Does the P.O. *allow* non-standardized addressing?

The P.O. has guidelines requesting a standard format, but most postal workers enjoy seeing mail art
and as long as the information is clear, the envelopes seem to reach their destination without any problems.

They have very specific requirements regarding what they will deliver when the amount of postage is the current 1-ounce rate. The mail must fit within a template that allows a range of sizes that must be in a landscape orientation. There is a surcharge for square envelopes and/or addresses that are not level with the bottom edge of a landscape oriented rectangle.

If you can tell that it will take extra work for someone to figure out the address, it is a good idea to add extra postage to the envelope. I have only had one envelope returned: You can see it if you go to the archives and click on 2010, then June, then the 28th. Or click on the label [postal regulations] in the right hand column of the blog and scroll down.

I have heard that the P.O. scanners read the addresses from right to left, so it is helpful if the zip code
is near the lower right corner. I have also noted and done experiments that *prove* that the only information the P.O. really needs is the street address and the zip code. If those two bits of information are correct, the mail will reach that destination. They only look at the city and state if there is the street and zip do not indicate a known address. The city-state is helpful when there is a typo in the ZIP.  I have a feeling they completely ignore the name.

How do postal workers feel about artful addressing, especially ZIP codes?

There are people who work for the P.O. and their job is to decipher addresses. Most of the time they are trying to figure out poor penmanship. So, I am guessing that when they come across *mail art* it is an enjoyable experience because it is something a little different from their normal duty. I know many postal workers personally who are happy to see my mail and appreciate the business. I have also had polite postal workers tell me that I should conform to their standards. I thank them for the suggestion.

The USPS has recently posted an article about mail artists on their website, so it looks like they are welcoming mail art.

How did Jean find her way to mail art?

I was taking calligraphy classes and the instructor brought examples of decorated envelope to class. Most of them featured the name as the focal point of the envelope. I tend to use the name as the focal point, but, sometimes there is a reason to relegate the name and address to a small space on the envelope. If you Google mail art, you can see many historical examples of mail art. People started adding little drawings to envelopes a long time ago. Many mail artists have no interest in calligraphy or decorative lettering. I use the postage stamps as inspiration.

Is mail art a good way to make a living?

No. I have very few requests for mail art.
To make money, I address envelopes for weddings and other events. Luckily, I enjoy addressing wedding envelopes and the mail art is what I do at the end of the day to satisfy my own need to be creative. The two types of envelopes are a perfect balance for my right brain and left brain.

Would you recommend envelope addressing as an occupation?

Only if you have a passion (sick obsession) for penmanship and very tedious work. I tell people that they have to do a few envelope jobs before they find out if they like the work. I recommend doing a few jobs for a nominal charge, just for the experience. When I was studying calligraphy, I always said that I would never address envelopes for hire. It sounded like a horrible job. Later, when my instructor decided to retire from addressing and asked me if I wanted her to refer people to me, I said, "OK, I will give it a try." I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoyed the jobs. For me, the best part is the response from the clients. They are so happy and they frequently report back that they have had so many compliments from their guests.

I have learned over the years that people feel very special when they see their name written beautifully. Sending an invitation in a beautiful, personalized envelope clearly indicates that the guest is an important part of the event.

Can you make a lot of money addressing envelopes?

I know a few people who have made quite a bit of money. I can see how I could have built a pretty nice career if I had not had a family. Many of the most successful calligraphers do not have children. It seems to be a career for people who like to eat, sleep and breathe the activity. Although there are some very successful calligraphers who have families. Most calligraphers augment their income through teaching and graphic design. The internet has been a wonderful way to network with clients and calligraphers are now a-dime-a-dozen on websites like Etsy. It would be challenging to compete with the prices that are offered and make a decent living. IMHO the people who are doing well are creating websites where they offer both a custom invitation as well as the envelope addressing.

If you live in a community where you could offer your services through a stationery store, you might be able to build a good business. However, many of the stationery stores offer addressing by machine, so they are not interested in helping a calligrapher generate clients.

