PACIFIC COAST RAINFOREST
One thing that’s easy to deduce about Dawson from his illustrations is that he’s detail oriented. “I do love details,” he confirms. “I love finishing a painting and doing all the little hairs and highlights. I have fun getting into all the little nooks and crannies, things most people will probably never see.” The hard part, he says, is early on when he has to figure out where to put everything. “Then it’s just a big mess.”
Each Nature in America pane is really eleven paintings in one: ten stamp-sized miniatures set within one overarching mother scene. In the first years of the series, that compositional challenge was complicated by a limitation of the die-cutting process that required all the stamps in a pane to touch at least one other stamp, as they do in Pacific Coast Rain Forest (left), released in 2000. Eventually the technology advanced to allow stamps to be plucked from anywhere within the scene, which gave Dawson freedom to place things wherever he liked. “The scenes evolved after that,” he says.
Still, the fundamental paradox of Nature in America remains: The more postage you use, the more the pictorial scene disappears. It’s a calculated marketing move. You can’t peel off a single stamp in a pane without destroying the collectors’ value of the others. The Postal Service, which depends on the sale of stamps for operating revenue, figures this encourages customers to buy some stamps to use and others to keep. “Basically,” Dawson says, “they want you to buy more stamps.”