Cheery Human artist spreads happiness, shares fandoms on her own terms

I can’t remember the last time we had such a sunny, visually colorful interview on No Man’s Land blog.

You can’t help but smile when you discover the “cute and colorful” fandom-themed illustrations of Cheery Human Studios, which is exactly what owner and creative director Kristina Yu had in mind when she started the business.

The original art, hand lettering, buttons, pins, keychains, prints, mugs, vinyl stickers, greeting cards, and other wares found at are playfully infused with joy.

Kristina’s fascination with all things bright, adorable, and full of vibrant color is a holdover from a childhood obsession with Rainbow Brite, Sanrio, Disney, Crayola crayons, stickers, and picture books. 

Torn between a more “practical” career and her love of art, music, and design, Kristina found herself dissatisfied with office work after graduating with a degree in business and marketing. After deciding to pursue art after all, she freelanced as a UI/UX designer before starting Cheery Human Studios as a side project to rouse her spirits. 

Now she spends her time creating whimsical fan favorites inspired by Disney, Harry Potter, LAIKA, Tim Burton, Star Wars, Stranger Things, and more. Oh, and cats. Lots and lots of clever, irresistible, precious kitties!

It’s worth mentioning that with Halloween on the horizon, Kristina’s artwork based on Disney villains, Zero the Ghost Dog, Coraline, and Disney’s Haunted Mansion are perfect for this spooky (and spoopy) season. 

Also, we didn’t talk about it in the interview, but Kristina’s recent piece, inspired by To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, is my new favorite!

Check out more of her work below and here

You are the owner and creative director of Cheery Human Studios, which specializes in “cute and colorful” fandom-related illustrations. You started the business as a side project to create things that made you “feel cheery in hopes that it would do the same for others.” Why is that important to you? 

When I started Cheery Human, I was feeling really down and unhappy with the work that I was doing. It wasn’t that the work was “bad,” it just didn’t make me happy anymore. In a way, Cheery Human helped get me out of that dark time by giving me a space to share fandoms that I loved on my own terms using my own voice. It made me feel more “cheery” and I really wanted to share that with others.

Cheery Human Studios sells buttons, pins, keychains, prints, mugs, vinyl stickers, greeting cards, as well as custom and original art. Can you tell me about the process of transforming an illustration into one of these products? 

Most of my artwork is illustrated digitally or using acryla gouache. When I want to create a greeting card with one of my acryla gouache illustrations, for instance, I will make a hi-res scan of the piece, import it into Photoshop, clean it up a little bit (sometimes adjust brightness, levels, or remove any dust blemishes that may have gotten on the piece itself) and save that edit as a duplicate of the original. That way, I have the original version of the scan that I can always come back to later as well as an edited duplicate.

Once I’m happy with that, I’ll open up a greeting card print template from whatever print production company I decide to use and insert the artwork onto that template to ensure trim and bleed are all in alignment with the printer’s standard process.

What tools, equipment, and materials do you use most? 

Digitally, I use my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil to draw in Procreate. I also work a lot in Photoshop and Illustrator. The traditional materials I like to use are Holbein acryla gouache, Prismacolor Col-Erase pencils for sketching, watercolor paper, and POSCA markers.

What about hand lettering? What sort of process does that involve? 

My style of lettering is pretty loose. What I mean by that is I don’t take a ruler to a piece of paper (or digitally) like most traditional letterers do to make sure spacing and alignment are perfect. Usually what I do is I quickly sketch out a few tiny layouts on a piece of paper to figure out the best one for the artwork involved, then I sketch it onto the artwork until it looks good to me. Once I’m happy with that, I paint it in after I’m done with painting in the illustration. Other times, I will look at some of the books I own for lettering style inspiration if I’m going for a specific look and feel.

Your love of colorful illustrations and hand lettering began very early when you became “obsessed with picture books, coloring books, Crayola crayons and stickers.” You said that “not much has changed since then.” Tell me about some of your earliest artistic endeavors and inspirations. 

When I was a kid in elementary school, we used to have to go to the computer lab, type out our own short stories, and draw something to go along with that story. I remember really enjoying that. I also remember one of my most prized possessions growing up was this small red box that I kept all my crayons in. All of my favorite crayons had the wrappers nearly ripped off because I had used them so much in my coloring books and drawings. My most favorite crayon color was cerulean (I still love cerulean to this day).

