Christine Knopp is a professional illustrator who has worked with children’s books, games, character design for television and more. She is also the creator of Purrmaids, adorable cat/mermaid (and other aquatic animals) hybrids.
Christine was gracious enough to take time to answer some questions about her business.
How did you get started? How did the idea for making this a business come about?
C: I’ve been working in art long before I realized I even wanted to be an artist. In high school I would make stickers of my comic characters and give them out or pass them around school. In college I actively took commissions, and traveled to my first conventions to sell my artwork, and even when I was working my “real art job” at Disney I was still selling on the side and taking on side work. Freelancing was very natural for me as it’s something I’ve always just kind of done. That said, once it becomes your only job, it becomes a lot more difficult! KikiDoodle was a natural progression of selling on the side. I felt I needed a more professional name that was both recognizable and uniquely ME. Kiki has been my nickname since I was a baby, so it fit nicely.
When did you make the decision to leave the world of “standard” employment? Did you ease in with this while still working a traditional job? You teach also, correct? How do you split your time and energy?
C: I had been considering leaving my art job and pursuing full time freelance for more than a year before it became viable. Like I mentioned earlier I had been selling my work and promoting my own business outside of full time employment. While I loved my job, and the teams I worked with, I was getting very fatigued with the state of the tech and game world. There was a lot of sexism with Gamergate, and while I was someplace good, friends of mine had landed at companies that treated their ladies less than stellar. I wanted to find a stable environment where I was making more of the calls. As it happened Disney was going through a huge transition right around that time, which was the perfect time to take off and pursue my own thing!
I actually JUST quit my teaching job this semester. I was teaching Digital Illustration online and it was incredibly rewarding, but I felt that the amount of hours per week I was paid wasn’t translating into me doing my best work. I hope with the extra free time I can maybe write a few of my own courses and host them on Gumroad as inexpensive lessons, instead. I also may open up a Patreon and start recording tutorials and other demos. WHILE I was teaching, I just planned certain days to be grading/reviewing days, and otherwise just made sure to periodically check in. Having an on site job was a lot easier, as it was a consistent schedule and I feel much easier to tackle problems when you can address the whole class and have everyone listen!
What is an average workday like for you? How many hours a day do you work on average?
C: I feel like I rarely have an “average” workday! My schedule shifts and adjusts so often it’s really hard to just get into a grind of waking up, working, making dinner, going to bed, repeat. Instead, as a freelancer running a business, there are just as many days dedicated to emails, con prep, product packaging, and mailing out online orders as there are dedicated to art. I feel like I can best describe my workday as organized chaos.
How often do you exhibit at shows or fairs? What was the first show you did and how did it go? (What was the aftermath in terms of how you moved forward?)
C: I average about one a month, but it tends to range from 0-3 per month. I really enjoy my months off and dread my super busy travel months as I drive to nearly all my shows!!
My very first show was actually a furry con in San Jose while I was in college. I’ve always drawn animals, but wasn’t really a furry, but a furry friend of mine told me I could potentially make a ton of money, and being in college, I jumped at that! I found the crowd delightfully welcoming, and had so much fun I continue to attend that show to this day! The first several years of doing shows I only did one or two a year max. I was too busy with school, and then work, to do much more than that.
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
C: Taking educated risks! I would try and review the pros and cons of things I was interested in, and take occasional risks in making products, or investing in conventions. They didn’t all pan out, but I was generally careful with how I took risks so I never hurt myself too much. For instance, I would use an Air &B or stay with a friend and take public transit to attend a new show until I felt I could afford the more expensive hotel. When designing my first Plush (The original Purrmaid) I spent weeks digging through records on Kickstarter and made a list of what every similar product raised, and what percentage met or did not meet their goal. I estimated how much of my own money I could put into it, and worked out the exact costs for everything else. I had spent two years prior to that planning the plush, as I knew it was a very expensive, and thus more risky, product, than say a few hundred to make a pin design.
On top of that, I feel the most crucial thing to growing a business is to reach out and get professional help in any area outside of your own expertise. I hire a very good accountant and a very good lawyer who are invaluable to helping me manage those elements of my company. I’ve had meetings several times with my bank to discuss building business accounts, and a business line of credit. And I reach out to people who know more than I do about what steps to take next!
