On September 9th the Postal Service will issue a series of four stamps I designed that feature a Thanksgiving Day Parade. Howard Paine was a pleasure to work with on this, he’s been the art director on over 400 stamps and he hasn’t lost any of his enthusiasm for producing great stamps. He had the idea for four stamps to fit together to create one long scene, a format that stamp collectors call “se-tenant.” Of course, each individual stamp needs to stand alone as a complete design as well.
These stamps are the first I’ve done for the USPS and the project was a challenge for a number of reasons. The concept was to show the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, but for legal reasons, we couldn’t show any licensed characters or any direct reference to Macy’s Department Store itself.No recognizable balloons; that meant no Underdog. The most iconic images from the parade had to be suggested by selective cropping and careful positioning to give an accurate feeling of the parade without showing any specific balloons. We decided that the best way to achieve this was to depict a scene from around 1950, an era before the corporate images began to dominate the visual display of the parade. That time period also gave me a direction to think about in terms of illustration style. Mid-century posters and advertising often show a very complicated scene that is handled in a style that deals with the essence of form and doesn’t get hung up in detailed rendering.
Fortunately Howard liked the first sketch I sent him, and that was important because I didn’t have another idea how I’d solve this one. I added color to the second stamp in the line so everyone at the USPS meeting would have a clear idea were we were headed.
The legendary illustrator Tony Sarg was responsible for the design of many of the early characters in the parade, and for a number of years these balloons re-appeared in every parade. The other mandatory elements to be included were crowds lining the streets, marching bands, horses, and New York City buildings as a backdrop to the whole thing; your basic illustrator’s nightmare.
One of the toughest parts to working on stamps is that you’re not supposed to talk about the project until the issue dates have been officially announced by the USPS. My aunt asked me recently what I was working on, and I told her I was doing some work for the Postal Service. She thought that work had slowed down for me and I was delivering mail.
This month marks the centennial of the saxophonist Lester Young. His music is filled with the vitality and sadness of life; he influenced countless musicians, was Billie Holiday’s favorite musician and contributed as much to the spirit of American life as any artist you can think of.
Nicknamed “Prez,” Young was a gentle and soulful man who had a way of expressing himself through words that was as creative and influential as his music. He called his friends “ladies,” coined the term “cool,” and once, after seeing a fellow patron at a bar fall off a stool asked the bartender for “whatever he was having.” Prez left a jazz club one night after being spotted sitting in back listening to the music because he didn’t “dig being dug while I’m digging.”
WKCR is celebrating by playing a lot of Lester Young all this month. My friend, Phil Schaap is devoting his Monday and Saturday shows to Prez and on his birthday, August 27th, there will be 24 hours of Lester Young. Actually, it will be a three-day festival combined with Charlie Parker’s birthday on August 29th
Here's the portrait of Prez from the book I did with Wynton Marsalis Jazz ABZ. Young played with The Count Basie Band in Kansas City in the early days. I read that the Reno Club was so small the bass player stood outside in the alley and leaned in a window to play. John Hammond heard the band on a tiny short-wave radio station and drove all night from Chicago to sign Basie to a recording contract.
I designed the US Open Tennis Championship Theme Art for 2009. The artwork will be used on posters, banners, tickets, programs, t-shirts, and every kind of souvenir you can think of. Marc Jacobson of the Silverman Group called this winter to see if I’d submit some designs to the USTA. Every year they pay a few artists to produce a couple of ideas for presentation, the USTA picks one, and that’s the theme-art for the tournament.
Here are the sketches I sent to Marc to start talking about some ideas I had. The brief for the project laid out a few very clear requirements that had to be addressed in the design; if a player was depicted, the figure had to be generic enough to be either male or female; New York City is a key element, and the flaming ball logo for the US Open had to appear in the final art. Other key words from the brief were “Entertainment Spectacle, Toughest Tennis, and High Energy”
Marc liked a number of the sketches and I developed six color images for presentation to the USTA. On a project like this I tend to over-produce these “concept sketches” because I don’t want to lose the project because I delivered half-hearted execution of an idea. This process is always a gamble, and having more cards on the table sometimes produces a winner. During the pencil-stage I thought I could successfully execute a strong treatment of a player that would be generic enough to be either male or female. But as I tightened up the image, the figure kept tipping one way or the other, or it just looked like a dude in a skirt.
This is the design that I most wanted to be chosen. It makes reference to the classic Joseph Binder poster for the 1939 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadow in Queens, the current site of the US Open. Clearly, no one got that reference but me.
Everyone liked the bridge/tennis net idea. The Brooklyn Bridge doesn’t exactly lead to Queens, so we looked at some other bridge options. In the end we kept Brooklyn as the strongest symbol of NYC.
Merchandise and souvenirs are starting to show up now. There’s a crazy amount of applications for the image.