Sunday, August 08, 2004

Do-it-yourself guide to card making

It took a handmade card from D to remind me of what I'd been missing.

I had griped some months ago about the vanishing tribe of greeting cards. Of how phone calls, emails, e-cards and sms had replaced the once-cherished cards. I had proclaimed loftily then that I would revive this almost extinct tradition. But sometime early this year, my resolution fell by the wayside. Birthdays came and went with guilty reminders, but I just couldn't summon the enthusiasm...

... until D's card arrived in the mail.

It reminded me of the cards I used to make - a picture from a magazine stuck on a square of card paper, a few words rendered in calligraphy and a little decoration. Considering D had made it a month ago and posted it early to ensure it reached me in time, it made me feel inordinately good. So when my birthday calendar reminded me of two very close girl friends' birthdays, I decided to get back into the act.

First, I pulled out the 'magic box' - a cardboard box crammed with cuttings from newspapers and magazines, culled over 12 years. Sifting through 3000 pictures can be a bit cumbersome, so pictures have been sorted under various heads - guys, girls, children, couples, abstract, toons and so on. I pulled out the 'girls' section, started thumbing through it and waited for the magic to begin...

I don't know how it happens, but it's never failed this far. I think about the person, tick off the dominant qualities (or quirks) and even as I sift casually, my mind is uncommonly alert. Hmmm.... ohhhkay.... maybe.... nevvah.... BINGO! There is always a picture that's a dead ringer, a perfect match. For instance, I had a friend from Delhi who jocularly referred to South Indians as 'nariyals' (coconuts), which irked me no end. Incredibly, she married a South Indian. My magic box threw up a picture of a coconut seller with a raised sickle, ostensibly to thwack a coconut but for some reason his gaze was fixed steadily on the neck of woman at his stall, who looked distinctly Northie! The Nariyals strike back, I wrote.

Coming up with ideas for ads is a struggle in comparison.

Back to the cards, I found the pictures I was looking for, and started tossing around words to accompany them. Meanwhile, I started on the next task - choosing the right paper. No tacky chart paper will do. Hand made cards need hand made paper. The thick roll from Chimanlal's tumbles out. And with it the age-old dilemma... Use it? Hoard it? I can't help getting rather attached to the blood red Moonrock and pink Pigskin, silk fibre cream and petal pressed ecru, ridged sunshine yellow and gold-flecked turquoise. I once had a sheet with coriander leaves pressed into it and it broke my heart to use it.

I selected the matching paper with a sigh and started cutting it up. The room looked like it had been hit by a hurricane, but my mind was still incredibly focussed.

Picture and paper selected, I headed for the stationery drawer. Here's where my true obsession reveals itself. Water colours, photo colours, brush markers, gel pens, blow pens, calligraphy nibs, chisel nib markers, oil paint crayons, water colour pencils, stencils - I run a mini-stationery store. Truth be told, I've been shortchanged in the drawing department. So to counter my meagre artistic skills, I muster up all kinds of stationery resources and a little calligraphy to make the cards presentable. It's worked this far.

A card is incomplete without an envelope. So out came the envelope box with recyclable envelopes of every shape, size and hue. If a card refuses to fit into any of the existing ones, a little snipping achieves the task, or else a new envelope is made. The little strips of leftover paper are used to add colour to old envelopes and cover up post marks.

Why don't you get into the greeting card business, friends and relatives have asked? I've considered that option but somehow it doesn't appeal. The thrill comes from creating a card that is an accurate reflection of the person. And for that, I need to know the person. 'One size fits all', just won't work.

Because the entire process is time consuming, cards have to planned and made well in advance. Quite often it doesn't happen, but when the muse knocks, ideas fly fast and thick. And everyone gets a card - the boss, colleagues, Alison, even the dentist.

Do the recipients hang on to the cards, I've often wondered wistfully, or is it just tossed away after the special day has passed. A chance conversation with Ro (another personalised card-maker) reassured me a bit. 'I have every single hand made card I've ever received', she said.

Coming back to the two cards I started out with, I found myself sealing 9 envelopes. I'd been oblivious to life around for 4 hours. My fingers were sticky and paint splattered, the room was in a mess, mum was in a tizzy... but there was a warm glow of satisfaction. And anticipation.