250th! Celebrate Beethoven’s birthday with stamps

250th! Celebrate Beethoven’s birthday with stamps

I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer up stamps for Beethoven’s birthday. As expected, Germany and Austria both issued special stamps commemorating the event.

Germany’s 250th Beethoven birthday stamp

Beethoven was born in Bonn 250 years ago so it’s not surprising Germany issued more than a stamp to celebrate the day.

Stamp issued for Beethoven's birthday - Germany's stamp showing Beethoven's face, with a blue background

Stamp designed by Thomas Steinacker of Bonn

Wer kennt sie nicht, die Mondscheinsonate, das Klavierstück Für Elise, die 5. Sinfonie, die auch Schicksalssinfonie genannt wird, und die 9. Sinfonie, deren letzter Satz die Grundlage der Europahymne bildet. Alle vier Musikstücke stammen von Ludwig van Beethoven, der als einer der berühmtesten und meistgespielten Komponisten aller Zeiten gilt. Mit seinem Werk hat er die Wiener Klassik zur höchsten Entwicklung geführt und der Musik der Romantik den Weg bereitet. Seine Schöpfungen zählen zum kulturellen Erbe der Menschheit und seine handschriftliche Aufzeichnung der 9. Sinfonie ist Bestandteil des Weltdokumentenerbes der UNESCO.

Ludwig van Beethoven (getauft 1770, gestorben 1827) war der Spross einer musikalischen Familie und ein klavierspielendes Wunderkind. Er lebte und wirkte zunächst in Bonn, danach bis zu seinem Lebensende in Wien. Er hat, trotz seiner Ertaubung, ein umfangreiches musikalisches Werk hinterlassen. Aus dem beeindruckenden Gesamtwerk ragen vor allem die neun Sinfonien, die fünf Klavierkonzerte und 32 Klaviersonaten sowie eine Vielzahl kammermusikalischer Werke heraus.

Who doesn’t know the Moonlight Sonata, piano piece For Elise, the 5th Symphony, also called the Symphony of Destiny, and the 9th Symphony, the last movement of which forms the basis for the European anthem? All four pieces of music are by Ludwig van Beethoven, who is considered one of the most famous and most played composers of all time. With his works, he led Viennese classical music to the highest development and paved the way for the music of Romanticism. His creations are part of the cultural heritage of mankind and his handwritten 9th Symphony is part of UNESCO’s World Documentary Heritage.

Ludwig van Beethoven (baptized 1770, died 1827) was born to a musical family and was piano prodigy. He lived and worked first in Bonn, then, until the end of his life, in Vienna. Despite his deafness, he left behind an extensive musical work. The nine symphonies, five piano concertos and 32 piano sonatas as well as a variety of chamber music works are stand outs in his impressive complete works. 250. Geburtstag Ludwig van Beethoven, Briefmarke zu 0,80 €, 10er-Bogen | Shop Deutsche Post

Deutsche Post offers several products, including the expected single stamp, souvenir sheet, maxicard and coins. Check them out at their online shop, Shop der Deutschen Post | Porto online kaufen (deutschepost.de), and use “Beethoven” in the search box if you want to see all items.

The souvenir sheet is attractive and displays the design better than the single stamp. It hides a mildly irritating design element. The top of the stamp spills off the edge, creating a bit of an unbalanced look by making it appear improperly cropped. it’s a jarring feature that doesn’t sit well with the stamp collector in me. The lack of top margin works on the full sheet though. I haven’t quite figured out why, but I suspect the stamp was designed with a sheet in mind. The lack of white margin on the top helps the eye run down the full sheet. Without the top margin, the stamps space out better.
Souvenin sheet of 10 stamps from German post office

Souvenir sheet for Beethoven’s 250th birthday

Maxi card celebrating Beethoven’s birthday

Photo of a First Day Cover showing stamps, special cancel mark and photo of Beethoven's bust

