What is “good taste”? Meiting Song defies categorisation with her all-encompassing portfolio
The New York-based graphic designer’s portfolio boasts a host of projects from animation, illustration, photography and more.
Animator, illustrator, graphic designer, photographer: Meiting Song is one of those enviable people who seems to be able to do it all. A recent graduate from New York’s School of Visual Arts, Meiting’s creative journey in becoming one of this year’s Graduates hasn’t been the smoothest. As someone of Chinese descent living in the US, the current political climate has sent both personal and professional challenges rippling through the recent graduate. She’s had to rethink, reexamine and plough forwards through the turbulent last few months; something she discusses candidly in our interview.
In light of it all, Meiting’s uplifting spirit continues to shine through, seen in the designer’s proactive mentality and joyful works. “My dream project is doing things I love,” she tells us at one point, “and that’s what I’m doing right now.” Growing up in Beijing, she remembers her childhood in the early 2000s. An excited atmosphere provoked by the new millennium and the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games filled the air. The young Meiting took part in many drawing competitions; Chinese painting being her first introduction to the creative arts.
GalleryMeiting Song: Garden Drawings
GalleryMeiting Song: Garden Drawings
She recalls the difficulty in holding the brush as a five-year-old and more vividly, she explains, “my mind blown away when I first saw The Spring of the Frog’s Sound Ten Miles by Chinese painter Qi Baishi.” The artist didn’t paint any frogs. Instead, he depicted tadpoles to indicate the frogs ten miles away. “It was the first time I experienced sound and imagination through one painting,” she remembers, importantly. In turn, she draws on a variety of synaesthetic techniques in her practice.
In Meiting’s work, illustration overlaps with graphic design, animation or photography to stimulate the unexpected. References such as The Powerpuff Girls unearth nostalgia, she questions what makes good taste, twisting the subtext of Chinese kitsch by placing it in an American context. Printed matter, digital illustrations, commercial animations and more collide in this exceptionally vast portfolio. And perhaps most importantly, maintains Meiting’s excitement to reach new possibilities.
It’s Nice That: I’m obsessed with the early 2000s Asian pop culture references in your work! Your style is so nostalgic with a unique Meiting twist added in. Talk us through the development of your aesthetic over the years?
Meiting Song: Before quarantine, my 2000s Asian pop culture style only appeared in my outfits. Then I suffered a heartbreak that many Chinese people felt in January. Covid-19 causes so much racism against Asians. I felt unsafe going out and staying home was the only way to make myself feel safe at that time.
However, my mind was full of anger and insecurity when I stayed at home. One day I just decided to not give a fuck about anything. There are so little things we can do in this pandemic as a creative. I just wanted my work to bring joy to the world and to myself. I wanted to express this happy 2000s vibes we had before the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Pushing back from the tide of the times, I brought the 2000s Asian pop culture into my works again. My work wasn't always upbeat and optimistic, there was a time when I was full of anger when creating them. But now, after finishing my degree, I’ve found my inner peace and my rage bloomed like a flower.
I actually had more American influences in my life before studying in the US. I grew up watching Hannah Montana and this style of American teenage show influenced me at the beginning. Then, after coming to New York, I learned more about Asia and my own country. I didn’t really know anyone from southern China until I came to New York City. So instead of having a culture shock from the US, I had a culture shock from southern China. I soon fell in love with Hong Kong pop culture from the late 90s and early 2000s when I knew nothing previously. I’ve been listening to Wong Faye for four years now.
When you are far away from a place, everything back home is automatically coated with a nostalgic filter. I started to think about the bamboo mat and the fake lotus in granny’s home. There was something so kitschy about it and I would have never bought it before coming to the US. But I started to accept this and in turn, I became obsessed with the kitsch in New York’s Chinatown. When I came back to Beijing for the summer, the elders would ask me if I was full of pizzas and burgers in NY. I would say: “No, I was full of dim sum.”
