GUEST POST: Jame’s Bader on Beauty In a One-Inch Box

People in my generation don’t often receive physical mail. I get the occasional bill, sometimes a letter from my former school seeking money, and lots of junk mail. In this age of email and texting and online bill payments, I also never send physical mail.

This is not the case for printmaker George A. Walker and his wife Michelle. They send around 300 custom printed holiday cards every year to family and friends, and George took this as an opportunity to create a unique project. Not only do they send the cards, but George has recently started to create custom postage stamps to go along with them.

For those of you unfamiliar with George, he is an award-winning wood engraver, book artist, author and instructor at OCAD University. He has illustrated two hand-printed books by Neil Gaiman, as well as the first Canadian edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. He has also published many wordless novels with the Porcupine’s Quill including most recently Mary Pickford, Queen of the Silent Film Era (also promoted with a custom stamp!) .

George very kindly allowed me to quiz him recently regarding his custom stamps project.

James Bader: When did you learn about Canada Post’s custom stamps?

George A. Walker: It’s no secret! Canada Post partnered with the Lowe-Martin Group, which describes itself as an environmentally progressive printer based in Ottawa. The Picture Postage program was launched to help businesses promote themselves by using a custom postage stamp with their company logo or new product launch. It also offers individuals a chance to create personalized stamps and postcards. I stumbled across the offering while looking for stamp related ephemera for students taking my OCAD University course, Print Beyond the Wall.

JB: Why did this format appeal to you?

GW: I’ve had an interest in mail art since the 1970s. I was inspired by the Canadian artist Anna Banana, who has been prominent in the mail art movement since the early 1970s. She is an artist-publisher of International Art Post projects, which she creates through her project Banana Productions, calling herself the Top Banana! Her art is postage-stamp sized.

JB: Where does the process of engraving begin for you?

GW: The process starts with sketches. The inspiration is always informed by reading and looking at artists’ work that inspire me.

JB: Was there one source of inspiration for the stamps or many?

GW: The engraving was made for our annual hand-printed Christmas card. I have been using romantic images featuring my wife Michelle and me for several years now. It’s part of a series of Christmas cards that we share with family and friends. The original block size is 3″ x 4″ — so I had to reduce the size of the image to fit on the stamp. We thought it would be a nice touch to have the engraving on the card as well as on the envelope for our holiday card.

JB: Can you describe the process of changing an engraving into a stamp a little bit?

GW: I create my engravings on the end-grain of maple wood. To prepare the art for upload to the Canada Post Picture Postage website, I scan the line art into photoshop and then convert the image into a bitmapped tif file to preserve the character of the line. You can learn how to make an engraving and scan the art and by following the directions in these books:

The Woodcut Artist’s Handbook: Techniques and Tools for Relief Printmaking by George A. Walker (Firefly Books, 2010)

Print Publishing: A Hayden Shop Manual by Donnie O’Quinn (Que Publishing, 2000)

JB: How long did it take you to complete this project?

GW: The engraving and printing of the cards usually takes me a month or two to complete. The stamps are the fastest part except for the waiting for them to be delivered.

JB: Do you have any more stamps planned for the future?

GW: Yes— but you’ll have to wait to see what we’ll create for next season.

This project was one of great joy and creativity for George, yet it was not without its challenges. He confided to me that when he ordered the stamps through Canada Posts website, they were supposed to arrive within two weeks. When he still didn’t get them a month later, he followed up and they expressed their concerns concerning the copyright of the work. They believed that George was using the work of George Walker without his permission! George explained that no, he was, in fact, the George Walker who had created the original engravings, and the stamps came a week after that.

Unfortunately for the general public, George’s stamps are not available for purchase. They are simply a passion project for him, intended to bring joy to his family and friends. However, if you would like to view more of his work, he has two new books coming in 2023 that you can look forward to. The first is a new Hunting of the Snark treatment by Alison Tannenbaum with nine engravings published by the Cheshire Cat Press, and the second is a new collection of printmaking tentatively titled Ink & Paper, published by Firefly Books.

* * *

James Bader has a Masters of Arts in Classics from McMaster University.

Many thanks to James for delving into this fascinating and little-known postal possibility! If you want to learn more about the works of George A. Walker published at the Porcupine’s Quill, visit his author spotlight page.

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.