Beethoven’s 250th on a postcard

Austria’s Beethoven birthday offerings

Not to be outdone, Österreichische Post also issued a stamp for the occasion.
Austrian Post office stamp commemorating Beethoven's birthday. Stamp shows Beethoven's profile

Austrian Post’s offering


Die Österreichische Post ehrt den 250. Geburtstag des großen Komponisten mit einer mit Folienprägung veredelten Sondermarke, die sein bekanntes Porträt von Joseph Karl Stieler zeigt.
During his entire life, Ludwig van Beethoven had close ties to Vienna, the city of music, even though he was originally from Bonn. 2020 marks the 250th anniversary of his birthday. Österreichische Post celebrates this occasion by issuing a commemorative stamp dedicated to this genius of music. This stamp features a detail from the well-known portrait of the artist by Joseph Karl Stieler from 1820 along with Beethoven’s signature in silver foil embossing. Post AG
Of the two, I prefer this one. The colours stand out and with the addition of the foil embossing, the overall design has a stronger visual appeal. Combined with balanced margins, this is stamp with a better overall look. Designer Karin Klier did an outstanding job on this issue.  Klier is with the design firm Bureau Cooper. I know Cooper has designed several stamps for Austria Post since 2010, but unfortunately, their website isn’t the most informative. You can take a look at previous stamps here Bureau Cooper | Österreichische Post.
Envelope showing the Austrian Beethoven birthday stamp with special cancel mark

Austrian cover by Cooper Design

Österreichische Post |Austrian Post Maxi-card

Maxi Card by Austrian post

Impressive post card

The maxi-card (aka post card) would be a nice souvenir to send to a Beethoven lover. You can buy all items at Post AG. Use the search menu to see all Beethoven related stamps and/or coins. As of today (Dec 16th, 2020) all are still available for sale at their respective post office online stores.


If you are a collector of world-wide stamps, check out my growing spreadsheet of post offices around the world. It’s ever changing as I acquire more details. It has links to post offices and (if available) online stores. If you spot an error, pop me a comment.  It’s easy to edit someone else’s work, but a royal pain editing my own. Post Offices Around World | Bitter Grounds Magazine


Banner reading "Big List of Post Offices from around the world"
Pen tools in Photoshop & a Penny Farthing

Pen tools in Photoshop & a Penny Farthing

For over a decade I’ve avoided Photoshop’s pen tools. The struggles I’ve encountered using them have been, well, monumental. And embarrassingly frustrating. You can do wonderful things with pen tool such as take a muddy, mundane sketch and create a beautiful image with sharp, clean lines.

I had a breakthrough last week ago. I finally figured out why I struggled with them. My problem turns out to be basic. I have no sense of left/right, horizontal/vertical, clockwise/counterclockwise. If you ask me to turn counterclockwise, I stop and envision a clock face first. My brain tells me the left is -> that way. You get the picture. I’ve always known this. But it wasn’t until last week that I realised this was the root of the problem.

Those mildly quirky bits of how my brain processes certain things turns into a hinderance when working onscreen. I can’t anticipate which direction a curved too will go. I struggle to flip things and end up going through all the options before hitting the correct one. It’s impossible to work on autopilot because I need to think through every move. So, I sat down and devised a solution.

Why was it such an issue? I’ve gotten along without figuring out how to use shapes and the pen tool until now. It boils down to this – I can’t stand not figuring out how something works. I did, in fact, fire up pen tools every now and then, over the years. Frustration was the result. When I began playing around with cleaning up old patents, so they were viewable, I realised now was the time to tackle pen tools. They offered the only way of getting the crisp lines I wanted.

The line tool is basic enough. I just get impatient and oft times don’t line things up correctly. It’s the old issue of horizontal vs vertical flip and nudge a little to the right or left.  So, I sat down with the Antoinette Flyer and used it to discipline myself into getting lines even and laid down properly. Old airplanes were wonders of straight lines and cables, so it was the perfect thing to work with. Wheels were easy – the shape tools took care of that.

