Cutting-pasting masters are today’s stamp designers | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 31, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 31, 2008

Cutting-pasting masters are today’s stamp designers

Below from left, a postal stamp designed by artist Quamrul Hasan and another one designed with a photograph by a non-artist.
Courtesy: Shakul Islam md Mohsin

Potage stamp designing is losing its appeal in recent times as many stamps are being designed by people with no academic background in fine arts or having no idea of creative design.
Non-artists like philatelists and stamp dealers are designing a good number of stamps because they have a good connection with the postal department, said stamp artists, philatelists and sources at the postal department.
Lack of genuine artists' involvement, absence of regular competition or enlistment of artists, and unwritten rules for artists' recruitment and commissioning are a few reasons behind the low quality of stamp designs, said artists.
According to artists, a gap has been created between the senior artists and the postal department over the years due to their non-transparent ways in recruiting artists and a non-functional stamp advisory committee.
They said overall composition is not properly maintained in stamp designing. The name of the country and price of the stamp are not incorporated in the design. Therefore, these are haphazardly written over the design and the stamps look awkward.
Offhand designs, low printing quality lacking finer details and gaudiness are lowering the aesthetic value of the stamps, said experts.
"If you have a good knowledge of using any image editing software in computer you can also be a so-called stamp designer," said Siddiq Mahmudur Rahman, a philatelist and writer of several books on stamps.
"Some philatelists without any knowledge of art and aesthetic sense are doing stamp design," alleged Rahman.
Renowned stamp artist KG Mustafa said, “Unfortunately, many stamps are being designed by some 'cutting-pasting masters' by using images in computers. The gravity, depth and richness of drawings are lost."
Due to inclusion of non-artists in the job the finer sides of arts in stamp designing are lost.
"In 1991 I designed a series of stamps on martyred intellectuals using crayon pencil sketch. It created a grey tone in the picture. But from 1993 to 2000 they employed non-artists who used simple black and white photographs of the martyred intellectuals,” Mustafa said.
“The authorities do not have the ability to discern the fine line between crayon work and black and white photos. They are happy with that job,” he said expressing frustration at the current trend of stamp design.
According to the artists, selection of artists is not transparent and done following some unwritten rules. Competitions are not arranged regularly and senior artists do not want to take part in those competitions with the juniors.
"Unfortunately those selected from competitions are not qualified enough," said renowned stamp designer Dr Manjare Shamim who was invited by the postal department after winning third place in a competition on World Communications Year arranged by the department in 1983.
He won the second place in another competition on the occasion of 14th Islamic Foreign Ministers Conference in the same year.
"Gradually the designs started to lack creative ideas and seemed to be done in a very offhand and laid-back manner," said Shamim who designed a four-stamp series on butterflies, a three-stamp series on Los Angeles Olympic in 1984 and a two-stamp series on World Peace Year in 1986.
Officials dealing with stamps at the postal department also do not have any idea on stamp designing which discouraged artists in experimenting with new designs, he pointed out.
Aminul Haque Mallick, a listed artist of postal department without any academic background in fine arts, said he had done four designs of stamps and none of them were drawings or paintings.
"I did four designs -- three on Olympic and one on Rotary. I used the image of a bell of Rotary, a combination of the first stamp of Olympic and the photo of the father of Olympic, and reproduced from a sketch of marathon to design these stamps. All of the images were set up in computer," said Mallick, working as senior sports reporter of the daily Korotoa and general secretary of Bangladesh National Philatelist Association (BNPA).
Asked about his background in fine arts, Mallick said he used to collect sports stamps and thus gathered experience in stamp designing.
Dr Kazi Shariful Alam, president, BNPA and a professor of Dhaka University's marketing department, said he had done three designs of stamps -- all of them computer-generated.
"Two stamps were on martyred intellectuals which I did in computer using photos supplied by the postal department.
Asked whether he had any academic background in fine arts, Dr Alam said he has a good idea of colour combination from collecting stamps. "I did the designs by giving instructions to the computer operator," he said.
"I submitted the designs and those were approved. It proves that non-artists can also do designs like artists and can be their equals," he added.
Anwar Hossain, a listed artist of the postal department and a graduate of fine arts, said that till 2000 he did the designs manually but after that he started using computer graphics since it was a modern technology.
"I know creativity and three-dimensional effects are missing in computer designs but still I use computer because it takes lots of time to draw a picture manually and a very few people understand fine arts these days," he said.
Tayabul Islam, director (stamps), Postal Department, however said, “There are only a few who are doing designs without academic background in fine arts. Most designs are done by artists or the students of fine arts.”
Appropriate authorities approve the designs, he claimed.
“For an example, the design of the stamps published on the occasion of Beijing Olympic was done by a philatelist. This design was approved by the International Olympic Committee," he said.
Asked how the designs are approved he said they have a primary selection committee. They see the design and do necessary changes. Then the DG gives final approval. If necessary it is shown to the ministry concerned.
About young artists getting priority over senior artists, Islam said, "Of course senior artists do better designs. But senior artists take lots of time. Sometimes we are given very little time, say 24 hours or 2/3 days. In these cases we go to the young ones as they can do the designs very quickly.”
He however admitted that the quality of stamps goes down if they are designed hurriedly.
"We received a few complaints about not commissioning senior artists as many asked why we were not commissioning them. We select artists through competitions where senior artists do not take part," he said.
About the committee that selects and approves designs KG Mustafa and Dr Manjare Shamim said they had been called by the postal department to be a member of the committee but was not given any formal letter.
Asked how artists are enlisted at the postal department for the job of designing stamps Islam said this year enlistment of artists will be done and advertisements will be circulated in the newspaper.
The last enlistment was done in 2002 where 17 people were enlisted. At present around 12 people are enlisted, he said.
"Stamps are vital tools in representing a country in the outside world. So we should be very careful about the designs of stamps and about choosing those who will design the stamps," said Shamim.

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