Lauren Taylor, right, and Sandy León pose with an illustration Taylor made of the former Red Sox catcher. (Contributed photo)

Lauren Taylor, right, and Sandy León pose with an illustration Taylor made of the former Red Sox catcher. (Contributed photo)

Local artist hits a home-run designing for Topps Project 70

  • Wed Mar 24th, 2021 1:30am
  • Sports

Lauren Taylor, 33, a homegrown local islander of Friday Harbor, Washington, has struck-out as a talented up-and-coming baseball centric illustrator, being one of the only five women illustrating baseball cards for Topps’ “Project 70,” celebrating the company’s 70th anniversary of illustrations. Founded in 1938, Topps was a chewing gum company that released their first baseball card set in 1951.

Yet before Taylor found refuge and fame with illustrations and art, she suffered a traumatic brain injury during a co-ed slo-pitch game. Taylor grew up a die-hard baseball fanatic, pursuing a dream career in softball before, in one moment, that dream was taken away.

In May 2016, Taylor was a seasoned collegiate softball player, playing on a semi-professional league, and then participating in a co-ed team when she took a line-drive to the face. The incident fractured her skull, causing a serious brain injury accompanied by a major concussion that was misdiagnosed and a fractured jawline. Her eye socket was also damaged from the impact, leaving Taylor unable to continue to play her favorite, all-time sport, losing her identity as an athlete.

After the accident, Taylor suffered not just physical despair, but a concoction of mental health illnesses, like anxiety, depression, panic attacks, some of which she had dealt with prior to the brain injury. Her outlet of softball was no longer an option, so Taylor took to art as salvation.

Summer Clark, a close friend and active coworker of Taylor’s as head of communications for Lauren Taylor Illustrations, said she grew-up close to Taylor, going to school and graduating from Friday Harbor High School as Wolverines together.

“Her parents owned a Mexican restaurant on the island and she has always been such an active person in the community, a true baseball lover, athlete, and artist,” Clark said. “Lauren and I did go to school together but she was a freshman my senior year, so I graduated in 2002 and she graduated in 2005, so I took her under my wing.”

Decades later, Taylor reached out to Clark, taking her under her new winged-world when her art really began taking off after she made a digital stencil acrylic painting on a wood panel for semi-league player Ryan Dempster.

Taylor’s work hit-it-off when she used social media as a spring board to draw the attention of Seattle Mariners pitcher James Paxton. From there, her art has spoken for itself, leading Taylor out of the dugout, into an up-and-coming legendary artist from San Juan.

“She just really is such an inspirational person,” Clark said. “She’s been through so much, to be honest, up until last week, she had to go through another grueling surgery to re-graph her jawbone. The misdiagnosis of her true injury caused her jaw to start receding. The physical aspects have been difficult, but it wasn’t just the physical part — it was also her mental health, her spirit. Lauren is a huge advocate for mental health and wants to fight to end the stigma about talking about it. She’s just such a role model as a fellow woman, friend, for kids, for anyone who is struggling and just needs to open up and talk about it.”

Taylor considers herself not as much of an artist, but more as an entrepreneur and is more passionate than anyone else for her businesses succeeding. Her journey has been slow, but no challenge is too challenging for her as she continues to be the best version of herself, taking it one day at a time.

She is licensed with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Major League Baseball and the Baseball Hall of Fame. Project 70 card releases from Taylor will only be available for purchase on the Topps website for 70 hours, her next card is set to release on March 22.

When asked what does the Topps Project 70 mean to you and what do you want people to know about your artwork? Taylor said, “I would say first, that the last 3.5 years, I was rejects by major card companies, it was a big blow for me after the accident, that maybe my art was not any good. It just feels so great being approached and have them actually come to me for my art after they actually contacted me — it’s just so full circle and a wonderful, beautiful opportunity.”

Taylor added, “Being someone from Friday Harbor, I want my story and my work to really relate to the youth, I know how hard it can be living on the island, trying to find your clique, your ‘people’ and worrying if you didn’t get invited somewhere, like to a party, to prom, homecoming, or you didn’t make it on a team, whatever, it sucks because it’s so isolated and if you don’t find your place, then that’s it, you know? I was an athlete and to me, then, that’s all I was [because back then, I used to care way too much about things like that], none of that matters. It seems like when you’re in high school, when you are young, not being accepted by others is the most important thing and it just does not matter.”

“I just want the youth to know that the darkness brings relevance to the light and you just have to ride out the dark stuff, you are going to be ok. My hope in all this is that I can be that light for someone, like Summer was for me; it’s the most special part in all this is speaking to the kids. I want my story to reach to someone struggling with mental health or anyone who has ever had a head injury or injury in general,” said Taylor.

For more information on Taylor and her art, visit https://laurentaylorillustrations.com.