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Nancy Stahl

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Nancy Stahl photo

What inspired you to design for stamps?  Or how did you end up designing your first stamp?
I got a call from the designer, Carl Herrman and another from the head of stamp development in Washington, D.C., Terry McCaffery. They asked me if I was interested in doing illustrations for US Postal Service stamps. It was very exciting to be considered.

What design methods do you use, especially when you have to consider the final scale of your work will be quite small?
One of the reasons they asked me to draw for them was that I work on the computer and draw using simple, graphic shapes, mostly dealing with flat color in a fairly bold way. They also knew that since I work digitally, I would be able to see my work stamp size to see how well the image would hold up once reduced.

37 cent stamp with an illustrated white bird on a blue background
Stamp design by Nancy Stahl
©All Rights Reserved
United States Postal Service

How do you determine your subject or, if the subject is assigned by USPS, how do you determine how to design for that subject?
It varies. When I was asked to do American animals, I started by researching photographs of animals that I thought would be fun to draw and lend themselves to the series, which I ended up drawing in tones of blue. The committee chose the animals that I would work up into finished art.

For the 2007 Christmas stamps, I was told only to do something non-religious that would be warm and cozy. I began drawing angels, elves, ribbons and kept sketching various holiday items. At one point, I thought of mittens and then cropped in closer and closer until it became just the knitted motifs. Knitting is a passion so I was excited to knit my final art in that case.

How does your style affect your final design, or how is your style reflected in the final design?
My style is simple and graphic. I try to stick to that for the stamp images.

a 39 cent stamp with a cross stitched red reindeer
Stamp design by Nancy Stahl
©All Rights Reserved
United States Postal Service

What advice would you give to young designers? 
Persist..! If this is what you want to do, put your heart into it.

Why do you love designing stamps? What’s the best part about designing stamps?
The best part is receiving your own images on your mail. Everyone sees them. Everyone is familiar with postage stamps. So, if someone asks what I do for a living, I can tell them something that they recall having used. It's great.

What is the most difficult thing about illustrating/designing stamps?
The process can sometimes take years. I am used to quick deadlines for newspapers and magazines with the art appearing the next day or next week. When working on stamps, I have had them come back for changes up to two years later because of the long approval process. It's only truly done when it's printed and that can take a long, long time.

Nancy Stahl’s Biography

Nancy Stahl studied illustration at Art Center College of Design for two years. She moved to New York City to begin her freelance career in 1971 and continued to study by taking classes at The School of Visual Arts and Parsons School of Design.

During her three decades of illustrating, Nancy Stahl’s work has become woven into our culture. Assignments that have ranged from editorial to packaging, postage stamps, corporate identity, and television commercials have brought her work into the mainstream of everyday visuals.

Nancy Stahl’s Stamp Illustrations

The views, opinions and statements expressed on this website are those of the contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution.