Behind the Cover

By Tom Sellwood


The magazine cover. It is arguably the most important element of a successful publication.

As HuffPost writer Catherine Taibi said, “…printed magazines continue to offer something concrete, a tangible representation of a collaboration between editors, artists, designers and writers. And nothing embodies this collaboration like the magazine cover, which remains one of the modern age’s most widely consumed pieces of public art.”

The September issue of USA Hockey magazine is the perfect example of this collaboration, so we wanted to ask Touchpoint creative director Rob Johnson how this multi-media image—which incorporates a chalk illustration, multiple photoshoots, and graphic design—came to be.

Q: What was the conceptualization process like for this cover?

Rob Johnson: Art director Mike DeArmond and myself sat down with USA Hockey magazine editor-in-chief Harry Thompson to discuss the editorial plan for the year. Part of that involves preliminary discussions of cover stories and thus, possible direction for covers. This issue—having to do with back to school and back to hockey immediately made me think of a local illustrator, Jeff Nelson, that I had worked with in the past who does brilliant chalk work.

Q: The final image incorporates a lot of different types of media, what exactly are all the pieces?

RJ: The chalk illustration was actually done on a wall, painted with chalkboard paint, in our Touchpoint Media offices. We then had the local photographer team extraordinaire of Ackerman + Gruber shoot images of our hockey player and the chalkboard. A little photoshop to bring the two together and we had a cover.

Q: What type of impact does a great cover have on the rest of the publication?

RJ: The cover is the first thing that will grab a reader or potential reader’s eye. This isn’t a newsstand publication, so it’s not like we are trying to get people to pick us up in line at the grocery store. But we are trying to cater to a unique group of people with a similar passion, so we need to appeal to that audience across a wide range of ages—kids to adults. The cover also sets the tone for what they can expect inside: great stories about the game they love and great photos and layouts to accompany them. Hockey players and fans might be the most intensely dedicated sportsmen and women out there and we hope to ignite that passion for the game in our covers and get them to enjoy the content inside.

Q: What were the steps to create this?

RJ: Step 1: Discussion with the editor and art director on ideas and approach.

Step 2: Sketches of possible cover layouts and more discussion.

Step 3: Contacting the artists—illustrator Jeff Nelson and photographers Ackerman + Gruber—to explain the project, get them on board and get their all-important input.

Step 4: We actually shot our hockey player, Caden Sampair, first, due to timing and schedules. Caden is a seventh grader at Mahtomedi Middle School in Mahtomedi, Minnesota, and has played hockey since he could walk. He’s a USA Hockey member and his dad played at St. Cloud State and now volunteer coaches youth hockey, so the publication is delivered to their house each month, which made the whole process really special, for us and for them.

Step 5: Jeff did the chalk illustration.

Step 6: We shot the illustration.

Step 7: We went through proofs of images and selected the shots we liked and then performed a little photoshop Frankenstein work to bring them together.

Q: What’s it like to bring together a bunch of different artists who all contribute a unique portion to the final image?

RJ: It’s the best part of the job, honestly. I love being around photographers, illustrators, and other creatives who all bring a unique perspective to a project. I learn so much from them and from the process every time we do it. That collaborative effort is key.