One of my first digitally coloured drawings of an original character, using Photoshop.

Kina Forney is an artist living in Ottawa, Canada. This is her fourth installment in a 4-part series as Artist Strong’s Artist in Residence. You see the art she creates on Instagram @kinaink. Visit her website and subscribe to Studio Updates at

On the Discipline of Design

My third core value to my practice is design. I chose the word design because it was the closest thing I could think of that could wrap up the technical side of my practice. 

The term “design” in the context of my third core value can be broken down into a few elements: my digital art practice, merchandise creation, and marketing. 

I still vividly remember my first experience using digital art (and maybe some of you other millennials can relate to this). We were extremely privileged to have a desktop computer in our home in the early 90s. My dad worked at a company that enabled him to work on them and bring them home.

I remember becoming a pro at using Windows at the ripe old age of 5 in 1990. I very quickly found MS Paint and would create digital works of art with pixelated shapes and lines. I was really lucky that my parents encouraged me to pursue art, and I had help acquiring Photoshop as well as a graphics tablet when I was 13. 

I quickly became completely engulfed by the digital art world, uploading my works to the internet under my pseudonym, Kina Alexander (my maiden name is Christina de Grasse and my parents said I couldn’t use my real name on the internet until I was 18, probably not a bad idea). I began to get very simple commission requests for digital illustrations, logo ideas and simple website requests.

I didn’t know at the time that I was building the foundation for my career and not just doodling around on the computer as a hobby. I learned to communicate with clients (friends and family) about design projects (craft sale flyers and small business cards) and discuss compensation (a few bucks or maybe some gift cards). 

A sticker design including an octopus and owl and a label of Kina Ink

A sticker logo design I created to give away as a promotional item at art shows.

When I look at my art practice today, it’s hard to imagine what it would have been like were it not for my roots in technology. I sometimes try to be a purist and say that I have “matured” into primarily a traditional painter, but I am much more multifaceted than that. To deny my upbringing in the digital art world would discredit all of the experiences and people I learned from along the way.

I still get sucked back into the digital art world and go on tangents playing around with code, mocking up designs in Photoshop all the while ignoring my art studio and paint brushes. I’ve learned recently that I will always cycle back; that one aspect of my practice always needs to take a break to let another one thrive.

Instead of thinking in binary terms of only being a digital or a traditional artist, I’ve learned how to use one to enhance the other. My traditional art is something that takes a painstaking amount of time to create the levels of detail that I feel make it complete.

My digital art practice helped turn my paintings into more accessible items such as pin-backed buttons, magnets, greeting cards, handmade bookmarks, journals, art prints, and stickers. It’s a great way to keep passive income flowing during those seasons where your paintings aren’t flying off the shelves. Walls. Whatever. When people can’t afford a $3000 original oil painting, they can usually afford a $3 sticker and still feel like they are supporting you. 

A spread of promotional graphics including brochures and business cards for a small business

Brochure graphics I created for a small design business I started with my husband in 2009.

Next, we get to the concept of “marketing.” Almost every artist I’ve ever met loathes the idea of talking about their own work, least of all themselves. Why is that? In order to become an artist, you need humility. Humility to have the patience and persistence to keep trying a skill that you likely really suck at until you get a little better, and maybe someday master it.

This beginner’s mindset is necessary to improve your own skill set, but it gets in the way when you are required to harness that ego and start shouting out to the world about what you do, not to mention that you’d kind of maybe really like to be compensated for it. 

Marketing and social media are important tools for letting the world know about what you do, but it’s so easy to get wrapped up in your follows, likes, and sales. It’s definitely an entire topic in itself. You will undoubtedly find artists online that you admire, and there is a fine line between admiring someone’s work, and comparing yourself to them and their practice. This is still something I struggle a LOT with. Is there even room for me on the internet? There are so many artists out there that are so much better than me. Why do I even bother?

An illustration of a mother fox guarding three fox pups with a decorative illustrated background

This is a sticker design I submitted for an art contest. I had the stickers printed and sold them at art shows.

I think all of it comes down to the fact that you need to embrace your roots, where you came from, and what made you what you are today. Sometimes I try to deny my obsession with technology, digital art, video games and animation, until I realize that they informed my dynamic use of colour and character creation, not to mention exposing me to a huge community of like minded people.

No other artist has the same background as you or me, and that is what will make you stand out; not how well you render a portrait painting or how nicely you framed some prints. What matters is that you show up as yourself because it’s you that they remember.

I’ve really enjoyed these Artist Residency blogs because they’ve given me the opportunity for a lot of introspection. How do I explain who I am and what it is that I do to a complete stranger? How do I make it relatable? What experiences do I remember that are worth sharing? I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve enjoyed making them for you. <3

Every month, 1-3 artists show up in our Artist Strong community to share their artistic process, journey, explorations with us over the course of a month.

The goal is to normalize the MANY, VARIED experiences of being an artist.

And if YOU  want to apply to be an Artist Strong Artist Resident, subscribe to our weekly updates to hear about the next time applications are open.

Carrie here with a sincere thank you to Kina for her willingness to reflect and share both her enthusiasm for art as well as the vulnerabilities we all face. Today the one phrase that I leave with is “why bother?” I’ve heard SO many people in this community ask that very question and I hope Kina’s own reflection and answer today normalizes the unique and varied ways we all make our art <3