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Sonoma artist Lili Arnold designs set of postage stamps

Artist Lili Arnold is putting her stamp on the world. No, really.

Arnold is the artist behind four new USPS postage stamps that became available this month in post offices across America.

“It seems fitting for spring,” she said modestly about her bright and colorful designs of Woods’ Rose, Pasqueflower, Alpine Buttercup and Wood Lily gracing a series of eye-catching Forever stamps.

Arnold, 33, was raised in Sonoma and now works out of her art studio in the Santa Cruz mountains, where she juggles a career specializing in floral prints with raising 8-month-old Rocco with her husband Ryan.

Now she counts the world’s biggest postal operator as a client.

It all started about two years ago, Arnold told the Index-Tribune. She was contacted out of the blue by a USPS representative who sources artists to create designs to present to the postal service. The contact, a woman named Ethel, had seen her floral prints on Instagram and thought they might translate pleasingly to an approximately 1-square-inch stamp.

So Arnold created a handful of designs and submitted them, knowing there was no guarantee anything would come of it. “Sometimes they move it through and it’ll happen — and sometimes it doesn’t,” said the 2007 Sonoma Valley High School graduate.

But, sure enough, earlier this year Arnold got an email from Ethel informing her the stamp would be coming in spring of 2022. It was officially released March 14, according to Arnold.

Designing a stamp presents its own sticky challenges, conceded Arnold.

“It was definitely a lot different than how I usually work,” she said of her typical 15-by-22-inch prints. “It’s much, much smaller and I wanted to be able to capture a similar feel in that format with the work I create in my own art, which is 100 times bigger.”

Or, 330 times bigger to be exact. So after some experimental sketching on her iPad, Arnold created some initial drawings and was able to zoom in and out to see if their composition was appropriately balanced and ensure the detail would still stand out in a small size. “I wanted to achieve an image that still felt like me and my art and my style.”

Clearly, her efforts paid off – and not just artistically. While Arnold was cautious to disclose the renumeration from the USPS, which was a flat fee per image, she did allow that it was “one of the most generous commissions I’ve ever worked on.”

Arnold’s destiny as an artist is possibly of little surprise considering she grew up in a home of accomplished Sonoma artists. Her father, Chester Arnold, is a renowned fine artist and longtime art teacher at College of Marin; while mom, Frances Arnold, is well known for her hand-stitched tapestries, watercolors and block prints.

Despite her pedigree, she said that even up through her teen and early college years, a future in art was more “subconscious” than a direction to which she was firmly committed. “But then I realized – it was what I like doing,” said Arnold. “I grew up loving it and having this influence.”

She adds: “I’m very aware of where my interest in art came from.”

Arnold went on to earn her degree in art from UC Santa Cruz and eventually moved back to that area to establish her career and raise a family.

Chester and Frances aren’t surprised their daughter’s “extraordinary prints and designs” led to the USPS commission.

“As a family, we have always encouraged and shared creative efforts of many kinds,” Chester said, adding that his daughter had “been driven by an unusual and positive creative force from the earliest age.” He hopes it’s a tradition that continues with his grandson Rocco and “the generations ahead.”

Oh, and Lili’s set of stamps is gracing “all of our outgoing mail,” Frances and Chester said.

Arnold doesn’t currently have any new commissions from the USPS, but said she’d be happy to work with them again.

“It’s not really up to me,” she said. “However, if I’m ever contacted again to do a stamp project I definitely will do it!”

Lili Arnold’s set of postage stamps are available at post offices and usps.com. Also available is a notecard set based on the stamp images, as well as framed stamps and framed prints of the images. Check out more of Arnold’s work at liliarnold.com.

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