Everyone knows you haven’t truly entered the cultural zeitgeist until you’ve had your face on a stamp. But what if it’s not your face on a stamp, but your design? That’s exactly what happened when a limited run of Houston native Dana Tanamachi’s “Thank You” stamps debuted in August—right as the United States Postal Service became the latest political battleground in an already contentious election year.
Well, limited might be the wrong word; the government printed 200 million of her stamps. “I would not have imagined this happening at a time when so much attention is on the USPS and keeping it afloat,” says the now Brooklyn-based artist, who actually designed the stamp back in 2015.
When Tanamachi first lettered the elegant calligraphy half a decade ago, she envisioned it as a fixture on envelopes bearing wedding notes and other messages of gratitude from special occasions—hence the Art Nouveau aesthetic, jewel tone colors, and a plethora of shimmery gold foil. She never pictured it becoming a symbol in the fight over a 228-year-old institution, let along that its release would lead to her inclusion in conversations about saving the postal service. Though, if we’re being fair, Tanamachi didn’t see her first trip into the limelight coming either.
Unlike many artists, Tanamachi didn’t spend her early years drawing or taking painting classes, instead preferring activities like Girl Scouts and the Kingwood High School choir. Her exploration into art truly began at the University of North Texas when she developed an interest in typography during her design classes. “There’s a right way and wrong way to work with letters, but you learn the rules so you can break them,” she explains. “I think that’s kind of my personality; I like structure, but I like to play off of the structure.”
Tanamachi had no idea back then that text would lead her to future internet fame or a successful career in New York City. The artist actually had no plans to leave the Lone Star State for good, but everything changed when she scored a dream job designing Broadway posters. A year and a half later, she moved on to Louise Fili’s esteemed graphic design studio, known throughout the industry for its food-packaging designs and branding for renowned Big Apple restaurants.
Around the fall of 2009, Tanamachi started gaining a reputation of her own when an impromptu chalk wall she’d created for a friend’s party went viral. Commissions started trickling in, including ones from Google and West Elm. And then Oprah called (well, technically Oprah’s people did) and offered her a cover on O magazine.
Tanamachi, who had opened her own design studio by this point in 2011, became a kind of chalking superstar, working with name brands including Target, Nike, and Penguin Books and helping lead the nationwide surge in chalk, thanks in part to the advent of Pinterest and Instagram (which she’s also worked with, by the way). But the more places she saw the style, the more it lost its luster for Tanamachi. “Nobody was doing it at the time, so I, by default, became the expert,” she recalls. “People really associate me with that medium and that particular aesthetic. I didn’t want to be known as this one-hit wonder.”
Tanamachi quit chalk art in 2014, instead relying on her graphic design skills to reel in new clients like SXSW and Starbucks—though she admits to coming out of retirement when Michelle Obama asked her to work on her Global Girls Alliance initiative in 2018. But can you really blame her?
Now, she’s inadvertently become part of efforts to save USPS. Tanamachi is probably more surprised than most to see her stamp suddenly behind post office counters; after all, this is the second stamp she created for the postal service.
The first, designed in her previous chalk-art style, still hasn’t seen the light of day. “That’s also why it was a bit of a shock,” she adds. “The original one did not come, so I just assumed the same would happen with the second.”
Ironically, it's likely it was the gold foil that delayed the “Thank You” stamp’s release as the postal service only became technologically equipped to print using this technique last year. But the timing proved fortuitous as the stamp has suddenly taken on an extra layer of meaning, she says.
While Tanamachi never expected to find herself back in the spotlight—and especially not because of a stamp of all things—she’s enjoying all the excitement surrounding her creation and the people using her design. “They are writing their Congress people, or sending their absentee ballot applications in, or sending handwritten letters to get people to vote,” she enthuses, “and they’re using my stamps. It’s just really a thrill.”
Purchase Tanamachi’s “Thank You” stamp at store.usps.com.