Surface Designer Spotlight: Kristina Yu

This month’s spotlight designer, Kristina Yu, is a real go-getter and I’m excited to feature her here today! Although she may be new to surface design, she has amazing advice for anyone who feels overwhelmed with all-the-things (including veterans like me).

So I know both her art and story will bring a smile to your face. Take it away Kristina…



Surface designer Kristina Yu
Please Introduce Yourself

I’m from Los Angeles, CA where I currently work out of my home art studio. I rediscovered my love of illustration and hand lettering in 2016 and started working on developing my surface design skills at the end of 2019.

Tell us a little bit about your design journey.

I have loved drawing, colors, and letters since I was a child and rediscovered my love of illustration after already working nearly a decade as a UI designer in the tech industry. This rediscovery came after a watercolor lettering class which reignited my love of lettering and motivated me to create art that I loved and felt more connected to.


Surface design by Kristina Yu

In 2016, I founded Cheery Human Studios, a creative brand where I make products such as greeting cards, pins, stickers, and stationery with my bright and whimsical artwork. I had absolutely no idea what surface design was, even though I was already doing it for my own brand and only happened upon the term after discovering Shannon’s classes on Skillshare. From there, I did a bunch of research on how I could become a surface designer, took a few other classes, but had absolutely no idea where to begin building a portfolio and pitching to clients.

In 2020, I took Shannon’s Pitch Your Portfolio class and learned so much! Taking her class gave me the confidence to develop my portfolio and pitch it to potential clients. And at the beginning of 2021, I pitched a few of my dream clients!

Surface design by Kristina Yu
What did you struggle with most as a new designer?

I am still new to the surface design industry, but I’ve been creating design and illustration for my own brand for nearly 5 years, so I think my biggest struggle right now is balancing my portfolio development and client outreach along with management, wholesale, and development of my own products for Cheery Human Studios, which is currently one of my main income streams.


Surface design by Kristina Yu

Surface design by Kristina Yu
What advice about the surface design industry has been most helpful to you in your career so far?

I think the best advice I received last year was from Shannon’s Pitch Your Portfolio course. When she told us that we absolutely didn’t need 100+ designs to start pitching to potential clients, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

I had learned from so many other designers that I needed to have at least 75–100 solid designs in order to be a successful surface designer, so until I learned about Shannon’s philosophy I had felt completely overwhelmed to the point of creative paralysis! Her advice was helpful because it reduced my portfolio anxiety and gave me the confidence to start building my portfolio with an end goal in sight.

When you look back at your design journey so far, what are you most proud of?

When I look back at the journey I’ve taken to get to where I am today, I’m really proud of all the creative skills I’ve learned and developed along the way and the courage I had to pursue different paths than the one I had envisioned for myself when I started as a designer in tech over a decade ago.

I never would have imagined I’d be an illustrator, running my own small business, or pursuing a career in surface design! I love that through the years I’ve followed my gut, pursued my career interests headfirst, and allowed myself to embrace change.

Surface design by Kristina Yu
Where do you see yourself in your career three years from now?

Three years from now I want to be a successful surface designer with a wonderful roster of clients, along with being a writer and illustrator of my own children’s and adult novelty books. I’d also love for Cheery Human Studios to grow into a brand that is sold at stationery shops and boutique gift stores around the world.

What advice would you give to surface designers who are struggling?

Since I’m pretty new to surface design, I’m not entirely sure what advice I could give about the industry in particular. But something that I have always done when I struggle with something that seems overwhelming is to break it up into small tasks or try a different approach.

Having a difficult time with a digital piece? Try drawing traditionally.

Not really sure how to start a portfolio? Pick 5 of your favorite pieces and organize them into a folder on your computer.

Don’t know how to transition your career into a new industry? Take an online class or watch a YouTube video to learn a little more about it.

Sometimes beginning is the hardest part, but breaking things up into smaller tasks helps it feel less intimidating.
Where can we find you?

Website: www.kristinayu.com
Shop: cheeryhumanstudios.com
Instagram: @artofkoyu and @cheeryhumanstudios


P.S. If you’d like to be featured on the SDR blog, you can always submit your story right here!

  1. Kate Frances says:

    Congratulations Kristina on what will no doubt be an amazing creative career. lots of creative love, fellow PYP alumni, Kate x

    • Kristina Yu says:

      Thank you so much for the kind words and encouragement, Kate! Sending lots of creative love back to you – Kristina x

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