Why this artist still loves Snapchat

Meet "CyreneQ."
Image: Cyrene Quiamco/cyreneq

Cyrene Quiamco loves Snapchat. It’s easy to tell by the Ghostface Chillah plush in her bedroom, the pair of Spectacles in her bag, and the fact that her current Twitter profile picture is a Snapcode. 

There’s good reason for her to love it. The app, which was once popularized for sexting and passing notes in class, helped her quit a full-time job at Verizon a few years back to focus on her other passions. As of this week, Quiamco’s the first winner of a Snapchat Lens Studio Challenge, where anyone can compete for glory and some tech prizes from Snap Inc. 

When asked to describe herself, Quiamco — also known as “CyreneQ” — doesn’t mention Snapchat at first. 

“Long story short, I’m an artist,” the 28-year-old from Little Rock, Arkansas told Mashable. “Basically I’m just an artist using every type of medium there is to show the world my art.” 

But since 2014, Snapchat has been one of Quiamco’s top mediums for expression along with being a driver for building a community of fans. Four years later, while Snap is struggling on the stock market and losing interest from those who have gone to Instagram Stories, Quiamco has doubled down on Snapchat. Meanwhile, Snap is in the midst of a charm offensive for influencers after years of keeping them at bay. 

“What keeps me into Snapchat is the ongoing different features,” Quiamco said, referencing the app’s growth from photos to videos to Spectacles to augmented reality. “I’ve grown up with Snapchat. My art has grown up.” 

The first stroke

Quiamco discovered Snapchat the way many people do: word of mouth. A friend had told her about the app, and while others used it for one-to-one messaging, Quiamco was immediately drawn to the pen tool. 

She wasn’t the only one. People like Shaun McBride, Chris Carmichael, and Jerome Jarre had already gotten the attention of millions of Snapchat users and of brands who were now paying them to make videos and to doodle. 

One of Quiamco’s first series was drawing celebrities next to her own selfies. She said she would message a friend over Snapchat, “Hey, I just took a selfie with [insert celebrity],” and then send over a doodle. 

“They would open the snap, and say, ‘Yeah, that’s funny,'” she recalled. 

In February 2014, Mashable featured one of Quiamco’s snaps in our Valentine’s Day doodling challenge, which she credited to helping her boost her followers to tens of thousands. She currently has more than 100,000. 

Now her Snapchat isn’t just about jokes with her friends. Quiamco takes advantage of the community she built and asks them to help her decide what to paint or draw. 

“My art is mostly mix with pop culture and also a lot of interactive art. Even when I paint, I ask what the audience is feeling with suggestions on what I paint next,” she said. 

Going 3D

While Quiamco loves drawing and has gotten paid thousands of dollars per snap to do so, she isn’t done challenging herself with what Snap offers her and other creators. 

In December, Snap announced Lens Studio, its free tool to create augmented reality lenses specifically for Snapchat, and Quiamco decided to download it. Why?

“It was free,” she said with a laugh. 

Quiamco was quite familiar with augmented reality, having used Snapchat’s puppy lens and other filters for years. But she hadn’t created any AR experiences by herself before until she tried using Snap’s pre-made templates.

CyreneQ’s stats for her lenses

Image: cyrene quiamco/cyreneq

The Lens Studio “looks like it’s super complicated, but they have templates, and if you want to make your very own Snapchat lens in under 10 minutes, you open up a template, put in your own image, and then after that you can get into the fancy stuff,” Quiamco said.

Since that first lens, Quiamco has created a total of 10 that each received between 100,000 and 500,000 views and has watched a “ton” of YouTube videos to help her get into that “fancy stuff.” She’s already made some cash by partnering with a brand on one of the lenses.

“I had a lot of brands ask me, ‘How long does it take to create an AR lens?’ So there’s a lot of brand interest in this,” she said.

The competition among other platforms is also growing. Facebook has its own AR Studio, Google has ARCore, and Apple has ARKit. And that’s not Snapchat’s only problem. 

Snap’s charm offensive 

Snapchat has somewhat of a bad reputation with influencers. Since its early days until last year, the company for the most part had little interaction with the community, refusing to verify them, respond to inquiries, or let them visit headquarters. 

That’s drastically changed in the last year. In fact, Quiamco was one of the first non-celebrity, Snapchat-focused influencers who had their account promoted to an Official Story. The status adds an emoji next to her name but more importantly gives her access to certain tools and a premium spot in search, and soon in Snapchat Discover. 

Quiamco had been in the middle of making another lens for Snapchat when she received an email from Snap Inc. this month saying she had won the month’s Lens Studio Challenge. 

“I started jumping up and down,” she said. “I was putting in different features on [the lens] so I was searching the internet, and I was getting frustrated, and I was like, ‘Ahh, all these frustrations are worth it.'”

Indeed, while some users are currently groaning about the Snapchat redesign, Quiamco is one happy Snapchat user. She’s also confident about Snapchat’s future — at least when it comes to influencers like herself.  

“Snapchat has always been closed, word of mouth,” she said. “With the recent redesign, they’re going to more than likely start promoting Stories outside of your followers. So that’s something I’m hoping for, hoping my art will reach a wider audience.” 

Snapchat’s redesign is still rolling out to users, where responses online have skewed negative. For Quiamco, the update is a positive. Along with the in-app redesign, Snapchat now has a webplayer where Official Stories, like Quiamco’s, are now accessible on the web

“I like that,” Quiamco said. “That’s definitely going to reach an audience that doesn’t have Snapchat, like if they’re hesitant to download or for somebody that doesn’t have a smartphone, like my grandmother.”

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