Frida Clements: Designer, Poster Passionista

Frida Clements

by Rasmus Rasmussen on June 15, 2010

I found Frida Clements’ artwork on a sticker almost by accident one evening while attending a West Seattle Artwalk. Her style caught my eye and I sent her an e-mail asking if she would agree to do an interview. The meeting took place in her office at STG (Seattle Theater Group), where she works as the in-house designer with responsibility for everything from annual reports and brochures to venue signage. And that is just the tip of the iceberg for Frida, who has worked as a graphic designer for about a decade.

She also paints, is involved with a number of side projects and has a huge passion for silk screen printing. In particular band posters; the kind you might see in connection with a concert or a music festival. She even curates the poster show for the Sasquatch Music Festival, which involves more than 100 different designs. And did I mention that she is a mom too? Here is what she had to say about the things she does.

AP: You do all sorts of design work but seem to have a special love for screen printed posters. Where does this come from, and what is it about screen printing that’s so awesome?

FC: I think my initial fascination with screen printed rock posters probably started in high school. The 90’s were an amazing time for music and design in Seattle, and the impact those designers made on telephone poles, in venues and the weekly papers is still very much with us today. Once I figured out that I wanted to be a graphic designer, went through school and got a job, I had even more respect for people who were doing this kind of work. There is definite stability in being able to design collateral for corporate clients. Not so much in designing for local bands and printing in your basement. But that’s where the fresh, exciting and relevant work is and continues to be. Just log on to on any given day, I guarantee you’ll see work that inspires you.

What makes screen-printing so awesome (in my opinion) is that this is one of the last great traditional examples of graphic design as ART. When a poster is designed well, and the band represented is creating amazing work, there is an emotional connection for anyone who owns or appreciates that poster. Our world is getting faster, information is hitting us constantly… There are some record companies that still care about quality packaging and the experience of the listener (Sub-Pop & Barsuk are prime examples), but digital distribution of music has definitely taken over. The screen-printed poster still pays homage to music in a sincere and respectful way.

Frida Clements beneath a couple of her posters.AP: You landed your first full time position through pro-bono work. What are your thoughts on that way of building business relationships? Would you recommend it to budding designers?

FC: Pro-bono work to gain experience or beef up your resume is great, IF it’s fun and is giving you the opportunity to shape your career in a way that makes sense for you. If the work isn’t fun, doesn’t make sense for your long term goals and is making you miserable, then you need to charge for your time. Or just say no. Design has undeniable value, yet there are always countless requests for free work from artists. Why should a graphic designer’s degree have less value than any other degree? Something to think about.

AP: As a freelancer, you made “serious money” but felt creatively limited. Where does the perfect balance between the two lie, according to you?

FC: The perfect balance probably doesn’t exist. Let’s face it, graphic design is a service industry. Designers exist to make everyone else look good, and to make the “looking good” look easy. It’s all hard work in this industry, no matter how you slice it. The more money you make, the bigger the clients are, the less creative freedom you have. On the flip side, the more fun the job is – not all of the time, but typically – the smaller the paycheck. It just depends on what drives you. Being able to feel like I have ownership of what I do creatively is a big deal to me, so I’ve had to make a few sacrifices along the way. I do believe if you are true to yourself things even out eventually.

AP: In your current job with STG you have a wide range of responsibilities. What is it about doing all these different things that appeals to you, as opposed to specializing in, say, poster design?

FC: This ties in with the previous question, most of what I do at STG is deadline driven. It’s not glamorous, and the volume is beyond comprehension depending on the time of year. But there are also opportunities here to create work that is extremely personal and meaningful for me as well, and I know from experience how rare that is. A couple other aspects that appeal to me here is a sense of ownership (hey, it’s just me!), and the experience of mentoring and giving opportunities to student interns. Being able to help someone carve their own creative niche in the world has definitely been personally rewarding.

Frida Clements at her desk.AP: You curate the Sasquatch poster show, which means coordinating over 100 designs. Could you share a bit about your role, and what you walk away with at the end of the day?

FC: This came to be a few years ago when the festival increased to three full days and the producer feared he would not have time to manage finding a designer for each band as he had done in the past. I was upset to discover this, as I was obsessing over the band Beirut that year and desperately wanted to design a poster for them. So I volunteered for the job… And had no idea what I was getting myself into! It’s a huge task organizing that many designers, attempting not to piss anyone off, putting a show together… But ultimately it is worth it. I’ve met so many designers that I wouldn’t have otherwise, which I am really thankful for considering I’m pretty isolated in my position. Also, it makes me so happy when I see designers get recognition or new fans through being involved in the Sasquatch show. I feel like it’s become a collectively positive experience for all.

AP: You’re also involved in Flatstock, The Vera Project and art walks, all on top of being a mom and a self-proclaimed perfectionist. How do you manage your time?

FC: I have no idea how I manage my time. Honestly. I just somehow keep attempting to get through the endless to-do list. Life doesn’t stop when I leave the office, that’s for sure. I do know that having so little time inspires me to push myself harder to create when I can. I’m not producing as much inspired work as my peers that aren’t parents, but have been learning to accept reality and to be gentle with myself. Hopefully things will eventually calm down, I’ll live a good long life and there will be plenty of time for future works of genius.

For more on Frida Clements’ work, be sure to check out her website, her Facebook page and her portfolio.

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