On Jing: Madison Dress in Blue White Stripe
Born in China and raised in California, Brooklyn-based Jing Wei's illustrations are narratives full of dream-like shapes and subtleties. Her remarkable talent has added visiting instructor at Pratt Institute and illustration director at Etsy to her long list of career accomplishments in addition to her work alongside some pretty big-name clients. While visiting Jing at her Greenpoint studio, she gave us a behind-the-scenes look into her creative process and the inspiration that drives her to create.
I read somewhere that you were born in China and immigrated here at an early age. Tell us a little bit about your childhood and how it led you to where you are today.
I spent seven years in China before moving to California. Chinese elementary schools are pretty hardcore, and I was doing long division by the time I was 5. Not only that, but students were often pitted against each other in various competitive situations. I think that, along with the common immigrant mentality of going above and beyond just to catch up, has probably shaped my work ethic as an adult (for better or worse).
Because I moved at a young age, it was fairly easy to adapt and learn the language. I think drawing was a way for me to quantify the world around me, as well as connect with others. I remember my classmates would always ask me to draw Sailor Moon and TMNT characters, which was an interesting way of making friends. I got really good at drawing muscular turtles and cheesy pizza for a while.
Where did you go to school? What was it like first starting out?
I went to RISD for illustration. I had a great experience, primarily because I got to meet a lot of wonderful people. My friends really made the post-college transition super fun and exciting, especially during times when you feel like your career is going nowhere and you don’t know if you’re even going to make rent. It took me a few years before I was able to earn a steady income solely from illustration.
What is your creative process? Do you have a particular medium you find yourself going back to?
I usually take more time in the initial phase of brainstorming and sketching. I like to take notes and create a list of words and phrases from the prompt, and then tackle thumbnails from there. I used to make all of my illustrations as woodcut prints, which, in retrospect, was insane. I still enjoy making things by hand, but these days I’m mostly working with digital programs like Photoshop and Illustrator for finished pieces.
Who are some of the clients you’ve worked with?
I’ve worked with Target, Airbnb, Warby Parker, Herman Miller, Adobe, Google, Panda Express, The New York Times, and American Express. I always think it’s weird to list your clients because it feels like you’re bragging. But I’m very grateful, and it’s been nice to see more and more people respond positively to my work.
On Jing: Amber Home Shirt in Blue End on End, Glow Watch
Tell us about your previous role at Etsy.
I used to be Etsy’s Illustration Director, which is a name we made up for a role that is also kind of made up. I started out creating all of the illustrations for brand and product, and eventually branched out to do some art direction and collaborative work as well. The projects ranged from murals and ad campaigns to web banners and icon libraries. It was a huge learning experience.
Are there any themes or styles that often arise in your work?
This is not a theme necessarily, but recently I realized that I tend to draw a lot of sad people with their backs turned three-quarters of the way. Not sure what’s up with that, but I always watch out for it now. I think I tend to create fairly calm images, with some subtle weirdness snuck in. I love drawing rooms, water, foliage, and of course, slightly out-of-shape people.
On Jing: Chrystie Sweater in Navy, Barlow Skirt in Indigo Textured Stripe
What is the one project you’ve worked on to date that you’re most proud of?
One of my favorite projects is an ongoing series, and it’s very low key. For the past two years, I’ve been illustrating a sci-fi column in the Book Review section of The New York Times. I’ll do one every month and a half or so, which is just enough time for me to need a more experimental piece to balance out the other commercial work. The topic of science fiction is so fun to interpret and expand upon, and it’s also very different from the prompts that I usually get. Because of that, I think it’s pushed me to create a body of work that feels a bit different from the other stuff.
Are there any particular artists that inspire or have influenced you?
I would say early on, most of my influences came from film and graphic novels. I really gravitate toward good storytelling, because that’s something I find incredibly intimidating to do myself. I’ve always been a big fan of Charles Burns, Dash Shaw, Marjane Satrapi, David B., Adrian Tomine, Tove Jansson, and Chris Ware. I’m not sure how much they’ve directly influenced my style, but their work has definitely been an inspiration.
What personal projects do you have going?
Right now I’m a bit too busy with client work to start a substantial personal project. But I have been slowly teaching myself After Effects, and I love making janky animations in my spare time.
On Jing: Benton Shirtdress in Navy (Top), Chrystie Sweater in Black (Bottom)