The Journey of Little Miss Paintbrush & Her Kawaii Art

ARTISTS

The Journey of Little Miss Paintbrush and Her Kawaii Illustrations

Kawaii! If there’s one word that best describes Chichi Romero’s art, it has got to be the Japanese word for cute. More known as Little Miss Paintbrush, Chichi is one of the many local artists drawing inspiration from nature, fairytales, Studio Ghibli films, and role-playing games (RPG). Her chibi (Japanese slang for small) drawings made such a huge impact that she’s gained fans and clients in the Philippines and other countries, particularly in the homeland of kawaii — Japan.

The Beat Asia spoke with Chichi to talk about her beginnings as an artist, how she made a big career shift, and how she’s making a living with her cute illustrations.



The Small Beginnings That Were Put Into a Standstill

Chichi told The Beat Asia that drawing has been her favorite thing to do since she was a toddler.

“My mama would often tell the story of how, as a three-year-old, I'd always liked to draw on any flat surface I could find in our home, including walls and tables.”

She also shared how she joined multiple poster-making contests and had a small drawing business inside their classroom during sixth grade, complete with a pricelist. “It was 10 pesos for a drawing of a bear,” she said.

While this seemed like a good start, Chichi’s budding art career was put on hold when she started college. Normally, one would pursue a course according to their interest, but this wasn’t the case for Chichi.

“I know some people may be tired of hearing this from me, but I'm the eldest daughter in a financially-struggling Filipino household.”

She noted that she “slightly and reluctantly” let her parents choose her course. “They decided it was BS Nursing. ‘Para makaahon tayo sa hirap (so we can get out of poverty),’ they told me.”

To make her parents’ words come true, Chichi got herself a scholarship and tried her best to be a constant dean’s lister. Unfortunately, around the time she graduated and passed the board exams, the demand for nurses already subsided.

“Our family was in a difficult place at the time because my dad had lost his job. I had to do something.”

When Chichi thought things couldn’t get any worse, she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. “The doctor said it was most likely due to stress,” she explained and added that it could be because she spent the entire year desperately looking for a job.

Like any dark situation, though, Chichi saw light at the end of the tunnel. “My boyfriend's (Francis) family in Caticlan offered [the both of us] a small internet cafe business in Boracay, so I could ‘take a break from the stress’ while earning from being the ‘bantay (caretaker)’ of the internet shop.”

Being a caretaker meant being glued in front of the screen, which eventually led Chichi to discover Tumblr, a microblogging and social networking website.

“That time, ‘doodles’ were all the rage. I thought to myself, why not try it out? I had so much free time.”

The Birth of Little Miss Paintbrush

The Beat Asia asked Chichi how she came up with Little Miss Paintbrush, her brand name, and she replied with a slight laugh. “[It was] a very cringe-y name from the top of my head. I don't really have a reason for it other than it sounded appealing to me back then.”

Chichi posted a few silly doodles and comics on Tumblr after creating an account and to her surprise, her posts got many likes and reblogs.

Little Miss Paintbrush early doodles
Little Miss Paintbrush's early doodles on Tumblr

“I was like, wow, can people from the other side of the world really appreciate this little drawing I made? I was wonderstruck, and it just kept me going. Even more so when I first learned about ‘commissions,’ where people pay me to draw for them. Just like my drawing business back in sixth grade! I thought to myself, maybe I can make a living out of this! Okay, I'm going to do it, no matter what.”

Through Chichi’s Tumblr blog, she was discovered by her first commercial client: Total Girl Philippines, a magazine for tweens under Summit Media, one of the biggest lifestyle publishers in the country.

“I was over the moon with excitement and hope,” she said as she recalled her starting days.

Although the magazine has stopped printing since 2016, she was able to do a lot of art for them. She made illustrations for their magazine pages, social media posts, and slam books and planners, which were extremely popular back then. She also contributed to a sticker book, along with other local artists, which was sold nationwide at bookstores and convenience stores.

