Artist · Interview

Interview: Kelly Tinker, Artist Extraordinaire


Introducing a new corner: Kai’s interviews!

28423339_10155395006943660_4447763993120088693_oKai’s first interviewee is Kelly Tinker, the artist who did the cover art and maps for Kai’s fantasy novel, These Lies That Live Between Us. But this is only a drop in the ocean of art that Kelly creates. She has a BA in art (specializing in metalsmithing), has done a variety of projects working with a variety of mediums, and is currently working at Frost Finery.

Kai and Kelly met at university in Alaska. They’ve been friends ever since.

Kai Raine: You’re a metalsmith and an illustrator. What other forms of art do you do, and which haven’t you done yet but hope to do in the future?

Kelly Tinker: I like to dabble in almost any art form; I’ve explored sewing, painting, cosplay, and a little wood working on the side. Anything to do with metal is my favorite though: welding, metal casting, metalsmithing, etc.

Most recently I would really like to get into larger sculpture work that combines working with steel and concrete. Stuff you can put outside along a pathway or to add some art to a garden. I’ve always wanted to go bigger with my sculpting, but finding somewhere to put it has always been the hard part. Our house came with a great side yard and I can’t wait to fill it with my creations!


Kai: What book or story, not illustrated by you, have you most wished you could illustrate or do the cover art for? Can you describe how you would have illustrated it?

Kelly: I love the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. Jacques’ descriptions are so rich and vivid that it has always inspired me to draw out the world and scenes he creates. His books are about little woodland creatures fighting to defend good from evil, the idea of little critters running around with swords and bows is my favorite type of whimsy. It creates the perfect combination of realism and imagination that I like to embrace with my pen and inking illustrative style.

I’ve never tried to create my own cover for one of the books in the series but I did illustrate my own bookmark for when I read through them!
redwall bookmark

​Kai: What’s your favorite art project in the works at the moment?

Kelly: My favorite project right now has been a complex multimedia project that will ultimately be a gift for my wife. It’s my Backpacking Dwarven Game Set! I’ve designed a tube that will be leather bound and look very much like an arrow quiver that is meant to be worn on your back with a strap across the shoulder. I’ve designed the whole thing to have a dwarven theme using lots of leather, metal, and stone. I’m hoping this tube will be the ultimate travel game set for camping, hiking, and picnics! It has been a lot of work so far and it’ll definitely be a one-of-a-kind project because I’ll never want do it again!

The tube will contain:

  •  A rummikub set that I engraved from granite tiles with stands cast out of pewter;
  •  A set of 6 blacksmithed steel dice that are stored in their own detachable shake cup;
  •  A custom designed deck of cards that match the color combination of the rummikub tiles.
2018-02-26 15.33.45

Kai: You have a lot of interesting projects—and awards!—on Instructables. Is there any project up there that you’re most proud of?

Kelly: I would have to say my top favorite project I’ve done for Instructables so far is the Wishing Well Burn Barrel.

Kai: Why that one?

Kelly: That project combined all of my favorite things: upcycling, metalworking, and whimsy.  I get the most excited about my projects if I can combine form and function. The fact that I was able to turn an old washing machine drum into a wishing well that functioned as a fire pit and was able to cook food was really great. You can’t tell from the picture alone but the “water bucket” is welded steel so you can wrap food in foil, lower it down in to the flames to cook, then use the crank pull it back up to retrieve your hot food! As a bonus, it all comes apart with bolts and everything fits inside for transportation, its those extra little steps that make the whole thing feel extra clever.

It was a perfect creative storm of seeing a potential design from an object and then making the everything come together with function so beautifully.

Kai: Do you have any advice for the aspiring artist?

Kelly: My view points regarding the art field have changed in recent years as I’ve seen art changed for better and for worse with the introduction of sites like Etsy, Kickstarter, and Patreon. These sites make it much easier for people to get financial support for their art, fund their dreams, and maybe even make a living. I’m glad that artists are gaining support and followers more easily than the could before.

However, I feel like aspiring artists use this as a sign of accomplishment and success before they have found their true strength in art. I’ve witnessed artists who only create to sell and don’t allow themselves to experiment, fail, play, or stretch their skills. I’ve seen people get stuck in a bubble of what they know they can do and create for mass appeal instead of from their own creativity.

