How Kelly Tan Creates Incredible Artwork With Her iPhone

I’m really excited to share this interview with Kelly Tan, an incredibly talented digital artist who most will know by her online username “LovePaperPlane.” Kelly uses her iPhone and iPad to combine raw images into stunning fantasy pieces of art that transport you into another world. In this interview, you’ll learn more about Kelly and how she creates these wonderful images.

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 5

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m a full-time mother and hobbyist artist from Malaysia. I love art, design and drawing. I enjoy spending my free time taking photographs and creating digital artworks.

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 18

I previously worked as a planning officer in the manufacturing industry and as a part-time photographer. About 3 years ago I decided to quit my jobs and became a full-time mother. My daughter was a premature baby and spent 2 months in hospital.

She needed extra care which as a mother I wanted to provide. These changes have given me a little time to spend on my hobby.

How did your iPhone photography journey begin?

I started my iPhone digital artwork in the middle of 2012. After becoming a full-time mother, I found myself with some extra time to spend on Instagram when my daughter was taking naps.

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 2

At the same time I found one of my favorite Instagram artists, @qta3, who inspired me to start making some collage artworks.

Then in August 2012 I found another artist, @christianjsweet, who inspired me to use the ArtStudio app to create digital artworks and photo manipulations.

Do you have any kind of photography or art background?

I’m self-taught in both photography and art. I love photography and drawing since I discovered these two things in my life.

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 14

I didn’t have the privilege to do further study in a design course, so I learnt and explored the DSLR camera, Photoshop and ArtStudio by myself.

Your images look like something out of a fairy tale, transporting the viewer into another world. Where do you get the inspiration for your incredible fantasy digital artwork?

I get inspiration from everywhere, mostly from daily life. Watching cartoons or playing blocks with my daughter, reading story books and magazines, sleeping, dreaming… anything can be part of my inspiration.

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 11

Other artists’ artworks also play a part in my inspiration. My favorite artists who always inspired me are Salvador Dali, Rob Gonsalves, Erik Johansson, Leszek Bujnowski, Martin Stranka, Sarolta Bán and Michael Vincent Manalo.

Do you use an iPhone or iPad for your digital creations, or a combination of the two?

Most of the time I use both. I use the iPad when my daughter isn’t using it! And when I need to make some detailed editing as the bigger screen is easier to work on fine detail with my fingers.

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 3

But adding filters, effects and posting to social media is all done using my iPhone. Besides, the iPad is already full of kid’s apps and so doesn’t allow me to add more editing apps!

Where do you get the raw images for your creations? Are they your own photos?

Most of the raw images I use in my artwork are stock images taken by other photographers. I get most of my stock images from the FreeImages and DeviantArt websites.

I also use my Instagram friends’ stock photos and my own images which are mostly captured with my iPhone.

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 16

I love using stock images for several reasons. There are a lot of landscape photos which usually form the main background in my edits. It’s difficult to capture this type of landscape photo in my country.

It’s also more convenient to use stock images instead of photographing it by myself. As a full-time mother it’s tough for me to frequently go outdoors to take photos.

When I have ideas, I just search for the required raw images via the stock photography sites. This makes my creating process faster and easier.

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 1

There are a lot of amazing, inspiring and high resolution stock images available from the sites that I mentioned. Using better quality stock images will produce a better quality artwork.

When using stock images you do need to be aware of some of the limitations. Not all of the stock images are unrestricted or give permission to sell or use the image for commercial purposes.

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 17

And most of the time we need to credit the owners, either as a requirement or out of respect. It can also be very time consuming searching for a suitable raw image.

Finally, because stock images are available for anyone to use, you can’t avoid the fact that people may copy your ideas and search for similar stock images to produce a very similar piece of work to the one you created.

Are there any apps that you use for taking photos besides the native camera app?

Most of time I use the native camera app. In some conditions I also use ProCam, Slow Shutter Cam and Superburst Camera.

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 6

What are your favorite apps for post-processing and digital artwork?

I create all my digital artwork in ArtStudio. Then I bring it into Snapseed and PS Express to make some final enhancements.

Do you use any iPhone photography accessories? Would you recommend that people buy them?

I have Olloclip lenses, an Octopus tripod, monopod and remote control. I bought these just to fulfill my curiosity in exploring more about iPhone photography. Whether you need them or not depends on your personal requirements.

Can you briefly explain the story and editing behind your three favorite digital artwork creations?

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 9

I Have A Dream

Photo credit: Variety-Stock/Petersuominen from DeviantArt (horse shadow), FreeImages (wall 1, floor), Personal iPhone shots (my daughter with rocking horse, girl shadow, wall 2).

When I first started creating collage artworks, my daughter was my model in some of my creations. After I switched to making photo manipulations, I no longer used her in my edits. Then one day I suddenly had an idea about shadow-play, so I asked my daughter be my model.

All the blending and editing was completed in ArtStudio. I made some enhancements in Snapseed and PS Express (details, sharpness, selective adjust, reduce noise). And I slightly changed the color using a VSCO Cam filter.

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 4

Set Me Free

Photo credit: DeviantArt – kiwirose (roots), chamberstock (girl), Theflickerees-stock (grass). FreeImages (animals).

