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Something Splendid: A Toronto Mural Artist Charts His Path

Project Spaces

Murals are much more than just another pretty piece of art – they are a form of interior design, advertising, social media, branding, and graphic design that can serve as the focal point of a community.

They have been embraced and widely adopted all over the States, Europe, and Asia, but Toronto is just beginning to jump on the mural bandwagon. As is often the case, Toronto is like the little kid on the block and late to the game, but Project Spaces member Spencer Williamson is helping push the limits in this city with his mural installation, illustration & design studio Splendid Projects.

Spencer’s journey to becoming a mural artist and business owner has had its fair share of twists and turns, but this perseverant entrepreneur is never one to give up.

While his road to success may not follow a straight path, it’s one that many freelancers and entrepreneurs can relate to, and it all began with a young Spencer trying to figure out what the heck to do about school.

A self-proclaimed “double drop out”, Spencer first got his feet wet in the world of post-secondary education as a psychology major at the University of Toronto. His parents had always encouraged him to pursue math and science, so psychology was his way of wiggling science into something that could be deemed “acceptable”. Even though he did find the human mind fascinating, going to school for psychology just wasn’t for him, and he dropped out after three years. Spencer proceeded to take a year break from school then enrolled as a graphic design major at OCAD.

During Spencer’s time at OCAD, he found himself in a similar situation as before - he absolutely loved his major and attending school, but it still just wasn’t doing enough for him. He also started to get a lot of positive responses to his freelance graphic design and illustration work at the time, and ultimately made the decision to drop out just shy of graduation... again.

He explained, “My philosophy on education is that it all depends on your personality type and if you have the resolve that’s required for school. In the creative industry, a degree is not needed. Even big corporate companies that I’ve done projects for don’t really care about that.”

Spencer’s life-changing experiences during his time at OCAD weren’t just limited to his freelance work; he also went to a few Project Spaces events and met the owners of the space, Neil and Jeff, for the first time. As a student, he wasn’t in need of an office space quite yet, but he was inclined to reach out to Neil, tour the space, and eventually start working at Project Spaces. Years later, their paths crossed again, and he had a full-circle moment.

After a solid eight years of freelancing and a short stint working for a mixed social media company, Spencer was ready to try something new, but he just needed his big break. Thankfully, Neil gave that to him and allowed him to do his first mural at Project Spaces after they reconnected while he was working for said media company.

Spencer recounted that “I was excited, but I wasn’t really mural inclined and I hadn’t done a mural at that point. Neil really loved my rough work and digital work, so he said to do that on any wall of your choosing. Of course, I chose the biggest wall. He asked if I was sure I could do it, and I said ‘we’ll see.’”

It turned out that Spencer was more than capable of making his designs come to life and his first mural was a resounding success. He went on to create Splendid Projects after the positive response he got from that first project, and he’s now working on contracted projects for mom-and-pop shops, restaurants, and corporate offices. Spencer has a team of 30 contracted illustrators, painters, and designers working for him, but his day-to-day business is still mainly a one-man show. He stated that “It’s usually just myself that does all of the admin, all the cold calls, all the meetings, emails, all that fun stuff. I also do all the art direction and designing.”

Spencer’s workload, which ranges from 50 hours a week all the way up to 110 hours a week, isn’t the only challenging thing about his job. His latest mural by St. Lawrence Market has had some serious setbacks.

Spencer explained, “Some of the physical challenges were that it was on metal panel and I was painting it during July and August, which were super humid months. There was nothing for the paint to adhere to and there was warping and drooping. With the city, they approved it then changed their mind, so we had to submit a whole PDF presentation. Now that it’s actually finished, the building is saying it can’t be there because it’s not something that they approved for this year. I have to get 560 signatures from the public to show the building there is value in it, which there is."

"I’ve had commuters detouring from their usual route to work to see the mural’s progress and one restaurant owner mentioned his sales were up about 15-20%.”

Despite Spencer’s setbacks, he still absolutely loves his work and is proud of the fact that his first two murals are right here in Project Spaces. He’s certain he’ll be at Project Spaces for the foreseeable future because, “In comparison to other coworking spaces, Project Spaces is such a community. Everyone is friendly, and I’ve never had any off-putting moments. Everyone is very inclined to talk to one another, and it just feels like a family, no matter how different your sector is.”

Give Splendid Project’s Instagram page a follow to find out more about Spencer’s exciting upcoming projects. To see his incredible artwork in person and meet like-minded entrepreneurs and freelancers, book a tour of our spaces!

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