South African painter Lorraine Loots poses in front of a display of her miniatures.

Hong Kong in miniature: artist Lorraine Loots paints landscapes the size of a coin

What began as a side project for South African artist at a time of personal loss quickly became an internet sensation – and her full-time job. This week she’s showing a selection of her works in Hong Kong – including some of the city

Lorraine Loots paints landscapes, objects and portraits that are rich in colours and details – all on a surface the size of a coin.

Not unlike miniature paintings practised by artists in the Middle East and parts of Southeast Asia, the 29-year-old’s work is elaborate yet extremely small. She recently collaborated with luxury skincare brand La Mer and a selection of her works are on show at Gallery by the Harbour in Harbour City until September 11.

Lorraine Loots’ miniature of the clock tower on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront.
Loots’ painting of Victoria Harbour.

Loots started doing miniature paintings three years ago for a very practical reason. “I came up with this idea of doing a project outside of my normal work hours. I would set aside an hour a day, every day for a year. In that hour I would complete an artwork. So the only thing I could complete is something that’s small,” says Loots.

The project lasted two years and Loots’ paintings became an online sensation, with tens of thousands of followers on her Instagram account. But behind the online success, she actually had a rough start.

Loots took a course on business management for artists and towards the end of the course, repulsed by the commercial side of art, decided that she did not want to be an artist any more.

Instead, she began the project as a self-care strategy to help herself overcome personal loss. Though one tiny painting a day seems like quite a simple task, it was a challenge for Loots.

She had just quit her job as a social media manager at the time and was juggling 12 freelance jobs, including a film industry role, customising bicycles and doing oil paintings.

Loots’ painting of a dragon boat in Hong Kong.

“I would be working as a production manager: Get up at four in the morning. Get the clients, take them to set. Work all day. Get home at one in the morning after dinner with wine. Then do one painting quickly,” says Loots.

To make sure she completed at least one painting a day, she uploaded her work on social media. “In the beginning I had very few followers. My mom was one of them,” says Loots. However, the meticulous paintings quickly caught the attention of curious internet users.

Loots’ painting of a Star Ferry crossing Victoria Harbour.

Now Loots spends eight hours a day on a painting and sells them through her Instagram account. “I still struggle with the administrative parts, making a price for your art. But you find ways around it. So I now auction my pieces so people can decide what they want to pay for it. I don’t have to decide any more,” says Loots.

The winning bid for a painting of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was US$950, for instance.

Though her online presence translates into real-world success, giving the South African artist a chance to exhibit her work in New York, Loots believes an artist should not focus too much on social media management.

“It’s changed the landscape of everything. It used to be that an artist has to have a gallery ... Everything has to be done by then and you have to give them 40 or 50 per cent of all your sales. And now, as an artist, you have the power to do everything yourself. But it’s also a bit of a curse. If you’re spending all your time doing the business side of thing, you’re not doing your work any more.

“I get a lot of people saying on Instagram, ‘follow for follow, share for share.’ If they had spent their time ... consistently creating work and putting it out there for people to see, followers will come naturally.”

The Art of Healing by La Mer – “The Power of Small” Exhibition, Gallery by the Harbour, Harbour City, 11am-10pm, Ends 11 September