One of Spenser Albertsen’s first paintings was done on a wall in his parents’ house, courtesy of a leftover can of green paint and an inattentive baby sitter. He was 5 years old.
His artwork was painted over, but the creative drive remains. At 28, Albertsen supports himself with his artwork and freelance graphic design projects. His art, primarily portraits, has appeared around Kansas City in exhibitions at the Fringe Festival and 19 Below, amongst other locations.
“I always had an interest in being able to create something out of nothing,” he says, admitting the cliché in saying that he’s wanted to be an artist for as long as he can remember.
“I had no idea how one actually did that,” Albertsen says of becoming a full-time artist. “How do you get paid to draw the doodles that you would do in your spare time? I knew that I wanted to, but I could not see how the hell you actually made a living out of it.”
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It turns out that the trick is accepting whatever comes your way. Albertsen moved to Kansas City from Lincoln, Neb., five years ago and started from scratch.
“It just takes a lot of not saying no,” he says. “There’s so many dog portraits. You wouldn’t believe.”
But he kept at it, forming connections and references and building up to his current workload, which he estimates is half graphic design and half artwork.
When it comes to art, he primarily works in portraiture. Some days are spent at the Kansas City Woodworkers Guild, where he builds his own canvases. Others are spent on a quest for inspiration.
“Sometimes it’s literally just sitting down sketching out some ideas, banging out an idea to see if it sticks,” he says. When the ideas aren’t coming, he gets out of his living room, which doubles as his studio.
“Those beautiful coffee table books I have don’t quite help,” he says. “I’ll go to the library, I’ll go to a bookstore just to find that section, look through something, bring my sketchbook, jot down some ideas.”
Sometimes all it takes is a step away and a breath of fresh air, he says.
“Creativity — it’s not 100 percent dependable, even though it’s the thing you depend on. It’s not always there for you. Sometimes it’s got to be chased.”
Albertsen doesn’t have much in the way of downtime.
“I’m pretty hard on myself,” he says. “I’m the kind of guy that always needs to be doing something, which is why I split between graphic design and some projects that keep me busy in the meantime. Right now, relaxing — I don’t even know what that is.”
He’s currently working on two shows for the next year, although they aren’t finalized. His last major exhibit was in February at 19 Below.
“I had done 20 new pieces in just a few months, so I was absolutely wiped out. I decided to take a wee bit of time off to let my brain rest. A few months ago, it started kicking back on.”
Artery is a regular feature that showcases Kansas City-area artists. Know someone we should feature? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.