19 mei 2024

Typically Dutch – songbirds

PostNL will release the stamp sheet Typically Dutch – songbirds on 13 May 2024. This issue is this year’s fourth in the Typically Dutch series. The multi-year series started in 2020 and is dedicated in 2024 to the animals we know best and that are closest to us. The 6 equal stamps bear the denomination 1 for post weighing up to 20g destined for delivery in the Netherlands. The price for a sheet of 6 stamps is €6.54.

The Typically Dutch – songbirds series was designed by senior graphic designer Adam Lane, executive creative director Edwin van Praet and concept director Huub van Veenhuijzen of Total Design in Amsterdam. Using artificial intelligence, a design was created with figurines in the shape of Delft Blue pottery. In the Typically Dutch series, stamp sheets about cows, dogs and horses were released on 2 January, 12 February and 25 March, respectively. The latest issue, with cats as the subject, will follow on 12 August.

Songbirds Of all the bird species in the world, 60 per cent belong to the songbirds. Songbirds do not use vocal cords for their singing like humans, but rather a special organ (syrinx) at the end of their trachea. Bird experts distinguish between calls (shorter sounds to sound the alarm or seek contact, for example) and songs (to defend a territory and attract potential mates). Birds produce their song by vibrating both cartilages and membranes, which is controlled by very fast muscles. The beak also plays a role. The song of each bird species is unique, allowing conspecifics to recognise each other. Bird lovers classify bird songs according to determination or song keys, such as rollicking song, motive song, strophic song and continuous song.

The house sparrow is still the most common bird in the Netherlands, although numbers have halved over the past 50 years. Sovon Dutch Centre for Field Ornithology (Sovon Vogelonderzoek en Vogelbescherming Nederland) have therefore declared 2024 the Year of the House Sparrow. In 2009, the radio programme Early Birds (Vroege Vogels) held an election for the most beautiful songbird in the Netherlands. Blackbird finished on top, followed by the nightingale and song thrush. The other songbirds in the top 10 were the robin, wren, garden warbler, tawny owl, skylark, great tit and goldfinch in succession. The house sparrow pictured on the Typically Dutch – songbirds stamp sheet was in spot 27.

Delft Blue The genesis of Delftware (Delft Blue) is closely linked to oriental porcelain. Delft was one of the strongholds of the VOC, with warehouses where large stocks of this porcelain were also stored. Delft pottery makers developed their own ceramic product that was similar to Eastern porcelain in shape, lustre and decoration. Delftware quickly became very popular and experienced a heyday between 1650 and 1750 with around 100 earthenware factories. Today, only a few factories still produce Delftware in the classic way, including De Porceleyne Fles and Heinen Delfts Blauw. Traditional painting can be recognised by the marking on the underside of the product.

Artificial intelligence IA concerns learning computer systems. These AI systems are able to make extrapolations, make decisions, make choices and come up with interpretations based on large amounts of data and algorithms. Developments in artificial intelligence are rapid and the applications are everywhere: from facial recognition on smartphones to self-driving cars and from smart thermostats to deep fakes (digitally manipulated image, sound and text). A separate discipline within AI is generative art, where the computer algorithm creates an original artwork or design.

On the stamps of the Typically Dutch – songbirds stamp sheet, two house sparrows are portrayed close together, with one sparrow diagonally behind the other. The portrait takes the form of a figurine made of shiny Delft Blue pottery. The image of the two songbirds was created using the AI programme Midjourney, which creates images based on text descriptions. At the bottom of each stamp are the sorting hook, the year 2024, the country indication Netherlands and the value indication 1. At the top of each stamp is the logo of the Typically Dutch series, with a folded Dutch pennant on the left and right. On the left sheet border, another cut-out of the stamp image is repeated in a larger size. The top of the sheet border again features the Typical Dutch logo, with a brief explanation of the relationship between humans and songbirds in the Netherlands on the right.

