Cadie Can Long (龍燦) is a freelance illustrator and fine artist based in Los Angeles. She grew up in China, studied Film as an undergraduate, and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Painting (2018). Through her art, Cadie explores Nature, mythology, life, and the human psyche. She specializes in using digital applications, watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ballpoint pen to create illustrations, paintings, drawings, and doodles. Cadie illustrates for magazines, advertisements, merchandise, and online platforms. She also creates fine art pieces for gallery exhibitions. Cadie’s work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, AOI, 3×3 Magazine, Communication Arts, iJungle Illustration Awards, and Hiiibrand Awards.
We’d love to hear how your journey has been so far. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am Can Long. I am from Shenzhen, China, and now based in Los Angeles. I entered the field of art by chance, but it was a pleasant accident. When I applied to University, my first choice for a major was Teaching English As a Second Language for the reason that I enjoyed reading English literature. At that time, I had a vague idea of being an English teacher in the future. For my second choice of major, because I love watching movies and I am curious about the process of film production, I chose Cinema and Television. The idea of studying film was a fun and spontaneous second choice, and I did not think I would really be selected for this major. Life surprises you as always: I got into the Cinema and Television program. Since life steered me in this unexpected direction, I decided I should give it a try and see how far I could go on this path. The more I learned about films, the more I wanted to dig into this field. So I gave up the only opportunity to switch majors at the end of my freshman year and decided to remain in film. Through my film studies, I was later introduced to illustration by a friend, which opened an unknown realm for me. I loved the touch of drawing and painting on paper and started learning basic techniques through the Internet by myself in my spare time. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I felt the urge to know more about painting skills and using colors and to explore some other art forms. It was slow and difficult to learn by myself. I wanted to learn more techniques from other professionals and to meet peers with whom to share ideas. So, I came to the United States and began my MFA painting program in 2015. I had a lot of new revealing experiences of painting, printmaking, and ceramics in the program and found my favorite media including watercolor, gouache, ballpoint pen, and digital applications. I obtained my master’s degree in 2018. I am now a freelance illustrator and fine artist.
Your practice explores nature, mythology, and life. What brings you to the topic?
I was born in Guiyang, a southwest city in China, and spent my childhood there. It has four seasons a year, and you can easily sense the transition of time in the change of sceneries. I cherish many lovely childhood memories of playing outdoors, swimming and catching small crabs and shrimps in the river, hiking in the mountains, and watching wild monkeys in the forest. I love nature, and I feel there is a spirit in every plant, flower, and animal. They all have different personalities. I love the organic forms of plants, trees, and flowers. Watching tree leaves dancing in the wind is therapeutic.
When I was little, I also enjoyed stories. Chinese folklore captured my attention, and then I expanded my readings to Egyptian myth and Greek myth as I grew up. I often lost myself in dreams of being a protagonist in a story and having adventures. I love to illustrate things based on text. I try to adapt meanings from my reading to my visual elements.
Exploring the subject of lifestyle in my artwork is a recent theme. I am from a single-parent family. I spent my childhood with my grandparents in my hometown while my mom worked in Shenzhen for a higher salary. I grew up with so much love from my grandparents and my mother. However, the absence of my father in my life still created this invisible hole in my heart. I tried to embed a sense of detachment and a touch of surrealism in my artworks for years. Things have changed since I got married recently. My husband is a gentle and dear person who gives me full support for my art. My heart has started to grow more tender. I have started to pay more attention to daily life, like ordinary moments, the way people move, and so on. Now, many things I did not notice before are more vivid and alive. The stream of my art has moved in a new direction of capturing moments of life.
I create two main categories of artwork currently: Fantasy and Lifestyle. For fantasy, I keep exploring text, for instance, mythology, poem, and novel as well as the human psyche with a darker and whimsical color scheme. For lifestyle, I try to capture scenes from daily life with a brighter and tranquil color scheme.
How do you balance between commercial projects and personal artistic projects? What do you find the most challenging?
I tend to be free with personal projects. I use mixed media and produce art spontaneously. I often create works on the iPad since technology is developing rapidly with many cool tools. I still enjoy traditional ways on actual surfaces. I enjoy small surfaces, and paper coasters are my favorite. I try many different things like making patterns, gifs, cute characters, fantasy scenes, and so on.
When I develop commercial art, I place myself in a position to assist clients to solve problems. I will prioritize the requirements provided by clients above my aesthetics. Due to my different styles, I usually will ask clients which project they find impressive on my website and try to figure out the direction they want to go to. I usually will conduct some research to know a project better and come up with at least two solutions that will fit the project. Communication is the challenge, and patience is required. Commercial projects are more about listening, deadlines, making changes, feedback, confirmations. I frequently feel that words are not enough to express a concept. I try to deliver ideas more visually and straightforwardly, to make sure two parties are on the same page. I enjoy producing commercial projects. I love the creative sparks occurring when two minds collide. I love seeing some of my designs eventually turn into real products. I need time to conceive and digest, so long-term projects suit me better.
What does “community” mean to you? How do you see yourself in a community?
When I think of the word community, it reminds me of my MFA program. I loved doing critiques with my peers and instructors. We shared ideas, life experiences, and painting techniques. It was a pleasant environment to help you grow. I would love to have a place with a positive and genuine atmosphere where people can express their ideas freely, receive respect from others, sharing ideas, and giving practical advice to each other.
Working as a freelance illustrator and fine artist, the idea of actual real community is ambiguous for me. I spend more time with myself. I enjoy having more time to read, to think, to reflect on what I experience every day. In the meantime, enormous virtual communities have emerged on the Internet. It is easy to access virtual communities on mobile devices. People can get useful up-to-date information quickly online and hear different voices from different cities, even from other countries. People can join many fun events online, such as Inktober and Do this in your style challenges. No matter what community you choose to connect with, I believe it is more important to be who you are, feel comfortable with your environment, and to express your opinions from your heart.
What are you working on right now?
I am at the initial stage of developing a picture book to explore the relationship and emotions between my father and me. My dear maternal grandfather passed away last year. His loss makes me think of life, death, the circle of life more often. As many happy and sad moments of my father come flooding into my mind, I think it is a good time to deal with it. Hopefully, I can and illustrate some scenes from my mind and turn them into a picture book of 10-20 pages.
Is there any advice that you would like to share with others?
I am at a very early stage of my career. There are so many things out there waiting for me to explore. I would say to keep doing what makes you feel happy. There are endless ups and downs, do not doubt yourself, and try to focus on growing at your own pace like a plant. I want to stay young in mind, to explore this wonderful and intriguing life, to create art, to find love and inner peace, and to cherish family and friends.
text & photo courtesy of Cadie Long