Ricky Alvarez: Designer, Tinto Creative

One brisk, early spring morning, I make my way just past Chinatown to chat with installation artist Ricky Alvarez, founder and owner of Tinto Creative. Ricky creates custom art pieces for shops, restaurants, galleries and offices, and you can find his work scattered throughout the city: At Revolver coffee, a mural dons the of three world maps made using thousands of nails, or Clough Club's infinite doorway in their back room. Most recently, he's completed several large projects for a number of new Earls restaurants, popping up in both Canada and the U.S.

As I turn the corner of Main and Gore Ave., the buildings get more rugged and suddenly I feel like I’m in a different city. Once at the office front, Ricky comes out, greets me warmly and introduces me to the many creative faces with whom he shares the studio space. At the moment, he’s working on a piece for the city’s Ted Talks: he’s welded metal together to craft the Ted logo,  which will have several fluorescent strips of flagging tape attached from it - to the corner of the convention centre, where it will live for the week. He talks of how his early love of window displays eventually led him to pursue his work and make it into a full-time job. 

When did you know you wanted to run your own company? 

“I’ve been creative person since I was 17 years-old, creating window displays for Roots, and continued to do window displays work for different boutiques after that. It was the perfect balance between art and commerce, and allowed me to express myself creatively within a public venue.”

You also worked in the restaurant industry. What made to decide to leave? 

“Since I was 18-years-old I’ve always been working at a bar or a restaurant. The energy spent serving was taking energy away from my work, which was taking away from my career. It started to feel like a time waster and a drain. That’s when the flip happened: I saw [serving] as the second most important job, and that’s when I knew I needed to make the shift.”

What helped you to make the transition? 

“I set myself a goal of when I was going to leave, registered my company and created a name for it. I started coming to my studio every single day at 11 a.m., to get into a routine. I was able to be creative consistently instead of have it be forced. After that everything started to happen and work started coming in.”

What do you miss most about working in restaurants? 

“What I miss most is having a family and spending time with those people every day, I also miss always having cash on hand. Now that I run my own business I have to pay for all the expenses for every project out of pocket 

What/where/who inspires you?

“I recently stopped reading design blogs, I’m now more honest with myself and more focused on the process of my work rather than the end result. Processes and materials really inspire me.” I daydream a lot, and there a lot of ideas which stay in my head, and they always get used eventually. There’s no such thing as a bad idea.”

What are some of the challenges of being self-employed? 

“I definitely have ruts. Creativity doesn’t happen on a daily basis. Some days I will be here until midnight. You have to strike the air while it’s hot.”

What does an average day look like for you?

“I like taking public transit to work, I enjoy the transition from A to B. I always look at my Instagram feed while on the bus, get off three stops early, and go to the Brixton to get coffee. I love to walk through Chinatown, it reminds me of Mexico city. It’s authentic and I love the roughness.”

What is your advice to those wishing to pursue their own creative careers?

“Treat yourself as a professional and everything will fall into place, and people will treat you as a professional.”  

Can you elaborate on that? 

"The difference between an amateur and a professional: When someone asks you, ‘what’s your rate?’ an amateur would reply, ‘Uhh, what do you think is fair, etc,’ and a professional would know their fee with confidence.  You must take yourself seriously - no favours, treat your craft as legitimate and not just as a hobby.”



To see Ricky's projects and keep up to date with what he's working on, check out his website http://tintocreative.com or follow him on Instagram @en_ricky