Digital artist and illustrator Christina Cavadias' trajectory began watching the films of legendary anime director Hayao Miyazaki when she was a child. "I think his young female heroes grabbed me at first," she says, "just the fact that none of them had romantic storylines, or if they did, they didn't rely on male characters to get things done. The values in every story are about respecting others and caring for the environment, and I thought that great."
Years later, studying digital art, a new facet of Miyazaki's genius began to shine through when she rewatched the films, like Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. "His backdrops are incredible," she says, "full of all these details you might miss, and always more perfect and alive than anything you'd see in real life."
Cavadias has been trying to capture that magic through her own art since she was a child, developing a handful of original characters and threading them throughout her work. Though she works in marketing by day, she spends evenings streaming her illustration work on Twitch to a loyal audience of 400 followers. Fandom, with all its connection-fostering and the pull to meet in person, has pushed Cavadias out the door and into Artist Alley at several conventions.
"I've been to five now, and my sixth is coming up," she says excitedly. Cavadias typically runs a booth and sells prints and original merch, but recently she's been asked to do live demonstrations. "I've found that I love teaching! At the last con, I told everyone in the audience at my demo that they could come by the booth for a free mini print if they told me something they had learned, and quite a few people actually did."
SYFY WIRE caught up with Cavadias as she prepped for an upcoming anime convention.
You've mentioned Miyazaki a few times now. Are you really into Japanese-style animation in general, or is it his positive tone?
Positivity, sure, but it's more technical now. I've been studying background illustration recently because I knew I had never been any good at it, and he's incredible, of course. I'm learning what beaches look like in animated films, what you might see in a forest that's full of life. Stuff like that.
I also return to Miyazaki now that I'm learning animation. I recently produced a short animated film in Flash with a team in under 48 hours.
It's a huge commitment to produce so much art in your downtime. What do you think you'd like to do most, if you were offered a full-time job in art?
I would want to be a part of a team that's working toward a really big project like an animated feature film or a narrative video game. I'd want to work with other artists who were really engaged, all of us reaching for a single goal. I'd also prefer to be on a project that would leave a lasting impression on people.
Sounds like you enjoy interacting with your audience. Is that because you're such an active fan yourself?
Yes, fans are great. There's an analogy I've heard that I find pretty funny. The artist says, "Oh no, I've made this one type of cake but the person next to me has a similar cake, this is awful," and the fans say, "Oh boy, two cakes." I find that I identify with both sides of that set-up. I love engaging with others and creating stuff on my own, or I can build off another person's cake and make something new.
You mean like fan-art? Which characters did you mess around with as a young artist? Did they morph into original characters later?
Yeah, I have a few that follow me. There's Singe, my devil imp character, she was actually my Gaia Online character avatar and I just loved the design. I come back to her every few years. And then there's Sochi, my cat character. I've done her as a fursona, as a human... she was originally my Final Fantasy character. I'm doing a portrait of her right now.
I'm glad you said "fursona" because I was hoping to ask you...Some of your art definitely hints at the furry fandom to me. Girls with cat ears, animal heroes, etc. Are you a furry?
Ha, I'm not a furry per se, but I'm going to Califur, my first furry convention soon. I definitely use furry imagery in my art, so I can see why it might look furry-adjacent. It's just that I grew up with Disney and Looney Tunes, you know? There are so many animated movies that made anthropomorphizing animal characters seem like the norm! But yes, I draw a lot of catgirls, and I do have a lot of friends in the fandom.
How do you fit all these cons and the prep they must require into your schedule?
It's hard to balance. I have a full-time job in marketing now, which means I'm doing something different for a little while. But my friends and I set goals for ourselves recently, committing to doing stuff for our portfolios, working on packaging design and animation, and promising to critique each other's work. Hopefully we'll have a great new project by the end of the month.
The Twitch streams keep me motivated too. When I stream my illustrations, that means I'm in a space where I can ask people watching for ideas. That's actually where I get my funniest merch from, which I sell at cons.
What would you tell yourself as you were, drawing at home years ago? What would you tell someone who thinks they might be an artist, but isn't sure?
I'd say that it's always worth your time. Never give up on it, even if you look at social media and come away thinking everyone is producing more than you. That's not necessarily their real output.