Lawrenceville, PA– All of KLoRebel’s architectural drawings begin as ink on paper. Through various scanning and printing processes, the drawings are transferred onto items big and small: pillow-cases, pouches, coasters, jewelry, aprons, and more. Since 2012, entrepreneur and artist Kirsten Lowe Rebel has produced nearly one-hundred pen and ink drawings of Pittsburgh and other cities around the globe to print onto goods. Her business, KLoRebel Art, now operates out of Ice House Studios in Lawrenceville, where Kirsten and her assistant sketch, organize, and ship their products for online orders and maker shows.
For Pittsburgh natives, pillow-cases and tote bags with drawings of the famous Duquesne Incline climbing up Mt. Washington, or the ornate entrance of Phipps Conservatory, or the towering Cathedral of Learning (“Cathy,” as she is known at the University of Pittsburgh), do more than just remind them of home. “I think it’s a more sophisticated way to incorporate an intimacy with our city’s architecture that can be in your home,” Kirsten says.
In every piece, Kirsten draws on time, place, and memory to reflect the deep history and meaning that’s embedded in architecture. One of Kirsten’s favorite projects include the Maxo Vanka murals on display at the St. Nicholas Croatian Church, whose steeple peaks above the skyline across the river from Kirsten’s studio. After drawing the hidden gems and printing them on towels and pouches, the murals are accessible in a new form but remain an amazing piece of art. In secular landscapes, Kirsten views Pittsburgh’s bridges, churches, and sports complexes as structures that may also change or disappear over time and aims to portray as many sights as she can as preservation pieces.
In 2012, KLoRebel Art was born when Kirsten was bartending in downtown Pittsburgh and sketching still lifes of bottle labels that attracted paying customers. In keeping with inanimate objects as her subject matter, Kirsten’s work also extended to the architecture, skylines, houses, and famous landmarks in her hometown. The first architectural drawing by KLoRebel Art, a church in Polish Hill sinking below one of Pittsburgh’s notorious hills, now sits in a golden frame in Kirsten’s studio.
While Kirsten continued bartending and sketching more buildings and skylines, her uncle, also a Pittsburgh resident, was beginning his t-shirt printing company in 2015. Coming from a background in painting and fine arts, Kirsten hadn’t worked with textiles before, but believed that her line work could be transferred and shaped onto new surfaces. Her grandmother joined the small operation, helping with sewing, and KLoRebel Art was able to transfer its architectural drawings onto tea towels and pillow-cases for the first time. Shortly afterwards, Kirsten also envisioned her sketches on jewelry, and joined her grandfather, an engineer, to bend bracelet cuffs, cut earrings, and produce more wearable architecture. Still today, Kirsten’s uncle and good friends print small orders, while KLoRebel Art also works with larger American printing manufacturers.
While KLoRebel Art expanded its products and operated out of Kirsten’s home, Kirsten was slowly disconnecting from her bartending position, and even though committing to her business was an immense leap, Kirsten became a fulltime business owner in 2015.
“I’m not the type of person to rip a BandAid off… so it took around two years before I felt comfortable leaving my bartending job. I remember thinking that the bar guests were the only audience that was buying my work, so I couldn’t leave. But then I realized, ‘Oh, there’s a whole audience of people who don’t drink or other Pittsburgh residents who also like architecture.’”Kirsten Lowe Rebel, founder of KLoRbel Art
Kirsten’s social network, composed of teachers, ballerinas, and other bartenders, has also led to work for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, the Carnegie Library (Lawrenceville), and other notable cultural organizations in Pittsburgh. KLoRebel produces custom drawings for classic performances of the Beauty and the Beast and the Nutcracker and prints them on towels, pouches, and pillow-cases as take-home gifts for attendees. And for the Carnegie Library’s 125th anniversary, KLoRebel’s drawings of the interior building will be included in a map for library tours.
In 2017, the same year that KLoRebel moved into Ice House Studios, Kirsten joined her eforever group. As Kirsten’s expanding collaborations invited new projects, her eforever group helped her stay organized and confident in prioritizing the projects that she wanted to pursue for her business.
“From my eforever group, I’ve gained lots of confidence and am getting to a place where I’m comfortable saying no to things. I’m able to live by design, not default.”Kirsten Lowe Rebel, founder of KLoRebel
In 2020, KLoRebel Art is experimenting with new products and forms for her drawings and recently launched tissue boxes. Now, in her business, Kirsten says, “I have this confidence in my product base because there are pieces out in the world that are supporting me financially and I have an interested community. So it’s a fun time to test the limits with some products and see where they go, like the tissue boxes.”
After renewing her lease at Ice House Studios this year, KLoRebel Art will be remaining there for another 3 years, and hopes to open her studio space for customers to shop in person. KLoRebel Art can also be purchased on its new web store, Etsy, and in maker shops around Pittsburgh.