Scientific Illustration - Dragonfly Postage Stamps; a dream job - July 5th 2013

Story posted: Sunday, 7. July 2013 by Lizzie Harper

As a natural history illustrator, sometimes you’re commissioned to do the most wonderful jobs.  This was the case with Jersey Post’s series of stamps; damsels & dragons.

I’ve worked with Jersey Post before; having completed a series of botanical illustrations of roses for them back in 2010 (copyright Jersey Post 2010).

Postage stamps series (Roses) illustrated for Jersey Post by Lizzie Harper. Copyright Jersey Post 2010

They commissioned me again to produce a series of illustrations for their 2011 Forests issue (copyright Jersey Post 2011).

Postage stamps series (Trees) illustrated for Jersey Post by Lizzie Harper. Copyright Jersey Post 2011

However, this new series, which came out yesterday, was definitely one of my favourite jobs to date; not only with Jersey Post, but overall.  Stamps, which require detail and colour, combined with entomological subject matter and a decent rate of pay?  Heaven.

After accepting the commission and being sworn to secrecy (stamps are a competitive world, and illustrators regularly sign confidentiality agreements so other countries’ postal departments don’t steal each other’s ideas), I received the brief.

I had a list of species to include, and each stamp value had one species assigned to it; but the accessories (first day covers and envelopes) were open to interpretation, which meant I had a great deal of freedom in the compositions and could choose whichever dragonflies from the list that I wanted to illustrate.

Lizzie Harper Jersey Post first day cover

Fist day cover for "Damsels and Dragons" series.  COpyright Jersey Post 2013.

I was aided every step of the way by the erudite, accessible and endlessly patient Professor Mill of the British Dragonfly Society.

The first step was to source reference.  With dragonflies, this isn’t as easy as with some other insects (like butterflies or beetles) as the colours of the Odonata are chemical-based rather than physical.  So once a dragonfly dies, its colour fades within minutes. (Butterfly colour comes from thousands of tiny scales which remain the same shade for decades or centuries after death, so long as the specimen is looked after carefully).   Museum specimens are thus great for wing reference, but no good for colour.

I was helped by the best book on Dragonflies and Damselflies out there, Britain’s Dragonflies by Dave Smallshire & Andy Swash.  I also consulted lots of photographs taken by some extremely talented entomological photographers, all of whom very generously gave me permission to use their photos as reference.  Steve Routledge and Tim Caroen spring to mind.

Once I’d assembled my ref., I drew up the pencil roughs.  This is tricky as you need to make the animal bold but also leave room for the price, the queen’s head, and for the name of the insect in English and in latin.  It involves lots of layering of acetate sheets to ensure a word won’t overlap a wing, and that the queen’s nose isn’t touching a dragonfly leg.  

Before applying any colour, I sent these off to Professor Mill who asked for all the changes required to make the animals biologically accurate.  As a scientific illustrator, I always strive for accuracy, but it this case it was paramount as the BDS were putting their name to the stamps.  Details like anal clasper shape, colour of the wing vein, position of the wing spot, and exact shape and colour on each abdominal segment were vital to illustrate correctly.

Revised damselfly wings pencil rough natural history illustration by Lizzie Harper for Jersey Post

Revised wing spots on Beautiful Demoiselle pencil rough. Copyright Jersey Post 2013.

Next, the colour roughs.  These need to be worked sufficiently for submission to Jersey Post, but not be as fully worked as the finals.  The trick was to make them good enough to be “ok’d” by both Jersey Post and the BDS; then I could use the same artwork and work it to the final stage.  Sometimes changes are too large, and you need to start afresh, but that’s part of the job.  The main challenge here were the instances where I’d got the colour of some part of the animal slightly wrong, and it needed tweaking.  If the colour needed to become muddier or darker this was fine, but where it had to be brighter or lighter it was a challenge.  (For more on this, check out my blog on fixing mistakes "Natural History Illustration - When it goes wrong and what to do about it").

