An accomplished illustrator, Mr. Stermer was also known for books of his own artwork celebrating the beauty of endangered species.
He was doing design work in Houston — and developing his trademark look: jeans, cowboy boots and leather vest — when, in the late 1960s, the advertising executive Howard Gossage recommended him for a job in San Francisco as art director of the revamped Ramparts, a journal of politics, culture and investigative reporting. (Founded in 1962, it closed in 1975.)
Mr. Stermer created a classical, bookish typographic format that influenced the designs of the early Rolling Stone and New York magazines. As art director he oversaw satiric covers critical of the C.I.A. and opposing the Vietnam War, and he persuaded Norman Rockwell to contribute a portrait of the peace activist and philosopher Bertrand Russell.
One antiwar cover, in December 1967, provoked the government’s ire by showing the hands of four men burning their draft cards. The hands belonged to Mr. Stermer and three fellow editors. They were subsequently called before a federal grand jury in New York, accused of instigating action harmful to the best interests of the United States by encouraging civil disobedience.
But prosecutors “decided it wouldn’t be good public relations to indict magazine editors, so after our testimony they let us go,” Mr. Stermer said in an interview for the blog of the Society of Publication Designers.
After leaving Ramparts in 1970, he collaborated with Susan Sontag on the first American book of Castro-era Cuban posters, “The Art of Revolution.” But he always wanted to make his own art. Whenever he redesigned a magazine, he commissioned himself to do some illustrations. This led to a few Time magazine covers rendered in a stylized, posterlike manner, which Mr. Stermer admitted was lifeless — “an excuse for not being able to draw well,” he reminisced this year.
So he decided to teach himself to draw in a classical way. During the past three decades he worked on hundreds of advertisements, book covers and posters, as well as the official medal for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. He also taught at the California College of the Arts, where he was chairman of the illustration department at his death.
Mr. Stermer’s passion for making exquisitely detailed color drawings of animals, plants and insects evolved partly from a magazine cover he created using a portrait he drew of the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. Always keen on expressing something “beyond the surface image,” he captured Garcia’s wild, mischievous side, transforming him into a bear.
Mr. Stermer devoted considerable time to naturalist work for magazines and books. Among his books are “Vanishing Creatures,” “Vanishing Flora” and “Birds & Bees: A Sexual Study.”
He also designed and illustrated for Outdoor, Sierra and other environmental magazines. His art was shown in a one-man exhibition in 1986 at the California Academy of Sciences, where a portion of his San Francisco studio was reassembled and displayed.
Born on Dec. 17, 1936, Dugald Robert Stermer was a native Californian who majored in art at the University of California, Los Angeles, and in the 1950s became a graphic designer with Richard Kuhn & Associates. He took a job in Houston when the design business there was booming.