Illustrator Wenyi Geng on her delightfully warm, surreal worlds inspired by Japanese manga

Wenyi Geng was born in Japan, grew up in China and now studies at NYC’s School of Visual Arts. She explains how this influences her work.

Dragons roam freely and boats are paddled across the air in illustrator Wenyi Geng’s form of a utopian world.

Her expansive landscapes are brought to life by intriguing and often lonesome characters whose existence begs a hundred questions like, who are they and where did they come from?

Wenyi uses ink and pen to paint gorgeous environments of surrealism with a warm, autumn-based colour palette.

Although she finds it hard to pin down her exact 'style', she’s heavily inspired by Japanese manga novels and films, nature documentaries, and iconic artists such as Moebius and Matsumoto Taiyou.

Wenyi is finishing her final year of the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program at New York City's School of Visual Art (SVA), but she has already gathered an impressive number of illustrations that reflect her cultural background, whether subconsciously or not. Wenyi was born in Japan but grew up in China before studying in New York City.

We speak to Wenyi about her creative process, biggest inspirations, and how living in New York City – "one of the best places for artists in the world" – has influenced her aesthetic.

Miriam Harris: What were your recent July Drawings inspired by?

Wenyi Geng: "Mainly I was inspired by my formal work, if I had some interesting elements in my formal work I tried to use these elements to start a new drawing, like the domino. I’m always looking for creative artists online, not only people who draw, but also architects, animators, sculptors, photographers and designers. I like to watch interesting nature documentaries, it always inspires me, I’m always surprised by how creative nature can be."

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MH: How has your cultural background shaped you and/or your style?

WG: "It was really interesting when I was back and forth between China and Japan, even if they are so close to each other, the culture in those two countries is totally different. For me, I guess it made me realise how big the world can be, and how small I am. I’m influenced by Japanese manga a lot, and that’s why I like to use ink and pen (or brush), even if I’m colouring everything digitally."

MH: Has living in New York City influenced your aesthetic in a different way?

WG: "Yes of course. I don’t feel like I’ve been influenced consciously, rather it sub-consciously soaks into my mind. Now since I’m in the SVA MFA Illustration program, I’m  surrounded by lots of amazing artists, and we always talk about our work.

"Those that I talk to are really important for me, it always helps me to understand more about what we are doing and what I should do. And in New York, as one of the best places for artists in the world, everything is more dramatic compared to where I lived before. These experiences inspire me all the time,  and give me more ideas about what to draw."

MH: How would you describe your style?

WG: "I really don’t know how to describe my style. I think it’s even harder than describing myself. As a person who draws, I hope I’m not too conscious about what I am drawing or what style I am using. I’m influenced by lots of different artists and everything I see, and will keep finding new things that I find interesting, so my style also might change based on what I see and think.

"I think everyone in this world has their own story and their own life, and those experiences make them unique, and that is the core of a person. So I believe no matter how, I do have something that is unique to myself, and those things will build up my style."

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MH: Talk me through your creative process.

WG: "I draw sketches for ideas all the time. If there’s something in my mind, it’s like a storage. For the line work I usually use ink and pen or brushes; and scan the line work into my computer and colour digitally."

MH: What are some of your favourite artists so far and why?

WG: "Moebius has always been one of my favourite artists, but now I’m trying to avoiding his work because his influence is too strong!

"And Matsumoto Taiyou, he is my favourite Japanese artist. His work is always crazy and amazing, you can tell he’s a genius. The way he draws things and tells a story is something that only belongs to himself."

MH: You combine the real and surreal in a form of hyperreality. Tell me about that.

WG: "One of my favourite books is Thousand Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, and that magical realist style influenced me a lot, so I guess somehow I’m chasing the method of creating things with that kind of feeling. It’s always boring for me if I just draw something super realistic, but I also don’t like to put everything into a magical dream world, so I found my way to do this just like that book, back and forth between the real world and a dream world."

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MH: You’re still finishing up at School of Visual Arts, so what’s next for you?

WG: "Yes I still have one year left. I hope after this year I’m able to work as a freelancer but I understand how hard is that, especially in New York, everyone is so talented. If I’m able to make it here, it will be great but if not, I will consider going to another country. But no matter how, I definitely will keep drawing and will keep trying to create some interesting things."