Kristina has a lot going for her, including that delicious smile. She’s bright and optimistic, and wasn’t afraid to turn a mundane activity (watching the telly) into inspiration for her life’s work. While many of us dream of being the next Food Network star, Kristina simply dreamed of channeling her talents toward her passion. It’s paying off in part due to her ability to follow a path without being entirely sure where it leads, and that type of courage is our own source of inspiration.

What attracted you to a good food job?

It’s kind of funny how art and food came together for me. During my senior year as an Illustration major at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, I spent many hours a day in my room painting and quickly grew tired of my music collection. I decided to switch to TV for background noise and looked for a channel that I could just keep on all day while I painted. At the time, my love for cooking was just starting to blossom so I was more than happy to discover Food Network. It stayed on around the clock. So maybe it’s a bit unusual, but I learned all of my basic cooking skills out of the kitchen, with a paint brush in my hand.

Despite my fast-growing love of food, I didn’t immediately realize that the two passions could fit together. Over the years I happen to come upon a few food-related projects, first winning a contest designing a Brooklyn-inspired coffee set for Fish’s Eddy. With more experience, I started to realize that the enjoyment I got from working on food projects far exceeded the enjoyment I got from working on non-food projects. And when my heart is the work, it inevitably shows. After a few successful campaigns, I eventually decided to try specializing and focusing solely on projects within the food industry. So far so good!

How did you get your current good food job?

I am trying to get better at actively reaching out for work, but so far I’ve acquired projects mostly through luck and word-of-mouth. Askinosie Chocolate contacted me after I mentioned them on my blog, The Chocolate Peanut Butter Gallery. I’ve since done various packaging and promotional projects for them and even got engaged right in their factory. I met Caveman Cookies through a referral from a friend, which turned into a multi-year relationship with a broad spectrum of projects. I met Scott’s Pizza Tours through my pizza-loving fiance and together we built his website which led to other projects. My newest client, a recently-launched gluten-free pasta brand called Paleo Pasta found me through a link to my portfolio on the Caveman Cookies site. Needless to say, I believe in fate!

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?

While in college, I freelanced doing murals and t-shirt design. Both jobs have helped me learn how to cater to a variety of demographics and learn how my designs look when they’re placed on something other than a white sheet of paper, like a bag of pasta or a box of chocolate. Because even when the work looks good on a screen, that doesn’t mean it will translate to a t-shirt or a wall, or stand out on a shelf.

What advice do you have for others in search of a good food job?

I would just say follow your heart and do what you love. You’ve probably heard that plenty of times before, but I don’t think you can hear it too many times. For me, working for brands that I respect and designing for food that I enjoy has a lot to do with it. I think I’d feel kind of bummed out and unmotivated to design for a brand I didn’t like or respect. So find a place, or heck – create a place – that you feel passionate about and go from there.

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?

Well, I was going to say food until I read the interview you did with Martine Trelaun and she picked “International travel.” She kind of raised the stakes with that choice, but to this point I’ve been partially-compensated in chocolate, cookies, brownies, pasta, ice cream, t-shirts, food tours, etc., and have been very happy with all of those. If only the IRS accepted edible forms of payment – I’d never look at real money again!