CEO Series

How This M’sian Went From College Dropout To Successful Online Artist

  • Mabel Story is an arts and crafts business started by Ipoh local Mabel Low in 2012.
  • She creates clay sculptures inspired by Japanese anime, and mostly does commission-based work.

For Ipoh local and founder of Mabel Story Mabel Low, the idea that a hobby could end up turning into a self-sustaining business had never crossed her mind. But when the 28-year-old started meddling with clay sculptures in 2012, everything just seemed to fall into place.

“Before Mabel Story, I had a blogshop selling handmade jewellery and it was common practice to purchase charms, beads, crystals and other materials to be assembled into jewelries of your choice,” she said.

“One day I thought to myself—‘wouldn’t it be nice if I could make my own charms?’” she continued. “Specifically, I wanted to make a cupcake charm, so I Googled and found a YouTube video teaching how to sculpt a cupcake out of polymer clay.”

Having absolutely no experience and background in art and design (she underwent an ACCA accounting course in college but dropped out to focus on her business), creating clay sculptures was a slow burn for Mabel. It was only after chancing upon some paper clay at a stationery shop nearby her college that she began taking it seriously.

After a series of trial, error, and honest criticism from her buddies, Mabel finally began working at perfecting her sculptures and eventually got good enough that she felt confident enough to post a photo of creations on Facebook.

“Thanks to that one post, my social media contacts started commissioning me to make more—that was how the business began,” she said. “It was unexpectedly initiated by the people around me and it just grew by word of mouth and online.”

“I remember still being in college at that point and was happy with the extra money generated from Mabel Story.”

The Art Of Storytelling

Mabel’s business currently runs off commissioned clay sculpture work that’s available through Etsy, and with regards to the production process, Mabel works directly from her bedroom and takes anywhere from three days up to a week to sculpt a set of sculptures, all depending on what the demands of her clients are.

Currently, the most popular items on sale are the chibi figurines—Japanese-inspired sculptures that look like cute anime humanoids.

Image Credit: Mabel Story

For these, customers usually send over designs or references for things they’d like chibi-fied. Mabel then walks them through design ideas and quote them prices (typically beginning at US$16/RM65) according to their demands, and then proceeds to create them and send them for final approvals from the customer before they get shipped off.

“They’re mostly inspired by anime art as seen in their physical proportions—a big head and a small body,” she explained. “My style of chibi design is also inspired by the cuteness of little children with big eyes and chubby cheeks.”

Image Credit: Mabel Story

Additionally, Mabel also produces hand-designed stickers that are currently available to her subscribers on her Patreon page. These usually take a day or two for painted art, or two to three days if they’re digitally created stickers, diecuts, or artcards.

“My drawings are usually inspired by anything and everything that intrigues me,” she said. “For example, it can be a funny pun I read online or a colour scheme from an ad that caught my eye.”

“Sometimes, nature can also inspire me to tell a story and often it can also be from experiences that I face daily,” she added. “However, I’d say that my love for food and cute characters are my main inspiration for most of my art stories.”

On Her Own Two Feet

Speaking of accomplishments, the one thing Mabel is most thankful for is the financial independence that she’s enjoyed since turning Mabel Story into a full-fledged business, getting a healthy amount of customer commissions as well as paying subscribers on her Patreon page.

She also revealed some figures and told us that on a good month, she can make up to RM8,000 off her clay sculptures, but it all typically averages out to somewhere over RM2,500 a month .

Image Credit: Mabel Story

“Being young and single a few years back, I was content that I could help lighten my parents’ burden by paying for my own college fees and saving up for a 14-day trip to Japan,” she said. “At this stage where I’m moving out soon, I’m glad that I can not only support my parents, but also soon start my own family while expanding the business.”

Additionally, she’s also cherishing the relationships she’s been able to forge with other fellow artists and crafters that she’s met throughout her journey.

“To be able to get inspired by these people is to me an accomplishment I never thought I could have achieved because I grew up as the only one who loved art among my circle of friends,” she explained. “

Right now, Mabel’s aim is to grow her international Patreon community to a point where she can begin to create art based on what she likes rather than just doing purely commission-based work. These include things like stickers and art cards that aren’t as painstaking to produce.

“They take less time to create and can be priced more affordably, letting more people get a hold of my work,” Mabel said. “This is a good platform for me to practice my story-telling skills so I can eventually publish my very own art story book that’s interactive and fun to read.”

“After moving into a new space, I hope to be able to find the time to finally create a website for customers to freely design their own chibi characters as well as have access to my full catalogue.”

As a final word, Mabel eagerly offered some advice for other artists looking to make something of their skills.

“There is no need to strive for perfection—I always tell people my artwork is never perfect because there’s no more room for improvement when perfection is achieved,” she advised. “I’d like to think the day I achieve perfection is the day I retire from my craft and no longer work on it anymore.”

Feature Image Credit: Mabel Story

 

 

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