It is a perfect job for a stay-at-home mom, if you have an area where you can meet clients and also keep the envelopes safe.  Clients spend a lot of money on their invitations and you probably don't want to talk to them at the kitchen table. They need to have confidence that their envelopes will be handled with great care.

How hard is it to learn calligraphy and fun lettering?

It is very easy to learn the fun lettering. Traditional calligraphy can be a little more challenging. While beautifully flourished script looks *free* it is really very regimented. It takes time to establish the muscle memory to make all the letters the same size and keep the spacing very symmetrical. Then, it takes a while to learn fluid flourishing. But, it is like riding a bike. Once you go through the work of learning the moves, you never forget them.

Can anyone learn calligraphy or do you have to have a special gift?

Anyone can do the fun styles of lettering. Adding polka dots, flowers, shadows, do-dads, etc requires no skill whatsoever. Traditional calligraphy, especially the script styles can be very difficult to learn if you are over 70 years of age. If you have been writing the same way for 60 years it is usually too difficult to change your muscle memory. I am not saying it is impossible, I am just saying that in my experience, most people who are over 70 do not have the fine motor skills to make progress fast enough to sustain their interest in traditional calligraphy. They do, however, enjoy the flowers and do-dads very much.

I have had numerous students over the years who have developed a strong interest in mail art and it has been gratifying to hear them talk about how much they enjoy mail art. The focus of my blog is to help people with no formal training to find ideas that look easy enough for them to try so that they reach out to friends and family with mail and spread a little sunshine.

Most people like the look of calligraphy, but they usually do not have the patience to do the ground work to advance to the next level. Fun lettering is a perfect alternative.

Is your house really pretty?

It was surprising how often this question came up when I was teaching. Many people think that because my envelopes are so pretty it must carry over into other areas of my life. I actually don't spend much time on interior design, wardrobe, or personal grooming. But, my preferred style in envelopes (minimalism) does show up in other areas so sometimes people think my house looks nice. I restricted my wardrobe to black and white (and khaki). Then I let my hair go gray so now I am swapping out all the black for gray and I will probably choose more pink, because it looks nice with gray.

Are your kids artistic?

None of them chose art as a major. My daughter is a CPA and I have noticed that we have very similar taste in interiors and wardrobe. The boys were drawn to skating and skiing and many other sports. I can tell that sports is a very right brain activity for them. So, I always encourage people to understand that applied art is very similar to many other activities. My boys approach cooking like an art. Penmanship and doodling is something that everyone does. So it is IMHO a very easy door-opener to being creative with paper and pens. It is very accessible.

If you have any other questions, please email me at
jmwilson411 (at) yahoo.com


  1. Is there a way to take your letter into the post office and get a certain cancellation, like the round red ones? Or do you just drop it in the box and take your chances?

  2. In general, the round cancellations are the ones that you get when you take an envelope to the post office and request a hand cancellation. After they cancel it, they may throw it into the bin with all the other mail and it may go through a machine and get a second cancel. It is pretty hard to guarantee that you would only have one hand cancel. Every post office is different. Some postal workers enjoy participating in mail art. Others snarl. And a few (at very busy urban post offices) have decided that hand cancelling is such a bottleneck that they either refuse to do it or tell you that it costs extra. But, I think they only do that to people who are asking for the aesthetic experience. If you are mailing something to the IRS for example, and the postmark is very important to prove the date of mailing, then I think you can tell them, "I need a hand cancel to prove that I mailed this on this date." Most postal workers know that the machine cancels can be hard to read.

    As for the color of ink....that is very hit or miss. Years ago, Dave at the main post office in Des Moines ordered a special *clonker* (that's the name of the cancel-maker) It was the old fashioned kind where you changed the date by hand and he had black ink for me, in case I did not want the red ink which was standard on the self inking clonkers.

    I stopped doing any hand cancelling after I had some problems with the ink smearing. The newer stamps have a coating on them and it takes a while for the ink to dry. So, I just let the machines do the cancelling.

  3. Thanks for answering my question!

  4. Thank you Jean for putting out this information! It is the one thing I've been wondering about a lot since I started learning about mail art. I don't like to get on the wrong side of the postal workers but I do want to enhance envelopes!