He designed over 500 Harlequin romance covers — now there's a Canada Post stamp in his honour

Will Davies designed nine stamps during his career as one of the country's great illustrators, but now the legendary artist is being honoured posthumously with one of his own — based on one of the Harlequin book covers designs that made him famous.

Will Davies is among 5 iconic Canadian artists to whom the postal service is paying tribute

Kerry Davies, left, and Pam Davies, right, say they are certain the legacy of their father, Will Davies, will be long lasting. (YanJun Li/CBC)

Will Davies designed nine stamps during his career as one of the country's great illustrators, but now the legendary artist is being honoured posthumously with one of his own — based on one of the Harlequin book cover designs that made him famous.

The Belleville, Ont. native, who illustrated more than 500 such covers as well as fashion layouts, advertising campaigns and magazines during his lifetime, was one of a handful of Canada's artistic giants to be honoured at the Ontario College of Art and Design on Thursday. 

Pam Davies, an accomplished courtroom artist in her own right, says the stamp's design — a colourful image of an elegant, dancing couple — was a perfect nod to her father's taste. Davies, after all, was a sharp dresser and a big Frank Sinatra fan.

His philosophy was hard work, hard work, hard work.- Pam Davies, daughter of Will Davies

'"It's a trademark look of his," she said. "Very typical of his style, a very Davies look."

During the course of his over 50-year career, Davies was what his daughter called a "go-to" illustrator with authors often requesting that he be the one to design their covers.

"He was recognized by his peers but at the same time, he was very unpretentious," the younger Davies said. "Today, he would be amazed at all the attention."
A portrait of Will Davies pictured alongside some of his work. (YanJun Li/CBC)

That humility is something that was deeply ingrained in her father.

"His philosophy was hard work, hard work, hard work. People would say to him, 'Aren't you lucky you have the gift? And he'd say, 'Well, in the middle of the night when the deadline is looming, I'm waiting for that talent to kick in."

Jim Phillips, director of stamp services at Canada Post, said the project has been in the works for a couple of years. The postal service also paid tribute to Blair Drawson, Gérard DuBois, James Hill and Anita Kunz with a limited-edition print of two million stamps.

"Canada has such a rich history in illustrators. It was very difficult to get this down to just five illustrators and then to get down to the illustration featured on each stamp," he said, adding the families of many of those featured played a role in selecting the designs.

Davies's family says a stamp paying tribute to his work is a special honour, made bittersweet by the fact that he died in 2016 and couldn't be there to witness it. 
Will Davies's romantic portrayal of a couple dancing was chosen for a Canada Post stamp unveiled Thursday in his honour. (YanJun Li/CBC)

"It's so nice to see him getting the recognition at this point — even after he's gone," daughter Kerry Davies said.

Amid his success, Pam Davies recalled her father was always keen to help young artists find their own feet, teaching a popular college art class that regularly filled up very quickly. 

He gained such a reputation that when she went looking for work herself, she found she had to stop telling people who her father was because of all the recognition.

"For me, he was always someone who cast a huge shadow," she said. "There are big footsteps to fill for sure. He was my idol."

With files from Talia Ricci