written by Louis Ocepek
From 1988 to 2008, a period of twenty years, graphic designer and illustrator Louis Ocepek designed two covers a year for the literary journal, Puerto del Sol. This highly regarded, semi-annual international literary journal, is published by the English Department at New Mexico State University. The journal is now 48 years old, and each issue contains prose, poetry, essays, and occasional visual inserts, selected by jury, from hundreds of submissions. We will be reviewing the work Louis Ocepek did on Puerto del Sol, but we will first begin with a brief background about the artist. The following has been written specifically for Illustration Pages by Louis Ocepek. This short auto biography provides insight into the exciting field of design during the golden age of advertising and sets the stage for the artist's work on the literary journal, Puerto del Sol.
Louis Ocepek: Pivotal Early Experiences that Influenced and Directed My Career
My Early Years
I was born in Detroit, Michigan, 68 years ago, in 1942. I grew up in Detroit, until the early 1950's, when my family moved to the Village of Warren, just across the Eight Mile Road made famous by Eminem. My father, Tony Ocepek, was a jazz musician, and, like many artists, he was a jack of all trades. My mother, Arnesta Mangano, was a home maker, but who also worked her whole life, and was a union shop steward.
Warren, a rural farming community, became renowned as the site of the General Motors Technical Center, a Modernist architectural masterpiece, designed by Eero Saarinen. It helped to spawn the familiar suburban explosion that ultimately robbed Detroit of much of it’s population. We lived half a mile from the center's campus of futuristic buildings, and I spent hours with my buddies, on top of a rail car, spying down on the test track, where Zora Duntov was ripping around in Corvette prototypes. Later, I was able to tour the center, marveling at the contemporary European furnishings, the abstract art, and the brightly color-coded, ceramic sheathed buildings. I mention this because it was my first brush with the idea of design, and the possibility that design could be a profession. And this realization fortunately came when I was in my impressionable teenage years. I knew early on I wanted to do that kind of work.
Over the next few years I had many more fortuitous experiences; while in high school I worked in a hardware store, through which I met designers from the Tech Center, helping them solve various problems with their exhibit designs, mixing custom paint colors, finding the right kind of hardware for display cases and so on. Although I didn't know it at the time, this was my introduction to problem solving, part of what I would do later as a graphic designer.
I also had an art teacher who insisted that his two best art students (yes, I was one of them) attend a Technical Illustrators conference in downtown Detroit. We naively followed his advice, and were given a guided tour of their exhibition, with detailed explanations about perspective, projections, drafting tools, and industrial rendering techniques. I am forever thankful to that anonymous (to me) man who so generously spent so much time with a couple of high school kids.
Here we are in art class making a really bad sculpture!
The same teacher encouraged me to make an appointment with a designer at the Tech Center, I suppose to gain some information on how to get started in this profession. I went, and again was treated so kindly, given a complete tour of the design studios (remember, I was only 16 years old!), as well as a mini-lecture on the various design disciplines. Naturally, he recommended I attend the Art Center School in California, which was largely supported by the automotive industry. To my benefit, I believe. that was out of the question for this blue-collar kid of very modest means. I had to stay in Detroit, which was a good thing.
He took me to a drafting school when I was about 11 years old, and bought me a set of drafting tools and French curves, in hopes that I would become a draftsman or blueprint reader, top jobs in Detroit. I still use them today.
Both craftsmanship and a love of jazz have impacted my work to this day.
My father was a taskmaster; I learned that a job has to be done right, and that a job isn’t finished until it is right. Unfortunately he died while I was in high school, and so my music career was cut short, and I had to depend on my mother, my older sister, Diane, and various other mentors for further guidance.
My College Days at Wayne State University
I attended Wayne State University in Detroit from 1960-64, and it was there that I discovered graphic design (or advertising design as it was then called). Among my many instructors was Peter Gilleran, a World War Two veteran who was a highly respected painter and illustrator. This man loved what he did; I remember him chuckling, "I can't believe they pay me to do this!" Gilleran was a liberal man who took no truck with Philistines; he was an artist of the people, much like Reginald Marsh or Fernand Léger. From him I learned the beauty of iconic graphic form, and the relationship between fine and applied art. Gilleran must have seen some promise in me, for he seemed to steer many projects my way (maybe because I was the only student willing to work hard for peanuts!). I was hungry to learn and would do just about any job that came along. For example, by agreeing to print up signs for the Art Building, I learned how to set foundry type by hand and how to operate a Chandler Price press.
