Since the U.S. Postal Service unveiled its first “Love” stamp in 1973, the annual design has featured roses, swans, ribbons and, yes, plenty of hearts. But none quite like this one.
“We consider stamps to be miniature works of art,” says William Gicker, the Postal Service’s manager of stamp development. Indeed, the average Valentine-sender probably has no idea just how much time and effort went into creating the impossibly ornate, three-dimensional handmade artwork featured on the 44th “Love” stamp.
First there was a general idea from one of the Postal Service’s art directors, followed by review by a citizen committee. Then there were months of sketches and revisions to determine the exact specification and the precise placement of every colorful swirl of paper, which required approval by the postmaster general. And then it took seven days for London-based artist Yulia Brodskaya to create the delicate heart design that will adorn the upper right corner of countless letters and cards this year.
Brodskaya created the piece using a technique known as quilling — sometimes referred to as paper filigree — which involves creating intricate three-dimensional designs with narrow strips of paper that are glued in place by their edges.
“The idea for the new stamp was to make something warm and tactile, with positive energy and personality,” she says.
But it also needed to translate to format as flat — and tiny — as a stamp, Gicker notes: “It’s arriving in the mail and people only give it a quick look, so we want to capture their attention, but we also need to keep it pretty simple.”
Quilling is an age-old craft; some sources suggest that the earliest technique dates back to ancient Egypt, according to the U.K.-based nonprofit Quilling Guild. But the art form’s roots are most commonly traced to the 15th and 16th centuries, when French and Italian nuns used paper-rolling to mimic metal filigree and created art that often adorned religious documents or containers for holy relics. The earliest quillers used the base of a feather to mold loops and circles in paper — hence the name “quilling.”
Brodskaya prefers more modern tools — a cocktail straw, toothpicks, a pair of tweezers — to meticulously shape her strips of paper.
Brodskaya’s “Love” stamp was revealed last month, and more than 150 million have been printed. Though the stamp itself is a scaled-down, one-dimensional representation of Brodskaya’s original artwork, she says she’s very happy with how it turned out.
“You can still see that this is a 3-D object, that’s what’s important,” she says. “I did take my time with this design, making sure it is as perfect as a handmade piece can be.”