A visual reckoning with a familiar 400-year-old history

Image for post
Image for post
Original art by Greg Harlin. ©USPS 2020.

In the spring of 2018, I was awarded the art direction of a new stamp commemorating the arrival of the Mayflower in the New World. Every assignment is an honor, but for my baby boomer generation, the story of the first Thanksgiving — when the new settlers from England feasted with the indigenous Wampanoag Tribe — is especially cherished. As a child, I found the idea of disparate people coming together in collaborative peace compelling and hopeful. I still do.

But how much of this nostalgic narrative reflects what really happened?

As with any substantive design project, I began with some basic research and discovered Nathaniel Philbrick’s book, Mayflower. Written in 2006, it became (at the time) the definitive text on this 400-year-old story of the Pilgrims’ journey. With fresh discoveries at his disposal, Philbrick’s lively account was praised by critics and especially by the New York…


How visual relationships are influenced by harmony, rhythm, and elaboration

Image for post
Image for post
Photo by DDP on Unsplash

Although it seems absurd now, only a few weeks before we realized the coronavirus was already in our midst, my wife and I began taking dance lessons. We decided to learn country Western two-step because it was supposed to be simple and was supposed to be versatile enough to dance with a wide variety of music. We were wrong on both counts.

Much of popular music — so I am told — is in 4/4 time, but the two-step is measured in six-beat intervals. Our instructor tells us not to worry, that even ballroom dancing is measured in six beats. This is hardly helpful. …


Design principles for going beneath the surface

Image for post
Image for post

When I was a little boy, I’d often walk with my dad over newly plowed fields. While I obnoxiously threw dirt clods, he’d painstakingly turn over the freshly disturbed earth with a walking stick he’d fashioned out of an old broom handle. We had learned that sometime in the 19th century there had been a Cherokee Indian camp on what is now my grandfather’s land, so he was looking for arrowheads.

We’d visit the farm often, especially in the spring, and it was my dad’s practice to roam the fields accompanied by his impatient and annoying son. Somehow he was able to look past the random lumps of dirt and pick up the glint of the sun off the flint of an arrowhead. …


Creating order and meaning from everyday existence

Image for post
Image for post

While in Rome some years ago I stood before one of the highest achievements of the Renaissance — The School of Athens by Raphael. I have always admired Raphael, the young and sensuous painter who rivaled Michelangelo.

Commissioned to paint murals within the pope’s private chambers — and just down the hall from where Michelangelo was working on the Sistine Chapel — Raphael painted a depiction of the debate between Plato, with his hand pointed to the sky, and Aristotle, whose hand reaches out.


Stamps and print products that elevate the art of magic

Image for post
Image for post

In an age when everything in the natural world is seemingly explainable, old-fashioned sleight of hand still delights us. As we witness a mesmerizing card trick or watch a dove materialize under a handkerchief, we think, Wait a minute: Maybe the world isn’t so predictable after all…

The U.S. Postal Service sought to channel this enduring delight in magic with the 2018 Forever stamps Art of Magic. I had the privilege of serving as the art director for these stamps, working with the illustrator Jay Fletcher on the design.


Creating stamps and a pop-up book for the U.S. Postal Service

Image for post
Image for post

Maybe we can blame it all on Game of Thrones, but dragons have enjoyed a particular cultural renaissance of late. Whatever the reason, the fantastical fire-breathing beasts seem to increasingly fly through our popular imagination in film, television, games and books.

The U.S. Postal Service caught wind of this trend, and I had the privilege of serving as the art director for the 2018 Dragons stamps. I’ve served as an art director for USPS for the past seven years, and this role allows me to cross paths and cultivate relationships with some of America’s most talented artists. …


Partnering with illustrator Anna Bond to design a stamp for the U.S. Postal Service

Image for post
Image for post

I’ve served as an art director for the U.S. Postal Service for seven years. It’s a curious and delightful job and one that has brought me a great deal of creative fulfillment throughout my tenure. The process is quite fascinating, involving not only folks from the Postal Service but also American citizens who’ve been selected to help decide appropriate stamp subjects. Yet, as an art director, one of the most rewarding aspects of my work is developing relationships with the artists themselves.

The stamps I art direct — such as Johnny Cash or Batman — are typically assigned to me, but every now and then, I get to pitch my own ideas. There’s an open call to propose topics for ongoing series of stamps, such as those that feature the American flag or celebrate holidays or love. While there’s no shortage of creative ideas floating around my work/life atmosphere, as a designer and as president at Journey Group, it’s knowing when to capture the right idea that’s key — and then where to find the perfect collaborator. …


It’s much easier to show metaphors at work than to try to articulate how they work.

Image for post
Image for post

One sleepy morning, way back in high school, I foggily remember a classmate proposing an elaborate excuse for why her homework was not complete. During the course of her extended explanation, which was creative if not credible, I mostly dozed. But as our teacher stood in front of the class, she began to perform a small gesture with her forefinger and thumb. Without making a sound, she held up her hand to reveal the mysterious circling of her thumb against her forefinger.

After a few painful moments, our teacher interrupted the moronic bloviation of my classmate and asked, “Does anyone know what this is?” I suddenly lurched awake and thrust my hand into the air. …


Our everyday encounters with our physical environment frame the way we think about the world.

Image for post
Image for post

If you’ve ever watched a baseball game, you know that most of the real work of coaching is done by the third base coach — who dazzles observant fans with a dizzying array of hand signals that only the batter and baserunners are able to interpret. But in my experience, the first base coach is equally important — at least when you’re coaching 10-year-old boys you’re trying to get to run in the right direction at the right time.

So when my 10-year-old son played baseball and I was coaching first base, we had a private hand signal just between us. Whether he was at the plate or covering third base, I always encouraged him to maintain his poise, to remain positive regardless of the situation. When he was left standing by a called third strike or when a ground ball took a bad hop, I made sure I got his attention and, without saying a word, tapped a couple of fingers underneath my chin. …

About

Greg Breeding

President & Creative Director @journeygroup. Art Director for the U.S. Postal Service

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store