The propeller was problematic. I initially thought I could fudge my way through using the freehand pencil tool. It was a disaster. I wandered over to YouTube and watched a couple videos on using pen tools and that’s when I had an epiphany. Pen tools are about understanding directions. I spent a frustrating hour trying to get the curves right for the propeller and thought this isn’t going to work without someone standing over my shoulder yelling “the other left”. Little post it notes turned into the next best thing. I often have left / right notes on my screen when I’m running through a tutorial with a customer. I stuck them back on, included notes on horizontal / vertical, etc. All the little directional indicators I needed.

The propeller looked ok.

Now I felt frisky and time for more lessons with pen tools

Original sketch from an 1886 patent for a Penny Farthing bike

Here’s the original patent.

I found it in the form of a velocipede – bicycle for we mere mortals. they were nicknamed Penny Farthings. Getting all the bends correct and using different line thicknesses to create a shadow effect was a challenge. I’m a little embarrassed to admit, it took me around 8 hours to get them right. I drew them and erased over and over until I got the basics down on how the pen adjust lines.

Here’s the line drawing of the above Penny Farthing

Pen tools elevate a sketch - Line drawing of a Penny Farthing bike

Pen Tools and Shapes were ideal for this

Yes, it did take a lot of work to get the little curves correct but worth the effort. I looked at the sketch and thought it was time to elevate it to the next level.

Pen tools and a bit of colour

Final drawing of Penny Farthing with colours added

A bit of colour elevated the line drawing

I can already see ways of improving the image with a bit of free hand highlighting. That’ll take practice but will be fun.  This little patent sketch is now poster worthy. And yes, I turned this into merch. How could I not? I’m now trolling through old patents looking for other ideas to work with. This challenges my brain on so many levels. It’s exhausting but fulfilling.

The penny farthing on coasters


Wander over by clicking this link -> Bittergrounds.Redbubble to see how it looks on different things. When you get there, click on the Cycles category. I’ve been busy over at the store. Lots of things coming and going as I fuss with designs. So have fun, let me know what you think. Remember, anything you buy goes to supporting this website.


Check out my first pen tools sketch of the Antoinette Flyer mentioned above:

Cleaning up a magnificent 1908 Antoinette Flyer schematic




Cleaning up a magnificent 1908 Antoinette Flyer schematic

Cleaning up a magnificent 1908 Antoinette Flyer schematic

One frustrating aspect of collecting pioneer aviation material is the lack of clean schematics to use for display purposes. One of my favourite airplanes is the Antoinette Flyer, from 1908. It’s a beautiful monoplane.

Photo of the Antoinette Flyer in flight 1908

Fragile and magnificent

I’ve scoured the internet looking for something presentable and concluded last week that I’d have to do my own. When it comes to something like schematics, it’s essential the lines are crisp and easy to follow. They also need to be free of scan artifacts. The little spots of black and paper markings are distracting.

To achieve all of this, I had to get over my phobia of using the pen tool in Photoshop. It was the only way of getting sharp lines and smooth curves. But, I’ve never been successful in earlier attempts. And yes, I developed a bit of a fear about using the pen tool. After this job, the fear is gone. I’m embarrassed to admit, it’s easy to use and I’m unsure why I made such a fuss over it through the years. I have a lot of work to do before I become proficient with it, but the Antoinette Flyer schematic was a great start.

Antoinette Flyer schematic – 1908

 Antoinette Flyer schematic airplane 1908

Cleaned up and ready to display – click on the image for a larger image

I used a composite of a couple grainy and badly scanned schematics to build the above. It took hours to lay out the lines and align them correctly. I don’t have all the measurements included yet. I’m hoping to layer them in at a later point.  I also have the entire Antoinette engine somewhere on my hard drive. I might pull it out, clean it up a bit, and post it.

