A Colorful Journey

Changemakers Coast To Coast

Written by Melea Reicks Licht

Lauren Gifford, San Francisco artist

Artist Lauren Gifford sharpened her business savvy via CYstarters while a student at Iowa State. A muralist and painter in San Francisco, Gifford is making a life and a living making art. 

Lauren Gifford’s creative process mirrors her entrepreneurial mindset in many ways. She trusts her instincts, makes informed decisions, and embraces the unexpected.

“My process is a lot of first thought, best thought iterations. I’m always willing to paint over it and start again,” Gifford (’19 marketing) says.“In the beginning of an abstract painting I don’t have a specific vision—it’s more about where each step of the journey takes me. Getting to the final painting is the result of many spontaneous decisions layered on top of each other. Long, colliding paint drips were originally an accident, and now they’re one of my favorite elements.”

Gifford’s layered decision making has helped her create a successful custom mural and signage business. Her murals beautify contemporary venues like the Student Innovation Center at Iowa State, community hubs including downtown Ames, Iowa, and educational spaces like The King’s Academy in Sunnyvale, California.

“I take a relatable subject and portray it in a way that feels joyful and a little bit crazy. I am inspired by nature and the world around me, the flora I pass on my morning walk,” she says. “I like creating things that resonate easily like flowers and faces.”

Artistic Proof of Concept 

While a student at Iowa State, Gifford launched her YouTube channel @LaurenLiz. She shared content about bullet journaling, hand lettering, and productivity. She learned she could grow an audience and monetize her efforts. Since creating the page, her content has racked up more than eight million views.

She never considered applying for jobs after graduation. She knew her plan was to invest in herself. Her grandparents are artists and served as the “proof of concept” and inspiration for a life of creation. And her parents have been enrolling her in entrepreneurial programs since she was a kid.

Educational experiences had a large impact on her understanding of business.

“CYstarters was a complete game changer for me. I was feeling a little disconnected in college and was having trouble finding students who were starting businesses. When I got accepted to that program, I not only found a group of like-minded students, but also a group of supportive and encouraging faculty and staff,” she says.

Gifford credits her mentors, including Judi Eyles (’93  marketing), the director of the Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship, for seeing her through the early stages of business development and keeping her accountable for achieving her goals.

“At the heart of the CYstarters program is connection,” says Eyles. “It’s an 11-week program that helps students find the right resources at the right time in their development. Lauren is super talented, and a great example of how young entrepreneurs can utilize resources at Iowa State to help get their companies launched, connect with mentors, and identify a vast array of supporters who often become customers.”

A Step Into The Unknown

Enamored by San Francisco’s beauty and “quirky spirit” since she was a teen, Gifford moved to the City by the Bay in 2021 and immediately began to reach out to businesses and schools in the area.

“I would send 100-200 emails out a week, and only hear back from one or two,” Gifford says. “But the one or two who were positive would end up leading to something. As my social media presence and website have grown and more people learn about my work, I no longer have to do that kind of outreach.” 

Gifford is currently working on a collection of colorful, layered acrylic abstract paintings in her home studio in the Bay Area, and may also return to creating more social media content as her business grows. 

“It can be scary to take that leap and create something you haven’t seen before, it’s like a step into the unknown. Close your eyes to the work of others, be willing to make mistakes, and create something just for yourself,” Gifford says. “That’s how you find your style rather than emulating others.”