I was recently introduced to Jing Wei’s artwork and immediately felt a connection to her bold colors and layered illustrations. Something about the bright uplifting hues and crowded scenes assured me that Jing knew what it feels like to live in a sprawling urban landscape, while still finding some joy in the chaos. Many people must feel the same, as she’s been commissioned for dozens of impressive projects from the likes of The New York Time, Etsy, and even the New York Public Library. Walk the streets of Brooklyn and you’ll see her breathtaking murals all around, (check out one currently on the side of The Hoxon Hotel in Williamsburg!). Meeting Jing was no less exciting and beautiful, as we spent a crisp Fall morning in her bright colorful studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and walked the streets of her neighborhood discussing her journey, as well as what makes her tick…
Can you tell us a little about your journey in the arts and what got you into illustrating?
I spent a lot of my middle and high school years drawing fruit and inanimate objects. And then I went to RISD for college, and learned how to think about the things I was making. I chose illustration as a major because I liked having some amount of structure, and I also enjoyed the collaborative aspect of the assignments. But to be honest, I had no idea what illustration even was for a very long time. I hadn’t seen many examples outside of children’s books and comics, and it wasn’t until I moved to NY that I started to see how widely those skills could be applied.
What was the experience like transitioning from art student to professional illustrator?
I graduated in 2008, which was a pretty rough time to start working. I relied on part-time jobs, and wasn’t able to fully make a living from illustration until about 4 years in. In those first few years, I definitely had a lot of moments where I felt discouraged and frustrated. It truly takes a long time to get to a place where you’re making work that you’re happy with. But one by one, art directors took a chance on me and helped me build up my portfolio. And I slowly started seeing more success, bigger jobs and steady clients. So I’m very grateful for where I’m at now, but I also know that it can be difficult to sustain, and I’m just hoping that I can ride out this momentum for as long as I can.
What projects have you worked on that have really inspired you? What type of things would you like to work on more?
I’m bit of a masochist, so I gravitate toward any project that seems physically impossible or daunting at first. Every mural I’ve ever done has fallen into this category. I wouldn’t say the feeling at the end is inspiration, but rather a satisfaction at being able to pull this crazy thing off. So I would love to make more large scale work, as well as animations and sculptures. I think all of those mediums have forced me to look at my work in a different way, which is great.
What advantages do you think being a woman can bring to a career in the arts?
The conversation around gender equality is expanding, and being a woman means that I have a specific set of experiences that I can share with others in a hopefully positive, helpful and impactful way. Most of the younger illustrators and designers who come to me for advice are women. I think it’s really important for people to see diversity in the creative community, so our culture isn’t shaped by one singular voice or perspective. When I was starting out, most of my teachers and role models were white dudes. I wish I had more women to look to and seek advice from. So I’m happy to see that things are changing, and it is now easier to find those like-minded support systems.
Do you have any mentors, idols or role models you admire?
I had a few mentors in college (s/o to Fred Lynch, Susan Doyle, Chris Buzelli). Chris and his wife SooJin are like my art parents. I’ve learned so much from them, and we’re still good friends. I think in those earlier years when you’re trying to make things happen, it’s incredibly important to have people around who can relate to what you’re going through and tell you it’s gonna be fine. When I first moved into my studio in the Pencil Factory, my studio mates helped me out a lot because I knew literally nothing. They taught me things like Photoshop, pricing, how to reach out to art directors, etc. That definitely has had a bigger impact on me than artists I see on the internet.
What about style icons?
Rihanna, Zoe Kravitz, Solange, Joan Chen, Anna May Wong (slowly going back in time!)
These days I’m loving…
Food - There is a pie shop called Petee’s that recently opened near my place, and I’ve been going way too often. Pie is one of my favorite things ever, especially during this time of year.
Clothes - Coats that look like sleeping/garbage bags
Movies/TV - “Eighth Grade”/“Maniac”
Books - Motherhood by Sheila Heti, My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh