Molding a dream career through struggle, experimentation, and 700 a month: an interview with clay miniaturist Oo Xin Man

As a leisure crafter I’ve always had a lot of interest (and respect!) for those who do it full-time, because it really isn’t easy. In this feature, we speak to a young miniature clay artist (handxmade) who bravely decided to turn her passion into an ‘unconventional’ career.

Here, she shares with us how this came to be, the challenges and joys she experiences, as well as some great advice. Whether you’re a budding artist, fond of art, or simply interested to know about exploring paths less taken, do read on!

1) Hi! Please introduce yourself and what you do!

Hello! My name is Oo Xin Man, and I make edutainment videos about miniatures for a living. I’m currently 23 years old going on 24, and I feel very blessed to be able to go on such an exhilarating journey.

2)  How did you get to be interested in clay miniatures and what spurred you to do it full-time?

When I was about 19 years old, I chanced upon some video tutorials on how to make miniatures, specifically using polymer clay. I was really amazed by it and it ignited a spark in me. It also reminded me of how much I used to love miniature dollhouses! I didn’t care about the dolls inside the dollhouses, but was enamoured with the furniture and other decorations. I was really young though, and assumed that a lot of those were probably manufactured in factories (to be fair, most of them probably were, especially the ones marketed as toys), hence I didn’t really think about actually hand making them.

Once I realised I could create so many things with just polymer clay, I started buying supplies, doing tons of research, and tried to make tiny things.

 

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A penrest made for one of handxmade’s patrons.

I think when I started, I knew for sure I wanted this to work out in the long run (or at least I wanted to try to) as a job that earns me income. I was young, and figured I had nothing to lose (yet haha) so I jumped right into it. A lot of miniature artists whom I follow and respect usually take custom orders, mostly of human figurines, so that was what I did when I first started out.

You can see all the custom figurines I’ve made throughout the past few years here .

Slowly, I realised I didn’t really enjoy making the same things over and over again (i.e. human figurines). Yes, there are a lot of differences in aspects such as clothes and hair, but essentially the underlying structure is the same. Coupled with the limitations given by the clients sometimes, it felt like my creativity was dulled and I was just doing it for the money, which wasn’t a lot anyway because I could only hand make so many figurines per month. I would have burnt through whatever I earned the previous month by the start of the next month and have to reopen custom orders as soon as the month started. There was just no time for creativity and it was bumming me out.

I realised how much I enjoy seeing improvements in art (which you can definitely see from the previous link) and how much I love the research and development (R&D) process. I tried making YouTube videos as suggested by a friend, and it turned out I actually loved it! Soon after that, I decided to pivot Handxmade into making edutainment videos. At this point, my regular income comes from Patreon!

One of Xin Man’s many video tutorials, with background music especially composed/rearranged by Kim Eun Taek.  

Being on Patreon has been the best decision I’ve made in my journey so far, and I was lucky to have so many people who were willing to support me monetarily. It’s probably the only way I could make whatever I wanted (such as characters from pop culture and perhaps even a miniature dollhouse from scratch), and I made it a point to not make the same thing twice. Because of this, it made sense to have auctions for some of the things I made. It’s one of the decisions I thank myself for making.

3) Is this very different from what you studied in uni/poly/wherever relevant?

YES. VERY.

First off, I didn’t attend university. I had no clue what kind of career I wanted to pursue, and I don’t come from a particularly well to do family, so my father was like, “读书读够了就好” which roughly translates to “as long as you have some kind of degree, it’s enough.” Hence, my highest educational qualification is a diploma.

I think despite not really knowing what to do in my life, I still wanted to do something related to art. I played the clarinet when I was in secondary school, and I enjoyed being in the concert band. So when it came to choosing a course for Polytechnic, I went for a music course. It was something that was very unconventional, so I was quite surprised that my parents were actually supportive and allowed me to go for it.

However, it turned out that I basically went to DMAT (Diploma in Music and Audio Technology) to realise that a career in music was not for me. Even though I had thoughts of quitting, I’m glad that I pushed through and you know, at least got a diploma out of it—I have my parents to thank for that. I have no regrets going to DMAT though, because at least now I know for sure I didn’t want to go down the music route. I’m sure that if I had gone for something more conventional, I would still be thinking about DMAT and regret not trying it out at all.

4) Have things been tough?

It feels weird to say this but… things have actually been going okay! I definitely am less stressed out now. Money wise, if you take a look at my Patreon page (I’m very open about it and you can see how much I earn every month), I actually get around SGD700 per month.

It isn’t a lot, and at age 23, I DEFINITELY could have earned more if I had worked a conventional day job for 3 years. But this $700 per month is enough for me to pull through the month with some scrimping and saving.

5) What keeps you going?