When I got a little older, I started really getting into music so I did everything I could with that. In addition to taking all the art classes I could, I’d sing in the school choir, play the piano for music class, and studied piano until I graduated high school. For a while, I thought I’d actually pursue music professionally until I took some classes at a local college and rediscovered my love of design and art.

Why do you think you were drawn to these colorful kinds of art? 

I’ve always been drawn to colorful and fun artwork. I grew up completely obsessed with Rainbow Brite, Sanrio, and Disney. I’m sure Rainbow Brite is the reason why I love working with so many colors.

When you went to university, you studied business and marketing, not design and illustration. You later changed your mind and decided to go to art school. Tell me a little about that change of heart and how it led you to the path you’re on now. 

I graduated university with a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing thinking that that would be the most “useful” degree for me to have since I wasn’t quite sure at the time what I wanted to do with my life. I loved art, music, and design but I didn’t know anyone that pursued it professionally and, to be completely honest, I grew up thinking that it would be way too risky of a pursuit because I didn’t even know what I wanted to do.

Once I graduated university, however, I found myself being really unhappy with all of the temp work I was doing at various offices. None of it felt right for me. I wanted to do something different, something more creative, so I decided to take a few classes at my local city college to try and help me figure that out. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to pursue music or design, so I ended up taking a few classes in both subjects.

I performed well as a musician and my design projects did well in class, but I found that I enjoyed working on design projects more because there was an intersection of analysis, organization and creativity that I really enjoyed. It was after I took a few of those classes that I decided to apply for art school. I got into a master’s program for Web Design and New Media in the Bay Area, so I moved there to go to school.

After my first year, I decided to put that on hold to accept a full-time job opportunity with a studio that I had been interning for. I worked at that design studio for about 4 years, learned a ton while working primarily on designing software enterprise products, and eventually moved back to my hometown of Los Angeles to continue freelancing as a UI/UX designer.

About 3 years after I moved back, I started to feel less creatively inspired and I wanted to get back to my “roots,” so to speak. That was when I started Cheery Human Studios as a side project and the rest is history.

You worked in tech as a UI/UX designer for mobile and web app design. For those who aren’t familiar with it, what is UI/UX design? 

UI/UX design is formally known as user interface/user experience design. This field has evolved a lot since I started back in 2010 and there are varying definitions for the role depending on the needs of the organization but, to put it briefly, a user interface designer works on the visual side of app design by creating interfaces that are not only intuitive, but also visually appealing.

UI designers work very closely with UX designers who focus on strategy, analytics and making sure that digital products are functional and user friendly. There is definitely A LOT more to what a UI/UX designer does than what I just described, but that is a brief description.

Was that something you enjoyed? What did you learn from this kind of work? 

Since I did both UI and UX design, I enjoyed the combination of the two because I could work using both my analytical side and my creative side to design mobile and web applications. I worked in two fast-paced digital product design agencies over the course of 8 years and that helped me grow not only as a designer, but I also learned how to be more comfortable meeting new people, how to present my designs both from a design perspective as well as a business perspective, and my experiences taught me to accept that creativity and design is always evolving.

Tell me about the evolution of your personal style. What do you consider to be your biggest influences? 

My biggest influences would definitely be in children’s books, graphic design, and animated films. I absolutely love Mary Blair’s style and her use of color is inspiring!

You obviously have a love of creatures, critters, and especially cats. Why is that? 

We had a black cat named Mochi who passed away about a month ago. Since I work from a home office, we got to spend a lot of time together and we became best buddies. She had the most amazing and unique personality, so I was always inspired to draw a little bit of her in all my cat illustrations.

The cat/geek mashups you do are so clever, like your Hatbox (Ghost) Kitty and Gamer Cat. How do you come up with the ideas for these? 

Thanks so much! I really wanted to mashup some of my favorite things with my buddy, Mochi. The Haunted Mansion is one of my favorite rides at Disneyland so I thought it would be fun to design the Hatbox Kitty. I grew up playing Nintendo games so I thought it would be fun to imagine her playing a video game with a gaming headset on.

