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Illustrator Meiting Song on the Importance of Cuteness During Hard Times

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The animations of Meiting Song are cute, calming, and brimming with life. Her simple but expressive shapes allow her unique aesthetic to flow through — in encountering her works, the viewer has a sense of tension relief. The rhythmic looping of her motion graphic images recall the simple mechanics of childhood toys, from which we find joy and wonder in witnessing something come to life. 

A recent graduate from New York’s School of Visual Arts, Meiting Song is a motion graphics designer, illustrator and photographer originally from Beijing. In her works, Song taps into pop cultural influences from Hannah Montana and Powerpuff Girls to Jay Chou and Sailor Moon. Soaking in the visual delights of daily life around her, she is inspired by “good” and “bad” designs alike.

Meiting Song Animation Radii China

In art school where most students dreamed about working for museums or glamorous brands, Song was asking herself, “why is it nobody’s goal to do branding or design for something like sanitary pads?” Once she became aware of this prejudice, she was determined to not only design for a rich, sophisticated audience. This thought process has helped to define her approach to the way she works with brands today.

Despite graduating into a freshly pandemic-ridden world in May 2020, Song has been incredibly active. From collaborating with Japanese celebrity Kiko Mizuhara’s fashion brand Office Kiko to creating animations for the New York Times and Depop, Song has proven that her unique style is versatile in communicating a variety of different messages.

Part of Song’s process is to imagine her “models” as being part of a fashion shoot. She plans the poses, the outfits, the background and the props for each “shoot.” As she says, “It is like taking a photo, with the photos existing as moments.” 

She goes on to say that she’s been working on establishing a different process, one where she creates background stories and personalities for her characters, one that’s inspired by what is going on in her own life right now. “I just started a new life in the lower east side of NYC, and I love it! I want my works to be inspired by my life experiences. I realize that creating a loving life is also part of the creative process.“

Meiting Song Animation Radii China

One of the most striking aspects of her work is its cutesy nature, something that is often dismissed as being childish or shallow. 

“Cute can be a lot of things. Cute can be a style. I think all styles are childish and shallow. Because styles just appear on the surface,” she says. “So cute as a style is childish and shallow as well.” Yet she’s also adamant that the idea of having a particular style denotes power and rebellion, with which she is able to fight off forces of boredom and mundanity. “Cute also manifests its own power. Things can simply look cute in appearance, like pink bows and puppies. But when I use cute to describe a mood, it is the mood of happiness.”

Animation Radii China

One aspect of her idiosyncratic style that immediately jumps out at viewers is her characters’ eyes, which seem dark and deep, while also exhibiting an ebullient sparkle. “I felt a need to make a “template” face for my characters, so I won’t have to spend time thinking about styles before I make my artworks. I think the sparkles in my characters’ eyes give the character life. Their body movements also form their expressions; if the postures are full of life, the characters will be full of life too.”

All of these aspects of her work are representative of where she is at in this current moment. “This is how I understand communication in art and design. Changes will eventually happen when I learn new things,” she says. “Every month I will try something new, and later, I will remove things that don’t help me with my main style. I hope my works will be simple and deep, but not arrogant. You just can’t be too greedy. Having everything in your works is like having nothing in your works. I always prefer focusing on one thing and making it excellent.”

She’s been unusually adept at applying her own brand or style to commercial projects. To this point, she speaks to a project with Angel Chen. “I really like the collaboration I recently did with Chinese fashion brand Angel Chen. It’s pretty cool to make my ‘fashion photoshoots’ come to life.”

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It’s a mode of working that she’d like to explore further. “I also really like Shushu/tong. I can definitely see Shushu/tong clothings in my works. Girls look cute and quirky in their outfits — it’s exactly the kind of girl I like to portray as well. The shapes and colors of their clothings will also transfer well into my styles.”

Although she looks upon her commercial work and her personal work as distinct, she says that her approach doesn’t necessarily differ. “I treat my commercial works and my personal projects the same. And I’ve managed to balance these two pretty well. I would do experiments in personal projects and later incorporate them into my commercial works,” she says.

Animation Radii China

“It’s like a cycle for me,” she continues. “Everything is digital now, and my works are always in digital forms. NFTs are really popular now, I can totally see my works transfer into NFTs. As much as I like working digitally, it is still moving on a different level to see and hold your work in print.”

Animation Radii China

Having worked on multiple brand campaigns, Song is ready to take the next step in putting her works on retail packaging or products. “It’s kind of the next goal for me. I would love to see my work incorporated into everyday objects,” she shared, although, she feels that she is lacking a simple trademark or caricature — something easily recognizable — that works well with artist-product collabs. She is happy to join a larger company where she can design packaging for everyday items, even if that means toning down her personal style.

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In crafting her imagery, redolent with deep colors, smooth lines and cartoon characters captured at vulnerable moments, Song is laying herself bare. “Cute can be a flaw — like when you love someone, the flaw is cute. But as soon as you feel nothing for the one you loved, the flaw goes back to a flaw. Cute is never boring, it’s always delightful. 

“And that is why cute is the most powerful of all styles: we really need some cuteness in the hardest times!”

All images courtesy Meiting Song.

Yi Jing Fly
    Yi Jing Fly is the author of China Too Cool: Vernacular Innovations and Aesthetic Discontinuity of China. With a background in fashion design as well as critical and visual studies, her interest lies in understanding society through aesthetic and consumer trends.