“USPS art director” is a hat Phil Jordan never quite takes off. So it’s no surprise that when he visited the Museum of Neon Art in Los Angeles in 2004, one of his first thoughts was, Could this ever be replicated on a stamp?
But it wasn’t until he was assigned to work on the 2011 Celebrate stamp that a subject matter seemed right for the festive medium. Jordan took the opportunity to contact Los Angeles-based neon artist Michael Flechtner.
“Flechtner seemed to have a whimsical sense of humor,” Jordan says, “one that I thought would work well for Celebrate.”
Jordan pulled together samples of Flechtner’s neon art and presented his concept to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee (CSAC). The response, however, was less than enthusiastic; members of the design subcommittee were concerned with how neon lights would translate to stamp format.
And they weren’t the only skeptical ones.
“My initial reaction was, Neon on a stamp?” Flechtner remembers. “Those two things just didn’t line up.” But the more he thought about the idea, the more interesting it became.
“In neon, I work with fire and colored light,” he explains. “And colored light has always been about celebration.”
Soon enough, the subcommittee was convinced as well. “In the end,” Jordan says, “everyone felt that if we could make it work, then we’d have something quite unique.”
Flechtner began by creating sketches representing different aspects of celebration. Jordan and CSAC decided on one featuring two quintessential expressions of festivity: fireworks and balloons.
With an approved design, it was time to create the neon art. The process was like any other commission for Flechtner, despite knowing that the finished product would be displayed one-fortieth the size of the original. Flechtner established the thickness of the glass letters and festive shapes by projecting the design on a wall. He adjusted the size until it reached one he’d be comfortable bending: three-by-four feet. Flechtner then made the tubing and mounted the glasswork. Learn more about the unique artistic process of neon.
Because neon art can be fragile, Flechtner opts to hand-deliver his finished pieces whenever possible. So, once the Celebrate art was complete, he made plans for a cross-country road trip. The carefully packaged art traveled to Washington, D.C., in style — in the backseat of a 1957 Chevy Bel Air.
There, the neon art was photographed, and art director Phil Jordan took over. He asked Eric Kriemelmeyer, a stamp technical director, to help translate the luminosity of the original artwork to the stamp image. Using Photoshop, Kriemelmeyer removed the “nonglow” tubing (which connected the glowing pieces together) to maximize the art’s bright neon appearance at stamp size.
During stamp production, Kriemelmeyer continued to work with the printer to strengthen colors. In the end, it was worth all the work.
“The stamp is absolutely shining,” Jordan says.
And, we think, worth celebrating.