Barista’s Watercolor Art Featured on a New Starbucks Ceramic Tumbler

Shelby Kregel's grandmother taught her to paint when she was a five years old, proudly displaying her art on the refrigerator and walls for family to see. Soon, her artwork will be viewed by Starbucks customers across the U.S.

“My grandmother helped me learn sound art techniques. She’s 88 years old and still paints to this day,” said Kregel, a Starbucks barista in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “I liked art more than my five siblings, so I have a special bond with her.”

A vibrant watercolor design Kregel created is featured on a new ceramic tumbler that will be available for purchase at participating Starbucks® stores in the U.S., beginning next week (March 22).

Kregel’s artistic talents have served her well. “Art comes naturally to me,” she said. “I won my first national art contest when I was in first grade. The $2,000 prize money helped me pay for my first car when I learned to drive.”

While in high school, Kregel also enrolled at Kendall College of Art and Design, so she could receive college credits. After graduating in 2011, she enrolled at Grand Valley State University and took a part-time job at Starbucks.

“My brother always told me how much he loved working for Starbucks and he knew that I would love it too because of my fondness for coffee and meeting people,” she said.

Kregel’s manager encouraged her to apply for the Starbucks Partner Cup Contest in 2015. Inspired by the success of the company’s White Cup Contest for customers, Starbucks provided its partners (employees) an opportunity to express their creativity through their own design contest last year.

“I brought four cups home and with my husband’s support and encouragement, submitted my designs with only one hour to spare before the deadline,” she said. “I was not expecting to be recognized out of all the partners who entered the contest.”

Not one, but two of Kregel’s designs were deemed finalists in the contest, which had more than 1,500 entries. Although the abundance of colors in her artwork did not transfer properly onto the company’s reusable cup that would be used to display the winning design, Starbucks was determined to share her work.

“Shelby’s cup designs were both beautiful and inspiring, so we had to find the right way to share them,” said Dan Jensen, manager, Starbucks Partner Communications and Engagement. “The ceramic tumbler became the perfect canvas to feature one of her designs for both customers and partners to take home.”

The positive reaction to her work boosted Kregel’s confidence. She began posting her art on social media and as a result secured several new art projects. Kregel discovered a new artistic freedom after participating in the cup contest.

“I realized that I can try this art career a little more seriously,” she added. “Sometimes I feel like every other artist, but it’s cool to stand out and be recognized for bringing life and light into the world through art. It’s a great opportunity for me as an artist and to see where this can take me.”

Next for Kregel is the arrival of her first child in July. She hopes to own her own studio, paint with her baby nearby and continue to work part-time at Starbucks. She also looks forward to her grandmother meeting the baby and passing along artistic talent to yet another generation.

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How Starbucks partners help create change, one community at a time, with Neighborhood Grants