Mental Health

Mental Health art project and How to make Christmas cards out of fall and winter leaves

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Last year, and for the first time in my life, I actually made Christmas cards as part of my mental health recovery and self-healing “program”.

Hand-made, simple yet pretty Christmas cards out of fall and winter leaves I picked up during my long daily walks. And it’s one of the best things I ever did with my time.

I am not a crafty gal, and honestly, I used to think I had no creative or artistic talent whatsoever.

However, I decided to make an effort and find ways to show more kindness to other people. Instead of waiting for people to give me love, which didn’t seem to work so well, I thought I’d try giving them more love instead in an attempt to manifest more love in my life.

Although I didn’t yet know how, I wanted to be more generous and share more of myself with others.

I also wanted to give more without necessarily spending money and buying “stuff”; I didn’t want to “buy” peace. More on that later.

So anyway.

This eventually led me to make my own Christmas cards and without knowing it, I embarked on a healing process that I will be partly sharing on this post today.

So, if you’re curious to know how this creative and artistic project positively impacted my mental health, and how I created these super cute and minimal Christmas cards out of only fall and winter leaves and very few tools, keep reading ????

If you want the tutorial on how to actually make the cards, jump to section 2.

If you want to know how this art project improved my life, just read the whole thing.

And if none of that seems appealing to you, then move on, and thanks for stopping by!

1. How art and creativity improved my mental health

I am convinced that my overall quest to discover my creative side led to significant improvement of my mental health and deep healing.

Now, I can’t credit the whole healing process to making Christmas cards only, but making handmade Christmas cards was one of the ways I got there.

1. Why make a card vs buying one?

I think the difference between making a card yourself or buying one lies in the process of making the card and that’s what I’ll talk about here.

Now, don’t get me wrong: buying a card is better than “no cards” at all. So, if you don’t have time to make a card and can only buy one, then, by all means, buy it.

But I did not want to purchase a card or anything material.

I can’t explain exactly what was going on in my mind, but I felt like I needed to give more of my time to other people instead of my money.

At the time, I was in a process of facing the toxic relationship I had (still have?) with time. I was constantly feeling stressed about time: time that passes, not enough time, and people always wanting more of my time.

(The real issue here was the years of working AND studying full-time, and always feeling like I didn’t own my time. But that’s a topic for another day).

So, I knew I had a toxic relationship with time, and as a result, was becoming more and more stingy with it. I didn’t want to share it with anyone.

And this was not making me happier.

One day, I decided that I needed to learn to be more generous with my time and let go of that scarcity mindset surrounding time.

This led me to look for ways to heal my relationship with time and give more of my time (instead of money or things) to other people.

That’s how, as I was spending more and more time outside, observing nature, touching trees, and picking up leaves, I thought I would try and turn these beautiful leaves into something I could share with other people.

2. Making a card for someone forced me to identify the people who made a difference in my life

At the time I was making those cards, I was going through a vast process of ‘relationship decluttering and was trying to identify who the people who mattered to me the most were.

Hand made Christmas cards with dry leaves

And so, since I didn’t have a list ready of specific people or great friends, I decided to pick just one person. Just one person who had made a difference in my life in the past year and show that person my appreciation.

Turns out, one person kept coming into my mind: my little cousin.

She was only 7 or 8. I had only met her the year before. But at a time when I was feeling lonely, sad, and depressed, she opened her heart to me and gave me so much love. She would hug me, draw pictures of me and her, take me to the park, show me her games…

Just thinking about it now makes me tear up.

Yes, she is just a child, but this child made my life brighter.

And so, I decided to pour all my love into making her a card.

That card turned into two cards, then 3, and soon, I had made 7 cards for 7 different people!

Random people, and not so random people: my land-lady (who’s always so kind), my neighbor/barber around the corner who always stopped to ask me how I was doing, my aunt who lives alone 5 000 km away, etc.

3. Making cards was a healing process that helped me find gratitude for what I already had, and express that gratitude

The process of making a card for someone from scratch forced me to focus my attention on the good already present in my life, instead of what was missing.

