Rachel’s Christmas Cards

December 4, 2017 by Rachel

When my kids were young, I started Christmas cards at the beginning of October. Why that early? Because I was nuts. I was a stay-at-home mom who freelanced, which translated into four or five hours of sleep a night and sleep-deprivation migraines at least once a week. But I loved making cards. My first card was a simple linoleum block print on parchment paper. Then I moved on to drawing, photocopying, scoring, folding and hand-coloring each card. Then the true madness began: I started designing pop-up cards, which meant cutting and gluing the elements onto the main card.

Then one year I designed a stage pop-up with multiple layers that opened when the recipient pulled the tabs. The pop-up was inspired by the Nutcracker, so there were lots of mice running around and a paper dollhouse that opened. Because the design was so complicated, it took me longer to draw out. So I was already far behind schedule when I began assembling the printed cardstock and discovered that the pop-up mechanism WOULD NOT WORK!

I figured a way to salvage the card as a dispirited and disappointing (to me at least) postcard. I was crabby for days.  Our holidays were already stress filled, and I wanted my kids to see and remember me with a smile on my face. So the next year, instead of making individual cards, I painted an illustration and sent it to the printer. Here are some of my favorite cards from over the years.

I painted the image for the Christmas 2017 card with watercolor, gouache and ink. The greeting inside reads: “Happy Christmas Fishes.”

For the Christmas 2016 card, I drew out the cats, scanned them into my computer, then colored the card with Photoshop. It was easy to add a type layer for “Happy Holidays.”

I had more dog portrait commissions than normal in 2015, so I wanted to do a dog Christmas card as well as a cat Christmas card. Perhaps you can see how they started out with the same color and composition.

2014 was the year of Caroling Cats.


This Christmas card from 2006 will always be one of my very favorites. I’d asked my sons to pose so I could take a reference photo, but my younger was too busy reading, and my older was distracted by Mo Cat.

My younger son called his imaginary friend “Little Bear,” but he was almost eight feet tall. My son found him in the woods between our house and his grandparents’. After a few years, during a camping trip with us, Little Bear decided to stay in the White Mountains. His last Christmas with us was 2003.

In 1999, my favorite watercolor was Manganese Blue. The pigment granulates beautifully, so I used a graded wash for my younger son’s snow covered pants.

We had nursed a feral cat back to health after a coyote attack. Although he behaved well inside the house, I think he just preferred the outdoors. He wandered off for longer and longer periods, and then just stopped coming home. So even though I drew him into our Christmas card the year before, the cat was off to greater adventures by the time Christmas 1994 came along. So Widget, Gomer, and Nikos were the three cats in our card that year.

Christmas 1993 was our last holiday before having kids. Our cats were in for a rude awakening.