Haliburton School of Art + Design instructor’s illustrations land on Canada Post stamps
By Jenn Watt
Published on May 15, 2018
The day Canada Post released its stamps with Dave Murray’s bee illustrations, the Toronto-based artist visited three post office branches to see the final product for himself.
Two of them had the stamp booklets, but he had to go to the First Post Office to find one of the first day covers, which are envelopes with a postmark featuring the date of the stamp’s issue.
“They definitely questioned why you’re buying 10 booklets of stamps,” Murray said in a recent interview with the paper.
He explained that he was the illustrator behind the rusty-patched bumblebee and metallic green bee they saw on the stamps, and of the small eastern resin bee on the first day cover.
“The First Post Office actually had me sign a booklet that they have on display,” he said.
Murray is an instructor at Haliburton School of Art + Design in the Digital Image and Design program, where he has worked for the last five years. He said he comes up to Haliburton for at least a couple of weeks a year to teach.
“It’s a nice annual retreat for me. I really love it up there,” he said.
“It’s pretty much you’re looking to combine ways to create images both traditionally through photography, drawing, painting, and bring those into a digital workspace, Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator. Even going as far as making movement, like short videos or cinemagraphs or gifs, or any other kind of animations.”
Murray was asked by graphic designer Andrew Perro if he would like to collaborate on a proposal to Canada Post to do the stamps.
“We developed a pitch to Canada Post based on what they wanted to see. [I] kind of crossed my fingers on my end and hoped they’d select my ideas, which they did,” he said.
Elia Anoia, manager of stamp program development at Canada Post, said Perro and Murray’s stamps stood out because of their colourful, bold design.
“They were unique, creative, innovative and colourful and so it would appeal to the younger generation,” she said.
Together, Perro and Murray created stamps with elements of cubism, bright colours and an almost robotic quality – something a bit different than the realism people would come to expect in nature illustration.
A viewer would expect “a technical or encyclopedic type drawing,” Murray said, “Like a really accurate visual representation.”
The process took about a year and a half, during which time he wasn’t allowed to tell anyone.
“It’s been difficult not to talk about it because as an illustrator, getting your work on a stamp, it’s really one of the biggest things you can do,” he said. “I really had to keep it under wraps. It’s a top secret mission.”
On Canada Post’s end, the process is more like two years from selecting a theme for the year to finding the right image to having it refined for use.
Each year, between 15 and 20 themes are chosen by the stamp advisory committee and about 50 to 60 stamps created based on those themes.
“With bees, we selected two stamps to represent the bees,” said Anoia.
“For Canada Post, it’s a great way for us to tell the story about bees and how important they are.”
Aside from being compelling subject matter, bees also gave the artists a chance to raise awareness about the role pollinators play in the environment and the plight of the rusty-patched bumblebee.
“Reading about the rusty-patched bumblebee was pretty shocking,” Murray said. “It’s an endangered type of bee, it’s really only been found in Pinery Provincial Park around Grand Bend, Ont., since 2002. It’s crazy to think any insect … that they’ve only seen them in this one tiny little area of Ontario. It’s crazy to think about.”
According to information on the Ontario government’s website, the cause of the rusty-patched bumblebee’s decline is not known. Pesticide use, habitat loss and climate change are thought to be factors.
The metallic green bee can be found in southern Ontario and nests in the ground.
Murray, who grew up in St. Catharines, said he’s had plenty of personal experience with this type of bee.
“The green bee I was pretty familiar with going into the project as they were a staple in my parents’ front yard – been stung by those guys a few times in my life,” he laughed.
Up next for the illustrator is a series of portraits for the NHL.
“This is a dream job,” said the long-time hockey fan.
“The first piece will likely be a portrait of the Stanley Cup, which is, I just have to sit down and laugh at myself about that,” Murray said. “Within a week and a half I’ve gone from stamps to the Stanley Cup. I don’t know what else I could ask for.”
The bee stamp booklets are available throughout Canada, including at the Haliburton post office.