KUWAIT: Stamps, the price paid to send a letter, were often utilized not only as a revenue source for the postal service but also as a way to commemorate a country’s milestones or achievements. Designing those commemorative stamps are an important part of the process and often involve artists from all over the world.
One such designer is Denny Varghese Kurien, who won a contest to design stamps for Kuwait in 1998. Now based in Toronto, Kurien cannot forget his childhood memories of Kuwait and the iconic buildings he grew up seeing.
KT: Tell us more about yourself.
Denny: My name is Denny Varghese Kurien. My job title is Creative Director & Co-Founder of Rayvn Design (www.rayvn.io). It’s a creative design studio based out of Toronto and Boston that does logo identity design, website design and digital and social media marketing.
KT: How long have you been working in Canada?
Denny: I’ve been in Canada since 2002. I’m currently residing and working in Toronto. I spent my childhood in Kuwait (from 1979 to 1996) before heading to the US to do my undergrad degree. After that I returned back to Kuwait, worked for three years, then immigrated to Canada.
KT: How do you compare Canada and Kuwait?
Denny: Weather-wise, it’s the exact opposite of Kuwait. It gets super cold and sometimes goes down to -40 C. Job-wise, I worked in Kuwait for three years (1999 to 2002) – this was right after I graduated from university. I worked in the marketing department of an IT company called Path Solutions, as well at the Commercial Bank of Kuwait in their marketing department. Since I work in the creative sector, I think working in Canada and the US is a lot more beneficial for me – there are a lot more creative freedoms and creative opportunities for my kind of work. The people of Canada are super friendly, and I now consider it my home. I’m now a Canadian citizen – I’ve lived in Toronto for 15 years. I have a wife, a 7-year-old son, 3-month-old daughter and a dog.
KT: What do you miss most about Kuwait?
Denny: I have very fond memories of Kuwait – especially growing up in Hawally and attending the New English School (class of 96). I miss my parents and extended family (most of my cousins are still living and working there). Friends I went to school with at NES are now all over the world, and I still make it a point to keep in touch with them via Facebook or WhatsApp.
KT: Describe your favorite place/s in Kuwait when you were here and why?
Denny: I miss the food – Naif Chicken shawarma and eating at Mais Alghanim – these were popular hangout spots for me and my friends from high school. They don’t have very good shawarma here in Canada. I also miss the KFC Spicy Zinger burger, Hardees roast beef sandwich and Caesar’s mini-pizzas -we don’t have those too here in Canada.
KT: When was your last visit to Kuwait?
Denny: The last time we visited Kuwait was in 2011. My parents and much of my extended family are still in Kuwait. My parents come to visit us in Canada every other summer. In January 2019, I’ll visit Kuwait with my family for a couple of days.
KT: Tell us about your entry in the stamp competition. Where did you see the ad? What were the inspiration and the reason behind the design?
Denny: It was in 1998, when I was attending University of Denver (studying graphic design). I had come home to Kuwait during the summer vacation, and my younger brother Benny saw an ad in a local newspaper calling for entries to design Kuwait’s 8th Liberation Day anniversary stamp. He convinced me that I should design something. This was during the early days of Adobe Photoshop. The concept and inspiration for my design were based on two particular landmarks in Kuwait – the Kuwait parliament building (purple stamp) and the Kuwait Grand Mosque (blue stamp). Both these illustrations were hand-drawn. After I submitted my designs, I got a call from my dad saying that the Kuwaiti government had selected my design. This became my claim to fame.
KT: Why from so many iconic places in Kuwait did you select these particular buildings?
Denny: My initial postage stamp design was an illustration of the Kuwait Towers. But then I got a request to explore other landmarks so that they could create different denominations of the stamp. So I drew the Assembly building, the Grand Mosque and the old Kuwaiti gates. I grew up around these iconic landmarks, so it was only natural I chose them as my design inspiration (this was before the telecommunication tower was completed).
KT: Tell us about the challenges you faced while drawing?
Denny: Back then I didn’t really consider myself an artist – it was me experimenting with traditional drawing media, and then bringing it to the computer and adding CGI elements to it. Like I mentioned, this was during the early days of Adobe Photoshop – there were no layer tools, and the “glow filter” had to be done manually.
KT: How long did it take to make the designs?
Denny: It took me three days to design them – I submitted three design options.
KT: What did you gain by winning?
Denny: An interview on KTV, reports published in the newspaper and recognition from the Kuwaiti government. Designing a postage stamp is like designing currency – there is an archive of the collection. I even had stamp collectors from all over the world come to see me, interview me, get autographs and take pictures with me for designing the stamp.
KT: How much prize money did you get?
Denny: KD 250, but the fame and recognition was much more. The news even spread to my extended family and friends in Kerala (where I was born). A report was published in Malayalam Manorama (an Indian newspaper). I was the first Indian to design a Kuwaiti stamp.
KT: What year the stamp was released and how long was it in circulation?
Denny: The stamp was released in 1999 on Kuwait’s 8th Liberation Day anniversary.
Interview by Ben Garcia