“You can’t go anywhere, you feel yourself not freely because the unhappiest people in this world are those who care the most about what other people think.”

I have a friend who always feels unhappy because she likes to live in people thoughts. She’s always worrying what people think about her. I feel pity for her, and her situation just inspired me to make this edit.

All blending and editing was completed in ArtStudio. Enhancement was done in Snapseed (details, sharpness, grunge, tune image).

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 8

House Of Memory

Photo credit: Instagram @kevinkuster/@mobilemasters (camera), Stockmichelle from DeviantArt (little girl), Sisterslaughter165 from DeviantArt (background), Jack Russel from DeviantArt (dog), FreeImages (roof, bird). 

“I see something special and show it to the camera. The moment is held until someone sees it. Then it is theirs.” – Sam Abell.

I always imagine I have a camera house because I love cameras. This edit was specially made for @mobilemasters and @joshjohnson’s challenge on Instagram, and I feel honored to be one of the winners in this challenge.

All blending and editing was completed in ArtStudio, with enhancements made in Snapseed (details, sharpness, grunge, tune image).

How long does it usually take to create one of your pieces of art?

It depends. If we’re talking about planning right through to the completed edit, then sometimes it takes a few weeks. Searching for the right raw images is important and also the most time consuming.

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 7

If we’re just talking about the editing process, then it takes an average of 3-4 hours. It depends how complicated the layers are to retouch.

Many iPhone photographers are comfortable taking realistic photos, but they don’t know how to transition into digital artwork. What tips do you have for people who want to make that transition into creating more surreal images?

The first thing is that you must be interested in combining raw images into a realistic image. And then you must shoot, or choose from stock images, photos that might bring inspiration to you, such as a field or misty places.

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 15

These types of image usually give me some ideas for my artwork. Imagine your ideas about a particular person or activity then take or find photos for this. For example, I love to imagine ideas about my daughter for my images, then I’ll ask her to be my model.

Finally, keep trying and learning. And don’t be afraid to create something “weird!”

How important is it to you to share your work and view other people’s images on social media?

I love to share my artwork on social media, especially Instagram because I gained a lot confidence and improvement through my Instagram friends from around the world.

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 10

Every single “like” and compliment is a brick to build my wall of confidence. And any negative comments are a chance for me to work better. I also love to view other people images. It makes me happy to see their beautiful and inspiring images.

Either sharing your own work or viewing people’s images provides you with great opportunities to broaden your vision and interact with people from around the world.

Which iPhone photographers and digital artists do you respect the most?

This question is really tough for me because many names appear in my mind. There are so many talented people on Instagram that I admire and respect.

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 12

Here are a few amazing iPhone photographers and mobile digital artists that I love.

Instagram Artists: @qta3, @christianjsweet, @nois7, @thehudson, @merekdavis, @digital_editz.

iPhone Photographers: @wisslaren, @jasonmpeterson, @mr007, @dreamy_touch, @bobbimac, @mr_darcy, @leesamantha.

Where can we see your digital artwork?

I mostly post my artwork on Instagram. I also post my images on my Facebook page and on DeviantArt, with same user name (lovepaperplane).

Kelly Tan iPhone Photos 13

  • Thank you so much Kelly for sharing your knowledge and stunning digital artwork – your images are beautiful! 🙂

  • These images are stunning, but when (as it can be clearly seen) the majority of the visual content in an image comes from high resolution photos taken with a DSLR I wonder if this is still iPhone photography. This is great photography but not mobile.

    • This is a good point Davide. Indeed, Kelly says that most of her base images come from stock photography websites or photos taken with her DSLR, although she does take some of the photos with her iPhone. I think what Kelly’s work shows is that you don’t need a computer to create amazing artwork like this – you can do it all on a mobile device (iPhone or iPad) using apps. So while much of it isn’t originally mobile photography, it’s definitely mobile digital artwork. I just wish I had the skills and imagination to create such stunning images! 🙂

    • Hi Kate, it’s a tricky topic, I also edit my DSLR photos on ios devices, but I don’t “sell” them as mobile photography or mobile art because I feel it would not be fair.
      Anyway, I think the borders are blurring and will be more and more in the future.
      At the end of the day you have good and bad photography, and definitely Kelly’s work is in the in the first category 😉

    • You’re definitely right about the borders blurring, and maybe it won’t matter so much in the future. It seems to be a popular debate at the moment though. I sell framed prints of my iPhone and DSLR photos. I never state which camera I took the pictures with as I don’t think it matters – like you say, if it’s a good picture people will admire it. The iPhone images seem to be more popular though 🙂

    • Maria Kappatou

      It is just skilled photoshop. Using stock photos doesn’t give you the right to be called a photographer.There is nothing blur about it!

  • Khürt L. Williams

    I think the title is misleading given that this is a iPhone photography web site, not an iPhone art web site. I read the article and the further I read I realized that I would not be creating this art solely on my iPhone.

  • IshaRa Deborah Coulthard

    OMG!! This photo-art is divine!!! Soooo inspiring to see…I will make a point of shooting some suitable images on my iPhone to play with in the future 🙂