"I looked into a carpenter's pencil and saw a tunnel."
That's what artist Cindy Chinn told ViralNova when she was asked how she started carving intricate works of art into graphite. After leaving the corporate world behind, this creator began seeing art in everyday objects — tunnels, elephants, shoes, and trains just waiting to be freed from tiny pencil tips.
Here's the story of how a former corporate professional's life was turned upside down in the best way with a little help from pencils, a creative eye, and the new frontier of viral culture.
"After leaving behind the fast-paced world of impossible deadlines where nothing could be done fast enough, it took a while to adjust to a much slower lifestyle," she writes.
With all that newfound time, she was afforded the opportunity to explore the furthest reaches of her creativity. Liberating as it was, however, it also proved to be an overwhelming time.
It was all a matter of trial and error. "When I decided to pursue fine art," she said, "I didn't know what my style was or what medium I wanted to focus on. Was I a painter, a carver, or maybe even a sculptor? I wasn't sure which direction I wanted to go."
While she was immediately drawn to realistic painting, she quickly realized that it was hard to pay the bills with two-dimensional works of art, stunning as they might have been. That's what led her to carving. The first piece was a church pew, but after coming across a carpenter's pencil in her studio, she felt the urge to go smaller.
And that's when her pencil series was born. When she sat with her medium, her head filled with visions of what it could become with a little coaxing.
Although her decision to carve a train was born from a simple fascination with locomotives, her thought process in general is more complex. "I look at everything differently," she writes. "There is a process that my brain goes through — a checklist of sorts. What is this? What is its function? Does this fit a shape, size, or function for one of the 2,000 projects I'm designing in my head?"
Because of the skill it takes to transform such a fragile medium, Chinn's work went viral back in December of 2015. The extent of viral culture's reach was jarring at first, but her experience with social media sharing is a largely positive one.
When her train carving found its way to social media, it's like her whole world was turned on its head.
According to Chinn, here's how that usually goes down for artists: "After years of creating quality, overlooked artwork, someone stumbles across a photo of yours and thinks that it's cool and shares it on social media. Something that you made a year ago all of the sudden is getting attention and you ask, 'Why now?'"
Her Facebook page was suddenly inundated with responses, requests, shares, and likes — far more than she'd ever received before.
"As an artist trying to make my name, I contacted my consultant," she explained. "He had little advice for me about how to deal with the attention, as this doesn't happen very often."
"The whole tone of my personal page changed forever," she writes. "That artist page that I'd been neglecting suddenly needed attention."
Although it took some getting used to, Chinn is grateful for the opportunities that have risen in its wake. Because of the viral phenomenon, she's built a dedicated, protective following.
More than a few of these followers quickly became friends. Together, they revel in the success of Chinn's art and the rest of the creative work that now calls the internet home.
"They share artwork with me that they think I'll like," she explained. "I have made so many friends who I would have never had the opportunity to meet otherwise. It's a wonderful world out there!"
Her work has garnered the attention of some pretty big names. Representatives from Ripley's Believe It or Not! even purchased a piece for one of the company's museums.
Her desk is currently flooded with so many commissions that it's hard for her to keep up sometimes. That being said, any professional artist will tell you that this is a good problem to have.
"I wanted my work to become better known and it has. I owe it all to social media sharing. There is no real formula because it's by chance, but it's too bad we can't bottle that!"
To learn more about Cindy Chinn's work, which is certainly not limited to pencil carving, pay her website a visit.
For regular updates, be sure to follow her on Facebook!