Can you share a bit about yourself and what you do?
Hi! My name is Jolene Ung, and I am the artist behind Quirks and Smirks. I was born and raised in Long Beach, CA, in a biracial household. I am incredibly grateful to have learned from my incredible parents. One of them is my dad, a refugee who escaped the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. I have a bit of a colorful background – I dabbled in music, dance, gymnastics, and eventually figure skating for over 10 years. Eventually, I pursued a career in biology but ended up changing majors after two years. A few years in Irvine, one art degree later, completing a 2-year Bible program in Anaheim, I settled down in my current PPE product development job.
As I began to settle into adulthood, I opened Quirks and Smirks (my Etsy shop) and discovered my passion for travel. I started jetting as much as a non-influencer, non-wealthy, normal person can. It has broadened my horizons and definitely influenced my artwork.
One very personal aspect of myself that cannot be overlooked is that in 2008 when I was 20, my dad went into cardiac arrest on our bathroom floor. His brain went without oxygen for a prolonged period, causing brain damage. He has since not recovered and is in a minimally conscious state. This event really changed me and made me realize that time is not something that we own or control, but what we do have control over is how we live our lives. We can choose to take certain chances. We can choose to make the most of what we have.
On a lighter note…
I’m also a “fangirl!” This is a controversial, often derogatory term among many professionals, which stems from underlying misogyny and ignorance. I spent my high school and college years attending concerts, movie premieres, and other star-studded events. While I, of course, got butterflies around my favorite band members, I also became very artistically inspired by the music and shows I was absorbing. When I had the chance to meet my favorites, I would bring my own artwork to be signed instead of getting a CD signed. I’d draw something, get it signed, then post it on social media – this opened more and more doors for me, ranging from followers to attention from bands/artists. As the years went on, I started painting jackets to wear to concerts because I’m picky about merchandise and would rather wear something one-of-a-kind.
Through all of this, I learned how to embrace this part of myself. I stopped being ashamed of being a “fan,” and I stopped letting others put me down for something they deemed “silly” or “immature.” I continued improving my art skills and allowing my passion for music to impact my work. It has been an incredible journey. I’ve made long-term friends, met many of my favorite artists, and even some of my favorite athletes have asked me to contribute to their Amazon apparel collection.
You can peep the design here.
When and why did you decide to start your new business?
With my newly minted art degree and a new desk job, I knew I was in a good place to try something new. For many years, multiple friends told me I would be really great at making greeting cards. Art was not something I posted openly at this point, so only my close friends and school peers had seen my work. After quite a bit of deliberation, I decided to take the plunge and open an Etsy shop in 2014. At first, I hardly made any real sales – the only ones I got were from friends wanting to be supportive.
However, in early 2015 Left Shark happened. I’ve never watched a Super Bowl, but I did hear about Left Shark… I made him into a card, which did really well! It put my shop on the map. So much so that the Huffington Post included me in an article. This was the real beginning of my shop, starting to do well.
I started with greeting cards, then ventured out into art prints, stickers, keychains, painted apparel, and acrylic pins soon!
Opening my shop gave me a focused outlet for my artwork while still maintaining stability at my regular desk job. It also motivated me to be more open with my work, posting publicly, and even offered a validation level that I was not familiar with. I’ve been able to invest more time and money into my skills, always learning and improving.
What do you love most about running your own business?
There are two main reasons I love running my own business:
- I love having control of whether my shop is open or closed, and I love having the freedom to be different. Scouring the aisles at Target and other big-brand retailers, I realized there is a lot of redundancy in products, so I decided to offer items that are not commonly seen. It’s a real blessing to be able to do that and even risk not making sales!
- I enjoy being different, and as my name implies, I love being quirky.
What’s your favorite piece/item you’ve put up for sale so far?
This is a tough one! Commissions are usually my favorite because they are often personal (Especially when I get asked to design/draw/paint a tattoo!)
But my “favorite” would have to be the first painted jacket I ever sold. I generally pour my heart into my work, and the disappointment is very real when that work doesn’t sell. I was so completely worried that my painted jackets wouldn’t sell, but the first one that ever sold was gone in a few minutes, and I can’t even begin to describe how that felt. It also helped that Kevin Jonas commented on my Instagram post about it!
What services do you provide for anyone who may want to reach out to you/work with you?
I offer all kinds of custom work when I can. I’ve done pet portraits, tattoo designs, custom-painted caps, painted jackets, bookmarks, and many other things. When I am available, I take on commissions.