Wonderful Otherworldly Illustrations for the Best New Sci-fi Books

Brooklyn-based illustrator Jing Wei tell us about creating her artworks for The New York Times' weekly sci-fi book column, Otherworldly.

Illustration from Otherworldly on 14/08/2016

Every month, The New York Times publishes the Otherworldly, bringing together reviews of the biggest and best new sci-fi novels - and with a wonderful illustration by Jing Wei.

Topics for the column include alternate realities, schizophrenia, eerie buildings, human colonies, dying planets and the apocalypse. 

Jing says she's given a lot of creative freedom "right off the bat" to work with common themes and moods of the chosen books. 

Jing was born in China, before being raised in California and now based in Brooklyn.

Her background in printmaking has influenced a lot of her commercial work, including her role as brand illustrator for Etsy and visiting instructor at Pratt University.

We talked to Jing about the creative process behind her illustrations for The New York Times and working with the rich imagery of  reviews often left completely open to interpretation.

Image: Illustration from Otherworldly August, 2016

Miriam Harris: What kind of brief is given to you by The New York Times for the Otherworldly illustrations?

Jing Wei: "The brief is usually in-progress text [of the Otherworldly column] sent through by the art director, Matt Dorfman. Matt and I have been working together for years, so he gives me a lot of creative freedom right off the bat."

Image: Illustration from Otherworldly December, 2015

MH: How do you approach what to draw?

JW: "[The column] is a roundup of books, usually four. The genre is always sci-fi, but the plots can vary quite a bit. It could be anything from dying planets to shape shifting ghosts (both of which are awesome to draw).

"My job is to find common themes and moods, and work with that as my foundation."

Image: Illustration from Otherworldly February, 2016

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MH: Talk us through your creative process.

JW: "My process is fairly simple. I usually read the text through a few times, jotting down things that jump out at me. Then I spend a lot of time thumb nailing and sketching.

"The reviews often include a lot of rich imagery that's completely open to interpretation, so I feel like there are a million ways to approach these images. I probably go through about 30-40 thumbnails before I start narrowing down ideas to sketch out in a more refined way.

"Once a sketch has been approved, I'll build out the drawing digitally and scan in a few handmade elements. I like doing things in phases, so I usually create the environment first, and then populate the space with objects and people."

Image: Illustration from Otherworldly April 2016

MH: How did you come to work for The New York Times?

JW: "Five years ago, I set up a meeting with the art directors at the Op-Ed page to show them my portfolio. I was so excited that they were open to chatting in person, versus the norm of sending promos into the abyss.

"They tried me out on a small spot soon after that, and thankfully it wasn't a disaster. I've been making illustrations for them ever since."

Image: Illustration from Otherworldly June 2016