It has been documented that Pablo Picasso once said: “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” Picasso’s sentiment certainly applies to the afternoon that I was introduced to the work of illustrator extraordinaire Grace Ciao.
I was sat alone at a small wooden table at my local neighbourhood café, soaking in the last of the late-afternoon sunlight. My MacBook lay open on the table, alongside a solitary teacup brimming with lukewarm Earl Grey tea. Both items had been completely abandoned. I sat there, utterly engrossed in the flurry of images that filled the screen of my iPhone.
I had been researching an upcoming interviewee, when I stumbled upon the work of Grace Ciao. The first piece I saw was an illustration of a woman in an exquisite crimson gown. After closer inspection I realized that the gown was actually made from carefully placed ruby red lily petals.
There is no denying that there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of incredibly talented illustrators and artists showcasing their work on Instagram. However, Grace Ciao’s work was the epitome of originality, I had never seen someone incorporate natural talent alongside the beauty of nature quite like this before.
Each of her fashion illustrations was extraordinarily drawn and the addition of the jewel coloured petals, enhanced it to stratospheric proportions. I was keen to know more about the girl behind these beautiful creations, just a few weeks later I would have my chance.
Grace Ciao is 22-years-old and lives in Singapore. She is a self-taught illustrator and has not had any formal trailing whatsoever. She revealed to me that she fell in love with fashion design as a young girl and never looked back.
Grace said: “Throughout my childhood, I was wildly fascinated by the many unique get-ups featured in runway shows on TV, and subsequently began drawing several of these inspiring designs in my sketchbook.”
She added: “At 7, I started creating miniature dresses for my Barbie dolls with the scrap cloth given to me by my grandma!”
I was interested to discover what had inspired Grace to incorporate flowers into work. She revealed that it had actually happened completely accidentally. She said: “Interestingly, my blending of flowers with fashion stemmed from a purely accidental episode. It so happened that I was working on one of my illustrations one day and a semi-wilting rose on my desk caught my attention.
She added: “It was really pretty initially and I found it a pity that its beauty was so short-lived. It was then that the idea of immortalizing their elegance struck me. Wanting to preserve their beauty, I quickly began adding them to the illustrations I was composing and to my most pleasant surprise, they turned out pretty decent!”
Grace has used a variety of different flowers in her work, from the common to the rare and exotic, including; roses, lilies alstroemerias and orchids. Grace revealed that she especially loves to work with flowers that embody different shades of each colour, such as lilies and carnations.
She elaborated: “They have inspired me to create prints which I otherwise would not have thought of. I think petals work really well for illustration because their delicacy and exquisiteness mimic those of a soft fabric. For instance, the gentle, fabric-like quality of roses allows me to create folds for flare skirts.”
Surprisingly, it only takes Grace an hour or two to create her extraordinary illustrations. She told me: “Every type and subtype of flower has petals that are unique in their own way, in terms of the shape, size, colour, and pattern. Usually, I explore the textures and patterns of my selected petals then quickly sketch a design. My featured designs range from everyday wear, to bridal dresses and haute couture.”
In a relatively short space of time, Grace has garnered a pretty impressive following. She currently has almost 30,000 followers on Instagram alone and this is increasing by the day. She revealed that her boyfriend is her biggest supporter. She gestured to one of her illustrations (see above), it was one of a woman in yellow gown, embellished with red accents.
She said tenderly: “This one is extremely special to me. My boyfriend wanted to watch me in action so we went out to get flowers and I made this together with him. He’s always very supportive because he knows this is my passion. The sweetest thing he said to me was “I love you and your dreams” and I will always remember this. This design is created with dancing lady orchids.”
Grace revealed that her favourite piece was of a woman in a bright green strapless dress with a ruffled skirt (see above). She said: “This is one of my favourite pieces. I was invited to create an art piece for a charity sale. That was the first time I used vegetables, instead of the usual flowers, to create an art piece. It was also the first time my work was put up for sale.”
Although it is still relatively early days, more and more people are beginning to notice Grace’s phenomenal work. With this attention comes more work and Grace told me that her proudest achievement thus far has been being invited to conduct workshops abroad.
She said: “I love traveling and I’m really heartened that people are noticing and recognizing my work. It is with an eager and gratified heart that I would like to continue sharing my designs and ideas with people from different parts of the world.”
Grace creates beautiful work with ease, I was eager to find out what advice she would give to aspiring illustrators. She said: “Joy is a flower that blooms when you do”. This quote encapsulates what I firmly believe in: investing in my interests and strengths, and allowing the joy that follows to envelop me. I am genuinely happy that I acted on my penchant for designing. If not for that, I would not be where I am today.”