Inventory // A Drawing Life



The doodles of Zi Xi, who goes by the moniker Messymsxi, straddle the realms of idiosyncrasy, gentleness and thought-provocation. Check out her Instagram account and you are immersed into a world of beautiful watercolour, narrative murals, dreamy daily visual memoirs and exciting artistic collaborations with brands like Kiehl’s and Melissa Shoes. Her doodles for corporate and public spaces are zestful and whimsical and they really capture the zeitgeist of our times.

Zi Xi studied graphic design at London’s Central Saint Martins and has won many awards. Her work includes the award-winning children’s book ‘Where’s Grandma?‘ (written by Edmund Lim W.K. and published by Epigram Books). Here is a short interview with Zi Xi on her work, which is so immense there’s only a fraction we’ve highlighted here.

Hi Zi Xi, please share with us about your childhood and how, if it did, influence you into a creative career, particularly in illustration? 

I have always had a naive ambition of wanting to be an artist because my dad is a Chinese painter. Then, when I was doing my diploma in Visual Communication, I enjoyed doing my work most when I was using my drawings to help communicate my messages. Through my illustrations, I am able to share worthy issues that I am most concerned with. Art and illustration are definitely my passions, and being able to build my career upon my passions is a blessing.

Let’s talk about some of your more immersive projects, such as ‘Imaginarium: Over the Sea Under the Water’ at the Singapore Art Museum 8Q’s ‘Plastic Ocean’ exhibition. What did you want participants to experience? 

I hope that through this piece of work, the public will be a little more aware of the dire situation our oceans are in, and also rethink their personal plastic waste and disposal habits. For example, the average time we use a piece of single-use plastic is 20 minutes before it is disposed; all the effort that goes into producing and manufacturing a piece of plastic cup goes into the bin in 20 minutes. As plastics are not biodegradable, they will remain here on earth for a very long time. Hence I hope ‘Plastic Ocean’ will highlight to the public how our disposable and culture of convenience is unsustainable.

'Plastic Ocean' exhibition for Singapore Art Museum's Imaginarium at 8Q

‘Plastic Ocean’ exhibition for Singapore Art Museum’s Imaginarium at 8Q

How about Whitegrass Restaurant, where pastel colours and dreamlike imagery take over the walls? 

I was given the choices of dusty green, dusty pink and dusty blue by Takenouchi Webb, the interior design company (check out our interview with the design couple here) for the base wall colour for the mural, of which I chose green, as I felt that it was the most ‘neutral’ colour to work with for the concept of the mural. The following colours of the elements that I picked out were [selected via] trial and error to complement the mood of the space Takenouchi Webb has designed. When the digital mural artwork was completed, I realised that the mural’s colour palette was in tune and worked very well with the colours of the furniture too; it was a serendipitous moment for me.


Mural for Whitegrass restaurant, designed by Takenouchi Webb

Mural for Whitegrass restaurant, designed by Takenouchi Webb

You have illustrated a book ‘Where’s Grandma?’ Tell us about what guided the style and direction of your illustrations? 

The story talks about how a young boy experiences the loss of his grandma to Alzheimer’s Disease. With this heavy subject at heart, the direction of the illustration seeks to be poignant, to bring out the mood of the story.

WheresGrandma_MessyMsxi_1 WheresGrandma_MessyMsxi_6

One of your latest works is the a teapot and teacups set for the Underscore Presents: MUJI ‘Living in a Garden City’ exhibition at Ion from 22 September to 1 October last year. We love the terrazzo aesthetic painted on. Tell us more.

Based on the theme, I started thinking about natural materials around us, and I thought about the very old-school terrazzo tiles that were used for the primary flooring for all HDB housing back in the day. Hence I was inspired to replicate this nostalgic element onto the teapot set.

'Terrazzo' cups for Underscore Presents: MUJI ' Living in a Garden City' exhibition

‘Terrazzo’ cups for Underscore Presents: MUJI ‘ Living in a Garden City’ exhibition

Watercolour appears to be your favourite medium, based on your Instagram. 

I enjoy most traditional mediums like pencil, ink and watercolour more than digital painting. Watercolour is more like a hobby where I experiment painting still life. It helps relaxes me, as I spend six to eight hours in one sitting, all focused on the painting; i find this liberating.

Please continue this sentence: Play to me is: 

Being able to spend time with people I love doing things I love.


Drawing with water colour

Drawing with water colour

+ photo credit: all images courtesy of Messymsxi.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestEmail to someone

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Further Stories