21 juli 2024

Typically Dutch – horses

On 25 March 2024, PostNL will publish the Typically Dutch – horses stamp sheet. This issue is the third to be published in the Typically Dutch series this year. The multi-annual series started in 2020 and, in 2024, will be dedicated to the animals we know best and are closest to us. The six identical postage stamps will be marked ‘Nederland 1’, the denomination for items weighing up to 20g destined for the Netherlands. A sheet of six stamps costs €6.54. The Typically Dutch – horses issue was designed by Senior Graphic Designer Adam Lane, Creative Director Edwin van Praet and Concept Director Huub van Veenhuijzen from Total Design in Amsterdam. Artificial intelligence was used to create a design featuring figurines in the shape of Delftware pottery. The Typically Dutch series featured stamp sheets on cows and dogs that were published on 2 January and 12 February respectively. Issues on songbirds (13 May) and cats (12 August) will follow later this year.

Horses The horse (Equus ferus caballus) is a domesticated (tame) ungulate from the order of Perissodactyla and the Equidae family, which includes the wild horse (Equus ferus). According to most historians, domestication started approximately 6,000 years ago. Roughly 300 breeds of domesticated horse are recognised, and each breed can have a different colour variety (combination of colours and patterns) and markings. Details of stallions, mares and foals of each breed are recorded in horse breed registries. There are four breeds of horses with origins in the Netherlands: the Friesian horse, the Gelderland horse, the Groningen horse and the Dutch draught horse. The Netherlands has approximately 400,000 active riders and 450,000 horses (2015 figures). These are impressive numbers compared to the 40,000 horses in 1985, for example. In the Netherlands, horses used to be used as agricultural and carriage horses and for military purposes, but nowadays they are mainly used for recreational activities and sport. Equestrian sports’ interests are represented by the Royal Dutch Equestrian Federation (KNHS). The KNHS represents 140,000 equestrian athletes who practise a variety of disciplines including dressage, show jumping, vaulting (acrobatics), eventing (formerly military), carriage driving, reining (western riding) and endurance (long-distance riding through nature).

Delftware The history of Delftware is closely linked to that of Chinese porcelain. Delft was one of the VOC’s trading posts, with warehouses where large stocks of this porcelain were stored. Delft potters developed a type of tin-glazed earthenware that could be compared to Chinese porcelain in terms of shape, shine and decoration. Delftware became very popular over a short period of time and experienced its heyday between 1650 and 1750, when there were around 100 pottery factories. Today, only a few factories are still producing Delftware in the traditional way, including De Porceleyne Fles and Heinen Delfts Blauw. The traditional painting style can be recognised by the mark on the bottom of the product.

Artificial intelligence AI refers to computer systems that mimic human intelligence. These AI systems are capable of extrapolating large amounts of data and algorithms, making decisions and choices, and coming up with interpretations. The developments in artificial intelligence are coming thick and fast. It is used in numerous applications, from face recognition on smartphones and self-driving cars to smart thermostats and deep fakes – digitally manipulated images, sounds and texts. Within AI there is a separate discipline called generative art, which is when a computer algorithm creates an original work of art or design.

The stamps on the Typically Dutch –horses sheet feature two horses depicted standing close to each other, with their heads touching. The portrait takes the form of a figurine made from shiny Delftware pottery. The image of the two horses was created using the AI programme Midjourney, which produces images based on textual descriptions. At the bottom of each stamp is the sorting hook, the year 2024, the country (Nederland) and the denomination (1). The logo for the Typically Dutch series is printed above each stamp, with a folded Dutch banner on the left and right. On the left sheet edge, another cutout of the stamp image is repeated in a larger size. The Typically Dutch logo appears once more on the upper sheet edge, with to its right a brief explanation of the relationship between humans and horses in the Netherlands.

The Nexa Thin and Nexa Rust (Svet Simov, Fontfabric, 2012) fonts have been used for the text on the stamps and stamp sheet.

Typically Dutch – horses was designed by Total Design. This Amsterdam-based design agency has been responsible for the Typically Dutch series since 2020. For the 2024 series, PostNL asked Total Design to elaborate on the Delftware theme through a combination of photography and illustrations. Delftware did end up on the stamps, but with a contemporary twist.

