Checkin’ out the Chikiin: Iris Leung’s Etsy Shop
Chikiin, an intentional misspelling of the animal, is the humorous name of senior Iris Leung’s Etsy shop.
“There’s no specific reason why it’s spelled that way,” Leung said. “I decided upon the name because of my friend, who has these dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets. I happened to have a dinosaur toy at the time, so I thought, what the heck I might as well. And that’s how the name came to be.”
The “Chicken the Dinosaur” sticker she sells on the shop is a small easter egg in reference to the name’s creation. While the origin of the name is whimsical, her dedication to her artistic endeavors is anything but. Though Chikiin has only been up and running since June of 2020, Leung has long been using her art skills for commissions and passion projects.
It all started after she completed Lynbrook’s AP Studio Art class in her sophomore year, after which she started to search for other classes to challenge herself. This included User Interface and User Experience design classes taken at nearby colleges, where she engrossed herself in the artistic process. Wanting to utilize her talents for something more, Leung talked to a professor who recommended that she open her hobby to commissions and potentially start an online store.
Chikiin came to fruition mid-pandemic when Leung found that she had a lot of time on her hands.
“It’s been a lot of trial and error,” Leung said. “That’s how I learned in the beginning and it’s still trial and error even now.”
Her shop sells mainly stickers and postcards, each product thoughtfully crafted from conception to delivery. She has a very distinct art style, with simple shading and bright colors that come together in a cohesive and aesthetic manner.
While Leung’s inspiration to sell her art was rooted in a desire for self-growth, she also finds great gratification when she is able to help her customers.
“My favorite commissioned piece was when I helped a local chef,” Leung said. “He was asking for food labels because his restaurant closed down at the beginning of the pandemic and I helped create packaging for the labels. I learned a lot from doing the commission and he was a very enjoyable client to work with.”
Instagram is the main platform Leung uses to showcase her work, as she is unfamiliar with many of the other social media platforms. Behind each elegant thumbnail is the accumulation of weeks’ or sometimes months’ worth of hard work.
The drive behind her Etsy creations isn’t due to the money she is able to earn, because she actually earns very little after Etsy has taken its share of the sale, but from the enjoyment she gets out of it.
“I run the store mainly because it makes me happy,” Leung said. “There’s an inside joy that small business owners get whenever they receive an order.”
With the profit she is able to make, Leung occasionally donates to organizations which help the community. In June, when she started the store, it was LGBT pride month, so she donated proceeds to the Trevor Project, a service which provides counseling to LGBT youth. She also previously donated to the USPS when it was under financial strain.
Her commissions outside of the shop generate the most revenue. These can range from $20 for a logo or an impressive $800 for a multicomponent piece. In addition, Leung’s artwork brings in a wide variety of clients from students that are starting their own nonprofits to larger, more professional companies.
The start of the COVID-19 pandemic presented minor obstacles, especially when larger clients may have suffered financial or other losses, bringing delays in payments or deliveries. Fortunately, she was able to overcome those challenges and now orders are coming in at a steady rate.
The main challenge Leung currently faces is finding inspiration for new products. Sometimes her friends help to come up with new ideas or she is able to bounce ideas off them until something sticks.
“I am horrible at coming up with ideas, so that’s usually the hardest part,” Leung said. “At times, just getting through that halfway point can also be the hardest part. For every three sketches I make, I only ever go through with about one of them.”
Leung’s greatest takeaway from her experience is the insight she received into the inner-workings of companies.
“I have been able to get an inside look into how my bigger clients and companies work in terms of their timeline and projects, ” Leung said. “It’s been pretty awesome…[especially] since that’s not something you can learn at school or through a textbook.”
Leung also emphasizes the idea that clear communication is very important. To any aspiring artists, Leung gives the advice of setting firm and explicit boundaries.
“Don’t stretch yourself too thin,” Leung said. “And know when to say no.”
Leung is grateful to her family for their support of her hobby and letting her use up much of the space in their house to store her materials.
Although she doesn’t plan to continue the shop beyond high school due to the time and storage space needed, Leung will continue with artwork commissions and foresees art playing a large role in her future.