Meet a Mintie: Kristen Smith

Happy Fall Minties! We hope you all had a wonderful Labour Day and short work week.

Whether it be her one-eyed monster Halloween card or beautiful floral branches bridal shower invitation, we’re quite certain you know the work of Kristen Smith. Read on to get to know the lively gal behind her festive designs.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a designer?
I knew from a very young age that I wanted to do something creative. As a kid I had stacks of notebooks filled to the brim with sketches of my favorite cartoon characters. I would draw them over and over until I thought I had them just right. If I wasn’t sketching, I was building. I had a mild obsession with radial patterns when I was little and loved creating giant circular shapes with my blocks. When I was older, I took my first “Computer Art” class in High School, followed by a “Graphic Design” course. I was instantly hooked!

Do you have any formal design training?
I do! I attended the University of Georgia, in Athens, Ga., where I received my B.F.A. in Graphic Design.

How would you describe your style?
I’m not sure if it would be fair to say I have a style just yet. I am only a few years out of school and find myself learning something new about design every day. When I look back at past work I sometimes have to cringe, then give myself a stern talk and hope I have learned my lesson. Inevitably I will stumble along the way, get distracted and probably be forced to have the same chat with myself again. I do my best to stay consistent and true to my original concepts and would love to eventually find a rhythm that suits me. For the most part my designs are usually bright, fun, and sporting some kind of texture!

What is your normal workflow or process like?
My work flow is a bit messy. I don’t really ever start in the same place, and I definitely never end up in the same place. I like to work on several different designs at one time instead of each one separately. I remember seeing Alethea and Ruth’s interview a few months ago, which included a screenshot of an Illustrator document, and thinking, “Oh my gosh, that’s just like me!” I will usually have one Illustrator file that contains several different designs all for one challenge. I try to at least have a handful of good ideas but once I start working it becomes clear which will work and which won’t. At that point having them all side by side is a huge help! It is very obvious the ones I should move forward with and the ones that should be scrapped.

What are the most difficult aspects of the design process?
I think the aspect I find most difficult would be the ability to self edit. It is crucial to bring an editing eye to your own designs. It may be painful at first since we almost always fall in love with the bits and pieces that just don’t seem to work, but it gets easier. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a compulsive need for very bright, very loud, and very distracting things. You can see it in my jewelry, clothing, paintings, and even my designs. As I got older I started to think, “do I need to wear those larger then life neon bangles everywhere I go?” No. “If an outfit contains more than six different colors is that bad?” Yes.  I have to do the exact same thing for my designs. “That purple butterfly is so pretty…I wonder if it would look good to add 10 more?” The answer will always be no! But it’s really hard to tell yourself that sometimes. I can get so attached to one element in a design and just try hopelessly to keep it in when I know it needs to go. Being able to self edit can help take your designs to a whole new level.

Your illustrations are so well done, whether it be a turkey, a monster, a floral vine, a vegetable or a cake… How do you create them?
Thank you! The funny thing is when I was in school I thought my illustration skills were very weak when compared with my other classmates. I hated setting up thumbnails and sketching out my ideas. I had a nasty habit of wanting to go straight to my computer. Of course you learn quickly that a process like that will only get you so far and will waste a great deal of your time. I eventually learned to slow things down a bit and plot out my designs in greater detail before using the computer. My sketches are still fairly loose in several instances, but I try to keep my illustrations as close as possible to my original concepts. Typically I sketch in a sketch pad, then sketch over them using tracing paper. I will do several versions with tracing paper before scanning them onto the computer. Sometimes they don’t need much work, but most of the time I will redraw them in Illustrator using my Wacom Tablet or the pen tool. I tend to be very, very picky about my illustrations. Recently I have been trying to get comfortable with letting them be a little looser and allowing that hand drawn feel to linger a bit longer.

Do you have a favorite font?
Right now I am loving Archer and Museo. Futura and Rockwell are always my go to fonts. Fonts I have on my “need to purchase list” include: Brownstone, Kewl Script, Eloquent Pro, and Reina!

Favorite design tool?
My name is Kristen Smith and I am addicted to the pen tool.

Hilarious!! Did you send out family Christmas cards and what was it like?