My partner is my greatest support, since he was there from the very beginning of Handxmade! He never once doubted Handxmade, and always gave me a lot of ideas whenever I was stuck in a crisis. Without him, there would never have been a Handxmade, I guarantee that!

In fact, my partner is actually the one who basically got me started on my journey! We live together, and while I can’t afford to pay the rent just yet, I am paying for the utilities, my own phone bills, etc, which I’ve never done until I moved out of my parents’ home. I aim to contribute more to our combined living expenses in the future though, so let’s hope I can do that within the next few years.

What keeps me going (other than the utmost trust and support from my partner), is definitely my patrons from Patreon. The fact that they want to see more of my work really drives me to work as much as I can, and do my best all the time so I wouldn’t disappoint them. In fact, without my patrons, I probably would have stopped Handxmade altogether, especially if I was still trying to survive by doing custom orders. That’s why they are my priority and I do my best to give back whenever I can!

6) You recently took part in National Heritage Board’s Our Hawker Culture project. Could you share more about it?

Sure thing! Jocelyn (@aiclay), Janice (@msparkpark), and I won the bid to the project through GeBIZ, and the three of us worked tirelessly for 1.5 months straight to make a miniature diorama of a Hawker Centre from scratch.

 

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It’s been awhile since I posted anything – I’ve been trying to get some admin work done, and also doing some last minute Christmas cards for my patrons….not sure if I’ll be able to finish on time, but better late than never I suppose? 🤣 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I still can’t believe that the project we’ve worked on for weeks is actually completed. I must say, the next few days right after it felt so weird to actually have nothing to rush, and I had to go back to write my own schedule until end of 2018 otherwise I won’t do anything at all 🙃🤣 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ @aiclay and @msparkpark already has very well written posts to summarise everything, and said what I want to say, but I’d still like to thank National Heritage Board for giving us the opportunity to work together, and also arranging so many media outlets to curate all the articles and videos that’s being shared on social media! 💖✨ Bernadette, Nicholas, Shu Hui, Amanda, and the two photographers I didn’t get the names of…thank you for making this happen!! :’) ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ (Thank you Douglas for taking these photos for us!) ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Once again, our diorama will be exhibited with “Our SG Hawker Culture Travelling Exhibition” to various Hawker Centres in Singapore. Date and location are as follow: ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Kampung Admiralty Hawker Centre (17-23 Dec 2018) ← ‼️ currently here! Yuhua Village Market & Food Centre (2-14 Jan 2019) Toa Payoh HDB Hub (15-20 Jan 2019) Central Public Library (21-31 Jan 2019). ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ If you can’t go to any of the location, you can still help to pledge Hawker Culture for UNESCO online via https://www.oursgheritage.sg/support-hawker-culture/ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Swipe to see how we really act like when we’re together…[email protected] being all sleepy, and @aiclay getting tired of our bs HAHAHAHAHAHAHA ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ P.S. Please give me some time to get back into full on working mode, I promise I’ll be editing photos and videos related to the diorama soon!! ♥️🙂 Meanwhile I’ll still be spamming IG stories….as usual 😆

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The trio (Xin Man on right) with the finished diorama.

It was pretty stressful as I was dealing with a lot of materials that I had never used before—I had only used polymer clay for my miniatures before this and now I had to deal with metal sheets, wood, styrene (a type of plastic), etc. I learnt so much from this project, and now I actually feel confident enough to make a miniature dollhouse from scratch, which is one of my goals for the second half of 2019!

7) Last but not least, any advice for aspiring crafters/those looking to journey down a similar path? What do you think they should/must know?

I think one of the most important things to know is what you want out of it. If you want to make TONS OF MONEY through a crafting profession, I can tell you right now that it won’t work. You need to know that you’ll struggle, you’ll be broke, you’ll find plenty of people who want to see you fail, but if you know that it is truly what you want to do, whether it’s making custom orders to help others preserve their most precious memories or just want to keep creating, you’ll be able to pull through. Focus on your goal with regards to your art, and keep the passion!

Do not be afraid to pivot into a different direction too, as every day is a learning process and essentially, you’re learning about yourself, so sometimes when you know it’s not going to work and something needs to be changed, you’re most likely correct. Don’t be scared to ask for help too! Sometimes talking to someone who cares about you and your work helps make things clearer for you, and might help you come up with a solution.

One last thing that I find myself reminding myself constantly is that things do not happen overnight, so keep working, and remember that all those “likes” on Instagram and Facebook do not dictate how good or bad your craft is, you do. So respect yourself and your art, and just keep creating. (:

 

We thank Xin Man for agreeing to speak to us and wish her all the best in her clay pursuits! If you’re keen on learning more about her work/being a clay miniatures artist, do check out handxmade.com.

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