We spoke with graphic artist Kelly Spencer, about her recent mural collaboration with Horohoro school in the Bay of Plenty and the environmental stewardship that runs throughout her work.
Can you tell us about your career milestones and what lead you to your large scale lettering art?
My career has had a few key pivot points along the way. I started out in graphic design and illustration (always freelance). After about 5 years I burst through the door into hand lettering, then sign painting. I started to ditch the graphic design at this stage, preferring illustration and hand-painted work. I had dabbled in smaller murals over the years, but it wasn’t til about 4 years ago that my love for large scale murals flourished. I joined the Sea Walls family, and have been lucky to not only participate in a few international activations but also produce a whole dang festival in my hometown of Gisborne.
How did your commission with Horohoro school come about?
The kids wrote me an email in late 2019. They were so tired of people throwing out their litter on the highway near their school, and wanted to create a billboard asking for this behaviour to stop. They started a business making and selling beeswax wraps, and once they’d raised some capital, they did some artist research and reached out to me to ask if I might come to Horohoro and create the billboard for them. I was overseas at the time, and these kids patiently waited til this August when I was finally able to spend time at their rural school of just 60 kids and get to work.
What did the concept design process for this piece look like? And how involved were the school students?
I asked them to workshop together to come up with the wording. They came back with ‘Your litter flows to our Moana’ (genius!). I worked out the design in black and white, then sent it back to them for approval. They loved it. So next I asked them which colours they’d like it to be? They sat down and all coloured in the design in their own colours, emailed me photos of themselves holding up their artwork (my heart!) and I took inspiration from each of their colourways.
What did you enjoy most about your residency painting the piece at the school?
Everything. But just seeing how happy it made them that their big idea had come to life. It’s so magical that they can feel that sense of pride, and know they are capable of big things. And to be able to show them that a creative career is a real-world possibility, I take every opportunity I can get to spread that message to young people. Also, playing tag at lunchtime.
We love the environmental stewardship in your art… what is the most rewarding part of creating calls to action like this, to improve conditions for the community?
Engagement. The most important part is that calls to action actually result in action. It’s hard to measure though, so I can only hope that if I keep harping on, then surely the message is getting picked up along the way…
What does career/creative success look like to you?
Happiness and freedom. Minimal stress, maximum thrills.
How can people get in touch with you and follow your work?
Email, instagram, facebook!
firstname.lastname@example.org | @kell.sunshine
Finally, What do you hope for the future of design in New Zealand?
Growth in acknowledgement and appreciation for the immense value the creative industries bring into urban environments and human well being.