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.

A pencil sketch of a captivating little songbird

A pencil sketch of a captivating little songbird

Still whiling away the Covid hours, this time with a little songbird pencil sketch. I’ve pottered around with the camera a bit, but nothing seems to pop out saying “post me”. Plus, it’s something to do with the relentless gloom.

I started on another street scene, but I’m struggling with the basics. The perspective is almost there, but something is off kilter. It’s difficult to pin down. To fight the frustration, I switched gears back to my old feathered friends.  After flipping through a couple books, I settled on a lovely little winter sparrow. It’s also called an American Sparrow.

Start of a songbird pencil sketch

Pencil sketch of a winter sparrow - first draft

Start of a little songbird sketch

I thought about the lessons I learned over the last few years and applied them. First thing I did was layout the entire scene. In the past, I focused too much on one small area and work out from there. I sketched the outline of the bird. Then I traced in the branches and then the leaves. Working on the entire image, rather one small spot, made it easier to flesh the scene out. It was also a lot more fun. Working back and forth, laying in the basics then the shading was more challenging and interesting.

One of the other skills I worked on through the years is filling in the small details that create a full scene. Like the veins in the leaves and the shape of the fruit on the branches. I practiced drawing things like spheres and shading them, over and over. I have pages filled with them. The practice paid off. I finally got the shape and the shadows down. This in turn has created a better pencil sketch. Instead of an isolated little bird, I’ve begun to craft a scene.

The finished winter sparrow

Completed songbird sketch showing a little winter sparrow on a branch

A finished winter sparrow

The leg is a little too big and some of the feathers along the back of the sparrow are angled the wrong way. But the branches and fruit make the picture. I need to work on the leaves more. They are too static. I can feel a leaf binge coming on. I also need to work on a stronger sense of movement in the bird itself. Not sure how yet. That baffles me still. The pencil sketch is good but lacks a sense of realism. The bird isn’t lively enough. That too will come with time.

 

A struggle to get a realistic pencil sketch

A struggle to get a realistic pencil sketch

My pencil sketch of a butterfly isn’t going well. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong, but it just isn’t working out. It’s ok. But none of my attempts are realistic so far. To improve, I am keeping a journal of the steps taken to draw a realistic butterfly.

First attempt at a butterfly pencil sketch

I couldn’t seem to get the pencil strokes right.  The pencil sketch has more of a draft feel to it, but the delicate wings are baffling me. I can get the body and the shadows, but how do I capture a realistic feel to the wings?

 

Scan of first attempt at a butterfly pencil sketch nearly completed

I became frustrated with this and abandoned it.

Can’t remember what paper I used. It’s something I have laying around for doodling on. I thought maybe, I need rougher paper, something that would grab the pencil lead a bit more. Butterfly 1 was set aside.

Butterfly pencil sketch two – another meh

Scan of the second attempt at drawing a butterfly

Hmm, ok, but not realistic

I stopped at the body. The entire sketch wasn’t working. Still very two dimensional. I switched up the style and tried a stippling pattern on some of the wing portions, trying for a less mechanical feel to the bug parts. I spent about an hour working on different strokes and styles, moving between a mechanical pencil and regular pencils of various lead types. I tend to rely on 2b pencils more than I should, but I love the way it feels running across paper. And that’s where I went wrong, again, with this drawing. It’s too uniform in the blacks, and I didn’t leave myself room for lacy sections of the wing.

Looking at the second drawing makes me think just a mechanical pencil should be used. Start with a basic HB and then gradually shift to a softer led?

In search of sketching help

I watch several YouTube artists channels that have helped enormously. In this instance, I need something a bit more butterfly oriented. This one is useful for the basics How to Draw a Butterfly Step-by-Step.  It’s helpful in understanding the outline and patterns but doesn’t get down to sketching a realistic butterfly with pencils. This next site has a bit more shadowing details Easy Drawings and Sketches. I like how they shade parts of the wings to give them depth. Both helped in understanding butterfly bodies.

Third kick at the pencil can

A scan of a partially completed pencil sketch of a butterfly

Third try and it’s still not there

This one is better, but still missing depth. I’ll go back at it tonight and see how the second wing fleshes out. This time I used a gentler hand on the shading and switched up between the mechanical pencil leads and a very sharp 6b for the darkest spots. Keeping the point on a 6b is a trial.

The body has potential but needs more work. The soft feathery bits around the body need more depth and an airy feel to them, but that’s easy to correct as I go along. At this point, I’m not sure what I’m going to do for the head. I’ve spent so much time fussing with the wings. I haven’t even thought about it.

Although the wings are better defined in this sketch, I still went too heavy handed on it. That’s my drawing kryptonite. I never know when to stop with the shading and strong strokes. But the patterns are much better this outing.

There’s still an element to the butterfly’s structure I’m missing. Something about them I’m not understanding. More research is required.

Butterfly biology and summing up

This has been a maddening and satisfying exercise. I’m attempting to push myself creatively and try drawing things that … are scary to draw. No, butterflies aren’t frightening (at least to me). The fear of failing is. It’s easy to start a sketch and give up when it doesn’t work. I’m applying the ideas I’ve acquired from my amateur photography sessions to my drawing – just keep at it. Examine everything, look for tips and hints from people who are better and keep a progress journal.

One thing I did when I started drawing birds was look at ornithology texts. I went through many books and websites that dealt with detailed anatomy of bird eyes, feet, beaks, and differences in feathers. It wasn’t until I understood more about bird anatomy did my drawings improve. At that point, my pencil sketches took on a realistic feel.

