David Gentleman on stamp design

Highlights from David Gentleman's talk on the 175th anniversary of the Penny Black stamp

Details

  • Michael Czerwinski
  • Highlights, Events, Feature

On 6 May renowned artist and illustrator David Gentleman joined us at the House of Illustration to help commemorate the 175th anniversary of the Penny Black stamp.

David Gentleman's work for Royal Mail spans five decades. He has designed more British stamps than anyone else. Most importantly he has been a major catalyst responsible for the mid to late 20th Century evolution of this small ubiquitous necessity - perhaps more than any other designer, he has made the postage stamp modern.

It was a privilege to welcome David to deliver a presentation about his achievements on this very special anniversary. The event was introduced by Neil Hadfield, Illustration Course Leader at Hereford College of Arts and a major driving force behind the Pushing the Envelope exhibition, which opened on the same night.

The talk lasted just under an hour, but in that time we were told a detailed and fascinating story of creative challenges and political complexity. Starting with images of his studio equipment, David described his various creative processes including pencil drawing, wood engraving and watercolour.

When describing the compositional challenges he was confronted by when designing his first stamp in the early 60s we were told about his dialogue with Tony Benn, the then Postmaster General. The controversial suggestion of removing the head of the monarch from the stamp may have been thwarted by the traditionalism of the time, but David's sensitive woodcut of the Queen's silhouette is a lasting and iconic emblem.

It's this most tiny of images that is perhaps indicative of what David Gentleman's postal work represents. A combination of crafted technical skill and sensitive illustration underpinning a challenging forward-looking outlook that ranks him as a major pioneer of British Modernity.

Michael Czerwinski
Public Programmes Manager

All images courtesy of David Gentleman