In Focus: Mengxin Li
Armed with a neon colour palette Mengxin Li has a truly iconic style that stands out from the crowd. We chat to the New York based illustrator to find out more about her practice.
Nice to meet you Mengxin. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I’m a freelance illustrator originally from China. Before I came to the United States to study illustration, I studied for a Bachelor’s Degree in Law. I’ve always loved drawing, ever since I was little, but lacked the courage to really commit myself to nurturing a career in the creative industries. It took a while for me to take the leap and decide to move away from studying law – something I could’t imagine spending the rest of my life doing – and focus on developing my drawing and arts practice.
Where are you currently based?
I’m currently living and working in New York City, though I was born and raised in Guangzhou, China. City life has always been hugely influential for me, and continues to inspire my illustrative work; I love drawing buildings, vehicles, and streets. I find the noises, crowds, and smells of the city really provocative.
Generally I find working as an illustrator can be a very lonely job. It’s therefore really important to be present in your creative community and meet people.
There are a lot of illustrators, designers and art directors living in New York. It’s definitely a great place for getting yourself out there, attending art events and making new friends, both within and beyond the industry.
Tell us a little about how your visual identity has evolved over the last few years?
The major turning point for my illustration style occurred during the second year of grad school, when I started using only flat shapes, parallel perspectives, and pastel colours. I then created an illustration titled ‘Giant Beauty Station’, which was subsequently selected for various competitions. I’m rarely satisfied with composition and color palette; I strive to make the composition more dynamic, and include more highly saturated colours. It wasn’t until last year when I started working on my thesis project ‘Electric Zoo’, that I finally felt like I resolved these aesthetic issues.
What do enjoy doing when you’re not hard at work?
I used to love playing basketball when I lived in China, but it’s kind of hard to find people to play with here in New York. Instead I spend a lot time going to the park and riverside, indulging in just being in the outdoors, refreshing my brain. Some of my illustrator friends have invited me to play mahjong in Central Park a few times this year too, which I find ironic because mahjong – in China – is usually an indoor activity.
What would your dream project look like?
I’d love to create a lengthy and lavish animated music video, using 3D Graphic’s, and liquid-motion. I can already imagine it as quite a fun and quirky project, taking advantage of more slick and advanced animation techniques and transitions.
Describe your work space.
My workspace is very simple; it’s just a desk with my laptop and Wacom Intuos Pro on it; a scanner, printer, books, and a light box aren’t far away. It has a large window which lets a lot of light in, though all I can see are tall buildings and a fraction of the Hudson River. I love collecting books, constantly buying more and more. I purchase a lot of books by my favorite illustrators, Henning Wagenbreth, Dave Cooper, Kyle Platts and Helge Reumann. Some of my all time favourites include, “Le secret de Sainte-Hélène” by Henning Wagenbreth, “Festival Frenzy” by Kyle Platts, “kramers” Ergot 6.
Do you have a ‘creative toolkit’ of software or physical tools?
My creative toolkit is primarily made up of Photoshop, After Effect, Wacom Intuos Pro, a Scanner, Printer and light box. I would love to purchase a Cintiq sometime soon!
What can you tell us about what you’re currently working on?
I’ve just finished two editorial projects for Outside Magazine online and Bostonia Fall 2017. I’m now starting work on a project that includes various infographics and illustrations (though I can’t say who for!). I’ve also been working on some personal projects, including three illustrations about the relationship between technology and humans.
Can you share a creative project you’ve seen recently that you wish you’d made?
The poster that Paul Garland created for IH8WAR called ‘The Power of Love’ was amazing. Garland’s slick composition and consideration of light and shadow really makes the image look a lot more dynamic. His use also of a missile instead of a bullet, made the concept feel even more provocative. It reminded me of something that my professor Ryan Sanchez once said in class, ‘If you going to draw a penis, then draw a penis, if you going to cross the line, then cross the line’.
Follow on instagram: @mengxinli