My childhood was filled with vivid images of characters from Roald Dahl’s books, including little Matilda nestled in a stack of literature, The BFG and his parachute-sized ears and James and the Giant Peach floating to a new adventure. All of those feelings of awe returned when looking at the Royal Mail’s Roald Dahl stamp collection, created by London-based Magpie Studio.
Even though the collection was released much earlier in the year, I couldn’t help but reach out to Jamie Ellul, co-founder at Magpie Studio, with some questions.
Did this project hit the nostalgia button for anyone on your team?
It really was a dream project. As a kid, one of the first books I remember my mum reading to me was The Twits. And later, when my brother was a little older, we’d huddle on the bed listening to her read The Witches. The great thing about Dahl books is they really fuel your imagination — so it’s quite apt that we had to use ours to do him justice in stamp form.
Tell us how you were connected to this project and the client?
We’re lucky enough to have been working with the Royal Mail since we started Magpie Studio in 2008. Since we started Magpie, they’ve been a really supportive client and in 2009 they gave us the opportunity to design a set of stamps and collectibles for Winnie The Pooh. After that, I guess we’ve become the go-to design agency for children’s books!
What was it like to bring such fantastic stories to life with this project?
It was both daunting and fun. Most people forget that Quentin Blake’s illustrations were mainly in black and white (apart from the covers themselves). The color we all remember was in Dahl’s prose. So when we came to designing a set of colourful stamps, we realized the books weren’t going to give us everything we needed. Pretty early on we got in touch with Blake’s archivist who was invaluable in unearthing rare color illustrations and little-seen images. The daunting part was doing the whole thing justice, as we knew it would be a blockbuster set for Royal Mail. It was also important to us to make sure the words themselves were part of the set. This came into play on the miniature sheet featuring The BFG, where we had room to add a paragraph of Dahl’s text, describing the moment The BFG meets the Queen. A playful nod to the ‘Royal’ in Royal Mail.
What did you find most challenging or most exciting about this project?
As mentioned above, one of the tricky things was finding colorful imagery, particularly from the early books. But it also lead to the most exciting moment of the project —meeting Quentin Blake himself! He was a total gent and his studio was everything you’d imagine — pile upon pile of watercolor paper on every surface and books piled to waist-high everywhere you looked. He was kind enough to agree to color the BFG images on the miniature sheet and to illustrate the inside of the collectors’ pack we designed. Definitely a career highlight so far.
Tell me about your studio?
Magpie Studio was set up in 2008 by three friends — Ben Christie, David Azurdia and Jamie Ellul — that met at art college in the late 1990s. The studio was started with a simple mission: Great ideas paired with beautiful craft. Over the past four years, the team has grown to seven full-time staff [members], with a host of talented collaborators. Their work has caught the eye of a dream list of clients including BAFTA, The British Heart Foundation, Channel 4, D&AD, Nike, Royal Mail, Samsung, Tate Britain and University of the Arts London amongst many others.
Creative Directors: Ben Christie, David Azurdia, Jamie Ellul
Designers: Aimi Awang, Ben Christie, Jamie Ellul
Illustrator: Quentin Blake
Writer: Donald Sturrock
Client: Dean Price, Design Manager at Royal Mail