News: Artist Spotlight

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.


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).


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

Artist Spotlight: An Interview with Josh George

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A work by painter Josh George illustrates this issue’s story from Jonathan Nixon, “Anywhere We’ve Ever Wanted.” Smokelong art director Alexander C. Kafka asked George about his experiences and inspirations, then invited him to play word association.

First off, thanks so much for contributing to SmokeLong Quarterly. Tell me about yourself. How old are you? What kind of family do you come from? Where do you live? Where are you from? When did you figure out you wanted to be an artist?

I keep thinking I’m 35 but my blotchy skin, bald spot, and creaky joints remind me that I’m 45. I come from a totally normal middle-class suburban family. We were all creative. My mom painted, my dad plays guitar and sings, my brother makes a living as a musician, and my sister is a great dresser, has nice hair, and plays a mean tambourine. I was always supported in my creative pursuits and always encouraged to make a professional go at them. I grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. I went to art school there, got tired of seeing the same sights every day and was craving a more urban adventure, so I set off for New York City 18 years ago to wander the streets and paint city dwellers like my Ash Can heroes did. I knew I needed to make pictures at a young age when I drew demons and devils for my religious grandmother. She told me god gave me talent to draw fucked up stuff.

Much of your work is focused on the city and its dwellers. How did that come about?

I was never really interested in big, conceptual subject matter in my work. I am more interested in process, the narrative is not so important, though the city has so many stories and situations happening on every street corner and apartment. I like the textures and the never-ending nature of my surrounding city and I try to record the patterns and surfaces with an aggressive mixed-media approach. I like a sense of mystery in my mark making. I want to viewers to wonder, “How the hell did he do that?”

There’s such a feeling of bustle and busyness in your cityscapes. Is your mind like that? Always churning and zipping around? Or do you feel removed from your surroundings, more an observer, fascinated and distanced from the mayhem?

My mind is always jumping around and it gets frustrated because I can’t participate the way I used to in searching for an ideal life. Lately I have been doing urban aerial views that disappear into the horizon. I want to fly away from the city to the south of France and paint Hallmark Card landscapes of precious villages. So I guess I want both urban hustle and bustle and idealistic rural socialist living at the same time, including a two-hour nap each day.

You describe yourself as an urban realist. But you also have this whimsical side that comes out, especially, in your figure work. I’m thinking of paintings like Buddy Patrol, Giddyup Up Buttercup!, and The Wind Carried It in Its Belly, the City Nursed It. Those images still incorporate the city, but in a more mythical, ethereal vein. Can you explain to me the dichotomy between those two modes of work?

I say my work is not concept driven and is just a way to record my surroundings, but I do like storytelling even if there is no specific story. Holdovers for wanting to do comic books when I was younger maybe? But more likely I never get tired of painting my beautiful wife naked.

You paint in layers and include collage elements. For instance, in Giddy Up Buttercup!, it looks like we’re seeing some wallpaper or wrapping paper or some such integrated into the figure of the woman on the horse. What’s in there? How many layers? Do you make sketches, or under-paint, starting a work envisioning that kind of mix, or do you just kind of go with the creative flow of it as you work? Can you describe your process in a little more detail?

I plan out every image with some rough prototypes. I carry a sketchbook and draw for inspiration in planning works, I take a lot of photos and I invent a lot of imagery, since buildings are just shapes in perspective with a little bit of a light source. I do an under painting on wood panel then I collage over the entire surface with labels, wallpaper, ticket stubs, fabric, building up general forms in a controlled mess. I then paint over the collage elements with knifes, dragging and scrapping. Then I finish it all off with delicate brush work before a protective layer of varnish.

You’ve had a lot of gallery shows. Have you been able to make a living as an artist or have you worked simultaneous jobs?

So far so good. I’m in five different galleries around the country. I do a few solo shows a year and am involved in several group shows and a handful of art fairs. I have been teaching art now for 12 years.

What are your greatest inspirations?

Wine, death metal.

Who are your favorite artists?

Different each day but I always come back to Degas. I’m on a Ferenc Pinter and Henri Jean Guillaume Martin kick right now.

What’s your greatest fear?

Cancer, house burning down, alligators (or crocodiles).

What’s the dumbest thing you ever tried to do?

Become an artist and not a rock star.

Quick word association exercise. Don’t think—just write!


Shitty Marvel comics character


Nostradamus was full of shit and the people who believe him are idiots.


This country


Basil is my favorite scent perhaps of all time. Thyme is too.

