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Meet Marco Cinello

Today we’d like to introduce you to Marco Cinello.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I was born and raised in Rome, Italy. I grew up loving comic books and drawing. As an only child, I would collect and read everything I could afford. I spent my childhood copying my favorite artists and making up my own comics.

I always dreamed of becoming a professional in the field but my parents thought otherwise and wanted me to have a ‘secure’ job so I spent five years to become an accountant. After graduation, I went into the military service for one year, which at the time was mandatory in Italy. By the end of it, it struck me that I was only twenty and had wasted six years of my life already doing something I didn’t want to do. I panicked and swore to myself that I would do everything in my power to take charge of my life and to, at least, try to do what I loved. So I started doing any job that required some kind of creative, draftsmanship talent, including animation.

The first real break came when Steven Spielberg’s Amblimation opened up a studio in London to produce the animated feature film “An American Tail: Fievel Goes West”. They put out an open call to artist all over the world who could draw on paper. Although I was green and inexperienced, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. I applied and was hired as a Layout Artist. Shortly after, I moved to London and began working on my first animated movie. I put comic books aside and against all odds, started a career in animation.

I spent three years in London, then moved around from Copenhagen to Berlin to Toronto working as a ‘animation gypsy’. Finally, I decided to visit the animation mecca of the world, Los Angeles! With my portfolio in arm, I landed here a week after the LA riots. The taxi driver, quite unexpectedly, decided to give me a tour of the destruction down La Cienega and West Adams. I was shocked, to say the least, but somehow I liked the city and the weather reminded me of Rome. I did a few interviews (including Hanna & Barbera on the old Cahuenga Blvd lot, which produced some of my favorite shows growing up) and to my surprise, I got offered a job on the Feature Film “Cats Don’t Dance” for Turner Animation. Within a year, I moved to LA with a two years working Visa.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all LA glamour. I was thrown into a corporate world that I quickly hated. I was very unhappy and after a year, I woke up one morning and decided that LA wasn’t for me, and at the end of the contract I would go back to Europe. Amazingly a second break happened. That evening when returned home from work, there was a message from my lawyer that I had won the Green Card through the US lottery system.

The sign was too big to ignore. I decided to stay in LA but with the certain condition that I would only take jobs that challenged me and would make me grow as an artist and not just for the higher paychecks! So, I did everything I could from Background Design to Development to Storyboards and Art Direction. Out of that experience, I built a thirty-year career in animation, working on over thirty feature films and TV series (including all the “Rugrats” movies, “Space Jam”, both SpongeBob movies as Supervisor and currently the “We Bear Bears” feature film). In addition to that, I designed and developed tons of projects that people will probably never see including a fantastic reboot of the Flintstones. And now coming full circle, I have returned to comics and fulfilled my childhood dreams, by publishing a 120 pages graphic novel, “Soul Kiss”, and two illustrated children’s books, “Frankie Stein” and “Batula”, written by Steven T. Seagle of the Man of Action group and published by Image Comics.

Please tell us about your art.
Once I became a professional in the animation business, my main objective was to work on projects that would make me grow as an artist. Not having gone to art school, I always felt a little insecure of my ability (remember, I am trained as an accountant!) so my way of overcoming that was to draw as much as I could, working on projects with different styles and designs. Unfortunately, this business can be pretty cookie-cutter. Somebody pays you to draw what they want and, as a professional, my job is to please them! Over the years, you end up using the same formulas and you reach a point where you no longer know who you are as an artist, what your individual style and voice is, and how to detox from the ‘commercial work’.

For this reason, I feel lucky that I was able to return to comics and illustrations. I approached them as though I was making a movie all by myself. I draw them, ink them, color them and did all of the graphics myself. It was extremely difficult not to let the ‘commercial’ part of me spill onto the page as I tried to figure out who the real ‘me’ is. But it was an extremely satisfying experience that I wish to continue!

A few years ago, I reached a saturation point with technology. I hated drawing digitally and missed the feeling of handling paper, brushes and color. Working with a younger generation of artists, I noticed everybody suffers the dreaded ‘control-Z’ syndrome. The undo option that makes every mistake disappear instantly. I realized I had developed that habit as well and was not allowing myself the freedom for the ‘happy accident’ to happen, which is essential from my point of view. It takes a higher level of concentration when you know you cannot undo what you put on paper with pen and brush then when, subconsciously, you know you can just press a button and immediately erase what you did a second earlier. All the ‘unexpected’ is taken out of the creative process.

So I set another challenge for myself. I quit working ‘digitally’ on my personal art. I only draw with ink pens so I cannot erase anything. I am painting in mediums I have not previously mastered, and working with subjects that I never had the opportunity to draw within the parameters of my commercial work. I’m doing portraits in watercolor. I’m doing big figure paintings in acrylic and inks. I’m doing graphic cartoony paintings in gouache with weird canvass sizes. I’m basically allowing myself to be all over the place stylistically and not be pigeonholed into one specific style.

I embarked on a personal journey without any expectations of financial rewards or personal success. I don’t give a shit. I am free to do with my art what I want and I love it! If people see my art, crack a smile, and it makes them happy, I feel like I am a winner.

As an artist, how do you define success and what quality or characteristic do you feel is essential to success as an artist?
Personally ‘success’ is being able to do what you want with your art in any medium you love and making a living out of it. Realistically, this is hard to achieve and very lucky few actually get ‘there’. It is always a matter of managing what your expectations are for yourself. Some define success with money, some with notoriety and exposure, and some with lots of likes on Instagram. Like many other artists, I have to balance the commercial work with my personal artistic work. It was fun being a broke artist in my twenties but less so later on in life.

It is very hard to find your voice with social media which is cluttered with mediocrity and a total lack of self-criticism. Let’s be honest, people don’t want to pay for art and clearly what you think your art is worth is not what the buyer think. I got disillusioned very quickly by the fact that to get exposure you can ‘buy’ followers or likes. It has created a muddy field where it’s almost impossible to distinguish one artist from the next, everything seems completely random. I see lots of art that is perfect from a technical standpoint but has no soul or originality and tons of stuff that shouldn’t leave the room it was created in. I constantly get asked to join platforms for a fee to advance my art career or even worse, asked to work for free, which segues to my art philosophy. “If I have to work for free for YOU then I might as well work for free for ME… and really do what I want to do!”. Young artists should have perfectly clear the concept that working for free in exchange for “exposure” is total bullshit!

Ultimately I think that as an artist you need to be humble and disciplined. Keep your feet on the ground, challenge yourself by drawing things you don’t necessarily like and work hard to get better at what you do. And, most importantly, be your worst critic and don’t let the momentary high of a bunch of likes get to your head. Then if the financial reward comes, great. If not, then, still be happy and feel rewarded with what you did.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
I use Instagram for my personal art. I have a Flickr account for my commercial work. Also, I head a design studio, JetLagIdeas inc, and with my partners in Barcelona, Spain, we develop original Concept and Design for consumer products and animation.

Contact Info:


Image Credit:

Marco Cinello

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