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Poster Giant

On the eve of Flatstock 36 at Bumbershoot, American Poster Institute vice president Jeff Kleinsmith talks about the impact of the rock poster show, the state of the industry and what its like to be the old guy in a young persons game.

I made my first poster in 1988. It was for my band, Funeral Party, opening for a band in Eugene, Ore., called Mind Garage. I skipped two days of classes, cut out letters from the newspaper, collaged it together and did a drawing.

I moved to Seattle and made a ton of telephone pole posters, until about 1992 when there was a poster ban and you couldn’t put up 11” by 17” posters on telephone polls anymore. We were forced into either not making posters or moving over to screen-printing posters that you could hang inside a café—the larger format, the ones you see at Flatstock.

There was this website called GigPosters.com that was just a bunch of poster artists talking about posters, praising and criticizing each others’ work, and it was generally a very good thing. The poster artist Frank Kozik had this idea: Instead of singularly trying to sell posters, why don’t we band together as a community and start a thing? In 2002, that became Flatstock.

Those first Flatstocks were really cool. A lot of the artists didn’t know each other personally. Being able to get together for that first time, to meet everyone, see each other’s work in person and talk about our craft was awesome.

From there relationships were forged. We shared trade secrets, we traded stories about working with bands, artists and clubs in different cities. For better or for worse, it turned from a very regional thing into something much larger.

There are lots more poster artists right now—even in the last 10 years, and certainly since I started. I don’t blame that on Flatstock. I think Flatstock has been good for the industry, but having so many people making posters has been hard on a lot of designers who’ve been doing it for a long time. But you can’t control that and, really, you want lots of people doing a lot of stuff. Some people are going to fade away and some people are going to succeed.

I’m not actually going to sit at a table and sell posters this year. I’m 45 now. I have children. It’s a young person’s game to sit there for four days selling posters. I am painfully aware of the fact that I am working in a young person’s industry. I’ve met people who were born in the ’90s, which is really weird. AS TOLD TO MARK BAUMGARTEN

Pictured from left to right: Flatstock posters by Guy Burwell, Jeff Kleinsmith and Frida Clements.

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