Want to know how this artist went from working as a Starbucks barista to making her dream of being a watercolor painter a reality?…
All while balancing mommahood to 3 adorable girls?!
We’re thrilled to welcome talented watercolor painter, Shelby Kregel to our community of artists at BIG Wall Décor.
Who is Shelby Kregel?
Shelby Kregel is a West MI based watercolor painter who is inspired by flowers, plants, and nature.
She was traditionally trained under her grandma, who is 94 years old and still painting! Kregel got her degree in art from Kendall College of Art and Design, but attributes her unique watercolor technique to her beloved grandma.
Kregel is well known for her bridal bouquet preservation service, where people send her pictures of their wedding flowers and she creates a custom watercolor painting of the flowers. It’s a timeless and beautiful way to preserve your bouquet.
Beyond being a talented painter, Kregel is a dedicated momma to three young girls – Daisy, Maple, and Rosie.
Her artistic talent is insane! We love the whimsical, joyful, feminine energy of her paintings. They are equal parts gentle, powerful, and awe-inspiring.
In addition to exclusive insights into Kregel’s creative process, we’re so excited to share Kregel’s personal story with you. She is so relatable and inspiring.
In this interview with Kregel, you will learn about how she transitioned from working as a Starbucks barista to being a full-time watercolor painter. You’ll also learn…
- how one of Kregel’s designs was sold on a Starbucks Tumbler worldwide.
- how Kregel met Taylor Swift thanks to her artwork.
- how art as a career gave Kregel the financial independence and flexibility to travel the US while living out of a converted bus for an entire year.
- the biggest challenges Kregel faces as an artist (spoiler alert, it’s super relatable).
- Kregel’s best advice…which is beneficial whether you are an artist or not!
Trust us when we say, Kregel is going to be one of your new favorite artists.
Get to know Shelby Kregel as she debuts as BIG Wall Décor’s newest artist in this exclusive interview:
Let’s jump right in! At the start of your career you had a very unique experience. You designed an internationally-selling Starbucks tumbler. How did that happen?
I was just a barista at Starbucks. My boss saw this contest and told me, “you should really enter.” Starbucks wanted a design for their plastic reusable mugs.
So I submitted four designs. Then, all of a sudden three of my cup designs were in the top eight. And that was out of the whole US.
I realized, “oh, that’s crazy!”
Actually, I was on vacation and Starbucks called me. They said, “We loved your Watercolor World. We want to make it into a tumbler instead of a plastic cup.”
Since I was on vacation my friends had to go to my house, get the art, and send it to Seattle.
The tumblers with my Watercolor World design were released in the spring of 2017, I believe. They sold throughout the US and Canada. It kind of started and launched my career as an artist, and then I was no longer a barista.
How did this experience with Starbucks change your career?
Oh, man, it was huge. That was the first time I had actually put my work out on the internet for the whole world to see and love or judge.
That was the first step in my career, just being okay with my own work when kind of reentering that art space.
So Starbucks really launched my career as an artist. Honestly, I have all the love for Starbucks. They’re a great company and they were super cool that I left and started my own art business.
Did this experience change your perception of yourself as an artist?
Yeah. I feel like it instilled confidence in me to just be able to put my work out there for anyone.
That’s a very hard starting point for a lot of new artists or makers. And that’s really usually the biggest hurdle that people have, just putting their work out there.
So really instilling in myself like, we can do it. If you have the confidence to share it with the world, something really cool could come out of it.
A lot of artists and makers really fear the judgment of others. Is that something you struggle with at all? And how have you dealt with that?
I feel like for sure everyone struggles with that. And I would say I used to struggle with that.
And it’s hard to make yourself heard, even a little bit, on social media.
But I feel like, if you’re authentic with what you’re creating, and it’s your designs, and I feel like that’s when your stuff will always shine through, no matter what. It doesn’t need to be over done, you know?
So being confident in that, that’s been a big thing about my journey. I feel very confident in the work that I’m putting out there.
