Dream Machine Artist Spotlight: Courtney Kinnare

It is clear within the first few minutes of talking to Courtney Kinnare that she is as passionate about life as she is about her art. As a full-time abstract artist based in LA, Courtney’s creative space is her own playhouse. Experimenting with mediums including fine art, prints, coasters, mirrors, and furniture, each piece she makes is unique. That said, Courtney is best known for her resin and acrylic poured art, recently releasing a series featuring a brand new style while still maintaining her signature creative approach. With pastel gradients, neon hues, and contrasting textures, Courtney’s new work is as colorful as it is dramatic. Across all mediums and styles, Courtney’s work is alluring, making you wonder just what inspired her to work with such unique mediums. Curious? Read our Q&A below to find out more. 

Image courtesy of Courtney Kinnare

Q: Did you have any artists in your family that you looked up to growing up or was your decision to become an artist individually inspired? 

A:  My mom’s side of the family is super creative, so my grandma is one of my biggest inspirations. In her day-to-day life, she was an anesthesiologist, but in her later years, she started to pick up literally anything and everything. She weaved yarn on a giant loom, she painted oil paintings and she made little intricate beadings. Basically my grandma was just good at everything she picked up and tried. So she would always encourage us to do the same and try everything in order to see what we liked. On top of that, my grandma is just one of the most unique people I know. She’s traveled the entire world and her entire wardrobe is from all these different countries and she matches her jewelry all the way down to her shoes. Everything about her makes her a cool creative person making it easy for me to feel inspired by her. Apart from that, my mom actually graduated from UCLA with a screenwriting degree and worked in the film industry a bit, so she knew what it was like to pursue a creative career and was always encouraging my two sisters and I to really try everything we could get our hands-on. 

Image courtesy of Courtney Kinnare

Q: What was the journey that led you to the mediums that you focus on now?

A: I actually went to a high school in San Diego called San Diego Academy that was a little bit more focused on the arts and offered a lot of different art classes. So I had exposure to a variety of mediums through school and from these classes, I became fascinated with screen printing. I would make shirts to sell at the yearly flea market and it felt good to have people buy work I created.

It’s kind of ironic though to think of the type of artist I am now because I do not remember painting much when I was younger. In fact, when I was in high school I always thought that when I got older I would get back into screen printing, dabble in fashion or try my hand out at anything in that realm. 

Instead, I ended up getting suckered into going to college for business, which I think ultimately helped me out a lot, but it was definitely a decision influenced by my dad’s side of the family. My dad is very business-oriented, while my mom is very creative. So I followed the voice in my head telling me I would never make money if I pursue art and ended up studying environmental economics at UC Berkeley, which is obviously as far from an art school as it gets. Berkeley barely offered any art classes, but luckily I finally got a chance to sneak in a screenprinting class just before I graduated. When I was making more and more art I thought, wow, maybe I need to take this into my own hands and go beyond relying on these classes to explore different mediums. Right after that I started independently drawing and painting a lot more. 

My first pour-style painting was made for a friend’s birthday gift after admittedly forgetting to buy her a present. I saw a cool video of the pour technique on youtube and decided to make one for her as a present. Once I finished I liked the piece enough that I posted it on Instagram and all of a sudden everyone was commenting that they wanted one. So that’s really when my business started flourishing. 

When I first started out on this journey I mostly stuck to pour-style paintings and working with resin, but I actually just released a new series which is using a lot more paint and different mediums and tools to create interesting textures. I was really just exploring something for fun, like my grandma, and it ended up working out really well. Which taught me that this constant exploration of multiple different mediums is the perfect creative process for me. 

Image courtesy of Courtney Kinnare

Q: So you don’t feel that you’re tied down to one medium, or in other words, you are always going to try to explore different mediums through your art? 

A: Yeah, I felt like I was a little pigeonholed in the beginning just because I was taking on so many commissions for these pour-style paintings. Not only that, but everybody kept using past commission photos for my new commissions, so I was just making a lot of the same work. Obviously, I was really stoked because a lot of people really liked my work, which eventually inspired me to go full time as an artist, but I also felt like I wasn’t really pushing myself. There was no push from these commissions to keep learning and exploring new mediums and I was worried that people were only going to like me for this one style of painting. Luckily, this wasn’t the case and I am very excited that I am moving away from what originally got me attention. 

Image courtesy of Courtney Kinnare

Q: You mentioned several times that you recently went full-time as an artist. Do you still struggle with the societal pressures about not having a conventional 9 to 5 job? 

