Erickson Merkel Foundation: Tell us a little bit about your family and friends growing up, and any positive effect that they had on your formative years.
Laura Spelhaug: I’m the oldest of my three siblings, so naturally I am in the “leader” position. I am the first to go to school, to get a job, to learn to drive. And although it can be hard at times to not have an older sibling to tell me what to expect, my family has been supportive of me and helps me out if I ever need it. Even with me living miles away, I still talk with my siblings every day. We are a team, much like my friends. I didn’t have a ton of friends growing up, but the ones I did have turned into lifetime friendships. Knowing that there are people out there who can accept me at my best and my worst helps me to push forward and overcome my fears.
EMF: When you were going through elementary, middle or high school, did you have a clear idea on what you wanted to do when you ‘grew up’?
LS: I didn’t have a clear idea. My future plan changed dramatically throughout my life, jumping from engineering to art and everything in between. Even in college I wasn’t set on a career path yet. Art had always been a side hobby of mine, not a career. But I eventually realized that art is my passion, and I wouldn’t be happy anywhere else.
EMF: When was it that you realized that only you could be responsible for your future, and in what ways did you take control of your life after?
LS: I realized around the start of high school. I started trying to act more independently and take more chances. The questions I asked myself became more mature, and I decided that I can’t follow someone else’s path; I have to make my own. The choice that made the largest impact would be when I chose to go to a college outside my hometown. It was a way to force myself to learn how to live independently and become more responsible.
EMF: Were there any people you looked up to when you were younger, and why?
LS: As the oldest child, I was always trying to be the role model. I would look to my parents for guidance, but through media and the internet, I found that there is a whole world of people out there that I started to admire. I remember watching Bob Ross on television when I was very young, and he became my first inspiration for doing art. After that I turned to online platforms such as YouTube and found people like Mark Crilley and other artists. They all helped shaped me by introducing me to new ideas and goals that I learned were possible.
EMF: Do you have any mentors now? If so, can you tell me about them and what they mean to you?
LS: I do not have any current mentors. In a way, I’ve always been my own mentor. My art and lifestyle are mostly self-taught, though there are numerous artists online and around me that I gain inspiration from.
EMF: Are there any people living or dead who you draw inspiration from?
LS: My first inspirers were Bob Ross and Mark Crilley. Nowadays that number has grown thanks to social media. There are millions of artists out there with their own style that keep me evolving.
EMF: Are there any causes that you feel strongly about, that you would like to give back to someday, or that you’ve been able to help out so far?
LS: I would like to support the fight against cancer. I’ve had close experience with it, and I would like to help those who are fighting with it. My sister was granted a wish through the Make-A-Wish foundation and they do an awesome job of making a dream come true for children with illnesses. Mental health is also important to me, and I hope that someday I can reach out to a large audience and bring happiness and hope to those who need it.
EMF: When did you get your first job, where was it, and what prompted you to get it?
LS: My very first job was as a concession worker at local ball games. I had just finished high school and decided to start shifting to an adult lifestyle and save for my upcoming college years.
EMF: What keeps you motivated through long weeks of work and study?
LS: I keep myself motivated by allowing myself down time to relax and have fun. Whether it’s visiting friends and family or spending time with myself, it’s good to have a balance of work, studying, and down time. I also keep the end goal in mind and know that what I’m doing has a purpose.
EMF: What are your personal and professional goals?
LS: Professionally, I’d like to work in the conceptual design industry, creating characters for video games or movies. I’ve always loved building my own worlds and all of the characters within it. As for personal goals, I just want to enjoy what I do and who I am.
EMF: Why do you think it’s important for today’s undergraduates to have a clear understanding of debt and finances?
LS: A lot of classmates I know are facing large debt, and from what I’ve noticed, there are some who don’t do much to save money. They buy things they don’t need on a regular basis and often purchase more expensive options over the cheaper ones which work just as good. I think it’s hard to grasp a large number until you start trying to pay it off. Saving doesn’t have to start after college; it’s best to get a head start.
EMF: Are you planning on any further academic pursuits after completing your current degree?
LS: Once completing my further degree, I hope to jump straight into the work field. With my art however, I will forever be improving and working on.
EMF: After dedicating yourself to work and study, what do you do to wind down?
LS: I enjoy watching videos on YouTube, drawing, and playing video games.