My Tucson: Artist Carly Quinn

Carly Quinn of Carly Quinn Designs dishes on Tucson favorites and the local art scene

Carly Quinn, a tile artist and shop owner, dishes on life in artistic and outdoorsy Tucson, also telling us where she likes to eat, shop and play in the city:

What brought you to Tucson?

I was going to college in Savannah (Ga.) on a scholarship for fine arts. The scholarship ran out and I was homesick for Arizona. I had never been to Tucson but I found The Art Center Design College (now Southwest University of Visual Arts) down here and decided to transfer my credits over to finish up my degree.

What is the local art community like?

Tucson's art scene is thriving, in my opinion. My studio and retail shop are both in the heart of the Historic Warehouse Arts District on 6th Avenue and 7th Street, so I am constantly surrounded by artists of all genres with tremendous talent. It's a real, unpretentious, tight-knit community, full of quirky people that are making art because they really LOVE making art.

What has been your proudest moment as an artist?

I have been an artist my entire life and, up to this point, my proudest moment was when I got up the courage to quit my full-time job and start my own business. I had enough money to put down my first month’s rent on my studio and buy enough supplies to make a couple tile murals ... that was three and a half years ago. Today, I am my own boss; I make a living doing what I love; I employ five extremely talented people in my studio and gallery, and we are growing by leaps and bounds every single day. 

Carly Quinn
(©Jimi Giannatti)

Explain your work?

I make original and one-of-a-kind, hand-glazed tile murals using an Old World technique called "Cuerda Seca." This is a Moorish technique of decorating tiles with wax and glaze that originated in the 1500s. My designs are all original and based off of cultural influences. Each design is drawn on a blank tile by hand, using wax resist. Once the wax dries, ceramic glazes that have a silica base are painted onto the tiles. The tiles dry for 24 hours before being fired in our kilns at over 1850 degrees. The firing process takes over 24 hours from start to cool-down; the finished product is an impermeable glazed work of art.

On your days off, what do you enjoy doing most in Tucson?

Hiking up one of our many beautiful mountain ranges. I love watching the flora and fauna of the desert give way to junipers and scrub oak as you get a little higher. Then to ponderosa pines as you climb higher and higher.

Other than the art community, what makes Tucson stand out as a city in your mind?

I love the fact that Tucson is a sustainable and progressive city with a focus on locavorism. There are a lot of options that we have as Tucsonans to cohabitate with our natural desert surroundings, whether it be our extensive bike routes throughout the city, our many farmers markets, community classes on water harvesting, local mesquite millings, community gardens—the list goes on and on. I have also come to really enjoy the Sonoran Desert. It is a very special and spiritual place that has a lot to give.

Carly Quinn's Perfect Day ...


Start the morning off early with a hike up to Mount Kimball via Finger Rock trail and have a couple of snacks under the oaks and pines before heading back down.


Make a quick stop at Time Market to grab some sandwiches (best in town!) to bring home and take a little afternoon nap to recharge.


Take a short walk to the Streetcar, hop on and take it to 4th Avenue. Walk to Tap & Bottle to meet up with a few friends over a couple of beers. Hop back on the Streetcar to Agustin Kitchen in Mercado San Agustin, where we would sit outside and enjoy our dinner in the courtyard before jumping back on the streetcar to Hotel Congress to catch a local act before heading home. 

Carly's Tucson Favorites ...

Favorite breakfast spot: Cup Cafe has a great breakfast menu that can be enjoyed on their wonderful outdoor patio.

Favorite coffee shop: My neighbors, Exo Roast Co., make a really tasty Americano. Locally roasted (they roast everything right in the shop!), ethically sourced coffees with regional ingredients—like the mesquite Toddy—make for some unique drinks that you will only find in Tucson.

Favorite dinner spot: Maynards Market & Kitchen is my favorite, not only because the food is wonderful, but sitting at the bar eating oysters and sipping on a wonderful glass of wine while chatting with the bartender (Eddie) is something my husband and I have been doing for quite some time, so there is a lot of nostalgia to it for me.

Favorite place for cocktails: Scott & Co. is a tiny little place with some of the best cocktails around. It's small—if you get in early enough you can get a spot at the bar and watch the bartenders work their magic.

Favorite nightlife area: The 4th Avenue and Congress Street areas of downtown are my go-to spots for nightlife. I love catching an old-school local act at Che's on the back patio, or seeing a much-anticipated show at The Rialto with a bunch of friends. We have a strong connection to the music scene in this city, so it's almost guaranteed that if we go out we are going to see a band that we are intimately familiar with and good friends out and about.

Favorite place to watch the sunrise/sunset: Sunsets are best at Saguaro National Park on the east side. If you can hike in just a bit and find a nice boulder to sit up on, you can get a view of the sun setting over the entire city. During monsoon season it has to be one of the most spectacular natural occurrences in the Southwest.

Favorite day trip: Visiting wine country in Sonoita is always fun. It's a short drive from Tucson and there are quite a few wineries in the area that are producing some good wines. The views of the rolling grasslands are spectacular.

Favorite outdoors adventure: Driving up to the top of Mount Lemmon makes for a great day trip. It's a short drive, and in the middle of summer you can hike the ‘Wilderness of Rocks’ trail and jump into some pools of water! There are also plenty of spots to get a little rock climbing in.

Favorite shops/plazas: I love The Lost Barrio. Unique items, both imported and crafted by local artists, can be found in one of the many warehouse-sized shops.