Kelly Quinn is a passionate and talented Tampa artist who focuses on wildlife education, local plants and animals, and conservation art. Her work can be seen online at her popular Instagram account Kelly of the Wild, her website by the same name, at local art shows, and at The Florida Aquarium located in Tampa. In fact, she is the artist in residence at The Florida Aquarium! You can even catch the Paint For The Wild art classes she teaches in some of our local Parks and Preserves. She regularly teaches at Weedon Island Preserve, Brooker Creek Preserve, and Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.
You can purchase her artwork on her website, kellyofthewild.com and learn more about the inspirations behind her mission to connect people to nature through art. She offers canvases, glassware, t-shirts, stickers, and even yoga leggings! The gorgeous prints on these leggings are sure to make you the envy of everyone in your yoga class, so if you wear them out get ready to answer a cacophony of “where did you get those!?”.
Kelly has one of those magnetic personalities and an unbridled enthusiasm for life that is absolutely infectious. She is open about her process, her passion, and her work in a refreshing and beautiful way. She is creating wonderful conservation art of, in, and for Tampa, and she is always excited to talk about it!
Thanks for talking to Just Guava! Can you start by telling us, what is conservation art?
Conservation art at it’s core is art inspired by nature, and created to build awareness around environmental issues. It’s the reason we have Yellowstone National Park (Our first park)! If it hadn’t been for the photographer William Henry Jackson and the painter Thomas Moran, who brought back and created the imagery that inspired a nation to protect it’s wild and beautiful places, we may not have these wonderful spaces today. Conservation art and science go hand in hand, and science without imagery to communicate to the public is left handicapped, and that is the ultimate role of conservation art, to be a tool that communicates conservation to people.
What does the Artist in Residence at the Florida Aquarium do?
The program started out as an artist regularly visiting the aquarium to live paint and entertain guests, as well as creating artwork that would support the Aquariums mission to protect and educate on our blue planet. Since then, we are implementing art classes for guests to enjoy, planning to utilize their gallery space in the near future of art events, and creating a repertoire of scientific illustrations for the aquarium to use in educational material!
How did your passion for wildlife art begin?
You might get a whole book on this question! The short story is my passion for nature began when I was a little girl growing up in Central Florida, where my family lived on land surrounded by untouched forests and swamps protected by conservation. I would spend everyday outside, amercing myself in nature by animal watching, kayaking, and sketching the things I saw. I loved my home, and as grew up I began to see the affect people can have on these beautiful places first hand. Which is why I began painting the animals and landscapes I loved, to preserve them in paint. As graduated from college though, my best friend and love of my life, Blake Wheeler, pushed me to pursue my passion for nature and art, which led to my path today!
What is your favorite subject to paint?
Favorite subject? There’s too many! But if I have to narrow it down, my top three favorites are Gators, Sharks, and Sea Turtles. I have always been attracted to the predators specifically, because I find they need more love and positive light because of the misconception many people have around them. Sea Turtle are just plain adorable, and are so personable below the sea, I just fell in love with them and their plight.
“Wildlife artist” isn’t a job title you hear every day, did you have any role models? Or was this a path you blazed for yourself?
I have always looked up to artists like Thomas Moran & Robert Bateman, and photographers like Paul Nicklen and Clyde Butcher. But the one who truly inspired me to pursue my passion for art and conservation was Blake Wheeler. He showed me how you can create the life you want, and not just dream about it. He believed in me before anyone else, and I know I may not have had the courage to take that first step without him, he continues to be my partner in everything today.
Where are your favorite places in Tampa to paint?
I love painting at The Florida Aquarium, Blick Art Materials, and all of the local parks and preserves! The Florida Aquarium is always fun because I’m surrounded by people who are as passionate about nature as I am, and the guests are always such a pleasure to be around. At Blick, I’m always meeting new artists, and love to help them learn new techniques!
What is something that everyone should know about conservation?
Everyone should know that your voice matters, and even though the problems our planet and wild places face are dire, they can still be turned around if only we care and use our voice to serve nature.
What is something that everyone should know about Tampa?
Tampa has a lot of wild places if you know where to look! One of my favorite places to visit is Lettuce Lake Park, a large protected area in North Tampa! There are also lots of small businesses with amazing people running them, like Fancy Free Nursery and Island Breads!
What is something that you have always wanted to tell people, but that you haven’t been asked?
A question that I haven’t been asked yet is the purpose of Paint for the Wild. Blake and I co-founded PFTW to connect people to nature and support local conservation through art. At every class, we make sure the experience is memorable, with rescued animals visiting our guests, complimentary food and refreshments, and one on one instruction time between steps. Then at the end of each class, we donate funds raised from the class directly to the park or preserve for their projects and initiatives. Soon we will be bringing more artists on too!
What is wild about you?
I think everyone has a little bit of wild in them if they’re open to seeing it! I’m wild in the sense that I love to be in nature, amerced in it, and living by it. I’m happier in the middle of “who knows where” surrounded by alligators in my kayak, and covered in dirt, then I am in high heels and a dress in the middle of SOHO. Nature is my sanctuary, where I really feel at home, and I want to share that with as many people as possible, so many generations after myself a little girl will feel that exact same sentiment.
I believe people can trick themselves into thinking we are so far evolved and advanced from other beings on our planet and the wild places they live in, but the reality is we really aren’t any different. We depend on wild open spaces as much as any other living thing, we just adapt to our surroundings and mold them unlike any other being on this planet. We need to remember to stay connected to nature and let it back into our lives because it balances you mentally, physically, and spiritually.