Color Play – SRQist :: SRQ magazine article by Britt Mattie

Illustrator, cartoonist and watercolourist Ali Kurzeja sees the world in pastel palettes inspired by plants and the sea.

Growing up in the Gulf, seaside elements became Ali Kurzeja’s aesthetic, his philosophy. Wildflowers, palm trees, parakeets, beaches and surfscapes brought to life at Kuzeja’s fingertips on 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 at Hallmark Cards. “I’ve always loved picking out and giving cards to my family and friends,” she says, “so I thought it was pretty fitting.” Then came American Greetings.

As soon as she graduated, Kurzeja moved to their headquarters in Columbus, Ohio to step in as an in-house illustrator. As the Gulf Coast surfer adapted to the frigid landlocked winters, she focused on drawing things that warmed her. Delicate peonies, blushing roses, tanager birds, monstera leaves and more in a range of joyful jewel tones bloomed on the folded pages of greeting cards inked with sensitive locutions in letterpress. His niche work has even earned him an exclusive Artist Series for Target.

Shooting the breeze with wave chaser and botanical artist Ali Kurzeja in his home studio.

But, after nearly a decade of escaping the emerald flora and cerulean waters she thrived in, bags were packed, “I’ll miss you” cards were given away by fellow AGs and the beaches of San Diego. have become his backyard. Kurzeja has put her talents to work for an independent West Coast home decor and stationery business. “It was a new experience to see the production side of the projects and more of the business side of the art,” she says. “I got involved in printing surface patterns on different types of media, textiles and packaging before they were manufactured on a product.”

Kurzeja has seen her graphic designs and illustrations land on tea towels, wallpaper, body wash bottles, gift wrap/bags, textiles and more. From a tropical Wanderlust stationery/pen set for Anthropologie, notebooks and planners for HomeGoods, feminine journals and paper goods for Elum Designs, flamingo print phone cases and a pattern of watercolor glass floater custom created for Mahina Made as a shower curtain, illustrated surface printing brought Kurzeja’s numerous 2D images to life in 3D. Alas, the world of freelancing and surfing called him. Through a group of San Diego Surf Ladies, Kurzeja found connections to collaborate with to put her bird of paradise flowers on Salt & Reverie surf fins, as well as Hawaiian floral prints for Hakuna swimwear and swimwear. Dylee & Lylee wetsuits.

Photo courtesy of, @ali.kurzeja

Recently back in his old stomping grounds of Sarasota, Kurzeja now occasionally teaches fellow creatives about his light-hearted ways with pop-up workshops at Jackie’s studio. Participants learn watercolor painting techniques such as “layering many washes” to create a watercolor-style map of suspended pigments making up the “gouache” effect of opaque greens and blues that reflect the Gulf Coast . “One of my favorite things about painting with watercolors is laying down the pigment and watching it bloom on the page,” she says. “It’s one of the properties that makes this particular 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 started 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.

Truly feeling at home, the lovely longboarder hopes to see an airy botanical design she created for a personal Compound Boardshop inlay project and sea her fabric printed on one of their locally shaped surfboards. “There will be a deck adorned with lovebirds, palms and hibiscus in the lineup very soon,” she says.

‘Lovebird’ watercolor design and logo design for Salt & Reverie, photo courtesy of the artist.