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

The Typically Dutch – songbirds series was designed by senior graphic designer Adam Lane, executive creative director Edwin van Praet and concept director Huub van Veenhuijzen at Total Design in Amsterdam. This Amsterdam-based design agency has been responsible for the Typically Dutch series since 2021. For the 2024 series, PostNL asked Total Design to elaborate on the Delft Blue theme by combining photography and illustrations. Delft Blue did indeed end up on the stamps, but with a contemporary twist.

Artificial intelligence
The designers began their search for the new design concept by including other typically Dutch decorative styles. ‘There are more, of course,’ says senior graphic designer Adam Lane. ‘Think Hindeloopen, Makkum, Gouda pottery, different styles for clog painting or Staphorster dotwork. These are all relatively unknown, though. Furthermore, we wanted to see if we could do more than just use images of vases, plates or figurines. We were looking for a modern twist. And so we came upon the thought of doing something with artificial intelligence. We did have some ideas thanks to our expertise in AI, but we wanted to properly explore exactly how this would take shape.’

Agency night
So the three designers organised an agency night: a brainstorming session with all their colleagues. ‘We do often meet with the agency to jointly refine ideas or approaches together,’ says concept director Huub van Veenhuijzen. ‘On these evenings, we combine teamwork with informal moments. After working hours, we all eat pizza and then see where the group’s creativity takes us. About 25 designers collaborated for this particular project. In small teams, we used the AI programme Midjourney to combine typical Dutch subjects with various decoration styles. Delftware proved to work best, with other Dutch decoration styles being too unfamiliar to AI. The results were magnificent, with dreamlike and often surreal images of diverse subjects: from ice skates, cheeses and board games like Game of the Goose to Dutch interiors and garments – you name it. At the end of the evening, the portrait of a dog suddenly cropped up. We all thought that was interesting. That was the direction in which we wanted to go. Why not a series of the animals of which we Dutch are especially fond?’

The most Dutch bird
Birds know no borders. Unlike the other animals on the stamps in the Typically Dutch series, there are therefore no bird species that are only found in the Netherlands. ‘But the house sparrow, as illustrated on the stamps, is the most Dutch bird,’ Van Veenhuijzen says. ‘There’s a reason why we use the word house sparrow to describe a homebody. The house sparrow is the most common bird in the Netherlands, but numbers are declining. I also notice this where I live, in Amsterdam-West. You hear fewer and fewer birds. I’ve been reading posts on social media saying that children growing up in the city nowadays hardly know that birds can sing.’

A bird-friendly garden
Van Veenhuijzen’s colleague Edwin van Praet, executive creative director at Total Design, finds himself in happier circumstances. ‘My wife loves birds. Our garden in The Hague, where we live, is completely bird-friendly. In winter, we provide food such as fat balls. There are hanging nest boxes and every year we have young birds in the garden. All sorts of birds come and fly by. Finches, tits, robins, as well as exotic species like collared parakeets. And these in turn pose a threat to the house sparrow because they use the same places to build a nest. They also compete for the same type of food. The feathers of the birds are most striking, including those of the house sparrow. When birds lose a feather, it always grows back in the same colour and shade. Extraordinary.

Animal duos
After the brainstorming session, Lane, Van Praet and Van Veenhuijzen fleshed out the idea of favourite animals. Animals were shortlisted and two animals per stamp were chosen instead of one. Van Veenhuijzen: ‘Working with animal duos created something very familiar. Like seeing a double portrait of your children. The images were created by entering AI commands. You describe the desired situation, the lighting, the position of the animal, where the viewer is standing and so on. That way you steer the AI programme in the desired direction.’

A lot of birds were pictured, Van Praet says. ‘From chickens to pigeons and hawks to peacocks and parrots. Still, we wanted to depict some smaller birds and we tried to steer Midjourney in that direction. This produced great results, but often it was too much, since we were looking for intimacy, more cosiness. Also, the programme added too many frills and we didn’t want that. We wanted more cuddliness and the last series suddenly included this image of house sparrows. Truly a bullseye. The image tells the story of the animals we all love, the animals we love to care for. Who are close to us, both literally and figuratively.’

