Liz Flores ’12 has always had a creative heart and mind. Her passion for art has led her to become a successful young painter and muralist in Chicago—a dream come true.

Flores, who grew up in Berwyn, a suburb just outside of Chicago, majored in entrepreneurship and small business management with a minor in Spanish. Her dad is an ISU alum, so being a Redbird was on her radar when applying to colleges.

Flores with her dad, Jaime ’80, at 2012 Commencement

“My dad attended ISU and was really involved with the community, especially Latinx students,” she said. Flores’ dad is an active alum, the first Latinx member of the ISU Board of Trustees, and former president of the Latinx Alumni Network.

“We spent a lot of time at ISU or I was always hearing my dad talk about it,” she added. “After touring the campus and doing my own research, it just felt like a natural fit.”

Although Flores has always had a passion for art, she didn’t see a visible career path for it at the time, which led her to the decision to be a part of the College of Business. While she was in high school, her dad opened his own restaurant, which is what inspired Flores to major in entrepreneurship and small business management.

This field of study is for students aspiring to start businesses or work for small businesses. The program promotes innovative thinking and teaches students how to think independently and flourish under pressure.

“I wanted something that would mix creativity into the business aspect, and entrepreneurship seemed perfect,” she said.

Flores (second from right) with her APSI sisters

Aside from pursuing a major that would later tremendously benefit her, Flores was a member of The Association of Latin American Students (ALAS), Alpha Psi Lambda (APSI), and the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization. In addition, she worked for Student Affairs as an office assistant, which helped her participate in a semester-long study abroad program in Granada, Spain.

Following graduation Flores became an operations analyst for a warranty company in Chicago but realized that it wasn’t what she wanted to do. As an artist, she longed to paint and draw, but there weren’t many examples of full-time artists around her. It wasn’t until later that Flores realized she could live her dream.

“There was a rise in social media which introduced so many more options to me,” she said. Flores learned how to connect with other clients and artists online, which helped her get to where she is today.

Flores is now a full-time painter and muralist in Chicago. Her work can also be seen in New York City.

“I’m very drawn to the female body and exploring different themes like personal freedom, womanhood, belonging, and representing those experiences and emotions abstractly,” she said.

During her time at ISU, Flores learned about marketing, negotiation, contracts, cash flow, and networking—things she now uses in her everyday work. Although she is a creative person, she admits that had it not been for her degree program, she wouldn’t have considered those areas as she built her career.

Since becoming a full-time artist and muralist, Flores has come across many opportunities to showcase her work. She has worked with private and commercial clients like Lululemon and Sephora and has also shared her story on the TEDx stage.

More recently, Flores was commissioned to work with the Chicago Bears football team.

“It was an amazing opportunity,” she said. “Chicago Truborn, a local art gallery in Chicago, curates murals for the Bears and connected me with the team. They liked my work and asked if I’d be interested in creating a mural in Uptown.”

Flores in front of the Chicago Bears mural, completed August 2020

The mural took approximately eight days to complete and is focused on community and connection—something that was somewhat lost during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

As an artist, Flores struggled with the transition between normalcy and global pandemic living.

Art shows were cancelled and many of her projects were put on hold. Gallery openings went virtual, and Flores found herself doing more private commissions and working on boosting her online presence.

Creating art has always been her outlet—a way to empty herself so she can take more of the world in. Flores’ mindset has not changed during COVID and in fact, she has produced more art than ever.

Two of Flores’ favorite paintings: “Heeler” (left) and “Sometimes My Plants Die” (right)

“Art continues to be a way to document the external state of the world and my internal reality,” she said.

“It’s been great to see the art community come up with new and inventive ways for people to still safely view art, but I also can’t wait until we can all be in a gallery for a grand opening again,” she added.

Prior to the pandemic, Flores has overcome adversities of her own. One of the biggest being chronic anxiety.

“Mental health is something a lot of people struggle with, but don’t talk about, especially in the Latinx community,” she said.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, about 34 percent of Latinx adults receive mental health treatments each year compared to the U.S. average of 45 percent. The inequality Latinx communities face puts them at higher risk for more severe and persistent forms of mental health conditions, which is why Flores wants to normalize talking about it.

“For me, managing this anxiety was pivotal in being able to be consistent with my art, work with larger brands, and take my business to the next level,” Flores added.

Since starting up her business, living through a global pandemic, and learning to manage her mental health, Flores has thrived in the art world.

Flores in front of a completed set of paintings

One of her most recent bodies of work debuted on April 24 at All Star Press Gallery in Chicago. The show, titled “In Between,” is her first Chicago solo show, consisting of 15 new paintings, which sold out on its first day.

She is proud of herself and how far she has come and attributes a part of her success to her time at Illinois State.

“When I began my journey of becoming a full-time artist, there were many hard years, but the people that were cheering me on were the friends I made at ISU,” she said. “They became my first collectors, my cheerleaders, and are like family.”

“Meeting those kinds of people has contributed more to my success than any class ever could, and I am so grateful to ISU for that,” Flores added.

It has taken Flores five years filled with odd jobs, freelance gigs, and mistakes to come to a spot where she feels comfortable with her art’s financial viability. Although her degree in entrepreneurship and small business management is not at the forefront of her work, she would not be thriving as a professional artist without it. Her time at ISU helped turn her hobby into a career.

Flores created her life around art and believes that other people can do it, too. They just have to have patience.

“There is never a promise that art is going to work out as a career, but as artists, we make art because we have to. If we make a career out of it… then that’s just the cherry on top.”