Art NerdArt Tripper


The United States Postal Services (USPS) announced that it will commemorate the influential abstract artist Ellsworth Kelly with a set of postage stamps slated to go on sale in 2019. Kelly was an American painter, sculptor and print maker associated with hard-edge painting. He passed away in 2015 and 4 years later, his works will soon be printed on postage stamps.

The stamps are the work of Derry Noyes, an art director of the United States Postal Service. Noyes has been creating tributes to some of the biggest names in American Art and Design including: Georgia O’Keeffe, Isamu Noguchi and Ray Eames among many others. Kelly’s works are now among those that Noyes commemorated on postage stamps.  Kelly’s works come as a unique package because they provide a rare chance of getting to know how the whole process of creating stamps works. What are the legal issues? What process should be followed? Do all types of artworks qualify to be printed in a postage stamp?

The Citizen Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC) is crucial in this process. It is composed of a 12 person-panel who include: historians, educators, designers and others who determine the subjects for each year’s crop of stamps. The goal  of this committee is to pick a broad spectrum that reflects American History, pop culture, people and events and at the same time try to create a good balance for each year.

 Noyes said that usually abstract art is hard to sell for the CSAC but for Kelly, the approval process was easy because they were a good fit. She said, “This art is so well suited for stamps. It reduces down beautifully. The simplicity of the forms and the bright colors and the crispness of it all, it’s just made for stamp size. For an artwork to suit for printing on stamps, it should not lose its beauty once it is reduced down and for Kelly’s work that quality was just but an added advantage.

Apart from the CSAC’s input on the stamp and the ability of the work to reduce beautifully on a stamp, it is also important to see how the individual stamps work together while on a sheet. Is there a dialogue between them? Do they all seem like they are telling the same story? This is a very important factor in printing stamps.

Legal issues are everywhere; the legal processes must be followed and they too apply in creating stamps. Noyes said that gaining legal approval to use particular images is a process that has gotten trickier over the years. However, for Kelly’s work, the process was a bit easier; Kelly’s husband who is also the director of Ellsworth Kelly Foundation Jack Shear granted the permission needed to use images. Noyes said,” We didn’t have to go through the layers and layers of different estates and different families.”

The more you work on something, the more you gain experience from it and learn different things. Noyes developed a sixth sense for identifying artworks that are stamp-friendly and those that are not.

The stamp making process lasts between two and four years but can take longer depending on the legal issues at hand. During the process of creating Kelly’s postage stamps, the four USPS art directors met monthly to discuss their ongoing projects and critique each other’s work. Eventually, they share their work with the CSAC to see if they like the direction. The committee eventually votes to approve the final stamp designs which then must be approved by the postmaster general before they can be released.

According to Noyes working like a team is better, she said that,” Unlike a fine artist working for him or herself, doing whatever they feel like, this is a real team effort.” Noyes continues to put famous artworks into stamps and Kelly’s works will never be forgotten.

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