All illustrations appear as a courtesy of Joa Kin
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Designer Spotlight: Joa Kin (Joaquin Portocarero)

Joa Kin might have been inspired by his father but he’s taken the tribal thing to a whole other level.


When he lived in New York City, I met Joa Kin through a mutual friend who plays the flute: Adina Robins. From what I remember, he was quiet and reserved but cool. However, when I saw his artwork, it said what he didn’t say. Joa Kin was cultured, creative and more than meets the eye. Thick lines and fine details are constant attributes in the world traveler’s tribal illustrations. It takes him lots of time to complete but as you can see, it is well worth the time. By day, the Havana-based artist works on film, in all ways possible.


All illustrations appear as a courtesy of Joa Kin
All illustrations appear as a courtesy of Joa Kin

How long have you been an illustrator? Professional training? Is it therapeutic?

I have been drawing ever since I can remember. I moved a lot from country to country as a child due to my parents work, and as an adult, I continue to travel. I have lived in Ethiopia, Jamaica, Spain, Cuba, Belgium, and the United States. I think I started drawing when I was a kid to find some sort of consistency in my life. As an adult, I’m a bit of a loner. I draw members of an imaginary tribe to keep me company, or perhaps since I don’t feel I have a nationality, I draw “my” people. My tribe. As for training, I went to The School of Visual Arts in New York and studied animation.

Tell me a little about the pieces you’ve shared. What inspired them? About how long did it take to create each one?

All of my drawings depict the rituals, traditions, religion, and visions of my imaginary tribe. I want it to be an anthropological study as if the tribe actually existed. The plan is to make an encyclopaedia of sorts, depicting all aspects of the tribe’s life. A drawing can take me anywhere for 2/3 hours to 40+ hours to finish… Some of them are very detailed.

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Were you always this talented? Did it start out as a hobby? Were your parents (or guardians) supportive of your hobby/work/skill?

My parents have always been very supportive. My father draws also. I remember him drawing tribal themed pieces when I was a kid. I think that probably inspired my current themes. As for talent, I think that drawing just involves a lot of practice, it’s like a muscle. Every artist has 10,000 bad drawings in them before anything good starts to happen.

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Is illustration your ‘bread and butter’? Which visuals artists are you most inspired by? Have you had the chance to meet any of them? If not, have you had the privilege of seeing their artwork up close?

Illustration is currently not my “bread and butter,” no. For work/money, I work in video and film. I direct/shoot/edit music videos and short documentaries. Having studied animation I was already interested in film and to be honest, animation was so much work, having to make thousands of drawings like a photocopy machine. I love to draw, and will always do so, but I like to invest my time into one drawing at a time. In film, I can let a camera capture my frames.

Most of my favourite artists are no longer alive, the Bruegel’s, Bosch, Gustav Dore. Today, I like the “street” artists: Phlegm, Roa, and my absolute favourite, the legendary Doze Green. His work is so dope. It’s like Kung Fu. I have never met Doze but I have been to some of his shows in New York.

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Does digital age harm or help you as a visual artist?

Well, it certainly has changed art in general. I still like to think of myself as the “artist monk,” you know? Hidden away in a room somewhere creating secret works of genius and illuminated manuscripts but in reality, we don’t live in that world anymore. The successful artists of today are measured in “likes” and “followers” and it’s a bit overwhelming to see how many talented people are out there. I suppose it does help you to step up your game.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment to date?

I have achieved quite a bit in the field of video and film but I have been pretty quite about my drawings. I’ve done some small shows and sold to private collectors but mostly it has been a pretty personal experience so far. Maybe, it’s getting interviewed for GrungeCake!

What is the average price for an original piece by you? Do you have any live shows or exhibits coming up?

I am currently based in Havana and have a couple of galleries interested in showing my work. As for price, it depends on the piece—anywhere from a coupe hundred to a couple thousand.

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Where can people find you/your work?

Currently I am Instagram as joakinart. Come and “like” and “follow” me…


If you make your way down to Havana soon, contact Joa Kin through Instagram. Let him know that you’re interested in seeing some of his best pieces in person!


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