Smartists: Meet Artist Frida Clements

Folk artist Frida Clements waits inside a coffee shop, her blonde locks luminous as the morning sunshine, a pot of tea steeping in front of her. She smiles at me from beneath a drawing of a creature–half-whale, half-steamship–hanging on the wall. It’s the work of another Seattle illustrator, Kyler Martz. “I’m so glad to see him up in here,” she says, posting about it on her Facebook.

Over the last two years, Clements herself has garnered much appreciation for whimsical pen and ink illustrations she pairs with puns. At first, these drawings were just a fun diversion for Clements. But when she posted one to Instagram, they exploded all over the internet. She’s brought several prints to give me today: the one with a small snail inching below the words “Snailed It!” makes me laugh out loud. In the last couple years, she’s worked with Chronicle Books to publish a book as well as create journals, greeting cards, dish towels and other merchandise with the designs.

The exposure has been great, but she’s also discovered the downside of being the queen of puns. “Ever since I started this, people have to tell me their hilarious [pun] ideas and I’m like ‘what have I done?’ I get a lot of unsolicited emails,” she says laughingly. Still, she notes how thankful she is to put some joy into the universe.

“I just got a letter from a woman who’s sister just passed away from cancer. The woman said her sister was the punster of the family, so she bought a couple copies—one for herself and one for her niece so they could remember her. I thought that was so cool. That’s one of the major perks of doing something like this—I get to make work that people want to hang in their homes and have as part of their daily life,” Clements said.

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Clements has been doodling since she was a little girl, often instead of paying attention in school. She admits, “There were a lot of parent-teacher conferences about the fact that I was either reading or drawing and not socializing or math-ing.” But through her parents’ divorce, tough teen years, and an unplanned pregnancy at 19, it was Clements’ art that offered her solace.

“[My art has] saved me, and I’ve been able to do so many amazing things because of it. During every single horrible, terrible time in my life it’s been the one constant,” she said.

As a 23-year old single mom, Clements got a degree from Seattle Central Creative Academy. For most of her career, Clements worked for a company as a graphic designer. She illustrated concert posters for musicians like Wilco and Joanna Newsom on the side, but that wasn’t enough. Five years ago, she decided to quit her corporate gig and focus on her art full-time. “The best decision I ever made,” she says.

Clements feels “the most at home” in the woods, where she takes daily hikes with her tri-colored corgi named Mochi. She spends her walks in the quiet rustle of nature, collecting pinecones, feathers, leaves, rocks—anything that catches her eye. An hour or so later, she brings the items home, spreads them out on the kitchen table, and sits down to capture them. Her daily routine has immortalized the flora and fauna of the Pacific Northwest.

“I love when I’m out on a rock and I find one particular little leaf—like, nobody else would even see the beauty in it, but I’m going to give this little decomposing thing a life beyond,” she said.

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Despite years of drawing, Clements says she’s still trying to find her own voice. Part of this is because she has, as she puts it, “lived life backwards,” raising two kids before forty. “It wasn’t that I was not being creative, it was that my circumstances were not that conducive to me being my fully complete awesome artist self. I’m still getting out of that now. But there’s no right order to do things. I’m really happy [with my kids],” Clements said.

Now that Clements can spend more time in her studio, she both revels in and feels guilty about the ability to focus solely on her art and her own personal growth. “That’s one of my major challenges in life: learning to own my space. Like, [remembering] this is what I have to do for myself.” said Clements.

Clements will turn 40 this year, and but she’s by no means slowing down. Currently, she’s working on a line of greeting cards in collaboration Bison Bookbinding & Letterpress and more art prints for her website. Plus, she has an exciting future project to be on the lookout for–her first children’s book!

“I’m really excited for what the next ten years will hold—my thirties were a time of huge growth, a divorce, a remarriage, all sort of job changes,” she said. “Forty’s going to be a good one. I just bought myself a bike. I’m excited to head out to an island and feel the wind in my hair.”

For more information on Frida Clements and her art, please visit her website. Her book, Have a Little Pun is available on Amazon (and wherever books are sold), along with cute notecards, coasters, journals and tea towels!

Photo by Jenny Jimenez