Scan of pencil sketches of bird heads and beaks

First step is understanding the diversity

Scan of drawings of eyes from various species of birds

Second step is examining the finer details

I also took several trips to the Royal Ontario Museum and used their ornithology resources. The ROM has “birds on a stick” you can access to see the details up close. Their material is first rate and accessible for novices like me. I spent hours doing nothing but drawing bird feet, beaks, and eyes. Unfortunately, that’s not a luxury I can tap into at this time. I’ll have to make do with internet resources.

My recent searches took me to Cornel University’s little pdf The Biology of Butterflies compiled by Emily Kearny, Cornell University, 2010. It illustrated what I’ve been doing wrong.

An image from Biology of Butterflies showing details of a butterfly's structure

Veins and wing order

Do you see what I’ve been missing? Two vital misunderstandings of butterfly anatomy. First is the wing order. There is a forewing and a hindwing. That clarifies how the shadows on the wing should fall. It’s a subtle aspect, but important.

The bigger triumph of knowledge is in the second image. Those lines I’ve been glossing over are wing veins. They aren’t the pattern, they are veins. Funny how this bit of information has made me want to try a new butterfly pencil sketch. Knowing where all the veins are, are like following a road map to the butterfly’s design. This is exciting.

So, there you go. You get to share my successes and failures. Although, I hesitate to use the word failure in hindsight. Less a failure than a building block to achieving stronger skills.

PT 2 – I sacrificed my espresso on the altar of Left Field’s oatmeal ale

PT 2 – I sacrificed my espresso on the altar of Left Field’s oatmeal ale

While sipping on an ale, I sat back and rethought the article I was originally working on. I decided to break it down into 2, with slightly different focuses.  The decision was heavily influenced by the utter deliciousness of a cold ale on a hot day, buzzing conversations around me and  music reminding me why I love living in a large city so much.  When I walk down a stretch of road exploding in a riot of colour and ideas, I feel like I’m walking through an urban art  gallery. As I wrote the previous article, in one short walk you can encounter whimsy, anger, cynicism, hope, and a whole lot of confusion. Today’s post is all about  murals rather than the graffiti.

I have no idea where to start with this. I call it Dog-A-Thingy. Let’s just say the Zombie Apocalypse got a whole lot more interesting.

Photo of wall art showing a dog reptile hybrid

The art on this next one shuns the usual sharp (and sometimes harsh) lines usually on display. This is a fuzzy, warm mural that stands out because of the striking stylistic difference.

Photo of wall art showing fuzzy animals like raccons and deer

And then we have Mr Angry meets plastic bag.

Photo of wall art of a red dragon

Originally I had airbrushed the plastic bag hanging off the horn, but I’ve decided leave it. When Toronto banned plastic bags (for a brief time) there was a surprising decrease in the number  that drifted in the wind. When Ford removed the prohibition, bags once again became the official leaf of Toronto – hanging in trees, blowing by in the wind, filling ditches and stuck on walls. As a species, we really are asses.

Near Dog-A-Thingy, is a wonderful wall filled with vibrant colours, ivy and faux windows. The entire section looks like this.

Photo of a multi coloured window covered with ivy

At the end of the lane, you pop out onto Harbord. Before you leave, look on the west wall for a moving tribute to Toronto both past and present. It’s a beautiful mural.

Photo of mural showing the Harbord St area with large sign for Honest Ed's

The next couple of photos were taken on Harbord, east of Bathurst. Keep your eyes open as you trot along, for little lanes and alleys that hold some inspiring art. This teapot is part of a larger mural that’s beginning to flake away.

Photo of wall art of a teapot floating in the ocean

It covers a large section of the wall and some of my shots weren’t good enough to post. The angles were all wrong, contrast off and well I wasn’t happy with them. At the time I was more interested in the teapot so I’ll have to return to grab the rest.

I’m ending with my favourite shot of the day.

Photo of wall mural showing a HUGE snail with a house on it's back

He’s massive! The phto is stitched together from 6 separate shots. I scoured the print trying to spot where the pieces joined, but Photoshop did an excellent job. The perspective correction is spot on too. Very happy with Mr Snail. Or is it Mrs Snail? Is there such a thing as snail sexing? To date, this is my all time favourite street mural.

____

UPDATE:

Look for the 1st Mapping Toronto post late next week. As I was trotting down to the Boxcar, I realised I’d left out a few important things so a re-write is in order.

Waiting for the TTC @ Union Station – digital art

Waiting for the TTC @ Union Station – digital art

I’m glad I found my Wacom. I really missed it. I’ve been fussing around with it quite a bit lately, trying to create a decent brush archive. I think I’ve created a series that seem to work well for my style – between 28-38% opacity, 25-37% flow with build up and wet edges. This gives me the colour and feel I’m looking for.

I’m still cheating on the startup – I’m still doing a hand line trace of the photo, but excluding elements I don’t want in the final product. I’m also trying to do a looser outline, with more a hint of the movement in the background. And that’s were the real fun begins. It’s interesting using different brushes and colour buildups to give the illusion of a train flashing past. I didn’t do any blending this time around, I wanted a rougher feel to the movement. It’s still Photoshop paint by numbers, but eventually I’ll get to the place I want to be. I’ve begun sketching with pencil, similar scenes. So far, yeeks. My sense of perspective still screws me around. Might help if I didn’t keep getting left and right mixed up.

All in all, I’m rather pleased with this:  Digital art of people standing on the TTC platform at Union Station

 

Original photo was taken  at the Union Station TTC platform on a warm afternoon. Northbound to Finch, Line 1.