Please Rise, Miss Crit

Miss Crit’s Rising Phoenix
at Creative Mornings

. . .

Last October Laura Spencer aka Miss Crit got a call out of the blue from an organization called Creative Mornings offering her an intriguing job – would she illustrate its January theme?

Dubbing itself the “world’s largest face-to-face creative community,” Creative Mornings offers free local events in 238 cities and 69 countries, dozens of weekly virtual FieldTrips, and jobs postings via its CreativeGuild.

Laura Spencer, aka Miss Crit

Founded in 2008 in Brooklyn, Creative Mornings began with monthly in-person meet-ups featuring inspiring lectures by creatives of all kinds — designers, photographers, illustrators, fine artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, even meditators.

In 2013, the group started asking its growing number of chapters to come up with a one-word theme each month that would be shared and echoed by all the other chapters around the world

I first got acquainted with the group in 2020 when visual and performance artist Suzanne Benton invited me to join her at an early morning breakfast meet-up of the local St. Pete chapter (now called the Tampa Bay chapter) at Red Mesa. Benton, an artist-in-residence at Eckerd College, was the force behind the Women’s March in 2017.

Alas, my first in-person Creative Mornings experience (which I remember included delicious coffee) was to be my last. Soon after, COVID upended the world and in-person meetings came to a halt across the globe.

But that didn’t stop Creative Mornings — or its aficionados. Hundreds of creative lecturers simply began to give their talks online and hundreds of fans like me faithfully followed. Those stimulating virtual FieldTrips got me through the pandemic as I joined creatives across the globe, inspired to continue to create. I’m still a Creative Mornings groupie.

So imagine my delight when I logged on to sign up for my January roster of Creative Mornings FieldTrips given by and attended by people all over the world and saw that this month’s theme — Rise — was chosen by my hometown chapter and that the accompanying illustration was by St. Petersburg native Miss Crit.

“Every year, chapters nominate a theme in the order that the chapter was started,” explained Casey Greenleaf when I reached out to Creative Mornings headquarters in Brooklyn to ask how it all works. “Miss Crit was selected from a group of illustrations suggested by the Tampa Bay chapter.” The monthly themes, she said, started in 2013, “so there have been 132 themes and illustrations!”

Miss Crit’s work

“I was really intrigued,” Miss Crit told me when I reached her by phone to congratulate her on her artistic coup. “I was thoroughly surprised that they picked me out of the hundreds of artists working in this area.”

In addition to being a paid gig, the offer has meant that her artwork is being seen across the globe. She has gotten shout outs about her illustration from Tucson to Istanbul.

One possible design from Miss Crit

Miss Crit, who worked with Greenleaf to complete the design, initially offered up three ideas and three sketches – plants and flowers swaying in the breeze and rising toward the sun, a glimpse into the human mind with a pathway leading to a rising sun, and a phoenix rising from the ashes, trailing the word RISE. “I liked all three concepts,” Miss Crit admits.

The rising phoenix won the day.

Miss Crit’s initial design for this month’s Creative Mornings graphic

“The phoenix rising from the ashes is such a juicy metaphor,” Creative Mornings writes in its announcement on its website of this month’s theme. “The mystical bird’s fiery demise symbolizes the destruction of old expectations — and how it’s always been done.

“Every creative act is a transformation. Each new project is a rebirth.

“We rise from everything that came before. That’s why ‘rise up!’ is a rally cry for the oppressed. But we should all be shouting, because our personal and collective empowerment are intricately linked. And the rise of different voices creates a richer and more vibrant society. The goal is not reaching the top, it’s lifting each other up.

“Together, we rise higher.”

And here’s how Creative Mornings introduces Miss Crit’s work on that site – “With a style that is a bit spooky and a little psychedelic, Miss Crit designs with her third-eye wide open. She brings together traditional fine art techniques, narrative storytelling devices and digital design technology to craft quaint and quirky illustrations. . .