As with all the animal duos in this year’s Typically Dutch series, the animals depicted clearly belong together. Van Veenhuijzen sees them as buddies, even brothers perhaps. ‘Everyone can decide that for themselves, of course. This has always been our approach too. Under no circumstances did we want to create traditional couples, which is also less contemporary. There is something cheerful and curious about our house sparrows. They look confidently at the camera and their demeanour is resolute. I am particularly impressed by the deep dark blue of their eyes, with the beautiful reflection in them. And also by the softness and fading at the feathers on the wing, as if made with a brush stroke. The pattern on the chest again refers to a Delftware vase. As a result, the image is simultaneously fluffy and porcelain-like.’

A powerful image
The Typically Dutch – songbirds stamp sheet is the fourth issue in the series, but was designed as the second. The portrait of the sparrows also determined the cut-outs of all other animals in the series. Van Praet: ‘With the sparrows, we found out how powerful the image was when we took a portrait from the chest. It is clearly not nature photography. This was the look we were going for, the intimacy with real close-ups. In the end, we made every portrait, including the one of these sparrows, to our liking. There’s always something that we tweak in the composition; we are, after all, designers.’

Special design process
AI programmes are self-learning, so the results got better and better as time went on. At the end, the designers made minor changes to the AI images, for example by adjusting the eyes of the animals, removing unevenness in the representation of fur or enhancing the feel of glossy pottery. ‘The blue colours have also been evened out where necessary,’ Van Veenhuijzen states. ‘We placed a slight colour gradient at the bottom of each stamp to keep the typography legible at that spot. That was the final step in an extraordinary design process. A process in which we have combined AI with traditional design tools for a flexible and powerful workflow in which we can switch gears quickly, create and, above all, 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 left for Amsterdam to work at 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 was responsible, together with Edwin van Praet, for the design of the Typically Dutch series about our country’s places of interest.

Edwin van Praet (Breda, 1971) studied graphic and typographic design at the St. Joost School of Art & Design (Akademie voor Kunst en Vormgeving St. Joost) in Breda. After graduating, he worked for seven years as a graphic designer for Tel Design in The Hague. He joined Total Identity/Total Design in 2003, first as 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. Previously, Van Praet designed for PostNL the 100 years of aviation stamps (2019) and the stamps in the Typically Dutch series about Dutch dishes (2020), the house types and facades that are characteristic of our country (2021), typically Dutch sports (2022) and places of interest in our country (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 worked at various agencies in creative roles and was a long-time freelancer in areas including copywriting, concept development and digital applications. He joined Total Design as concept director (copy) in 2023.

About the agency
Total Design is not just a name, it also describes what the agency does. The name Total Design stands for an integrated approach, leading to result-oriented, surprising and iconic solutions for every project. Total Design has been doing just that since 1963, as a unique creative collective. Featuring young and experienced talent from various disciplines. Strategists collaborate with developers and branding experts with storytellers, in an open playground, to jointly achieve clients’ 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 +31 (0)88 – 868 99 00. The validity period is indefinite.

The Typically Dutch – songbirds stamps are marked with denomination 1 for post weighing up to 20g destined for delivery in the Netherlands. The price for a sheet of 6 stamps is €6.54.

Stamp size 30 x 40 mm
Sheet size 170 x 122 mm
Paper normal with phosphor print
Gumming gummed
Printing technique offset
Printing colours cyan, magenta, yellow and black
Print run 75,000 sheets
Appearance sheet of 6 stamps with similar designs
Design Adam Lane, Edwin van Praet and Huub van Veenhuijzen of Total Design, Amsterdam
Printer Cartor Security Printers, Meaucé-La Loupe, France
Item number 440661

© 2024 Koninklijke PostNL BV

Issue: Typically Dutch – songbirds
Issue date: 13 May 2024
Appearance: sheet with 6 stamps with 6 similar designs
Article number: 440661
Design Adam Lane, Edwin van Praet and Huub van Veenhuijzen of Total Design, Amsterdam

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