Blossoming career blooms from wilting rose
Fashion illustrator Ciao's flower-themed painting was her big break online
Singapore has unearthed another budding talent to its blooming design scene.
Known for integrating real flower petals into her work, fashion illustrator Grace Ciao has attracted the attention of international brands with her beautiful signature works.
Ms Ciao, 25, made her debut in early 2014 on Instagram, when she was in her final year of university, and hasn't looked back since.
Today, the creative entrepreneur lists Jaeger-LeCoultre, Chanel, Christian Dior and Saks Fifth Avenue as clients.
Formerly a business student at the National University of Singapore (NUS), the design enthusiast shared that since young she had always been keen on drawing.
She told The New Paper: "I was never happier than with a pencil and paper in my hand.
"As I grew up, I developed a particular interest in fashion, trying to recreate the glamorous styles I was seeing on TV and in magazines."
But Ms Ciao never thought she would turn it into her career.
"My parents were encouraging, but tried to steer me to what they thought was a more worthwhile vocation," she said.
"My mother used to say it's hard to survive as a full-time artist and I should focus on my studies to get a stable career.
"So I enrolled myself into a business course, thinking that I was on my way to a job in banking or with a multinational that would make my parents happy."
Ms Ciao continued to draw in her spare time, posting her creations on Instagram.
What eventually shot her to online fame was a wilting rose on her desk which a male friend gave her.
Instead of disposing it, she decided to incorporate its petals into her paintings.
And that was the turning point. She recalled: "The post went viral and was liked and shared by people all around the world. It was also picked up by publications like BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post."
But her journey has not been a bed of roses.
Still an undergraduate at NUS when she started her business, she said she was once hired to work on a project but wasn't paid for it.
"My e-mails and calls were ignored," said Ms Ciao, who now has strict policies about the commissions and assignments she takes up.
"Now I am confident enough to choose my clients carefully."
Her big break came when she was invited to work with Swiss luxury watch and clock manufacturer Jaeger-LeCoultre, and travelled to Hong Kong in October 2014 to do a live art demonstration.
A year or two later, Ms Ciao was also engaged by French fashion houses Chanel and Dior to be a live illustrator at their events, as well as US luxury department store Saks Fifth Avenue to create fresh and engaging content for their social media pages.
She said: "The exposure helped enhance my credibility and make me more attractive to potential clients. But I don't think too much about it, I feel that I still need to work a lot harder."
Her most memorable and "meaningful" design so far is a fashion illustration created for a charity project, using lettuce. But flowers remain her go-to material.
"Petals work really well because their delicacy and exquisiteness mimic that of a soft fabric. For instance, the gentle, fabric-like quality of roses allows me to create folds for flare skirts."
When asked if she regretted studying business instead of art, she said: "Looking back, the marketing and financial skills I learnt in business school were critical.
"It taught me to be entrepreneurial."
Ms Ciao is also grateful to her supportive parents.
"Even though they did not fully understand my job, they allowed me to explore my options and choose the career I wanted," she said.