'I didn't expect it to blow up': Local art director uses AI to imagine famous figures, celebrities in Singapore

'I didn't expect it to blow up': Local art director uses AI to imagine famous figures, celebrities in Singapore
Spiderman at an MRT station and Barack Obama eating at a hawker centre - these are just some of the AI-generated art by Sharmain Lim.
PHOTO: Screengrabs/Instagram/Singapore_spotting 

If meeting Hollywood stars and popular global figures isn't possible, why not have them come over to meet you instead?4

With a bit of craft and artificial intelligence (AI), Sharmain Lim managed to do just that.

Through her Instagram page, Singapore Spotting, you get a chance to see some of the world's most recognisable people on our shores.

The 29-year-old added a twist to her artwork by having these celebrities partake in rather simple and mundane activities.

Whether it's Taylor Swift staring into blank space during brunch or power couple Rihanna and A$AP Rocky posing at Jurong Lake Gardens, it's hard to scroll through the Instagram page without a chuckle.

The art director uses Midjourney, a generative AI programme, to create these images.

She admits to going into "a bit of a rabbit hole" with searching different celebrities and popular figures.

When the images were created, she initially shared them on her personal Instagram page but soon realised that she might actually be spamming people with her posts.

Just like that, Singapore Spotting was born. The first post was just about a month ago and, at the time of writing, the page already has more than 1,300 followers.

"I didn't expect it to blow up. I was just putting it as like a photo dump sort of situation," Sharmain says.

What is Midjourney?

At this stage, it's best to add more context to Midjourney and understand how this AI tool works.

Sharmain tells AsiaOne: "In simple terms, it is like really intense stock-footage finding. It's very detailed, to the point that whatever you're describing, it will try and generate that for you."

For her, as an art director, it is a great tool as it helps to visualise ideas that she can't necessarily execute.

When asked about the process of how she comes up with ideas for Singapore Spotting, Sharmain humbly replies that they aren't as specific as people might think.

It begins mostly with daily observations through a Singapore lens — things like daily runs to the kopitiam, buying cai fan or enjoying the Mobile Legends videogame.


Then comes the A-listers featured in her work.

To Sharmain, some celebrities give off certain types of archetypes and that's when inspiration for an image would come in.

She gives the example of how English actor Tom Holland "totally looks like the kind to have a side gig as a food delivery rider who will be blasting his music".

Fair enough.

And who else would seem like the type to read the newspaper at a coffee shop at seven in the morning but Morgan Freeman?

Is AI-generated art still art? 

While Sharmain's works are generally light-hearted in nature, there's a deeper conversation to be had around AI and art.

Has the line been blurred this much? In such a new space involving AI, what is defined as art and who gets to define it?

"It's technically your own intellectual property. I [came up with] this idea and I'm using this [programme] to generate it," Sharmain says.

But she's also cognisant of the questions that will be posed by the opposite camp about "actual craft" in AI-generated art.

To the naked eye, AI-generated art is becoming more lifelike, but for Sharmain, it will never be able to replicate the human touch, at least not in the immediate future.

And Sharmain has no qualms with that. In fact, this might be to the advantage of Singapore Spotting.

"I don't care to make [my art] look as realistic as possible because I think that's the beauty of it."

The person behind the art

Hearing that Sharmain attended Lasalle College Of The Arts isn't particularly surprising, but her route to said institution is worth mentioning.

Sharmain was not a typical art student. While she did arts "in [her] own capacity" growing up, it was never really an option as a career path.

Growing up, she was fed the narrative of how a career in the arts would not be wise from a financial standpoint. 

So she went to junior college before a short stint at SIM University proved to be the final straw.

A business degree was just "not [her] thing", and in the midst of an exam period where she knew she would not do well, Sharmain mustered up the courage to have a talk with her parents.

The plan was to switch to Lasalle College Of The Arts. Thankfully, her parents were supportive of her choice, and she's not looked back since.

Having worked as an art director in an advertising agency, Sharmain's opinion on the Singapore art scene is worth its weight.

While there is support for art in Singapore, it does "tend to [follow] a narrative [of] what Singapore wants as art".

"I do see subculture coming up in places where resources are not readily available, people make it work. 

"And I think that is also very truly Singaporean because it's the grit and the 'die-die-I-want-to-do-something-I-will-do-it' mentality."

Ideally, Sharmain would want art to be more accessible so that individuals at all levels can appreciate it.

She is aware that such change will not happen overnight, but she hopes to be part of the change.

Singapore Spotting getting the spotlight on the internet might be proof that she's on the right track.

ALSO READ: 'That's not real art': Manga artist ignored haters and quit her job to pursue her dream


No part of this story or photos can be reproduced without permission from AsiaOne.

This website is best viewed using the latest versions of web browsers.