What plans do you have for expansion?
C: As of last year we partnered with TICA, the International Cat Association and are planning to expand into pet products soon! I also have a lot of future book and plush ideas that are primarily being held up by development time and I will divulge more about them as I have more to show!
What outsiders have been most important to your business success? (e.g., customers, suppliers, mentors, etc.)
C: Many, many people! My boyfriend has a lot of business experience and I lean upon him for his expertise. I have many friends who work in all fields of art, and I reach out to them a lot. An old professor was a particularly strong mentor on several instances where I felt a little lost and gave him a phone call. He’s incredibly talented at not telling me what to do, but instead sharing personal stories that help me make my own decisions. Across the board, reaching out to friends and colleagues has been an amazing lifeline. Sometimes I give them help and advice, and other times they are the ones advising me.
What has been your most effective marketing tactic or technique?
C: While I feel like I need to keep expanding upon my online marketing techniques, we’ve really perfected our marketing at cons, I believe! One of our main techniques is just making sure people have an above average positive experience at our booth, and we go out of our way to give them laughter and a good time. And we don’t aggressively sell. We aggressively market our product, and then tell the person we were glad to meet them and allow them to leave with a business card with our booth number if they’re not interested in buying at that time. I think a lot of standard marketing skills taught in retail are all about winning over a short term customer, which isn’t our goal. We want long term happy people who feel just as confident as we do in the quality of what we make and sell!
What’s the worst business advice you’ve ever received?
C: I’ve received all kinds of bad solicitations, but I ignore most of them. Some of the worst typically come from tech people or rich people who don’t get art but have decided they’ll become SUPER RICH by ripping off artists with some new app or product that’s entirely unnecessary. Without fail these sorts always tell me how I SHOULD be marketing my product, or selling my wares, and it’s always something I strongly disagree with. I generally find the worst business advice comes from people who tell you “To be successful do EXACTLY THIS” because there IS no one way to be successful and if you can’t understand that you have no right telling others how to be successful in my opinion!
What three pieces of advice would you offer creative entrepreneurs starting out today?
- Get busy on social media!
- Network, and just be friendly and nice to everyone
- You’re a success if you’re creating. There is no single way to measure your success. Don’t compare yourself to others or feel bad about where you are.
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently? What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
C: These questions are always hard as I firmly believe our mistakes are a huge part of our successes! I wouldn’t be where I was today without stumbling over myself so many times and learning from those mistakes. If anything, I would just walk forward with the confidence I’ve built around myself, and be less forgiving of those who wanted to take advantage of me. I would say that some of my biggest failures were mostly built around not having the expertise or confidence to tell someone NO. Artists are often asked to do rather unreasonable projects or deadlines, and it takes a lot of experience to learn when to say no.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
C: Being super exhausted after a particularly hard day selling artwork, and feeling a little down on myself when I get a notification on my phone. Someone posted a photo of my Toygershark being cuddled ultra tight by their toddler who was feeling super sick, but felt so much better with the Toygershark in his arms. It was just such a positive moment (one of many) reminding me that the work I’ve poured my heart into is spreading joy and happiness and maybe helping a little sick baby along the way. There are a lot of satisfying moments where you realize you’ve suddenly achieved something you had been struggling for, but it’s those little personal moments of sharing that drive it home the most.
What is your favorite thing about living this creative life?
C: Knowing I’m doing something that brings emotions out in strangers. Art and creation is something I’d have done regardless, but knowing that other people respond to it really is an intense joy. I think having a focus on kids and animals has been a particular joy to me, as I get sent adorable photos almost every day!
What keeps you motivated when the going gets tough?
C: Sometimes you just gotta lie down on the floor and mope a little, but before I know it I have three cats sitting on me, and I might as well get back to work as it’s not comfortable anymore.
Seriously, though, what’s helped has been trying to slowly remove negative influences from my life and replace them with positive ones. And trying to kill negative habits and slowly build positive ones. It’s a years-long journey, but one that I feel good taking.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
C: This is really hard for me.
Honestly all of my friends and peers around me who work hard to make a living in art. I admire ALL of them for various reasons, and I feel like I learn a ton from being around them. There’s something special about every individual having their own unique problems, tackling them, and solving them to thrive.