Makers To Know: Kelly Kruse

Kelly Kruse is an abstract painter from Kansas City. Her work is complex and layered, filled with shimmering gold details that give it a certain depth and mystery that I just can't take my eyes off of! Read on to find out all about her journey and her shop.

Being a small business owner myself, I love to hear the origin stories of other makers. When and how did you decide to start your own business? What is your creative background? 

I think to some extent we are all born creative, but I was lucky enough to have a family that nurtured my creativity. I grew up on a farm in Iowa, and I had a lot of time alone working in the garden or on the farm to think. I think my natural creativity really flourished in this environment. I joyfully painted and made things with my hands from a young age. I also spent ten years in the youth organization, 4-H, which gave me a structured space in which to set goals, create projects, and to consider what I learned through the whole process. I painted my first commissions in high school and worked on paintings in all of my free time. Despite that enthusiasm, I ended up in college as a vocal music performance major – I found it really hard to choose between the visual and performing arts. I also got a Masters degree in voice performance (an emphasis on opera), but that whole time I was auditioning and practicing, I was also honing my photographic skills, sewing, and still drawing occasionally. During my last year of grad school, I started my first small business, a portrait photography business focusing on headshots, weddings, and families. After a move to Kansas City from Indiana, through some ups and downs, I finally decided that certain aspects of the commercial photography business just weren’t for me. So I quit shooting weddings and began to transition my business toward headshots, and I started keeping a personal blog and began painting and sharing my work. After my friend Shareese invited me to meet with the beautiful artist Marjorie Guyon in Lexington, Kentucky, I decided not to wait for anyone’s permission (her advice) and to begin painting in earnest again.

 How did you decide to focus on your medium & style?

I have been really fixated on golden things for a long time, so when I started painting abstract work, it felt really natural to incorporate gold leaf, sometimes in very sculptural, distressed, and textured ways. I used to paint realism or illustration only, especially portraiture, but lately it has just felt so good to express color, movement, and texture in a more abstract sense. I work faster, I rely more heavily on intuition instead of overanalyzing what I do, and I feel like I am discovering more about the world through the process. I have been sticking mainly to acrylic and acrylic ink (which I like to layer and use very wet, so it is important that the pigment stays after it dries), but I am hoping to branch off into using charcoal with gold leaf. Charcoal used to be my favorite medium when I did portraits.

 Have you set any exciting goals for yourself or your business for 2015? What can we look forward to seeing from you? 

Though I’ve been a small business creative since 2010, this stage of my business is still relatively new to me, so I just want to keep painting regularly and being creatively courageous. My biggest goal in 2015 is to show up every day.  I do plan to explore the possibility of wholesaling, exhibiting work, and entering competitions later in 2015. Mostly, I just want to be brave in finding my voice, remembering that my source is a bottomless well Who made me to create, and beyond that I want make beautiful art for happy clients.

 What advice would you give to someone just starting out in their own self-made business? 

It is important to create structure for yourself, whether you’ve been used to working for someone else in the past or not, or it is easy to find that months have gone by and you don’t even know where you’re going. Get a good planner. Set goals, and periodically review them or change them. Don’t be afraid to dream huge, but remember that your small victories and choices compound to get you to the big victory. Recognize that five years from now, your business might look completely different than you expect. It’s okay if success looks different to you then than it did in the beginning. Find a way to outsource what you hate doing or what you do badly, so that you have the space to do the things that you do well and that energize you, or the extra effort it takes to do the things you hate will drain you and hold you back from doing what you’re made to do. Don’t try to be someone else. There is always someone who can do any given skill better than you, or who has more connections than you, or who is farther down the road than you. The key is not always to be better and faster, but to know yourself and what unique perspective you have to offer that others don’t. Don’t try to figure everything out on your own. Ask for help, look for mentors, read personal development books, and never, ever stop learning.

When you're not creating, what do you love to do?

I’m usually doing some other kind of creating, like photographing, designing, writing, working in my unruly garden, singing, or teaching singing. I also love going for walks with my husband, having friends around our table for a handmade meal and great conversation, listening to music, podcasts, or reading great books & poetry.

Lastly, can you share three of your favorite artists? 
1.    Brahms. I think there is a part of my soul that would be inaccessible if not for his music. His requiem just wrecks me. I see things, visually, and I feel things, viscerally, when I hear his music. I have heard Brahms symphonies played live, and I sit in the orchestra hall simultaneously enraptured and teeming with energy to go create. I have this experience often when I listen to classical music – something in me wants to go practice, make sounds, marry intense flavors, push paint around, sew a gown, capture the sunrise on film. If you want to feel dwarfed, overcome, and overwhelmed with the beauty and temporality of man (mvt. 2 is my favorite):
2.    I am totally obsessed with the portraiture of Kai Samuels-Davis. I never get sick of looking at it. I am transported by his work, which is at once frozen and full of energy.
3.    I am really inspired by the way that Joan Mitchell used color. Her work, in general, really makes me pause. It feels so uninhibited, so unashamed.

IG: @kellykrusephoto

Do you run your own handmade business? Contact me at, I'd love to chat with you about your story.