In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re recognizing some of the great female artists who have contributed to the stamp creation process. This is the first in an occasional series of interviews.
For the past decade, Nancy Stahl has helped create artwork for the Postal Service. The Long Island native’s recent projects include the Save Vanishing Species semipostal (2011)—which features a portrait of an Amur tiger cub—the Bobcat one-cent stamp (2012), and the Holy Family Forever® stamp (2012).
Recently, Stahl, who works from her studio in New York City, caught up with me via email.
How old were you when you became interested in illustration? And what interested you about it?
I planned to be an illustrator from the moment I knew there was such a thing. I remember a friend telling me she posed for a neighbor who was an illustrator some time in middle school. Seventh grade, I’d guess. I’d been drawing since I was old enough to grab a crayon. I was the one who drew the card for the kid who was out sick in class, or for the teacher’s birthday. My drawings were up on the bulletin board for the class photo. It was inevitable.
As an illustrator, who are your influences?
I have to be careful, I’m such a Zelig…I sometimes purposely keep myself from looking at other illustrators too closely out of fear that I’ll want to imitate them. In the past, I’ve been drawn to the poster artists of the ’30s and ’40s, but I’m getting away from that and trying for something more personal.
What specifically about USPS projects interests you?
The wide audience, instant recognition, the fact that stamps can be our country’s icons in a minor way and collectors will keep my images around for a very long time. I also like doing work that is very simple (not that drawing them is easy by any means… it’s often very difficult to have something read the way you want at a small size)—distilling something to its core is a great mental exercise.
You’ve worked on several stamps featuring wildlife. Have you always loved animals?
Well, it wasn’t so much my love of animals that made that happen, although it’s fine with me. Animals are what I was assigned by the USPS. I’m a city dweller. Dogs and cats and the occasional trip to the Bronx Zoo is about as close as I get to animals. But I do appreciate their beauty and am very concerned with the encroachment on their habitats.
Drawing animals is the next best thing to drawing people.
Do you have a favorite stamp you’ve illustrated? And if so, why?
I suppose I’d say the Florida Panther (2007) [left]. He came out very well. The sultry look in his eyes is pretty provocative for a postage stamp. Snowy Egret (2003) is right up there, too as it was my longest running stamp and the first in what turned out to be a series of sorts.
Which of your stamps has received the most feedback?
Every stamp has it’s niche group in addition to collectors and general stamp consumers. The cat lovers have gone for my tiger on the recent Save Vanishing Species stamp. The knitting community took notice of my knitted Christmas stamps a few years ago. It’s hard to tell which has resulted in more attention. Sometimes I’m involved and aware of the reactions and sometimes not.
At the moment, are you working on anything specific?
I am currently working on a block of four stamps. As well as a couple of book covers and some self-generated projects.