Nothing to lose: A conversation with OutNetwork president and graphic design student Gianfranco Ocampo

Gianfranco Ocampo at ArtCenter College of Design

Gianfranco Ocampo this summer at ArtCenter College of Design’s South Campus. Photo by Chuck Spangler

Before Gianfranco Ocampo embarked on his first trip to Europe this fall as a participant in the Berlin Studio study away program, we sat down for a conversation with the upper-term Graphic Design major. Ocampo loves to travel, and over the years his family in Los Angeles has hosted many exchange students, one of whom in turn hosted Ocampo when he visited Japan for his 18th birthday. Already bilingual (English and Spanish), Ocampo learned to speak Japanese and to cook Japanese food. Confident and outgoing, he’s a people-centric person at home in the role of ambassador. As a peer mentor with the Center for the Student Experience (CSE), he welcomes incoming students to ArtCenter and this year was named president of OutNetwork, ArtCenter’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning, Intersex and Allies (GLBTQIA) student club. The group is dedicated to fostering a multidisciplinary, multigenerational community that shares an interest in the intersection between GLBTQIA identity and the creative arts; members include current students and faculty as well as alumni. For Ocampo, advocating for important causes is integral to his calling as a designer.

What drew you to ArtCenter?

I first heard about ArtCenter through John Measures, a teacher at L.A. Mission College, when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I took his graphic design course, and the way he spoke about typography and was able to make images was just incredible to me—that’s what drew me to graphic design. I heard from him that ArtCenter was a really prestigious school. I decided to give it a try. I did some research and found out that it was only one of only three schools with a letterpress facility. One day, I just woke up and decided that I would apply to ArtCenter–I have nothing to lose. And if I didn’t get in, I’d become a jet pilot. Seriously: I wanted to fly. But sure enough I got that acceptance letter.

What directions are you exploring in graphic design?

I really love working with people. Even in graphic design, I always want to involve people in a cause, spread a message, help others. My dad is an emergency response child abuse investigator. The amount of hours he puts in, and the stories he’s told me–he’s someone who really makes a difference in people’s lives.

I saw a documentary about fracking called Gasland and I drew inspiration from that movie for a project in my first term here at ArtCenter. We had to choose a cause and come up with a way to market the message. In my case, the message was that fracking was bad for the environment and for people. Because there’s ethanol in the water, you could set it on fire. So I used that idea for the piece. I took a cup out my mom’s kitchen, I filled it with alcohol, put a white backdrop behind it, took a lighter, and lit that sucker on fire. I took pictures of it as fast as I could before the cup broke. The wording I came up with: How would you like to drink cancer? Just that, with the anti-fracking coalition logo at the bottom.

Poster design by Gianfranco Ocampo

In some ways you’re going beyond the traditional role of a graphic designer, coming up with the concept, writing the copy, art directing and taking photographs, fabricating the piece–really doing it all.

Guillaume Wolf is the teacher I’ve learned from the most. He told us, ‘Go do it, go get your hands dirty.’ I love working with my hands. I took Archetype Press as a graphic design elective. I am trying to force myself to take the hardest classes, the ones I am going to learn from the most. I begged one teacher to let me in after it already reached its cap, and it was one of the hardest experiences I’ve had here.

Somehow you still find time to lead one of ArtCenter’s student organizations.

Leading a group is brand new to me. I wasn’t involved in clubs at community college. But here I have a longer-term commitment. When Lester DiLorenzo graduated he asked me to take over as president of OutNetwork and I accepted. It’s a way of connecting GLBTQIA students with each other, with allies, and with professional networks. It’s not like we spot one another right off the bat, so it’s a way to find each other. It’s a good group of people.

Also times have changed, right? This has been a watershed era for gay rights, with a huge shift in public attitudes and this year’s Supreme Court decision on marriage equality nationally.

Times have changed. I haven’t met a single person here [at ArtCenter] that hasn’t been supportive. Until this year I had never gone to a gay pride parade, but in June I went to Christopher Street West in West Hollywood. It was a very open, very accepting experience. Through OutNetwork I want to spread that sense of open-armed acceptance throughout ArtCenter, as well as to educate others on how we’re all people–maybe a little different here and there, different orientations, different denominations, with our own trials and tribulations, but each of us is human all the same. I also want to push sexual health education a bit more through the CSE so that everyone’s more informed, healthy, and happy. I would like to be a part of a future in which there is little to no stigmatization of any people, for any reason.

Ocampo seat for Paul Frank class

For an ArtCenter class taught by Paul Frank, Ocampo designed a seat inspired by strawberry shortcake.

What excites you about learning here?

It’s great being able to explore so many things while you’re here. You can expand your horizons and find yourself in design. I took part in the transdisciplinary studio Bag It And Sit On It with Paul Frank. It was mostly Product, Graphic and Illustration majors who were selected to participate. We sewed a bag and we built a chair—based on food! I made a black leather messenger bag, and built a chair that looked like a piece of strawberry shortcake. I know there’s something out there I can really sink my teeth into. I love the editorial work done by Phaidon publishing company. They did this great book, Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef—I love that! And I’m excited about this new book they’re bringing out, Visual Impact, on 200 influential artists and designers working on social and political change.

I’ve met some really incredible people here, from tons of different walks of life. I’ve been gravitating toward the illustration majors and the fine art majors. They’re weird but they’re so cool. [Laughing.] ArtCenter provides so much opportunity for people like me, to be able to grow through different programs, through scholarships, through professional networks. I am so grateful to ArtCenter.

What do you tell people who are considering ArtCenter?

I run a graphic design inspiration Tumblr called francotron and I get a lot of questions in my inbox from people interested in going to ArtCenter—Oh, you’re at ArtCenter! How did you get in? I’m too scared to turn in my application. What I say to them is, “Just do it. You can ask faculty or Admissions counselors how improve your portfolio—you have access to all these people who will help you. Ask questions. Make things. Turn it in!”

Where do you see yourself after graduation?

Music plays a large role in my creative process and I think I’m going to work very closely with the industry in the near future in any way that I can. In terms of the direction I’m heading in, if i decide to stay in Los Angeles, there is a sign painting school at Cal Trade Tech, and a neon light making course at Lakich Studio in the arts district I’m interested in.

Comic Con poster designed by Gianfranco Ocampo.

Ocampo’s design for a Comic Con poster


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