2023 Women in Print and Promo: Amy Clark, City Paper Co.
Vice President of CP Studios
City Paper Co., Birmingham, Alabama
The best designers are smart, eccentric, and curious. Amy Clark is no exception. She’s always researching the latest trends and approaching them with an open mind. By her own admission, she sometimes misses the mark with a color choice or imprint method, yet her artistry has earned City Paper Co. six ADDY awards.
“[Amy] is beyond talented,” her nominator says. “She is a woman who brings joy and light to the City Paper team and to our customers. Her ability to effectively manage a team, while also maintaining her creative skills, is incredibly special.”
In addition to supervising her employer’s in-house team of creatives, who Clark credits for making her look like a “rock star,” she works alongside City Paper Co.’s vice president of marketing, Maggie Wright. Together, they support marketing in its efforts to promote the company’s abilities, as well as prospect clients’ business and help draw in projects. But Clark’s story almost took a different turn.
Let’s rewind to the early ‘90s. Clark was a recent high school graduate living in Kentucky. For those considering college, like her, majoring in communications was the popular thing to do. Being a visual thinker, Clark couldn’t understand how that would play out in her career, so her father and college adviser suggested a teaching track. Even the allure of job security and summers off weren’t enough to convince Clark to continue this path, so she paused her studies.
To pay the bills, she held several jobs, including pizza restaurant manager, server, and salon receptionist. Clark later did administrative work for five years at a large church in Knoxville before moving to Birmingham, and suddenly things started making sense.
“I discovered design there because I wanted to make my own flyers,” she recalls. “But I couldn’t figure out how to work the programs — it was so complicated. It really fueled an interest in me to explore graphic arts, and when I got the opportunity to move to Alabama and go back to school, I jumped on it.”
Clark enrolled in the University of Alabama’s College of Arts & Design, immersing herself in everything from printmaking and book arts, to drawing, painting, and, of course, design. Working in promo or packaging was never on Clark’s radar, but after a fellow classmate informed her of a part-time graphic artist role that was about to open, she interviewed and accepted the offer. For Clark, it was a way to gain experience before moving on to an ad agency — promotional marketing just didn’t feel like the best use of her newly acquired skills.
However, not long into her role, Clark realized City Paper Co. could offer design services beyond specs and art placement. She and her boss had many discussions about the future. A few short months later, Clark came on full time and helped form what is now the company’s in-house art department, City Paper Studios. Last year, she was promoted to vice president of City Paper Studios, and plans to continue showing customers how to reflect their brand in a “designerly way.”
Her Proudest Career Achievement
I am so proud of what we have achieved as a team at City Paper. I have been able to put my art in front of some major clients, y’all — that’s the bee’s knees! We have won six ADDY awards for our work, and there are no gatekeepers at our job. ... One day I was at the grocery store and saw a lady with two non-woven bags that I designed. I was walking on a cloud that day. It’s crazy to think that something you worked on and thought about and put time and effort into will just be casually used at the grocery store one day. ... I could not have done any of this without the support and encouragement of my bosses. Stephanie Friedman, our CEO, saw a vision for City Paper all those many years ago. And she and her husband, Brad Friedman, [our] president, had the foresight to let our department take our little quirky, artistic lights — and let them shine.
How Failure Taught Her Resiliency
Oh, I fail all the time. It happens when you don’t have total control over every process in the supply chain. I have times when I think, “Oh that wasn’t the best imprint method, or this would’ve looked better in a different color.” But as I go on, it gets easier and easier to predict the outcomes — to eyeball and see that an imprint is too large or too small, and what is going to work, what will “pop,” or just look plain bad. It’s a learning process to get things right. When I design a box, I have to print it out, cut it out, fold it up, and look at where things are laid out. It’s a tedious process, but I have learned through trial and error that the best way is the old-school way of taking your time and doing everything analog to make the design be at its best. We set the goal really, really high for ourselves, so when that is the case, you can’t win them all.
Her Most Significant Barrier as a Female Leader
I find it hard to get people to trust that I know what I’m doing. I have been trained in design. I studied it extensively for four years before starting my career. When you have someone with the knowledge and skills to do their job, you need to put trust in that person. Men get that credibility up front; women have to prove theirs. At least that is what I have experienced. When I came into CP, I had a lot of work to do to show that I know what I’m talking about in terms of trends, good design, and what is current for today’s retail market. I consume design articles and magazines and try to stay up to date by attending design conferences and entering our work for potential awards. I do a lot of research on what companies are doing with their marketing. I consume design articles and magazines and try to stay up-to-date by attending design conferences and entering our work for potential awards.
How She Thinks Companies Can Attract and Retain Female Talent
Flexibility. Many women wear a lot of hats and juggle a lot. I don’t have kids, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have responsibilities. I have a home that I maintain and parents that I tend to, so working for a company that is sensitive to my familial needs is imperative. I need to be able to feel like I can take a day to be quiet and deep dive into projects if I need to. When you have trust and flexibility in a job, that is a very attractive quality in a company. There is the notion of “soft life” out there right now — that is people who have decided to not grind. They are willing to do a job that they love because it benefits them in a way that is more of a part of their life rather than them being a cog in the proverbial wheel. This new approach to work-life balance is in place because women are on the forefront of understanding the need for a “soft life,” and in changing the expectations for the office, based on the understanding that people have lives outside of the office and need flexibility.
Her Job Advice to Women
I would say that if you are creative, and you can separate your ego from your art, you are the perfect person for a job in graphic design. It’s tough. You must be open to styles that are not necessarily your own, and many companies do not value the time and effort that go into preparing creative ideas. I would say find a job with a culture that values what you bring to the table. Each artist has a unique style and voice, and as a designer, you should spend your career cultivating that voice. When that happens, both the company and you as an employee will benefit.
Her Upcoming Goals
Our company just celebrated its 125th anniversary last year. We are coming off a total high, and thinking to ourselves, “How can we top what we did last year?” We are going to focus on a few things that have fallen to the wayside — work as simple as updating our website with new images and fresh copy. We are also preparing a new brand roll out. Super exciting and nerve-wracking too. ... We have to look at this logo in a million ways in the future, on print ephemera, apparel pieces, small imprints and large — it must be designed to be fluid and engaging without sacrificing our street cred as a company.
How She Recharges
One simple thing I have started to do for myself is get up after I eat and take a two-minute walk. If I’m in the office, I walk around the parking deck, and if I’m at home, I set a timer and walk around the kitchen table. (My neighbors already think I’m odd, so it tracks.) I like to go outside in nature as much as possible, and I already mentioned that I attend a design conference every year. I find that to be so invigorating to my design practices. It’s easy to get into a slump, so I love to check out what other designers are dealing with and what is being created out there — it gives me a boost.