An illustrator’s Christmas

20 December 2017

Our Assistant Curator Georgina looks back at 2017 and for this festive season, she shows us some iconic Christmas stamp designs by illustrator Axel Scheffler.

Painting of a cat, mouse, penguin and snowman in a snowy scene.

Snowy Landscape with Characters, original artwork by Axel Scheffler

Now we have moved into our new home here at The Postal Museum it’s a chance to start new projects. I’ve been asked to continue listing and housing our huge collection of stamp artwork. The collection consists of the adopted designs by the commissioned artists, which made it on to our postage stamps, but also all the submissions that were less successful. When looking through a box last week thinking about a theme to blog about this Christmas I came across original paintings by Axel Scheffler for his Christmas stamp issue of 2012.

Miniature sheet of seven stamps consisting of Father Christmas, a snowman and a robin.

Miniature Sheet, Christmas 2012

Axel Scheffler is a German born illustrator now living and working in London. Many people will recognise his work from his collaboration with Julia Donaldson on ‘The Gruffalo’, a children’s book about a mouse and a terrifying monster. The seven stamps produced by Scheffler feature iconic Christmas images; Father Christmas, a reindeer, a robin and a snowman. His playful depiction of these characters makes them instantly likeable.

Artwork

Two paintings; one of Father Christmas holding a robin and the other of a reindeer.

Father Christmas and a Reindeer, original artwork by Axel Scheffler

Three paintings; a cat and mouse, a robin on holy and a snowman with a penguin,

Cat and Mouse, Robin, Snowman and Penguin, original artwork by Axel Scheffler

The above images are the final adopted designs – produced by Scheffler – to be used in the stamps. I especially like the robin holding the star, I think he looks a little suspicious. You can see that the images don’t currently have backgrounds. The colour blocks below are two of many Scheffler produced to use as backdrops for his characters. He has also added some trees or a snowy ground to one or two of the final stamps.

Two colour washes for the background to the stamps.

Coloured backgrounds by Axel Scheffler

Seven stamps by Axel Scheffler featuring Father Christmas, reindeer and snowmen.

All issued stamps for Christmas 2012

It wasn’t only the stamps that needed to be designed as many stamp issues come with an array of products. The below image of our characters was used on the First Day Cover insert, that provides additional information about the stamp issue and how it was produced.

Painting of Father Christmas along with a snowman, penguin and a reindeer by atree.

Group image by a tree, original artwork by Axel Scheffler

The image below you may have recognised from the miniature sheet we looked at earlier. Penguin and Snowman looking at the stars on a snowy evening. He replicated the snowing background in some of the issued stamps as well. This simple addition really gives an atmospheric feel to the image.

Painting of a snowman and penguin in the forest with trees.

Snowman and Penguin in a forest, original artwork by Axel Scheffler

By having all the preliminary work you can really see how the artist develops his ideas. Here Scheffler experiments with father Christmas’ arm and body for the final composition of the robin perched on his mitten. We also have lots of other progressive work, where Scheffler has circled or crossed out images that he thought would or wouldn’t work.

Three small paintings looking at Father Christmas' arm and the inclusion of a robin.

Father Christmas’ arm with Robin, original artwork by Axel Scheffler

And finally, from what I can see the image below was never used in the issued stamps or products for the Christmas 2012 issue, however, I love it. In a world of texting and emojis, I think this image captures a little bit of Christmas love. 

Painting of two robins with mistletoe.

Two Robins in love, original artwork by Axel Scheffler

 

From everyone here at The Postal Museum and me (surrounded by stamps), we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

– Georgina Tomlinson, Assistant Curator (Philately)