Oklahoma History Book Cover

Cover for a book titles "Oklahoma's Chief of Public Instruction 1890-2015: The Position, The Politics, and The Public Servants (Superintendents)" by A. Kenneth Stern.  A photo collage in the shape of Oklahoma features various scenes of students, superintendents, and school buildings over the years.

I had the pleasure to create a book cover for a family friend, Mr. Ken Stern.  The book details the history of public education in the state of Oklahoma, provides insight on why the setup differs from other states, and critiques the resulting difficulties. Though I’d illustrated a few covers before, this was my first nonfiction, academic book, so my process was a little different.

I started with a trip to the history section of my local book store.  It quickly became apparent that modern history books lean heavily on photos/paintings paired with decorative text and flourishes.  Mr. Stern and I agreed it would be a good idea to highlight some unique qualities of Oklahoma such as its flag and the shape of the state.  I mocked up three ideas so we could narrow in on what we liked and didn’t like.

Mockup Ideas

The first mockup drew inspiration from the Oklahoma flag with added vector flourishes.  The second mockup was based on a photo of the old Pleasant Valley School House in Stillwater, Oklahoma (less than a mile from my childhood home) which was a one room school house built in 1899.  I stylized the photo to make it look like an engraving.  The third mockup was a photo collage in the shape of the state using historical photos, as well as some of the personal photos of the author.  In the end, we chose to focus on the photo collage since public education is about the people, not the buildings or symbols, but to help capture the reader’s attention, we switched to color photos and then used the color palette of the flag for the font and background.

The choice of a collage also felt fitting considering the hours I spent in my youth staring at the collaged walls of Stillwater’s Hideaway Pizza — this felt like a continuation of Oklahoma history!  Surprisingly, I’d never created a collage before, but the undo/resizing capabilities of Photoshop made the project not as challenging as I’d feared.

To avoid licensing the printing rights of any images, we used many of Mr. Stern’s own family photos, supplemented by Oklahoma Historical Society photos and publicly available photos in the Library of Congress.  These images are as follows (clockwise):  The Oliver Hodge Building (the State Department of Education Building in Oklahoma City, the author’s wife Lois Stern (my kindergarten teacher!) with her class on a field trip day to the Pleasant Valley Schoolhouse, Library Congress image of a rural school in Creek County, the author’s daughter Janelle at her high school graduation, the Pleasant Valley School, Oklahoma flag, State Superintendent Oliver Hodges, boys studying at the rural school in Creek County, show and tell with the author’s son Aaron, the State Seal, and State Superintendent Sandy Garrett. 

A zoomed in view of the styles and textures I used.

After creating the collage, I used Adobe Illustrator to create the sunburst and old-timey flourishes and added some textures to the background to give it a subtle, aged look.  I also styled the text in Illustrator with horizontal lines to hint at engraving and then added the light blue drop shadow echo to draw the reader’s eye.  Finally, I added the quote text to the back and flaps.  In addition to the hardcover wrap-around jacket, I also designed the foil embossing on the spine and a separate, scaled down version for the paperback.

The paperback version

I’m very happy with how everything turned out and even more satisfied that Mr. Stern and his publisher, New Forums Press, are as pleased as I am with it!