Meet the Maker | Karen Tinney

Nestled into the shop alcoves you will spot the unique vessels and wall hangings handmade by ceramicist Karen Tinney. We caught up with Californian based artist Karen to find out more about her work, the process and how to stay motivated whilst building a business...


Tell us us a little bit about yourself? Where are you based and what journey did you take to become the artist that you are today?

I am currently based out of Long Beach, CA - freshly relocated this year from Philadelphia, PA. I went to Parsons School of Design in New York City for product design, and after graduating I started a career working as a home decor designer. I was never really satisfied with working for other people and I was always making work at home in my free time - never really with the intention of it becoming more than a hobby. I was relocated to Philadelphia for a new position in 2014 and suddenly had more space and time to explore my personal work. I started making ceramics again and it sort of naturally combined itself with the textile work that I had been doing since college.

I was building my business for 2 years while also working full time as a designer until I finally quit my job in 2016. The past two years working full time as an artist have been a roller coaster - my work has grown in ways that I have never imagined and I've probably learned more (good and bad lessons) than in my 7 years as a designer. 


What influences and inspires you?

I am first and foremost inspired by the materials and the techniques that I use in my pieces. For example, the coil basket technique (which has become somewhat of a signature for me) is something that I have been doing since the beginning, but with each piece I try to challenge myself to evolve it in shape or application. In terms of outside influences - I'd say that I am most inspired by architecture, sculpture, and textures/colors found in nature, so I'm always trying to get out and get inspired even if it's just a walk around my neighborhood.


What does a typical day look like for you?

Running a business by myself means each day is slightly different. Usually part of every day is reserved for the boring, less glamorous office tasks associated with running a business, so I try to get those out of the way first thing and then dive into creative work for the rest of the day.

I organize my days so that I'm only working on either fiber or ceramic work - never both in one day so that I can properly focus on the medium. Each day I try to complete the list I set up for myself because I have so many deadlines associated with my work - ceramic production alone has 4 steps: building the greenware, bisque firing, glazing, and glaze firing, and then I add on fiber application on top of that. Staying on my production schedule is crucial so that I can keep up with wholesale, one of a kind, and stock production, so that usually means long hours and doing something work-related every day of the week. However, this year it's my goal to slow down and more breaks to enjoy my new city.


What are your favourite aspects of your work?

Working in the two mediums - ceramic and fiber - brings me the most joy. I enjoy the constraints I've set up with fitting the two materials together in sometimes functional, sometimes sculptural ways. But within those constraints there's also freedom - to explore form and evolve my aesthetic in a natural way. The two materials serve both sides of my personality - with ceramics there's rules, patterns that must be followed. With fibers I feel much more expressive, and feel freedom of experimentation.


At NMJ we are all about the handmade artisan object and understand the love, time and effort involved in creating. What does it mean to you to have your painting become a part of peoples every day lives?

When I get a picture of one of my pieces in a person's home, or an email saying how much they love their piece, that's probably the most satisfying and exciting part of my job. I spend a lot of time with each piece before it goes out into the world and they are all so special to me. To see someone share that same appreciation and understanding of my work is really something indescribable. Working as a home accessory designer for so many years I was kind of numb to having my work in peoples homes in an anonymous way. But now, having someone choose specifically my work out of a pool of so many artists is truly special and humbling - I'm thankful for it every day.


What is your most treasured piece of jewellery in your jewellery box?

I have a few rings that belonged to my grandmother. They aren't fancy pieces, but every time I wear them I can picture them on her hands and they spark memories of my childhood.


Do you have any advice on how to turn your passion into a living?

Just keep going, and take the leap when you feel ready. I found that when I quit my job and gave my self no option for failure, I just made it work because I had to. Life is long, you might as well be doing what you love.


Shop our curated selection of Karen's pieces here.

See more of Karen's work here.