Nelson Ponce
Graphic designer

His illustrations have been featured in magazines and children's books, he has painted murals as part of the legendary Camaleón collective, and he has designed dozens of posters. But there's one poster in particular that brought Nelson Ponce the kind of fame that few graphic artists ever experience, the poster he created for the film Vampiros en La Habana.

As with any good poster, the basic idea behind Ponce's creation is powerfully simple: the first and last letters of the film's title form bloody fangs under a pair of sinister yellow eyes. You'll see this image on walls, t- shirts and baseball caps throughout the Cuban capital. It doesn't seem to matter that Juan Padrón's animated film was released back in 1985, and that the film's original poster featured a now-classic illustration by Eduardo Munoz Bachs. Ponce's own take on the poster, commissioned in 1999, has achieved immortality.

Vampire fame aside, Nelson Ponce, 33, is a native Habanero, born in Alamar, who neither drinks blood nor sleeps in a coffin. He once resided suspiciously close to the Cristóbal Colón cemetery in Nuevo Vedado, but only because his family moved to the neighborhood when he was 14. And he now lives with his fiancée and her parents in Cayo Hueso ("Bone Key"), Centro Habana, but there are mirrors on the walls, garlic in the kitchen, and nothing the least bit ghoulish about their flat.

Ponce teaches drawing classes in the Casa de las Américas building, and he's a professor at the Instituto Superior de Diseño Industrial (ISDI). "And because I'm workaholic I also freelance," he says. "I almost always work for cultural institutions. I work a lot, but that's also the way I have fun. Work and fun – it's the same thing, no?"

Ponce studied graphic arts at ISDI. He has been drawing for as long as he can remember. "I was punished for drawing so much, for not paying attention in class," he recalls with a smile. "Now I'm making a living from it."

In 2006 Ponce won Cuba's prestigious Prográfica prize for Best Young Designer. He says he greatly admires Félix Beltrán, one of the legends of Cuban poster design who also taught at the ISDI (1980-82). And he likes the work of American graphics gurus Milton Glaser and David Carson, and Spaniards such as Javier Mariscal and Isidro Ferrer. "I have so many influences I'm afraid of forgetting to mention those who have been the most important to me!"

The turning point in his career came in 2001 when he joined a group of artists calling themselves Camaleón. In addition to Nelson Ponce, Camaleón was Idania del Río González, David Alfonso Suárez, Darién Sánchez Castro, and Eduardo Sarmiento Portero. They met at ISDI, where Ponce was a professor and the others were students. They became close friends. "Graphic artists tend to work alone and approach their work very personally, but we all worked together," Ponce says.

In the G Café, the celebrated literary hangout at the busy intersection of 23rd and G in Vedado, university students are reading and drinking. When the café was remodeled in 2006, the Camaleón group did a mural depicting cartoony notions of good and evil, heaven and hell, angels and demons. It took them one day to paint it. "We'd never make any sketches," Ponce says. "We'd talk a bit, joke around, and then someone would just start drawing. People watched us — it was more like a performance. We didn't have brushes, so we painted with our hands. That's part of the charm of this mural."

In the student cafeteria of Havana University's Communications wing, a Camaleón mural from 2003 speaks to the theme of "miscommunication": a black-booted figure with a megaphone for a mouth transmits cryptic signals to another figure wearing earmuffs. This work took only one day to paint, too. They started in the morning and worked until evening. When the light was gone, the painting was finished. "We liked working fast, having a good time. That's the way it was, we liked taking advantage of the moment."

"We left individuality behind and maintained a kind of anonymity so that the Camaleón identity could flourish." But that anonymity wasn't destined to last. "The group eventually disbanded as the personalities of each member took over, but it wasn't very abrupt, it was fluid, natural." Does he envisage working on new projects with Camaleón? "I'm sure one day we'll all come together again, after each one of us finds what he's looking for. At least that's what I'm hoping."