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Nevada Statehood Stamp designed by Ron Spears. Courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service.

These days, unless you’re a philatelist you probably don’t have much reason to handle stamps. Maybe to mail a card to that grandmother who likes getting her mail old school. Even then you might opt for a generic “forever” stamp or some online metering system. As stamps increasingly become another artifact from a bygone era, we may forget that at one time it was the most democratic (if surely the most minute) form of art distribution ever devised. When the first postage stamps appeared in the 1840s they bore the mostly generic portraits of heads of states. Collecting stamps quickly became the fashion, however, and with the new craze, artists and designers were employed to design and engrave the new images that appeared, if only briefly, in households around the world.

That design process continues today even if fewer and fewer of us use or pay attention to the stamps produced. Recently South Utah University (SUU) art professor joined the likes of artists David Hockney, Robert Indiana, and Ray Bartkus and designed a postage stamp. His stamp commemorating the 150th anniversary of Nevada statehood was released by the Utah Postal Service today.

Spears has created whimsical children’s book illustrations, vibrant designs for electronic games and breathtaking landscapes of the Southwest. One of the latter graces the new stamp and depicts one of the state’s most hauntingly beautiful landscapes, a section of Fire Canyon, part of the Valley of Fire, Nevada’s oldest state park. Spears’ painting is an oil-on-Masonite panel which captures the locale at dawn, with the sandstone formations aglow in shades of vibrant reds and yellows which are a result of various quantities of iron in the rock itself. The landscape is highlighted by deep purple and blue shadows. The colors contrast dramatically with the whiteness of the silica formation in the foreground. The stamp spotlights not only one of Nevada’s wonders but the mastery of Spears’ craftsmanship.

Spears hiked into Fire Canyon and created his sketches on-site and from his renderings developed various visual concepts in his studio. He executed the final painting last fall, when the light was low and strong. Facing south, he captured the scene at dawn. He was especially keen to paint the scene in the morning light. “I wanted to be at Fire Canyon when the sun broke over the horizon,” he explained. “It only lasts a few moments, but seeing the rocks come to life as the morning sun hits them is definitely worth getting up early for.”

Ron Spears splits his time between Reno, Nevada, and Cedar City, Utah, where is an Assistant Professor of Art at Southern Utah University. He has created hundreds of illustrations for Magic: The Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter Card Game, Upper Deck, Blizzard Entertainment and others. He also illustrated book covers, magazine articles and the children’s book Dad Are You The Tooth Fairy? written by actor and comedian Jason Alexander. As a Lead Illustrator for International Game Technology, and an Art Director for Sierra On-Line, Ron has created countless illustrations for dozens of video games. He was selected as a Zion National Park Artist-in-Residence enabling him to produce a series of stunning landscapes from throughout the park. Ron is member of the New York Society of Illustrators and has recently returned from teaching master classes and technique workshops at Renmin University in Beijing, China. This summer Spears’ art is featured in the Southern Utah Art Invitational Exhibition and Sale at Southern Utah University’s Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery, June 23 through September 13, 2014. For more information on spears and his art, please visit www.RonSpearsArt.com