Illustrator, graphic designer and watercolorist Ali Kurzeja sees the world in pastel palettes inspired by botany and the sea.
SRQ Review | September 2021
In Visual Arts
Having grown up on the Gulf, seaside elements have become Ali Kurzeja’s aesthetic, his philosophy. Wildflowers, palm trees, parakeets, beaches and surf landscapes have materialized from Kuzeja’s fingertips to the canvas. When an art professor at Ringling College of Art and Design noticed her ethereal subjects in her soft, serene paintings, she urged Kurzeja to apply for an internship with Hallmark Cards. “I’ve always liked to pick and give cards to my family and friends,” she says, “so I thought it was pretty appropriate.” Then came American Greetings.
As soon as she graduated, Kurzeja moved to their Columbus, Ohio headquarters to become an in-house illustrator. As the Gulf Coast surfer adjusted to the frigid landlocked winters, she focused on sketching the things that made her feel warm. Delicate peonies, blushing roses, tanager birds, monstera leaves and more in a range of cheerful jewel tones bloomed on the folded pages of greeting cards inked with sensitive phrases in typography. His niche work even earned him an Artist Series exclusive to Target.
Shoot the breeze with wave hunter and botanical artist Ali Kurzeja in his home studio.
But, after nearly a decade of moving away from the emerald flora and cerulean waters in which it thrived, bags were packed, “I’ll Miss You” cards were given by her fellow AGs and San Diego beaches have become his backyard. Kurzeja brought his talents to an independent West Coast decorating and stationery company. “It was a new experience to see the production side of projects and more so the commercial side of art,” she says. “I got involved in printing surface patterns on different types of substrates, textiles and packaging before they were made onto a product. “
Kurzeja has seen his graphic designs and illustrations land on tea towels, wallpaper, shower gel bottles, gift wrap / bags, textiles and more. From a tropical Wanderlust stationery / pen set for Anthropologie, notebooks and planners for HomeGoods, women’s journals and paper items for Elum Designs, phone cases printed with flamingos and a watercolor glass ball floating pattern custom created for Mahina Made as a shower curtain, illustrated surface printing brought Kurzeja’s many 2D images to life. Alas, the world of freelancers and surfing has beckoned. Through a group of Surf Ladies from San Diego, Kurzeja found some family ties to work with to get her Bird of Paradise Flowers on Salt & Reverie surf fins, as well as Hawaiian floral prints for swimwear. Hakuna and Dylee & Lylee wetsuits.
Photo from alikurzeja.com, @ ali.kurzeja
Recently back in his old Sarasota playground, Kurzeja now occasionally teaches other designers his light manners with pop-up workshops at the Jackie Studio. Participants learn watercolor painting techniques such as “layering many washes” to create a watercolor style map of suspended pigments constituting the “gouache” effect of opaque greens and blues that reflect the Gulf Coast. . “One of my favorite things about watercolor painting is laying down the pigment and watching it bloom on the page,” she says. “This is one of the properties that makes this medium so magical. I demonstrate this technique known as “wet on wet” painting, as well as how to create your own map of the Gulf Coast. Also a part-time teacher where it all began at Ringling, Kurzeja shows students the inner workings of 2D design in Photoshop; professional practices in Illustrator; and the importance of color focus, color theory, and surface design when drawing graphics.
Shop for prints and cards at Marmalade Salon & Boutique, Molly’s, Island Trader, Home & Humble, or Etsy.
Feeling very much at home, the charming longboarder is hoping to see an airy botanical pattern she created for a personal project of inlaying Compound Boardshop and putting her printed fabric on one of their locally shaped surfboards. “There is going to be a board adorned with lovebirds, palm trees and hibiscus in the lineup very soon,” she said.
“Lovebird” watercolor pattern and logo design for Salt & Reverie, photo courtesy of the artist.