Meet The Yorkshire Illustrator of Royal Mail's Christmas Stamps for 2023
Tom Duxbury, an illustrator from Yorkshire, was chosen to design Royal Mail's Christmas stamps this year
Tom is an illustrator from Bingley, West Yorkshire. As a boy he would watch his mum paint at the kitchen table using a little wooden box of watercolours. ‘I found this quite miraculous,’ he tells us. ‘I thought, this is what I want to spend my life doing.’ He went on to study illustration at Brighton University, and worked in London as a graphic designer, but quickly realised it was his home in West Yorkshire that inspired him most. ‘Everything here is a story. Bingley is a land of poetry and giants. It has a distinct folklore woven with superstition and myth. For me, being an illustrator means getting the chance to respond to this inspiration.’
Between commissions, Tom is out recording the landscape through photography, painting, and writing – what he describes as ‘trying to locate the next piece of hidden treasure’. ‘I’m hugely inspired by this landscape,’ he says. ‘The Airedale Valley is an eclectic mix of mill-towns surrounded by jagged moorland and natural wonders. It is steeped in a rich history written by Victorian entrepreneurs, historians, Romantic poets, novelists and naturalists. You don’t have to spend long here to connect with this magic.’
Tom works mostly with lino-printing, carving into a clay-like block and printing with the engraved surface. ‘This produces a lovely nostalgic quality, perfect for storytelling,’ he explains. ‘Most of my commissions are for books. Carving a block is meditative, like my wanderings in nature. I enjoy how it stirs the imagination. I guess it’s all about owning a craft; and using that craft to explore inner worlds. It’s about getting close to those things we cannot see but feel.’
Before being chosen to design the Royal Mail’s stamps, Tom was approached by Steers McGillan Eves, a creative agency in Bath, to produce some initial illustrations. ‘The brief was to capture the Nativity, whilst incorporating lyrics from old Christmas carols,’ he says. ‘I found the brief quite a challenge. It wasn’t clear whether the text or image should take precedent, so there was a tremendous amount of experimentation.
The Christmas 2023 stamps are the first festive release to feature the silhouette of King Charles. The five designs are based around the carols O Holy Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, Away in a Manger, and We Three Kings. All Royal Mail stamps now carry a special barcode – and the code on this year’s Christmas stamps will allow customers to watch a festive video created by Wallace and Gromit creators Aardman studio.
‘What’s more, I lost my mother in 2020 and since then I’d found time in my studio uncomfortable. My mother had been such an inspiration to me and my three sisters. She always encouraged us to take the road less travelled. To no longer have that voice was devastating,’ Tom continues. ‘But then I rediscovered her little wooden box of watercolours in a pile of her things and somewhere I felt a spark. I began to paint the stamps using them, letting them guide the whole project. When the artworks were approved by Royal Mail and selected for Christmas 2023, the project felt like a poignant collaboration with her.’
Your favourite place to walk in Yorkshire?
An item you couldn’t live without?
Music, especially Night Tracks on BBC Radio 3.
A book you recommend.
Wilderness by Rockwell Kent.
Your favourite place to eat and drink in Yorkshire?
The Fountaine Inn, Linton.
Advice you’d give your younger self?
You don’t need all the answers to find happiness; part of the joy lives in the mystery.