I played with several backgrounds to highlight the airplane as well as thicknesses for the lines. I opted for a very thin 2px white line and a black background. It displays the framework’s delicacy better. I tried traditional blueprint blue, but the airplane didn’t show well. The final schematic is 5,000 px x 3,843 px and prints to 10″ x 7.6″. It looks smashing.

Technology as art

One of my motivations, aside from the sheer joy of watching the Antoinette appear in pristine shape, was to use them over at Redbubble for a few merchandise ideas. I’ve played with a few postage stamps and early aviation photographs from my collection and have been pleased with their overall look. It takes quite a bit of time getting everything the right size and clarity. Schematics like the Antoinette adapt to Redbubble designs well.

Technology as art is an appealing genre. There’s something elegant in a simple schematic. I have a thing for industrial and mechanical style art, so I guess my passion for schematics is a natural extension.  I’ll be working up more ideas in the coming months.

I’m currently taking a stab at a schematic for an Avro CF-100 Canuck. It’s a bit uncharacteristic for me, I’m not normally a jet fan, but it’s a bit of a sentimental journey. The Canuck was the jet my father worked on when he was in the RCAF with the old 440 Nimble Bat squadron. It’s not looking good at the moment, I need a few more drawings and blueprints if I want it to look correct.

Enjoy the Antoinette Flyer in the meantime and pop over to Bittergrounds.Redbubble.com and check out how well the Antoinette Flyer looks.  Wish I had more space for pillows in my little apartment.

Pillow with Antoinette Flyer schematic as the pattern

Worked out better than I expected

If you’d like to learn more about the magnificent Antoinette read my previous article here:

Diving into pioneer aviation with the amazing Antoinette Flyer


Official Store Launch – merch to support Bitter Grounds

Official Store Launch – merch to support Bitter Grounds

I finally followed through on a project I started last year – merch to support the site. I spent a few months working on several design ideas, fussing over them, and looking at various online stores. Then all hell broke loose, and it was put on the back burner. Well, it is time to put all that work … er … to work.

Take a look at my merch Redbubble 

After looking at a few stores, I settled on Redbubble for a number of reasons – the most important being I’d already seen their products and liked them. A percentage of each sale goes directly to me. Shipping is available worldwide, so no matter where you are, you will be able to support Bitter Grounds and get something cool to show for it.

I haven’t had the store up long and already sold 4 items. A friend purchased 2 masks and was pleased with both the quality and design, so I feel comfortable recommending you “buy my stuff”. No idea who purchased the other items, but let me tell you, I was tickled when I woke up and found a pillow and mask sold during the night.

I have a few designs that will be up for Christmas only, so you might want to pop in now and then to see if anything tweaks your interests. What’s available? Lots of different items, like shirts, graphic ts, bathmats (I have a thing for cool bathmats), sweatshirts, socks, journals, magnets, stickers and of course masks. To see everything, you need to click the Redbubble link above,

Sampling of what merch is in the store

Masks? Yes, we have masks

Old pioneer airplane on a mask

Vintage images on masks look surprisingly good

Face mask with a cat silhouetted against night sky

Cat contemplating taking over the world

Black mask with "Coffee goes here" printed on it

Friend bought this one!


From my merch store - Canadian Maple Leaf Flag masks for sale at https://www.redbubble.com/people/BitterGrounds/shop?asc=u

Canadian Maple Leaf Flag masks -> https://www.redbubble.com/people/BitterGrounds/shop?asc=u

Most of the designs worked on masks. I’ve begun to focus on a lot of vintage stamps and aviation, so if you have a collector in your family, check out the store in a week for more philately and aviation related items. In the new year, I’m going to go heavy on both topics.

Shirts and sweatshirts too!

Coffee stain face with a lightbulb over the face

I have a couple “Coffee Stain Carl” images on the back burner

Graphic tshirt with large ink stains & slogan Carry/Spill/Repeat

Came up with this one after I dropped a bottle of ink on the floor.

