Artist Spotlight: An Interview with Graphic Designer Claire Smith

This week, I (virtually) sat down with Stamps BFA senior Claire Smith. As a fellow fan of branding and Aaron Draplin, I asked Claire about her inspirations and motivations.

Q: So I really like your graphic design work. First, can you tell me about what inspires you to make work?  

Claire: Ooh, that’s a tough question. A lot of times it’s like things that other people need.I think that’s where I find the most satisfaction in my work is when I’m making things actually for other people. I’m a fairly practical person, so it’s helpful to know that it’s actually like being useful in the world. I also enjoy helping other people reach their goals, so I guess that’s a main reason behind why I make things.

In terms of how I find inspiration for different styles, I just always look at other artists and see what they’re doing. I have a Pinterest board full of different inspiration styles that I really like, I like talking to like other students and other graphic designers that I know to see what they’re up to. 


Q: That’s great. Do you have any specific designers or artists that you look up to?  

Claire: Yeah, well my all-time favorite graphic designer is Aaron Draplin, you know, classic. I just enjoy how he doesn’t take design too seriously. A lot of times when I look at my Dribbble or something, like people are really like, everything needs to be perfect and super classy or whatever. And [Aaron] just is very unapologetic about just throwing colors and shapes together and just like having fun with it. And I love Field Notes. 

Also, one of my favorite artists is Sam Larson. He’s more of an Instagram artist I would say. But he does a lot of American Southwest inspired art, like lots of animals and plants and things like that. But I like the way he experiments with a lot of different styles. He has like a very set way of doing things, but he is also constantly experimenting. I like the way that he isn’t afraid to try things, even if people don’t end up liking it.  


Q: So going off of your interest in graphic design and making things that help other people, do you know what career path you want to go on?  

Claire: I would love to go into branding and visual identity design–I think just that’s the most fun, because I think you can be the most creative with it, like starting from scratch and making something new. Then it can help someone who’s like trying to start a business. Honestly I just love design so much. I’d be happy doing anything that just involves design, whether that’s in house somewhere or not. 

I interned with Michigan Athletics last year and I haven’t ever done athletics or sports-related design at all, but that was honestly really fun. I also did that Stamps alumni mixer. One of the people I talked to, she works for the LA Dodgers now and I was like, “Oh wait, that’s kind of cool!”  I always figured that that’s a possibility. So I want to say it would be fun to work in the sports industry, but I think mainly branding and visual identity. I think the goal is to eventually be able to freelance, but that might be a while.  


Q: Nice. Do you know where you want to be?

Claire: I’ve been thinking a lot more about Detroit lately for a few reasons, cause it’s closer to home. Then also I’ve been working this semester with the Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project and doing some design work for them. I really enjoyed learning a lot about small businesses in Detroit and how there’s whole neighborhoods, of entrepreneurs and that’s a huge area of growth. It would be fun to continue trying to help them out. There’s also one of my favorite design studios called Skidmore Studio and they’re in Detroit, and it would be really cool to end up working for them. 

But I think ideally if I could go anywhere, I really love the West Coast. So Oregon or Seattle, or Colorado, but probably Oregon.


Q: Can you talk about your favorite project or the most challenging project you’ve done?  

Claire: One of my favorites is the one that I did while studying abroad. It was pretty fun obviously, cause I was in Denmark–the Copenhagen Jazz Festival project. You did everything yourself. You researched the festival and then we did a ton of ideating projects, like random drawing whatever comes to mind when you listen to music. And then it was kind of interesting to see how concrete ideas could come out of that, even when it felt sort of random. And then it was branding, so I really liked making a logo and then a whole identity and an entire project. That was a lot of fun.  

I think the most challenging one, at least the one on my website right now, is Molar Bear, that was tough. ‘m not very experienced with UI UX design. So  that was a whole new thing to try to learn Figma, but it was really fun. There was so much research that went into it. I think with both of those projects, I learned a lot about research being important, because I think sometimes I get impatient and want to just jump into the designing, but it’s all about research.  


Q: I feel the same way. So in your studies at Michigan so far is there a favorite class that you’ve taken? 

Claire: I took Typography with Beth Hay and that was really good. I think something about Stamps is I feel like they always tell us to do these projects  but don’t teach us actual, foundational design techniques, like “here’s how you lay things out.” So I feel like in that class, I actually did learn about the grid and learn about hierarchy and stuff like that. I definitely still use skills that I learned from that class. And I really liked the final project.  


Q: I have one last question for you. So I’m looking at your website. What’s the deal with raccoons?  

Claire: I just think they’re really cute. I have this one friend who doesn’t like them at all and I keep trying to tell him that they’re actually cute and it’s more just like a spite thing at this point. I feel like I also just really love animals in general. Maybe they’re just kind of representative of that. I just love little creatures. I love feeding the squirrels on the Diag. 

I went to Korea last summer and there was this meerkat cafe where  you can go and pet a bunch of animals and there was a raccoon there. It was really fun. It’s not very deep. I think they’re cute and I like animals.  

Logo Concepts for Huntington Woods, MI


Raccoon Badge


Journey of a T-Shirt Poster


Food Posters



The Office Quote Lettering


Podcast Cover


Student at the University of Michigan studying Art & Design and Communication & Media, hoping to create meaningful design for social impact. Every week I highlight an intriguing artist (or group of artists)!

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!