Over the past few weeks, my husband Ralph and I have spent our evenings watching and rewatching old Doctor Who episodes, right up through the current season.
You might say we’re a little fan-obsessed.
So one day, as I was browsing through Facebook and some photos of hand-painted ornaments caught my eye, I had a crazy idea: we could do a whole Doctor Who-themed Christmas tree this year! Or dare I say, a “Who”-liday tree.
The ornaments I saw on Facebook had been painted by Kristen McKain of KM Studio, and most of them were pretty “normal” – snowmen, baby themes, sports. Kristen says she can custom-paint any kind of ornament, but I wasn’t sure if alien TV characters were quite up her alley.
So I gathered a bunch of photos of Doctor Who characters, sent them to her with all the apologies I could muster about their weirdness, and asked her if she could paint them. Within minutes she said, “Sure!
That made my day… but that was nothing compared to the day the ornaments arrived on my doorstep.
Ralph and I literally opened the box like kids at Christmas. Each one was cooler than the next. She had managed to transform those sometimes-blotchy, definitely oddball photos into very artistic representations of their characters.
Here’s how Kristen manages to be an artist, a friend and a business person all at once. When you’re done reading her story, check out her Etsy store, or better yet, Like her KM Studio page on Facebook.
Oh, and the tree looks killer. (If you want a link to photos of all the ornaments, read through to the end of the interview!)
Interview With Artist Kristen McKain Of KM Studio
Question : Kristen, your artistic skills are quite diverse… you do custom paintings, photography, recycled art and the thing I know you best for… custom hand-painted ornaments. Were you born with a paintbrush in your hand or did you grow into it?
I’ve always been super artsy, even as a kid. My favorite thing to do as a kid was color in coloring books.
Once I got to my teen years, I started really messing with photography. I spent countless hours studying photography online. If I wasn’t researching, I was outside my country home taking pictures in our back yard. I did a lot of going out, then coming back in to edit, then going back out again.
Then when I got to high school, I decided to take an art class. I had already drawn a little bit, but it was pretty rare… photography was more my thing. I took art for years after because I loved it so much. Still, while I was in school, I didn’t do a whole lot outside of the art room besides photography.
It wasn’t until I graduated that I finally started to do things on my own and branch off into different genres. I still do my photography, but honestly I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite thing to do anymore. Then again, I live in town now. I’d much rather be back shooting in the country again!
Question : What’s your favorite type of artistic work now?
Hmm, this is a hard one! I love doing all kinds of stuff – but I’d have to say my favorite thing is the hand painted ornaments for sure. I’m always doing something different and getting different requests, which makes it a lot of fun!
Question : Is everything you do custom or do you also have some “stock” artwork?
I do also have some stock art work. When I am slow on orders, I will do my own thing. Sometimes people buy it up right away, and sometimes it sits.
I do craft shows as well though, so I have to have some sort of stock to take to those always!
Question : Do you do this full time or do you also have a “day job”?
I am currently doing this full-time, but I just switched over to full time a few months ago.
I started my business while I was working at a daycare center. I worked there 5 days a week, and then did my art two days a week.
When that got to be too much, I switched to doing home daycare 3 days a week, and spending the other 4 days doing art.
Now that the kids in my daycare are older, they don’t need me to watch them anymore, so instead of looking for more kids to watch, I decided to make the jump into full time art!
My plan all along was to switch to full time when I got pregnant with our first child. I switched a tiny bit early, but we are now expecting our first, so it worked out VERY well! So far, I’ve been doing really well with it. I’m lucky to have a supportive husband!
Question : Congratulations! I bet you’ll be decorating the baby’s room. Any projects going on there?
I am definitely going to do some things with the nursery, but I haven’t decided what yet since I don’t know what the baby’s gender will be. I’m excited to start though!
Question : I hope we’ll get to see those on Facebook. It seems like Facebook is where you post most of your artwork. Are there any other ways that you promote your business?
I also use Twitter and LiveJournal, but Facebook is my main form of promotion!
I’ve definitely had the most success on Facebook. Staying connected to people, and actually liking and getting to know them as people. They shouldn’t just be customers; they should be friends, too!
Question : It’s funny you said that because I was trying to figure out how we met exactly and I can’t. When people ask me how we connected I just say, “We’re Facebook friends.” That’s not a bad way to do business! Have you tried other social channels as well?