These signs would have had an incredibly high cost per-piece; I should have been paid by the hour!
A highlight for me at Wayne was to have my illustrations accepted into the New York Society of Illustrators student exhibition. The assignment was to design covers for the Signet Classic series of paperbacks, a very important line of classic literature, with cover designs by a who's-who of contemporary illustration. Here are two covers from that period, the first by Saul Lambert, the other by Milton Glaser.
I traveled to New York by train, stayed at a funky hotel, and met many luminaries such as Stevan Dohanos, Paul Davis, and, most memorably, Rube Goldberg, who delivered a very humorous and irreverent dinner speech. In the days afterward, I trudged, virtually penniless, all over Manhattan, soaking up the cultural scene, even managing to get into a jazz club. As I walked around the city, I discovered political magazines such as Monocle and Evergreen Review, which were beautifully designed and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer, various Push Pin Studio artists, John Alcorn, Reynold Ruffins and others. This opened my eyes to the power of design to influence social and political change, a hallmark of the 1960’s. Editorial design had smarts, drama, political punch, humor, and the sense that you were doing something positive for your world.
Madmen?). There were about six teams, and we competed for the Hershey's Chocolate account, which Campbell Ewald was angling for. An intense, very demanding experience; working under Joe Kidd, a legendary Art Director, and an equally renowned copy writer (whose name I forget), this was my baptism by fire. I learned how to defend my ideas, work with a design team, meet deadlines, and carry myself in a more professional manner. Between the trip to New York and the internship, I was growing up.
Perhaps most important influence of all, was the daily walk through the museum itself, on the way to the entrance to the school, which at that time was under the museum itself. The guards preferred that students enter from the rear of the museum, directly into the school, but if you wanted to see great art every day, you played dumb and entered at the front.
Pounding the Pavement to Begin My Working Career
I left Chicago, returned to Detroit, and started looking for design work. In those days, there was no such thing as “portfolio design.” We stuffed everything we had ever done into a cardboard folder, tied it up with string, and hit the pavement. I had a copy of the Art Directors Club of Detroit Annual Exhibition Catalog; I marked each of the pieces I liked, noted the name of the designer or illustrator and where they worked, and started making calls.
Once again, I am indebted to the designers who took their time sifting through my scraps of work. Some even went into the back room and called out their fellow workers to have a look-see. I’m sure much of the work was junk, but they saw some potential, and even though they had nothing available, they generously passed me along to someone else who might be interested. In just a few days I had worked my way through the best studios (this was a golden age of design in Detroit) and was directed to the Fisher Building, a magnificent Art Deco skyscraper in the New Center area north of downtown.
I interviewed at a major studio there, I believe it was Skidmore-Sahratian and, even though it was late in the day, they pointed me to a new studio on the 16th floor, that was touting itself as the first “graphic design” studio in Detroit.
The studio was John F. McNamara’s; the owner was a very successful automotive illustrator, who with his brother had operated one of the largest studios in the city. He decided to open his own shop, and took a handful of the best people with him. It’s significant that he used the term graphic design, as that was, even in 1965, a relatively new term, imported from Europe, implying a spread of work beyond just advertising. In fact, one of the interview questions was “What is Graphic Design?” Because I had studied “Advertising Design” I didn’t have a ready answer, so I opted for Plan B, which was to simply say, “I don’t know, but I’m willing to learn.”