I had to figure out who I was making the card for, and why them. I had to remember the positive impact each person had on my life, no matter how small.

As a result, I started feeling more lucky and blessed than ever. And during the few days it took to make these cards, I had no choice but to focus on that feeling of gratitude.

Related post: Self-care through art: 4 Easy tutorials to soothe your mind

4. What you put your attention on, grows

When you make something for someone (whether you make a card, bake cookies or knit a scarf), you put effort into it: time, energy, and attention.

If you focus on all the reasons why you cannot be generous with others, then you will feel a lack, as if something is missing. If, on the contrary, you find something, anything, you can share with others, you will slowly realize how much you can bring to other people and all the things you have going for you.

5. For a few days, making something creative for people I love gave me a purpose

What do you do with your free time? Do you spend it constantly streaming series and movies or scrolling on social media?

How many hours a day do you spend doing just that?

I’m betting a lot.

But here’s the thing, I don’t know about you but I don’t feel better after doing that. On the contrary, if I spend too much time just lying down consuming content, I usually feel even more lousy the next day.

That, however, is not how I feel when I spend my time making cards and expressing gratitude for someone else.

Once I was done making the cards, I felt a sense of accomplishment I rarely felt anymore. Like I had done something truly “useful” with my time.

That feeling was new and pretty cool.

6. Making something creative for someone else is a therapeutic experience

Expressing my love for someone else through a creative project was surprisingly cathartic. I actually cried while making the cards.

As If I was finally finding a way to express all the love I had in me that I was unable to express until now. It was just stuck inside, waiting for someone to love me so I could love them back.

Now I think of most things as energy. The love you feel inside of you, for example, is energy and energy needs to circulate. If you imprison energy inside your head, your heart, or your body, it becomes a poison that slowly destroys you.

Energy has to flow freely, like a river. And once you let that energy flow, it stops eating at you.

Although it sounds simple, it’s not an easy thing to do. In fact, this whole project was not all happy-rainbows-and-roses. Well, not the whole time. It was actually a little hard emotionally. It was fun too, and very rewarding, but it was also hard at times. 

But once I had poured all my loving energy into those handmade cards and sent them to their rightful owners, I stopped feeling bad, sad, anxious, or unloved.

I was liberated.

7. Creating handmade cards made me feel vulnerable, and that was necessary

As I’ve already mentioned here, it takes some level of self-confidence or trust in one’s abilities to be able to produce something new and push it out into the world.

Making something creative or artistic for someone else is “risky” and can make you feel vulnerable. After all, you put yourself in a position where you risk getting hurt.

That is unless you consciously decide to let go of the outcome (see my next point).

Hand made Christmas cards

Because, the truth is: where there is no risk, there is no reward.

Yes, some people didn’t reply to my card, but most did and the ones who did reply seemed really touched.

Some of the recipients were even lonelier than I was and knowing that someone sat there, and thought about them long enough to make something for them made it all the more special.

Had I not put myself out there, put myself “at-risk”, and showed vulnerability, I would have deprived myself and others of this wonderful experience.

8. Making handmade cards was another situation where I had to let go of the outcome to truly reap all the benefits of the experience

As I was in the process of making the cards, I noticed two things:

  1. If I thought too much about what the card was going to look like in the end, if the person would like it, etc. I felt stifled. I could not progress and I felt frustrated really fast.
  2. The same thing happened if I started doubting myself and thinking things like “what if they think it’s silly, ugly, or worse if they don’t even remember me”??

In order to enjoy the creative process and actually finish the project, I had to stop focusing on my fears and what others would think. I just had to enjoy the ride.

I had to think about what looked pretty or not to me and worry only about the colors, the beautiful leaves, and making sure I enjoyed the process. When I did that, my creativity was on fire.

Also, don’t expect something in return, like a card, a compliment, or a phone call. The point of doing this is not to get something, but to give something. The point of doing this is to express your love and gratitude for another person. That’s it.

9. Actions beat playing things out in your head, every single time

One key thing I’ve learned in my journey out of depression is that actions beat inaction every – single – time.

