Singapore based illustrator and graphic designer Neuneu Woo channelized her emotions after a heartbreak into creating some absolutely spellbinding intricate personal works. She feels that art has been her biggest companion during some of the most difficult times in her life.
Neuneu, who is from Shanghai, China, moved to Singapore about four years back. In Shanghai, she has worked as a graphic designer with PHD, a global planning-led media agency. She has also worked with the DDB group, before establishing herself as a freelancer. In this interview, I speak to Neuneu about her eclectic creative inspirations, her education, Singapore and her personal projects.
What influenced you creatively when you were growing up?
When I was little, I was greatly influenced by a TV series based on the famous ancient Chinese novel ‘Dream of the Red Chamber‘. Inspired by the Jingling’s twelve beauties (characters in the novel) and their gorgeous gowns, I started drawing ancient Chinese ladies at the age of five.
In high school, I was really into fantasy arts, under the influence of Hayao Miyazaki and Harry Potter series. That was about the same time when I first watched ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘. In fact, I can say that it was then that my imagination went wild for the first time. I always consider this movie as my turning point. I eventually started producing a lot of illustrations with “stories” instead of just figure drawings.
When did you realize you wanted to be a graphic designer?
I had done my majors in Advertising from Shanghai Normal University (SHNU). I have never ever given up on illustrations in my entire life, and it was quite obvious that if I were to stay in the advertising industry, I would have to start off as a graphic designer rather than a copywriter.
As a fresher hoping to finally learn something, I was really disappointed with the education system. So I skipped most of my classes and started learning some basic software skills on my own. Since I wasn’t properly trained, I didn’t consider myself a professional graphic designer even after I took up jobs as a designer at DDB and PHD. This eagerness of being a “pro designer” had always haunted me until I finally made the decision to come to Singapore.
In high school, I was really into fantasy arts, under the influence of Hayao Miyazaki and Harry Potter series. That was about the same time when I first watched ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. In fact, I can say that it was then that my imagination went wild for the first time.
So you did your Design Communication course in Singapore at LASALLE College of Arts. How was that experience?
It was fantastic, and it totally lived up to my expectations! The greatest thing I learned during the course is how to be an independent learner. The process was rather painful at the beginning, but to see it from where I am now, I’m so grateful for the lecturers who guided and supported me throughout the course, without ever dictating what I should be doing. And when I graduated, I finally felt confident and ready for the industry.
During my three-year course, I never stopped freelancing. So after my education, I was so overloaded with work that I couldn’t even make it to my graduation event.
Being an ambitious day dreamer, I feel there is still a lot of potential to learn, and I shouldn’t restrict myself just to graphic design. So, I am back at school again, doing my MA in Fine Arts this time. Well, I really believe that we should never give up studying.
When exactly did you start working with DDB? Tell us about your role there.
I started working at DDB before I graduated from SHNU in Shanghai. I started as an intern, and as a multi-tasked assistant machine, I helped develop ideas, looked for references, created mock-ups and layouts, illustrated storyboards, and of course, fetched papers from the printer. But I did learn a lot during my stay there, especially from the former art director Nie Lang who was really kind to me and patiently taught me every tiny basic detail.
How do you manage personal projects along with your commercial work?
Doing my personal projects works as a treat for me after finishing my long and painful commercial works. As a graphic designer, I often deal with advertising agencies which means not only do I have to meet the agencies’ requirements, but their clients’ as well. Therefore, the whole process is quite stressful which includes rounds and rounds of refining and very limited time for execution. And that’s why I really enjoy each and every minute of working on my personal projects. It makes me feel relaxed and cheerful.
Could you pick up one personal project and tell us a but about its making?
As a vintage lover, I didn’t quite agree with her. So I started this project to fight for the city. I took pictures of Singapore from some old town areas like Toa Payoh and Geylang. I then imported the pictures of these everyday objects onto the computer and did a digital collage. When I presented the work to my friend, she ended up saying, “This is so nice, can you print it on a tote bag for me?”
Through this project, I wanted to point out that the beauty of the outer world depends on how we reflect it from within. Beauty is everywhere, and all we have to do is simply notice and appreciate.
Tell me about your projects ‘Sometimes loneliness helps’ and ‘Broken Heart’. What inspired these deeply personal projects?
A most clichéd thing – the end of a relationship, of course. At that point, I found myself afraid of being alone. I just couldn’t stand the loneliness.
The aim of this project was to really make myself sit down and do these incredibly detailed illustrations so I am forced to stay focused throughout the process. No cellphone, no distractions, only my own heart to talk to. It was more of a training than a project for me. And finally, I was surprised to find myself actually enjoying being alone while doing this. I realized that being alone doesn’t mean being lonely. I felt blessed because at the most depressing point of my life, I had my art as the best company I could have asked for.
I realized that being alone doesn’t mean being lonely. I felt blessed because at the most depressing point of my life, I had my art as the best company I could have asked for.
Tell us a bit about your usual day at work.
I know that a designer’s daily life at work might seem fancy to others: we play hard and then boom! There is the Idea! And with a blink of an eye, ta-da, a masterpiece!
But mine is clearly the opposite. I spend a lot of time doing research before I start working. Developing ideas is exciting and a struggle at the same time. Sometimes I work overnight and live like a vampire. Once the clients approve my proposal, I jump right into the execution while seeking better creative solutions at the same time. Clients’ satisfaction means a great deal to me. Overall, it’s quite challenging and I really enjoy it.
Do you like to travel?
I do like to travel, but sadly I just can’t make the time for it. I would really like to visit Japan, Taiwan, Turkey and India if I got the chance.
Inspired by the Jingling’s twelve beauties (characters in the novel) and their gorgeous gowns, I started drawing ancient Chinese ladies at the age of five.
Who are the graphic designers around the world that you really admire?
Wang Zhizhong from Taiwan. His editorial designs makes me want to buy each and every book he has ever designed.
Phunk, a Singapore-based contemporary art and design collective formed by four Singaporean artists/designers: Alvin Tan, Melvin Chee, Jackson Tan, and William Chan.
What are some of the other things in music/arts/books etc. that really inspire you?
Oh, there are just too many! The epic ones are:
What are you currently working on?
I just did a set of commercial illustrations for Zhi Lian recruitment, the biggest job hunt agency in China. I now want to focus on my personal fine art projects, including practicing printmaking and photography.
FEATURED IMAGE CAPTION:
All the images are of artworks created by Neuneu Woo. ©
Neuneu Woo’s photograph has been provided by her. ©