For this installment of Creative Corner, we spoke with Kelli Arruzzo, founder of Manahawkin-based design studio Wanderlove Press Co. What the average eye might see as just words, Kelli has the unique talent for turning into the whimsical pieces of artwork she’s sold nationwide. Kelli filled us in on how Wanderlove Press Co. got its start, what makes her business so unique, and how she captures the voice of her clientele while also staying true to herself.
How did Wanderlove Press Co. come to be?
When I graduated from college in 2008, I sort of fell into a job as a Database Administrator and was feeling creatively stifled. So on nights and weekends, I started taking on small graphic design jobs and eventually started designing greeting cards to list in an Etsy shop.
A year later, when my sister was planning her wedding, she enlisted me to make all the paper goods for her wedding. I went a little crazy, but in doing so, discovered that I loved creating custom projects. My style has definitely changed over the years — but it’s all rooted in finding a creative outlet.
What kind of feeling or message do you hope to spread through your artwork?
In general, my designs and illustrations are pretty whimsical. Words are just a bunch of letters, but it’s my job to put them together and make them look lovely. It’s always important to me that my love for each item that leaves my studio is apparent.
When it comes to my greeting cards, I’d definitely describe them as quirky. They often can be used for a variety of occasions and sometimes don’t make a whole lot of sense. I’m a sarcastic person, and that definitely comes through in my greeting card line.
What is it that makes your products unique?
Honestly? Me! Every product that leaves my home studio is truly a labor of love. All cards are hand-drawn and painted by me before being digitized, printed, and packaged in my home studio. I don’t outsource printing (except for large custom orders, such as wedding invitations). For signs, each piece of wood is hand-stained before being painted by hand.
My nights and weekends are spent designing, marketing, and running this little business. It’s a lot to shoulder sometimes, but it’s my voice and that is the one thing that can’t be found elsewhere.
You’re relatively new to the area (welcome!), how would you say community involvement has impacted you not only as an artist but as a business owner?
It’s helped to reinvigorate me! At the beginning of this year, I was feeling pretty tired and losing the passion that used to drive me. But I signed up for a few craft fairs, continued to push through, and a few months in, felt lifted by some of the local connections I had made.
I’ve gotten my cards in a local shop—A Lovely Universe, in Beach Haven—have worked with local event planners, and have made some wonderful local connections. As a business owner, it’s wonderful to have these resources and a community.
You’ve worked your calligraphy magic on greeting cards, canvas, and even wood and glass – how do you continue to push yourself out of your comfort zone?
I’m a perpetual student and am mostly self-taught, so the way I push myself is by never taking myself too seriously. I like to joke that I’ll write on anything… but it’s also true! I’m constantly scouring stores for things to write on and ordering art supplies to try. I fail just as often as I succeed but look at everything I learn as a triumph.
Who or what in life drives your passion?
My clients! I’ve been blessed with some of the greatest clients out there: people who have taken chances on me when I was just starting out, have come to me with new ideas, and have given me some of the kindest, sweetest feedback. Reading their words and seeing pictures of their events drives me to keep creating.
Creating artwork for weddings, engagement parties, etc. means much of the work you do is customized to fit your clients’ personalities. How do you strike a good balance between your aesthetic and your clients’ ideas?
Sometimes, this can be very hard! And it’s definitely something that I’ve had to learn along the way.
When a client first comes to me, I try my best to make it a conversation and share ideas and possibilities with them. I’m very flexible and love to make someone’s vision come true, but am very honest about what I can (and can’t) do) At this point in my career, my portfolio of work is extensive enough that I can share my aesthetic from the get-go to set clear expectations from day one.
But really, as I said in the above answer, I’ve gotten really lucky. Most of the clients I work with come to me because they’ve seen my work and my aesthetic somewhere else and are looking for my illustration and lettering style. They are asking me to be me and not someone else.
What is one of your personal favorite pieces of artwork you’ve ever done?
This is a really hard question, but I’ll go with two. The first is a wood sign I recently made with lyrics from my wedding song on it. I love it so much because I didn’t overthink it as I was making it – I was strictly doing it for myself (which I don’t always find time to do)!
The second is a greeting card I have with an elephant on it because it has a lot of personal meaning to me. I actually have a tattoo of the elephant on my ankle. The card reads “I love you as much as an elephant pulling his leg out of the mud.” It was something my grandfather said to me when he was in the hospital a few years ago. Though it makes no sense, it became my way of telling him just how much I loved him. I’ve sold quite a few of the cards over the years and there’s just something so special about knowing that his words are living on in other people’s homes.
As a calligraphy artist, a lot of your work has to do with creating art out of words. Do you have a personal mantra or words of wisdom that have stuck with you throughout your career?
I used to follow up Tolkien’s “Not all those who wander are lost,” with “but all who wander find love.” It’s partially why I named my business Wanderlove Press because I think wandering and exploring give us the opportunity to find and fall in love.
Is your artwork a reflection of your own personal style? What kinds of art pieces might we find in your home?
Absolutely! But you won’t find my own work in my home, as I’d much prefer to hang art from artists I love. You’ll find lots of Meera Lee Patel, Thimblepress, Rifle Paper, and Dave Perillo prints on our walls.
Living, dead, real, or fictional – if you could hire any three people from history to work for you, who would it be and why?
To work for me? I wouldn’t subject anyone to that! But to work side-by-side with me?
Colleen Hoover: She’s my favorite author and I just think she would be hilarious to sit in an office with and hang out next to every day. She also writes really great books that I devour when I’m not at home painting.
My husband: Not an exciting answer (and he kind of already does work with me), but he understands the business already so he’s already the best business partner I could have. He’s the one I bounce ideas off of, show prototypes to, and also takes care of my least favorite aspect…shipping! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Jenna Hein (of Love Jenna Calligraphy): Her calligraphy is what inspired me to pick up a pointed pen for the first time, so she definitely tops the list of people I’d love to work with. I’d love to pick her brain and work side-by-side with her.
Photo by Krista Hurst of The Hursts & Co.
You mentioned on your website that you love to travel, wherein your adventures have given you the most creative inspiration? Where would you like to travel that you haven’t yet visited?
Cambodia was one of the most inspiring places I’ve been to. I traveled there by myself, so I was forced to learn to love being with and by myself. I was always independent before that trip, but it really showed me I could trust myself and be happy with myself. And as a small business owner, I think that’s a really important lesson and quality to have.
There are very, very few places in this world I don’t want to visit. I love new areas, cultures, and people. Right now, topping my list are Morocco, Thailand, and Bali. But if someone wants to buy me a plane ticket, I’ll go anywhere.
When you aren’t busy giving Wanderlove Press your full attention, what are some of your other hobbies or creative outlets?
By day, I’m a web designer, but it’s also something I love to do. So when I’m not home painting and designing, you’ll probably find me tinkering on one of the many websites I manage.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you could give to someone looking to start an online business of their own?
Do it because you love it. It will take years of tears, late nights, and stress before you turn a profit. You’ll lose sleep worrying about orders and stressing about shipping. It will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but also the most rewarding. Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons! Starting an online business isn’t a get-rich-quick-scheme, but it is the greatest way to do what you love and love what you do.
What’s coming up next for you?
I don’t currently have any fairs lined up, but I’m sure you’ll find me at the Asbury Park Holiday Bazaar this season. Other than that, I’ll be hanging around the internet (Instagram is by far my favorite!) and enjoying the last few weeks of Long Beach Island restaurants being open!
To learn more about Wanderlove Press Co. and check out more of Kelli’s artwork, please visit wanderlovepress.com.