- Lindsey Millerd
Meet Taylor Torres, the inspiring artist behind Leeward's library mural
If you’ve been to the Leeward Community College campus recently, you’ve probably noticed the massive art installation now in the front and center of the learning commons. There’s a colorful mosaic window vinyl displaying an underwater scene on the front library entrance and it happened to be designed by one of our very own students.
Taylor Torres is the artist behind the stunning design titled, Nā Kiaʻi o Puʻuloa (The Protectors of Puʻuloa). She is an artist and entrepreneur paving her own path in the marketing world. She started her own company called Valley Artistry in 2021, where she offers logo, website, and packaging design services. She also does social media management and e-mail marketing, almost anything a business might need related to advertising. She studied graphic arts at Leeward CC for a semester and gained knowledge that helped her gain the confidence to run her business.
Her path thus far
She always had an interest in the arts and expressed her creativity in many ways. When she was younger she enjoyed making collages out of magazine cuttings. In high school she was her student council’s webmaster, where she designed things like t-shirts, signs and social media posts. She always liked drawing and painting, but found her true passion for digital art after getting her first iPad and downloading Procreate.
Torres explained how her college journey started off far from the art realm. “It’s going to sound like it’s bouncing all over the place because it was,” she said.
She broke down the various college majors she has tried, explaining how she had been at UH Manoa before coming to Leeward CC. She started off studying biomedical science, planning to become a doctor, but struggled with the challenging courses. Then she switched over to education, but after working at a daycare, realized that wasn’t quite for her either.
“I always knew I wanted to help people in some way, but I really didn’t know how,” she said. Torres explained how her medical and teaching pursuits were some of the most obvious ways to serve others, but she eventually came to the realization that even art can be used to help people.
She also shared how her mom always emphasized the importance of being passionate and inspired by what you do, so she finally decided to pursue her creative endeavors as something more than just a hobby. “I knew that I had that gift of being able to see certain things a different way than others might be able to, but it’s about how to hone it in and actually use it,” she said.
It took some time before she settled on graphic arts specifically. She switched to fashion design first around the same time as launching a handmade bikini business, but she quickly learned how difficult it was to run a business alone.
“Not only did I have to cut, sew, and do custom orders, but on top of that I was also doing the business end of things which was the marketing, branding, website, taxes… shipping all the orders, packing them myself… Instead of working a 9-5 kind of job it was like 24 hours a day,” she said.
She tried it for about a year, but without the means to hire help, the overwork caught up to her. “I kind of lost my passion for sewing because I was doing it so often. I was doing it at home all the time and then going to school and doing it even more,” she said.
Though her bikini business ended, that endeavor was a huge step towards her reaching where she is now. It helped her realize that other business owners could have been struggling managing everything themselves like she did. She also found her passion for design through the process of creating her logo, website, and running her brand’s social media account.
Her swim business also helped advertise her graphic design skills. After people saw the logo Torres has made for her brand, many people approached her for help with their own small business logos. After making a logo for one of her best friend’s lash extension business, she felt eager to do the same for others and started Valley Artistry. One of her first jobs was marketing for a fashion brand she was working as a seamstress for. Since then her company has continued expanding. She describes her style as “a mixture of retro and modern,” and enjoys working with new clients to create their own unique brand.
Making her mark
During the excitement of starting Valley Artistry, Torres continued various college art courses. While still at Manoa she changed her major one more time to art (general art), but didn’t really want to continue all of the art history, drawing, painting, and animation classes. She really wanted to just focus on graphic arts, and that’s when she came over to Leeward for our digital media classes.
And that’s how she got the opportunity to submit a design for our library mural. She heard about this library mural contest through a Photoshop class from her teacher Erika Molyneux. The prompt gave a couple of different options like wai (water) and several Hawaiian stories of the area our school is located. The story of the guardian sharks of Puʻuloa immediately stood out for Torres and she decided to run with it.
She explained how one of the guidelines for the project was to “bring light in,” and that’s why she thought of a stained-glass theme. She got inspired by murals in Kakaako and a mosaic shark art mural she found while researching. She wanted to show the sun to represent how the sharks bring light to the area and she added fish swimming around the sharks to show they live in harmony.
Another guideline was for the piece to “welcome people in,” and that’s why she went for a more animated style. “If I did it too realistically, the sharks would look more intimidating and that’s not really something you want when you come onto campus.” The mosaic also reminded her of a cathedral, which creates a peaceful and harmonious ambiance that definitely welcomes guests.
Torres explained her process of choosing her color scheme. “I put these little circles with a color I know I want to have, like the sharks, and then a color for the background. Then from there I kind of play around with other colors.” She was particularly drawn to the boldness of yellow and red, and used those as accent colors for some of the smaller components.
Her project was going great until just a few days before the deadline, her computer actually crashed and her progress was completely lost. She recounted the chaos of taking her computer to the Apple store and when they weren’t able to finish it that day, a friend who worked there took it home to make sure it was fixed. She was so grateful for that because she really needed all the time she could get to restart. Once her computer was back in business, Torres worked hard to complete the project in a couple of days just in time for the deadline.
Besides that hectic ending, she really enjoyed the process and all it taught her. “It gave us a lot of experience for what it would be like in the field. If someone were to give us a prompt of what they want and how we’d be able to execute it.”
Torres has been working with new clients and developing her design and business skills. One of her recent projects she’s proud of was a website makeover for Kapalle LLC. She explained how she learns something new with each project she does, whether it be a different tool or technique. “I do a lot of research, I go to Youtube University. There’s a lot of people who provide a lot of useful information there and I've gained a lot of experience on the job.”
She has intentions to one day return to college. “I eventually want to come back to school, not necessarily for the design aspect, but maybe to learn more about marketing,” she said.
Her best advice to other artists is “don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. As an artist, you're always scared of people judging you or your abilities, but really it’s a form of expression and you honestly just have to go for it.”
She added, “People get discouraged from doing an art major because it’s not a traditional career path, but there’s actually so many different paths within this industry that people don’t realize and you can learn skills along the way.”
Torres serves as a prime example that with the right mindset and determination, it is possible to have a profitable and fulfilling career in the arts.
Check out Valley Artistry for more of Torres’ work and for any business inquiries. And don’t forget to stop by our library to see her mural!