As I browsed through the Instagram feed of Jocelyn Teo’s immaculately curated Instagram page, I can’t help but to feel hungry.
And it’s not even real food we’re talking about here.
This 30-year-old actually runs a business called AiClay, where she sculpts the most realistic-looking miniatures of food and drinks.
From traditional kuehs to ubiquitous items such as macarons and McDonald’s burgers, Jocelyn makes it a point to express the fine details in her work – from the vivid colours, right down to the texture.
In a video interview with The Straits Times, Jocelyn said that she draws inspiration from “everywhere because food is everywhere in Singapore.”
“I can go out for lunch and I’ll come back thinking that maybe I should do that – whatever I had just now. And on social media, people are constantly posting photos and videos of what they are eating, so that’s [where I draw] my inspiration as well,” she added.
Every piece she works on take a different amount of time depending on the complexity of the project.
For instance, a miniature burger could take up to two hours to work on, while durians can take up to 5 to 6 hours.
An Accidental Entrepreneur
Jocelyn picked up this unique hobby when she was a National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate in 2009 – and it quickly turned into a business when people kept requesting to buy the miniature food sculptures that she made.
During a random visit to a local art supply store with her boyfriend (now husband), the two of them stumbled upon a box of clay, which they purchased on a whim.
“We started making random things like animals and humans. I started posting [pictures of them] on my personal blog, and friends liked seeing my pictures, saying that they’re really cute,” she told ST.
Friends also started requesting her to do up miniature sculptures for them as “favours”; but over time, strangers started approaching her and dropping her emails to propose commissioned projects.
It soon because a “small, little business”, which allowed her to “earn extra pocket money”.
Jocelyn was working as a promotions scheduling executive with a sports broadcasting company back then, but she gave up the “dreary… nine-to-five job” after a year as she realised that her passion lies with AiClay.
She started running the business full-time – but as glamorous as it sounds, being one’s own boss is not easy.
Working in the comfort of her own home, coupled with the flexibility of setting her own working hours, Jocelyn admitted that she lacked the discipline to ‘get cracking’, especially at the very start.
“When it became a business, the biggest challenge was actually my mindset. For a lot of people who became their own boss, you will think that it’s easier because you no longer have a boss,” she said.
“Even though I didn’t have someone breathing down my neck about schedules and plans, I needed to get rolling. If I don’t plan, [no work gets done]. I had to tell myself this is not a hobby anymore. This is my full-time job.”
Created World’s First Miniature Food Craft Kit
To date, AiClay has garnered over 73,000 followers (and counting) on Instagram, where she uploads photos of her work over the years.
Other than selling handcrafted works on her website, Jocelyn also conducts crafting workshops “for people who are interested to spend a few hours doing something else with their hands besides swiping their phones,” she told Asiastyle.asia.
“It is a great opportunity to reconnect with our primitive core instinct to create, and I have held several workshops for hen parties, schools and companies.”
Prices for the workshop typically start from $150 per person.
Some of her customers have complained that her prices are “too high”, but Jocelyn feels that it is reflective of the quality of the workshop and the amount of effort she puts in to host the workshop.
Responding to the criticism, Jocelyn said, “I wish I was numb to it already, but the feeling of being invalidated and having all your time and effort wiped off with a simple ‘your prices are too high’ is a horrid and real feeling.”
“Please respect all makers/teachers, and understand that there is a lot of planning and research behind each class and product. We do not just turn up for the class – in fact, we spend many hours and days planning and preparing for a single workshop.”
Despite the disapproval from this small cluster, her workshops are still very popular among crafting fans.
In fact, many of her overseas followers have even expressed their wishes to fly down to Singapore to attend her workshops.
“Most of them come from really far-flung countries such as Russia and the United States, so it’s not feasible for them to fly down,” she told ST.
“So I thought, why not make something that they can just buy and watch the video tutorials so they can create their own projects? That’s how the Pocket Kitchen started. I believe it’s the first miniature food craft kit in the world.”
The Pocket Kitchen was first launched on Indiegogo, where it was successfully funded, she added.
John Legend And Chrissy Teigen Took Notice Of AiClay
Last year, Jocelyn scored a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to work for the legendary (no pun intended) singer John Legend.
He had commissioned miniature food sculptures from her for his wife’s 32nd birthday, which falls on November 30.
According to her, John Legend’s manager was the one who first e-mailed her, and helped to arrange a Skype voice call with the man himself – whose voice she described as “deep and smooth”.
Over the call, she found out that it was Chrissy who had introduced Legend to AiClay.
He told Jocelyn that he wanted her to recreate dishes from his wife’s cookbook, Cravings by Chrissy Teigen.
“I was so relieved that he wanted food miniatures. I was half-worried that he’ll ask for a human figurine, and I’ld have to reject the chance of a lifetime,” she wrote in her Dayre blog post.
Based on the timeline of four months, Jocelyn told him she could only make a maximum of 15 miniature replicas of the dishes and asked him to send over the cookbook.
It was couriered to her from Los Angeles within a few days, and she chose 15 dishes that would provide a “varied look”.
Some of the ones she chose to craft included chicken satay, kale salad, chicken pot pie, and scallops with corn.
The most difficult item on the menu to work with was the Spicy Tomato Skillet Eggs.
“[It] was the first dish I made from the collection; and in the beginning, I was quite overwhelmed with the details as it incorporated so many ingredients in one dish! With each ingredient, there were new textures and colours to create,” she recounted in her Dayre post.
Jocelyn documented the crafting process in her blog, which even saw her trying out some of the recipes in order to mould a more true-to-life product.
When completed, the miniatures were carefully packed in tissue and secured with washi tape before being shipped over to the United States.
According to Jocelyn, the shipping fees – along with duties and insurance – cost $400, but she was thankful that Legend covered protection for the package.
In total, it took her almost four months to complete the order.
And since it had to be a secret project, Jocelyn said that she was “about to burst from keeping it in” before the gift was finally revealed.
In a video posted by Teigen on Snapchat, she details the moment when she received the handmade present with the caption “best gift ever”, and can be heard gushing over the tiny dishes.
When Jocelyn saw the video, she said that she couldn’t help but to “[beam] from cheek to cheek.”
“It’s not often I get a customer reaction video, just ultra warm and fuzzy to hear someone appreciating your works.”
Although Jocelyn’s client list boasts trans-national companies like McDonald’s and Volkswagen, Legend is her most high-profile client to date.
And while many may think that scoring John Legend as her client has helped to boost the business, it honestly didn’t do much for AiClay as the power couple did not make any mention of the business.
Nonetheless, this rare opportunity has made her realise that “nothing is impossible.”
She also offered some words of encouragement to other artists: “If my tiny works created in my humble HDB can end up in a (I’m guessing lavish) home of a Hollywood celebrity, who’s to say who might chance across your works next!”
Featured Image Credit: AiClay