You do a lot of Disney-themed illustrations. I love how you put your own spin on them. What do you like about those characters? 

I like challenging myself and putting my own spin on them because a lot of the characters I choose to illustrate have a special place in my heart. Sometimes followers will suggest characters for me to illustrate but I decided a long time ago that it wouldn’t be right for me to draw them if I haven’t seen the movie, gone on the attraction, or I just have no connection with the character at all. I feel I make the best illustrated interpretations when I have a personal connection with the character.

The next event you’re going to do is the Dapper Day Expo, Nov. 3-4. What are your plans for that? 

Yes! I’m very excited about Dapper Day Expo. This will be my 3rd Dapper Day Expo event and I’m planning on bringing a lot of new items with me, such as redesigns of popular illustrations I did about a year and a half ago, new artwork that I’ve created over the last few months including art that I’ve created for my Patreon supporters, mugs, mini originals, pins, keychains, stickers, zip pouches and totes. For the first time ever, I’ll have a limited number of t-shirts at my booth as well, so I’m very excited about that.

You seem to have a fascination with Disney’s Haunted Mansion. I’m not imagining that, right?  

You’re not! Haha. I love everything about the Haunted Mansion, from all the tiny details in every room to the various characters in the mansion to the theme song to the design of the mansion itself … I even love when they convert the mansion to the Haunted Holiday version of the ride because I also really enjoy The Nightmare Before Christmas!

Halloween is coming up and Cheery Human Studios has a lot of spoopy (spooky-cute) items. What are some of your favorites? 

My favorite spoopy items in the shop are my “Cheery Ghost Pup” print featuring Zero from The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hatbox Kitty enamel pin“Listen Well” print featuring Malificent, and “Tough Choices” print featuring Ursula with text above her that says, “Life’s full of tough choices” (because it really is!).

You recently participated in Fan Alley’s Halloween Artist Lodge show, which featured a Tim Burton and LAIKA tribute. You did an original framed Coraline piece for that. I know you’re a LAIKA fan. What was it like being involved in that event? 

I have participated in a couple of Fan Alley events now and I really enjoy doing them. I love how supportive the event is of artists. It’s such a great community. That being said, when I learned that Tim Burton/LAIKA was the theme of the Halloween gallery, I knew I had to participate. I have been a huge LAIKA fan ever since I saw Coraline in theaters (it’s one of my favorites), so I worked really hard to create a piece that I knew would show my love of the movie.

You do a lot of other conventions and events as well. How is this valuable for you as an artist? 

Events are extremely valuable. Not only are they good sources of income when you hone in on the right audience for your work, but events are a wonderful place to meet new people and fellow artists. It also helps to get your name out there. Sometimes, people may stop by and not purchase anything, but they’ll pick up your business card and follow you later on Instagram or make a purchase on your website.

Your personal work, which can be seen @koyu.designs, is a little different from your work for Cheery Human Studios. For lack of a better term, it feels “edgier” to me. I definitely detect some feminist themes there, too. Why the difference? 

Believe it or not, I debated separating the two for a long time. In the end, I decided to separate my personal work from Cheery Human Studios at the beginning of this year because I wanted to make sure there was some definition between Cheery Human Studios, the colorful and cute shop, and Kristina Yu, the freelance designer, illustrator and aspiring children’s book writer. Initially, it was where I posted all of my UI/UX designs, but eventually it turned into a place for me to post about my freelance illustration projects and personal projects with a more experimental approach.

That being said, I definitely didn’t want to deviate from the Cheery Human brand since I consider my freelance work to be completely separate. Sometimes, there is definitely some overlap when I let my @cheeryhumanstudios followers know that I’ve posted new art on my personal account (which I’ve started to do more often), while other times I post art I feel really strongly about on both accounts.

But the love of cats is still solidly there … 

Yup! Cats rule the world around me.

I love your “Not So Strange Advice” series, inspired by the Netflix series Stranger Things. How did that idea come to you? 

I am a huge fan of Stranger Things and I thought it would be funny to combine my love of Stranger Things with the concept of inspirational quotes so I came up with “Not So Strange Advice.” I felt like every one of them would have character-specific advice to share with everybody.

