When kenT reached out and introduced his work to us, I was thrilled. He had created unique ways to show off our love of fitness yet it didn't smell like a sweaty box and and would also be a great conversation starter. You know how we like to talk about our passion . . . and this would be covert to most eyes.
After doing some research I was very impressed by the work he had done and the exposure he received through collaboration with big brands like CB2 and lululemon. I was excited we would have the opportunity to expose our community to more of his work. You can check out his full collection on our site here
Now get to know kenT youngstrom as we sat down and asked him a few questions:
1. What or who inspired you to pursue a career as an artist?
i’m kenT, and i’m an artist. but not the tortured kind.
i think i’ve always been an artist. at least since people in social settings started introducing themselves and asking me what i do. but i was way too scared to say it so simply. i struggled to tell people who i was and what i did. i felt so compelled to validate myself that i crammed everything i had ever done or wanted to do into my basic description. i would probe into what i thought someone might need me to be before giving a full answer.
it often went something like, “i’m a graphic artist with a background in interior design, exhibit fabrication, painting, set design, marketing, and branding.” a long-winded, confusing, and skeptical description of a design superhero. a sort of captain brand o’ maker.
i had been painting for quite some time and had sold a few pieces to friends and family members, as well as participated in a couple of local shows. to be honest, most of my work was hanging in my own home or stashed away in the garage i occasionally used as a place to paint. i would fulfill a commission now and then, but honestly never answered the dreaded “what do you do?” question with “i’m an artist.” even my neighborhood friends struggled to understood what kenT did for a living.
i started super small-scale. super sketch. it was often intimidating. one small school fundraising show led to another. then a gallery show. and before long i was selling paintings to more than friends, family, and a handful of local fans.
local sales turned into national sales. national sales turned into licensing deals. bulk orders from national retailers came knocking, along with flash sales at various .coms, pops-ups in people magazine, and flattering attention from a couple of those “home makeover” reality tv shows.
one day, i woke up and realized, “huh … guess i’m a full-time artist, now.” whoa! there i was. an artist.
if only it were that easy. you know. . . meet someone. fall in love. live happily ever after. or in this case, meet someone. have them assist you along the way. soon you are off and doing what you love to do everyday.
i could fill a book with stories of both success and failure, as well as busts that through no fault of my own turned into an accidental success. it would include winning a blue ribbon for best booth, but not selling one item at the first art show i ever attended, or forgetting i was the live entertainment at a wedding and nearly missing the event entirely. in fact i did fill a small book with such stories. it would be a guide as to how i went from selling at one small school show to national sales, licensing deals, works in national publications, and more. i continue to learn every single day.
your dream is delightfully do-able. this is one of my favorite quotes on a set of art prints i collaborated on with the supremely talented writer alexandra franzen. do-able. perhaps not a proper word, but it captures the most important part of your dream.
it’s the do-ing.
dreams are easy. i have lots of them.
unfortunately i didn’t put in the time to learnt to hit the curve ball, no one wants to hear me sing or see me dance, and i’ve been told i’m too nice to be on reality tv. i could work on those things over and over again, but churning that type of cream repeatedly would never produce any butter. to be honest, all the quotes on hard work and hustling look great on your wall or in your social media feed, but they will not make you a pop star either. i know a lot of hard working people that struggle mightily. you may be one of them. at times, i am too.
as i stood and chatted with folks at those first art shows about what i paint, why i paint, and how i paint, i realized something. if i wanted to be an artist, i needed to be an artist. it was about be-ing. not just do-ing.
is there a difference?
i think so. i can “do things” all day long. i can make lists. i can do invoicing. i can do packing and shipping. i can do the laundry. that however, does not make me an organizer, an accountant, a shipper, or a dry cleaner.
if you want to be an artist, a maker, a creator, or a fill in the blank, you have to be one with everything you have. it is not a job. it is who and what you are. it is your obsession. if you want people to be so obsessed with what you do that they are willing to pay anything for it, you sure as heck had better be over the edge, strung out on exhilaration, and obsessed with what you do.
2. What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
the challenge. - making the client fall in love with something they are willing to pay their hard earned money for.
for this reason i trick my own mind and always paint two canvas’s when i am working on a commission. this lets my mind think it’s okay to make a mistake and my thought process along with my brush strokes move much more fluidly.
the pleasure - the joy you see when the do fall in love.
3. How did the fitness + canvas artwork come to fruition?
i seem to be one of those that if i jump into something it is with both feet, without hesitation, and with a fairly determined first step. i however, don’t want to be characterized so much as a cross fitter’er but as someone who takes care of himself, works out, eats right + plays right. throw in some futbol, a hike, a trail ride or just about anything and i’m ready to go.
i call it an art work out or an artwork out. take it either way. it really is just art made while performing various exercises while using work out equipment as a paint brush.
it is a series of paintings based on crossfit workout movements, such as jump rope double under’s, burpees, slam balls, hand release push ups and kettle bell swings.
it is a caffeine laden, high intensity sampling of the jarring collision between art + repetitive movement.
a mix of crossfit® + canvas…
it was at the crossfit box at crossfit weddington when i stood bent over like a table tent card, sweat dripping like a leaky faucet onto my shoes as my hands clung to my shorts and my breath slowly creeping back into me that i envisioned the perspiration as spattering paint that something clicked. i smiled + looked around to realized that no one else was thinking the same thing. and then i did another set.
there were a few rounds of trial and error. thick paint? thin paint? which items leave the best mark on canvas? which one’s look best on film?
for the initial concept i gathered several different types of substrate to figure out what worked best. canvas in the traditional sense that you would purchase already stretched and ready to go from an art store was out because the force of equipment would shatter the frames. i ended up going with canvas on rolls that i would later stretch over a frame as well as thin plywood panels i could make frames for after they were painted.
4. What is your most memorable creative experience?
the cool artistic answer is . . . the next one, but really for me the memorable experiences are when something is brand new for me. a new material, a new technique, a new discovery. the first time i used dried blobs of paint for texture. discovering molding paste and oil pastels, shipping out my first order of 300 paintings for cb2.com, the first time i dropped a slam ball in a puddle of paint.
5. What is your present state of mind?
anxious. always anxious. it is a continuous effort on my part to stay present - to not look forward to the next thing, but to enjoy the moment, enjoy the journey.
6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
see above. perfection is present. aware of the moment, embracing it and having the presence and confidence to know whether to be still or to act. or winning the lottery and not having to answer questions about why i do what i do.