Working into the finals is more a matter of intensifying colours and adding detail than anything else.  It takes time, but is the easiest part of the job.  As always, I use Winsor and Newton series 7 brushes and watercolour paints, and Doctor Martin inks for the vibrant colours of the dragonfly and damselfly bodies.

Below are the final artworks for the damsels and dragons stamp series.  I’ve supplied these without the queen’s head and text and price as there are copyright implications relating to reproducing the illustrations in the same format as the finished stamp.  However, I include the Beautiful demoiselle to show how they look in their final layout, and the accessory artworks are allowed to be reproduced as is.  In all cases, copyright lies with Jersey Post.

It’s important to note here that it is almost unheard of for me to sell my copyright, there are enormous issues currently surrounding companies demanding copyright unnecessarily and postage stamps are almost the only exception I make to this rule, and this is because stamps are, in effect, currency and thus a request for copyright in this case makes sense.

Lizzie Harper natural history illustration of beautiful demoiselle for Jersey Post's stamp series Damsels and Dragons.  Copyright Jersey Post 2013.

Beautiful Demoiselle artwork for Jersey Post stamp series "Damsels and Dragons".  Copyright Jersey Post 2013.

Lizzie Harper natural history illustration of scarlet darter for Jersey Post's stamp series Damsels and Dragons.  Copyright Jersey Post 2013.

Scarlet darter artwork for Jersey Post's stamp series "Damsels and Dragons".  Copyright Jersey Post 2013

Lizzie Harper natural history illustration of Golden Ringed Dragonfly for Jersey Post's stamp series Damsels and Dragons.  Copyright Jersey Post 2013.

Golden Ringed Dragonfly artwork for Jersey Post's stamp series Damsels and Dragons.  Copyright Jersey Post 2013

Lizzie Harper natural history illustration of Large Red Damselfly for Jersey Post's stamp series Damsels and Dragons.  Copyright Jersey Post 2013.

Large Red Damselfly artwork for Jersey Post's stamp series Damsels and Dragons.  Copyright Jersey Post 2013.

Lizzie Harper natural history illustration of Willow Emerald Damselfly for Jersey Post's stamp series Damsels and Dragons.  Copyright Jersey Post 2013.

Willow Emerald Damselfly artwork for Jersey Post's stamp series Damsels and Dragons.  Copyright Jersey Post 2013.

Lizzie Harper natural history illustration of Dainty Damselfly for Jersey Post's stamp series Damsels and Dragons.  Copyright Jersey Post 2013.

Dainty Damselfly artwork for Jersey Post's stamp series Damsels and Dragons.  Copyright Jersey Post 2013

Lizzie Harper stamp illustration of beautiful demoiselle for Jersey Post.  Copyright Jersey Post 2013.

Beautiful Demoiselle stamp for Jersey Post stamp series "Damsels and Dragons".  Copyright Jersey Post 2013.

The supplementary artwork required is such things as covers for the mint stamps, and first day cover illustrations to go on envelopes carrying the stamps,and selvedge (the edge of the stamps).

Artwork by Lizzie Harper for stamp selvedge for Jersey Post stamp series

Artwork for stamp selvedge for Jersey Post series "Damsels and Dragons".  Copyright Jersey Post 2013

Natural history illustrations by Lizzie Harper for presentation pack for Jersey Post stamp series

Illustration for presentation pack for Jersey Post stamp series "Damsels and Dragons".  Copyright Jersey Post 2013

Lizzie Harper scientific illustration for first day cover for Damsels and Dragons series of stamps by Jersey Post.  Copyright Jersey Post 2013.

First day cover for "Damsels and Dragons" series of stamps by Jersey Post.  Copyright Jersey Post 2013.

I am really proud of this body of work, and very much look forward to working with Jersey Post (and any other stamp design company if they’re interested!) on further issues in the future.

All these stamps are currently available for sale from the Jersey Post website.

 

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