on its lonesome, it enlists other things to run with it. Like, say, colors. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one here who’s lifted up a piece of construction paper and found that their dining room table changed colors, now am I? Also, when glue dries it does that weird sticky thing that is damn near impossible to properly scrub off a table without putting a whole lot of effort into it. Unlike rubber cement, which balls up nicely once dried. And creates those neat little booger-like things you can flick at unsuspecting passers-by. Booger-like benefits aside, I have yet to change my tabletop while using rubber cement.
3. Quantity you are making.
Paste is a bitch to work with. Think back to kindergarten, you know it’s true. Sometimes you had to slather on half the bottle to get that valentine to hold together. And then it just peeled apart, like that damn Bonny Bell fingernail polish of yore. So if you’re working on limited funds/supplies/perfectionism, paste might not be the way to go. Glue can go fairly far, plus you can get those big ass bottles for, like, a dollar. Rubber cement, ideally, goes even further than glue. If you don’t, say, get hung up on putting extra on so you can rub it off and flick it.
i.e. Bop, Teen Beat, J-14… Okay, I realize this is a “holiday” card. But who says you can’t have a JC or a Mandy wrapped in a construction paper bow under the tree? Only those with small minds and no imagination.
I’m a big fan of exacto knives. They cut smoother lines than scissors and are ideal for cutting around difficult shapes – such as the hair of a certain pop singer. If you’re into that sort of thing. Please, use with adult supervision. Don’t poke out anyone’s eyes. And watch your thumbs. Ahem.
Especially if using an exacto knife. Remember, deep breaths.
I suppose a plan should have come at the top of the list, but rarely does anything ever get done in order, so it doesn’t really matter. But yes, a plan. Sketch out what you want the finished product to look like. Or you could just jump willy nilly into it – my favored approach, but not for the faint of heart or the rarely artistic. Things happen, pictures get glued down haphazardly, “mistakes” have to be fixed, extra pages have to be stapled in in an attempt to explain what the hell happened on the pages before, watercolors end up being introduced in a last ditch effort to restore some balance, and it’s just never good.
So plan it out. Or at least, you know, attempt to scratch together a vague idea of what it is you’re aiming for: Do you want it to be holiday-y? Generic? Not at all related to the holidays, as you’re sure that people are bloody good and sick of all the cheer already? Christmas-y, with a decidedly modern, poppy twist? Ready? Then let’s move on, shall we?
Whether you’re going for the simple, single-page model of a holiday greeting (which is probably advised this late in the game. Actually, heading to Target is advised this late in the game, but who am I to be giving out timely advice?) or a multi-page storybook extravaganza, it’s always best to start at the beginning. I have found, through trial and error, that these things tend to take on lives of their own. They change, they mutate, they rarely end up where I or anyone else wants them to, so starting in the middle is, you can see, potentially dangerous. And sort of like shooting yourself in the foot, because then you have to scramble and change the entire concept of what you are doing. From the middle. Which, you know, has never happened to me. But if it had, hypothetically, I would say that it’s a huge pain in the ass. But come to think of it, it’s already well into December and, I warrant, you aren’t going to be psychotic enough to even attempt a multi-page approach. That would be positively foolhardy of you, yes? Yes. Glad we agree.
So let’s assume we’re all doing just your normal, average, glitter-glued card. We’ll work on the storybook approach in another lesson. When, say, we don’t have a psychotic man with a bowl full of jelly on a timeline breathing down our necks.
Right. You have your construction paper/poster board. If you’re using poster board, carefully cut it down to the size you want. Rarely does it ever come in a size conducive to cards; usually it’s in the form of a big, unwieldy sheet. And rarely does it lend itself well to straight lines. You could try drawing a straight line on it or folding it and cutting along the crease. Not that that ever works for me, but then again, I’m special.
Now that your paper is down to size, fold it over. It helps to know where the front ends and the back begins. It is. I wouldn’t lie to you.
Armed with this knowledge, let’s get to work. Spread out in front of you should be your sticky substance of choice (hereafter referred to as “glue”), markers, glitter glue, old magazines or pictures ripe for the slashing, your scissors or trusty blade, and a surface that will not get you grounded or locked out of the apartment if it happens to get marked up a bit. If you don’t happen to have a table specifically for your crafts, I suggest laying down some cardboard (easily found by tearing up a box). Or if you’re like me, and have an extra shelf from when you put together your entertainment center and never could quite figure out where the hell it was supposed to go so it just hangs around your apartment, use that. Or, like I said, cardboard. Also, in a pinch, your old high school yearbooks will work nicely – come on, what else are you going to do with them?
Ready? Great. Since we’re going for a holiday theme, put those green sheets of construction paper to use! Make a tree! Or a wreath! Or, um, shit, I don’t know, what else is green? Mistletoe? But don’t forget about the other colors! Use that blue for a Chanukah menorah! Whatever screams HOLIDAYS to you is fair game. If you’re planning on using images you cut from magazines, I suggest you get any you think you might want to use all cut out and rarin’ to go-you never, ever want to slow down in the middle of your mission to cut out just. One. More. Arts and Crafts are all about momentum. You slow down, you’re doomed. Trust me.
