Postcrossing Blog

Stories about the Postcrossing community and the postal world

  icon

Chrissy Lau is an award-winning, British-born Chinese designer/illustrator based in Sydney, Australia. Her designs are inspired by her Chinese heritage and are instantly recognizable by her signature delicate lines and intricate patterns.

A sheet of Christmas Island stamps on the theme of the Lunar New Year of the Ox 2021

Chrissy took the time to answer Clarisse (aka CStar9)'s questions via email last summer, including sharing her unexpected journey from law school to full-time illustration, the many ways her family and culture influence her work, and why she always begins her drawings on A4 paper. Lunar New Year is just around the corner, so this seems like a nice time to publish her interview here on the blog!

A photo of Chrissy in her studio
Photo courtesy of Chrissy Lau
Your recognizable style carries across many different media (stamps, Royal Mint coins, sculpture, labels, murals, books). I learned from another fantastic interview that you’re a self-taught artist. Wow! What was your journey to professional art?

Ever since I can remember, I loved drawing. It had never dawned on me to pursue a creative career, it was just something I did to express myself. I was also very academic. I went to a private high school where they focus on careers such as medicine or law… which is why I graduated with a law degree.

I never became a working barrister; I knew after two weeks of law at uni that I didn’t like it. I carried it on anyway, as I thought it would be a good degree to have! A bit silly, but you feel responsible when you grow up with two parents who left school very young and worked very hard at their Chinese takeaway. They were always very supportive of any decisions I made, but I put that pressure on myself to finish my degree.

A few of Chrissy's designs. Some of the illustrations are featured in coins and wine bottles.
A few of Chrissy’s designs (explore more in her portfolio!)

Growing up, everyone was so encouraging about my drawings and always told me how creative I was but I never considered it as a career. There was an insane amount of reading to do at uni, so I drew more and more to keep myself sane. After uni I decided to see if I could sell my drawings. I still didn’t have the courage to pursue illustration full-time, so I continued with commissions at night whilst juggling various day jobs.

You took the plunge in 2013 to work as an illustrator full-time. What was your first postal commission?

An envelope featuring Guernsey Post's Lunar Year stamps for the year of the horse My first postal commission was Year of the Horse 2014 for Guernsey Post (read more about that philatelic series here).

Since then, I have illustrated each animal zodiac. 2024 will be the Year of the Dragon. The final animal of the series will be the Snake, in 2025—that will be a full zodiac collection of stamps.

In 2021, Australia Post commissioned the Year of the Ox, and I’ve continued with them on an annual Zodiac series. Australia Post's Christmas Island stamps for the New Year of the Tiger. Australia Post's Christmas Island stamps for the New Year of the Rabbit

In general, do you approach stamps differently than other work?

Stamps are really small, so the designs need to be eye-catching and not too detailed for technical/manufacturing reasons. The stamps I create for Guernsey Post and Australia Post are gold embossed (or foiled), so there needs to be enough breathing space between the lines as well as a minimum line weight so that they can be printed correctly.

What’s your personal relationship to paper in general, and to postal mail specifically?

I always sketch on paper. I need something physical to hold and see in order to get started. I like plain A4 printer paper. If the paper is too nice, or if it’s in a nice notebook or sketchbook, I always fear ruining it!

I like sending cards but I’m not fussed about receiving them. My family lives in England (where I’m originally from; I now live in Sydney) so I always like to send letters, photographs, and drawings to them.

Can you give us an example of how your East-meets-West identity manifests in your work?

I take my experience of growing up in England (1984–2007) and Australia (2007+) and mix it with my experience of being British-born Chinese. I have only lived in the Western world, so the inspiration/imagery of Chinese culture is what I’ve seen in England and Australia.