I know that your traditional training came from your grandma. You showed us one of her pieces out in your dining room, which is beautiful. But her style is distinctly different than yours…at least in that piece compared to the floral. So how did you come into your own style?
For a long time, because that’s mostly what I was trained under, my style was very realistic.
It wasn’t until college, and really the end of my high school career that I realized I really loved the whimsical, very light, very airy artwork. So more like the impressionistic style of watercolor itself.
You kind of let the water do what it wants to do. And so that’s very intimidating for a lot of watercolor artists. But it’s also a fun thing to channel. How the water flows is unique in itself. And to kind of create my own body of work that way has really served me well.
Do you struggle at all with putting yourself out on the internet? Of course, that’s the way you get found, but do you feel like you have any people who are imitating you or trying to copy your style?
I mean, you’re always going to, yes. But honestly, that’s part of the process.
And for a lot of new makers, like I get it. Right?
I’m not super intimidated by that because I know that I’m a skilled artist. I’m not directly competing with them, necessarily.
And that’s just how they’re trying to find their voice. And they’ll learn that soon enough that you do have to come up with your own style.
So, if that’s the journey you’re taking, by all means, use inspiration and really derive from that and create your own style. But it’s okay to like, look at other people’s stuff, and as long as you’re kind of making it your own.
What is your process for creating your artwork?
I’ve got three little kids so sometimes they come in and literally just sit on my painting and I just have to roll with it. I just kind of roll with the punches on my paintings.
I almost never use a pencil. I just start with my brush and the paint and see what it wants to be.
I feel like I’m generally sitting right here working with a new piece. But the big ones I like to do on the ground. I like to put some music on and let it flow.
BIG Wall Décor:
What kind of music do you usually listen to when you’re creating?
Mostly chill vibes. Like The Head and the Heart. Phoebe Bridgers. Maggie Rogers. I like chill vibes while I’m working and also inspirational. And I love podcasts too. Like The Moth, it’s all these short stories from different people. It’s super inspiring.
How long does it normally take you to complete a piece?
That is something that I would say maybe is a little bit more unique to me. I don’t spend a ton of time on pieces.
I am a pretty fast painter. But that’s just part of my process. I don’t like to overthink what I’m doing. I just kind of let it happen.
And then I always tell people this when I’m teaching classes; usually those first few strokes of your paintbrush the best ones.
If you keep overdoing it, that’s when you lose those first beautiful marks that you’re making.
I’ll do a painting and then I’ll leave it. Then come back to see if I need to refine it a little bit. But pretty quick, for the most part.
Do you have a moment that you’re most proud of in your career?
I’ve done some very noteworthy things.
I was able to meet Taylor Swift by a painting that I did, which was really cool.
And I had a piece hanging in the US Capitol for a year and that was really cool.
You know, there’s these cool things that happened, but honestly the biggest noteworthy thing is when my husband and I lived on a converted short school bus.
It was kind of this realization that, okay, we’re going to take a pause on income. And at that point, we were at the very beginning of my career. It was my goal to just be like, I can do this to support my family.
We had our one daughter at the time, she was one.
We kind of just jumped on board. My husband was going to work with me and we wanted to see if we could make living on a bus and traveling work for a whole year while my business could take over in a monetary way.
And it thrived. It was a huge accomplishment for me. So that’s been something that I kind of can hang my hat on and say like “I was able to make it happen for our family and thrive and in a way when we were living off my income solely as an artist.”
Wow. That’s amazing! How did you create art while living out of a converted short school bus?
It was tough but really cool.
I did a lot of on the scene paintings. I literally would pull out my painting stuff and go paint on a table or on the beach or like literally anywhere.
And what was cool about that is the amount of interaction that I would have with random people. It made for a very authentic work, life balance.
I would work in our tiny little bus kitchenette, which was literally 64 square feet. It was so small!
And on top of that, we had our one year old. So my husband was a champ. We really co-parented well.
We shipped everywhere. We were able to bring all of my prints that we sold online to post offices around the country.
