Pushing the envelope: Falmouth graduate designs Royal Mail Christmas stamps
23 November 2022
Falmouth University Illustration BA(Hons) graduate Katie Ponder has designed this year’s Royal Mail Christmas stamps – which also got the royal seal of approval from her majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Since graduating from Falmouth’s BA(Hons) Illustration degree in 2014, Katie Ponder has built a successful career as an illustrator working with the likes of Dorling Kindersley, Penguin and Simon and Schuster.
Following a high-profile job working with Royal Mail on this year’s Christmas stamps, Katie’s work will become more prevalent than ever with her illustrations set to be sent all over the country and beyond.
We caught up with Katie to find out all about her fantastic achievement.
How did you come to be commissioned for this Royal Mail project?
I was approached by the designers at Baxter and Bailey in Spring 2021 with the possibility of working on the stamps. I worked with the amazing art director Rory Brady and together we developed the designs. It was an amazing collaboration with him, and we were in constant conversation developing the work.
Just before Christmas 2021, it was confirmed that the designs would be used, and we were all over the moon that the hard work had paid off! The following spring, we got official approval from the Queen, making these the last Christmas stamps that were approved under her reign.
How does it feel to know your work will be accompanying mail throughout the country over the Christmas period?
It is a huge honour to be a part of peoples’ Christmas celebrations and exchanges. I feel very moved to be a part of the festivities this year and to know that my illustrations will play a role in something so joyful. Whilst I was working on the designs, I wasn’t sure if they would be used so I worked without feeling too much fear or angst about how widespread the images would be. It’s only now dawning on me just how widespread the images will be for the next few months!
What was the most valuable lesson you learned as a student at Falmouth?
I was surrounded by incredibly talented people during my time at Falmouth, which was both inspiring and absolutely terrifying. I realised that in order to do my best work I had to develop a protective barrier between myself and comparing my work to others. This has been one of my most important lessons in life and is a lesson I need to remind myself of often!
Whilst at Falmouth, I discovered that my best work was often done when I was being playful and not self-conscious or overthinking. I think having a degree of detachment to your work is healthy, especially as an illustrator when you are working with other people and having to edit and change your art to fit with an art director’s vision. It’s a balance between having your artistic integrity but also being free and detached from your work.
I've always loved illustrating fairytales, ballet, myths and have been interested in spirituality, and now I’m doing exactly that for my profession. I spend my days illustrating operas, mermaids and holy stories and I’m having a very happy time doing it.
How do you feel Falmouth helped set you up for life after university?
I didn’t at all enjoy the part of third year where we had to organise meetings with people in the industry and start showing our work and networking – but this was absolutely the most useful part of the course in terms of developing a career as an illustrator.
Asking for advice from the people I admired was incredibly helpful to me and helped my work develop. I realised that if I wanted a career as an illustrator, my work had to be seen by the right people. Networking and being able to talk about your work are just as important as the art itself.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?
Make art about the things you love and that make you happy, because your joy for the subject will shine through and that is where you will make your best work. I've always loved illustrating fairytales, ballet, myths and have been interested in spirituality, and now I’m doing exactly that for my profession. I spend my days illustrating operas, mermaids and holy stories and I’m having a very happy time doing it.
Also, take care of your mental health. There is a cliché of having to suffer for your art, but don’t do it! I do a lot of things I need to do to make sure I’m feeling good, and I consider this an essential part of my professional practice. Take good care of yourself physically and mentally so that you are in the best space to express your creativity.