Awards Deserve Rewards

Laura Spencer Illustrates
2019 Emerging Artist Grantee
Post 03 – Awards Deserve Rewards

TLDR: A delicious meal and good conversation with an old professor dredges up memories from High School, as well as evoking a much greater existential question.

A few weeks back, George Retkes* and I caught up with one of our professors from High School. This former Art History & Studio teacher left a lasting impact on both of us, and I am grateful that George has maintained correspondence after all these years. Like always, our simple dinner turned into a lengthy and deep conversation. We sat and chatted as the restaurant closed around us, covering everything from health and family, to travel and adventures, and most importantly, ART.

We talked at length about the strain of creative employment upon an artist’s ability to create for themselves. This is the burden of using your creative skills to help realize the work/vision of someone else. For this professor, teaching and guiding young artists to find their own voice – while satisfying/rewarding – was an immense creative responsibility.  To then come home and muster up the motivation to generate their own work was simply overwhelming.

It’s comfortable and dare I say, easy, to use your creativity and talents for your 9 to 5 job – it pays the bills after all, and that alone provides a certain level of career satisfaction. There’s also something sort of noble, or self-sacrificial, about giving yourself and your abilities to something other than your own selfish endeavors. The issue then, is how an artist defines their success. Isn’t the craftsman successful when she utilizes her talents to their fullest potential, no matter for who or for what? Or is there an underlying insatiability that only self-generated concepts can fulfill? This struggle is most familiar to commercial artists – graphic designers, illustrators, advertisers, etc. We use our talents like tradesmen do – service-based creative problem solvers. This is one of the greater existential threats that I face in my own life and career.

Regardless, I continue to fill my days with unique, challenging, and creatively demanding projects at Creative Arts Unlimited. On top of that, more freelance graphic design work, and of course finding some sort of inspiration left over for my own projects. As you can see, I haven’t really found balance between it all, so here’s to burning a candle at both ends! I should probably try to find a hobby that’s different from my work, but these days, its all blending together. It’s not a bad place to be. Perhaps in my hubris, I can be the exception to the rule – or maybe this means I should start planning a long-term trajectory, to becoming an artist for myself – first and foremost.

*George Retkes: partner-in-life-and-crime; fellow Emerging Artist Grantee.  

On a lighthearted note, this professor gifted both George and I specially curated works of art, as a reward for receiving our Emerging Artist Grants. The piece you see below was chosen for Yours Truly, for a few reasons. For one, it’s a perfectly poised example of a technical botanical illustration, something that I have always loved and longed for the opportunity to execute myself. The colors are rather unusual, and expertly framed with vibrant matting and the original gilded frame. The piece also is a subtle phallic nod to erotic art – something that in my past, I have admired and curated for exhibits. This original lithograph is touching and meaningful, and I hope to live up to the honor of this Emerging Artist grant, as this gift so keenly symbolizes. I hope to continue to make you proud, Thank You.

Siphocampylus Glandulosus
Campanulaceae – Centropogon glandulosus – Siphocampylus glandulosus
From: Flore des serres et des jardins de l’Europe by Charles Lemaire and others. Louis van Houtte, 1848, volume 4, plate 401. Chromolithograph finished by hand.


Siphocampylus glandulosus
[Hook.] Off. lith. & Horto Van Houtteano.
Siphocampylus glandulosus
Early botanical chromolithograph with unusual color dates from a folio published in 1855.

A Personal Art History:

So in our last installment, I was but a wee little critter, just embarking on my Art journey. The education I received from these private art lessons perfectly paved the way to what came next.

In my 14th year, it was time to begin looking at high schools – a rather dismal prospect, considering I grew up here in Florida. Unfortunately, our state ranks embarrassingly low in education, however Pinellas County is blessed with a robust array of magnet programs that help to supplement the remedial academics we all plundered through.

I was all too eager to apply to the Visual Arts magnet program at Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School. The application process was intimidating as it was my first experience in creating and assembling works of art based on a formal criteria. There were 3 required pieces for the application (same requirements to this day) – 1. Self Portrait from a Mirror; 2. Drawing of shoes; 3. Still life of 3 or more objects from observation. [Now, I really wanted to share with you these drawings, but I’m going to have to tear apart my studio in order to find them. As soon as I can, I promise I’ll post them up!]

There was also an audition process – in which I had to complete 2 in-studio assignments in a finite timeframe, as well as an interview with one of several faculty members. I vaguely remember an observational still life, and a sculpture made out of styrofoam cups and T-Pins. The process was exhilarating, and I still can recall the buzzing, fluttering anxiety of waiting for my audition results. Thankfully, I was accepted into the program, and thus began the serious business of becoming an Artist.

Specific memories and details from High School are shrouded in a hot-boxed smokey haze, but the overall feelings, impressions, and lessons have stuck with me throughout the years. It helps to have a huge collection of sketchbooks from that time. Each semester, we paid a nominal studio fee, for various supplies, among which were plain black 8.5″ x 11″ sketchbooks. Whenever a student filled a sketchbook, we could request another. Once we reached Senior year, we were upgraded to the 11″ x 14″ size [level up].  I filled as many as possible – even collaged the front and back covers.

Studio Snapshot: A shelf full of old sketchbooks and diplomas collecting dust. Zombie Gnome by Boo Ehrsam

It’s shameful to say, that I haven’t truly filled a sketchbook to completion in years – probably since high school if we’re being honest. Perhaps this walk down memory lane with ignite a little passion and playfulness into my current art practice. I’ll start scanning some pages and posting the most embarrassing among them. 

That’s it for this ridiculously long installment. Thanks for sticking through this one; less words, more pictures next time!

See you real soon…

On my mind:

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