Making a Splash
A Milford watercolor artist dives into the world of retail partnerships
Artist Kelly Ventura, in her home studio, makes a splashy impact with her adept use of color.
Photos by Michelle and Chris Gerard
It’s a snow-capped midweek morning and a package-delivery person scurries up the front walkway of a historic Milford home owned by an artist and her engineer husband. Many packages have been laid at this door over the past few years, filled with everything from quilt swatch samples to gift wrap rolls to children’s block games. Sent from fabric and print houses or toy manufacturers, the regularly shipped parcels signal that this is one busy household.
Hearing footsteps at the entryway, the homeowner, artist Kelly Ventura, opens the door to bring in the package. “It’s probably a new sample or some supplies I ordered,” she says.
Scattered throughout her 1927 home, which is awash in wall paint colors such as Sherwin-Williams’ Summer White and Spacious Gray, are handmade pillows; watercolor wall art in light, pastel shades; and vases filled with greenery plucked from her yard. A fresh bouquet adorning the dining table could be the inspiration for her next work of art and is slightly evocative of a pattern called Eve, which Ventura recently created for Crate & Barrel.
The cheerful Eve, with pine boughs and yuletide sprigs, and flecked with pops of red, adorns everything from hot pads to spoon rests to aprons to table runners.
Beyond the patterns featured on products at Crate & Barrel, some of Ventura’s watercolor prints are available for purchase at Target and West Elm. She’s especially crazy about her colorfully patterned wood block stacking game, which is carried by The Land of Nod. “My kids love playing with (it),” she says. Her children are 1, 5, and 6, and being their mother’s sons, it’s no surprise that the two older boys love creating art. “I save a lot of their work and every year I make pillows from fabric that feature their favorite creature designs,” Ventura says.
The product/surface designer and fine-art watercolor painter, who grew up in Howell, says this is an especially good time to partner with the aforementioned home-décor companies, which often include the name of the artist, photos, and short bios with their products on both their websites and packaging designs.
Clockwise from upper left: Lots of light streams into Ventura’s neat and tidy studio. Colorful wrapping paper rolls designed by Ventura fill a basket. Organized shelves display the artist’s quilt pattern designs and various dishwares.
“Right now, these types of retailers are paving a nice way for artists to be seen,” Ventura says. “Artists like to connect to the end consumer, and consumers likes to see a face, to learn about the artist, and find out if they’re from the same town, for example.” Ventura’s most recent prints arrived at Target in early January. She describes these particular watercolors as “floral abstracts, colorful and full of energetic, playful brush strokes and markings.”
Ventura, who has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Michigan with an emphasis in painting, drawing, and fibers/textile, works out of two light-filled, second-floor studio spaces in her home. “My pieces have evolved, and now I’m seeing myself doing more organic works,” she says. “Painting, for me, is a release.”
The artist arrived where she is today by following an intriguing path, dotted with everything from working at a boutique wallpaper design company in New York and a contemporary rug design company in Connecticut to spending time at a home-décor company in Chicago called tag. In addition to her other accomplishments, Ventura creates an annual fabric collection in collaboration with Windham Fabrics, a wholesale fabric and quilting supply company. Aria, Ventura’s second collection, is currently available at specialty quilt shops around the world.
When asked about encouraging homeowners and interior designers to shop for and adorn their residences with art, Ventura is all in — especially when it comes to Great Lakes State artists.
“There are a lot of talented Michigan artists whose work is very intriguing, ” she says. “It’s great when a work of art speaks to you, whether you connect with the color, shape, or subject.”
Her own work, she says, is gestural as well as playful, due to a variety of things, including her use of color. “It’s more modern and has a clean aesthetic,” she explains. When viewing her works, one might notice a dash of rich blue here, a spray of pink there, a green glaze on a leaf’s tip and a backdrop splash — all in keeping with a keen use of water that makes her subjects flow abstractly, but without losing the exact essence of what they represent. “I love exploring and the surprises you get with watercolor. It’s unpredictable, and especially fun when I try to control the paint in new ways,” she says. Of course, it’s also fun to open a shipment of samples of products showcasing one of her patterns — whether it’s a tea towel, apron, plate, or journal — on delivery day. “Oh, yes, sample day is always so exciting! My family and friends love the boxes of samples, too, as I only keep one of everything.”
In Love with Pink
“I’m not sure why I love to use pink in my paintings,” artist Kelly Ventura says. “Even if I say I’m not going to use pink, I do.” You’d be hard-pressed to find any pink in the artist’s closet or in her home décor and yet, in the studio, a watercolor hue called Opera Rose, left, calls her name time and time again. “I love using this color because it’s bright and playful,” Ventura says. “It’s a color that I don’t normally bring into my home, so I have no reservation using copious amounts of it in my work and studio décor!”
Kelly Ventura’s fine art prints are available in her online shop at kellyventura.com, as well as at Crate & Barrel, West Elm, Target, and Minted. Ventura prints and signs each archival art print in her Milford studio before sending her work to its new home. Her products, from stationery to bedding to fabric to home décor, can be found at The Land of Nod, May Designs, Crate & Barrel, Windham Fabrics, and more.