Artificial intelligence
The designers began their search for a new design concept by reflecting on other typically Dutch decorative styles. ‘There are more, of course,’ says graphic designer Adam Lane. ‘There’s Hindeloopen, Makkum, Gouda pottery, different clog painting styles and Staphorst dotwork. But relatively little is known about them. We also wanted to do more than simply use images of vases, plates and figurines. We were looking to create a modern twist. And that’s how the idea of using artificial intelligence came up. We had some ideas from our experience with AI, but we wanted to explore exactly how that would work.’

Agency night
And so the three designers organised an agency night, which involved a brainstorming session with all their colleagues. ‘We often meet with the agency to develop ideas and strategies,’ says Concept Director Huub van Veenhuijzen. ‘These evenings involve a combination teamwork and social gatherings. After working hours, eat pizza together and see where our creativity takes us. About 25 designers collaborated on this particular project. In small teams, we used the AI programme Midjourney to combine typically Dutch subjects with a variety of decoration styles. Delftware turned out the best, as the other Dutch decoration styles were too unfamiliar to AI. The results were wonderful. It produced dreamlike, often surreal images of a wide variety of subjects, from ice skates, cheeses and board games like goose board to Dutch interiors and garments – you name it. At the end of the evening, the portrait of a dog suddenly came up. We thought it was an interesting idea and we decided to head down that route. Why not feature a series of the animals of which the Dutch are particularly fond?’

Wild horses
Neither designer belongs to the 500,000 people in the Netherlands who regularly horse ride. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have an affinity for it. Lane regularly works with horses due to his passion for nature photography. ‘You can find wild horses in the vicinity of Amsterdam… well, ‘wild’ as you can get in the Netherlands. In the Geuzenbos forest to the east of Spaarnwoude, Konik horses roam freely alongside Highland ponies. The horses are shy, but young animals are always curious. Horses are beautiful animals and therefore a rewarding subject to photograph. From a considerable distance, though, as they can be aggressive. Especially when there are foals around.’

A passion for horses
Van Veenhuijzen says that riders and horse owners are proud of their animals. ‘It’s remarkable how much time, money and passion people devote to their horses. Riding, brushing, combing manes, grooming hooves, mucking out stalls… People feel a great deal of affection for their horses. Perhaps it’s because of their power and majestic appearance. We get to ride them, and in return, we take care of them as best we can. They’re beautiful, wonderful animals.’

The Friesian horse
Following the brainstorming session, the idea of featuring favourite animals was developed. A number of animals were shortlisted, and two were selected to be featured on each stamp, rather than one. Van Veenhuijzen: ‘Working with animal duos created a very familiar feel – it was a bit like seeing a double portrait of your children. The images were created through AI commands. You describe details like the desired situation, the lighting, the animal’s position and the viewer’s position. That steers the AI programme in the desired direction. That was more difficult with some animals than others, but Midjourney had no problem with horses. That process actually went very smoothly. To begin with, we told the programme to use the Friesian horse, which is a familiar Dutch jet-black horse with ‘socks’ at the bottoms of its legs. But those features have disappeared due to the cutout and Delftware colour. This creates a very different look and feel, of course. We weren’t aiming to come up with a perfect representation of a horse breed – we simply wanted to create portraits of our favourite animals. The horses are looking at us with warmth. Porcelain eyes often aren’t very lifelike – they can even seem a bit scary. But not with these horses. This image also tells the story of the animals we all love and care for. They’re close to us, both literally and figuratively speaking.’

Mother and daughter
As with all the animal duos featured this year’s Typically Dutch series, the animals portrayed are clearly related to each other. Initially, Van Veenhuijzen considered them sisters. But the longer he looked, the more they appeared to be mother and daughter. ‘Maybe that’s because of the manes as well. The mother’s mane is a bit messy, while the daughter’s is neatly combed. Then I imagine that just before the photo was taken, the daughter said to the mother, ‘Come on Mum, we’re having our photo taken’. There’s a softness in the image that perfectly reflects that sense of intimacy we wanted to achieve. That’s also what’s so absurd about these images. They were made using AI and they represent small porcelain figurines. Yet you think they’re intimate portraits of real animals. AI leaves you with the feeling that something magical is happening.’

