the illuminated letter : a lost art

As with anything that requires interpersonal relations, pen palling and swapping decos has its own set of social "rules". Though they're more personal, and more flexible in some circles, the good/bad things listed below are a good place to start.

The following is a great list sent to me by Clarine, a fabulous deco-er, through an e-list. They were originally posted on Carmen's list (sorry, I'm not sure of the name of that original list), by Clarine.


  • Always write the name and address of the person the book is made for neatly and legibly. If possible, add an e-mail address for the owner. This will make the book easier to send back! The owner's address should appear exactly as it will be used. Take into consideration the fact that the book may travel overseas and the last signer may be unfamiliar with local address formatting.

  • Experiment with different styles and ideas. Try not to repeat the same layout over and over. Plan out your pages! Deco making is a fun hobby and it is a good feeling when you have an idea of what a page or book will look like beforehand. This will also cut down on errors.

  • When using packing tape/laminate, take extra time to be sure it is on straight. Tape that is bunched up or crooked can ruin the look of the page you have carefully put together. Try not to have the edge of the tape overlap on another page. This makes it more difficult for the next person to deco. Be sure to trim all tape that sticks over the edges!

  • If your handwriting is not that neat (like mine!) it is a good idea to print out labels with your name and address. This is also helpful when you want to list interests/hobbies on your page as well.

  • When using inks that tend to bleed (like blo-pens), glue a background to the page you are decorating before using the pen. This will prevent the ink from bleeding through to the other side of the paper.

  • When making a deco for a list, always put the name of the list, theme (if any), and the year and month the deco was made. This will help the owner know when and where the lovely book came from.

  • Cut the paper inside a deco out in a straight line. Patterned edges on the covers are nice looking, but can cause decorating difficulties when also used for the interior pages.


  • Try to avoid using lined notebook paper and magazine pages in decos (and slams, especially!). Not only does this look untidy, but that type of paper is typically flimsy and may fall apart after being handled frequently.

  • Pages with nothing except one sticker and/or a magazine clipping in the middle are less interesting than a collage or "scene" effect. Try different methods of cutting out pictures and placing them on the page. Putting only one sticker and your label on a page is reserved more for fb's than decos. Please be considerate when signing! If you do not wish to decorate a page, be kind and pass the book on to someone else.

  • If printed computer graphics are used, print them out at a higher resolution. Graphics where the images are stretched, skewed, or have visible pixels appear sloppy.

  • When making decos, try to keep the size reasonable. Not only are large books difficult to decorate nicely, but they are also costly to mail and difficult to fit into standard envelopes. Books that are 8 " x 11" in size encourage people to decorate with a magazine page and fold them in order to pack for shipping.

  • Always pay attention to themed books! Before decorating a page, read the front and inside cover to see if the book has a particular theme.

  • Never, ever decorate over someone else's page or add inappropriate commentary. Not only is this inconsiderate, but it defeats the entire purpose of deco making. If you have a personal issue with someone, simply pass the book along. Deco books or fb's are not an appropriate forum for airing conflicts.

It's fair to say that a lot of these are just common courtesty. I know I've broken a few (or bent them really, really far....) of these myself from time to time -- it all depends on the situation. Just keep in mind the golden rule, be respectful to every person (hey, we ALL have Bad Art Days once in awhile, don't we?), and don't do anything to someone else's book that you wouldn't want done to your own.

As in life, a little dose of respect goes a long, long way.


addendum: When I put this question out to some of my deco email lists, some other members had some good things to add on this subject:

Crystal added:
"One of my things is: if you use Tulip paint, taping is REQUIRED!! So many countless times I've peeled apart pages that were glued together because they didn't want to tape their page. Well, tulip paint melts in the mailbox and when it cools, it doesn't help the opposing person's page look any better. I still fuk up a lot of my pages when I tape them, but I found one that has a good thinness and have gotten pretty good at making it look like it's one big piece of plastic covering the page. Takes practice mostly...

But back to the taping issue, a lot say it ruins the page, but if there's a blank page across from you, I recommend taping anyway, cause someone might use Tulip across from you and ruin your page. Besides, the tape doesn't show up in scans. :)"

C Lo also added:
"I think the biggest rule in all of these hobbies is never to send something you would not want to receive yourself. I understand decos not turning out as well as hoped, but I have seen more sloppiness than quality. I do not care if someone is inexperienced, but books and letters should always be neat.

As far as letters go, I personally have only kept pals who are thoughtful and write letters of substance. I had someone ask to be my pen pal. For several months, she sent me "letters" consisting of 2-3 sentences on an index card. I thought this was a waste of a stamp, so I no longer write to her. The people I correspond with now are extremely interesting and seem to really enjoy writing letters. "


Great advice from some great folks. :)


a lost art : creative letter-writing
some ideas for
writing letters
that go beyond
just pen and ink.

a lost art : decos
what are they
thumbnails : mine
thumbnails : pages
binding ideas
a lost art : pen pals
how to find them
remember when?
abbreviations : glossary
write me.

back to
back to the illuminated letter...