Dani Leviss shares about her experience in the Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship program, a scholarship program run by the American Philatelic Society. YPLF supports young philatelists, offers them unique opportunities to attend stamp shows across the country, and connects them with experienced mentors in the philatelic world.
Dani Leviss graduated YPLF in the Class of 2018 as a Kathleen Meager Fellow on the Designer track. Chris Calle was her mentor. Dani now designs covers for her family's cachet line, BGC Legacy.
Erin: Why did you choose to apply for YPLF and what did you expect to accomplish?
Dani: I learned about the program when I met Scott English at the Americover show. I was selling my FDCs [first day covers] there and he came by and looked at them and told me about the YPLF program. When he told me about the program I was really excited because I didn't know many people my age in philately. So, for one it was really cool that there was somewhere I could find those people. Then, two, I only learned about how to make first day covers with and through my family so I thought it would be really cool to participate in a focused program where I could get outside mentorship.
I'm not going to lie, I know a bit about your covers because of a past interview with another fellow, Tasos, who mentioned that you two were friends and he has your covers displayed in his apartment for a point of conversation.
Yeah, Tasos shared that with me as well. We were in the same fellowship class along with Grace and Darren. Tasos had been telling me about not having too many covers with him in his apartment because of the weather and I jokingly asked him if any of the covers were mine, and it turned out he did have a few of mine on display.
Janis Joplin - One of my favorite designs from my cachet line BGC Legacy. I did a line drawing, then scanned it into my computer to color/paint digitally.
That's really cool though because he is showcasing your art. I am really glad that you got involved with YPLF because of Scott and wanting to know more about covers and people your age. That's one of the main topics everyone is talking about, getting younger people involved in philately.
Did you learn anything through YPLF about philately that you didn't already know?
I knew a lot because I had grown up in the hobby, but my mentor was Chris Calle, the stamp artist and cover artist. I learned a lot from him about how to approach designing covers. I came in with several years of . . . basically one method of designing covers. I'd draw something in pencil, like an outline, scan it and then color or paint it on the computer and that was . . . 90% of the time, that was the way I was doing it. But Chris really challenged me to try different media and experiment with designs. I like all-over covers that use the whole envelope and he encouraged me to think about how the art is interacting with the stamp and cancel and be more thoughtful about the design as an art piece. The big takeaway was the encouragement to explore and challenge myself with different mediums, not just stick to how I was doing things digitally, but use used postage, collage, drawing on top of the cover and expand on the things I was already doing digitally . . . experimenting with different techniques.
You are highlighting one of the biggest parts of YPLF, which is the mentorship that you get. Having a really good mentor can create a bigger impact on your experiences during the year of YPLF.
Can you recall a moment or memory of your time as a fellow that was significant in your learning process?
I think how close Grace, Tasos, Darren, and I became over the year as friends; it was awesome for me to build this support system in philately with people my own age. There are plenty of people that I knew in the hobby that are much older than me and either I had mentorship from them or just friendship and comradery, but starting to build a community of that kind of support with people who are my own age was really big and important to me.
Meeting my fellow 'fellows' was really huge: meeting other people my age and going beyond meeting them and knowing that they exist in the world.
I can understand wanting to connect with people that are more your age in a hobby that is typically a lot older.
When I would talk to my friends outside the hobby, if there was something cool that was happening or something that I created that I wanted to show them, there would be that whole backstory that you would have to explain to get to the thing that you actually want to talk about. Because they aren't in the hobby and they don't know much about philately. So to find and have these new friends, where you don't have to start at "what is a stamp" or "what is a postmark," you can cut to the chase and say "this thing is cool."
I can see how that would be a great feeling to have with friends that share an interest and know what you are talking about with philately rather than explaining all the time. It sounds like also you had some family in the hobby, or that this was a generational hobby that existed in your family. I am curious about how you got involved with philately?
My dad was always a cover collector and I guess a stamp collector, but definitely a cover collector. And around the time I was born, he started a home-based business selling covers and so he would stock it in the house and then he would go to stamp shows and sell covers . . . and I think for the first part he was just a dealer for cachet lines and then at a certain point he started designing and producing his own line of covers called Barry and Gerry Covers. He was Gerry, the business was Barry and Gerry, and Barry was his friend. So I grew up with my dad taking us to stamp shows and seeing covers at Stamp shows but also at home and being entrenched in the world of philately, where I always knew what it was.
Great White Shark - One cover in the sharks set that I designed as a YPLF project and worked on with my mentor Chris Calle.
That is really interesting that you were able to see the back end of how all this stuff was created and in turn, you probably didn't realize it but maybe thought to yourself, "maybe this is something I want to do."