Let’s talk about some of your other fandoms. You’ve been a Rainbow Brite fans since childhood. What do you love about this animated series? 

I love how whimsical and empowering her character is! Rainbow Brite is the leader of Rainbow Land, constantly fights gloom (Murky and Lurky) with her Rainbow Belt (powered by star sprinkles) and rides around on a talking horse with her best friend. She’s amazing!

You’re also an Alice in Wonderland enthusiast and you collect books with different illustrated interpretations of Lewis Carroll’s series. Tell me about some of your favorites in this collection. 

I love something about all the books in my collection, but some of my favorite Alice in Wonderland interpretations would have to be the versions illustrated by Mary BlairYayoi Kusama, and Lá Studio (who illustrated an origami version of the book).

Harry Potter is another fandom that pops up a lot in your art. How did you discover J.K. Rowling’s series and why does it continue to fuel your imagination? 

I discovered the Harry Potter fandom when the books first came out and my brother told me about how good they were. I have always been fascinated by wizards and magical tales so when I read them, I fell in love with the story and knew I had to include them in my art.

What’s your Hogwarts house? 

I actually took the Sorting test on Pottermore a few months ago and I was sorted into Slytherin house!

You’re also into Star Wars. What was your introduction to George Lucas’ universe? 

I can’t remember exactly when I was introduced to Star Wars, but I do remember watching A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi as a kid. My mom must have borrowed it from the video store or something for us all to watch. I also remember riding Star Tours at Disneyland for the first time and loving every minute of it.

What’s your favorite Star Wars film, series, or property? 

That’s a really tough question! If I had to choose a film, I would say my favorite is “Return of the Jedi.”

You’re a Wonder Woman fan, too. Did that happen before or after the movie? 

It happened after the movie. Growing up, I never read any of the comics or watched the original TV series so it wasn’t on my radar. But, when the movie came out, I was really excited to see it and I love Gal Gadot’s portrayal of Wonder Woman.

BBC’s Sherlock is another favorite of yours. What do you like about the series? 

I have always been fascinated with mysteries and crime dramas, so when I heard they were bringing Sherlock to the BBC and they cast Benedict Cumberbatch AND Martin Freeman as the lead roles, I couldn’t resist watching it. I love how each episode takes you on so many twists and turns — so much so that you never know how the episode is going to end. The whole cast is incredible and I really love their modern take on the series.

Is it tough to keep your fandom alive while the show is kind of in limbo? 

Not really. I wish they could come out with more episodes more frequently, but it can’t really be helped! I’d rather have them wait for the right time to bring it back than put out a new season that doesn’t live up to previous seasons. I always like revisiting an episode or two every once in a while to see if I’ve missed anything, anyway.

Along with running your business, you do freelance illustration and design work. Tell me about some of the projects you’ve worked on. 

I’ve worked on a few illustrations for a local business based in (Orange County) called Amborella Organics. They sell these amazing organic seed-bearing lollipops and they needed an illustration for their wholesale customers so I created an illustrated instructional handout for them to include in all their packaging. I also recently designed and illustrated some Thank You cards for a company called Code Speaks that teaches children the fundamentals of coding.

Along with projects like those, I’ve also recently done some website redesign work for a furniture company that needed to rework a template of their product pages. Currently, I’m working on a few projects that consist of reconstructing client floor plans for a conference room scheduling software company. My projects are all over the map and I really like it that way.

In the future, you’d like to illustrate children’s books. Why are you drawn to this medium? 

I loved children’s books as a kid and I still love them to this day. It’s because of this that I think my illustration style has a sort of childlike and whimsical quality to it. I have found some of the most beautiful and unique artwork in these books and someday I’d love to contribute to that.

Do you have any other big plans or dreams for Cheery Human Studios or your artwork? 

In terms of Cheery Human Studios, I would love to see it continue to grow. Eventually, I’d love to have a more extensive greeting card and stationary line. As far as my freelance illustration work, I’d love to work with brands that I like, write and illustrate my own children’s book, do editorial illustration for magazines like UPPERCASEBravery Mag, and Breathe Magazine, and become a WonderGround Gallery artist.

If our readers wanted to join your Patreon and support your art, how would they go about that? 

They can visit my Patreon page to learn all about it!


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