It apparently worked, as I was hired the next morning. The studio was bare-bones, a few drafting tables, and basic studio equipment like a Lucigraph ( a Luci as we called it) for tracing, enlarging and reducing, and a stat camera for repro quality positive and negative copies. I became what was called an “apprentice,” which meant you did all the work the established designers were too expensive to do. This was perfect for me, to work beside designers like Chuck Wilkinson, Tom Sincavitch, Tony Nelson, Nelson Greer, Frank Bozzo and others, was the best thing that could have happened. I was part of a team, I was assisting on major projects, and every day I learned something new. My first project was to help design studio and storage furniture for the workrooms. I had taken drafting courses in high school, and rendering courses at Wayne State, so I had some inkling of what was required. McNamara had a carpenter on call; I drew up plans on graph paper, and the next thing I knew, furniture came up on the freight elevator. One of the first things I learned was to make sure the furniture would fit into the elevator! A good introduction to modular design.
Above you can see the typical work setup; That's Chuck Wilkinson at his drafting table - notice the can of Comet Cleanser on the taboret; after every project we put all the tools in the sink and gave them a thorough cleaning. Good for the tools and for the mind.
Two Wilkinson collages above.
One of Wilkinson's spot illustrations.
We had a good chuckle over the missing reflection of the oars in Chuck’s boating illustration above.
... and one of his studies.
Chuck Wilkinson passed away in December 2010.
This was a pivotal point in my development. Working with Wilkinson, I learned how to prepare an illustration; research, editing, preparing a panel for painting, using drafting tools, presentation sketches, meeting with account executives and clients, mounting and flapping artwork, etc.. In addition to all this, typography was central to our work; at that time, we had to “comp” type by hand to simulate typeset copy, mark up manuscripts, proof tissues of the typesetting, and produce elaborate mechanical boards for the printer. Here’s a classic mechanical produced by a “keyline” artist. All the crop marks and keylines are drawn by hand. A masterly piece of work.
At some point I guess the powers that be decided I was going to work out, so I was ceremoniously gifted with a type specimen book. This was major, as they were expensive to produce and were personally kept up to date by our type rep. I think the statement of purpose is quite meaningful and indicative of the reverence attached to good typographic design. Each page has detailed type specing information for each point size of each font... amazing.
I did a lot of research at the Detroit Public Library, which had a “scrap” collection of every conceivable subject and image. Imagine, there was a person whose sole job was to cut out images and articles for the collection. Pre-Google! We also used the Polaroid camera, which was the equivalent of today's digital camera; quick turnaround. I recall driving around playgrounds with Chuck, taking reference photographs for a project. Here are a few of my pieces from the mid 60’s.
By some miracle, I was awarded a medal in the Art Directors annual exhibition, I believe for the Thoreau portrait (above).
Importantly, Wilkinson, Sincavitch and I also had a strong interest in fine art. Wilkinson had studied with Richard Lindner, who was primarily a painter, but who also did illustrations for Fortune Magazine. We would “go to coffee” with a few art books and magazines, and spend considerable time looking at art, discussing ideas, and visiting galleries in the Fisher Building. The account executives were sent out to herd us back to work. We later convinced McNamara that we should have his carpenter make several four-foot-square gessoed wood panels, so that each member of the studio who was willing, could make an abstract painting for the studio. I think this idea that we were artists as well as designers elevated our self image and added a certain spark to our daily grind.
The big thing in art at this time was Pop Art, and I was very influenced by the print shows I saw at galleries in the Fisher Building and at the J.L. Hudson department store gallery. Eager to get something printed, I was encouraged to look for freelance work outside the studio. My first printed piece (below) was an illustration about the Detroit Tigers premier baseball player, Al Kaline, which appeared in the Detroit Free Press Sunday Magazine.
Collage seems to have been a popular medium, probably because of Warhol, Rauschenberg, Rosenquist, and the other Pop artists. Below is a nice example by Ed Stopke, a designer who showed his fine-art work in galleries.
As I became a better draughtsman, I moved away from collage and towards more painterly techniques. A very important lesson I had to learn was not just how to draw, but how to draw for design. I learned a lot about this by looking at the work of artists such as Heinz Edelmann, Tadanori Yokoo, Richard Lindner, Jim Flora, and Polish designers Roman Cieślewicz, and Jan Lenica.
The idea that there could be a cross-over between fine art and design, was a Modernist, European concept, that would come to greatly influence the design field. Although many designers “in the trenches” thought this was simply an elitist concept, I took it to heart and eventually decided to again pursue a graduate degree, where I hoped to further integrate my interests in art and design.
Well, I suppose that’s more than enough about my background. In summary, I received a graduate degree at the University of Iowa, and I launched into a long career as an artist, designer and professor. Below are a few illustrations from the years before I started the Puerto del Sol project. They're just a few examples of my design and illustration work from 1968 to 1988, prior to my work on the Puerto covers. Along with design work I made prints, paintings and sculpture, which is another story.
Above is a screen printed poster for a peace fair in Montana, designed with my good friend, designer and artist Walter Jule. We drove from Bozeman, Montana to Billings, just to find circus photographs. We copied these, re-screened them for photo screen printing, worked up the design, added spot colors, and then printed the edition.
The Steel Cat (pictured above) is a gouache illustration for a short story by John Collier.
This illustration for the company, Freightliner, was done in watercolor, photographed on 4 x 5 film, and reproduced as a five or six foot wide airbrushed graphic on canvas. As this was done in the late 1970’s, this is a very early example of using a computer to directly generate imagery. The canvas was on a huge drum, about 12 feet in length, and the airbrush nozzles were controlled by a laser scanner, which scanned the 4 x 5 transparency. I deliberately used lots of gradients, which I thought would work well with airbrushing. I later had to fill in a few areas that were too subtle for the scanning. Because the scanning drum was so wide, it was more economical to have two paintings done at once, as we were paying for the same amount of time and materials. The two paintings were cut apart, framed, and used at the Freightliner headquarters in Portland, Oregon.
The illustration above, titled Summer by the Sea, is a gouache and acrylic illustration used on a poster for a summer program in the arts at Cannon Beach, Oregon. It was included in one of the Graphis poster annuals.
This Nutcracker poster illustration was for a performance by the Montana Motion Dance Company. It was color separated directly on a process camera, which captured incredible detail.
20 years of Puerto del Sol cover designs: 1988-2008
As mentioned yesterday, the work I am going to focus on is the result of a twenty year relationship with the highly regarded, semi-annual international literary journal, Puerto del Sol. I first came to the project in 1988, when the Editor in Chief, Kevin McIlvoy, was looking for someone to do a special cover for Puerto’s 25th anniversary. I was relatively unknown to him, but he was adventurous, the price was right, and I saw enormous potential. What more creative project could you hope for? A dream job. The covers are “small posters,” meant to be “artful” and to reflect the creativity within. They were meant to be deliberately different from other books on the shelf.
Prior to 1988, Puerto was a one or maybe two-color job. There was no budget for full color art. The interior was never designed, it was simply typeset. There was no logotype for the cover, nor consistency of design. There was really no graphic design consciousness in the local community. In my mind, those “limits” were positives, to me it meant the doors were wide open for exploration. The book was distributed to bookstores everywhere, the market was national and international; the covers should somehow reflect that breadth.
Cover ideas were either suggested by the particular content of an issue, such as Cuban poetry, or by a literary reference, such as a quotation from a significant writer such as R.W. Emerson (my favorite), or by a suggestion from the Editor. I had an interesting relationship with McIlvoy; he would suggest an idea that he felt would produce a provocative cover design. I would either play off that idea, or spin it around in an unexpected direction, which he invariably found to be quite humorous and usually satisfactory. His generosity was a key to our long relationship and to the journals success.
Here is how my first cover, the 25th anniversary issue, came about. The first design idea came from the editor, who said “do something about male and female” (I have no recollection why). Secondly, being new to southern New Mexico, I was enamored with the pottery designs of the areas 12th century Mimbres culture, and that became a stylistic inspiration.
My thinking was simple; include the male/female idea, do something indicative of the area, emphasizing what was unique about where we lived, and create an image that played with the idea of a portal (or entry way) and a sun (Puerto del Sol). I see the book-form itself as a portal; open the book (book as doorway) and enter into a world of creativity. Similarly, I saw the sun, of course, as symbolic of creativity, which related to the content of the book, creative writing, an easy connection. The pitfall, of course, is that I soon realized that everyone loved the Mimbres designs, and they were starting to appear on everything from greeting cards to aprons. I had to be influenced but not imitative.
Keep in mind, I started working for Puerto at the very beginning of the graphic computer age (we did have Amigas, but they were mainly curiosities), so my early covers, including this one, were done the conventional way, by hand. After doing the usual reference work regarding Mimbres design, I started working on drawings, graphite on tracing paper. Because I was going to draw and ink the design using traditional drafting tools, I chose to work at a very large scale, making the inking much easier. The artwork is “camera ready,” which means it was black and white, high contrast, and would need no screening for halftones.
I did a couple line tests on a copy camera to determine the relative line weights, so they would hold up at the final, smaller, reproduction size, and still look esthetically correct. The final size was about a 55 percent reduction of the original artwork (the cover is 9 inches by 6 inches, so a front and back spread is about 13 x 9 inches). Doing the Mimbres style wasn’t difficult because it fit in with the graphic stylization concepts I had already been working with, influenced not only by graphic designers, but by artists such as Léger and Kandinsky. The sun and the portal ideas fit nicely into the architectonic style of my work, so that didn’t seem to be too much of a problem. The male/female thing, however, was a challenge. Since it involved two units, one male, one female, I decided to use the structure of the book itself as an organizing device. There is a front and a back, so the male and the female appear on the front and the back. You’ll have to decide which is which, as I decided to be slightly ambiguous about the gender. You can see the sun(s) front and back, and on the front a recessed portal. This made for a wrap-around cover. Together with the bleed design and three colors, this cover was slightly more expensive to produce, justified by being the anniversary issue. The cover was limited to two colors, but I pushed for a third color, an off white, which was hard to sell as it’s quite subtle.
The printing was done out of state, so I had to produce a traditional mechanical; PMT’s of the artwork and logotype, with rubylith overlays for the spot colors. The original inking had to be done in two parts, because the artwork was too large for the copy camera (the artwork was 23 inches wide). After transferring the tracing to bristol board, I used ruling pens, French curves, technical pens and brushes for the inking.
You can see how I created an area where I could splice the art together seamlessly. On the right is an area where I made an error, and simply pasted on a patch and redrew. The display type at that time was set on a Photo Typositor, letter by letter on a strip of photo paper, and then pasted up. Hard to believe this is how we worked back then, but it was a good way to learn letter spacing and the finer points of typography (although this type isn’t very handsomely done).
We also did a t-shirt using this design. I learned something the hard way about doing t-shirts; if the design covers too much area, the shirt is tough to wear in hot weather. People liked the design, but the shirt stuck to their chest! The problem wasn’t in the design, it was in the rectangle of off-white that was printed under the black design so it would show up crisply on the various colored shirts.
The cover was accepted into the XIII Biennale of Graphic Design in Brno, Czechoslovakia, so we were off to a good start.
Jumping ahead two years, is another three color cover, again the main artwork is camera ready. This time the design is based solely on a concept suggested by the editor, “Why don’t you design some Puertoplasms? You know, some biomorphic, protoplasmic critters called Puertoplasms.” (Those writers!) I show this cover in part because I have pretty much all the elements of the project. I made the artwork as described previously, and also produced a rather tight “comp” (comprehensive layout) of the complete design.
The comp was made using LetraFilm or Cellotak, sheets of self adhesive films that were available in PMS colors (used famously by Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast). PMT’s, produced on the copy camera, were used for the art, and a film positive overlay for the type. The comp was used for approval, but also went with the mechanical, so the printer could see the appearance of the final product.
The mechanical is in classic mechanical form; first a protective cover flap, then a tissue overlay with a hand drawn, diagonal color break, which cuts through the important areas of the design. The break is labled with the PMS numbers and percentages. Under that are two amberlith overlays, one for each of two separate colors, again labeled with PMS numbers and percentages. These are registered to one another and to the underlying artwork using cross-hair register marks. The overlays are carefully hand cut to provide trapping. Finally, on the base board itself, are repros of the artwork to size, the text, and matching register marks.
As a part of the printing contract, we paid for a color proof, in early days a 3M Color Key, which used transparent PMS color overlays, and later a DuPont Chromalin, in which all the colors were fused onto one base sheet. Below is a Chromalin proof from a different project.
