Mentored by Chad Mize
Laura Spencer: I am an illustrator and graphic designer, born and raised right here in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Starting at a young age, I began studying fine art under the tutelage of my aunt [artist Boo Ehrsam]. Then I attended the art magnet program (at the) Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School. These years were some of my most formative and foundational – both personally and artistically. After high school, I attended Ringling College of Art + Design, graduating in 2007 with a BFA in illustration.
In my professional career, I’ve always maintained a full-time job while taking on freelance projects as well as personal artistic endeavors. Day jobs have included everything from slinging scoops of ice cream to selling and consulting over fine art supplies.
Now, I work for a design, build (and) install firm, Creative Arts Unlimited, Inc., where I am fortunate to design and illustrate… daily. Primarily, I focus my skills on illustration, however there are far more opportunities in the graphic design realm. In fact, most of my design experience has been learned through the trials and tribulations of freelance work.
Recent projects have been heavily focused on storytelling by way of illustration, concept and design.
CP: What have you been working on since being selected as an Emerging Artist?
LS: Since receiving the Emerging Artist Grant, I am focusing my attention on two specific aspects of my artistic career.
First, it was necessary to create a series of work specifically for this (Emerging Artists) Grant Exhibition. Since I am usually beholden to creative work for my employer, as well as freelance projects, (and I work A LOT, but hey, a girl has got to eat… and pay down them student loans) it only seemed natural to use this money as an opportunity to create something for myself and of myself.
My portion of the exhibit is entitled, When Never Die, We Simply Change Form, and it is based on creating ephemeral effigies for my three grandmothers. The colors and imagery all have sacred meaning to me.
I am also very interested in the origins of psychedelia and visionary art. It is a goal of mine to create works that feel ethereal and otherworldly, that invite the viewer to take a trip into their own subconscious, and hopefully evoke some sense of awe and connectivity.
The other aspect of this grant is to create a new brand identity for myself. Although my parents lovingly gave me my name, “Laura Spencer” is rather common. In fact, it is the name of not only a famous actor, but also another visual artist (very talented, and out of the UK). Therefore, my old moniker “Laura Spencer Illustrates” – in all its cumbersome length – becomes ever-further buried in endless search engine pages and social media hashtags.
My new brand – which I will announce to you first, right now – is Miss Crit. This will be the face of my illustration and design aesthetic. Business cards are being printed, a new Instagram page has been made and I’m ready to move forward with a clean, thoughtful and cohesive visual personality.
CP: What has your relationship with your mentor been like?
LS: My mentor for the Emerging Artist Grant is Chad Mize – a multimedia designer, artist, and gallerist here in St. Petersburg, Florida. I have known Chad for many years, as he gave me a major opportunity in my fledgling career. Chizzy showcased a piece of mine in the exhibit Bitchin’ at BlueLucy Gallery in 2011. [That is, the BlueLucy of original 600 Block infamy – on Central Avenue in downtown St. Pete].
This exhibit was my first public showing – post-college graduation – and my first exhibit as a newly minted “professional.” Since then, I’ve considered Chad not only an artist I greatly admire, but also a colleague and friend.
Chizzy is an ideal mentor. He has helped me to narrow my focus and determine what direction I want to take my career. Because he has so much experience as a designer, marketer and artist, he’s helped to guide and steer my objectives onto a much clearer path.
The development of a new brand was his first assignment for me. I’ve also gotten to glimpse aspects of his own design philosophy and work ethic. This has been the most invaluable aspect of the Emerging Artist Grant experience.
CP: What have you learned from him?
LS: I am learning so much! . . . I’ve gotten to imbibe a bit of knowledge on how a gallery space functions successfully. We’ve also focused a lot on the importance of developing a clear vision as a designer. There are so many avenues to explore within an art career – and I want to try them all!
But success comes from creating a simplified, strong, united message. Under his guidance, I’m learning to build a brand, create an LLC, and how to make my business practices feel more legitimate (with plenty of room to grow). We’ve talked about effective marketing strategies too – again keeping it focused and simple (i.e. he primarily uses Instagram, rather than spreading time and energy across various platforms.)
Another key lesson in our meetings has been about authenticity. Staying true to me, the artwork I inherently make, and the personality I share with the world is the cornerstone of establishing an authentic identity. Even the new name – Miss Crit – derives from my nickname, so there’s a backstory and legacy already woven into its fibers, just like his epithet, Chizzy.
We’ve also talked at length about finding your niche – an audience that is true to you. With his infamous World Tour Tees (the Paris, London Tokyo, St. Pete graphic), as well as his reimaging of the “Mr. Sun” icon, Chad has embroiled himself as an ambassador of St. Pete culture (couture, if you will).
This market discovery comes with time, and most importantly, with a body of work to release out onto the world. Now that I’ve created some pieces, it’s time to combine all these lessons and venture out into the wide world to find my audience.
CP: How has this mentorship impacted your art?
LS: This mentorship has helped to refine my art, as well as stimulate my design senses. Receiving objective and constructive critiques has been so refreshing – something greatly lacking in my art since graduating college. It’s also helped me to be accountable and timely, as well as elevating the craftsmanship I put into proofs and presentation.
Having to articulate my design choices has impacted the creative decisions I make back in the studio. Hearing objective and critical opinion on those designs has helped me to better edit and has offered valuable insight on how others perceive my intention.
CP: Has the relationship influenced you in ways you didn’t expect?
LS: Yes! What has been most unexpected is the ways in which our conversations have impacted all aspects of my life – not just art and design related.
Each session our talks always wander into philosophical design concepts that influence the way in which I perceive and function in the world. Like I mentioned before, the notion of authenticity in design has transformed the little decisions and interactions I have with people in daily life.
It’s important to take small moments, pause, and ask, “Is this direction aligned with my goals – with who and what I am?”