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Why not dress up your plain white envelopes a little with mail art? Use some stickers; they’re available everywhere, and not only do they add color and sparkle and a little fun; sometimes they can make a statement. A lot of sweepstakes letters come with an assortment of stickers, which say things like “Yes” or “No,” or “Special Bonus!!!” If you don’t care about the sweeps, just harvest the stickers and dress up that phone bill with little stars and a resounding “YES!”

Another wonderful decorative element for your envelopes is used, foreign postage stamps. You can buy these in big bags for almost nothing, and affix these – along with real postage, please! The idea is to enhance, not defraud – to your envelopes with a bit of glue. They not only make a colorful display, they always provoke comment; people love to see foreign stamps. One warning though: Whatever you stick on your envelope, don’t cover up the bar codes.

Rubber stamps can also add a great deal of visual interest, but the investment in them, and in rubber stamp ink, can be a little high. Still, they’re available from many sources; a lot of catalog houses are now carrying sets of stamps with Egyptian themes, or Celtic ones, or sets of alphabet stamps at fairly reasonable prices. With a multi-colored inkpad you can turn those sterile-looking credit card bill envelopes into works of art. And if you want to pursue stamping, there are many resources available both on and off the Internet. Do a web search on “rubber stamp” or check your local bookstore for stamping books. You might even find a stamp shop in your area.

Many mail artists combine rubber stamp art with drawing or painting, and it doesn’t really matter if you think you’re artistic or not, once you start drawing on envelopes, using rubber stamps and/or stickers as a basis for your design, you’ll find that you do so have a creative bone in your body! In fact you’ll find you have a lot of them.

You won’t want to limit your artistic endeavors to pre-addressed envelopes. Letters to friends and relatives are always more fun if they arrive in something other than a plain old white envelope. Sure you can buy colorful ones, but what about making your own? Yes, it’s possible and it’s fun, too. Start with a plain envelope and carefully unstick all the folded panels until the entire envelope is opened out and flat. This is your template. Now find some paper you like; wrapping paper is good so long as it isn’t too heavy. Lay the template on the plain side and trace around it. Then cut the new envelope out of your wrapping paper. Fold the flaps up just the way they were folded on the template you made, and glue the bottom and sides together to form the pocket. Insert your letter, fold the top flap down and glue it shut. You have a gorgeous and unique-looking letter that can be further embellished with any one of the techniques described above, or sent as is. If the pattern on the paper is very busy, use a sticker for the addresses. Try an address sticker with a flower on it, on top of a floral motif paper. And don’t stop with wrapping paper. Try newspaper, and even old magazines. Fashion and travel magazines provide great material for envelopes, and you’ll be recycling paper while you make mail art.

And speaking of recycling, why not recycle old envelopes? Next time you get one that opens easily, save it. You can collage over it with scraps of paper of any sort, including decorative papers, bits of old doilies, etc. It shouldn’t add substantially to the weight of the envelope, and provided you’re not mailing more than 4 or 5 sheets of paper, it should still travel for the basic first class rate.

It may seem like a time-consuming operation, and you probably won’t want to go to a lot of trouble over most envelopes, but once you start, it’s hard to send out a naked, boring envelope without a tinge of regret for the work of art it might have been. Above all, have some fun!