You can sit on your ass and think about all the people you love who don’t love you back, or that are far away from you, or all of the things that are not working in your life.

Or, you can roll up your sleeves and start acting on your instincts and make things happen.

Related post: The one mindset shift that helped me overcome depression in under a year.

Creativity is action. Art is action.

Not only are they actions, but they are a form of self-expression: it’s you putting yourself out in the world.

Creativity and art are acts of bravery.

And more often than not, acts of bravery result in increased self-respect and self-confidence.

10. Making cards for other people and seeing the result made me feel good about myself and my abilities

After making handmade Christmas cards for the first time, I learned that I could be creative if I simply allowed myself to be.

All these years I kept telling myself that I was not a creative person, I was the one slowing down my creativity and I was the one stifling me.

The cards are not necessarily great works of art. And frankly, it doesn’t matter if they are not perfect. I can always improve if I keep making new ones every year.

But that’s not the point.

The point is, they looked good to me, and I had made something with my own hands! And I finished.

I focused my attention on something that would have appeared impossible to me a few years back, and I did it better than I had expected.

And at a time where I was struggling with depression, it made me feel good about myself.

I also learned that my abilities are not fixed, that I am way more than I think I am, and that I can do a lot of things if I just give myself a break.

11. It made other people feel seen and loved

And that, on its own, is gold for the soul.

DIY Christmas cards with dry leaves

2. How to make Christmas cards out of fall and winter leaves

As mentioned, I am not, or at least I wasn’t the crafty type. So, this tutorial on how I created handmade cards from scratch will be short and, I’m hoping, straight to the point.

Also, you will not need a ton of supplies. I don’t believe in purchasing a million stuff just for one project, especially if you’re never going to use them again once your creative project is done.

I strive to keep things as minimal as possible.

So, if you are not very crafty but are looking for easy Christmas gift ideas, or if you have a bunch of dried leaves at home and are not sure what to do with them, this handmade card tutorial might give you some ideas.

Now that this is out of the way, how do you make simple, yet beautiful, minimalist Christmas cards out of fall and/or winter leaves?

Step 1: Go outside and enjoy nature

The first step is about simplicity and inspiration.

Go for walks outside!

For months I made it a priority to go for long, daily walks outside, all year long and simply observe nature and the beauty that surrounds me.

That’s how I ended up with so many dried leaves, flowers, branches, and plants in general.

The color variations, the different shapes of leaves and how they evolve in each season, the different color patterns and textures… Nature was slowly starting to inspire me.

At some point, I had so many dried leaves at home and they looked so beautiful that I decided to share them with other people, people who did not have access to them.

And that’s how I ended using leaves in my handmade cards.

So go outside, observe, soak it all in, and allow yourself to be inspired.

Step 2: pick out leaves

what to do with dry leaves

The plants you have access to will depend on the specific region where you live.

Being from Canada, I am surrounded by Ginkgo Biloba, Maple, and Pine trees but that does not mean that you have to use these leaves specifically for your handmade cards.

Find beauty where you are and use what you have.

Pick a good variety of leaves. It will give you more room to be creative and allow you the freedom to play around with your handmade cards.

Step 3. Snap a few polaroid pics if you want

This step is not essential but I’ve used polaroid pics on some of my cards and I liked the result.

I took a few wintery pictures or pictures of things that reminded me of specific people and added them to my cards.

Hand made Christmas cards with dry winter leaves

Again, I had a good dozen pics but I only used 2 or 3 of them.

Step 4: let the leaves dry if necessary

Once you have your leaves picked out, you may have to dry them.

I didn’t really dry the different types of pine tree leaves I used. I only let them air dry for a couple of/a few hours.

As for the other leaves (like the Ginkgo or Maple leaves), I dried them for at least a couple of weeks. I used white, printer paper; placed the leaves on one side then folded the paper in two, and inserted them in between the pages of every possible book or notebook I could find in my house.

I constantly have leaves drying somewhere in the house.

Step 5: buy paper (color patterns), scissors, ribbons (optional), and glue

Ah, supplies!