Before the printer would proceed, the color proof had to be signed off on, notating any necessary changes. For this project we did another shirt, as well as a limited edition screenprint, both for sale.
Full Color Covers
After doing several camera-ready covers, some with photography, and some with quite elaborate overlays, the budget was increased to accommodate full color printing. Of course, this meant I could produce full color artwork and either have it shot and color separated directly on a copy camera (exactly the way I had been doing projects since the 60’s), or I could have the illustration photographed using a studio camera, providing the printer with a 4 x 5 inch positive transparency. Because the printing wasn’t done locally, it proved to be easier to send a transparency together with a mechanical for the text material and any tint colors.
Eventually I no longer needed to make a mechanical, as the layout could be produced in Quark or InDesign, and proofs could be sent to take the place of comps. Fonts and image files may be collected using the software’s Package function or an application such as Art Files, or files can be sent as PDFs, preserving the integrity of your design and protecting your fonts.
About this time, I initiated another idea for the covers, I started to use a literary quotation as a basis for the content of the illustration. This was sometimes connected to the content of the book, but usually not. It was usually something that either triggered visual ideas, or was inspirational. The quotation appeared somewhere on the front or back cover, and obviously it was something writers and readers could relate to.
Here are a some examples of the conventional full color approach, with some of the preparatory material. The first example is the cover for the 30th anniversary issue, which is a visual reprise of the 25th anniversary cover, souped up and reorganized. When I describe how I made the artwork, keep in mind this was before high resolution ink jet printers were available. Because I had a nice studio and was already set up to screen print, I simply made a couple stencils of the black and white original artwork, and then printed it in a variety of colors. Then I cut the prints into strips and pasted them up with some other images.
Again, I made a simple mechanical for the type and the black mat around the art. Not a very deep concept, mostly esthetic playfulness. The strips are reminiscent of volumes on a shelf, with their spines forming the design, which also reflects the volumes created in the previous five years.
For this next cover, the editor gave me a quotation from Italo Calvino’s book, Six Memos for the Next Milennium, lectures written for the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University. The abbreviated quote, from the lecture Exactitude: “Crystal and flame: two forms of beauty that we cannot tear our eyes from……two absolutes, two categories for classifying facts and ideas, styles and feelings.” What I would call a “loaded” quotation, rich in imagery and poetic ambiguity, perfect for exploration. I painted this illustration in gouache on cold-press board. My intention was to create atmosphere and emotion, with a bit of mystery. I started with the individual images, flame, crystal, imaginary vegetation, in a dark landscape setting. Here you can see the preliminary tracings and how I used the traditional grid method of enlargement.
Sometimes I use traditional methods such as this simply because I enjoy the process. I’m not in a hurry to go back to “real life!” As I do successive tracings, I refine the drawing until I reach the right level of stylization. I tape up the fragments, and then do one last, complete drawing. The final tracing is transferred with graphite paper to the board, which has been prepared with gesso. When the illustration was completed, the transparency was shot and sent to the printer with the mechanical.
A last cover demonstrating purely painted artwork illustrates a quote from Love Sonnet LIV by Pablo Neruda, so passionate and flooded with emotion. Here I was hoping to describe the lines:
“……here we are at last……far from the delirium of the savage city”
“……you and I shall exalt this heavenly outcome
Mind and Love live naked in this house.”
Other potent words and phrases, such as “pure line,” “furious dreams,” “rivers of bitter certainty,” “double glass,” “two wings,” and “transparency,” gave me further images to draw upon. Heady stuff. The lush and provocative imagery gave me a framework upon which to include the sun and moon, a doorway into deep, blue space, architectural forms symbolizing the “savage city,” and vine-like flowers alluding to the intertwined lovers. This illustration is watercolor on prepared board, with a bit of acrylic in the background.
Digital “Plus” Covers
I rarely produce my work entirely on the computer, but obviously the creative potential and conveniences of digital techniques became evident as computers became more powerful and software became more truly functional. My main impetus has always been to produce good work by whatever means necessary. Following this philosophy has led me to learn new processes that allow me to fulfill a particular vision. The vision comes first, and then learning the appropriate process. For me, this is how growth occurs. I love process, so learning the computer was a great challenge; I intended to figure out how to bend it to my needs.