A: I actually saw a meme the other day that reminded me of this question and it said “doesn’t want to work a 9 to 5, now works 24/7 instead,” which I think perfectly describes my job now. I did have a full-time job for about two years after college and I was doing my art on the side, but it was getting to the point where I was being pulled in two directions at the same time and I was really working 24/7. That’s when I decided to take the leap and in February of this year, I went full time. As far as regrets, I have none because I think this transition has been one of the most eye-opening experiences in my life in that now I know that it is possible. “It” being my individual dream of becoming an artist. 

I think a lot of people have a stigma against being a full-time artist or think that they need a bunch of side hustles to support themselves. What allowed me to push through the self-doubt and societal pressure to always have a backup job was building a solid client base over the two years that I had another full-time job. That foundation propelled me to be pretty financially stable as a full-time artist. Again with that being said, I am still running a business and I’m still learning the ins and outs so at times it does get a little sketchy financially. But what I’ve come to understand from living off of my art is that sometimes you need that sense of pressure to push you to make things work. Since this is the life I want for myself, I know I gotta do what I gotta do to make things work out. 

Image courtesy of Courtney Kinnare

Q: With this type of pressure in mind, I wonder how the past year in and out of quarantine has helped or hurt your work. Did you ever lack inspiration or feel bogged down? 

A: In the past, I used to find inspiration from traveling a lot. I would always work during the school year and save up all my money so when summer came around I could plan a bunch of fun trips with my friends. Having that curiosity towards the world and exploring new cultures, places and sights would give me a lot of inspiration before the COVID lockdowns. As we moved into quarantine there was obviously no travel and that was the longest period I have gone without traveling since I started traveling, which I know is a blessing in and of itself and a privileged perspective. 

The lockdowns forced me to look inwards and find inspiration from other things, such as what I was feeling or experiencing rather than witnessing. COVID influenced my work in a way where it took it to the next level — it was no longer just an interpretation of the world around me but also an interpretation of the things and experiences I was going through. My art turned into a reflection of my own life, rather than the world that I observed. 

The way my inspiration has shifted over the past year is embodied in my new series entitled “Brighter Days” which touches on the world reopening, things starting to look bright again, and the experience of escaping from the feelings we once had of stagnancy, everything being the same during isolation, and social anxiety. As I was creating this series, I found it easier to understand the complex feelings I was experiencing and communicate them to myself and to my audience all on canvas, which I think makes this series distinct from my past work. A lot of my past work had very direct inspiration from nature, whereas the newer stuff is more nuanced and intimate. 

Image courtesy of Courtney Kinnare

Q: In the theme of you making work that you feel personally connected to, my question is, do you ever dislike the commissions you receive or want to blatantly turn them down because you feel that they are too repetitive or not evocative of your present work?

A: That’s actually a great question because I feel like it is hard not to get excited when someone wants to give you money for something you create, but sometimes people will come to me with a color palette that is just not something I would naturally vibe with. So when something like that happens I like to communicate to the client that I want to work with them rather than for them. Typically I will suggest a consultation where we collaborate together and I can suggest changes in terms of adding my own touches and style so that it is a cohesive vision between the two of us. I have in the past worked on some pieces, where I am not as excited about it so I am by default not thrilled to share it with my community or show it off. So I have realized that there isn’t a point to doing pieces that do not excite me because I’m not reflecting myself as an artist if it is not something that I am super excited about. In the last year, I’ve tried to make it a point in all the commissions I do to make it one of my best works yet so that not only is the client satisfied but I am as well. I only take on projects that give me something to feel and be stoked for, otherwise, it just creates a feeling of alienation from my art, making it feel more like work than fun. In that vein, I view the art people pay me for as collaborations rather than commissions. 

Image courtesy of Courtney Kinnare

Q: With everything you have experienced over the past few years of you transitioning from a more conventional job to working as a full-time artist, do you have any advice for your younger self? 

A: I would definitely say to stick to your guns. Don’t let other people tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing, don’t let other people influence what job you’re going to take or what career path you choose. What ultimately makes you feel satisfied and whole in life truly only comes from you and if there is something you’re going to regret not trying five or fifty years down the line, just try it out because if you don’t you’re always going to be left wondering. And I know, I know, this all sounds really cheesy but we all only have one life and just recently I have had a lot of things happen during COVID that have reminded me that life is really beautiful but it can also be very short. It is up to you to craft the life you desire and I believe we all have the power within us to make those desires into reality.

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