Art Talk with Michael Cina

CBP Artist Q&A: Michael Cina

We adore the work of abstract painter and graphic designer Michael Cina. The Twin Cities-based creative has built a respectable career, creating work for such major clients as Facebook, Disney, Pepsi, Coke, HP, USA, Nike, Mazda and many more, as well as co-founding the largest online resource for graphic designers, YouWorkForThem. An early pioneer of the internet, Cina was one of the first designers to create the trend of online portfolios, and was a leader in the early days of web design–he even designed MTV’s first website! Always an artist at heart, Cina has been focusing his energy over the past few years on his physical works of art. These works are also representational of who he is as a graphic designer, pulling in his thoughtful use of color and negative space, but in a more fluid, organic way. We love the idea of a digital artist also expanding into the physical realm, and Cina has definitely done that effortlessly. His paintings have graced dozens of album covers for the likes of famed record label Ghostly International and others, and his works are highly sought after by collectors worldwide.

We caught up with Cina to talk about his work, his online presence, and his thoughts on the digital world today…

We love your abstract paintings. What is your process?

Each painting is a different process. I like to explore. Normally I need to take a break and I start sorting out an idea that I have had looming in my head for a bit. It may start with a sketch, finding the right surface to paint or draw on, it could be erasing a piece that is in progress and doing something new on it.

Normally it takes me 1 hour to mix the paints. This is probably the hardest part of the process. The rest kind of just happens. I often just ‘start’ and see where the work takes me.

How do you think your experience as a graphic designer lends to your painting work?

It is all ideas and form in the end. Very few visual people I know only like only graphic design or art or photography or architecture or product design or… In a sense, they are all the same. I have always been in the arts and really concentrated on design for a long time in my career. Through a series of events, I started sketching regularly and then painting regularly.

You do a lot of art direction for the Ghostly International record label. What has been your favorite project for them thus far?

The new Matthew Dear was a lot of fun because the main objective was to paint a portrait. I knew what I was going for, something a bit darker and “off.” The process of creating the cover soon became a short movie shot in NYC. Then there were 4 singles off the record that needed covers.

I got to paint my first painting with my son, Solomon and we used it for the Her Fantasy cover. The video for that single prompted two 18’x4′ pieces that were used as a backdrop for Matthew. I ended up creating a custom font for the cover and credits because nothing else was working right. The backdrops were cut up and used as images for the back cover and inside sleeves. It was a very abstractly fluid process.

Matthew Dear Portrait/"Beams" Album Cover

You were a trailblazer in the realm of web design, back when the internet was in its infancy. Back then, did you ever imagine it to be what it’s become today?

The web is a bit more utilitarian than I imagined but yeah, a lot of us expected full commerce, news, video, etc. I expected that the arts would also flourish online but that never really took off as much as I pictured. You could see the potential pretty clearly even back in the mid 90’s.

How do you think the internet/social media has impacted your art sales and general awareness of you as an artist as opposed to a graphic designer?

As a graphic designer, my work was well known and I have always seen a high level of respect for my work. As an artist, my work took off like wildfire. I have pieces that have been reblogged over 200,000 times. That isn’t even counting views. I don’t really think about it a lot because I don’t have the time or care to.

I do know that you constantly have to “one up” yourself and keep producing the best work possible. I have people who collect my art but in the “art world,” I am unknown because I don’t play the game (show work in tons of galleries, etc). It is interesting to me, I feel like the level of respect I get is more honest. People blog my work because they love it, not because it goes for a lot of money or it is following the latest trend. Abstract work is harder for people to understand and I feel fortunate enough that is is speaking to people in a real way.

What have you been working on lately? Any cool new projects you want to tell us about?

I have not talked about this publicly but, Cina Associates, just finished 9 typefaces for Disney. That is one of the reasons I have been a little dormant lately. I just wrapped up 10 album covers, getting ready for a group show in NYC, some illustrations, my work is featured in an upcoming P.O.S. music video, a wallpaper line, I’ve been licensing my images, logos, design for some motion pieces, packaging, writing a forward for a book, interviews… getting ready to be filmed for a television program called Minnesota Originals. I am a bit over my head right now!

To see more of Michael Cina’s work visit,, and