PACIFIC CORAL REEF
You would never really see the near-shore sea creatures of the US territory of Guam packed together like beachgoers in Waikïkï as they are in Dawson’s 2004 Pacific Coral Reef scene (left). “But you have to think of it like this,” he says. “If you waited at this one spot for six months, you probably would see all this stuff.”
Stylized as these riotous wildlife tableaux may be, the individual species within them are 100 percent biologically correct. Every detail of the organisms Dawson renders—from the billowy tentacles on the magnificent sea anemone (lower left) to the bumps on the heads of the bumphead parrotfish (upper right)—undergoes scrutiny by scientific consultants to ensure accuracy. Keys on the back of the stamp panes identify the main players in the scenes, which in this case include a blacktip shark, a humphead wrasse and a green sea turtle.
Dawson started his career in advertising, but even as an adman he displayed an aptitude for animals. Among other projects, he illustrated billboards for the San Diego Zoo, did the portrait of the original Morris the Cat and the label for 9Lives cat food. It was his cat food work that helped him land his first job with the Postal Service. The job? Commemorative cat stamps. They cost $.22 and came out before self-adhesion was the norm. The price of postage has doubled since then, and postal customers are no longer licking the back of Dawson’s work.