Everything these people make are immediately posted online to be judged whether it was successful or not and they skip the step of asking themselves if they even like the work they did or if it made them happy at all.

My advice for the aspiring artist would be:

  • Allow yourself the time to experiment, learn, and fail before you try to monetize your skill. 
  • If you make art for yourself first and allow yourself to become the best with it then the support will follow. 
  • Don’t let the siren call of money hold you back from really letting your artistic self free.
  • Art should be, first and foremost, something that adds to your inner self.

 I started to get wrapped up in that world myself with so many people around me trying to help me find ways to sell my projects. It took a lot of the joy away from me. People wouldn’t appreciate the work I put into it, the skill and creativity I expressed. It was always judged on how much money it could make, who would buy it, and what things I could do to start large scale productions. That was slowly crushing my spirit and making me resist wanting to share my quirky projects that delighted me but would get shunned by those that didn’t see any money to be made from the idea. The magic of art was gone.

I finally stripped myself of any thoughts of monetization and I create only for myself and loved ones. This has lifted a great burden from me and I find more personal joy and pride in my work.
22406196_10155059039983660_2765693450893774664_n (1)

Kai: How do you make sure your art adds to your inner self?

Kelly: Art is a luxury. You could argue there is little need for art beyond the expression of the self and sharing perspectives with the world. I’m not saying art isn’t valuable, I’m trying to say quite the opposite. Since we don’t need art to survive, it can be a pure source of personal growth and benefit. I think one needs to discover what they gain from art personally. If you allow art to be a means of fulfilling a level of happiness for yourself, it will become a positive contribution no matter what. Don’t be afraid to be selfish with your art. There never needs to be a reason.

For me, metalsmithing is very meditative. I can get lost for hours focusing and planning tiny details. I can lose myself and erase all worry and stress while I work away making something neat. Whatever I create doesn’t matter, the object becomes a symbol of the process. A cast silver ring isn’t a cast silver ring to me, instead, its the hours that I was able to escape from the world. It does not matter if I do not sell the ring or have no one to give it to. I made something and it added to my peace in life.

Illustrating is more about expressing my weird sense of humor or just trying to understand the world around me a little better. You lose a lot of details in the world around you until you have to sit down and draw something. I’ll think to myself…I’ll draw a turtle. Wait….what does a turtle really look like? Then I’ll research, do lots of sketches….and now I can draw turtles. I can now draw turtles in funny situations because I learned what actually makes a turtle look like a turtle. I might never draw a turtle again, but now I feel like I’ve got a closer connection to the world around me.

If I do art for myself, escaping into my own chaotic process and losing all sense of time, then I have added to my inner self. For me, its the process that is valuable. Not the product.


Kai: What’s one thing about you—your life, your habits, your favorite things, or anything else—that people find hard to believe?

Kelly: I think most people are surprised that I’m also quite a handy-man around a house and know my way around tools and construction materials. Creative types get a bad reputation for having their heads in the clouds and being less than practical. I however, juggle a very analytical and engineering mind along side my whimsy and creatively odd thoughts. I think remodeling a house is an amazing blending of those strengths.

I’m currently fixing up a 95-year old house and I’m having a blast. I’ve been tackling electrical, plumbing, tiling, drywall, demolition…you name it! The house will be my greatest project of all time; combining form and function, customizing as much as possible, and adding an artistic design sense.

To be able to live in a space completely designed for your wants and needs while being able to express your design everywhere? An artist’s dream. This also allows me to pretty much turn every room into the house into some sort of craft room or workshop so I can continually expand my hobbies.

Kai: If you were to disappear tomorrow, what would you want the world to remember you for?

Kelly: I am a fixer. Most of my motivation for the things I do is to help others when they need it and make things easier however I can. I try to help make the little things more bearable for people when they need help.

I’d like to be remembered for that; I’d like to be remembered for my efforts and skills I put forth to help out when help was needed. Being recognized for my efforts and my time is more important to me than any product, outcome, or reward.


Visit Kelly Tinker’s portfolio here or her Instructables page here. She is also now on Instagram!

Kai Raine is the author of the fantasy novel These Lies That Live Between Us.

2 thoughts on “Interview: Kelly Tinker, Artist Extraordinaire

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s