Student Profiles

These talented students represent the KCAI student body. Each of their stories are unique. But their learning experience, quality of work and personal devotion to their craft is characteristic among all KCAI students, no matter their particular area of study.

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Joseph Canizales


Senior | Sculpture

Joseph came to KCAI from Miami because he wanted a school with a good support system. “Not just conceptually but in all the facilities as well. KCAI has been able to provide me with that.” His recent work is about the companionship of man and nature. He cares for the natural object that he’s working with and adding his own perspective by redesigning it or adding to it. “My work lies on a level that’s both factual and fictional and I want people that view my sculptures to see the object and environment that I didn’t create and then see that I am unveiling a new or different structural understanding of that object or environment.”

A monumental moment in Joseph’s experiences at KCAI was winning the McCown Special Project Award in his Sophomore year. He proposed a travel study grant to one of Utah’s National Parks to study the topography. The award allowed him to purchase a software program that could 3-D scan the structures and bring that info back to his studio. It culminated in him creating a monumental sculpture at the end of his junior year. Joseph has also competed on KCAI’s Make48 team in the televised College Vs. College Competition, helped fabricate and install art in Open Spaces, a nine week city-wide arts festival, and was a recipient of the Yale Norfolk Artist Residency. “This residency grew me so much as an artist and a person. It was a great environment and with great professors. I grew closer to nature because the surroundings – huge cliffs and rocks — were right there. I was there for two months and had my own my studio. It was the first time I ever worked so closely with nature.”

Joseph wants to inspire and teach people. “One of my goals is to shed light on our environmental issues and give a Ted Talk someday.”

Follow Joseph and see more of his work @mrjosephbsmiles.

Nehemiah Cisneros



Nehemiah is a Midwestern transplant from Los Angeles. Before KCAI he attended community college where he saw KCAI’s admissions presentation. He creates exaggerations of people and life, using a graphic style inspired by pop culture, comics, and skate culture. Working at a large scale make his narrative paintings almost cinematic. Nehemiah first paints a smaller sketch of his idea to compose the image and choose colors, then draws the final image onto large canvas with charcoal, and paints layer by layer with oil, acrylic, and spray paint. Nehemiah is inspired by the Califormia art scene, pop surrealists, his professors, and fellow students. He even credits KCAI alum Jordan Nickel as a reason he chose to apply for the BFA program. 

His favorite aspect of KCAI is how it embraces interdisciplinary practice. “The ability to learn other artforms makes you more well rounded. When I was in MICRO I learned what it’s like to work in a design agency and view my work outside of a gallery setting. I learned the responsibility of with a client, where the goal of the artwork goes beyond getting a grade.” In MICRO, Nehemiah created a large scale mural for Independence Center Mall. “After just moving here, it was humbling yo have my work become part of the Kansas City community.” He thinks about creative teenagers that might see his art in the mall and know that there are opportunities in the world for artists.

A piece of advice he passes down to young artists is that having talent is less than half of the battle. “It’s all in the hours that you put into something. At the end of the day, success comes from meeting deadlines, being humble, and not procrastinating.”

To see more of his work, follow him @nehemiahcisneros.

Micheal Engel

Product Design


Micheal came to KCAI from Arkansas, originally planning to study animation. A year in Foundation year however, taught him that he missed having STEM classes. He currently works in the David T. Beals III Studios for Art and Technology combining his math, science, and art skills. 

“I’m interested in the larger kind of design concept not just product design specifically but also computational design. Even a step further is what we call Parametrics, Instead of building a model with a mouse and clicks, you use coding so the computer makes decisions in a sense based on your input.”

He loves how open minded KCAI students and staff are to what art can be. It’s not solely traditional or solely technological, but it’s everywhere in between. His signature medium currently is anything digital. Primarily he is pursuing algorithmic modeling and digital effects.

Micheal is constantly inspired by MIT’s Media Lab and hopes to be there one day. He looks up to designer Neri Oxman who’s well known for her works combining architecture, biology, and computing. 

His long-term goals are to encourage students who are interested in the math and science fields to integrate STEM into your artistic life, and to pursue a master’s in architecture after graduating from KCAI.

Follow him @paraimagine

RJ Junger



RJ is from St. Louis and initially came to KCAI to study painting. Experiencing new ways of making in Foundations inspired them to make experimental video work. “I have a research based process that relies on intuition and creative writing. I often integrate sculpture and performance into my work.”

“I feel like my practice has and hasn’t changed a lot with remote learning. As a digital media major the most important thing to me are resources, and the filmmaking department made sure I got to take a camera, lenses, microphones and a projector with me when I moved back to Saint Louis to quarantine. It’s different not being on campus, but I still feel close to my class and know I can reach out to any of my faculty for feedback. We have a private facebook group where we can get feedback and have zoom dinners together. It’s nice that i’ve started a home studio since that’s where I’ll be working after graduation.” 

“I think a good piece of advice for students struggling to make and live well at home would be to keep track of your hours. I had to create a space that I was excited to work at and give myself a daily to-do list. I break down tasks to their basic components. I would write multiple tasks for one assignment and give them time limits, like ‘Read article and highlight best quotes (1 hour)’ ‘Fill in basic structure of first draft (45 min)’. It’s also important to get outside every day it helps me clear my head and allows me to better solve problems.”