This led me to combine production techniques, playing with the advantages, similarities, and contrasts offered by different methods or media.
This design, for example, started out as a cross hatched illustration in ink
which was then merged with extensive work in illustrator.
The scanner is today's version of the copy camera, so, rather than facing a completely new way of working, I can rather easily transition between conventional and digital methods. Personally, I like being in the studio, so “shortcuts” have never interested me. I’ve found that digital and conventional design takes about the same amount of time, they both take a long time! So, I do what I feel is the best solution to the problem, and having drawing skills gives me more options.
Another advantage of the computer and scanner is that the artist can more easily integrate photography with digital art. For this cover, titled Summer Reading, I photographed wood type from my type collection
processed it in Photoshop, and layered it with a sun drawn in Illustrator
The background was created in Illustrator, colored in Photoshop, and again layered with the other elements. The final design of the front and back was composited using InDesign or Quark, (like a digital mechanical), Preflight or Collect for Output was employed (to collect all the required files), and a CD or Zip Disk (early days) sent to the printer.
I was interested in making a window (portal) into the interior of the book, which, of course, is all type (text). Part of the fun of doing these covers was playing with variations of the same theme, over and over, trying to be fresh each time.
The cover, In the Goutte d’Or, was composited in a similar manner. This issue featured a photographic essay and interview by Mary Ellen Wolf about an important and controversial immigrant neighborhood in Paris, populated mainly by North Africans. This design is almost all photographic; I duo-toned two of her photographs and placed them in portals, backed with greatly processed Arabic script (originally photographed in a shop window), and rimmed with tinted maps of the neighborhood. There are a lot of pieces to this design, created on layers, and then composited. The maps were tinted (painted) in the software program Painter, which I’ll talk about next. The cover is intended to show the Goutte d’Or as an area circumscribed by the city, an oasis; a “different,” perhaps exotic place, as is implied by the viewer having to peer at the inhabitants through the “windows.”
A cover from 1998, another Summer Reading, marked my first completely digital cover. I deliberately set out to exploit the program Painter. Doing it on a deadline I had to learn quickly, and yet be sure it was printable. A detailed description of how I made this illustration can be found in Painter 6, a book by Cher Threinen-Pendarvis. Just as with my conventional work, I started with a pencil drawing in outline, which I scanned, and then developed in Painter. Other than the initial drawing, the art is entirely digital. The drawing of course, is pivotal to the final piece. It would be a different cover if I had started the drawing on the computer. A subtle but critical distinction. One of the delightful things about Painter, which is marketed as “natural media,” is the ability to make custom brushes, pencils, and papers. A graphics tablet is pretty much required with Painter; I use a Wacom.The interface of the early versions of Painter was rather cumbersome, and computers weren’t powerful enough to keep up with the brushes, so it was slow going. Today's version is easier to navigate and speed is no longer a problem if you have the right computer. I made a dozen or so variations of paper textures for this illustration, so that each little segment of the drawing is a different texture. Interestingly, these paper textures are an emulation of the old style Bristol boards that had dot textures embossed in their surface, so you could easily draw camera-ready illustrations. Painter is a very organic, more “human” graphics program, with a nice relationship to traditional media. The question remains, if it looks just like traditional media, why not use traditional media? OK, you don’t have the painting background or a studio, those are good reasons (but which can be overcome if you so desire). Better reasons are that you can make umpteen changes to your work, create shapes and textures unique to the computer, easily integrate photo imagery and text, and when you’re finished, easily upload it or print it. However, the fact remains, if you like traditional methods, you should do it. And, you can easily cross over to digital media whenever you like.
The design concept for Summer Reading is simple: one dreams of reading under a tree on a hot summer day. The chair is empty because it isn’t summer yet, so one can only fantasize. Intermingled in the tree and sky are figurative elements, kind of like imagining creatures in the clouds.
Here’s another Painter cover that is described in the Painter 6 book; Puertoplasms Primavera, a Spring issue, which is based on a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his essay, Nature, published in 1836.