“Her work includes drawings, paintings, murals, interactive installations and collaborations. Miss Crit aims to enchant and transform her audience – and through their experience, they become the narrators of their own stories.”

To create her inspiring illustration of the rising phoenix, Miss Crit worked on a Wacom Cintiq Pen Display, a digital stylus for sketching directly into a computer.

She was thrilled to work on a project that had such a quick turnaround time. Normally, she pointed out, her projects take much longer. Those projects have included drawings, paintings, murals and large-scale public art installations.

She began designing digitally in college — on a semester-long exchange trip to the Sint Lucas Antwerpen – Studio illustratie school in Antwerp, Belgium (a challenge since the classes were held in both Dutch and English). A graduate of Pinellas County Center for the Arts at St. Pete’s Gibbs High School, she was a student at Ringling College of Art + Design where she got a BFA in illustration.

Artonomy’s Sunshine City mosaic in progress

Miss Crit’s partner, sculptor George Retkes, also went to Gibbs and Ringling, but the two didn’t hook up until after college. Just celebrating their 10th year anniversary, they recently co-founded Artonomy LLC, a design company that specializes in sculpture, exhibit design, interactive installation, immersive design, public art, art direction, project management, fabrication and installation.

A virtual view of the Sunshine City public art installation

The company’s most recent project, a collaboration with artist Alex Kaufman, is the upcoming $50,000 public art installation at Sunset Park (Central Avenue and Park Street in St. Petersburg), called The Sunshine City Mosaic. You can watch Alex, George and Miss Crit working on the piece here.

All have been Creative Pinellas Emerging Artists, Miss Crit and Retkes in 2019, and Kaufman in 2022.


You can find George Retkes’ work here
Instagram @gretkes

You can find Alex Kaufman’s work here
Instagram @alexkaufmandesign

You can find more of Miss Crit’s work here
Instagram @miss_crit


So when did Laura Spencer become Miss Crit?

It started in 2019, she explains, when she was a Creative Pinellas Emerging Artist. Her mentor Chad Mize talked to her then about the importance of branding for an artist.

Unfortunately, her birth name, as lovely as it is, was often misspelled and didn’t exactly stand out. Laura Spencer is also the name of an actress, a photographer, a thrifting expert, not to mention a character on General Hospital. “I’m the eighth thing that comes up on Google,” she laughs.

So she and Mize brainstormed about a name change. At first she thought about using the moniker Critter for herself. That nickname was given to her by fellow visual artist Frank Strunk III because, as she puts it, she is “small, wiry, feisty and eats raw vegetables.” But Mize said that sounded too much like she was a pet store owner.

They finally hit upon a shortened version of the nickname preceded by a retro title. “I’m a bit of a tomboy, but I also embrace my femininity.” She liked combining the formal girlie “Miss” with something nicely ambiguous. Miss Crit.

On January 17 at 6:30 pm via Zoom, you can hear Miss Crit speak about Art, Wellness and New Year Revolutions at this month’s meeting of the St. Petersburg’s Arts Alliance’s Beyond Arts Business Academy. You can find the details here.

Miss Crit will also be making an appearance at the next meeting of CreativeMornings/Tampa Bay at 8:30 a.m. on January 26 at Behar and Peteranecz Architecture at 2430 Terminal Dr S in St. Petersburg. Tickets can be reserved on January 22 (the Monday before the event) at the group’s Creative Mornings page.

“For the super special theme of Rise this month (which our chapter picked), we’ll be hearing from Jesse Miller, the executive director of Girls Rock St. Pete,” reads the chapter’s shout out for the free early breakfast meet-up which promise beverages and breakie snacks

Miller, the announcement continues, “will be offering some real-talk on how the patriarchy keeps everyone down and what it’s going to take to pull each other up. (Are men invited? Most definitely 1,000% YES!) There’s room at the table for everyone here as Jesse shares the guiding principles of the Girls Rock model and how it benefits us all.”

All rise, indeed.



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