Artist Spotlight: The Unusual, Extraordinary Worlds of Cindy Fan

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Cindy Fan is the cover artist for SmokeLong Issue 61. Fan is a Toronto-based artist who studied Illustration at OCAD University. Her work takes inspiration from poetry, mythology, urban legends, folklore, flash fiction, and other forms of creative storytelling. She uses elements from her stream of consciousness to create ambiguous, dreamlike realities, painting her work digitally while incorporating a diverse array of textures to achieve a rich, atmospheric quality. She discussed her background and visual imagination with SmokeLong’s art director, Alexander C. Kafka.

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How old are you and where did you grow up?

I am 23 years old. I was born in Szechuan, China but immigrated to Canada when I was 6 years old. I grew up in and around Ontario. I currently live in the greater Toronto area.

Can you tell me about your family?

Both my parents left a comfortable life and well-paying careers in China to come to Canada in the early 2000s when they found out their immigration application had been accepted. I never really figured out exactly why they chose to leave, but I think it was out of a mixture of thrill seeking and wanting a different experience as well as possibly a better life for me. They faced various struggles and regrets at first but eventually found their footing. No matter what, they have always been very loving and supportive of my dreams.

When did you first become interested in art?

Before I can even remember. I was extremely young. But I began seriously pursuing art during high school.

The Performer by Cindy Fan

Do you primarily work in digital media?

Yes, I enjoy the versatility and convenience of working digitally. That said, I usually start illustrations off through analog either in graphite or watercolor and try to retain some of those lines and textures in the finalized versions. I also enjoy acrylic. I’ve been told that I have a very distinct way of using brushstrokes and a lot of my analog paintings resemble my digital ones. I like doing analog when pursuing pieces that are more gestural and expressive while working digitally for pieces that require more detail.

What are your favorite themes and subjects?

My favorite themes are anything to do with the idea of adventure and mystery. I love stories that explore places and worlds that are unique, unknown, and full of weird things. I also love looking into the different ways people interact with the world and creating illustrations inspired by that.

Who are your biggest influences?

I would say Yuko Shimizu, James Jean, and Christina Mrozik have definitely played a role in inspiring me stylistically as well as to always be improving and practicing my craft.

Rebirth by Cindy Fan

There is a lot of interplay in your work between people and nature and machines—whimsical combinations of fairy-tale type images, cyborg, steampunk, and erotic fantasy. How did that aesthetic develop for you?

Hmm, it’s hard to pinpoint. I guess I am very much drawn to the human figure as well as the beauty of decay and abandonment. A visual that I always seem to gravitate to is that of architecture and technology being overtaken by nature. I love images of abandoned buildings, statues and objects being enveloped by vines, dirt and flora. Additionally, throughout my teenage years, I consumed a lot of sci-fi and fantasy content because I loved being transported to unusual, extraordinary worlds and some of that aesthetic is also incorporated into my work.

Are your dreams like your images?

I have very vivid and sometimes frightening dreams and will draw influences from them for specific objects in my work or as a base mood or setting that I want to work from. However, my compositions mostly come from trial and error and just creating a lot of preliminary sketches. I’ve never really tried creating an illustration based purely on my dreams.

Which do you like better—single illustration images or GIFs and narrative graphic stories?

Although I mainly produce single illustration images, I like to dabble in all three types because I enjoy the variation in approaches. I usually like to work on two different projects at once. For this reason, there isn’t a concrete preference for a single format and it ultimately depends on how I am feeling at the time.

Sexual Magic by Cindy Fan

What are your current projects?

I am working on preparing some of my pieces for an upcoming local exhibition in addition to creating some new illustrations and possibly working on an upcoming zine.

If someone gave you $10 million, how would you spend it?

Well, first I would convert it all into dollar bills and make a money fort or at least some sort of money pile and just throw it all around. And then I’d probably spend it on housing, traveling, events, and helping support content and art that I enjoy.

Do you have other creative pursuits besides art?

Yes, I enjoy writing free-form poetry. I don’t think it’s very good by any means but it’s a nice way for me to lay out my thoughts and relax if I’m having a stressful day.

What do you do in your free time?

I enjoy hiking, reading, and watching a diverse assortment of movies and TV as well as playing video games (though I have significantly less time for that now than I used to).

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The artwork included in this interview is the property of Cindy Fan and may not be used without permission of the artist.