Illustration from Chrissy’s interactive<br/>
StoryBox animation My Father's story
Illustration from Chrissy’s interactive
StoryBox animation, My Father’s Story

My late father was my biggest inspiration and a fountain of knowledge when it came to learning the deeper meanings and symbolisms of Chinese culture. My dad had an incredible journey climbing over the border from China to Hong Kong when he was 10, to escape poverty. He was a big believer in feng shui and also very superstitious, so we always had long chats about my designs as well as Chinese history and Chinese art. When I create Asian-influenced art, it runs quite deep with meaning and symbolism as I pay homage to my heritage and my dad’s influence, whilst also creating something mesmerising to draw in anyone of any heritage. I grew up in Northern England and pretty much experienced racism on a daily basis, so to create Asian-inspired art means I am sharing my culture/heritage to create more familiarity and less hostility.

The stamps I create are launched from the West, but they are also sold in China and other Asian countries, so before they’re approved, we seek feedback from Chinese stamp experts.

I spend lots of time researching to ensure each object in the illustration represents something meaningful in Chinese/Asian culture. It’s important for me to create beautiful art that is intriguing and enticing and can be enjoyed by the viewer in a way that invites them to find out the deeper meanings behind the art.

Chrissy in her studio, a view from above, featuring her at her desk surrounded by artwork
Chrissy in her studio. Photo courtesy of Chrissy Lau.
The foundation of your artwork seems to be fountain pen and ink. How does that manifest in the digital age?

Before 2018, my art was very detailed and hand drawn: lots of black ink and splashes of red. I really enjoyed the style of block printing, so I liked to emulate that. I also drew a lot of hair with fine lines and lots of patterns. In order to become more commercial, I have had to evolve and inject more colour into the art whilst retaining my signature patterns.

In late 2018, I started to use an iPad to create art. I was very skeptical, but it was recommended to me by Luke Shadbolt who is a very talented photographer and husband to fashion influencer Nicole Warne. I was commissioned by them to do some illustrations for their wedding invitations, and they both said the iPad was a game changer for them. I haven’t looked back since – a small investment but one that has paid dividends.

chrissylau10

My old process was hand-drawing sketches, scanning and emailing to the client, and once they were approved, I would outline in fountain pen and rub out the pencil marks. If I didn’t have a firm hold of the paper it would scrunch along with the eraser! I would then scan the outline and email to the client. Once it was approved, I would colour digitally in Photoshop on my laptop (I taught myself how to use Photoshop when I was 12, so years later it came in handy!).

My new digital process cuts out scanning/erasing, which speeds things up a lot. The iPad also allows me to create artwork in vectors (vectors don’t diminish in quality no matter how much you zoom in, as opposed to raster – when you zoom in it gets blurry) on the Adobe Illustrator app. It’s like drawing with a pen and paper, and it cuts out the need to learn Adobe Illustrator’s desktop version with a mouse, which is much trickier.

What element of your job as an artist do you like the most, and why?

I enjoy the challenge of turning a brief of words into visuals. I really enjoy creating art that’s inspired by my Chinese heritage because I can share the art with my children and teach them about their culture.

What do you like least about your work as an artist?

I’m not keen when clients change the brief halfway through as I’ve already completed a lot of research and brainstorming, or they tell you it’s a rush job and then take ages to give their feedback. It’s not that bad really, though as it doesn’t happen that often.

What is something are you proud of, outside of your artwork?

An illustration featuring a person and lots of small drawings floating above their head I’m proud that I am a good problem solver. I’m good at teaching myself how to do anything I put my mind to.

In 2010, I was asked by a recruiter if I knew what search engine marketing was and if I’d be interested in a job. I didn’t know what it was, but I learned to analyse data with various formulas and turn it into a report presentation… so I got the job! I did it for three years and I didn’t actually enjoy it, but I’m quite proud that I figured it out.

I am proud of my two sons – and of the fact they can grow up worry-free. I grew up as a translator for my parents (English was their second language), so a lot of responsibility fell on me. I also worked in their Chinese takeaway from a young age; it was just what had to be done. But I am grateful that I learnt lots of skills (using a wok, counting money, preparing food).

To learn more about her Chrissy, check out her website and portfolio. Over the years, she has given several interviews — for instance, about her work for the Sydney Lunar Festival, Guernsey Post, IllustrationX or Collective magazine.


