Michael Wertz is a noted illustrator, printmaker, educator, and Friend of Judy. He is the Assistant Chair of Illustration at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where he teaches portfolio, screenprinting, and digital tools classes.
We first were introduced last year by Lea Redmond when we produced his RBG and vote stamps as part of her postage stamp protest project. We also made stamps with his designs for The Library Collective. During the course of these many projects we invited Michael to be part of our artist series. The result you see here is the amazing Spider & I set.
He has collaborated with clients like the DeYoung Museum, BART, Scholastic, Peaches Christ, Nike, Oaklandish, and the Oakland Museum to create vivid imagery that tells a story and delights the eyeballs. His work starts with a pencil and paper and ends up as digital collage, hand-pulled prints, books, and all manner of products.
Read more about Michael’s process, history of stamp making, and taking inspiration from Brian Eno below.
Have you designed a stamp before?
Not an actual USPS stamp (not yet anyway), but I’ve designed plenty of cinderella stamps, most notably for the Erstwhile Philatelic Society.
There are a few examples of those stamps shown below and on my website.
How was this different?
As an Illustrator I typically collaborate with a client or a group of like-minded weirdos (see EPS). In this case (Spider and I), it was a personal project I’d been thinking about doing for many years. No art director here: just my headphones, scraps of photo inspiration, a pencil, and a sketchbook. Doing personal work isn’t what I’m used to doing, so I had to let the song guide me along.
What was the most interesting or fun aspect of designing a poster stamp? What unique challenges did it present?
The challenge here is to design tiny images that will (hopefully) translate to tiny images, as well as look good when they are printed larger. Basic shapes are a must, and I couldn’t get too fussy with detail. Sometimes I can’t help myself, however – have you ever heard of “Horror Vacui”? It’s all too real. Like with Lea Redmond’s Postage Stamp Project, I like the idea that these tiny artworks might get used alongside actual postage and cause in the receiver a moment of confusion (or recognition).
Tell us about the art. Did you create something new for this stamp?
Do you know the music of Brian Eno? I love the ambient stuff, of course, but his early solo stuff was (and is) a revelation to me. This work is based on a sweet little lullaby he made called “Spider and I”. Can you imagine being best friends with a Spider? I can. I am trying to work past our very human fear of insects towards understanding – I mean, they draw, for Pete’s sake! They draw! In the air!
They draw in order to catch food to eat. Isn’t that we do?
They make intricate air sculptures with their butts! Can you do that?
Don’t answer that.
Thank you to Portland Stamp Company for being such amazing craftspeople, and to Lea Redmond for being a fierce advocate of Mail Art.
Prior stamp designs by Michael for the Erstwhile Philatelic Society are shown below.