by Art Chantry ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
I think this little souvenir program cover (actually, not so little. it’s 8 1/2 x 11) is from very close to the actual premiere of rogers & hammersteins musical ‘oklahoma’. i can’t find a date, but it talks about the original production as if this were it, but in the past tense. i suppose with enough work i could figure out if it’s from the original presentation or not. but i don’t really care about that. all i know is that it’s from a period of time back very very close to the introduction of this classic american musical – around 1944.
The cover is a wonderful little illustration printed in the most happy cheerful fluorescent colors (aka ‘dayglo’). the inks are matt (not shiny. it ‘scars’ if you scrape your nail across it) and the registration is pretty bad. so, it’s a cheap printing in 3 colors (bright yellow, bright green and flourescent pink). that’s a hell of a palette. it’s really great.
Ink colors were very different back when this was printed. there was no “pms – pantone matching system” (introduced around 1960 along with many many many other ‘ink systems’. it survived for some reason, while other, better systems died out). the way you selected colors back ‘pre-pms’ was to work directly with the printer and they would mix their colors, often on the spot. you really had to know your chromatics to get what you wanted. in fact with printing, you had to really know all of it to be a ‘good’ graphic designer. sadly, much of that has been tossed out these days.
The truth is that graphic design is actually about printing. that’s what we do. we design artwork for print reproduction (the internet design work is still modeled after the rules of print design). knowing print process is as essential to mastering graphic design as it is knowing about brush and pigment and canvas is to a painter. it’s our medium.
Since the introduction of the computer design programs, there has been a sudden and distressing ignorance of print process emerging. they barely mention how printing works in schools. students from even the highest university programs know virtually nothing about what happens to their little designs after it leaves their monitor. it’s shocking to me.
My girlfriend worked at Aldus as they were developing the desktop programs that became the baseline models for all the design programs the came afterwards. she had experience working as a graphic designer (at the rocket, of course) and fought mightily with the techno-geeks who were actually designing the programs. she fought to model the design programs after the actual printing process. the geeks thought everybody else was stupid and wanted to design their own process according to their ignorance of design. what emerged was a compromise – and a pretty awkward reconfigured and inefficient progeny of design programs. computer design programs had to totally replace current design thinking in order to become the paradigm shift we see today. and printing was the loser.
This illustration on the cover of this souvenir programs for Oklahoma is a wonderful sample of process art used as illustration. the way this image was created was by designing directly for the printing press. it didn’t even exist as a completed image until after it came off the printing press. it’s process art as a medium – and the home of real graphic design.
Looking at it through a ‘lupe” (for those technoboobs out there, a ‘lupe’ is a brand name for a small magnifying glass. designers used to use them to figure out the process of how something was printed. you look at the fine details of the image and you can discern the process) you can see that it’s cheaply and badly printed (every color is slightly off – but hugely off by comparison to the craft of printing as it existed back then.
The colors are solid pigment and the subsequent colors created from the three original colors are simply overlapped (printed on top of each other) to create a much larger and more vivid color palette. screens (dot patterns) were used to create mid-ra
as well (the ‘brown, for instance). it’s very smart and knowledgeable about print processing and designed to be literally bomb proof – it could get printed off register quite severely and still read correctly. that way, you could use a very inexpensive printer and let it be badly printed and still be acceptable to your client’s needs.
Most designers today design on a computer. to begin with, there are severe restrictions in size (you gotta work so small in order to scan things) and chromatics. a screen is projected light – looking into a flashlight beam. it has a different spectrum (RGB) than reflected light – ink printed on white paper (CMYK). the problems with matching color is tremendous. and that’s just a couple of the problems with the shift to computer-everything design.
Computers are essentially big ‘comping’ tools. clients expect to have instant results (just punch a button, right?) and then get exactly what they see on a screen. we let the computer essential create the process artwork (through directives). then we hand the disk to a printer to ‘make it so” (or run it off a desktop – which also speaks to quality and process limitations – and ignorance).
The printer then has to have their technician to tear apart your entire piece of ‘design’ and re-do all of it in a way that actually be printed. don’t worry, they tear down EVERYBODY’S artwork, no matter how smart you think you are. they have to totally re-configure what you do, because we are all different and we are all stupid, now, when it comes to printing. then it’s printed ’4-color process on white paper.’ how many of you folks regularly go to press checks any more? do you have any idea how this is done? any idea of the potential for creative expression this magnificent system has to offer? do you realize how it’s being lost through being ignored? it’s a huge loss.
The new paradigm sort of reminds me of those badly translated japanese instruction manuals – where the japanese translator translates english into japanese and then back into “engrish” – and it reads as humorous gibberish? the computer design process is sort of like that. instead of designing directly for the printing press, we know design and translate into a comping tool (for the client). then we re-translate that into yet another language (printing) and expect it to not be an ignorant mess? this new ‘middle man’ is like the worst case scenario client interference. a recipe for mayhem. and lousy work – design gibberish. the language of graphic design gets lost.
We have lost the language of printing in the process of no longer designing for printing. so, what are we now? are we still ‘graphic’ designers? it’s like learning to paint and then making a living as a painter, but never really touching brush to canvas. the results are mechanical and dulling in expression. a whole world of creative vision is being lost like it was nothing. we’ll never see process illustration like this oklahoma cover again. once the older generation (myself included) die out, it’s gone. will anybody even notice? or are we too busy being ‘wowed’ by the latest toy from apple?
if you think you are a graphic design, and you don’t know printing, then you don’t know jack. we now have an entire generation of designjack.
AC:really don’t think it’s letterpress. it has a union stamp on the back that says “(union) printed in the u.s.a. by artcraft litho & ptg co., n.y.”. so, i assume it’s litho. but, if they routinely printed spot colors with letterpress, then maybe it’s also letterpress. but it sure doesn’t look like letterpress to me. looks like litho.
anyway, how these things were done is a question for the old timers, and they’re disappearing fast….and old studio-mate of mine – sandy peterson (whatever became of her?) – got a degree in art/print making somewhere in the midwest. one day she was driving down an alley and encountered some work men using sledgehammers to break up some HUGE litho stones (she said they were about 10 X 15 feet or larger!) she stopped and jumped out and started screaming, “STOP! Do you know how RARE those are? do you how much they are worth?” they said, “lady, you want them, you take them.” she stopped dead in her tracks. after a while she left. she later found out they debris were dumped in a river.
it was a shop that printed billboards. it was in the late 70′s. that’s my source of info….