Kina Forney is an artist living in Ottawa, Canada. This is her second 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 Importance of Play

My favourite number is 3, and I tend to think of things in threes. Things don’t always feel complete unless they are in threes. 

Foreground, middleground, background. 

Day, afternoon, evening. 

Beginning, middle, end.

When I started out on my freelance artist journey, I continuously felt the pull to define what it was that I was doing. I have the tendency to spread in all directions; in thought, action and word. Having some kind of foundational code to work from has helped to focus and stay grounded.

I have narrowed down my practice to three essential elements. I used to think of it in terms of the actual output of my practice: Painting, Drawing and Teaching. Then as I embarked on different projects, those changed because inevitably the things I made would change. It shifted to Painting, Journals, and Streaming. I would divide my week up into these three sections, choosing days to focus on one area or another. In my effort to codify my actions, I got frustrated when I would wander from these things and get into a self-deprecating mood if I strayed. 

Today, I define my three core artistic practice values as Play, Teaching, and Design

Play is the root of the space I want to be in when I create. It can be painting, drawing, doodling, sculpting, scrapbooking… It’s the attempt to be in a beginner’s mindset when it comes to creativity. 

Teaching is the role I take when I am demonstrating a skill and sharing it with others. It may not actually be in the classroom, it could be through showing a work in progress through my stories online, the experience of making art alongside friends, or self-teaching through research, learning and study.

Design is the best word I can use to describe my more analytical, scheduled, disciplined side. (I wanted to call it “discipline” but I felt that was a bit too harsh of a term and comes with other connotations). The design state of mind is the one that plans, organizes, checks in, and keeps the chaotic side of me in check. It’s also the more business-like side, turning the works I do for fun into marketable, shareable items.

So after my intro blog post from last week, I wanted to spend each week looking at these ideas a little more closely, the first one being Play. 

Play is a notion that has developed over the past year since I started to plan my PLAY show. When I was deciding to wrap up my space and underwater series of paintings, I was having a lot of trouble deciding what to paint next. I continuously asked others what they liked about my existing work, which ones were their favourites, and what they would like to see more of. Based on these findings, I had lists upon lists of possible subjects to tackle. The more I asked, the less I wanted to actually work on these things. 

It wasn’t that these were bad ideas. Many of them were wonderful ideas and are subjects that I would have executed with skill and would have been quite happy with the results. The problem was that none of them actually inspired me to start. They felt like assignments, or chores. They felt like obligations instead of starting points to new and exciting projects. What I needed was a spark of inspiration that was mine and mine alone. Something to fuel the entire series. 

The problem was that I didn’t even know what I liked. Was I always creating for others? What did I want others to feel? What was I trying to say? What did I actually like? WHO AM I EVEN?! 

So thus started the personal journey of self discovery. This included reading more about other artists, listening to more podcasts by creatives and working with a coach. I realized that in order to create meaningful work, I needed to know more about myself and what was meaningful to me. 

When wanting to paint, but not wanting to commit to anything, I decided to do a still life study. I just felt like painting something – anything – that didn’t remind me of work or obligations or having to make money with my time. I grabbed my fisher price toy phone that lived in my studio as a prop for my live streaming channel on Twitch (an online platform for gamers and creatives to broadcast to a live audience.) It gave me a quick happy feeling to paint something colourful and familiar without having to do a bunch of research and give reasons for painting something. After posting it online, many people shared the memories they had of this same toy in their own childhood. I loved the personal stories shared after I posted it. I decided to paint more toys that I still had from my childhood and felt compelled to create a series.

I kept making toy paintings because they felt like a break; like they were just for fun. I focused less on the ‘why’ and became more aware of my process. There were no rules. I could use the toy paintings to explore hyperrealism, or as a means to go crazy with colours. 

I learned to be more present while creating because I wasn’t in a rush to meet some deadline. What was I listening to while painting? What was I thinking about? How did I feel while painting these? The meaning for each piece developed as I worked. It became more about the process and not so much about the end product. 

I think the real reason this series stuck was because it fired up all of my core values at once. 

(Play) The works of this series came directly from the heart. They were a result of actual play, of an experiment that was done for fun, just for myself, without any constraints or commitments. They were also literally studies of toys which reminded me of a place and time when I enjoyed playing full time as a child. 

(Teaching) At the time that I started this series, I was instructing a class on portrait painting. I was already in a space of learning new things to translate into something that could benefit others. In the portrait painting class, I was reminding my students of the importance of working from life to hone basic skills; something I had neglected for years as my subjects literally took off into space. Coming back to the roots of my painting practice – painting objects from life – helped keep my mind engaged and interested. 

(Design) This element is often the harshest critic in deciding whether or not to continue working on something. If it’s not profitable, I have a hard time continuing to justify spending time on it. Will painting my childhood toys be profitable? Will it be marketable? Well, the answer ended up being yes. In creating something that was true and meaningful to me, I ended up being able to connect with others. Learning that my work was not for everyone was crucial in understanding that in order to connect deeply with someone, you will inevitably NOT connect with others. So the “design” or “discipline” side of this series was that nostalgia was both meaningful and marketable. I was able to paint what I truly loved, and also make it sustainable since many others were interested in being part of it. I have since been able to sell originals, prints, stickers and other merchandise based on this series. 

So what is Play to me, and why is it important? Play is the beginner’s mindset. It’s letting yourself learn new things and make mistakes without judgment. Play is a space of understanding that you can try a variety of new things and not ever have to commit to any of them. It’s stopping the ‘time-is-money’ mentality and giving yourself space to breathe. It’s the purity of new ideas that come from experimentation and lack of fear of trying new things. It’s being able to make 1000 messes and find 5 masterpieces that couldn’t have been born without. Also, play is fun. So why not? Go play. 

I have a full description of my play series and its origins on my website,

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.

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