This Black History Month, our Black Student Union and Alumnae Office partnered to create a Q&A series connecting students with notable Black alumnae. Next up is Karen Spears ‘13.
Karen Spears is a lettering artist, creative director, and founder of Kareracter, based in Chicago.
At McAuley, Karen was a Daniel Murphy Scholar. She graduated from McAuley in 2013 and continued to the University of Missouri and earned a Bachelor's Degree in Communications and a minor in Business. Karen has a unique perspective on brand design that works hand-in-hand with business. Early in her career, Karen had the privilege of working for Google & Leo Burnett and served as a programming advisor for the Obama Foundation. In 2015, she founded Kareracter Creative Studio in her dorm room, a creative firm specializing in hand-lettering and graphic design. In 2018, she was named Emerging Designer by the Professional Association of Design in Chicago, IL. Soho House recognized her as one of Chicago's Rising Stars in 2021, and more recently, she has been featured on WGN, WGN Radio, NBC, Fox, and WTTW.
Kareracter's most recent project is The Wintrust Mural, in collaboration with The Daniel Murphy Scholarship Fund. Past art commission clients include The Chicago Foundation for Women, Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, and Village Capital, among many more.
Today, Karen can be found managing the personal brands of media personalities and non-profit leaders, running a team of creatives, conducting mind-mapping strategy sessions with business owners, mentoring young designers of color, and supporting causes that champion the advancement of women and girls. Check out the Q & A below…
How did you find your passion and voice as an artist? - Mia Luckett
My passion for artistry began within the walls of Mother McAuley. You'd find me with a kilt full of personal handwritten, inspirational notes I'd share with my classmates during passing period. In my senior year, my classmate Leah commissioned me to make her a painting on canvas featuring her favorite Dr. Seuss Quote. While still a novice artist, my fellow Mighty Macs empowered me to take selling my creativity seriously and allowed me to be seen in a way I hadn't experienced before. It truly unlocked my new identity as an artist.
What's the most exciting thing about your job/career?- Naailah Lane
During my undergraduate career at the University of Missouri, I founded Kareracter, a graphic design firm specializing in lettering projects, branding, and creative things. Through my business, I've built great relationships with business owners, allowing me to scale and create job opportunities for emerging artists and designers. The most exciting thing about my career is being able to help others build their lives through design and creating alongside other talented individuals.
How did Mother McAuley shape you into the woman you are today?- Hayley Dotson
Mother McAuley cultivated a safe and uplifting environment for all its students, especially myself, to thrive. Learning alongside inspiring women allowed me to show up as my authentic self without fear. Being selected as a Kairos leader affirmed my leadership skills and carried over into my career as a creative director. I credit McAuley's faculty and staff for allowing me to approach learning with curiosity and imagination.
What inspired you to find Kareracter? If any, what ways do you feel Mother McAuley shaped you to be such an aspiring young entrepreneur? - Payton Barnes
I founded Kareracter during my undergraduate career at the University of Missouri to finish my creativity that started in the walls of MMC. Attending Mother McAuley High School profoundly impacted my decision to become a business owner. The school provided an environment that encouraged hard work and a positive, uplifting atmosphere, which instilled in me the importance of perseverance and determination. At Mother McAuley, I was challenged academically and encouraged to push myself beyond my limits. This taught me the value of hard work and helped me develop a strong work ethic to serve me well in my future endeavors. I learned that success does not come easily, but rather, it results from dedication and effort.
The school's positive and uplifting environment also shaped my mindset toward entrepreneurship. The support and encouragement from my teachers and peers gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams and take risks. Hard work and determination made anything possible; this mindset has been crucial in my journey as a business owner. Overall, attending Mother McAuley High School was a life-changing experience that played a pivotal role in shaping my decision to become a business owner. The school's focus on hard work and positive thinking instilled in me the necessary skills and mindset to take on the challenges of entrepreneurship with confidence and determination.
What were the advantages/ disadvantages you faced attending MMc as an African American woman? - Hayley Dotson
Being a Mighty Mac as a black woman was definitely a culture shock. Coming from a predominantly Black community, having conversations with people who didn't look like me was a little intimidating. It was also a learning experience to navigate microaggressions, especially during first year when everyone was a little naive. Over the years, spending time with each other allowed us to grow in mutual respect, kindness, and positivity regardless of our backgrounds. As a Daniel Murphy Scholar, it proved to be super beneficial as they served as a cornerstone of our relationship with our school.
Thank you so much, Karen, for sharing your time and wisdom with us! Stay tuned for more Black History Month spotlights!