Before computers revolutionized the industry, illustrator Paul Rogers created his compositions on a board with an airbrush. And though he now does a lot of his work digitally, Rogers still thinks in terms of an airbrush and paint. “I don’t try to produce realistic scenes,” he explains. “I try to find some sort of flat, graphic style that I can work in.”
Finding just the right style became particularly challenging for Rogers when art director Howard Paine asked him to design a Santa stamp. The public has seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of images of Santa Claus — including many on past Holiday stamps — and Rogers wanted to make this one distinctive.
Unique inspiration came in the form of Rogers's childhood memories. “I kept thinking about those books I had when I was a kid,” he recalls. “My mom even had some that she would get out only at Christmas.”
Christmas books of the era were illustrated by prominent artists like Lou Myers of The New Yorker and beloved Walt Disney illustrators, Gustaf Tenggren and Mary Blair. Rogers describes their styles as deceptively simple: Even though the pictures look almost like sketches, they are captivating.
Taking their artwork as a model, Rogers made pencil sketches, trying to capture the period feel of the books. He faced the additional challenge of creating an illustration that worked both as a whole and as four individual stamps. At one point, he considered a close-up of Santa’s head, divided into four sections. Even when he settled on Santa and his sleigh, Rogers still had to place each set of reindeer on its own stamp.
The final design is worth the effort. Rogers, who also illustrates magazines and newspapers, prizes his work as a stamp designer because of the medium's permanence. “People hold on to these stamps,” he says, “so you’ve got to deal with every little detail — because you don’t want to look back on it and feel like you didn’t give it your all.” Now, like the children’s books that made such an impression on Rogers, the Santa and Sleigh issuance is ready to make memories.