Lucy Mail and the joy of extraordinary envelopes

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The moment I saw Lucy Halcomb’s Instagram feed my heart did a little leap. There’s been a huge renaissance in beautiful mail lately, something I’ve been deeply immersed in as I’ve spent the last year learning calligraphy. A massive community, overwhelmingly female, is resurrecting the art of the post, with ebullient modern scripts, vintage stamps, and watercolor accents. But I hadn’t seen anything quite like this.

Halcomb uses bold colored envelopes, and paints whimsical illustrations on the backs of them. She seems to have a radar for joyful subjects (joydar?), which include festive decorations like Christmas trees and lights; small dogs; summery fruits like strawberries and watermelon; small dogs; everyday joys like bunny slippers and striped socks; and cakes, cookies, and other treats.

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While these designs are delightful on their own, they’re even more so when you imagine them in a mailbox, peeking out joyfully amidst the stacks of junk mail and bills. An envelope like this is a like a friend waving in a crowd of strangers. The bright exterior promises good news inside, building anticipation, which research has shown can intensify joy in a powerful way. (Though you’d be forgiven for not being able to handle the suspense, and opening it on the walk up from the mailbox!)

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Like so many analog artifacts in a digital world, the mail is not actually dying a slow death, but seems to have acquired a new vibrancy. Yes, important stuff travels by email or Fedex these days. But that means that Snail mail, having been relieved of its duty to carry urgent missives, now has a purer claim to joy. One might dread sitting down to a full inbox, but composing a handwritten letter is a pure pleasure.

On a broader scale, I’m fascinated by the way that a new technology can do this: rather than killing off preceding technologies, it frees these old technologies to be more experimental, playful, intuitive. (Even modern.) Think of painting after the advent of photography. Suddenly freed from the burden of having to represent tangible reality, painters were able to explore new ways of capturing ephemeral qualities of experience, giving rise to impressionism and abstraction. Similarly, as the mail bears less pressure to communicate facts, it creates a space more for feelings: gratitude, condolence, affection, and of course, joy.

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Images: Lucy Halcomb’s instagram feed @lucy_mail

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2 Comments

  1. Those are great! Bold and cheerful! There used to be an envelope kit that had plastic templates of various sizes for making envelopes out of magazine pages or any other kind of paper. For a couple of years, I had great fun taking pages out of magazines, centering some part of the page and folding it up into an envelope. I tell you, you never look at a magazine quite the same way again. Hmm . . .you know I think I might just go back to doing that . . . now where did I put those templates?

    Thanks again for reminding of something that was a heck of a lot of fun! Lately I’ve been using watercolors to make the cards I send my young relatives, and always put some kind of little scene on the outside to help them guess what might be included in the card this time! But that lady takes the “little scene” to a whole new level! Bravo to her!

    • Sherry, that sounds so sweet. You’re reminding me that my grandmother used to illustrate all the letters she would send me at camp. She’d do drawings of her and my grandfather in ballpoint pen, amidst the most amazing cursive writing. I should share those here sometime. Also, I have one of those envelope templates! I got mine at http://flyingtiger.com. Good luck finding yours – they are so fun!

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