Daniel Piazza (Curator): There's no piece of paper on the face of the earth that's more gone over than the square inch that comprises a postage stamp.
Ethel Kessler (USPS Art Director): To me, it's just a great honor to be struggling with that question of how do you make it look good at one inch square.
Howard Koslow (Illustrator): You want to public to enjoy the stamp and at the same time learn that it is American history.
Nancy Stahl (Illustrator): I've been known to point at my stamps out on the street and show people, total strangers, you know, "I drew this!" I have to show them and tell them that that's my stamp.
Koslow: I felt very good about getting the stamp assignment because it, it said something to me. It said, "Oh boy! Here's a chance to document our American history."
Stahl: When I first got the assignment, I thought of it as just another assignment. Only then I began to think, this is part of our country and part of our culture. The fact that you can see what our country has gone through, it's really exciting.
Koslow: I've designed and illustrated 60 stamps, including the Brooklyn Bridge stamp, the four branches of government, the quartet of jazz artists, the lighthouse stamps, and the signing of the U.S. Constitution.
Stahl: I've done probably like 20 images that have been made into stamps. The lion in front of the library, wedding hearts. I've done Christmas knitted stamps. There was a series of animals. Rockefeller Center, it's a dollar stamp so I was pretty special. I went to Rockefeller Center to buy it so that was kind of fun.
Piazza: In the 1960s, the Postal Service really sought out outside illustrators to depict the subjects that they wanted to print on U.S. stamps. Art directors at the U.S. Postal Service are responsible for going out and finding the actual illustrators or photographers.
Kessler: The very good question is how to approach the art for stamps. That's a very small space, and we can put a lot of information if it is structured so that the eye can see it at stamp size.
Stahl: I think most people don't realize how much work goes into a stamp. When I begin a stamp, I'll do a little drawing that breaks down the shapes. Then I'll scan in that sketch and block in the colors.
Koslow: I work with acrylic paint. The amount of colors available are tremendous.
Stahl: I spent a lot of time refining it, trying to simplify it, trying to break it down to its essence. I will work day and night for weeks bringing this together until it looks right to me.
Koslow: You really have to simplify a statement and make it come through very quickly. Once I've established the large pattern, I'm pretty much working with a number two sable brush and a magnifying glass.
Stahl: Sometimes in the middle of working on the stamp, I will get up and walk clear to the other end of my apartment and take a look at it from the distance and get a little perspective on how it's going to be when it's a stamp size.
Koslow: Another tool we have—it's old fashioned but it works—and it's called a reducing glass.
Stahl: You just keep changing and refining, and it's difficult to decide that you are done. Very often, it's my deadline that decides that I'm done.
Piazza: Both the art director and the artists who actually create the images printed on the stamps, want to get every little detail just right. If they're showing a general and uniform, is it exactly the right uniform with the right number of medals and stars? If they're illustrating a lighthouse, are there the right number of windows?
Kessler: People want to count the bricks and make sure that he's got the right number of bricks.
Koslow: I feel that I have been privileged to create a piece of art that will be printed, and printed, and printed, and will be distributed throughout the country and throughout the world.
Kessler: The exposure is extraordinary. They may print 40 million stamps, 60 million stamps.
Stahl: When I've done a stamp and it appears on my mail, and it comes to my door, I just think it's exciting. I think it's really, really fun. I don't know why it gives me such a charge, but it does.