Kristin Smith is a relative newcomer to the art world, but she’s already bringing smiles to those who see her work. When visitors chuckle at her prints of humanized robots and monsters at her art fair booths, she knows she’s onto something. But she didn’t always know that graphic design was her forte; she thought music was, having played oboe and piano since she was a child and pursuing music in higher education.
The desire to doodle was too strong, though, so she gave up playing to empty rooms to produce events and meetings for Hallmark by day and develop her creatures at night. With the goal of creating one a week, she fleshes out the personality ticks and physical traits that make her made-up monsters so lovable. Kristin shares a home with boyfriend Michael Schultz, who is also a musician and designer, in south Kansas City.
What is your educational background?
I started in graphic design for a semester, but I had trouble deciding what I wanted to do. I have a tendency to want to learn 500 million things. I graduated with a degree in music technology from Central Missouri State University (now University of Central Missouri — I have degrees for both) in 2007, but I somehow ended up back in design.
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How did your career get started?
I spent my last semester of school in France, and I didn’t have the travel bug out of my system after graduating. I wanted to live in a city that I really wanted to live in, so I moved to Denver by myself. I loved the mountains and city. It’s such a beautiful place and people are so active there. I didn’t have a job waiting for me; I just figured it out. I found a small company and made myself useful (in creative services and marketing). Then I did the same thing when I moved back home. I started freelancing for Hallmark and it turned into a job. I fancy myself a super independent kind of person, but I really missed people. Family and relationships are very important to me.
How did you transition from being a musician to a graphic designer?
A few years ago I was in a band (The Sexy Accident) and I took on the job of creating the concert posters. What kept coming out was space kittens. I’ve always been a doodler and a silly, goofy person. This just lived in me and I had to let it out. I realized I love doing this, and it had a grip on me that music didn’t.
What influences your work?
Midcentury-styled artwork, simple lines, geometric shapes. Also, my dad has always been creative, into woodworking, photography and glass working, and my mom is my personal cheerleader. She’ll take a day off work to help me set up at an art fair.
Are art fairs the only place to find your work?
I have an Etsy shop and I’m trying to do more for it because I can’t do art fairs all year long. I’d also like to do formats other than prints, like T-shirts and notebooks. I’m thinking through what’s most relevant to my style and what people are responding to. Young moms tend to buy the robots and monsters, but everyone likes the KC tribute pieces.
Why the appreciation for monsters and robots?
Creatures don’t have a lot of definition because they don’t exist. There’s a lot you can play with. Mine usually have human personalities and are into things like hula hoops or CrossFit. They can have one, three or 12 eyes. They turn something scary into something fun. I desire to be an optimist in what I put into the world.
What’s your studio like?
I share it with Mike. He’s into Spider-Man and X-Men, so it’s like a kid’s playroom for 30-year-olds. We have two computer workstations and a mix of artworks that are ours or that inspire us. There’s a drawing table with paints. I’ve been dabbling in gouache, which will open me up to having some original artwork.
Do you two work well together?
I call him my art director, but we have completely different styles of illustration and taste in color. He’s more emo. We’ve wondered if we could do an art booth together before. We’d call it Happy/Sad and have a black side for him and white side for me.
What is your favorite space?
The living room is where we hang out with the dogs and relax, but I love to be outdoors, especially the Indian Creek Trail. I’m somewhat of a runner and I enjoy that time to decompress. It’s meditation in motion, and I feel so grounded after a run.
What is your ultimate goal in work/life?
There’s nothing specific, more of a general idea. I’ve spent a lot of time helping other people tell their stories and I want to flip that. I have some thoughts about kids’ books and app development. I feel like I’m just along for the ride. I’m an adventurer and explorer, not a planner.
Learn more about her prints at kristin-smith.com/.