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.
Stamp design by Paul Rogers
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