Xinmei Liu takes inspiration from vintage Shanghai advertisements and Chinese propaganda posters

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Xinmei Liu takes inspiration from vintage Shanghai advertisements and Chinese propaganda posters


Over time, Xinmei has found her practice and process has changed – mostly in the technique. “I remember painting with acrylic in the beginning, then drawing with ink and brush, and now I draw with ink and dip pen, which I think produces cleaner and more controlled lines, while preserving the organic line quality,” she tells us. “I have also switched to using more vibrant colors, and a limited color palette.” It’s come hand-in-hand with learning the practice of refining, finding creative ways to show “just what is needed to communicate the message and nothing else,” she explains. “I am also using more humour in my work than years ago.” This humour and style is evident in her poster for True/False Film Festival in the United States, where a bizarre and surreal image unravels like “puzzles in children’s activity books,” Xinmei says. “I thought it would be tricky to do, but actually turned out quite fun and worked pretty well in the end.” Another example of Xinmei’s brilliant talent comes in an editorial piece in The New Yorker, on a book review for Kingdom of Characters by Jing Tsu. “Illustrating an article written in English about my native language is a refreshing experience, and in the course I learned a lot even as a native speaker,” Xinmei explains. “The art director, Aviva Michaelov, wanted me to bring my own knowledge into the illustration, so I added in the detail of retro input methods that felt familiar to my childhood.”

“I think the best part of illustration is knowing my art is needed somewhere,” Xinmei says on her career. “For professional illustrators, commissioned works are our basic source of income, and it’s very common to work on projects we don’t feel very passionate about, but whenever there’s a chance to work with a dream client or on an exciting project, it is always a great feeling of fulfilment.” Of course, this is offset by what Xinmei describes as an “instability and anxiety” caused by the nature of her career. “I can get very depressed after things are slow for a few weeks and I don’t have projects to work on, but over time I have learned to take breaks when that happens before I get too busy with new projects again.” Xinmei is now keeping herself busy taking editorial commissions from magazines and newspapers, with a few as-of-yet announced commissions coming up in the pipeline that have us eager to follow her next movements. “I think when people see my work, they see a ‘style’ in the finished pieces and try to categorise or ‘define’ my work with that visual style,” Xinmei summarises. “But I actually value the researching and sketching process a lot, as I want to always find the best way to convey the message, and also make sure my imagery has a lot of ‘culture’ in it.”



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