Ke Hung-tu (柯鴻圖) has been one of the main designers of Chunghwa Post stamps for the past two decades.
His artistic influence can be seen in the elements of nature and culture that have found their way onto the postage stamps.
Ke, who began his career as a commercial designer, said he is an avid stamp collector and was overjoyed when Chunghwa Post offered him a job 20 years ago.
“I never thought that one day I would be a postage stamp designer,” he said.
Ke said that because stamps are circulated and printed by the government, the thematic designs and their portrayal have to be approved by several different levels of officials, in contrast to when he was doing commercial design.
Although Ke had already made a name for himself in the commercial design sector before he started working for the state-owned postal firm, he said designing postage stamps was very different from graphic design.
For one, a stamp’s diminutive 3cm by 3cm size makes it hard to settle on a main subject to decorate it with and the placement of the subject in the design has to be carefully considered, Ke said.
In addition, the words “Republic of China Post Stamp” and the postage rates also have to be incorporated into the design, which requires a deft touch with the pen and sense of coloring, he added.
“I remember the first set of postal stamps I designed for Chunghwa Post,” Ke said, recounting that the subject matter had been papermaking and it took him a month-and-a-half to complete the design.
That was the beginning of a long period of cooperation with the company during which Ke has designed more than 70 sets of Chunghwa Post stamps — an average of three sets a year.
Most of the stamps Ke designed incorporate Taiwanese cultural elements, such as traditional architecture, art, celebrations or utilities from the early stages of the nation’s development.
Aside from weaving cultural elements into the stamps, Ke also introduces environmental issues. For example, he incorporated a hexagon into a design to symbolize a beehive and call attention to the diminishing number of bees, a phenomenon some fear may cause a global food shortage.
Although the budget allotted for the stamps’ designs has not varied greatly since he began working at Chunghwa Post, Ke said the amount of money he is paid is not his primary concern.
“Being a graphic designer is a very fast-paced job, where the products you brand quickly become yesterday’s news,” Ke said.
By contrast, “designing for postal stamps is entirely different because stamps can be collected, they are like a valuable asset,” he said, adding that the original design blueprints are archived at the Post Office Museum.
“This sense of permanence gives a different meaning to a designer’s work,” Ke said, adding that he would gladly continue designing stamps for as long as the company will let him.