Good news, everyone! Clarisse has a few sets of postmarked FDCs featuring Chrissy’s Lunar New Year stamps to send out to some randomly picked postcrossers! 🎉 To participate, leave a comment below sharing your Chinese zodiac sign or what your plans are for Lunar New Year celebrations (if any)! Come back this time next week to check out the winners, which will be selected randomly.

And the winners of this giveaway, as chosen by Paulo’s random number generator are… KeepItReal, Annemarielouise, norma4728 and skyjuice! Congratulations, and thank you all for participating!

  icon

Over the forum, there’s a fun topic called “You know you’re a postcrosser when…”, started by Jenny (aka Axolotl_) back in 2021. We love seeing what people post there, so we thought we’d share some of the ones which jumped out at us (though it’s very hard to choose!).

One of the earliest posts by Jewell (aka jewelldelis) does seem like a bit of a giveaway, and other members have mentioned similar:

You know you’re a postcrosser when… Your postal worker knows you by name.

I don’t think I’m quite at that stage myself, but I do wonder sometimes if the person emptying the pillarboxes sees all my postcards pushed in at once and thinks “ah, it’s that one again”! Though it’s rare for me to send as much as Ksenia (aka Xute). She says:

You know you’re a postcrosser when… you measure biweekly sent cards in centimeters rather than a number

She included a picture, too!

Sometimes it’s not just about us. It’s the way the whole family gets involved. For example, even Shannon (aka MystiqueDeep)'s kids are in on the Postcrossing fun:

You know you’re a postcrosser…

  • When your children all have their own postcard collections, and they are already so large they need multiple binders just to keep them.
  • When a neighbor doesn’t recognize the image on your postcard and your 4-year old tells them it’s a mailbox from Japan.

It’s not just at home with the neighbours and the local postal workers, either. Kanerva has even been spotted as a postcrosser in a touristy spot:

You know you’re a postcrosser… When you are buying postcards in a tourist hotspot and the clerk behind the counter asks if you are a postcrosser by any chance?

I’ve been asked about all the postcards I was buying before, but they didn’t know about Postcrossing yet. Don’t worry, I told them all about it!

Quite recently, Sai (aka Boson) shared the fun facts about addresses that he’s learned because of Postcrossing. He says you know you’re a postcrosser when:

You know you’re a postcrosser when… you eventually know

  • UAE, QATAR, Jamaica, Bahamas, Belize, Fiji, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Guyana, Gambia, Tuvalu, … don’t have Postal codes.
  • and Some have only one postcode for the entire country/territory:
    • Gibraltar – GX11 1AA
    • Christmas Island – 6798
    • Vatican – 00120
    • Macao – 999078
  • Gabon has 2 numbers, and Iceland, Bahrain, Madagascar, Oman, … have 3 number postcodes
  • Some places have two postcodes like Germany’s/Swiss exclave/enclave Büsingen 1 to forward mail easily
  • There is one Remote encoding facility in Utah 2 that decodes all US unreadable addresses by USPS

Check out his post to see the other things he’s learned!

On another note, Maggie (aka fire_maggie)'s suggestion got me thinking:

You know you’re a postcrosser when… you check how to say “where is the post office” and “commemorative stamps” in the local language before traveling, along with the cost to send postcards from that country.

Clearly, I need to add this to my travel checklist… Do you know how to ask for stamps in many languages? I think I could manage French, and I always have my wife to ask in Dutch. After that I might be stuck. Better preparation next time!

For those who have a mailbox to open, Nadine (aka Amalaswintha)'s got a suggestion:

You know you’re a postcrosser when… you are trying to open every door with your mailbox key.

I’m kind of relieved I don’t have a mailbox, because I can definitely picture that happening to me. But Kasia (aka kasia_kiwi) has one I definitely relate to:

You know you’re a postcrosser when… you know the locations and collection times for all the postboxes in your village and you take postcards to send on your walks (which are always planned to pass by a postbox).

