Central to Weitong Mai’s illustration practise is a love for lines. “I’m addicted to line creations and using the fineliner,” she says. “I think there is a lot of possibility in working with lines.” She creates imaginative landscapes populated with beautiful swans, majestic big cats and lonely damsels, all with a signature fairytale-like quality.
Mai spent her formative years in Shenzhen (China) after which her family moved to Canada. It was here in high school that she discovered the creative possibilities of illustration when her art teacher suggested she look up the work of Taiwanese-American artist James Jean. Profoundly impacted by his work she set her mind on making a career in illustration. She studied the work of prominent Chinese visual artists like Shan Jiang, Jun Cen and Victo Ngai, as well as Italian illustrators Gianni De Conno and Lorenzo Mattotti; these influences are all evident in her work.
After moving to London to do a BA in Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts, she started receiving commissions from Chinese clients while she was still studying. On graduating she did a nine-month internship at Shotopop Studio, during which she built up a portfolio eventually catching the attention of agency Folio Arts.
Commercially speaking, her style lends itself well to a range of applications and the commissions that come her way are quite diverse. She’s created illustrations for National Trust leaflets, packaging labels for drinks brand Fever-Tree and cover-art for Mixology, a German magazine about drinks culture. At the moment she’s working on illustrating an encyclopaedia with publisher DK Books, which is due to be released later this year.
The project closest to her heart is the first one she did on graduating in 2017, however. It was a poster she illustrated for Moleskin and Chinese retailer Tmall. “It was my first commercial commission, and took me nearly three months to finish,” she tells us.
Despite collaborating with established brands, working as a freelance illustrator in London comes with its share of challenges, Mai tells us. “Even with agency representation I don’t think it is easy to receive stable commissions in London, but this leaves me some spare time to work on personal projects,” she says.
She says her personal work is largely inspired by the night and her working patterns. “I am 100% a night owl, I’m more productive and can concentrate better during the night-time. I enjoy staring at celestial bodies. They have recently become the biggest inspirations to my creations.”