Canadian flag sweatshirts

Show your Canadian pride with a sweatshirt

Most of the above designs were created over the summer months, while I was hiding out from the world. They started as doodles and sketches that gradually morphed into full-fledged shirt designs. I especially like Coffee Stain Carl (the first image). The original, was a coffee-stained note that I doodled eyes and a lightbulb on, giving me a bad case of the giggles. After refining the stain, tidying it up and finding the perfect lightbulb, CSC was born. A couple new images are in the works for the new year.

How about throw pillows?

Vintage airmail labels on a pillow

Vintage etiquette labels

One of the pillows sold shortly after it went up on the site! Colour me impressed.

Or journals

White hard covered journal with a circle stain face and light bulb

I designed quite a few journals because I use them all the time.

I have hardcovered journals scattered around the apartment. Each one is assigned a different task, so you can never have too many. You can grab soft covered notebooks as well.

Stickers, magnets, and water bottles

Magnet with Airmail symbol

Lots of stickers and magnets too

Water bottle with a skyscrapper photo on it

Dizzying optical illusions

Not sure if my fridge can hold any more magnets. Or maybe the magnets are holding the fridge together?

Bags of all sorts

Tote bag with a full picture of a dragon fly on a moss green background

Dragon flies are popular

Show your Canadian pride with a Maple leaf backpack

Or a knapsack?


Linear art work on a duffle bag

Took hours to get this design right

Black duffle bag with paint stains

Duffle bags look best with lots of colours

It’s been fun thinking of how to adapt my designs to viable products. The best part is how I can add and remove items whenever I want to make a change, so nothing will become stale on the store page. Drop by Bitter Grounds’ Shop and support the magazine. If you purchase anything, send me a photo when you get it. I’d love to hear from you.

Oh, and I have a truly ugly shirt design just in time for Christmas. A gift no one will re-gift back to you.




Austrian stamp, 2020 & a sense of humour

Austrian stamp, 2020 & a sense of humour

The Austrian post office outdid themselves in October with a stamp that perfectly symbolizes 2020.

An Austrian stamp - showing a cartoon baby elefant printed on toilet paper for Covid

Remember – stay one baby elephant away

That is a piece of toilet paper and it’s a legitimate Austrian stamp.  The design perfectly describes what all of us think about the year so far. In case you are struggling with the stamp, the point is to emphasis distances. It’s a little reminder to stay 1 meter or 1 baby elephant away from others to help prevent the spread of Covid.

It isn’t marked as sold out on the Austrian Post website, so if you are interested, you can still buy it here.  If you are looking for out-of-the-box designs this is a find. It’s a semi-postal block, screen printed on toilet paper. It’s currently selling for €5.50 and is one of those stamps that makes me wonder if it will become a hot collectable in the future.  It certainly is fascinating, from both a design and historical perspective.

Marion Füllerer, designer Oct. 2020 Austrian stamp

The designer, Marion Füllerer  describes the stamp on her website:

Im Auftrag der Österreichischen Post AG entstand dieser Briefmarkenblock auf Klopapier um die besondere Corona-Zeit fest zu halten. Klopapier wurde in Österreich zu Beginn der Pandemie zur Mangelware. Der Babyelefant ist das österreichische Symbol für den Sicherheitsabstand


On behalf of the Austrian Post AG, this stamp block was created on toilet paper to capture the special Corona period. At the beginning of the pandemic, toilet paper became a scarce commodity in Austria. The baby elephant is the Austrian symbol for the safety distance.
Marion Füllerer Wir Gestalten

Stamps have been printed on a variety of materials over the years, but this is the first on toilet paper. It is symbolic, as many countries experienced an irrational run on items like toilet paper at the start of the pandemic. The stamp takes a lighthearted poke at the initial panic when Covid-19 hit yet still maintains a serious “be safe” tone.

