Growing up on the Gulf, seaside elements became Ali Kurzeja’s aesthetic, her ethos. Wild flowers, palms, parakeets, beach and surfscapes materialized from Kuzeja’s fingertips to canvas. When an art professor at Ringling College of Art and Design took notice of her ethereal subjects in her soft, serene paintings, she urged Kurzeja to apply for an internship with Hallmark Cards. “I 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 Columbus, Ohio headquarters to step in as an in-house illustrator. While the Gulf coast surfer girl adapted to frigid landlocked winters, she honed in on sketching the things that made her feel warm. Dainty peonies, blushing roses, tanager birds, monstera leaves and the like in an array of cheerful jewel tones bloomed onto the folded pages of greeting cards inked with sensitive locutions in letterpress. Her niche work even landed her an exclusive Artist Series for Target. 

Shooting the breeze with wave chaser and botanical artist Ali Kurzeja at her home-studio.

But, after almost a decade spent state lines away from the emerald flora and cerulean waters she thrived in, bags were packed, ‘I’ll Miss You’ cards were given from her AG coworkers, and San Diego’s beaches became her backyard. Kurzeja took her talents to a west coast independent home decor and stationery company. “It was a new experience getting to see the production side of projects and more of the business side of art,” she says. “I became involved with printing surface designs onto different kinds of mediums, textiles and packaging before they were manufactured onto a product.”

Kurzeja saw 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, girly journals and paper goods for Elum Designs, flamingo-printed phone cases, and a watercolor glass bauble float pattern custom created for Mahina Made as a shower curtain, illustrated surface printing brought Kurzeja’s many 2D images to 3D life. Alas, the freelance and surf world beckoned. Through a San Diego Surf Ladies group, Kurzeja found kindred connections to collab with to get her bird of paradise flowers onto Salt & Reverie surf fins, as well as Hawaiian floral prints for Hakuna swimwear and Dylee & Lylee’s surf suits. 


Photo sourced from, @ali.kurzeja

Recently back in her old stomping grounds of Sarasota, Kurzeja now occasionally teaches fellow creatives her lighthanded ways with pop-up workshops at the Jackie studio. Attendees learn watercolor painting techniques such as “layering in lots of washes” to create an aquarelle-style map of suspended pigments making up the “gouache” effect of opaque greens and blues that mirror the Gulf Coast. “One of my favorite things about painting in watercolor is laying the pigment down and watching it bloom across 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 very own Gulf Coast map.” Also teaching part-time back where it all started at Ringling, Kurzeja shows students the inner workings of 2-D design in Photoshop; professional practices in Illustrator; and the importance of color focus, color theory and surface design when drawing graphics.

Shop prints and cards in Marmalade Salon & Boutique, Molly's, Island Trader, Home & Humble or Etsy.

Feeling very much back at home, the lovely longboarder hopes to see an airy botanical pattern she created for a personal project to have Compound Boardshop inlay and sea her printed fabric onto one of their locally shaped surfboards. “There’s going to be a lovebird, palm and hibiscus adorned board in the lineup very soon,” she says. 

Watercolor 'Lovebird' pattern and logo design for Salt & Reverie, photo courtesy of the artist.