Smith creates business transforming selfies into cartoon portraits

Ria Parikh | Staff Writer

All it takes is five dollars to have your favorite selfie renovated into a cartoon.

Sophomore Rachel Smith has been making commission off of her selfie cartoons for three years and promotes her work primarily on Instagram. Smith said selfies in particular appeal to her because the human face is particularly interesting to study and having clients send their own selfies is the best way to ensure their satisfaction with the final product.

“I enjoy taking selfies, but I also enjoy drawing humans,” Smith said. “I enjoy character design, and the human face is really pretty. There’s a lot of individuality that goes into a selfie. I want them to give me something that they’re proud of, so I can make something that I’m proud of. If I’m getting paid to do this, I want to make sure it’s my best work possible, and it’s a good photo too.”

Smith said her first paid drawing job was designing business cards. According to Smith, the experience validated her as an artist and showed her that people were actually interested in paying for artwork.

“I’ve been drawing for 10 years,” Smith said. “I designed a business card once and got paid fifty dollars, and you could have told me I won the lottery. It was just mind blowing that someone actually wanted to see what I was doing and what I was drawing and wanted to pay me to do that.”

Smith’s process of transforming the artwork from selfie to cartoon is similar every time. She said she uses the jawline to structure the shape of the face, and from there, adds in traits pertaining to the individual.

“I try to break down the face,” Smith said. “I usually start with the jawline, and that gives me a general summary of the face. I’ll draw a circle first because I think everyone draws a circle first, and from there I usually do guidelines.” 

The eye and nose shape are the most identifiable features on a person, so Smith takes extra time with them. Changing just a subtle detail on either of those two features, Smith said, will change someone’s face entirely.

“I think eyes say a lot about a person, and usually the nose, too,” Smith said. “There was one time I was drawing a person, and just changing the nose completely made them look from older to younger. They were a younger person, and I drew them with an older person’s nose. I changed the nose, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh it looks so much better! It looks just like them!’ Lines matter.”


   Rachel Smith uses sophomore Maya Proudfit’s selfie as inspiration to draw her a cartoon.


Her cartoons intentionally do not resemble the caricature style of drawing. Although it is popular, Smith said she feels like the humor of caricatures come from a somewhat demeaning place, and she would rather create cartoons in which people liked their image.

 “I just never got into it,” Smith said. “It’s very satirical and almost sort of rude, and I want something that’s going to make people smile. Caricatures do make people smile, in a way that they hurt, and I don’t want that out of people. I just want to draw something cute. Plus, I never found the caricature style to be attractive or fun to draw and it seemed like a lot of work. So, I usually stray away from that and do a more simple style.”

Through her experiences with running her business, Smith said she realized that it grows a lot faster when she starts with people she knows. They bring in the initial customers, and people quickly follow from there, Smith said.

“People are actually really generous,” Smith said. “They’re willing to pay, and I expected more scam artists out there. If you know the person in person and not online, usually things run a lot more smoothly. I don’t have a credit card yet, so I can’t really go digital quite yet, but if you start with friends, they’re really nice to you and (willing to pay). It’s nice when people cooperate; I did not expect much of that at all.”

Accepting criticism and dealing with it professionally is the key to success in sustaining Smith’s business. Passion takes you far, Smith said, but knowing how to deal with moments when things are not so perfect is the the best measure of success.

“You’re going to face obstacles, and you’re not going to have your best work; you’re not going to be proud of it all the time, but it’s a matter of whether you love doing it,” Smith said. “If you’re good at it, too, you’re going to be successful.”

Photo by Tanner Pearson.