Sketching On A Sewage Pond
(ft. Wenting Li)

August 5, 2021

Teh Talks is a series of iterative conversations between creatives released seasonally every year.

This conversation between Jasmine Gui (@jaziimun) and Wenting Li (@wentingthings) has been scrambled and edited with love.

Wenting’s addition to the Our Bodies & Other Fine Machines project was rather serendipitous.

Natalie had been sending me illustrator profiles for a while as we were brainstorming image collaborators for the book.

The last profile Natalie sent was Wenting’s, and unbeknownst to her, Wenting and I already knew each other. It was a nice moment of intersection. I was able to show Natalie some of Wenting’s work from my library, and the resonances were strong. It seemed like a perfect click moment that we didn’t need to mull over for very long. The rest is a wonderful experience of collaborative energy.

Do You Have Favourite Books?

I am a genre reader. I love sci-fi and fantasy. I think of fantastical creatures as portals.

I am drawn to space — anything that can be animated by someone interacting with it. This means shapes, forms, trees, vintage glasses, furniture, architecture, even concrete. I also love the natural, the city, the imaginary.

Other things I really love: symbolism, hallucinatory thinking.

I do feel like I know nothing outside of illustration, although I like to pay attention to the work of designers outside illustration during my design processes, especially when I’m searching for inspiration behind form.

What is a quote you really like?

“It takes all day to do nothing”

by Maré Odomo, from the comic/ poetry collection Late Bloomer

Thoughts about Commercial Illustration

The work that pays me is often work that isn’t engaging to me personally. It’s sort of like “eye-candy” for a specific audience usually within the trade, and I am not the audience for most of the things I draw. All ideas can be helped by an image for an audience. But not all ideas are equally good.

I am obsessed with my work though, the distillation of idea to image.

What About Your Creative Work? Besides illustration there’s painting, comics, ceramics and drawing.

I don’t know if I would identify as an artist or an illustrator.

I am someone who experiences things and appreciates them. I guess being present and recognizing that this is good. This makes its way into the art I think.

I feel I’m not doing enough serious work: the work that i’d like to do. Work that feels meaningful to me. Ideas that deserve images to accompany them.

Some things are more worth being drawn into than others.

I would love to move closer to ideas where I am a part of the audience. Like Natalie’s book and designing the print. I love it! What I loved about it was I could enter the feelings, emotional space and landscape of the work. I want to work with publications that are an entryway for anyone.

I went kayaking with my family recently and found myself floating in a “sewage pond”. It was clearly not a natural pond and the result of some runoff. But I had my sketchbook with me and pulled it out to do some sketching. It felt really different. It was a really bodied way of thinking. Felt like the physics of a different reality.

A fruit I am really feeling right now: Mulberry

A shape I keep thinking about: Murano mushroom lamps

It was nice to be sitting in a park with Wenting all these years after our first conversation at a coffee shop – a conversation she recently told me had been a really good and memorable conversation for her. This was a delightful thing for me to hear as someone who follows Wenting’s work and really relishes it. As I sat in the park and listened to her talk about influences, and repeatedly get tricked into answering questions of her own, I resonated with her identification as somebody who experiences things and makes thing. How the act of creation and not the label of “creative” is the thing that is life-giving and valuable.

In our collaboration this time around, so many of our conversations were full of curiosity and intention. Whether it be checking in to discuss the poems and their weight, opening the email to look at draft concepts for the first time, or marveling over the beauty of the test print, these moments were full of a vibrant engagement with wonder, with openness. It reminds me that to move and be moved is one of the biggest privileges of being someone who makes things.

What are two pieces of art/work you made recently that you really liked?

Cover illustration for How to Be A Chinese Ally
WIP: fishies

What types of spaces are you attracted to?

Water. Sky. The cloud sea. Transit. Expansive places. I love Brutalist architecture too. I recently biked by the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant. I would love to explore inside. 

If you could pick up any other art form what would it be?

As an adult? An audiobook narrator. When I was really young I wanted to be an author.