Ask for a name card and Cherin Sim will tell you she doesn’t have any. Never had, and perhaps, never will. “I don’t see what I do as a business transaction,” says the 31-year-old artist.
Since 2015, Cherin Sim has personalised branded bags with unique Pop Art illustrations painted directly onto the leather. The Goldsmiths fine art Master’s graduate has no qualms when it comes to her trade of “making a mark” (or simply “marquage” in French) on people’s prized possessions but when it comes to making her own mark in the world of business, she is truly one who paints on anything but paper.
“Many people have advised me on many ways of running my business, and most have told me that I needed name cards, which I’m still considering to have, but not to give them out in a conventional way,” Cherin Sim ponders. “To me, my business is not a transaction — it is a very personal relationship, which involves effort, commitment, and developing trust. When you enter a meeting, and hand out a card as a way of introduction, it changes the way people view the meeting, and it changes the way people react. It makes it a ‘business meeting’. It makes people define subconsciously [what one does] based on the information they see on the card.”
Instead, this marquage artist prefers her clients to know her on a more personal basis, instead of just someone who paints bags for a living. She says, “I hope people get to know me as not only an artist, but as a human being and as a friend. In turn, this allows me to understand them better so that I’m able to best design and create works that suit them the most.”
She counts casual and light-hearted conversations as a way to build credibility in this high-trust industry. “When people are comfortable with you, they are less likely to hold back. Most of my clients share very intimate details with me, and these details are what will make my work more soulful and alive.”
Some of her customers trust her so much that they’d prefer for Sim to surprise them with her original designs, where a bulk of them are cartoon characters popular with kids, including Snoopy and Astro Boy. It comes as no surprise as to why she chooses to work on these cute caricatures: She loves children. She recalls, “I remember when I was in primary school, one of the Chinese composition assignment was to write about my ambition. I wrote that I wanted to be a mother. That made my teacher panic, and she called up my parents to inform them of my [maternal] desires. My parents told the teacher not to worry as they were aware that I love children and is family-orientated. We now still often laugh about it.”
And now, Sim devotes her time to birthing close to 10 bespoke hand-drawn deliveries a month. And she apparently has a back pain-inducing backlog that runs until 2020. So what keeps her going? The satisfaction of looking at her clients’ happy faces in the end, of course. “I’m truly inspired by my clients themselves. Their stories, and their relationships with the subject matter that I would be painting,” Cherin Sim chirps.
Sim’s soft skills are complemented with hard tools, including US-imported Angelus leather paint and brushes from Japan, which she personally picks out during her travel. Regarding care-tips for her finished product, she says, “Angelus paint is specifically developed to be applied onto leather, is flexible, durable and waterproof. The aftercare is really rather simple! Just wear it as per how you usually wear your belongings, and clean as you would wipe them as per normal too! Just make sure to avoid walking into the wall or having your keys scratching the completed product.”
While Cherin Sim does hope to have her baggage of leather artworks to be exhibited at international art shows one day, she’s aware of people who think of her artistic form as “defacing a very expensive bag”. Case in point: The amount of criticism collected by contemporary artist George Condo when he infamously painted on Kanye West’s 2013 Christmas gift, an Hermès Birkin, to Kim Kardashian. Condo told W Magazine why he did it though, “The whole point was to take an icon of consumerism and change it, which is like blasphemy. ‘You can’t do this!’ It short circuits people’s concept of what’s untouchable, which is why it was fun to do.”
But to Sim, she says to each his own. “I don’t get upset because I understand that everyone is entitled to their opinions and thoughts. I meet people from all walks of life and it is actually more interesting to hear diverse comments than [just that] it is offensive. I mostly end up standing up for myself by saying that: I love to do things differently and my clients love to be different. Do whatever makes you happy!”
Plus, Cherin Sim isn’t shy or selfish when it comes to sharing this rare skill with the world. She conducts regular workshops with Bynd Artisan and The General Co, where she teaches the basics of monogram painting on leather. She’s currently one of the many artisans conducting workshops over four weekends in September 2018 at The Balvenie House of Craft pop-up event, organised by The General Co.
Cherin Sim lays down three things to remember if you want your luxury goods to be truly bespoke.
1. Trust the artist
“Her experience allows her to know how to best represent what you desire.”
2. Be patient
“Because good things take time.”
3. Understand the value of quality work
Or in other words: “It’s not going to come cheap.”