(Bloomberg) — Like many Americans, Gladys Estolas began trading stocks on the Robinhood app when the pandemic descended this year and kept her stuck at home. Estolas, who majored in graphic design at college, drew illustrations on her stock charts to show her husband the scenery she saw within the price lines. After one of Estolas’s creations went viral on Reddit in August, she turned her new hobby into a side hustle called Stoxart—and now she says she’s earned more from selling her illustrations than from day-trading. (She sells her pre-made prints for $45 to $180 apiece, while commissions can cost anywhere from $800 to $1,150.) Estolas, 34, spoke with Bloomberg News in October and December from her home in Portland, Oregon.
Earlier in the year, I became interested in investing and stocks. I’m the artistic, creative person and my husband is the more structured, business-minded planning guy, so we complement each other. He was more into stocks than I was, and he helped me set up a portfolio and helped me pick out good investments. While I browsed through the portfolios I saw mountains and buildings. He’s the type of guy where, we’d be out and I’d say, ‘Hey, that looks like a face’ or some type of shape, and he would never get it. So I would have to take a picture and draw over it. The same thing with these charts. It got to a point where I’d say, ‘Hey these look like mountains and buildings’ and he’d say, ‘I don’t get it.’ My first attempts to turn this into art was to show him what I saw.
I posted my first artwork piece [based on Ford Motor Co.’s stock chart] in the Robinhood subreddit, and that was the affirmation I was looking for. It kind of blew up and went viral from there.
What was your first commission request?
It was Tesla. I got my first commission in August. The guy really liked Tesla, so he wanted a piece. I think I went a little overboard with it, and then that kind of became the most popular.
How do you pick a stock to illustrate?
Initially, it was just stock that I owned. But when we basically saw the dip [in the market during March], charts started to look much more interesting because of that dramatic dip. I would go through and see which companies had the most movement, kind of turning a company’s negative into something positive. It’s going through portfolios of companies, knowing that they’re being heavily affected by what’s going on right now, so those are the ones I look for, like the auto industry. I’ve also been looking for companies that have been thriving, like Peloton, Amazon of course, and Netflix. So kind of looking both ways, negative and positive.
What’s your artistic process?
I have a little two-year-old and a day job and I do these [illustrations] really late at night. I prioritize family time. So after work, it’s playing with my baby and family time. And when she goes to sleep, I’m up all night [doing] these things. They usually take a while. I’m dedicating three to five hours a night doing these.
Sometimes it could take me two days, sometimes it takes me two weeks. It depends on the level of inspiration I have. When I do pieces for myself, I’ll do it because something sparked in my mind. Sometimes they’re like, ‘Hey, I give you creative freedom,’ and those pieces usually take a week.
I’m a big symbolic person. So I’ll add in a bunch of Easter eggs to the artwork, telling a story. The stock chart is already a story but I’d like to tell an even deeper story. It’s not just a piece on the wall, it’s a story.
A lot of finance people, a lot of traders. A lot of my commissions, surprisingly, are company CEOs who want to buy them to commemorate their year. For example, ButcherBox—it’s the same concept as delivering food but it’s more of a curated, high-quality meat that they deliver to you—[the CEO] wanted to commemorate their [company’s internal data] member chart. A lot of [buyers are] people who have been trading and investing in stocks and wanted to commemorate their best decisions.
I moved to Oregon about six years ago and I kind of fell into Nike. I had no idea that the campus was here, so my first job was data visualization for the marketplace and strategy team. My role there was to help these really smart people, educate them about applying art and design into their report to help the business make better decisions. That sparked some kind of community within the company because I built a data art club.
That’s how I started to mix art and data together, and currently I’m a visualization insights designer working with the data team, where I take scientific data and apply it to a 3-D platform. I work in data all day, everyday.
Would you like to do Stoxart full-time?
I’ve played with a tool to automate these. It’s all coded in art, and the user could enter a stock ticker and the image would populate. It would alleviate the work I have to do manually.
I’ve been doing a lot of exploring and found a way to get there halfway, but realized that no matter how much code you put into the art, they still need that human touch.