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In Her Shoes

For artist Lauren Rundquist, creativity is a gift worth sharing.

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Lauren Rundquist leads the way to the dimly lit bottom floor of her house in southeastern Columbia. With each step, her blond ponytail swings from side to side as the stairs groan softly beneath her feet. Outside her bedroom door, she pauses to apologize for the mess. She’s been painting all morning, and her room doubles as her studio.

She pushes open the door with one hand. Light pours in through the only window. Scattered across the top of her wooden dresser lies a half-strung beaded bracelet, three empty picture frames displaying earrings on wires and a pair of white Converse sneakers, size 11.

“Those aren’t mine,” she says pointing at the shoes that are at least four sizes too large for the thin 20-year-old. “A woman ordered them for her husband’s birthday. He’s a Cubs fan.”

Lauren is a sophomore at the University of Missouri, majoring in strategic communications with a focus in art direction. She’s also the owner of LaQuist, a business she’s been running for the past year and a half. She sells her handmade jewelry and custom-painted shoes online through her shop on Etsy.com. Some of her creations are available in area boutiques — five in her hometown of St. Louis and two in Columbia.

The blue comforter on Lauren’s bed is littered with small, brightly colored tubes of acrylic paint and brushes. She returns to the only open spot on the bed where she was working minutes earlier. Sitting with her legs folded beneath her, she is surrounded by her latest craft. The wall that runs from the door to the bathroom is lined with more than a dozen shoeboxes: TOMS, Converse, Keds.

A stack of papers sits at the foot of the bed. Each sheet holds an illustration of another one-of-a-kind shoe design. Some feature flowers or swooping curved shapes. A green and yellow pair cheer “Go Eagles.” Sports themes are the most popular. Lauren shuffles through the sheaf to show some of her favorites. She prefers abstract art to sports team logos, but she’ll make whatever a customer requests. One of her more unusual orders was for a pair of TOMS decorated with the logos of the buyer’s favorite snacks: SunRype apple juice on the right shoe, Premium Plus saltine crackers on the left.

Each shoe begins on paper with a design plan sketched in pencil and colored with markers or watercolor paints. Depending on the intricacies of the pattern, Lauren might draw on the shoes or paint freehand. The entire process, from the time an order is placed to when it is shipped, takes five to eight weeks. She currently has 50 orders.

When she paints, the nervousness in her voice fades.

She’s at ease in her familiar, well-honed process. Short, quick strokes with the edge of the brush keep her work precise. She paints before and after classes and calls customers and boutiques any time in between, whether she’s at the grocery store or on the bus to campus. Her side business has kept her from relying on a part-time job for spending money, unlike many of her friends.

The idea for the business, like so many of her ideas, came in such a flurry that Lauren doesn’t remember how or when the thought first occurred to her. Inspiration struck one day; the next, she was off putting the idea into action — that part she remembers.

The specifics are unclear, but she knows it was during the summer of 2011, a few weeks before she left for her freshman year of college. She visited a St. Louis boutique, showed the owner her jewelry and landed her first order in a matter of minutes. That afternoon, she began drawing up a business plan, designing a logo and printing business cards.

Since then, a lot of Lauren’s business has changed. The logo was retired. The product line, which began with wire rings and earrings, now includes customized shoes. The shop opened online in September. And she began The Creativation Project, Lauren’s homegrown charity organization.

The passion that drives her work and sparks her ideas is one constant that has remained since childhood.

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