A Stamp to Protect the Environment
The best thing that happened to me in 2018 was a call from the Ministry of Finance. If you are now thinking, »That was supposed to be the best thing?!« you need to know that the Federal Ministry of Finance is also responsible for the design of German stamps.
»You have been selected to join the pool of graphic designers we invite to the stamp design competitions. This doesn’t happen very often, congratulations!«
Designing stamps is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I flipped through my mother’s album, wide-eyed at the history of graphic design en miniature. My mother has kept her stamp album since the 1950s, I’ve already told her that I’d like to inherit it later, please.
Getting grants, lecturing, writing books – That’s all pretty great. But being allowed to design stamps is a special recognition. After all, the invitation to the design competitions states that the stamps should represent »the quality and diversity of graphic creativity in the present day.«
With this, I was invited to a competition for the first time last summer – no pressure! I am all the more pleased that my first stamp was published on September 3, 2020.
How stamps are made
From a pool of about 100 graphic designers, six or eight are invited to a design competition for each stamp theme. Last summer, I participated for the first time.
With the invitation to the stamp design competition, you get about 25 pages of instructions: The formats are given in millimeters and with two decimal places, special shapes are not allowed; the word »Germany« must not be smaller than a certain font size; a maximum of three designs may be submitted in a sealed envelope, presented in 6-fold enlargement and in original stamp size at the bottom left of the printout; …
An art jury will judge the submitted designs and award first, second and third place. The first place design is published, but with a long lead time: The deadline for the my stamp contest was September 5, 2019 – exactly one year ago.
80 + 40 Cent Stamp »Umweltschutz ist Gesundheitsschutz«
for the series »Für den Umweltschutz«
33 x 39 mm
Federal Ministry of Finance
Where to buy
You can order the stamp from the online shop of the german postal service.
Stamp Design Process
Despite all the formal requirements, designing stamps is great fun. That’s because artistic freedom and scope for interpreting the theme is greater than with many other commissions.
The idea: What if?
On the subject of environmental protection, I wanted to create something positive instead of the usual threatening scenarios. I thought, »What would happen if we really did this now with environmental protection?«
Then we would have fresh air, clear water, healthy food …
The drawing – liveliness by hand
After a few sketches, I worked out the draft in several revisions on tracing paper, developing lettering styles that fit the content of the words—»fresh air« in an upbeat cursive script, »flora« with floral flourishes, »clear water« as an outline only.
I did the final artwork with a fineliner, and their hatched, hand-drawn look gives the words a lively and individual feel.
A few years ago I learned a saying that means something like, »If the graphic designer is no good, he’ll add a gradient«. In German »gradient« rhymes with »no good«, so it’s fun. Since then I try to put gradients everywhere—even in my stamp designs—but only gradients that I can argue. In the brief description that you have to submit with each design in the contest, I wrote:
»The color gradient visually connects the individual aspects of environmental protection into a whole and makes one think of a landscape. The lush green represents environmental issues, the fresh blue represents health, the gradient between the two symbolizes that the two issues cannot be separated.«
Art classes and cultural studies pay off sometimes, after all.
What else is involved
When a stamp is published, there’s usually a whole host of graphic design work to go with it: The edge of the sheet of ten, two first-day postmarks and a gift card – and it all has to match the design of the stamp.
First day cancel
First day cancels are used only on the day the stamp is issued. Apparently, stamps cancelled with one of these postmarks are sought-after collector’s items. The German postal service uses two different first day cancels, one for the former capital Bonn and one for the current capital Berlin.