In developing the design for the Year of the Rat stamp, Mak initially focused on illustrating the animal, as shown in this early sketch.
Mak also considered combining a stylized rat with other traditional Chinese objects.
Not satisfied with his early approaches using animal imagery, Mak decided instead to paint objects commonly associated with the Lunar New Year – many recalled from childhood. For Year of the Rat he chose red lanterns, often hung in rows at celebrations.
Celebrating Lunar New Year: Year of the Rat (2008) (#4221)
The final stamp design features Mak's painting of lanterns, but incorporates the paper-cut rat shape and calligraphic symbol for "rat" used in the 1996 Year of the Rat stamp.
For the second stamp in the series, Year of the Ox, Mak chose to depict a lion head, frequently worn at Lunar New Year festivities. Mak's personal photos provided inspiration for the stamp artwork.
Following the same process he used for Year of the Rat, Mak began by producing multiple sketches, including the one pictured here.
After determining composition, Mak applies paint in thin layers, building up the color gradually. This slide shows the painting in an early stage.
As more and more layers of color are applied, the image develops deep saturation and richness — becoming almost jewel-like in appearance. A painting done using this technique can take months to complete.
Celebrating Lunar New Year: Year of the Ox (2009) (#4375)
The final stamp design combines Mak's dramatic lion head image with the paper-cut design of an ox and the Chinese character for "ox" rendered in grass-style calligraphy.
The Celebrating Lunar New Year series is deeply personal to artist Kam Mak. His design for the Year of the Tiger stamp features narcissus flowers grown by Mak himself.
As he did with the first two stamps in the series, Mak began developing the artwork for Year of the Tiger with sketches.
The completed painting of narcissus flowers shows the luminous color and detail characteristic of Mak's technique.
Celebrating Lunar New Year: Year of the Tiger (2010) (#4435)
The final stamp design showcases Mak's beautiful image, but pays homage to the earlier Lunar New Year series by incorporating the paper-cut tiger shape and calligraphic symbol for "tiger" from the 1998 Year of the Tiger stamp.
The Celebrating Lunar New Year series continues in 2011 with Year of the Rabbit. Mak often uses personal photographs as references for his final paintings.
Mak sketched kumquats from many different angles before arriving at the final composition.
Celebrating Lunar New Year: Year of the Rabbit (2011) (#TBD)
The final stamp art, created using oil paints on panel, accomplishes a realistic, luscious rendering of two kumquats. Continuing the format of the Celebrating Lunar New Year series, it incorporates the paper-cut rabbit shape and calligraphic symbol for “rabbit” from the 1999 Year of the Rabbit stamp.
For the fifth stamp in the series, Year of the Dragon, Mak photographed a team of dancers manipulating a colorful dragon figure.
Mak sketched different angles of the dragon figure before arriving at the final composition.
Celebrating Lunar New Year: Year of the Dragon (2012)
Artist Kam Mak created the final eye-popping illustration using oil paints on panel. Art director Ethel Kessler incorporated elements from the previous series of Lunar New Year stamps to create continuity between the series.