That was actually my only motivation to go for walks for a while. I used my Postcrossing cards to get me out of the house, because I wouldn’t want to disappoint anyone by not posting their postcards right away!

That was just a selection of all the fun ideas people have shared about what marks them out as postcrossers on the forum. It’s obvious how much time people take over Postcrossing and how much they love this hobby, and it gives us the warm fuzzies. (And as you can see from this post, I’m the same!)

What about you—do you think there’s something very specific that marks you out as a postcrosser?

  icon

Did you hear that sound? It was the sound of postcard number 75 million reaching its recipient and being registered!! Woohoo! 🎉 We’re ¾ of the way to 100 million postcards, which feels like a little unreal… but it’ll still take some years to get there, so we have time to get used to that idea. 😅

And since we’re talking about numbers, January is usually a period where we like to stop a moment to reflect and plan, so it’s a good time to go over how Postcrossing did in 2023. Let’s look at numbers!

4,955,460 postcards received

That’s 38,008 postcards less than in 2022… but overall, not that much of a difference, especially considering all the postage increases.

28.24 average travel days and 18.67 median travel days

That’s a little bit higher than last year, with mail taking on average about a day longer to get to its destinations… which may be explained by the next statistic:

26,736,461,421 kms (16,613,266,909 miles) traveled

26.7 billion kilometers (or 16.6 billion miles)! Pretty impressive, right? Even though we sent less postcards overall, our postcards traveled a 5.5% higher total distance than in 2022! There are still quite a few postal routes not working at the moment, which influences where postcards can be sent.

A map of the world, connecting Spain to New Zealand with a line

19,960 kms (12,403 miles) was the longest distance traveled

As is becoming tradition, it’s a postcard from Spain to New Zealand that takes the medal for the card that travels the longest distance! Postcard ES-731128 took 50 days to cover the 19,960 kms that separate Úbeda in southeast Spain) to Tauranga, in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty!

The average distance a postcard traveled in Postcrossing in 2023 was much less than that though — about 5,395 kms (or 3,352 miles).

1,146,458 postcards were sent from Germany

Woohoo! Our German members have once again taken the cake, thanks to their enthusiasm, reasonable postage prices and to Deutsche Post’s Cards for Literacy campaign… but the USA has slowly been closing their distance in the rankings! Could they one day surpass Germany? We’ll have to see!

Ranking Country/Territory Postcards sent
1🇩🇪 Germany1,146,458
2🇺🇸 U.S.A.956,688
3🇷🇺 Russia402,525
4🇳🇱 Netherlands234,464
5🇫🇮 Finland210,123
6🇯🇵 Japan181,951
7🇨🇳 China166,752
8🇹🇼 Taiwan146,210
9🇨🇦 Canada120,579
10🇧🇾 Belarus117,186
11🇬🇧 United Kingdom103,556
12🇨🇿 Czechia90,437
13🇫🇷 France88,759
14🇵🇱 Poland77,736
15🇦🇺 Australia58,809
16🇮🇳 India56,420
17🇨🇭 Switzerland55,540
18🇦🇹 Austria54,559
19🇮🇹 Italy47,709
20🇱🇹 Lithuania47,162

For the people who are new to this statistic, let me take a moment to explain that this is the number of postcards sent from these countries which were registered in 2023. That means that there are some postcards in there that were sent in 2022 and registered in 2023, and there are also some postcards requested in 2023 that are not counted in this statistic (those are still traveling and will likely be registered over the next few weeks/months). Looking at postcards registered within a certain timeframe and sticking to it makes it easier to compare with previous years though, so that’s what we usually do.

Shelleh sent the most postcards

So here’s a curious fact: this year, the top 5 senders in Postcrossing were all from the USA: Shelleh (2,483 postcards sent), BeckyS (2,391), suegathman (2,357), Djain (2,284) and christelvonderpost (2,145). All of these members have chosen to exchange postcards with their own country, which, in a big country like the USA, means that they often send postcards domestically, speeding things up. If we remove domestic postcards from the equation, the members who have sent the most postcards internationally in 2023 were CarminaBurana (Canada), ned44440 (Ireland), diams1 (Switzerland), SMatti (Finland) and tiinama (Finland)!

