Learning to Design

I think I really began to learn to design when I was nearly 45 years old. There is a difference in following trends and borrowing design formats from magazines or other artist's ideas than there is in truly "designing."

One of several covers for the legendary Sun Ra created
by George Rothacker for Evidence Music in the 1990s.
Many of the CDs created are still in issue.
In 1992, business was sluggish and I had discovered that I could create DVD covers and liner notes directly from scanned photographs and incorporate graphics and illustrations as needed. At that time CD covers were still being produced by photographing original art or photos and placing a rough positioned black and white copy on a piece of illustration board. Type was positioned manually, rules drawn with a technical pen, and lacquer overlays cut to indicate solid and screened areas of color. The rough designs were usually created in color pencil, markers or gouache by the artist or art director and then translated into finish form by a mechanical artist versed in print preparation.

Once Macintosh Computers were created and hardware and software developed for capturing and images, setting type, and formatting pages for printing applications, a whole new world was opened up for designers. Once dependent on airbrush retouchers, type setters, photographers and color separation houses, a single designer could then perform many or all of the tasks necessary to produce print ready files....and a fraction of the time and with less expense.

Creating CD covers from little or no reference and with only basic rules of size and format, I was able to open up my design viewpoint to include images that incorporated photo illustrations and compositions, special effects, creative type fonts and original art to create fresh and original covers for my clients.

Original designs created for Evidence Music in the1990s
There didn't seem a limit of what was possible and the styles I could use, except for the special limits and constraints sometimes dictated by the clients. My major source of work was Evidence Music located in nearby Conshohocken. At the time I worked with them, their primary business was converting and reissuing jazz and blues of 33-1/3 records to CD format.
Cover that was part of a box set of
Blues Concerts performed in Germany in 1964 that
included many revered artists including Hubert Sumlin,
Willie Dixon and Sunnyland Slim

Between Evidence Music and Collectable Records my firm produced hundreds of covers of a five year period. Fourteen of the covers for Evidence were included in a book presenting the top CD covers of the 1990s.

More than anything else, the combination of design challenges created provided by Evidence Music and the experimentation with artistic processes, completely changed my viewpoint of design, and provided access to a whole new world of artistic expression. Many of those changes came about slowly in my fine art work, while others appeared quickly in the promotional materials I created for my firm, the Christmas Cards I produced each year, and the logos and brochures I provided to clients, whenever possible.

Click to Chapter 12: Challenge