Artist Spotlight: Ashley Inguanta

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Ashley Inguanta, a SmokeLong Quarterly contributing artist for seven years and its art director for six, will be stepping down from the art director role after this issue to concentrate on her art, writing, teaching, and yoga practice in Florida. Her latest poetry book, Bomb, was published last year. You can see her photographs here. Our current art director, Alexander C. Kafka, asked her about her experiences with SmokeLong and her plans.         (more…)

Artist Spotlight: Jessica Gawinski

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SmokeLong’s Art Director Ashley Inguanta sat down with artist and illustrator Jessica Gawinski to discuss the creative process and visual narratives. 


Tell me about your beginnings as an artist. The pull to create, what did it feel like? How did you nurture it?

Throughout childhood I loved to draw and create, but back then I never thought I’d choose it as a career.  Art was always just a part of my life that I enjoyed and never got tired of.  The art of storytelling has always been particularly influential to me, and probably what led me down my creative path.  I wanted to be a part of that world, to help create a narrative visually, and bring the world of imagination to life.  It wasn’t just the finished product that interested me, but also the creative process, how different artists approached problem solving with various techniques and ideas.  I owe a lot to my family, especially my parents, because they really nurtured my creativity.  They have always supported me as an artist, even if they didn’t always understand my choices at the time.  I’m truly blessed that they saw I had a passion for art and encouraged me to follow it.


As you grow with your art, how does creating help you move through the world? 

Creating is my response to the environment around me, and often reflects what interests me at that moment.  My time at art school has definitely exposed me to many other art practices, and has led me to appreciate different types of art, from the fine art that history venerates to “commercial” art that influences us every day. It’s a wonderful world of inspiration. Sometimes I just get the itch to paint something specific or try out a new technique or style.  Even if the result is terrible, I have to get it out of my system, and I always learn something that I can apply to the next piece I create.


Tell me about the most difficult piece you’ve ever created. How did it change you?

The first thing that comes to mind is a watercolor painting I did entitled “Bloom” [the cover art for Issue Fifty-One].  I think from the beginning I was afraid because I wasn’t that experienced with the medium and was scared of its permanence.  I couldn’t just erase a mistake or hit that convenient undo button like you can digitally.  At first I was really timid when applying my paint.  Slowly proceeding with very light washes seemed the safest way to go, but I knew I wanted to create rich jewel tones and dark waters, which would require bold painting and confident brushstrokes.  Once I got over my fears and began to paint with more confidence, I realized the medium was more forgiving than I thought, and my hesitant painting style was really hindering any emotive quality the painting had.  That piece challenged how I handled anxiety before starting something new, and taught me how to be more confident painting expressively; which I believe is reflected in my more current pieces.


“Witch” is an extraordinary piece–it’s playful, and in that playfulness we have a story. Maybe it’s one of rebellion (it looks like she’s sneaking out of her room at night), or one of freedom. What inspired this piece? 

"Witch" by Jessica Gawinski
“Witch” by Jessica Gawinski

That piece was actually for an inking class I recently took at school.  The only parameters were that it had to include a figure.  I hadn’t done anything playful in a while and wanted to do something fun. I have to admit I was most influenced by the season as far as the theme, as it was around Halloween time.  While I would encourage viewers to create their own story based on what they see in this piece, my own personal backstory for my characters is more or less one of coming of age.  I imagined a young witch went out one night with the intention of finding her very own companion (as she had noted that most respectable witches had one).  And to the bewilderment of the little black cat, she decided she found the perfect comrade!


If you could collaborate with one person, who would it be and why?

John Howe has always been a personal hero of mine, and if not collaborate with, I would love to be able to see him work in person.  While laboring to create works of fantasy and imagination, he takes great care to anchor fantasy with authenticity.  He’s not only an amazingly skilled artist, but he also has an incredible knowledge of the medieval world and Norse mythology, both of which I find fascinating.  He is a high-energy designer and that is reflected in his work.  Fantasy and mythology are subject matter I enjoy and want to incorporate into my future career as an artist.  His work has greatly influenced me and I would love to learn from him in person.



Jessica GawinskiJessica Gawinski is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration at Kendall College of Art and Design in Michigan. Her artwork has been displayed in various exhibitions, including the Society of Illustrators Student Scholarship Exhibition, has been auctioned off at charity events, and can be found in several private collections.

Artist Spotlight: Katelin Kinney

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SmokeLong’s Art Director Ashley Inguanta sat down with conceptual photographer Katelin Kinney to discuss process and new projects. 

I love the way your work translates concept into image. Can you tell me more about that process?

There are two ways that I go about conceptualizing an image. The first way is to start with an idea of the meaning behind the photo. “Seed of a Soul” is a good example. I had no idea what the visual tools were that I was going to use (model, roots, ground, flower, etc), but I knew I wanted to create an image centered around the idea that I believe every soul is born neither good nor bad, but neutral, and it is up to our own choices to grow our souls into something positive or negative. So I knew I had words like “grow” and “soul” floating around in my head. When I start with concepts I’ll sometimes just jot down any word that comes to mind that is associated with the mood or idea: grow, develop, life, experience, plant, pretty, calm, think, feel, thorn, flower, seed, etc. From those words I can start pulling image ideas that eventually come together to create my final photo.

