Mike Cina of True Is True

Cina is a designer in the broadest sense. His work spans a wide range of commercial and personal art, including print and web design, typography, painting, photography, and bookmaking. Also, he is a fisherman. Our writer interviews the man behind True is True.

Cina of True Is True is, in the broadest sense, is a designer. His work and career span a wide range of commercial and personal art, including print and web design, typography, painting, photography, bookmaking, and the list continues. It is not, however, the breadth of his work that we admire, but the quality: he is one of the most authentic and groundbreaking designers working today. He is also a fisherman.

TMN: Where are you right now?

MC: I am in Minneapolis Minnesota U.S.A. In my office in my house.

TMN: What did you have for breakfast today? How did it go down?

MC: I had two bagels (brugers) with a large (carabou) coffee. Went down really smoove.

TMN: What are you listening to?

MC: The sound of crickets and frogs. The wind. Random cars… (as for music I am listening to… a lot of drum and bass. Total science, j majic, some unreleased dieselboy mix tapes, aquasky, ltj, tonsa smooth beats. Herbert, compost 100, new sector movements, mark de clive-lowe, bjork’s new one, squarepusher’s new one…)

TMN: What are you working on?

MC: I am getting ready to go to nyc this week for a video shoot about my work. Working on a church newsletter, designing a poem, making many typefaces, making five flash pieces for this heart failure website, writing a chapter for a Photoshop book, designing a poem, designing many t-shirts, working on the new site. I have more on the plate…

TMN: What are you worrying about?

MC: Work (that is usually all I worry about). I have a lot on the table and am working on it all. But I am just off. Like where things are not going exactly right. Like this poster. I have total unlimited reign to do this art poster for whatever I want. But I can’t think of anything that is making me happy. And the book chapter, I am totally fighting about even writing about myself. It is like I need questions and answers. I can write about my work, I can talk forever, but I need direction. That is why I like client work. The more restricted I get, the better I shine. For instance. This company hands me this huge excel file and says, ‘Make it all relate and work gestalt style.’ It was really not much of a chore for me. I like organizing information and heirarchy. Design is solving problems, not making pretty pictures to me….

I have been worrying about my work getting ripped off and how to deal with it. I have seen so much of my style being lifted shamelessly and it really is getting to me. It is just so blatent recently that it makes me mad and also sad that people get paid tonsa money for ripping me off.

Otherwise I am totally happy.

TMN: What’s the direction for your personal work (e.g., the books you’ve sold on eBay)?

MC: The direction of my personal work is usually whereever I find work that is inspiring. I think I have 20 projects always on the burner at once and 50 more that I would like to start working on. So if I am shopping at a junk store and happen to find these odd bird prints, there it starts. Like yesterday I was shopping for books and found these sick architecture books. Then I start thinking about drawing all these ideas for buildings and then printing them over these books after I cut them up in to jumbled pieces. I didn’t buy the books to get a fire under me. (if you could see my junk piles, they are starting to take over my minimal house, ha.)

Right now my direction is Also exploring process in making images. I think that is important… I love that so much. I am scattered.

The books I sold on eBay were a life-long process. I used to write poetry in books, those changed into sketchbooks, those turned into hand-made skectchbooks that fit into your back pocket, those turned into pasting random images into the book, that turned into putting junk pages in the sketchbook so I can draw over them (increased random elements), those turned into map books, then I started printing in the map books. tTe creative process is a long one. People may see them as a trite piece of work, I see them as a huge process that feeds itself from my life. It is life-long.

TMN: Are there particular moments, in your personal art, that are inspiring?

MC: I think the most inspiring times are when you have a break-through of concept/how to do something. I usually have a good amount of work sitting on my hard drive and it is figuring out what is my next move. No matter what the medium. I think things to death and usually cover all my bases on how I am gonna sort things out and all. It all looks easy when it is done, but the viewer doesn’t see the process involved. Like those books took four or five years to get to that idea.

TMN: Do you find yourself drawn to the same feelings or ideas with each project?

MC: No. Each project is toatally different. I guess there is the ‘done by me’ factor which will make things look alike a bit. But each project is totally different. Kinda like you can’t stand in the same stream twice.

TMN: What are three of your favorite words?

MC: Three favorite words: ‘Here’s lotsa money.’

TMN: There seem to be elements involved from your design work—the repetition of a single motif, the distortion of an image, the use of collage—that could also be seen as DJ-inspired techniques (you did work previously as a record player, yes?).

