Yes, this happened.

Ah, life. It’s been quite a challenging year…ALL my time and energy since March 2021 went into a HUGE new book, The World of Urban Sketching…more on that exciting project soon! I stopped most of my sketching and illustration work to devote everything to that project. On top of that, last fall we moved my mom up from Texas to live with us, and sadly, she passed away in late March only 5 days after I submitted the final portions of the book to the publisher. So lots of challenges…

One bright spot is that I had the extraordinary opportunity to design and illustrate four US Postage Stamps which are being released today, April 14, 2022!!!! It was an intense project, with the bar so high for artwork on stamps. Particularly amazing is that the originals will become part of the collection at the Smithsonian. My dad was a HUGE stamp collector, he would be beside himself with joy. And my mom asked me every day for about 3 years, “How are the stamps coming along?” Sadly, she passed away only three weeks before their issue.

Because they are for commercial use only, you cannot buy them at the post office. The print quantities are 30 million stamps (10,000 rolls) and 1 billion stamps (100,000 rolls), respectively. Yep, that’s BILLION with a “B”. Collectors can buy first day covers here and you can call Stamp Fulfillment Services at 844-737-7826 to buy them in strips of 10 for $2.50. You can read about them in Linn’s Stamp News (the stamp bible) here.

Heartfelt thanks to amazing Art Director, Antonio Alcala, who gave me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was also interviewed for a magazine about the project. To learn more about how all this came about, read on…

How do you define yourself professionally? I am an architectural illustrator with a background as a licensed architect. I also taught drawing in university-level architecture and interior design programs for about 30 years, and I’ve authored 2 best-selling books on sketching with a third due for publication in September 2022. I travel and teach urban sketching workshops around the world.

When did you start working on these stamps? I was first contacted to work on these stamps early in 2019.

How did you get linked up wit the Postal Service for this project? Art Director Antonio Alcala said that he had a team combing the internet for a possible illustrator. They came across my sketches on Instagram and apparently, the team selected my work. Antonio then contacted me directly. It’s funny, at first he sent me an email, and I thought it was spam—there is no way that someone would be contacting me about a project like this! But when I saw his name again on my phone as it rang the next day, I jumped to pick it up.

Are these your first stamps? YES!

How was the project described to you? Antonio said that lots of people go into the post office and simply ask for stamps with a US flag on them. He thought it would be good to give them something more by combining flags and barns, two American icons. At first I was to do two stamps, then after seeing my rough sketches, it was decided that I should do a set of four. I have to say, I was quite overwhelmed. The artwork on US stamps is extraordinarily beautiful, I wasn’t sure I could rise to the occasion!

These barns are in four different seasons? I clearly see winter, fall; and I assume the barn with grass is spring…the last one with high grass is summer, yes? Once the decision was made to do four stamps, it was an easy jump to visualize the four seasons…and then four seasons representing different parts of the country. The first is Spring in the tulip fields of the Skagit Valley in Washington state, close to where I live. The second is a hot, dry Summer in some place like Texas or Wyoming. The third is Fall as the leaves are changing somewhere in New England. And Winter is somewhere on a snowy farm in the mid-west.

Are these watercolors? They are indeed watercolors on watercolor paper. I sent the originals to the Art Director for reproduction, and my understanding is that they will be stored somewhere in the Smithsonian. I cannot tell you what a humbling honor this is.

How did the process work? (and the following questions might go along with this…). I started out by searching through images from my memory, my own photos, and the internet. Being an architectural illustrator was helpful, as I could combine and invent different elements of the barns and the settings and put them together in a way that would tell a story. I did rough drafts, sent them to Antonio for review, then I would make adjustments. I did several versions of each image, trying to get the watercolor to behave (watercolor has a mind of its own!) I did my best to show the different seasons while still keeping a limited color palette that would allow the different images to work together as a collection. It was also challenging to get the right angle of the building…it had to be frontal enough to show the flag without too much foreshortening, but we also needed to see the side of each barn for depth. If you look closely, I hint at more of the landscape in the distance…more tulip fields, rolling hills, cattle in the fields.

What kind of models did you use for the flags and barns? Were these structures you had seen or were provided to you? I was provided with some images, but I don’t think I used any of them. Most of the content was invented.

I know the artwork for stamp production has to be relatively small. What is the basic size of these originals and was that any kind of challenge for your process? Each original image is about 7.5”w x 5.5” h. I was provided with a template that gave me the correct proportions for each stamp, so it was predetermined that they would be landscape format. The size was not the challenge…the challenge for me was how close we had to be to the barns in order to see the flags. Most of my work has lots of landscape with small buildings, but these needed to be large buildings with very little landscape. It was very hard! Also knowing how small the stamps would be in the end, I couldn’t show as much detail as I would typically show at this size.

Are the styles of the barns specific to any regions of the country? Yes, I did my best to show barns that were typical for each part of the country that was represented.

Which came first the flags or the barns? Definitely, the barns!

What kind of decisions did you make at the start (anything specific with seasons, landscape, lighting?) The first decision was seasons, and that was driven by what color I would show for each…spring green, summer yellows and browns, fall reds and yellows, and white and cool blue winter. As far as lighting, I wanted to show a dramatic orange sunset on the plains for the summer view, gray skies for winter…

Was there a lot of tweaking or adjusting while working with the art director. There was surprisingly little tweaking. Antonio did a great job sizing and cropping (composing) the images. I had seen his stamps online, he does beautiful work.

Is there anything else interesting you would like to add about the artwork, process or stamps? Indeed there is. My dad was a HUGE life-long, avid stamp collector, as were my grandmother and godmother. Sadly, he passed away before I got this commission, but I know that he would be absolutely bursting with pride. And every time I talked to my mom for 3 years, she asked about the stamps. Unfortunately, she passed away only about three weeks before their issue…but I know they would both be so proud and honored…as am I.