ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: LAUREN CLAYTON
Lauren Clayton is the founder and head designer of Studio 162 in Stamford, Connecticut. She studied at Cooper Union School of Art in NYC and interned with American designer Milton Glaser. She is an alum of the Jackie Robinson Foundation and has been actively working in her community by providing internships and working with non-profit organizations that promote positive change. Content creator Karrington Trice interviewed Lauren to learn more about what motivates her and her journey as a creative.
Why do you do, what you do?
“I love drawing, painting, creating, and all things art-related. It is fun and uses my brain in a very creative but complex way. I’ve been drawing since I was a child. Growing up, my family and I traveled a lot, and my parents would give us art supplies because it was easy to keep us entertained as kids whether we were in the car, on a plane, or at a restaurant.
As I have grown my business, I’ve known that creating is fun but now I have realized why I do this. I have been designing for small businesses and individuals. Sometimes it was tough when I would hit a wall and not feel as motivated, but I realized the projects that I was most excited about working on were projects that were mission-driven. I shifted my focus to mainly working with companies whose business models I find purpose in. I like to work with people that have a mission or a non-profit and are very clear-focused because then it feels like I have a ‘why’ as to why I am creating. If I am going to be up working until 2 AM, I’d rather it be for a company whose mission is going to change some element of our world in a positive way.”
It seems you studied quite a lot while at Cooper Union School of Art in NYC (graphic design, photography, printmaking, and painting). Do you have a favorite form of art?
“I love Cooper Union. It’s a very traditional school. There were other competitive schools that had more non-traditional art when I was applying but at Cooper, you did not have to declare a major. I felt like I was a creative butterfly, and I could try different classes that interested me. I did well in graphic design, photography, and drawing classes. I have always really liked graphic design. Whenever I had a class project I would quickly go to Staples and buy craft paper, markers, stickers etc., and was ready to begin. Graphic design was a good way for me to blend all of my interests in the arts.”
When did you get the idea to create Studio 162?
“I studied with an architecture firm right out of college and at a graphic design firm run by Milton Glaser. He is an iconic American graphic designer. I worked in his studio, and I remember going there and feeling so at home. It was approachable and he had a brownstone type of setup. The first floor is where he would meet and greet everyone, and on the second floor, he had a big studio space and a conference room. He had a small team, but the space seemed so grand and approachable at the same time. It was cool to see this world-known, amazing designer who was working in this cool, funky studio. I thought to myself, ‘I could do this!’ I was fortunate to get a full scholarship to college, so I graduated with no debt, which is huge. I also received money from the Jackie Robinson Foundation, and I am super grateful for that. It all played a big part in my journey.
After graduation, I worked on a project in which I researched my family’s personal history and then created a family heirloom book to represent what I had found. I learned so much about my grandparents and my mom and dad that I never knew before. I then started to create these books for other people, including my grandparents, my boss at the time and friends. I received many compliments and word started to spread about my work. During this time, I applied for a grant to start my business, and I got it. That was huge and while I was working, I was able to start the business and get the equipment I needed. I worked really hard for about 3 or 4 years, on my grind and had the support of others.”
How have the past 2 years been for you as an artist, dealing with this pandemic?
“At the start of the pandemic, I was like everyone else; just still. I felt confused but also mentally burnt out. When everything got shut down, I thought to myself, ‘Did I just manifest this pause? I needed a minute anyway.’ I was happy to do nothing at first and have a break. I became a teacher for my son who is in school. Unfortunately, the incident with George Floyd, and him being one of many, was a visceral and emotional time. I had many clients calling me to understand the Black Lives Matter movement. Thankfully there was a project that another artist named Tara Blackwell invited me to participate in, which was in response to the BLM movement. It was a show that was held at Beechwood Arts and Innovation Center. I participated in this one art project with her, and that was enough to make me feel settled that I was prepared to articulate creatively. I also participated in a street mural in Stamford and that felt good. It brought many local artists together and it was great to have the community out there.
Last year I did two large mural projects in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., and we did a restoration of the BLM mural. I felt I got the mojo back and did projects I had never done before, which allowed me to think in a fresh way. The first year was rough, but the second year was restorative.”
How important is funding for the arts?
“It is so important, and for me, it is part of the reason why I can live my life the way I do because I had someone who believed in my creativity and was willing to invest in it. When it comes to money funding schools, it is hugely important. When you are in school there is so much structure, and the fine arts and music are so imaginative and creative that they can touch children that maybe are not excellent in other academic environments. Art wires all different things in your brain that are so important. People can be creative and play and that balance in a school especially is important. Art is a universal language. I think art is largely underfunded because it is not seen as fundamental as other courses and doesn’t get the love that it deserves.
When I think of cities investing money, art can often bring peacemaking to an environment. One mural project in the right spot can bring a whole city together. For example, restaurants may be interested in a location because it is more culturally interesting.
Your creativity is kind of like a muscle that you must exercise. When you are younger, you’re creative all the time, but as you get older there is less room for play and imagination. Creativity will push you to do all kinds of things.”
What advice would you give to young creatives?
“Oh, to be young again. Sometimes I miss school. I miss that time of playfulness. Things get a little serious when you are older. You can’t always goof off because you have responsibilities and bills to pay. I am definitely a crafter. There are many projects that I do for a job, but I also try to keep playing. Some advice to young people as well as older people is to keep playing. In school, there are many unique projects that you are given. Don’t forget to do creative projects like these even after you are out of school. Keep playing, keep learning. I am always looking for some workshop or some course to take.
Another thing I advise is to make plans. Think of where you see yourself 6 months out. If I were a freshman in college, I would ask myself, ‘What am I doing for the summer?’ It is good to think a bit in advance because there are many opportunities, but the pool is only so big, and everyone is trying to get in there. Think in advance what it is you would like to do.
Lastly, I do so much writing and there is such an element of sales to a creative person, that I would really advise working on those skills. Whether it is writing a proposal or a bio about oneself. Concentrate on your writing skills and get comfortable with talking about yourself and your work. Those are never easy, but necessary. As a creative, you are constantly having to sell yourself, and many of us do not know how to do that. You must be willing to sell yourself as a creative because that is going to elevate you to getting that job or getting your work in that gallery you want. Get comfortable with those kinds of things.”
Any upcoming projects that you are working on this year?
“I have made some proposals for larger mural projects in Fairfield County. There are some cool mural projects I have been wanting to do. One thing that I also have been wanting to do since the pandemic, is to do a group show with my immediate family because we are all very creative and it would be cool to have us all under one roof. My mom is a quilter, my daughter is an artist, my son does video animation and editing and my husband is a DJ and makes beats. I think it would be great to do something where we all collaborate.”
All photos provided by Lauren Clayton.
Learn more about Lauren at www.studio162.com and on Instagram @studio162design