Painted purses prove popular

For as long as Kelsey Donahue, 21, can remember art has been something she truly understands. According to Donahue, when she realized math wasn’t her greatest subject, she opted for a career that would always keep her interested. So, in 2004, she left what she calls the “flamboyance” of life in Washington, D.C., to pursue a degree in graphic design at the USF St. Petersburg campus.

“I’ve always been a doodler – a drawer,” she said. “I love creating things, sculpting, and I just really enjoy working with my hands.”

In D.C., Donahue had grown accustomed to a much more liberal way of life than she found when she moved to Florida. The weather was too hot for Donahue to express herself through fashion and people did not respond well to her alternative appearance. She needed to find some way to shine through.

In an effort to share her creativity with the rest of the world, Donahue began selling hand-painted tattoo purses on the Web. As an aspiring tattoo artist and aficionado, with several tattoos on her wrist, hips and lower back, she said she was disheartened to see the tattoo-inspired clothing industry facing commercialization through mass production. For Donahue, tattoo art was losing originality.

“Everything began looking the same,” she said. “Everyone was wearing stuff from stores like Hot Topic.”

So, in 2004, when a friend approached her about buying a purse she had painted from a doodle she’d drawn out of boredom, Donahue heard opportunity


Seeing a chance to exercise her artistry and gain experience in designing tattoos, Donahue began rummaging thrift stores and secondhand shops throughout the Bay area. She was on a quest to find and paint merchandise that would generate excitement, from purses and totes to wallets and coasters. While she admits to sprucing up vintage finds, she also enjoys adding her touch to designer digs.

“I love when I find Nine West purses on sale,” she said. “They’re good quality and I love the pockets on them.”

After establishing the business, Donahue took the plunge and posted her creations on eBay where her bags generated a lot of attention. In 2006, she moved her business over to, where entrepreneurs can buy and sell handmade items nationwide.

Since making the move, Donahue has seen an increase in sales.

“In almost three years, I’ve sold a little under

700 items,” she said.

Donahue has created four categories for her creations: rockabilly, classic tattoos, vintage and reserved. Items in the category of rockabilly are ultra-feminine and 1950s-inspired. Merchandise in the classic tattoo category encompasses vintage maritime themes such as swallows and sailor-inspired images of rebellion. The vintage category features delicate, older designs, while merchandise found in the reserved category are custom designs requested by buyers.

“I have a purse with a penguin on it. It’s unique and so much better than a regular picture of a penguin,” said mass communications major Brittany McDonald.

“Judging by her other artwork, I knew she’d do it in a cute way,”

McDonald said.

While Donahue continues to create and sell items in her free time, she admits having a business while attending school full time is no easy job.

“Aside from having good time-management skills, I’m a multi-tasker,” Donahue said. “For example, last semester we had to design a book cover for class, and I went and got it leather bound for a bag. I’m all for combining projects.”

And Donahue knows how to combine projects. Besides continuing to craft tattoo purses and school projects, she will be participating in the upcoming art show, Skin City: The Art of the Tattoo.

To check out Donahue’s projects, visit or attend Skin City: The Art of the Tattoo, which runs Oct. 12 through Dec. 31 at The Arts Center, 719 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg. For more information, visit