We also did a lot of art shows. So we carried all of our stuff for art shows with us. That was just part of the process.
That sounds like a dream. I am sure there were moments where it was very hard?
There are a couple of hard moments, but not too many. I can literally count them on my fingers.
There were some swears and times when I was like “you know what, I don’t want to live on this bus,” but it was growing pains. Right?
We were still trying to understand what we were doing in the process of being in this small space with a teething child and running a business. Or just looking for the next place to have a good spot to stay that night.
It was taxing but also I wouldn’t trade that year for anything. It was so awesome. We met a lot of really cool people and did a lot of really awesome things. So that’s absolutely something to be proud of.
I think a lot of people aspire to live out of a bus and travel across the country like that. But backing up a little bit, I want to circle back to you meeting Taylor Swift. Amazing! How did that happen?
When I was in high school, I was in a couple of AP classes for art. I painted this portrait of Taylor Swift. My art teacher was always super encouraging. So I thought, “what if I did something with this painting?”
So I brought it down to the radio station and asked, “can you donate this to Taylor Swift?”
I knew she was coming to town to perform. The radio station said “yeah!” and they gave me a couple of tickets to the show.
When I showed up at the concert I got a call and they were like, “why don’t you come backstage?” They had the painting signed by Taylor Swift and framed. I actually got to meet her and her mom and her brother. It was cool and it was super random. She’s great! Just one of those funny things in life that happened so fast.
Wow, gosh. That’s such a dream. Switching gears – you are well known for the way you preserve wedding bouquets so gorgeously. Can you tell us how you started doing that?
My mom started arranging flowers. We had this idea, what if I started painting them and as a way to preserve them?
There wasn’t much on the market in that space. So I started doing that and it really took off. It has become one of my favorite things to do.
People order a custom bridal bouquet painting from nordicwallcanvas.com. They send me pictures of their flowers, and then I paint from the image.
I love filling my days doing bridal bouquets. I know that it’s like a fun thing that everyone will keep and have forever. It’s a unique way to preserve your bouquet.
What has been your biggest challenge so far in working as an artist?
I am a very confident artist, but I’m also a human.
There’s tons of other artists who I perceive as having all this time to work. I would love to have more time but I also love being a mom.
And I have three little kids that I adore. So I think finding that balance of my dream to have a studio and to have kids and to kind of do both.
It can be a challenge to find that rhythm of, “I can give what I can give.”
But be okay with that and not being totally perfect. Even when I’m posting on social media, like it’s not a perfect post because that’s not me. That’s not my life.
I’m just trying to be fully authentic and heard.
It is a struggle because I see other artists that are making these awesome reels. And all these things that I’m like, “that’s great, but I just don’t have the margin in my life right now.”
And I’m okay with that. So trying to lean into that.
So it sounds like comparing yourself to other artists and then also balancing motherhood are your biggest challenges. Do you have any advice that’s helpful for people also trying to find a similar balance?
Finding that balance is huge.
I think the biggest word of advice I could give to any maker or anyone who’s trying to find that type of balance is “ask for help.”
Hire a nanny or ask for others to step alongside you and help with making posts or something simple.
People think if you’re a maker, you have to do every single thing yourself. And that’s not necessarily the case.
It’s okay to have people enter. And most of the time, they’re super happy to help.
I see so many people get bogged down with trying to do those things and it’s like, just ask for help.
And then be willing to receive that help.
I have friends that will ask for help, but if they’re apprehensive about receiving help, then you know, what’s the point?
I hire childcare twice a week. It’s been such a lifesaver.
I am able to walk back into parenting in a very positive light. I am a better mom because I’m able to do the two things I love, simultaneously.
Where do you find inspiration when you’re painting your collections?
Mainly traveling. But my last collection was called “Nurture.” That was all about mommahood.
I was walking through a really hard time. My second daughter has epilepsy. I won’t get into it, but it’s been a really hard process for us. And then I was pregnant and about to give birth to Rosie.
So just realizing that we are delicate people, women, but we have a lot of power. I think uplifting moms in that way and also