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Kelsy Stromski      

So tell me a little about yourself?


I am a habitual travelholic, dog mom, foodie, former US biathlete, boss lady, brand aficionado, wife, farmer's daughter, owner and Creative Director of Refinery 43.


I grew up in a tiny little farming town on the boarder of Canada in northern Maine. (About 7 hours north of Boston — yes, Maine really is that tall, and no, I did not grow up near the ocean — but now I do & LOVE it!)


With the encouragement of my mother (who grew up painting) I was always around artistic supplies and there was never a shortage of pencils and paper. Drawing came natural but it wasn’t until I started college at UVM where I realized I could have a career in design and not be a struggling artist. At the end of the day I enjoy problem solving through visual communication for companies rather than creating something for myself.


After graduating from the Massachusetts College of Art & Design I spent several years working at leading design agencies, internationally known companies and teaching graphic design at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. After a new move to Newburyport two years ago, (a lot of coffee,) and a little encouragement, Refinery 43 was born. 


Today I love creating clever, memorable and simple designs. Massimo Vignelli sums it up best: “The life of a designer is a life of fight. Fight against the ugliness. Just like a doctor fights against disease. For us, the visual disease is what we have around, and what we try to do is cure it somehow with design”

It was Kelsy Stromski's confidence in her design and her business that initially caught my attention. I first saw Kelsy speak at an AIGA event in Boston focused on entrepreneurship. Not only was her branding work excellent, but so was her vision and focus which has clearly lead to her success. It was important to include her in margins as she demonstrates strong entrepreneurship, communication and creativity, which is inspirational to any artist looking to run their own business (a.k.a almost all of us).

What was the process to start your own business?

I never intended to own my own business but when we made the move out of Boston (and I was not interested in spending a quarter of my life commuting) I wanted to give freelancing a try. If it didn’t work out then I would look for another 9-5 but I was going to give it my all so that I could at least say I tried. Fast-forward 3 years and I’m happy to say I’m finally getting the clients and work I’ve been wanting and usually book large branding projects about 4 months out.


What's one thing you wished you had known before getting to where you are today?

If you think working for yourself will be easier you’re in for a rude awakening. Working for others I was always and only a ‘designer’ — now I’m the receptionist, IT department, accountant, social media strategist, lead development specialist, the list goes on and on.   

“Today I love creating clever, memorable and simple designs.”

Who are some artists that you feel have impacted your own practice? What about outside the fields of design and art?


Paula Scher, Stephan Sagmister, Louise Fili, Herb Lubalin, Michael Bierut, the list goes on. Fashion, Interior design, travel, nature, you can find inspiration in even the most mundane things, you just have to be open to see it.



What have been some of your biggest strengths and struggles during your career so far?


Strengths — Keeping a cool head. Nothing phases me anymore when it comes to client requests or changes. I’m a problem solver at heart and I’m always up for a challenge!


Struggles — stepping away from work — besides traveling I don’t have any hobbies. (Unless you count eating and drinking a hobby). As a creative I feel it’s easy for us to get consumed by it but sometimes I’m most inspired when I’m not doing anything design related. I think it helps to be well rounded — the best projects are those that are somehow connected to your passions.

june 2017
graphic design

What project are you especially excited about right now?


Honestly all of them! I’m rebranding a couple Massachusetts restaurants, hand lettering a large chalk wall in a brewery, branding a local market, developing a website for Boston’s oldest fish monger company, packaging design for health food business, etc…  

What's in your margins?

No matter how lovely and curated my work appears, my creative process is usually incredibly messy, rife with insecurity, performance anxiety and the unavoidable comparison to others (who always seem SO much more talented, inspiring and successful). There are plenty of shitty days, boring days, and a few days where I want to quit — but then there are those days where I’m so enthralled by the work, I lose track of time and get so excited sleep can wait, which makes the struggle SO worth it, every single time. No one can have their shit together all the time and we're all figuring it out as we go along — it's always been helpful for me to hear this as I navigate the choppy waters of creativity and running a business so I hope it’s refreshing for others to hear it as well!

Edited by Joshua Duttweiler
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