Åland Islands sent the most postcards per capita

And here’s the usual ranking per capita, for countries and territories with more than 10 members. Some shifting up and down the rankings, but not a lot of big changes overall.

Ranking Country/Territory Postcards per capita*
1🇦🇽 Åland Islands147.6545
2🇫🇮 Finland38.0792
3🇱🇮 Liechtenstein21.8940
4🇱🇺 Luxembourg20.6622
5🇱🇹 Lithuania16.9068
6🇩🇪 Germany13.8248
7🇳🇱 Netherlands13.6071
8🇧🇾 Belarus12.3544
9🇲🇴 Macao10.8433
10🇪🇪 Estonia8.9493
11🇨🇿 Czechia8.5112
12🇬🇮 Gibraltar8.2449
13🇬🇬 Guernsey8.0180
14🇱🇻 Latvia6.8226
15🇨🇭 Switzerland6.5214
16🇹🇼 Taiwan6.2345
17🇦🇹 Austria6.1669
18🇸🇮 Slovenia5.9796
19🇬🇺 Guam5.9481
20🇭🇰 Hong Kong5.0911

October 1, 2023 was the day in which more postcards were sent

No big surprise there! 🙃 World Postcard Day is the day to send postcards, and postcrossers have embraced this cause with relish. Apart from this day (and September 30, which is already World Postcard Day in some countries), the other top 10 days with most postcards sent in Postcrossing are all in the first three months of the year.

January 18, 2023 was the day in which more postcards were received

A lot of postcards from Germany arrive all throughout January, so there are several January days in the ranking of “days with most postcards received”. Other peak days are 11th October (World Postcard Day cards, we assume), 29 of December (post-holidays)… and 31st of May, for some inexplicable reason! 🤔

Postcards were sent from 221 countries and received on 159 countries

So you might be wondering, how can postcards be sent from 221 countries (and territories), when Postcrossing only has members in 201? It’s the magic of Travel Mode! This year, our members really went for those exotic locations, and we saw postcards being sent from places like Cocos Islands, Burkina Faso, Nauru or Turks and Caicos! That said, the number of countries and territories in which our members have received postcards has also increased (from 153 in 2022 to 159 last year), which is good news!

13,015 new forum topics and 805,416 forum posts in 2023

Woohoo! The forum continues to grow, little by little, which is heartwarming. Community is about people coming together, and the forum is the place where that happens for postcrossers.

And speaking of forum, here’s a new statistic for this annual post:

1,826 meetups in 62 countries

Pretty impressive, right? We wish there was a way of quantifying how many friendships have been made in the years the project has been running, but these things are hard to count. Still, it’s nice to know connections are being made and friends are getting together around postcards!

11,731 emails replies

And last (but definitely not least), our support team has replied to an Everest-sized amount of queries by you all, sent to us via the contact form. One of our goals for 2023 was to get some help dealing with these, and we did — Iris (aka scrutiny) is now part of our support team, replying to your requests for help every day… and helping the rest of the team have a bit more time for other tasks.

That’s it for 2023! Time to look ahead, plan 2024 and make exciting things happen! What will YOU be up to this year? And do you have any exciting postcard-related goals you’d like to share?

PS: Some of you might have noticed we didn’t run the usual annual Postcrossing census last December. It’s a lot of work to process all the census data, and since these things don’t tend to change that much in the span of a year, we’ve decided to switch it to a biennial format. It’ll be back in December 2024, but in the meantime, you can send your tips and feedback to the team through the contact form… or on a postcard, for bonus points! 😊

PPS: For those of you who would like to see longer rankings (which are cumbersome to put on a blog post), here they are!

  icon

The writing prompts invite postcrossers to write about a different topic on their postcards’ messages every month. These are just suggestions though — if you already know what you want to write about, or the recipient gives you some pointers, that’s great too!