People always say that to be a good designer, you have to have good taste. After accepting kitsch, I started to wonder what good taste actually was and why it was necessary. I started to think I should put taste aside when creating my work. It was just setting rules for me and blocking my mind. It wasn’t until the end of my junior year that I realised I was unconsciously doing design work for rich people only. It seemed that my goal was to make cool and expensive things that support a specific lifestyle. I wanted to change this and my subject transformed from lifestyle to life itself. I spent time observing the real world.
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Meiting Song: Garden Drawings
“My rage bloomed like a flower.”Meiting Song
INT: What's the most valuable lesson you learned during your time at university?
MS: The most valuable lesson I learned is how to give myself feedback. At first, I cherished the opportunity to receive critiques from the professionals but there are so many personal projects I wanted to do, it would be extremely annoying to ask my professors so many questions. Everyone in college is insecure about their work and I was not an exception. I was so insecure that I would never post my works online. As a result, there was a time when everyone thought I was a photography major because of the film photos I posted on Instagram.
After junior year ended, I spent all summer doing personal projects in Beijing when everyone else was doing internships. I learned to give myself feedback since there was no one else who could give it to me. I also learned how to put myself out there in the real world without feeling insecure. It turned out that the real world was more friendly than I imagined. When we went back to school, it was so much easier to deal with the pressure of the course. I learned to focus on myself instead of being affected by the competitive environment. It was like four years of meditation for me, even though I didn’t take any meditation classes.
GalleryMeiting Song: Girl
GalleryMeiting Song: Girl
INT: Your portfolio impressively stretches across graphic design, illustration, animation and motion design. What are the benefits and challenges of working across these different mediums? How do your creative processes inform one another?
MS: I think there are 80 per cent benefits and 20 per cent challenges in working across different mediums. My major is graphic design, but I am also interested in illustration, animation, motion graphics, and so much more. I am open to all kinds of mediums and I’ve always thought that I’m going to suck if I don’t get out of the design world and learn new things.
There are more benefits because everything is related and by studying different mediums, I can make my work more relevant. I learned composition from graphic design and how to use colour through illustration. All mediums support each other rather than conflict. The only challenge – the remaining 20 per cent – is self-doubt. Because I was so interested in illustration and photography, my classmates would ask me questions like: “If you like illustration and photography so much, why don’t you change your major?” It was such a rude question to ask and I would question myself a lot.
I was also afraid that I was making something that the creative industry here in the US won’t accept. However my friends were really supportive, and they believed in my visual language and this gave me the courage to try something new.
INT: There are an abundance of incredible projects in your portfolio! If you had to pick one, which one are you most proud of and why?
MS: I am proud of all my works, but if I have to choose one, it would be Garden Drawings which I made last year. I was inspired by a primary school’s garden drawing exhibition in Madison Square park – it is so different from what I make now. By doing this project, I threw away my insecurities of putting my work out there. It was also the first time I started to monetise my work by developing the series into postcards and stickers. I also made the project into a story told through animation. Through animating a looping domino effect in a garden, I wanted to show the magic of the life cycle through simple shapes and vivid colours.
INT: Your work takes on so many different forms. Are you eager to pursue one discipline in particular in the future? What would be your dream project to work on?
MS: I have already experienced what it's like to work on dream projects! My dream projects are doing things I love, and I’m proud of them. And I’m doing it right now. I also want to work with brands that give me opportunities to express anything. Office Kiko was a brand that let me handle it myself. It was a dreamy experience to work with Kiko.
Currently I would like to focus on the combination of motion graphics and illustration but I am always pursuing new directions and embracing new techniques. I want to try to make my own soundtracks in the future. It’s hard to find the right music for my animation. Making music is hard for me, but it’s on my to-do list!
My new, very realistic dream project is working as a freelancer with brands like Apple and Nike. I used to think it was so cool to make my own motion graphics works on the screen of an iPad in the Apple store. I’m also jealous of illustrators who can put Nike logos on their works. The Nike logo looks like it’s saying yes in a graphic way, it looks like a sporty version of sailor moon.
I believe my dream project will come to life, it’s just a matter of time.
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.