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Impact 0383: Making money from selling ugly portraits

Laura Jiang · 25 February 2022
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Reader’s Note:

This article was originally published on Youthopia on 27 January 2022. Though some of the events and details in this article may have changed since, we hope to remember those in our community who made an impact to the world around them.

Prominent smile lines, overgrown nose hair and pupils the size of full stops. You’ve probably seen these ugly, crappy drawings on your Instagram feed, For You Page or maybe even Shopee.

While these ugly drawings do give a good laugh, who would’ve thought one would be able to make money out of it? Well, that’s exactly what 21-year-old Laura Jiang did.

It all started when the communications undergrad, who has always loved doodling, came across a viral TikTok video of a Malaysian Shopee seller who had done something similar by exaggerating the features of popular Kpop idol, Irene from Red Velvet. Known for her beauty, people were stunned yet amused to see her portrayed to be so ugly.

Seeing everyone’s positive reactions, Laura was inspired by this “work of art” and began doing her research to see if anyone had already introduced it to the Singaporean market.

“I went on to Shopee SG to see if anyone else in Singapore was doing the same thing but I didn’t get any results at all so I decided why not be the first to try. Yeah, so that’s how the story of Ugly Crappy Drawings began,” she shares.

Pricing each drawing between $5 and $15 depending on the number of faces in the photo, Laura’s Shopee’s page blew up quickly as word about it spread. Within a few days, she received close to a hundred orders.

It became a challenging period. Besides trying to meet the deadlines of fulfilling the customers’ orders, her school assignments were also due. She started struggling to manage her studies and drawings, and the pressing deadlines took a toll on her mentally.

She recalls one night when she felt overwhelmed from all the stress she had and cried.

“I had a photography assignment due in two days and I was struggling with it. I think the breaking point was when I accidentally broke the tripod which I had rented from my school. That was like the last straw so I just had a good crying session,” she shares.

Lucky for Laura, her family members chipped in. Not only did they console her but they even offered to help her out with the Shopee orders. Her sister, a former architecture student, helped to draw some of her orders and Laura was eventually able to finish the orders within the stipulated time.

While Laura has had her rough days, she also recounts memorable orders with special requests from her customers.

“Something that I remember was the first time I drew a corgi because, all along, I’d been drawing humans and then this girl actually asked me to draw a picture of her dog for his birthday. That was quite memorable.

“Another instance was this person — I think it was their wedding anniversary — so the wife asked me to draw her husband with super long nose hair.”

Laura does about five drawings a day on average. As she now stays in NTU school’s hall, after lessons, she’ll return to her room before proceeding to take a nap. Thereafter, she’ll start on her pieces whilst tuning in to some chill lo-fi music.

“I feel like in the evenings, I like to use that time on my school assignments and talking to my friends. I find it most conducive to start drawing late in the night.

“Usually I take around 20 to 30 minutes for a drawing, depending on how many people are in one photo. For one person, it takes me quite fast, around 15 minutes but if it’s like a family photo of like five, I sometimes can take up to 30 minutes plus.”

What’s surprising is that for all of Laura’s love for drawing, she does not have any background in art. While she plans to attend drawing classes in the future to improve her skills, she believes that one should not be dictated by their skills to be able to do something.

“I think for people who are too scared to start their own stores because they think that they’re not good enough, they definitely shouldn’t think that way. You don’t have to be good at something to do it,” says Laura.

“For me, I have a lot of fun drawing my clients and I also feel really happy when they tell me how much they love the drawings. So as long as you like doing what you do, just go for it. You shouldn’t feel afraid just because it’s ugly. Sometimes ugly can be a good thing also.”

Laura has temporarily closed orders on her Shopee site. Those interested can still follow her on her Instagram account, where she showcases her masterpieces.

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