Take a look at this year’s Christmas Snow Globes Forever stamps, with their delightful artwork featuring icons of the season: a snowman wearing a jaunty red-and-white scarf; Santa Claus on a rooftop preparing to climb down the chimney; a deer standing in a snowy forest; and a snowy tree decorated with colorful ornaments. But which element do you think Gregory Manchess, the artist behind this issue, described as “scary”? Could it be the snowman’s stick arms, Santa’s face, or even the ornaments on the Christmas tree? We’ll let the artist share the answer with you in just a bit.
Gregory Manchess is a name known to U.S. collectors – he has created several memorable U.S. stamps, including Oregon (2009), Mark Twain (2011) the 2013 March on Washington (2013), Enjoy the Great Outdoors (2020), and Snowy Beauty (2022).
Artist Gregory Manchess (Courtesy of the artist).
Manchess is an award-winning painter who has worked as a freelance illustrator for close to 50 years on advertising campaigns, magazines, and book covers, including children’s books. His work has appeared on covers and for feature stories of National Geographic, Time, The Atlantic, and Smithsonian. Manchess exhibits frequently at the Society of Illustrators in New York and his peers at the society in 1999 presented him with its highest honor, the coveted Hamilton King Award.
Among the artist’s other notable works is a large portrait of Abraham Lincoln and seven major paintings of key moments from Lincoln’s life, which are highlighted in the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois.
For this year’s Snow Globes issue, Manchess created sketches and refined them with USPS art director Derry Noyes before rendering the final paintings in oils. The stamps, produced by Ashton Potter USA, were formally released in a first day ceremony September 19 in Breckenridge, Colorado, and are sold in booklets of 20.
The Snow Globes stamps were formally issued September 19 in Breckenridge, Colorado.
In this email interview with Jeff Stage, senior editor for the American Philatelic Society’s print products, the artist chats about the process of creating these stamps.
When did you start working on these stamps?
It was several months before the pandemic that I sent some sketched ideas to the art director, Derry Noyes, based on the holidays, including Halloween (I think people would love that). We’d been working together on another set of winter stamps that turned into last year’s set called Snowy Beauty, 10 stamps of winter flowers.
Did the USPS ask specifically for snow globe stamps or was there some discussion about it?
When Derry saw the sketches, she mentioned that they were interested in working out some Christmas holiday ideas, specifically snow globes, and would I be interested. I got inspired and sent her a bunch of ideas.
An ice skater was among the early subjects for this year’s Snow Gloves stamps. (Courtesy of the artist.)
Was it always considered a four-stamp set?
They didn’t know. Derry and I usually work through a few pages of thumbnail sketches until we start to get a feel for what she’s looking for and what the USPS needs. Then we start weeding them out and it kind of dictates how many will be painted.
The original artwork are oil paintings, right? How large are the originals? Did you adjust any of the artwork afterward by computer?
Yes, the oil paintings are about 5 inches by 7 inches, or so. I keep the originals rather small so the stamps look much closer to the original paintings when they shrink down to stamp size. The only retouching I did to the scans of the paintings was to take out stray cat hairs!
Did the art director ask for any important changes or make any key suggestions?
Derry and I work well together, and I listen to her closely so I can give the USPS what’s needed. The process is a collaboration, and I count on her years of experience. By the time we get the sketches done and ready for finished paint, I know exactly what’s needed, so there’s really not any suggestions after it’s finished, unless it’s to boost or shift a color.
Preliminary sketches by Gregory Manchess show a buck walking through the woods and a rabbit surrounded by holly leaves (Courtesy of the artist).
You’ve done a lot of great portrait-style stamps, so this is a bit different subject matter for you, isn’t it? How did you feel about that kind of lane-change?
I’ve been in illustration for almost 50 years and have worked in nearly every aspect of the field, so shifting gears and working versatilely is exciting and keeps me growing as an artist. One of the first portraits I ever painted was of Mark Twain, and decades later I got to paint him for the USPS!
The most recent Mark Twain stamp, with artwork by Gregory Manchess, was issued in 2011.
What was the mood or ambiance you had in your mind when you created these?
I let my 10-year-old kid experience of Christmas out, remembering the anticipations of the season from that perspective. The light, the sparkle, the snow and storms, the celebrations — all contribute to that magical time.
What did you use as models? Were the images we see on the stamps similar to what were in the models or are these original creations? How did you choose the three-tiered wooden base we see on these stamps?
The ideas were all out of my head, just drawing and drawing. Once I had the ideas on paper, then I searched for reference, like the deer. I studied actual snow globes and photos of globes, trying to get an idea of how to treat the light. I made up the base shape to fit the stamp design while studying other wooden bases.
The main subjects are a snowman, Santa Claus, a deer, and Christmas tree. Were there any other subjects considered? If so, can you share what they were and why they were rejected?
We had some sketches of ice skaters, poinsettias, ribbons and bows, a pair of skates, animals in winter fur, pine cones, lit candles, all sorts of ideas. It’s not that they were rejected, but rather how much they projected the season. So, it was difficult to decide.
Did you consider placing the main characters in different settings, like urban area or even an indoor setting for Santa or the tree?
It was considered, but once the pencil hits the paper, things become practical as to how it can be clearly shown. And you only have a microsecond for a stamp to “read.”
I might be wrong, but it seems all have some light shining on them, especially the snowman and Santa. Can you tell us a little about that?
Things read faster when there’s a clear direction of light. Besides that, the Christmas season, and winter, in general, is all about the light, how it’s used and how it’s missed until spring.
The birch trees with the deer are very impressive. Were they challenging?
The trees were actually the easiest part of that particular globe! The snowflakes were scary. How could I put dots of white everywhere, like a real snow globe, and still clearly see the subject? I had to design them swirling. I waited until the subject was painted and dry, then went in to paint the snow. That way, if I didn’t like it, I could wipe it off and do it again, without losing the painting underneath. Happily, they went down first try!
Is there anything else interesting you would like to add about this project?
The USPS had avoided doing the snow globes idea for a long time, I’m told, because it didn’t seem to fit the rectangular format. It was Derry’s idea to offset the globes so they didn’t just sit smack-dab in the center. That way the subject could still stay in the center, instead of the whole globe. It was brilliant!