Everything cut out? Ready to glue things down? Well stop. Slow down there, buddy. It’s a good idea to get a basic layout of the page before you start applying that glue, so lay them down first. Words of wisdom that every good collagist lives by, and those of us that don’t learn the hard way. Don’t be one of us that don’t. It will save you much heartache and keep the world rollin’ in trees. Once you are satisfied with the look of your front page, sort of mentally write in the text. Make sure you can make it fit. Adjust as necessary. I say “mentally,” though I suppose some would advise that you go ahead and pencil it in. You could do this, sure. However, if you suck at staying in the lines, one slip up with the glue and you’re stuck with that unsightly pencil all over your page. I have found, through trial and error, that pencil does not erase once under a layer of glue. Go figure. Also, sometimes pencil shows through certain colors of glitter glue. And that’s just tacky, yo. Just, you know, another potential tragedy there.
Let’s say you don’t. Suck, that is. Since this is an imaginary card on my part, I’m just going to pretend that everything goes swimmingly. Feel free to do the same! The pictures are now in their proper places and glued securely.
What’s next? Holiday cheer! It’s time for the oh-so-nerve-wracking duty of imprinting upon your card ubiquitous words of holiday cheer. I’m not going to tell you what to write, though I will warn you that generally “fuck off” isn’t going to fly. Not on a holiday card. Birthday cards? Another story entirely. Let’s assume you’ve come up with something pithy and heartwarming.
Now, how to apply it? Markers work, sure. But when it comes to salutations or words of any sort on the front of a card, I’m a big fan of glitter glue. It’s fun, it’s sassy, and you will walk around sparkling for days after using it. It takes some getting used to, though. Practice writing for a bit first. I know, you don’t want to waste your precious resources, but you’ll thank me later. Once you feel you’re ready to take it to the actual card, take it slow. Especially if you’re not an expert at gauging the distance from the beginning of your text to the end of the card.
In other words, try and make sure it’ll fit.
If not, that’s okay. Rearrange. Get creative. Or if you, say, get halfway through “Christ-” and you realize that there is no way in hell you are fitting that “-mas” on the same line, it’s okay. No need to panic. This is your card!
- First, tell yourself that you meant to do that. Speak in a calm, soothing tone. Soon you will really believe that yes, you wanted it to look like that. It gives it that home-y, handmade touch people love.
- Second, damage control. Start to, ever so slightly and as unnoticeably as possible, make the letters a little skinnier. If this still leaves you wanting, go ahead and sort of have them dribble down the page. Stylishly, of course.
- Third, reinforce that you meant to do it that way, then move on. It’s not worth dwelling on. You’re caring enough to make homemade, personalized cards dammit! Isn’t that enough?
If you still have room and energy after the writing extravaganza or you feel that empty space is wrong and against nature, or you accidentally let a huge green, shapeless blob of glitter glue land somewhere it certainly was not supposed to, or think that green construction Christmas tree you’ve got goin’ on looks a little lifeless, glitter glue is fantastic for filling in the spaces with nonsense. Squiggles, circles, swirls, ornaments for the tree, etc. Use it, abuse it. That’s what it’s for.
Take a step back. Satisfied? If so, and you used glitter glue, you’re done for the day. Or at the very least the next few hours. Set it aside and, whatever you do, do not drag the sleeve of a nice, new shirt over it. Unless, of course, you can’t leave any surface untouched. And even then, rather than redesigning your shirt, there’s always the back page while you’re waiting! Smart-ass comments, a final image of boys wrapped in bows, a cheeky “Made lovingly – well it started as lovingly and ended up being a pain in the ass – by” inscribed on the bottom – these are the touches that people love. Really. It makes their heart go all pittery-pat and stuff. People are easily amused.
All right. Walked away? Waited a few hours? Didn’t think glitter glue was your thing? Great! Turn it on over! You’ve got a whole other side to fill with your artistic vision and pent up frustration left over from things that didn’t go as planned on the front! Go to it! Personalize the card with pictures of the recipient’s favorite celebrity! Compose an ode to the glory of rubber cement or, uh, the joy of the season! Glitter glue, glitter glue and MORE glitter glue! Go wild! Go crazy! Give them something to hang proudly on their refrigerator for years to come! Because even if you don’t send them a gift, you’ve sent them something so much better. A conversation piece. And that’s all that matters.
*Optional. Keep in mind, if glitter glue is to be a big part of your holiday cheer (And why shouldn’t it be? Everybody LOVES glitter glue.) you’ll need to give yourself two days per card. One day for the front/back, one for the inside. Glitter glue, though a delight to work with and a brightener of any sentiment, takes time to dry. Trying to rush the process and/or ignoring this fact can and will lead to disastrous and smudged results.