MC: Yeah. Djing has really filtered it’s way into my work. I think a lot about how music relates to design. There are many similarities. Right now I am listening to a Ron Trent mix tape. Dj culture is something that will never leave me as long as I am alive. In two weeks I am driving to Chicago to go record shopping with my best friend jason douglas ( I was djing from 89-99… nine—ten years is a long time to do something. wWen I started designing a lot, I designed graphics to music. Music communicates, so does design. As a dj you program music to motivate, as a designer you program graphics to motivate. To different languages that function differently, but to attempt that merge is a great thing. I djed house music, which is very moving when spun correctly. It inspires me to create. I often will listen to music and think, ‘how would that sound look, what would it do, what color would it be….’ The outcome is endless.

TMN: What trait do you find most attractive in clients; which in people behind counters; in dogs?

MC: I love when clients hand me 50% cash, all the information, and tell me what they are looking for. That is about as perfect as it gets. Dealing with MTV was pretty close to the perfect client. I think there were two times when I was frustrated cause I didn’t have clear information. They were wonderful.

People behind counters. I like it when they are happy.

Dogs. Dogs that don’t bark all day and don’t poop in my lawn, sidewalk or driveway.

TMN: Concerning your frustration with getting ripped off, it seems that your work is influential, not only because its quality can make a deep impression, but because it’s widely seen. Have you seen direct plagirism or is it people who borrow your style?

MC: People send me links a lot and are mad after they see ‘suchandsuch dot com’ and it looks like something I would do. 99/100 I don’t see it. Maybe they’re influenced but I just smile and keep working. Every now and then I see something that really hurts. Like ‘why did they do that?’ Sometimes it looks like a screenshot of my site (which has happened) with new text on it. I try to keep it all on a downlow, don’t care to draw attention to it. Recently there was a very big client I was working with that hired an agency to do work for them, while I was working on a chunk of the site. This agency did a flash movie for a part of the site. I felt the piece looked just like a trueistrue piece modified, different graphix, but same colors, feel, subject matter, icons… just a rip in every way. So I think I am over reacting…so I tell my friends the entire story… how another agency did this and all…send them the swf file and every person asked when I did it! So I am getting pretty frustrated at this point, I email the art directors and they don’t return any of my email. They never have. This makes me sad, cause some agency is making good money off my work and I am barely making ends meet (don’t get me wrong, I do eat). I make less per year doing design than if I was to go to the gas station and work there. And I work all day every day. It is my birthday today… work never ends.

TMN: How has Trueistrue evolved?

MC: This is too big to answer. Looking at it now…it may not be as cool as seeing each project as a single project, with no directory. I liked that, when you could only see what I wanted you to see. I like control over the viewer.

TMN: As it is a personal, visual diary, do you see it progressing as you, the human Michael Cina, progresses?

MC: For sure. Trueistrue is me in a way. I have said this before: ‘is my work (a reflection of) me?’ I think it is an interesting question. I would hope that trueistrue advances as I hope I do. I do know it suffers when I do. It is very personal to me.

TMN: What is the most encouraging feature of the American design community? The World Wide Web design community?

MC: The most encouraging part of the American design community is that we live in America. The www community, well. I don’t really see a community. That is me though. What I see as most encouraging is that people seem to want to learn. Asking for books and all. I think that education is at an all time low and people act like they know so much. I know enough to know I don’t know much. I learn all the time.

TMN: If you had to choose between the two, which would you prefer, a truck or a boat?

MC: Hmmmm. I would like a boat please. I have a car. I like fishing a lot. Bass. I just went last week and got some nice fish. I release them though. Rarely keep them.

TMN: Okay, final question: Do you care to comment on Prate’s (Jemma Gura) work that, one, falls into a similar camp as your own, and two, may show two hearts in a recent poster, floating above America, one above the North East, the other around the Mid-West? Or, the recent collaboration on home pages?

MC: Wow, that is odd. I never noticed that. Maybe she likes some lucky guy in the midwest? Looks like it is coming from the Minneapolis area too now that I look at it closer. Hmmmm. Well, I have done some work with her in the past. She has never mentioned anything. Whomever that is, he is one lucky guy. But you may be on to something… now that I think about it even more… she does call a lot also. smile

Hahaha. Yeah, we are an item if the truth is to be known. It is an honor knowing her and being her friend. She is number one in my book.

TMN: Thanks a lot Mike.

MC: Word.


Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. His latest book is Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles. More information can be found at More by Rosecrans Baldwin