It was through Tumblr that Chichi was also discovered by Kaila Ocampo, a Filipina lifestyle content creator based in Tokyo. Along with Kaila, Chichi contributed art to the JapanLover.me brand and to stationery and kawaii lifestyle company Rainbowholic.

#JLMyōkaioftheday
Photo by Tumblr/JapanLoverMe

“My work for Total Girl and JapanLover.me really helped out with my confidence [as] an artist.”

“I have also been working as an artist for Blippo for many years now. I absolutely appreciate every commission I get to work on [because] I learn something new every time. It still astounds me that people actually like what I make.”

Japan Lover Me x Little Miss Paintbrush
Photo by Tumblr/JapanLoverMe

From nursing to art, Chichi faced her big career shift with pride and determination.

“My newly revived art career was met with doubt and resistance from my parents at first, but I knew I just had to prove to them that this is what I want to do with my life — that I can make a living and provide for them through it. This breadwinner is gonna win bread through her cute drawings!”

Apart from commissions, Chichi was able to start producing her own merchandise. She sold paper and vinyl stickers, postcards, washi tapes, zines, and T-shirts on Instagram and at local conventions.

Kawaii PH Store
From left: Kaye (Chichi's younger sister), Chichi, Kaila and Aki (of Rainbowholic.jp), and Francis (Chichi's boyfriend)

Eventually, she started Patreon (a monthly subscription service) and opened her own shop, whimsicute.com (whimsical + cute).

“I used to sell my stickers online on Instagram manually, but it was very tedious for a one-woman-team. Kaila taught me about Shopify, where there are so many tools for online selling, so I transferred my shop there. Francis also started to help out with production once I had opened my Shopify shop.”

Chichilittle Patreon Rewards Feb 2022
Chichilittle/Little Miss Paintbrush Patreon Rewards for February 2022

Even when the COVID-19 pandemic started, her art enabled her to put food on the table. “I have a Patreon, monthly clients, and a web shop too. I create and earn a living. This is my life.”

The Artist Who Doesn’t Stop Growing

Chichi had no formal education relating to art and just drew… a lot. During her “doodle days,” she said she looked up to Claire Belton (the creator of Pusheen) and Nina (mis0happy).

“I liked to look at different artists’ art style, study them, try them on my own drawings, and merge them with other styles that I really liked.”

Little Miss Paintbrush work desk

“I often draw inspiration from nature and fairytales. In popular media, I'd say Studio Ghibli films and RPG video games. I can't say for certain if these influenced my style, but it's more of my style changes depending on what I want to draw at the time. I think for me it's more of a mood thing.”

Despite all the praise she has been getting at home and abroad, the artist inside Chichi doesn’t want to stop learning and is now experimenting with new mediums.

“I used to be scared of watercolor, but now I love it. I love how it creates unique textures and patterns! I've also recently tried gouache and acrylics. Same with dry media like oil pastels and wax crayons. They're all so fun to play with!”

Little Miss Paintbrush watercolor painting

At the end the interview, The Beat Asia asked Chichi to give some advice to fellow artists and those who want to start a career in art.

“My advice is, please take care of your health! Feel free to try anything and bend the rules in exploring what you can create, as long as you are honest, and you take care of yourself.”

“Make a Terms of Agreement when it comes to commissions. Commercial commissions are priced differently and a lot more than personal commissions. Know your rights as an artist! There are many articles online, it doesn't hurt to research if it's for your own good. And don't undersell yourself! You're worth more than you think,” she added.

As for the future, Little Miss Paintbrush doesn’t have any big plans yet.

“I often feel overwhelmed easily so I'm taking it slow, one day at a time. Just my usual Patreon work and shop updates. If you are interested in my work, please check out my Patreon and my shop. Thank you!”

Little Miss Paintbrush snail art

For those interested in Chichi’s cute illustrations, you can follow her on Instagram for work in progress (WIP) photos and process videos of traditional and digital art.

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