The designer was quite brave in using toilet paper for this Austrian stamp. I’ve read a few criticisms about it, calling it in bad taste, but it isn’t. It’s the stamp for Covid-19. It’s been a tough year all around and an injection of humour certainly helps. As well, this simple, clean design is soothing. Lots of white space, clear symbols, easy to understand and amusing. I love it.

I’m going to keep an eye open for future stamps by Marion Füllerer and have added her to my spreadsheet of stamp designers to watch. The spreadsheet is coming along slowly and when I get it a bit more organized, I’ll share it with you.

I’ve included this post in both the Design and Stamp categories. The more I explore who designs the stamps, the greater my appreciation has been of the incredible tiny works of art produced by unsung heroes of philately. So many of us collect stamps but rarely give pause to the people who put their heart and souls into creating them. Hence the slight shift in some of my articles in putting a light on the creators, not just the topic.

Don’t forget, like this page on Facebook or Twitter (links below) if you want to see the latest articles as they are published. I will be publishing a list of all post offices in the world along with links to their stores and in some cases, their online catalogues made available to the public. I’m about 1/3 of the way through the list. It takes a lot of time to find working links because not all post offices make it easy to find newsletters and lists of available stamps. I’m aiming to have it up, in spreadsheet format, by the end of this week.

In the meantime, later everyone. Let me know if you managed to buy this Austrian stamp.

Irritating Swiffer vacuum user-design flaw

Irritating Swiffer vacuum user-design flaw

Each time I use a Swiffer vacuum, I get annoyed. It has a user-design flaw that is obvious, I’m surprised it wasn’t spotted on the drafting board. It’s funny, people rarely think about the process of taking an idea from concept to market as design. Making something work isn’t enough. Asking the big question “can be used without a hassle” is equally important.  The human usability factor is a crucial step in any product design. We don’t think about it until we’re faced with a product that becomes irritating to do the simplest things, like turning it on and off.

The Swiffer Vacuum

The Swiffer Vacuum has one flaw that drives me up a wall every single time I use it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good lightweight vacuum. We bought it a few years back for my Mom when the arthritis in her hands made using a heavy vacuum difficult. It’s easy to maneuver, and efficient at picking up fluff and grit. What more do we need in a vacuum, right?

Basic design flaw in the Swiffer vac

What is the flaw? The button placement is wrong.

Photo of a Swiffer vacuum handle

On/off switch for a Swiffer vacuum

Swiffer calls the handle “Easy Grip – It’s easy, trust us.” Not so fast sparky!  Yes, it’s easy to grab, but the button placement is wrong. The on/off switch is placed where the average user rests their thumb. If you look at it in isolation, it looks fine. But, using it highlights an elementary problem. The designers didn’t take into consideration how people grab the handle.

Photo of a Swiffer Vacuum handle showing how thumb always rests on it

Silly spot for an off switch

Theoretically, I could grip it from the upper portion only but that isn’t efficient. Without placing a thumb on the arc of the handle where the switch rests, the Swiffer Vacuum is harder to maneuver. The thumb stabilizes the vacuum and makes it easier to guide under tables. This flaw pops up every time the vacuum is turned on an angle. The placing means the vacuum is constantly shut off when in use.

Thoughts on why the button is badly placed

Perhaps if my hands were larger this may not be an issue. I tend to lean more towards the notion that enough thought wasn’t given to how people grip the handle. Holding it along the grip only is inefficient, hence the reason the thumb drifts down the handle to the button. Regardless, the on/off should have been moved approx. 1/2″ lower. It’s simply too high.

The Swiffer Vacuum isn’t a bad machine. On the contrary, it’s handy and efficient, especially for people who have difficulties because of limited hand motion. Also, the super lightweight means it’s easy to move around and get under spaces.  This single issue is frustrating every time I chase dust bunnies and I find myself swearing at the vacuum quite a bit.