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Alumnus and Pearl Jam poster artist Brad Klausen goes solo

Looking for tips on effective resumé design? Talk to Brad Klausen.

The DU art grad was working for a design firm in Los Angeles when a newsletter from the Pearl Jam fan club caught his eye. Inspired by what he saw, Klausen (BFA graphic communication design ’98) designed a Pearl Jam poster of his own and put his name and phone number in one corner. He mailed it off to Seattle along with an inquiry about creating artwork for the band. The answer, he says, was “thanks, but no thanks.”

Eight months later, he got the phone call that changed his life.

“[The band] put [the poster] up on their wall where they put other things fans send in, and they just kept it up there,” Klausen says. “Then they decided they wanted to get an in-house graphic designer, and my poster was on the wall and my phone number was on it, so they called it.”

Klausen ended up working for Pearl Jam for nine years, creating T-shirts, newsletters, album art, posters and more for the band he’d been a fan of for years.

“I was a teenager right when all the Seattle grunge stuff was happening, and all of that totally caught my attention and I gravitated toward that and all of the bands that were coming out at that time,” he says. “That had a big impact on me, and I started becoming a much bigger fan of music and getting deeper into it right around that time.”

Klausen worked directly with members of Pearl Jam on albums such as Lost Dogs, Riot Act and the hits collection rearviewmirror, but when it came to posters, he says, the band was remarkably hands-off, letting him draw whatever concept came into his mind, from a Republican elephant tangled in the stripes of the American flag for a 2004 Vote for Change show to a classic movie poster-inspired piece for a 2007 concert in Italy. Poster ideas can come from anywhere, he says: song lyrics, current events, the history of the city in which the concert is taking place.

“A lot of times ideas just sort of appear,” he says. “It’s very strange. I would walk my dog all the time and she would play Frisbee and I’d go out at night with a set of headphones on and play Frisbee with her and I’d come back full of ideas. I often don’t feel like these ideas are necessarily mine; some of it’s picking up on what’s out in the ether.”

In 2009 Klausen took another leap, leaving the Pearl Jam family to go solo. His one-man company, Artillery Designs, still produces Pearl Jam posters, but he’s also done work for bands such as Built to Spill, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, the Black Keys and Widespread Panic. In December 2010, Akashic Books put out a book of his work titled From a Basement in Seattle: The Poster Art of Brad Klausen. It shows the development of 70 of his concert posters, from initial sketch to finished product.

“I wanted to focus on solely being a poster artist,” he says of leaving Pearl Jam. “All the merchandise and T-shirts and all the other stuff, I eventually lost interest in it. It didn’t seem as fulfilling. The posters seemed like artwork. Obviously they’re merchandise and they’re sold at shows, but it seemed like something more substantial than just a T-shirt.”

Typically, he says, the poster business works like this: An artist creates a poster for a concert, and instead of getting paid in cash, he gets paid in extra posters. All of Klausen’s income comes from selling his posters online. In fact, he credits the Internet with the recent boom in concert poster sales. Not only can fans find posters from hundreds of artists online, but the concert mementos have become one of the few remaining physical elements in an increasingly digital music world.

“The way the music industry’s going, people aren’t buying CDs anymore,” he says. “They’re buying stuff on iTunes. I think the poster gives you something tangible, something you can actually keep. And it’s art; it’s something you can hang on your wall and decorate your house with.”

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