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Meet Kristina Yu of Cheery Human Studios

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kristina Yu.

Kristina, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles where, since childhood, I have loved to draw, make music, admire children’s book illustrations and collect stickers. For years growing up, I thought I would have a career in music but life had other plans and I eventually found my way to a creative career in design. After a year in a masters of fine arts program for Web Design and New Media in the SF Bay Area, I was hired as a full-time designer at a UI/UX design studio. A few years later, I found myself missing home so I moved back to Los Angeles where I continued to work as a freelance designer.

In August 2016, I started Cheery Human Studios because I wanted to create artwork and goods that made me and other people feel happy. I was in a creative slump at the time and wanted to express myself through my own projects. I had always been drawn to colorful lettering and illustration so I worked for hours every day and after I finished my day job to develop my skills in these areas. Gradually, I developed my own style and it has evolved into what it is today. I never imagined that I would sell at shows or conventions nor did I ever think that this endeavor would turn into a full-time career. But, here I am, a small business owner working out of a home studio in Glendale where I continue to take on freelance illustration projects and work on Cheery Human Studios full-time.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
For a few years, after I graduated college in 2008, I felt completely lost. The job market wasn’t so great and even worse for someone who had no idea what she wanted to do for a living. So, I did what any lost and confused unemployed college graduate might do and worked as a temp doing different admin jobs around LA. I didn’t know what I was doing, all I knew was that whatever I was doing didn’t feel like the right path for me and that whatever that path would be I wanted it to be creatively fulfilling.

Applying for a masters degree program in art and design was a big challenge for me. I had no formal art degree and couldn’t afford any of the prep courses that people suggested I take. I had a few fine art classes under my belt from my time in college, but my bachelor’s degree was in business so some of the art schools I spoke to at portfolio review day didn’t quite take what I had put together all too seriously. I had studied business marketing, so why all of a sudden did I want to make art? Needless to say, it was an uphill battle getting to where I am today. I constantly felt like I had to prove to myself and to others that I belonged in the design community and that a career in the arts was worth pursuing.

Fast forward 10 years and having my own business while working as a freelance designer and illustrator hasn’t been a smooth road (as all self-employed artists and small business owners will tell you). There is always something new to tackle and learning how to balance business with your own need for creativity is difficult. How can you make art that you like while also making your customers happy? How can you make sure that you’ve got your bills covered for the month? How can you stay true to why you started doing what you’re doing in the first place? These are all questions I’ve asked myself and discussed with other full-time artist entrepreneur friends. And it’s been amazing having a support system and a local artist community that understands exactly what I’m going through.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Cheery Human Studios – what should we know?
Cheery Human Studios is a small online shop dedicated to colorful and cheery illustrations. These illustrations are printed on goods such as art prints, stationery, keychains, pins, tote bags, mugs, zip pouches and more. I hope that the bright colors, fun patterns, and cute characters that I use to create my products give customers the same sense of encouragement and joy that I feel when I create them. I am extremely proud of the fact that I run the entire business myself and built it from the ground up.

That being said, I illustrate all of the artwork featured on my goods, design all the packaging, handle customer service inquiries, pack and ship online orders, vend at craft shows and cons (along with a lot of help from my boyfriend and best friend), manage all social media and work on other various business tasks and freelance projects.

Because I handle all of these logistics, I feel that that helps me understand all aspects of the business from the design of the product itself to communication and relationships with long-time customers and friends. Understanding all of this helps me bring the heart of Cheery Human to life – it helps me connect directly with my audience. In addition to selling goods, I am always open to discussing client work, custom orders, brand collaborations and freelance projects.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Growing up, my mom always pushed me to work hard and instilled a work ethic in me that I always put forth to this day. She is a fighter and she taught me how to be one, too.

My aunt who passed away a few years ago taught me empathy, strength, and how to be a great friend. My younger brother, my first friend, showed me how to believe in myself and to have a good sense of humor along the way. All of them have played a big role in my success because without them I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

In addition to my family, I am grateful to have the absolute best support system of friends.

Marge Pawlowski, my best friend of 23 years, has been with me through all the highs and lows of my life and design career. I always refer to her as my “#1 hype woman”. She was my first sale when I started on Etsy (I had no idea what I was doing) and the first to support me on Patreon. Since starting Cheery Human, she has helped me prep, set up and take down displays at some of my largest (and smallest) shows. And I will never forget how much she listened when I needed someone to talk to about my artistic dreams. She has always been more than my best friend. She’s my sister.

Chelsea Raerek and I met when I started my design career in the SF Bay Area. She and I were really great design teammates together at my first studio job. She helped me through a lot of my struggles with life and design. We challenged one another creatively and gave each other constructive feedback. She helped me become more confident in my design skills and I am thankful she did. Working with her every day made me a better designer. To this day, she is still one of my best friends.

Diana Olympia is another best friend in my support system that has helped me immensely. We have been friends since high school, through life and career struggles, and now. She is incredibly helpful in so many ways and I look to her for sound business advice. Early on, she let me send her some test packages when I wasn’t quite sure how to package or ship my products. She gave me a really honest and useful critique that helped me improve the way I send shipments out. I have always relied on her for her feedback.

I also want to give credit to my boyfriend, Darren Smith. Not only is he my best friend, but he believes in me and Cheery Human Studios more than I thought anyone ever would. He is there at every show (if you’ve ever seen me at one I’m sure you’ve met him) and if he can’t stay then he makes sure to come and help me set up and take things down when I’m done. Owning your own small business comes with a lot of challenges. It can be mentally, emotionally, and physically draining while also being incredibly rewarding. But, when I get bogged down and overwhelmed he is always there to remind me why I’m doing all of this in the first place. He’s always there cheering me on and I am incredibly lucky to have him in my life.

Finally, I need to acknowledge former design teachers, creative directors, clients, customers, and fellow artists that are now good friends. All of these individuals have helped me learn so much about myself and my art. In being part of my journey, they’ve contributed something to my success. I think I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the constant support I get from my Patreon sponsors, Instagram followers, and customers. Without them and the joy they share with me when they get their “Cheery Mail”, I wouldn’t have been able to grow Cheery Human to what it is today. I never would have imagined that I would be making this my life’s work.

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