Sandra Dionisi’s Nativity was chosen for Canada Post’s 2020 Christmas stamps. Photo courtesy of Canada Post

Nativity stamp year-and-a-half in the making

  • December 17, 2020

It’s been a long process, but Sandra Dionisi is finally seeing the fruits of the more than 300 hours labour she put into this year’s Canada Post Christmas stamp.

Her Nativity reproduction is now part of more than 450,000 booklets of Christmas stamps released in November by Canada Post.

It was back in summer 2019 when Dionisi was informed she would be one of the few artists who would get to audition for this coveted post. She and her artistic peers submitted samples of their respective work to a panel for consideration. It took a few more months before the Toronto-based artist was told she emerged as the winner, just before Christmas a year ago.

The graduate of Toronto’s Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) was tasked with commemorating the traditional Christmas Nativity in collaboration with Gary Beelik of Soapbox Design Communications of Toronto. Dionisi would depict the Holy Family and feature the ox and donkey as onlookers.

“I couldn’t of course stray too far away from the traditional image of the Nativity so I was mostly determining the arrangement of the figures, and if the animals would be on one side or both sides,” said Dionisi, an instructor at both OCAD and Sheridan College  in Oakville, Ont.

Starting early in 2020, Dionisi spent an “average of eight-16 hours a week” working on the stamp while also balancing teaching obligations and other professional assignments. She sketched some elements of the stamp by hand, particularly the background texture and the Virgin Mary. Dionisi would then scan her image and illustrate other elements in Photoshop.

Dionisi says one of the unknown difficult components of stamp illustration is that she works on a canvas that is only 400-per-cent bigger than the 32 mm x 30 mm dimensions of the final stamp. With such a small backdrop to employ, she has to ensure that every fragment is impactful.

Among the design requests made by Canada Post was ensuring that the Virgin Mary and Joseph would hold equal stature. While Nativity creations generally present Joseph with a height advantage, Mary and Joseph would be the same size on this stamp. And it was important for the Baby Jesus’ radiance to touch all the witnesses in the frame.

As for the animals, Dionisi was fixated on making them “look more captivating.”

“I wanted them to look involved in the situation, and that they would understand the gravity of the occasion. I also wanted them to look compassionate and soulful. I find that you achieve that through the eyes of the animals.”

At various junctures, her work would be sent to be reviewed by a scholarly panel, with artistic and theological consultants. She would sometimes have to wait up to two weeks for the panel’s feedback.

“It went through so much tweaking and changing,” said Dionisi with a chuckle. “But it was mostly lighting, skin colour and brightness of the fabric. It wasn’t anything structurally.”

Her work finally received the seal of approval in August. 

Dionisi’s work has received some warm plaudits from the general public.

“I received a lovely e-mail from a woman named Nora who wrote, ‘thank you for the most beautiful Christmas stamp I have ever seen.’ I was like, ‘wow, that was a really nice compliment.’ I’m pleased the public reaction has been great.”

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