“Given the planet, it is still necessary to add the impulse; so, to every creature nature added a little violence of direction in its proper path, a shove to put it on its way; in every instance, a slight generosity, a drop too much.” I interpreted this as being about creative exaggeration. Here’s an example of the Painter interface to give an idea of the complexity and really great options for custom-made papers and brushes. I made the individual plasms first, layered them, painted with custom brushes and papers, and then collaged them together.
I made two images for the cover of a special issue on Cuban poetry, and I couldn’t decide on which to use, so we chose one for the cover, and used the other inside the book and for a trade show poster.
The cover design shows Cuba as a Caribbean island hot spot, and the imagery was intended to look political; a heroic image of a young person, captured inside an exclamation mark, is screened with oversized halftone dots, and the word Cuba is boldly marching, sporting a folkish letter ‘C.’ The original inked drawing of the letter ‘c’ is only about 2 inches tall. I like the graphic roughness of the enlarged strokes against the mechanical color fills (similar to the old way of inking and filling with LetraFilm adhesive colors). The 17 x 11 poster image was finished in Photoshop, and, because we only needed a hundred copies, it was printed digitally. I had never had a poster printed by this process, so I decided to make full use of gradients to see how they would reproduce. I was very impressed by the color fidelity and the smooth gradient transitions in the final pieces.
Here are a few more “hybrid” covers, along with some details showing how elements were fabricated and processed.
This cover is titled When Sleeping Birds Dream.
I illustrated Lullaby of Wordland for a Summer issue, thus the play on nesting birds and a secondary play on the familiar song title, Lullaby of Birdland. (Wordland being where creative writers hang out.) In the background is a lengthy quotation by Emerson from his essay Nature. The central rose was photographed and painted, the birds were inked and then photo-manipulated, the woodsy sticks are coarsely halftoned and tinted. The last detail shows an earlier stage of the layout.
War was happening in 2003, so this cover reflects a current event on everyones mind, including writers and artists. The spiky, aggressive sun, the acid greens, and the two snake-like adversaries were designed to embody violence, evil and conflict.
In 2005 we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Puerto del Sol with a gallery exhibition of all the covers to date. The special anniversary issue again has an Emerson quote, this one from his Journal of 1847:
“Only life prevails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose; it resides in the moment of transition from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to a new aim.”
I read this quote as a positive reminder of change, flux, and new aims, much as the 40th anniversary could be seen not as an ending, but as a transition to the next decade. The cover is designed from back to front, in physical layers of paper (real paper!), culminating with a colorful, expressive sun on the top layer
We did a double issue for the year 2007, so the design, titled Natures Double Issue, features a very stylized double ’S,’ one for Spring and a mirrored one for Summer. We had to abide by a new printing contract starting with this issue (which was very irritating as we were very pleased with the printer we had been using), so, being a bit mischievous, I decided to test the printers capabilities by using a full color spectrum on the cover. They did a great job.
The Spring/Summer issue of 2008 was my final cover design. The editor was leaving, and it was a good time to give it up. By that time we had finally designed the inside of the book, and most of what we could do was done. The last cover is sort of a baroque memorial to the1988 cover art. The title, A Long, Dry Season, refers to an extended time of political and economic distress, symbolized by the parched earth (photographed in the street in front of my house). But in the patch of blue sky, there is a glimmer of hope.
In 2010 I made a large screenprint with design students at New Mexico State University, titled Graphic Ephemera: Collected Pleasures. In order to push the envelope of screenprinting and challenge our abilities, I used a broad catalog of my artwork from various design projects, including some from the Puerto covers. Over a three-day period, we processed the images to make them screen-printable, and produced a 13 color print in a limited edition.
More of my work, design as well as fine-art, can be seen at louisocepek.com
All work copyright protected, Louis Ocepek
Lou Simeone and Illustration Pages thanks Louis Ocepek for taking us through this wonderful journey of his work. It was both thrilling and informative. Please be sure to visit Louis Ocepek's website to see more of his art.
Books authored by Louis Ocepek:
Graphic Design: Vision, Process Product
Basic Design Theory & Methods