The second way that I come about my photos is to be struck with a powerful visual. This could be a prop, model, a random image that comes to mind after listening to a song, anything. I may not know how to use this visual tool yet, but I think it’s powerful so I save it in the back of my mind for a rainy day. For instance I passed by an old abandoned house one day that was broken down in the middle. It just looked so odd, almost as if it was imploding right down the middle into two halves. Obviously I had to stop and take a photo of it, but I had no idea what to use it for. I don’t ever want to rush a concept. If I have a really cool visual and end up using it in just a pretty picture without any meaning or story behind it I feel as if I’ve just lost out on a great opportunity and cheated that prop/location/model out of being something more than just visually interesting. So looking at the house I began thinking up this story of what happened inside this house to create such destruction. Out of brainstorming this around for a while I came up with my image “Broken Home,” which many people have told me really speaks to them about their experience directly or indirectly with divorce. To me that is so much more satisfying than just posting a picture of a cool looking abandoned house.

Also, who are some of your favorite conceptual photographers?

There are so many, but some of my favorites that I regularly follow are Aaron Nace, the creator of Phlearn; Rob Woodcox, who is basically the top dog right now of conceptual surreal photography; Robert Cornelius, who is a great guy and awesome photographer that I got to meet and work with this past winter; Rosie Hardy, who creates flawlessly beautiful images and portraits; Alexa Sinclair from Australia creates such insanely detailed setups and images that are just inspiring; and Miss Anelia is a surreal fashion photographer that also creates some pretty elaborate set ups.

What projects are you currently working on?

Well, I started a 365 project last September, but I’ve sort of fallen off the bandwagon with that one, ha ha. I do fully intend to finish my 365 project, but I may end up being a couple months late on the deadline. Creating one photo every day is pretty tough when you put in hours of photoshop on each one. I’m currently around number 160. Aside from that I’m pursuing a career in advertising, which is where I’ve always wanted my photography to go. I’m interning currently at an agency in Cincinnati, Ohio for the summer and learning quite a lot about the structure of the advertising agency world. Archive is a great magazine that gathers the top advertising images from around the world. So many surreal and conceptual works are in there and that is a huge inspiration to see these artists being paid to create such great work.


Seed of a Soul by Katelyn Kinney.
Seed of a Soul by Katelyn Kinney.

If you could collaborate with one artist, who would it be and why?

It would honestly probably be a director or videographer. I don’t really follow anyone specific in that field, but I’ve always loved music videos and films. When I watch a movie I’m not only taking in the story, but I pay really close attention to the angles, lighting, movement, and cuts of the scenes. Those aspects are just as important if not more so for creating the mood and escapism of movies and videos. So directors and anyone in the video/film genre are people I very much admire.

Artist Spotlight: Karen Prosen

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How would you describe your art? 

Absent-mindfulness patterns paired with uninformed experiments on shading and the female form.

When did you understand that you wanted to pursue art? Tell me about this discovery.

Unfortunately, not until I was in college when I started with photography. I credit Ralph Giunta and Troy Ansley with teaching me to use film cameras that led to years of independent study on light and composition. It was a really special time in my life. Truthfully, before that, I was never really encouraged to express or create. I’ve since made it a point to share any of my skills with at-risk adolescents. They need art more than anyone

Where might a piece begin? How might a piece take shape?

I typically see flashes of patterns when my eyes are closed and have recently been dreaming about things I’d like to draw. I typically find an image of the type of woman that I’m attracted to, to create the foreground. A finished piece never ends up how I imagined it to, however!

Who are some of your favorite artists?

Charmaine Olivia, Ryan Hewett, Rachel Urquhart

Tell me about the wildest piece you’ve done.

I’m thinking probably this intricate stenciled patterning of bears that took me foreverrrrrrrrrrrrr!

If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be and why? Tell me about the project you two would create.

There is a young film photographer from Moscow named Alex Mazurov who tends to leave a lot of space in his images. I’d love to input patterns into the backgrounds of his photos!

Are you working on any new projects?

I just got over a huge blockage by trying oil painting for the first time! So I’m currently teaching myself to translate my style of shading into painting with color. I expect a series of portraits in the next coming months!

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Only, thank you.

Karen Prosen is a 25 year old Northern California based photographer/artist (, hypnotherapist ( and graduate student. She has been taking photos for seven years and began sketching only two years ago. Her primary mediums are film and micron pens. She loves thai food, headstands, naps and wants to see your art too!