September 29, 2021

Artist Highlight: Cienna Smith

Artists impact us in unique, visual ways that no two can do the same. With millions out there, we encourage you to explore what speaks to you. With our #GKIDSHighlights series we want to give the mic to a variety of brilliant artists, well-known, unknown, and in between. This week, GKIDS is excited to introduce Illustrator and Painter Cienna Smith, who created a piece to answer our prompt about the movie-going experience.


Animated films have the ability to inspire and highlight incredible works of art from artists all around the world. What is your experience of seeing animated films like, especially in theaters? How do they transport you to another world, and inspire you in your own creative work? 

Read here to learn more about her and her work, and check out her social channels below:

Twitter | Instagram | Portfolio

How did you first get started as an artist?
I’ve been drawing and painting ever since I was very young, but I’d always cite my first large
inspiration to be the island of Curacao, where my parents immigrated to the states from. I’d
been brought to visit the island every year since I was a baby, and I’ve always loved the bright
pinks, blues, and emeralds of the buildings and flora on the island. I strive to recreate that
vibrancy and sense of life in all of my work.

Where do you find your inspiration from?
A little bit everywhere! Living in New York City, there’s a million possibilities for inspiration that can be found in everyday life and I like to take walks and snap pictures of anything that interests me, whether it’s a type of car, or a building, or some type of flower I’ve seen. The unique character of the people of New York City are an amazing inspiration alone. My dreams also inspire me constantly, I enjoy bringing the surreal quality of dreams to life via art. I’m a huge fantasy and sci-fi nerd too, so I tend to consume a lot of media that I’d say is a big influence on my process as well!

What would you do if you ever have artist’s block?
I usually try to take care of myself to the best of my ability until I feel as though I can naturally
create again. Artist block can stem from a myriad of different sources, like burnout, physical exhaustion or lack of inspiration. Rather than force creativity, I prefer to go back to why I like painting in the first place. I rest, I make sure I eat and sleep enough, I pick up other hobbies for a time like film photography or sculpting with clay, and I paint a million random things that I’d never share with anyone until I feel like I’m in the best state of mind to sit down and draw again.


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A post shared by Cienna 🪐✨ (@polarbearrs)

How did you develop your own personal/signature artistic style/voice?
Very organically! I don’t think I ever focused on developing a “style” per se- I just focused on painting and drawing what I liked to paint and draw. I enjoy mixing color, and having a piece feel vibrant and saturated, so all of my art is a kaleidoscopic exercise in color theory. I learned anatomy and figure drawing in school, so I have enough of a working knowledge of the rules of anatomy to break the rules a bit. I view my style as a way of problem solving in art, instead of something I’ve meticulously developed.

For your illustration with GKIDS, please describe the process. Did you immediately know what you wanted to do? Did you try out a few different drafts?
I immediately knew the moment I wanted to capture once I read the prompt! My inspiration
behind this particular piece is a memory from my early teenage years; Ghibli films have long
been one of my big artistic inspirations, namely Spirited Away (watching it for the first time at
age 5 got me into painting Ghibli-esque landscapes!). When I was 13 a friend, my cousin, and I
went to a drive-in theater to watch Spirited Away again for the first time in a few years and I
remember being completely blown away all over again and thinking to myself that it looked as though Haku was actually flying through the night sky, and that the barrier of the screen and real life seemed to almost disappear.

What have you been currently watching, reading, listening to?
Honestly- this is a bit of a difficult question to answer as I’ve been consuming a ton of media
since the pandemic started! Me and my roommates like to gather around the TV nightly while
we’re winding down from work or making food, so we tend to binge watch shows all together.
Currently, together we’ve been watching shows like The Dark Crystal, I May Destroy You, and
Broad City. I’ve also been reading Octavia Butler, namely the Parable series ( definitely a
difficult read- but an intensely interesting and topical sci-fi series!), and I like to listen to artists like Mitski, Willow, and SZA while I work!


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A post shared by Cienna 🪐✨ (@polarbearrs)

What is one thing that you wish you were told when you were just starting out as an artist?
To take care of your body! Namely your wrists, your back, and your elbows. No one tells you
when you’re starting out that you should stretch, take breaks, and make sure you aren’t
hurting yourself by constantly drawing. Also to take painting a little less seriously as time
goes on and to continue in the spirit of having fun when making art! As an artist, it’s easy to
personalize any critique given, or to overly negatively critique yourself when a painting isn’t
coming out the way you’d hoped- it’s okay! It’s natural to be self critical or feel like you’re
going backwards, but it’s also okay to take a step back and have some fun with painting for a
second ( like drawing things that make you happy- even if they’re not “good”) to get back into
that natural ebb and flow!

Are there any illustrators in particular that inspire you? (Please give us names/social handles)

Off the top of my head;
Lois van Baarle – @loisvb on Instagram
Sachin Teng – @sachinteng on Instagram
Ignasi Monreal – @ignasi on Instagram
Elena & Olivia Ceballos – @elioliart on Instagram
Louie Zong – @everydaylouie on Twitter

What is one of your favorite moments in animation? (Does not have to be a GKIDS title)
Honestly- it’s so hard to choose! At the risk of sounding cliche, I’ve always loved the scene in
Spirited away when Chihiro tells Haku his true name!

Please let us know your top 3 GKIDS title recommendations, and one sentence why?
Honestly- a lot of Ghibli movies have my whole heart and soul but here are a few
recommendations that I feel really had a huge impression on me as an artist:

My Life as a Zucchini – A heart breaking but also heartfelt story! My Life as a Zucchini
had me bawling and the stop-motion style animation felt warm and tangible and
beautifully complimented the movie.

Perfect Blue – Satoshi Kon is a genius, this is one of the most amazing psychological
thrillers I’ve seen in terms of story, art direction, everything! I love when filmmakers
use animation as a medium instead of confining it to strictly “kid’s media.” Brilliant!

Song of the Sea – Something about Song of the Sea really enchanted me immediately.
The art style feels so lovingly crafted to tell this distinctly Irish mythological tale and
the elements of family, and the difficulties of sibling- and by extent familial love felt like
a melody. Absolutely beautiful storytelling.

We hope you enjoyed learning more about the talented Cienna Smith. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, to look out for our next artist highlight soon!

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