Fantasy images
For Lane, wonder and fantasy also prevail. ‘While the dogs radiated strength and the cows gentleness, here you see mythical creatures. That’s enhanced by the flowing lines and decorations on the skin created by Midjourney. With the other animals, those decorations have a classic nature based on floral patterns and landscapes, for example. On the horse hides, something very different emerged. It looks like something from science fiction – it’s like seeing planets floating around in a distant galaxy. You can also spot a tattoo sleeve – it’s very cool. At first glance, it’s all real, but AI is all about creating a distorted reality. If you look closer, you’ll see that it’s a fantasy image. The decorations look like Delftware and you recognise them as Delftware, but they have been dreamt up by AI. It’s not a real horse and it’s not real Delftware, because those are always realistic. On the stamps, that’s not the case.’

A special design process
AI programmes are self-learning, and so the results improved over time. At the end, the designers tweaked the AI images by adjusting the animals’ eyes, removing unevenness in the fur and enhancing the feel of the shiny pottery, for example. ‘The blue colours have also been evened out where necessary,’ Van Veenhuijzen concludes. ‘A slight colour gradient was also added to the bottom of each stamp in order to keep the typography legible. That was the final step of this special design process, which involved a combination of AI and traditional design tools. That resulted in a flexible, powerful workflow that allows us to move quickly, create and – most importantly – innovate.’

About the designers
Adam Lane (Hemel Hempstead, UK, 1994) studied graphic design at Southampton Solent University (UK), where he graduated with first-class honours in 2016. He then moved to Amsterdam to join Total Design, successively as an intern, junior graphic designer and senior graphic designer. Lane is part of the Branding Team at Total Design. In 2023, he collaborated with Edwin van Praet on the design of the Typically Dutch series featuring sights and attractions in the Netherlands.

Edwin van Praet (Breda, 1971) studied graphic and typographic design at the St. Joost Academy of Art and Design Joost) in Breda. After graduating, he worked as a graphic designer at Tel Design in The Hague for seven years. In 2003, he joined Total Identity/Total Design, first as a Senior Designer and now as Executive Creative Director. Van Praet is part of the Branding Team at Total Design. He has won many awards for his work in both national and international design competitions. For PostNL, Van Praet previously designed the 100 years of aviation (2019) stamps and the stamps in the Typically Dutch series featuring typically Dutch dishes (2020), house types and façades that are typical for the Netherlands (2021), typical Dutch sports (2022) and sights and attractions in the Netherlands (2023).

Huub van Veenhuijzen (Amsterdam, 1985) studied graphic design at Mediacollege Amsterdam and design and advertising at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. He has had creative roles at a variety of agencies and worked as a freelancer in areas including copywriting, concept development and digital applications for many years. He joined Total Design as Concept Director in 2023 (copy).

About the agency
Total Design is not only a name – it also describes how the agency works. Total Design represents an integrated approach, which produces result-oriented, surprising and iconic solutions for every project. Total Design was founded in 1963 as a unique creative collective and works with both young talents and experienced individuals from various disciplines. Strategists work together with developers, branding experts and storytellers in an open playing field to collectively fulfil customers’ goals.

The stamps are available while stocks last at the post office counter in Bruna shops and at www.postnl.nl/bijzondere-postzegels [in Dutch]. The stamps can also be ordered by phone from the Collect Club customer service on telephone number +31 (0)88 868 99 00. The validity period is indefinite.

The Typically Dutch – horses stamps are marked with ‘Nederland 1’, the denomination for items up to 20g in weight destined for delivery in the Netherlands. A sheet of six stamps costs €6.54.

Issue: Typically Dutch – horses
Issue date: 25 March 2024
Appearance: sheet of six stamps in six identical designs
Item number: 440461
Design: Adam Lane Edwin van Praet and Huub van Veenhuijzen from Total Design, Amsterdam

Postage stamp dimensions 30 x 40mm
Sheet size 170 x 122mm
Paper normal with phosphor print
Glue gummed
Printing technique offset
Printing colours cyan, magenta, yellow and black
Print run 75,000 sheets
Appearance sheet of six stamps in identical designs
Design Adam Lane Edwin van Praet and Huub van Veenhuijzen from Total Design, Amsterdam
Printing company Cartor Security Printers, Meaucé-La Loupe, France
Item number 440461

© 2024 Koninklijke PostNL BV

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