I did! It was very simple and a nice little combination of my design skills and my boyfriend’s photography. Our cat Desmond Hume was prominently featured front and center wearing a bright red bow that we were lucky enough to trick him into putting on. That photo shoot involved a good bit of bribing and lots of kitty treats.

Congratulations on your first prize for Blue Bird in the Chronicle challenge—that is huge! What was the inspiration behind the birds and flowers?

Thank you so much! Well, my boyfriend and I developed a bit of a green thumb this spring/summer and covered the entire apartment and back porch with plants! We even ambitiously planted several herbs and vegetables and I’m happy to report few casualties. We also installed a tiny bird feeder on the back porch to help liven it up a little. When I take breaks from work during the day I love to just sit in the sun room, surrounded by plants, and watch the little birds fly on and off the porch. It’s peaceful, stress free, and a great time to sketch and think freely. The design actually started out as a pattern in which I attempted to use all 5 of the recommended Pantone swatches. I quickly realized it was complete overkill and worked to scale it back, but also took time to add contrast within the shapes.

Tell us about one of your favorite cards offered for sale on Minted and how you came up with the design.
I think one of my favorites would have to be All The Right Ingredients Business Card from the Stay in Touch Business Card Challenge. I had so much fun designing for that challenge, and the catering concept was one of my first sketches. I think ultimately the idea stemmed from work at my first job out of school, where I worked as an in-house designer for a south eastern chain of Tex-Mex restaurants. Designing advertisements for food can be troublesome because usually you wind up being very hungry by the end. I didn’t get to do a whole lot of illustration work while I was there, but I used to doodle lots of little fruits and vegetables all the time. Those doodles sat in my desk for a year and never got used. When I knew I wanted to create a catering card I decided to dig them back out and dust them off a bit. They were exactly what I needed!

What was your favorite Minted design challenge and why?
I think it might have to be a tie between the Stay in Touch Business Card Challenge and the Chronicle Books Challenge. My background is very, very different from stationery design, something I quickly realized in my first few challenges. Stationery design is very complex. It can incorporate so many subtle details but at the same time look completely effortless. I struggled a good bit initially and found myself getting discouraged after the wedding challenges. I think I finally found my footing during the business card challenge, a format I am comfortable with. I also absolutely love creating seamless patterns so I had the best time coming up with all the fun backers! And the Chronicle Books Challenge was perfect because it was completely illustration based! I am definitely more confident in my illustrations than I am in my knowledge about type. Plus there was so much freedom! I just sat down and let my mind run wild, grabbing the first ideas that came to me.

What are the places in your hometown that you would recommend a visitor check out?
Currently I live in Decatur, Ga., a smaller suburb of Atlanta. It has plenty of Southern charm without all of the hustle and bustle of the big city. Downtown Decatur has some delicious restaurants including Brick Store Pub which features a German-inspired menu and one of the largest selections of beer in the state. Another one of my favorites is a little Mexican cantina called The Matador, featuring some of the best cheese dip and fried chicken tacos I’ve ever had. If you’re crafty like me, you have to check out Gail K. Fabrics, a store filled from floor to ceiling with gorgeous fabrics, closures, ribbons, and more buttons then you have ever seen! And of course Decatur and Atlanta have so many amazing parks to choose from, the main one being Piedmont Park, which is lovely. But if you are looking for something a little quieter, I would definitely recommend a trip to Oakhurst Park.

Where do you go for design inspiration?
Everywhere! Even though I am a designer, I work a good bit in the photography world and find photography to be a great source of inspiration. Obviously it may not always translate, but seeing others push themselves within their field helps me to want to push myself as well. Style Me Pretty is a blog that showcases weddings, engagements, and all things pretty! Since I am a sucker for florals I love Saipua, a very talented Brooklyn based florist who makes absolutely breathtaking arrangements. I also like to make trips to a local used book store up the street to purchase gardening encyclopedias with pages and pages of flowers and botanicals. When I have down time I love flipping through Real Simple or my most recent Anthropologie catalog.

What are your favorite online design sites and blogs?