They’re inspired by John Bock, Joan Jonas, and Mika Rottenberg. “I admire the way they use video and sculpture to create an environment that functions as a conversation between pieces.” Their favorite things about being at KCAI are the small class sizes, access to equipment, and flexibility of Major studio.“Cyan Meeks has been the most influential professor in my college experience. She takes the time to really understand her students and pushes them to become their most realized selves.”

To learn more about RJ’s work follow @rjjunger.

Nathan Lewis



Nathan is from Washington, Missouri and initially pursued Civil Engineering. “It stopped being fulfilling, I think I’d had enough of math.” He’d experimented with animation and found joy in it. He got his associates in Multimedia at a community college and transferred to KCAIon the recommendation of a professor.

Nathan specializes in 2D digital animation and frequently uses Adobe Animate and Photoshop. His favorite things to animate are characters or effects like fire. “The motion is drawn out 1/12th of a second at a time. It’s a time-intensive process but what I love to do. There is no greater feeling in the world than being able to press the play button after a day, week, or months’ worth of work.” 

Currently he is working on his senior year animation, Return of the Light about a mushroom who must return the light to the one he loves and sacrifice everything to complete his goal.

“The project that affected me most is called Grandma Chicken, about my girlfriend and her deceased grandmother.” Nathan learned to make his work personal and embrace the outcome instead of an initial vision.

“Benjamin Renner has been a big inspiration for me. Especially films like Ernest & Celestine.” He is also inspired greatly by his classmates. “Everyone’s pushing each other along. It’s a struggle, but we’re in it together.”

Advice to young artists, be patient, it takes commitment to try to do what you want to do. Draw every day. 

See his work @nathan_g_lewis

Jinblossom Plati


Senior | Ceramics

A native of South Korea, Jinblossom immigrated to the U.S. in 2003. The very first time she worked with clay something magical happened — she fell in love with the medium. The clay healed and sustained her through times of sorrow, like the passing of her husband and mother. Much of her recent work, colorfully glazed pieces with a lace-like design is inspired by a pattern on a skirt worn by her mother. She enjoys making decorative, highly conceptual sculptures that represent the memories they shared. 

About her experience at KCAI she says “KCAI has trained me as an artist, taught me how to think like one, and how to look at my work conceptually.” JinBlossom has completed an Anderson Ranch Residency and is a Lead Bank Emerging Artist. She plans to go on to graduate school and then teach. Her goal is to inspire others to pursue ceramics with the same passion she feels for her art.

Her advice to young artists is to make something even when you don’t have an idea. “You cannot do nothing. You have to make progress even if you don’t have an idea. Just start something!”

See more of her work and follow her @lthejinblossom.

Charles Swavy



Charles is a Kansas City local with a passion for painting and fashion. He saw KCAI as a great fit; an excellent school that’s close to home.

He’s a painter and fiber artist with an interest in film and performance. He started his own clothing brand, Swavy Custom in 2018. His dream is to be the creative director of a big brand, and has been customizing clothes since middle school.

“I came to KCAI thinking I would paint, yet Foundations challenged me to use other mediums. I prefer challenging classes to have something to work towards. Foundations opened my mind to what’s possible in art and new processes. Taught me to start with an idea first, then choose a medium to bring it to life. The workshops were an opportunity to explore new interests. It was extremely beneficial and set me up for success in my major.”

Charles is inspired by anything in his environment. The colors around him could inspire a whole collection. “I’m inspired by Kanye because he’s radical and fearless. He works in different mediums and it’s admirable.” He’s also inspired by Rhuigi Villeanesor, a designer from LA, and Virgil Abloh. “He’s bringing art to fashion in a way that’s accessible and changing the meaning of luxury.”

“I’m greatly inspired by my mom. I didn’t realize what an effect she had on my creativity growing up. She’s a hair stylist and has been doing hair shows since I was young. Watching her work hard and perform was super inspiring. She made me believe that I could turn my creativity into an income.”

He calls his experience at KCAI mind-expanding and life changing. “The amount that I’ve learned in two years is incredible. I can navigate the world in a better way because of time here and that’s coming from someone who didn’t see themselves going to college.” His favorite thing about KCAI is being in classes where the professors are so passionate about what they do that it rubs off on the students.

His advice to young artists is to research their craft as much as possible and take advantage of everything around them. “Reach out to people who are already doing what you want to do someday. Believe that what you do is valuable, and don’t shy away from the financial side of it. It’s entirely possible to make a living off of your creativity.”

Follow him @swavycustom

Athena Vincent



From Milwaukee, WI, Athena used to paint and draw portraits, but after going through the Foundation year she decided to move out of her comfort zone. Even though she was inexperienced with computers, she started working in KCAI Beals Studios. Now technology influences everything she makes from 3D Models, animation, and augmented reality Instagram filters. 

“My favorite medium right now is AR. It’s cool to see what you can illustrate using a phone.” She is most inspired by Studio Coordinator of Beals Studios, Nathan Nuefeld, her online community of 3D artists, and her studio classmates. “My favorite piece so far is an augmented reality print. I used Blender and Cinema 4D to make the animation, and put it all into Unity, a video game engine.” Any phone with the app Unity remote will recognize her image and animate it. 

One of her favorite things about KCAI is the Admissions team. “They’re so nice. They always connect with you. None of the other schools I talked to felt like family. My Admissions counselor, Daniel made me feel like I was already a part of KCAI before I was here.”

Her advice to young artists is to try new things. “When you’re good at something, change it completely. Go out of your comfort zone! If you paint, try making a scarf.”

See more of her work and follow her @haros4d.