Fame was a pleasant surprise for fashion illustrator Grace Ciao.
It all started when in 2014, when Buzzfeed featured her artworks that combine fashion illustrations with strategically placed flower petals.
"I got my lucky break when Buzzfeed shared my work…It went viral, and other media outlets [shared my illustrations] as well.
"At that time, I still had my notifications on and I couldn't sleep because [about 7,000 people started following me] within the first few days of the Buzzfeed article," said the talented 24-year-old artist, with a wide smile.
"I would say I am lucky, because I did not plan this to be my career."
GRACE'S DEMURE STYLE MIRRORS HER FEMININE ILLUSTRATIONS.
Grace was discovered during her final year in National University of Singapore.
Back then, she was juggling her time between pursuing her degree, interning at a bank, and dabbling in illustrations for her clients.
GRACE HAS WORKED WITH COSMETIC BRANDS, SUCH AS L'ORÉAL.
The illustration that shot Grace to fame was inspired by a dying stalk of red rose. Instead of disposing the rose, she plucked a few petals and pasted it on her illustration of a dress.
"When I posted it on Instagram, I had more likes than usual. That was an affirmation to me, like 'I'm doing something right'. I realised this is unique because people had never seen something like that before," said Grace, who has over 60,000 followers on Instagram.
THIS IS THE ILLUSTRATION THAT CAUGHT BUZZFEED'S EYES.
Shortly after her viral Buzzfeed feature, Grace left her job at a corporate bank to focus full-time on illustrating.
"I found it difficult to pursue two things at once because I always have a desire to do better. If I were to work at a bank, I want to excel in my bank job. Wherever I am, I will want to do well in it," said Grace, with conviction.
Encouraged by the growing popularity of her illustrations, Grace started experimenting with other flowers, such as orchids.
"There are a few flowers I do not like working with, not because they are ugly or anything like that. They are so common, and you won't feel inspired by them," said Grace, who enjoys working with peonies and David Austin roses, due to its unique colours and textures.
What else inspires the fashion forward artist?
GRACE LOOKS UP TO FASHION DESIGNERS ZUHAIR MURAD AND MARCHESA
FOR THEIR CLEAN AND FEMININE AESTHETICS.
The business and marketing graduate said: "I try to be more creative by looking through Instagram and my favourite designers' outfits. I look at the design, colour, and shape of the dresses. Sometimes, we have to keep up and understand what's [trending] in fashion."
To improve the aesthetics of her Instagram feed, Grace engaged a professional photographer and videographer to capture her work.
"Recently, I am more into filming the process of my work because people seem to be interested in seeing how my illustrations are created," said the meticulous illustrator.
GRACE CREATED VIDEO CONTENT WHEN SHE NOTICED HOW
INSTAGRAM WAS ACTIVELY PUSHING VIDEOS.
One challenge Grace struggles with is the luxury of posting her illustrations whenever inspiration strikes. Currently, Grace schedules 20 posts each month, which includes videos of illustrations, inspirational photos, and her own illustrations.
"There is a certain trade-off; if you want to do better, you will have to forgo certain things [like posting an illustration immediately]. I mean, look at the other Instagrammers, who are posting more and more advertisements.
"You just can't do it like how you used to anymore. It is a dilemma, but then again, I don't want to spoil my feed," said Grace truthfully.
The one tip Grace lives by?
"It is very important to have this goal; for someone to look at your work and they will know it's you.
"You have to try and create that style. It may not be easy – I took a while, but I found it. And when you find it, just stick to it, keep doing it, and that will be your unique style," said Grace encouragingly.
FUN FACT: GRACE HAS NEVER TAKEN AN ART CLASS IN HER LIFE.
Since June this year, the dynamic illustrator has been busy working on a new series of uplifting illustrations, featuring a flower girl in different dresses and hairstyles.
"She is not too Asian, [she has] a distinctive look many people can relate to. I am hoping that my followers will remember this girl, and remember me," said Grace.
GRACE ALSO HOPES THAT PEOPLE WILL FEEL HAPPY AND INSPIRED
WHEN THEY VIEW HER ARTWORKS.
PHOTO CREDITS: @GRACE_CIAO
"Grace Ciao isn't just me; it is a brand. It is inspiring, beautiful, and motivating.
"When people see my illustrations, I want them to feel a connection to it, and that is what Grace Ciao is about," added the confident artist.
This is part five of Behind the #gram, a new series on Instagram influencers. In this series:
1. Ng Li Tying of The Spatula and The Pen
2. Stanley Tan of Windflower Florist
3. Yafiq and Yais Yusman
4. Leonard Giam