For this month’s writing prompt, Jane suggested a fun idea in the forum topic. Idioms and sayings related to colour are common, but can mean very different things in different countries. For example, “to be blue” means one thing in English (being sad), while in German it means something else altogether (being drunk).

In January, write about colour-related expressions from your country.
A black lamb eating some hay

I only speak English well, so I don’t know how well a lot of the idioms I say translate into other languages. For example, if I say “tickled pink”, is there an equivalent of that in French or Japanese or Farsi…? If I talk about “being the black sheep”, would that make sense if it was translated literally into other languages? I feel like “black sheep” might translate quite well, because sheep are usually white (if you ask someone to draw a sheep, they’ll probably draw something white and fluffy), and it’s pretty clear that the black sheep would stand apart from a herd of white sheep… though this, too, is probably regional. If you have mostly black sheep in your country, maybe the term for someone different would be “white sheep”…?

And what about other idioms? That seems a lot less simple. “Red herring”, a favourite term for mystery writers in English, for example… I can imagine that you could say “red herring” in another language and it’d just sound like you were speaking literally of a fish that is red. I’m definitely curious to hear whether that term translates, or how you’d refer to a misleading clue in your language!

It’s a fascinating subject, and we’d love to read your answers here in the blog comments. But you can also use it as a topic to write about this month, if you’re not sure what to say!

  icon

So, this is a bit of a different post, but we’re excited to tell you about a school in northern Ghana that is improving the lives of children there through affordable education! While most of us might take education for granted, it is not so in many places. So read on to learn more about this special school and also, to learn how you can also help.

A child in school uniform draws the letter U on a sheet of paper

The goal of the Prince and Princess Foundation Academy is to provide an affordable academic environment in Tamale, catering especially to lower-income families. The heart of this initiative is to ensure that no child is denied their future due to high educational fees. The school’s mission is to nurture and develop the prospective leaders of Ghana, empowering them to contribute positively to their nation.

Children follow their teachers in the school playground

The journey began in 2014, with the school being constructed on a generously donated plot. Thanks to the unwavering support of donors, by January 18th, 2021, the academy opened its doors with six classrooms (for crèche, nursery, and multiple kindergarten and primary rooms), with 185 students at the moment. The school is about 75% complete, and the team is now on a mission to expand the school to the basic level, which will ensure that up to 355 children from the Kunyavilla community and surrounding areas like Shishegu, Dungu, Asawaba, and Nyohini can attend and benefit from it. Currently, classrooms Primary 5 and 6 are being built, and bricks are being moulded to prepare the construction of the computer lab and the library.

One of the standout features of this project is the team’s commitment to transparency. Donors can witness the building progress online, with detailed updates on the construction process and tons of photos. This level of openness is not only commendable but also fosters trust and encourages more people to join the cause. At the helm of this initiative is postcrosser Sisu Haruna (aka dotsiisu), who brings with him years of teaching experience in private schools. Last year, we had the chance to meet him and team member Belén (aka Belen94) in Seville, to chat about the academy and their plans. They both shared stories about the school, which Belén has visited and volunteered at. Their passion to education and commitment to the children of Tamale became clear to us, and so we’re happy to help them make this project a reality!

An empty classroom, with walls of different colors and tables and chairs in rows

You can help too by donating to the school! Every contribution, no matter how small, brings the academy closer to its goal. Donations will be used to fund the acquisition of essential resources, building materials and equipment, which you can accompany on their website. And as a bonus for the postcard enthusiasts, for every €10 donated, the school will send you back a nice postcard, featuring some highlights from Ghana! You can find more information here.

Two people stand on benches and chairs while painting animals on a colorful school wall

By contributing, you’re not just building classrooms; you’re shaping futures. Many of our members have already generously contributed to this project, and as a token of gratitude, the academy has named one of their classrooms after the “Postcrossing Community”, which is a really touching gesture. 🥰 We’re proud of the work that Sisu and his team are doing at the Prince and Princess F. Academy, and hope to see the school completed and their classrooms filled with students very soon!