Interview | Bingjie BJ Cui

Dec 14, 2023
by Yannie Gu

Bingjie “BJ” Cui, In Xinjiang Series, editorial illustration.
Image courtesy of the artist.

Bingjie “BJ” Cui (she/her) is a freelance illustrator specializes in editorial, food illustration, brand advertising and publishing. Born and raised in Xinjiang, China, a city known for its cultural diversity, Cui’s work is heavily influenced by ethnic aesthetics and the local spirit of the land. The interesting jump between her ‘rational’ background in science and ‘emotional’ thinking in art allows her to create artwork that are corresponding to the literacy and texts.

She creates most of her work digitally, taking inspiration from daily life, social phenomenon, and literature. Bold colors, whimsical elements, and visual puns reveal her passion for visual communication through powerful images. 

Bingjie “BJ” Cui. Images courtesy to the artist.

“Similar to urban design which uses design philosophy to solve problems, I found illustration appealing in connecting people from any backgrounds and evoking their thoughts. More importantly, it’s the realm of art where the creator would be able to communicate with their audience freely through visual language.”

Q:   You mentioned that you have a background in science, could you tell us more about your creative journey? What brought you into the realm of art?

A:   Yes, I was a science student with a focus on environmental planning and design in the first place. In the first semester, during our field trip touring cities and towns, I remember there were quantities of beautiful sketches depicting the environmental elements, species, and natural resources at the conservation site. That’s where I first thought of powerful visual language could help the reader dive into a new world. After completing my first master’s degree in environmental planning at the University of Georgia, I worked as a graduate designer, focusing on government bridge design projects in a design firm. I got many creative ideas about the flow of the bridge form, but due to the quality of the engineering, the team had to adapt the design in support of the engineering needs, which somewhat hugely changed the form of design. That’s when I started to think about in which field could creative ideas be protected from the real world.

Similar to urban design which uses design philosophy to solve problems, I found illustration appealing in connecting people from any backgrounds and evoking their thoughts, more importantly, it’s the realm of art where the creator would be able to communicate with their audience freely through visual language. Then I went back to the US to pursue further education in arts and obtained another M.F.A in illustration at Savannah College of Art and Design. After graduation from SCAD, I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator. The collaborations with different clients allowed me to gain more experience in solving problems with powerful visual solutions. I feel happy every time I find my readers related to my artwork.

Bingjie “BJ” Cui, In Paradise
In Xinjiang Series

 Bingjie “BJ” Cui, Carpet World,
In Xinjiang Series

Q:   Bold, vibrant colors play a central role in your work, what do they represent to you, and how do you make your creative decision during the process?

A:   I love my life, so the bold vibrant colors are kind of a reflection of my enthusiasm and passion for life. I love to explore the inner meaning behind social phenomena and speak for diversity.

Born and raised in Xinjiang, China, a city known for its cultural diversity, I’m heavily influenced by ethnic aesthetics. Xinjiang Carpets, a skilled production with featured Adelaide silk patterns, is an indispensable part of home fashion. When I was a kid, I loved to visit carpet stores - it’s like a tour of a colorful wonderland where the color palettes are implanted in my blood. So, when I started to render my drawings, it’s like something that flows from my body, I subconsciously gave priority to retro and ethnic colors.

Literature, movies, and life are three important fields where I got inspirations. I usually start from random thumbnails, playing around with compositions. When I draw freely with maybe just shapes, and lines, some whimsical ideas jump into my mind to push me further through the process.

Bingjie “BJ” Cui, The Grand Bazaar,
In Xinjiang Series

Bingjie “BJ” Cui, Behind the Stage,
In Xinjiang Series

Q:   The series In Xinjiang consists of whimsical illustrations that closely tie to the local ethnic culture in Xinjiang, China, what made you want to create this series in the first place? Are you planning to explore more projects relating to your identity and your hometown?

I was the only international student in my first graduate program in the US. In the urban planning program, we talked a lot about the planning and history of cities in China. Xinjiang, as a popular tourist city with a long history and abundant natural resources, I found few artworks promote the aesthetics of this province. My peers were curious about the land far away from their country, while there were not so many visual and educational resources about Xinjiang. I’m working on this series with the hope of attracting attention to the beauty of the land, and the inclusive ethnic culture of the land. I’m planning to explore more projects relating to my hometown, as there are far more city characters to be represented.

Bingjie “BJ” Cui, Still-life Celebration, digital illustration. Images courtesy to the artist.

Q:   Often perceived as the most straightforward, universal language for the celebration of life, food embodies a lot of human emotions and culture. What is the most significant experience/takeaway to you working as a food illustrator?

The meaning and story behind food may vary among people. Different textures on food may capture different moods, so working as a food illustrator, I think research and observation are significant parts of my drawing process. Capturing the colors, and textures, and even promoting the food with an accurate emotion would be an effective way to connect with your readers.

Q:   You have collaborated with a diverse range of brands, businesses, and media platforms, what has been your favorite illustration project so far and why?

A:  I love collaborating with various brands as it also encourages me to gain experiences with various needs and thoughts, so it's hard to pick my favorite project, as I cherish all the interesting meetings with groups through collaborations. The Shanghairen project does impress me a lot. It’s a tribute to the famous covers of  ‘The New Yorker’. It’s a collaborative project gathering talents to express their vision of Shanghai. I was so inspired to see how we, as creators and also as living parts of the city, present the same city in different views and visual language. It's a power of visual communication, through which you can see visions of the city in different forms.

Bingjie “BJ” Cui, The Shanghairen, Jan 2023 cover.

Q:   Are there any books, films or creative resources that have inspired you lately, and you wanted to share with our audiences?

A:   Trending Topic is a recent Chinese movie about how the media’s control of the internet topic would heavily affect one’s life. The story interweaves some social phenomena and the role of the internet in shaping and fermenting public opinion. It’s a deep thought and reflection of our internet life from where truth seems to be buried from data traffic.