I’ve tried Google+ but it was worthless for me. I wouldn’t really say Twitter has done much either, but it DOES get me views. I’m just not sure I’ve actually gotten any sales from it.
I’m not quite sure why those didn’t work as well. I had a lot of people on my Google+ account, but it also seemed like most people would sign up and then fade away from it.
Twitter I think may be because most people are just trying to market what they sell and not looking at other people.
Question : You also have an Etsy store where you sell some very specific items like soda can bookmarks. How do you decide what to sell where?
I actually have two Etsy stores, KMStudioOnline and BabyGeneration. BabyGeneration is a baby item store run by my Mom and I that we just recently started. KMStudioOnline is where I sell my soda can bookmarks. I’ve tried different things on Etsy, and basically trial and error is how I decided what to sell there and what not to sell. My bookmarks had done well there in the past, so that’s why I’ve recently re-opened my shop for those.
I’ve tried selling artwork there, and very small luck has come from that. My art definitely sells much quicker on Facebook!
Question : How do you decide what to price your items? Personally, I don’t know how you can do such fantastic custom work so inexpensively.
I price according to costs on my end, and time. I love what I do, and enjoy doing it.
The more I sell, the more I can keep creating – so that’s why I charge as little as I can! I want to give people a chance to get custom work done for a fair price, too!
I don’t agree when people charge crazy amounts for things that I know cost them barely nothing, and took them less than a half hour.
Question : Your custom ornaments are probably big at the holidays and I imagine they take up most of your creative time. Do you have any other types of seasonal art, things that you do specifically at other times of the year?
I don’t actually! The ornaments are my main thing around Christmas, and they sell super well! I would love to have different things I could sell at different times throughout the year, but I haven’t thought of anything in particular I could do.
Question : Do you have any slow times? If so, how do you deal with those?
January-April is my absolute slowest time of the year! I think everyone is still regrouping from Christmas. I haven’t had to deal with the slow time yet working full-time, so we will see how it goes this coming year!
Typically, I would sit back and relax a little bit (because the Christmas season is always CRAZY for me!), and then work on some new material. This year, I will be working hard to keep my sales up to support my family.
Question : What job have you done that was your favorite, or the most unique?
One of my favorite “jobs” to do was actually a piece of art my husband and I did together for our own home. We cut individual 1×1 inch soda can squares (using the silver backs) and glued them to a 3×5 foot wall hanging for our kitchen.It ended up being over 1,000 soda can pieces! My husband likes working with electronics and things, so he actually made it glow with LED’s from the back, while I cut all the squares. We then took turns gluing them because it took so long.
The whole piece ended up taking us somewhere between 12-15 hours! Not only was it the most time consuming, it was my favorite because it was something my husband and I could put our own efforts in together and make something. It was a lot of fun for both of us, and we get a lot of compliments on it when people come to our house!
You can see the outcome of the project here.
Question : On a scale of 1 to 10, how hard was it to do the Doctor Who ornaments?
I would say an 8! They were definitely some of the most complicated ones I have done so far, but it was really neat to try something new! I was glad to have the experience, and I definitely wouldn’t mind doing them again, or something similar!
Question : Any plans for the future, or something on your wish list?
One thing I plan on doing some more of in the future is wooden baby toys. They will be for sale on my BabyGeneration account, and they will most likely be starting come January. I actually did one small set a couple of days ago, but they aren’t clear coated yet. They will be up for sale soon, though!
Question : What’s the best way for people to get a good idea of what you can do and to make requests?
The best way for people to contact me is either through my Facebook fan page or one of my two Etsy accounts.
That’s also where I would suggest people look to see what all I can do. And if you have anything particular you want done, but don’t see it, there’s still no hurt in messaging me! I love trying out new things!
I love Kristen’s story because I got to be part of it… I’m that customer you hang out with for years without making a single sale, but when the time is right, that relationship pays off!
Maybe next year we’ll do a Star Wars themed tree… I’ll keep you posted!
If you get the bug to decorate, see what Kristen can do for your tree. Just make sure it’s not cooler than mine.
Want to see all the ornaments? Check out Ralph’s Doctor Who album on Facebook. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, we’d love to hear which are your favorites!