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Art & Life with Cristina Zuniga

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cristina Zuniga.

Cristina, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
Starting from the age of five, I declared to everyone who would listen that I wanted to be an artist. Proudly showing off my Crayola scribbles to my teachers and family, I was often met with the same phrase, “Oh, that’s nice dear…” Thankfully, my older sister and mother were artists and encouraged my passion, passing down the knowledge they accumulated over the years and teaching me all they knew. My mother was a huge champion for me due to being discouraged from it herself growing up and wanted me to have the chance to not have anything hold me back. I avidly watched animated movies and TV shows from Disney, Nickelodeon, and many other studios. I wanted to be able to tell stories of my own, so I took up drawing characters and animals with deep backstories that I would constantly daydream about as a child. What I enjoyed the most out of drawing was creating different kinds of worlds with their own rules and histories. Over time, my art started to gain attention from my fellow classmates in high school. My art teacher, Mr. Reyes, encouraged me to design an illustration for a senior prom invitation card. I agreed, taking it as a fun thing to do between assignments. What I did not realize was that it was a contest to win a free prom ticket and I ended up winning!. However, it felt good to have my art appreciated and awarded, so I’m very grateful to my teacher for providing that opportunity for me.

After graduating high school I really wanted to attend CalArts, but coming from a financially strained background, I could not afford to go. I ended up attending Chaffey College for five years, graduating with an Associate’s of Arts degree. My last year there I made many close friends that I still see today as well as having participated in the Summer Student Art Expo of 2015 showcasing some of my art. Chaffey was great for strengthening my art fundamentals, however, I was still hungry to learn more than what they could provide me. I wanted to learn more about art in the animation and gaming industries. I wanted to tell stories in media that went beyond studio art, so I transferred to California State University, Fullerton to pursue a degree in Animation! I’m currently still in the program, but all the people and professors there have really molded me as an artist and helped give me direction.

The first few years at CSUF I had virtually no knowledge of the animation industry, only knowing of job positions like animation and storyboarding, not knowing where I fit in as an artist. For a while, I lost passion for art because I was simply finishing assignments and making art that other people preferred, not for myself. I was very hard on myself and kept comparing myself to super popular artists, feeling like I didn’t deserve to be at this school. I was very lost, especially since I lost my mother to cancer just before starting school at CSUF. Watching someone you love slip away changes you. My world had become gray. I threw myself into art projects and scoring high grades. I felt like I had to be the best no matter what, I eventually had to stop this pattern and let myself mourn because I realized my mother would not want me to suffer, but to be happy.

Just recently I started making art projects for myself and I’ve become so much happier and sure of myself as both an artist and person because of it. It is not just the people, the school, or the resources that make one a great artist, but an understanding of yourself. Starting out, I initially wanted to be an animator and storyboard artist so I did take the time to learn skills in those mediums, but over time I realized that my skills and passion lie in visual development. This path ties back to my love of worldbuilding and storytelling, channeling it in a visual way that people can pick up on. I’m only a year or so away from graduation and I still have so much to learn, but I’m hoping my determination to keep pushing on despite life’s challenges will pay off with success. I also remind myself every day that I am more than just as an artist; I am human and there is only one me, so I must take care of myself and as a result be a more creative and productive individual.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I love creating stories, which I like to tell through illustrations, background art, and character design! It’s this part of visual development that I personally find exciting! It feels great when I tell people about the characters I created and their backstories. I want the stories I make through art relatable in a way and impart a theme or issue.

I tend to use photoshop or procreate to draw and paint, though occasionally I’ll go the traditional route and illustrate using markers and micron pens. I tend to create art that has a graphic/comic book look with either intricate linework, strong shapes, or textures. Though I initially started out as an animator, I still use the principles that medium taught me by applying it to backgrounds and characters I draw, exaggerating features or heavily stylizing them to have a more visual and animated appeal that imparts personality.

Although I like to illustrate beautiful things, I personally find illustrations that tell a story more compelling. For example, a scene of destruction with characters reacting to the scene is something that allows the viewer to search for the cause, causing them to use their critical thinking skills. I’m a fairly critical person myself, so whenever I see art that employs this technique I am a huge fan of them! I tend to model characters and stories based off of important issues I care about; like showcasing diversity in women’s stories and those who tend to not get featured heavily in popular culture. What pushes these people’s stories? Why do they do what they do in the story? How does this background tell the story of these characters and their habits? These are goals I hope to fulfill in most of my artworks. If a person finds themselves intrigued by a background piece or character I designed that makes them want to learn more about the story, I consider the art I created a success!

I am currently finishing up a six-month mentorship at Women In Animation, meeting once a month in a group setting with other women animation professionals, learning different parts of the pipeline, and what goes on behind the scenes of feature animated films. It’s so exciting seeing that every part of an animated film is created with intention. Nothing is created by accident, everything is purposeful, which I strive to achieve in my visual development skills. I hope to expand on the opportunities this program has brought and make my own impact creatively in the future!

In your view, what is the biggest issue artists have to deal with?
I think the biggest challenge artists face today is comparing themselves to other artists. I know I do that sometimes, but we all need to keep in mind that the only person you can compare yourself with is yourself! Looking at art I did a year ago, I can see the progress I’ve made and how I’ve grown as an artist. It’s better to build yourself up than tear yourself down by comparing yourself to other artists because they have their own artistic journey that’s different than yours. Your own journey as an artist is what matters, nobody else.

Another challenge is definitely burnout! I have to balance many art projects both in and outside of school and it can definitely be overwhelming. I’ve spent many all-nighters putting work together, but I realized that I need to limit my own work time for the sake of not only my personal health but to be more productive! An artist is far more creative and productive if they are well-rested and had a healthy meal after all. Setting time aside to just have a day to myself outside of work can be a challenge, but making use of a calendar will help immensely.

One more challenge that artists face is compensation. Every artist deserves to be paid not only for their time and effort but for their years of experience fine-tuning their craft. Some people don’t realize how much work goes into a drawing, how long that artist took to learn how to draw a hand for example. It’s very easy for young artists to get stiffed by customers, so I think it’s very important for them to gain business skills and learn all they can to create a viable business to support themselves through their work. Doing the research and speaking to other art professionals will definitely help build an artist’s skills in these matters and I highly recommend it!

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
You can follow my work on Instagram: purpleplumtree

My website:

To help support me, you can contact and endorse me via LinkedIn:

For job inquiries and commissions you can easily email me at

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Photo of myself was taken by Isela Garcia.

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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