Yeah, well, when I was little, here and there throughout my childhood, I did a couple of covers where I made the designs and then my dad printed them and we took them with him to shows. He passed away in 2011 and my family was thinking "what are the next steps," like, "what are we going to do with the business?" I took up the reins of continuing to design covers for the business' cachet line. When my brother added "Legacy" to it, we could note the new era, so it's BGC Legacy now and that's my cachet line.
So I had been interested in covers before, from this world and being passionate about art, and that was always the draw for me for covers, the artwork of it. But then when my dad passed away and we were figuring things out, it became even more important for me to continue the cachet lines.
That is an amazing thing that you get to carry on that legacy and I'm sure your dad would be so incredibly proud of you. I can see now why and how you became a part of the philatelic community and that it was really ingrained within your childhood and your connection with your father.
In what ways have you been involved in the philatelic community since graduating from YPLF?
In grad school, I took an audio journalism elective where I worked on a feature piece introducing people to the world of stamp collecting and also having discussions about the future of the hobby, the issues that it faces, being sustainable, being attractive to young people and a more diverse group of people. I don't have it published anywhere yet but I would love to share it with people in the future.
Do you collect anything specific other than covers?
Definitely covers, I'm not really a stamp person. So I mostly collect first day covers, because of the artwork thing. I guess topic-wise, tigers, Disney, famous women, and science. A mix of things - topics that are appealing to me and artwork that is appealing to me. If it's not a topic that I'm not interested in . . . sometimes it's just that I like the design.
I too am not a stamp collector per se, but I have found many stamps that come through APS . . . that I really enjoy the art and design.
How has your time as a fellow informed your current position at work?
I recently started a new job as an editor for an elementary classroom science magazine. Most of my work involves writing and editing stories about science for kids, but the visuals are incredibly important. I often have to think about how photos or illustrations in the magazine help to tell the story before a reader starts reading. The images have to be enticing and make 10-year-olds want to read about the work that scientists and engineers do. During my year as a fellow, I was thinking critically about cover design, both in terms of my own . . . and Chris also had me analyze other covers that I admired and that skill . . . and all the practice that we were doing. Like, just being more attuned to visuals and what they do - more than I was doing before. In a way, first day covers are also telling a story. Often it’s the cachet on the envelope that catches a collectors eye. The cachet artwork can help tell a story that goes beyond the stamp and first day cancel.
That's a great skill to hone in on because you know when you're producing something for so many people, you want it to look aesthetically pleasing - and you know that comes with experience and getting some criticism - but also you know, trying new things - so that completely makes sense to me.
Related to that, with a cover, there are three components: cachet artwork, the stamp, and the postmark, and you have to think about all three together. When I'm thinking about layout and design, it’s not that each individual part is successful alone, but making sure that everything you’re seeing on the page or the layout works together and works as a whole together too.
You might have touched on this earlier, but I’ll see if you have anything to add. What are your long term goals in philately?
I think just continuing to be involved and continuing to produce first day covers. I’m working full time now, so I’m not sure what that will look like, but whenever I can, I want to design more covers. I love seeing what new stamps will be issued by the post office and thinking about what I would design for a first day cover. I always push my artwork and designs further so I'm improving my skills, to challenge myself to work with different media, and to never fall into a rut by doing the same design over and over again.
I want to be pushing myself because artists can have their own personal style and I love the freedom to experiment with stuff. I think my goal is to always keep that in mind and never be just tied to just one thing.
What would you say to someone who is considering joining YPLF? Or do you have any advice for a fellow while they are in the program?
If you are trying to decide whether to do it or not - if you have any interest in the hobby - it is really the best program to build on the knowledge or skills you already have and take that to the next level by having this dedicated and focused program. To have all the resources, mentorship, comradery with all the other fellows . . . it's invaluable.
If you do decide to do the program, I think the most important thing is to take the opportunity to talk to everyone and ask questions . . . and a year seems like a long time but it really flew by fast for me. Don't be afraid to ask questions and introduce yourself and learn from anyone you can; like people who are your peers and people who have been in the hobby for years that have knowledge and resources that you can absorb.
I think what you have said is a really good piece of advice for future and potential fellows. Thank you so much for sharing about your connection with the YPLF program and connection with philately.
If you are between the ages of 16-24 or know someone who enjoys stamps, postal history, art in miniature form, socializing with people and learning about the world of philately? YPLF might be for you or someone you know!
Applications for the YPLF Class of 2023 will be accepted starting January 2022 and due by May 15, 2022. Still thinking about if you or someone you know should apply? Check out these exciting perks of being a Fellow below.