Michael Cina: Creativity, Catch Up & Clip-Art

Michael Cina: Creativity, Catch Up & Clip-Art

February 14, 2011 by

Michael CinaMichael Cina is what I like to call a rock star designer. That’s because he’s incredibly talented and does work for big names like Nike, Coke and Apple, but also does fun arty things that are just pretty. I also like to call him a rock star designer because we both worked at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association at different times. Cool by association.

But despite my rock star label, he’s not above pitching in at his local church. He does the random flier and is currently working on a logo design.

His rock star skills are available through his own studio, Michael Cina Associates. Before that, he co-founded YouWorkForThem. You can also check out his personal artwork on TrueisTrue or Cargo Collective (the above image is an example of his work, “Where it Ends it also Begins”), and you can follow him on Twitter.

You do quite a mix of fine art and corporate graphic design. How do the two play off each other and what advantage does that mix have for your work?

Michael Cina: Yes, right now the work is about 50/50 art and design. The two play off each other as inspiration for me personally, but realistically, there is little connection between the two. Sometimes I use my art in my design but that’s rare. I don’t know if there are a lot of advantages to this besides the fact that I am able to be “creative” almost all day in one way or another. In some ways I think it is harmful, as people view you more as a fine artist or a designer that only does fine art things, but that is the furthest thing from the truth. I know my design quite well.

What’s your opinion on the current state of church marketing, specifically graphic design? Have you seen any progress in the last decade?

Michael: Oh, things have gotten a lot better, but there is a long, long way to go. How I see it, too many churches try too hard to be relevant with all kinds of crazy gimmicks. In my opinion, people are looking for truth, honesty… real things. I feel that the gospel is often sold short because of some odd marketing schemes or being ‘the coolest church.’ It seems forced to me and not authentic. I think the main thing is to be true to who you are as the body of Christ and do all things with excellence. If you can’t do something well, find someone to do it better.

Why does the church seem to be playing catch up, tending to follow and not lead in design?

Michael: This is frustrating for me. I wish the church would lead in design as a representation of their faith. I mentor some college designers and I really push them hard in this area. I think many churches are still afraid of the arts in some way or another still or they just don’t care about it. There is a lot of baggage the church carries still. Cutting that extra fat and getting to the heart of what Jesus taught is the most important thing, right? Design can even get in the way if not used right, but in a lot ways, design is the face of what the church or ministry is.

The church has to take interest in the arts before the arts will take an interest in the church, right?

We see a lot of stock photography and vector design used in the church. Is that today’s clip-art?

Michael: Yeah, it is clip-art and is an extra step away from being authentic. I can’t imagine being a church and using stock photography, especially of people. Find the best photographer in the church and beg them to help, not just anyone with a digital camera that is willing to help out. Anything worthwhile you have to work for, right?

What can churches, and church designers specifically, do to more effectively communicate and create designs that connect?


  • Be honest about who your are as a church and what your mission is.
  • Use design as a tool to help communicate the church’s vision and personality in a sincere way.
  • Figure out a visual tone/style that is also appropriate to the project.
  • Always do your best work with excellence, whatever it is that you are doing.
  • Always strive to grow in passion, professionally and spiritually.

What advice would you give to designers looking to improve their game?

Michael: There are many ways to answer this question. You can read a lot of books, go to college or just work as much as your schedule will afford. I think doing a combination of all three is a great way to learn. A lot of designers want to turn off the professional part of themselves when they leave work but I don’t think that is an option when you are in the arts. A designer should be in a constant state of discovery.

I am not suggesting you work all the time and don’t do anything else. You need a balance in life. One idea is to cut out things in your schedule like watching TV and design instead.

"Where it Ends it also Begins" by Michael Cina
Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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7 Responses to “Michael Cina: Creativity, Catch Up & Clip-Art”

  • Paul Clifford
    February 14, 2011

    I couldn’t agree more. Maybe it’s the insecurity of some artists or the fear that churches have, but art needs to be welcomed and it will be multiplied. Art begats art. To me it’s soooo sad that the church has ceded the role of being the source of all great art (a role it had until some time after the Renaissance).

    I think it’s fine to reuse art created by others (with their permission if it’s under copyright) to express what you can’t yourself–there’s art in the choosing which you use. I think we should encourage creativity locally, too. There are people in every congregation that don’t know that this little hobby of (photography, painting, web design, sculpture, fill-in-the-blank) can be used for Jesus. Don’t laugh; it was a real revelation to me that I wasn’t just made weird, but that God always wanted me to use my passion for technology for Him.


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  • steve
    February 14, 2011

    Some great thoughts in here…

    A dilemma with internal photography instead of stock that I have seen is using people in the church… I have been in church a while now and It would seem that using actual members in materials can cause a number of different issues… especially for a minority of churches where your attendance is not more than a few hundred.


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    • Marc Aune
      February 17, 2011

      I have witnessed a church go through two situations involving people in leadership committing sins directly related to their positions in ministry. Both cases were long ago, pre-Internet, but can you imagine if their faces had graced the home page of the church website? Currently, our site has stock photos of people as part of the static header (provided by the company that created the site) that displays across each page. If we had used real people from the church for this, there would be no quick and easy way for us to remove the images if needed. If you have the ability and control to make changes in an instant, using real photos is almost always better than stock. Be wise, though, in what your limitations are.

      Also, you should consider having people sign a release form if you use them in a photo or video, especially if it is going to be prominently displayed somewhere. And make sure you get parental consent if they’re children.

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      • Stuart
        July 1, 2013

        Sounds like you have a much bigger issue to worry about than the images on your website if you operate out of the fear that your leadership may not be trustworthy.

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  • Clint
    February 14, 2011

    What advice would you give to designers looking to improve their game?

    I have a few more to add:
    • draw stuff with a pencil
    • make 100 thumbnails of ideas BEFORE you touch the computer
    • wait 24 hours and take a second look at the work you’re producing
    • read more books made of real ink and paper
    • spend time in or on a non-design related activity
    • ask yourself if the thing you’ve been asked to design is even necessary, if the answer is “no” suggest alternatives that solve the problem better

    Excellent post Mr. Hendricks! Awesome advice Mr. Cina. The church desperately needs more folks like you.

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  • Darrell
    February 15, 2011

    I am really passionate about the church (an undergraduate degree in church ministry) and I am just starting to do some design work. Thanks for the thoughts. They are encouraging, and insightful for where I am at in life.

    I really liked what Clint had to add. Thanks.

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  • Fernando
    February 20, 2011

    Excellent post. I feel that inauthentic design often plagues churches because they try to look relevant before they have a deep connection with the greater community, or they try to create a “brand” identity before they really have a shared sense of identity within the church.

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