“I have always painted my office blue,” Laurel Prucha Moran said when asked the deeper meaning behind her graphic design (and recently added art) studio’s name, Blue Room Studio. “Nothing more than that.”
A resident of Alexandria since shortly after graduating college, Moran has been a freelance graphic designer for more than 20 years, using her artistic eye to determine “how things land on paper,” as she phrased it.
The past year has given Moran more free time, which she has used to pull out her watercolors and do some painting. In the before-pandemic times, she only made time to paint during Art League classes, but in 2020 she committed to regularly creating art and is currently in the middle of the 100 Day Project, painting with oil paint every day.
In the fall, she decided to start a business selling her watercolors online on BlueRoomStudio.com, including stationery bubbled with goldfish, Christmas cards and custom home portraits. By word of mouth, Del Ray Artisans events, list serv referrals and social media posts, her business has been steadily expanding to include painting commissions and fine art prints.
The Start of the ‘Matchbooks’ Project
Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, Moran owned a whimsical poster of drawn matchbooks of iconic Louisville restaurants. After coming across the poster in her attic recently, she was inspired to similarly celebrate her favorite spots in Del Ray and elsewhere in Alexandria.
Her first Instagram post on her project page @DMVmatchbooks showed painted matchbooks for the milestone restaurants in Moran’s life story with her husband – Portner’s where they first had coffee, BullFeathers where they shared their first kiss, Geranio where they had their rehearsal dinner, and Two Nineteen where they first heard their wedding band, The Dixie Power Trio.
Since then, Moran has finished almost three dozen Del Ray matchbook watercolors, selling individual prints of neighborhood restaurants such as Stomping Ground, Taqueria el Poblano, and Cheesetique, as well as custom groupings. Restaurants have been very supportive of the matchbook art, and with every custom grouping print, Moran donates the cost of a hot meal to local charity that helps food service industry workers in the D.C. region.
In a new twist on this project, Moran is working with local online makers’ market Made in ALX. Residents are invited to vote for their favorite matchbook paintings from the 35 Del Ray restaurant matchbooks she has painted. The 12 most popular matchbooks, according to a poll available between April 1 and April 15, will go on an exclusive Del Ray-focused art print available only through Made in ALX. A portion of proceeds from print sales will benefit the food bank at ALIVE! (Pre-orders are available now.)
The custom matchbook groupings have surprised Moran. “Each one is completely different” based on the person’s individual memories of Alexandria. Moran recently completed a custom print for a family moving to Wisconsin, who told her they were so happy to “take a piece of Del Ray with them” to their new home.
After a brief interlude to update her spring stationery line, Moran will return to painting matchbooks, next shifting her focus to Old Town and D.C.