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San Clemente Journal

Local Artist Founds Rusted Indigo

Jun 13, 2023 10:54AM ● By Britta Wilder

Company founder and designer Kelly Duffy.

If you’ve seen an ocean on the wall, atop a table, or inside a bowl, chances are you’ve seen Rusted Indigo. Company founder and designer Kelly Duffy is the local artist responsible for all that beauty - she rode the resin art wave and has taken it to the next level. “It’s a lot of work but I just love creating,” Kelly said. “It’s also fun that people seem to enjoy it, too.”

Growing up in Harrison Township, Michigan, Kelly attended the local schools where she spent time considering her future plans. Upon graduation she attended Michigan State, receiving a degree in Design. “Art is what I’ve always wanted to do my entire life,” Kelly said of her college pursuits. “My grandmother was an artist; she was my first inspiration.”

Graduating in 2007, Kelly and her best friend--also a design student--checked out NYC for job prospects, both ultimately deciding the Big Apple wasn’t to their taste. “I didn’t really like the city vibe,” Kelly recalled. “It wasn’t my forte”. The two then embarked on a decision to head west to California--sight unseen - and moved to Santa Monica.

“My minor had been in interior design, my major was in textiles, so I did some design internships, some waitressing and bartending,” Kelly laughed. She even applied for TV shows and appeared on the series, ‘Wipe Out’ - where she broke both her hands. “That was crazy!” she remembered.
After her son, Sam, was born in 2011 Kelly opted to work from home and seriously set her artistic skills in motion to generate income. “I started making and painting signs, lots of hand-painted letters for weddings and decor,” Kelly explained. “I made a ton of money on Etsy.”

In 2019, Kelly and her partner, Erin - a firefighter and paramedic with Los Angeles County - decided to move the family south to San Clemente, a city where they’d spent many happy times before. “It’s such a great community and perfect for Sam,” Kelly said.

Kelly’s art began evolving, too. When Covid arrived in 2020, the shutdown hit her business hard, prompting a new artistic direction for her to pursue. Exploring the epoxy/resin medium which had always intrigued her, the designer began to pour and experiment, coming up with methods to achieve and perfect her craft. “I became obsessed,” Kelly said, “It took a lot of time to perfect, a lot of wasted supplies, until I got it down!”

Starting out creating small surf boards and wall decor, she gradually moved to bigger pieces - like the 6-foot surfboards she’s become known for. “Not a lot of people were making them, so I wanted to corner the market on that.”

By the time the pandemic lifted, Kelly had founded Rusted Indigo and her finished work had moved from her garage studio on Del Mar Avenue to The San Clemente Store at the Outlets and Bliss 101 in Encinitas. 

As resin/epoxy art has gained momentum in recent years there are a host of expert and amateur artisans venturing into the popular process--with mixed results. What Kelly feels sets her work apart is her attention to the smallest detail.

“So many people ask me where do I get my colors from? Finding and taking the time to experiment with pigments and colors is key,” Kelly explained. “I think having an artistic background has helped in designing my pieces because I look at the colors, how they flow and work together as I layer them, along with the type of wood and the tones of those pieces.”
The finished product is stunning - layered shades of blues and greens poured expertly onto polished wood form a seascape to rival the real thing.

Favored timber she uses includes black walnut, olive, maple, oak, and of course, bamboo, which is perfect for the Rusted Indigo mini cheese boards she can barely keep in stock on shelves or in studio. “I have a huge online business, it’s great!” Kelly exclaimed.

The company’s top sellers include 3-dimensional framed ocean art pieces, ‘6-footers’ wave boards and river surf boards which feature live-edge, solid hard woods with sweeps of poured resin down the middle. Exquisite. “A lot more work goes into the river boards but I really like making them,” Kelly said. “They’re always such a surprise and look so pretty when they’re done.” Other fan favorites are the staples she creates: bowls, trinket dishes, Christmas ornaments and shells, trays, charcuterie boards and ‘Lazy Steves’ - an updated, playful pat to the ‘Lazy Susans’ of yesteryear.

When she’s not pouring or filling orders or running her son to hockey practice, Kelly and the family love to travel. Recent adventures took them to Africa, France and Italy, with more plans for future treks this year. “I always get inspiration for my work from my travels,” Kelly said. “I also live by the beach which is pretty amazing.”

With the family home near the water in town, people often go by and see Kelly working on her larger pieces in her garage or outside. “Everyone frequently sees me working and they come by and we talk about my art,” Kelly mused. “Ideally I’d love to have a studio and gallery in one place where people could find me and also all of my work.”

The tiny company that began three years ago is booming. “Demand is steady, I just need to get bigger studio space so I can branch out into furniture, bigger tools and equipment,” Kelly noted.
Commissions and custom orders are also routine. “I get a ton of custom orders, some where I’ve been hand-painting touches to it, like dolphins or swimmers. I wasn’t sure how they’d go but they turned out great.”

Rusted Indigo was selected to participate in Laguna Beach’s prestigious Art Affaire last summer and being a part of the juried event was a huge honor for the Michigan native. “I was honored to be there with my work alongside some amazing artists,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot of talent in these towns.”

Her company was also recently contacted by a major sandal manufacturer as part of an artist spotlight for LGBTQ; the firm designed a sandal specifically based on her art, previewing later this year. “It’s really pretty amazing to see your own work on a shoe!” Kelly laughed.
San Clemente residents are fortunate to enjoy the essence of Rusted Indigo everyday with our ocean--the variegated swaths of blue, the dash of light from the tides as they curl at the shoreline. Kelly has captured the art of nature perfectly in her own work, bringing patrons these gifts to take home and treasure.

“My dream life was always to live by the beach and do art for a living,” Kelly smiled, realizing her wish has come true. “I’m so grateful that people really like my work because I love what I do ... and I love the ocean.”

Rusted Indigo pieces are available at The San Clemente Store at the Outlets in SC. or follow Kelly on Instagram @rusted.indigo.