Here are a few:

Oh So Beautiful Paper

Eat Drink Chic

Style Me Pretty

Eight Hour Day

What designers/illustrators do you really admire?
There are too many to name so I will pick my current favorites. For type design I always look to the incredible Jessica Hische. That girl is a revolutionary when it comes to hand drawn type and her style can be so perfectly feminine but also bold and modern. Her Daily Drop Cap project blew my mind! For poster design I always look to DKNG Studios. They have a very fun, fresh, colorful style and are never afraid of texture, something I love to incorporate in my own work too! The detail in their pieces is simply breathtaking and I often find myself amazed at how intricate their illustrations can be. If I am ever feeling burned out I stop by their blog and it helps inspire me to keep pushing forward. Finally, for illustrations I am loving the work of Julie West. She has a great sense of color and space, never overdoing her pieces but always keeping the viewer interested. I also love that her style is so unique and recognizable, something I truly wish to achieve one day.

What advice would you give a new designer?
Be confident in your work and never be afraid to grow! It is no one else’s job to convince you that you are special and unique… it is something you must do for yourself. When I was in school I always felt like I was waiting for someone to pat me on the back, or compliment one of my pieces and that recognition from others was the only way to validate my work. But that kind of mindset will do nothing but drag you down. Design is so subjective… 10 people might love something you did, while 100 people hate it. Does that mean it was a failure? Of course not! You have to be open to the idea of trying new things and pushing yourself to grow in new directions, even if it means receiving negative criticism. Stay true to your vision and never apologize for taking risks. At the end of the day you will still be your own worst enemy, but you should also be your number one fan!

What do you like best about being a part of Minted?
Minted helped open my eyes to a whole new world of design that I never knew existed. I have always loved “pretty” design. Patterns, florals, script fonts – all the things you are told not to use in school. I wish I had known back then that there is a place and a need for that kind of design, just like there is a need for annual report covers and street signs. Design comes in so many forms allowing everyone to carve out there own little space and find something they truly love. Minted has done that for me. This community is amazing and I am so thankful to be a part of such a talented group of individuals!

And we’re thankful to have your energy and inspiration!! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us! Keep in touch with Kristen on her blog here.

Find more of Natasha on her blog.

  1. lena b.

    wonderful interview kristen – love your work!

  2. Jen Wick

    I’m already uber impressed by your design and illustration talents, but that was a great read getting to know more about you, Kristen! I love your confidence : )

  3. Olivia

    Great interview with one of my favorite designers.

  4. Amy E.

    Snaps for Kristen!! Adore your work – can’t wait to see that website. Ahem…

  5. Laura

    Such a great interview, Kristen! I’m a huge fan of your illustrations- your patterned backers are always amazing!

  6. Diana Chen

    Congratulations Kristen!!

  7. Kim Dietrich Elam

    I enjoyed your interview and always enjoy your designs, Kristen! Congrats.

  8. Melanie Severin

    So great to get to know a bit about you, Kristen – I love your style and your gorgeous illustrations! 🙂

  9. Hailey Myziuk

    It was so great to read your interview Kristin! I absolutely – I am definitely taking those words to heart. Big congrats – I can’t wait to see more of your gorgeous work!

  10. Hailey Myziuk

    haha, let me amend… ‘I absolutely’ really translates to: your advice is so true for designers young and old 🙂

  11. gerrie@chocomocacino

    BIG FAN of your work… The interview and advice was great!!! and you definitely have your own style which I adore so much!!

  12. Rica

    Love you sweetie!!! Soo proud!

  13. Sandra Pons

    Great interview! You have a lot of wisdom and an amazing talent!

  14. Dondrea

    Enjoyed getting to know more about you and your creative process!

  15. Paige

    Yay!! I’ve been waiting for your interview! Big fan here and so glad to get to know more about you & your wonderful talents!

  16. Jessica (from nocciola design)

    Great interview! Love all your designs and illustrations. The lion stationery is absolutely adorable!

  17. Angela

    love your work, great interview lady!

  18. Pat Smith Sealand

    Wonderful interview from my FAVORITE designer, not to mention -my daughter! I am in awe of you. Love, Mom

  19. Cecile

    awww what can I write after such a sweet note from your first fan, your Mom ! Kristen, like everyone I LOVE your designs, you rock ! It is very interesting to know more about you, your blog is beautiful and I cannot wait to see your website !

  20. Courtnie

    Truly enjoyed this interview. For only a few years out of school, Kristen seems wise beyond her years! Very inspiring.

  21. So nice to meet you, Kristen! I’m a big fan of your work… And I love that your cat is named after a LOST character!

  22. Pingback: Interview on the Blog! : Kris10 Smith Blog