MU freshman pioneers art-lettering business

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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - In high school, Karen Spears‘ classmates would hand her their notebooks with this request:

“Take it and do cool stuff to it,” they said.

The “cool stuff” was the lettering that made Spears well-known at her all-girls high school in Chicago. Spears could take a set of words and bring them to life with her bold and funky flared writing style. People loved how fun she could make words look on paper.

The demand for Spears‘ handwriting progressed from markers on notebooks to painted canvases. All the while, Spears saw it as second nature.

A freshman at MU majoring in journalism, Spears, 18, owns an art business she calls The Korean Pears. Run out of her dorm room, she makes colorful, abstract paintings built around hand-lettered sayings or quotes.

Since she began the business last year at home, Spears estimates that she has sold at least 100 canvases through Quirks Consignment Store, a consignment store on MU’s campus that sells student art, and on Etsy.com.

What is surprising is that she has had no formal training in art - her ability evolved from handwriting.

Spears recalls her high school teachers telling her that she had “penmanship that resembles a font.” She was always doodling in her notebooks and giving her class notes elaborate designs.

When a classmate gave her $26 to draw a quote from a favorite Dr. Seuss book, she landed her first order.

Spears bought a stack of canvases that day, which certainly came in handy because she was flooded with requests after the first one was a hit.

“I didn’t seek art,” she said. “Art just chose me.”

Spears taught herself everything she knows and has simply gone with her artistic instincts. Hesitant to call herself an actual artist because of her lack of training, she defines her talent exactly as it is - making letters look good.

“I am specifically a lettering artist,” she said.

She uses a marker and acrylic paint on a white canvas to make one-of-a-kind artwork that is freely illustrated by hand.

Korean Pears, a “spinoff of Karen Spears,” was the name a friend gave her the first day they met in summer camp. She wanted something cute and quirky to call her business that sold cute and quirky art. The Korean Pears was perfect.

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