You will need:

  • A color palette
  • Paper
  • Scissors + Edge scissors
  • And 3 different types of glue
  • Optional: ribbons + 1-hole punch

Color palette:

Hand made Christmas cards color palette

Have a color palette in mind when picking out your paper.

There is no need to go overboard and pick too many colors; 2-3 different colors of paper are more than enough.

Keep in my mind the color of your leaves when picking out your paper.  

I opted for very basic colors like whites, beiges, and navy for my paper to put the focus solely on the leaves.

If you need inspiration or help to find your favorite color mix, you can search for “color palette” or “warm tones” or “neutral tones” on Pinterest, or you can also try Canva’s color palette generator.

Paper:

  • I bought 4 different types of paper:
    • 2 bristol boards in navy and cream;
    • 1 white/see-through type of paper;
    • 1 white piece of paper with fringed edges and a ribbed texture made of cotton.
  • I used Fabriano paper in blue and cream. I think it was this paper right here, but I recommend you go to a physical paper shop to pick out the paper you like best (according to color, texture, and feel).  
  • Unfortunately, I cannot find the reference for the “see-through” paper, sorry!
  • And the thick white paper made out of cotton is this one.

I picked out 1 large sheet of each color (20 x 28 inches) that I then cut out in different sizes.

Other supplies: scissors and edge-scissors, glue, etc.

DIY Christmas cards supplies
  • The edge scissors add a little something extra to the simplicity of the cards. This is not the exact model I purchased but it’s pretty similar.
  • As for the glue, I recommend 3 different types of glue: crazy glue, “liquid” glue, and a more “solid” glue.
    • You will quickly notice that the clear glue and or the crazy glue work best for gluing the leaves to your paper, but the solid glue is better for the transparent paper.
Notice how the liquid glue creates a smudge? (left side of the card). The solid glue would have been a better option here because the paper is too thin.
  • 1-Hole punch and ribbons (optional). The hole punch and ribbons can be useful if you want to tie your greeting card to a gift (bottle, for example). I’ve also used the little paper circles left to create a snowy effect on my cards.
Snowy effect with paper scraps 🙂

Step 6: Forget judgment and make something YOU find pretty

Forget what other people might think of your card. Go back to (previous) point I.7.

Layer your different sheets of paper until you find a combination that looks nice.

Diversify the layering for each different card.

Take inspiration from reality and try to mimic real nature on your cards.

Be “creative”. For example, I used the scraps of paper left from cutting with my edge scissors to create the illusion of snow on the ground.

I used the little circular white papers left from using the hole-punch to create snow flakes.

I used little pieces of pine trees to recreate a little forest, etc.

Sometimes simplicity is the best option.

Step 7: Let your cards dry

Allow sufficient time for your handmade cards to dry fully before putting them in envelopes. I’d say at least overnight.

First, allow the glue to dry by leaving the cards on a table.

Then, once the glue is fully dry, place the cards inside large, heavy books and notebooks, in between sheets of white printer paper.

Step 8: Buy envelopes and mail your cards

If you didn’t keep the size of your envelopes in mind while cutting out your cards, then don’t forget to measure your cards before going out to purchase your envelopes!

Step 9: watch out for:

  • The type of glue you use: different types of glue don’t work the same way on different types of paper and leaves. Make a few tests first.
  • Envelope size: when cutting out your cards, keep in mind the format of your envelopes!
  • Pine trees can lose their needles: it’s not dramatic and I still used them on my handmade cards, but it’s something to consider.
  • Perfection: it doesn’t matter if your handmade cards have imperfections. Seriously, more often than not, it’s the intention that counts. And if the recipient of your card does not see that, then it is their problem; not yours.

That’s it! You’ve officially handmade a very thoughtful gift for someone else for the Holidays.

I hope this Christmas card tutorial gave you a few ideas of handmade gifts you can create or creative things you can do with your dried fall and winter leaves.

Looking for other easy tutorials for improving your artistic abilities as a beginner? Check out this post:

4 Easy exercises to shake up your artistic skills

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About Steph

I am a personal growth/self-management enthusiast. I was able to completely transform my life using everything I share here. I hope this blog helps you transform yours as well.
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