Sketchbook Stories :: Barbra Ignatiev

Barbra is a illustrator, designer, passionate hoop dancer and all around creative entrepreneur. In 2009 she left her design job at a large retail company, along with the late hours and long commute, in search of an opportunty to be happy, healthy, helpful and fulfilled. The end game being, making a living at doing something she loved and creating things that people enjoy. Now not only does Barbra now run her own retail business, but she also runs an online forum for indie artists called Artwich, where artists can talk network and share ideas, resources, as well as the joys and struggles of becoming a NON-starving artist.


Here is Barbra’s Sketchbook Story:

The Birth of HoopPretty, her niche art business.



BI: In Dec of 2007, I was given a hoop. I ignored it for a while at first, not sure what this ring had in store for me. Many people call it a “hula hoop” but it’s so much more than a pretty round tube that you swing around your waist. Hooping is performance art, a skilled discipline, and a fitness outlet. I later took a hoop class with my sister Rachel and fell in love with hoop dance. It’s become a huge outlet of creativity for both of us. Shortly after taking a class, I started doodling hoop-themed artwork.

 BI: And… In January, I became very interested in making repeating surface patterns and put together all my doodles into a scene print of cute hooping sea creatures. I entered it into Spoonflower’s “Children’s Prints” contest and made 8th, which I felt was pretty good considering hooping sea creatures are pretty random + niche for such a wide category as “Children’s Prints”.

BI: In February 2010, I dug deep into figuring out exactly what makes me happy. Designing fun products + hoop dancing seemed to be at the topmost of my list. I researched what types of gift products were available for hoopers and was surprised to find this niche was being under-served. Hoopers are a very ecstatic bunch and tend to be a more young-hearted crowd. They often call themselves “hoop addicts” and love to show off their love of hooping via videos and sharing tricks. And they are very expressive with their clothing, often costuming themselves to fit a character or mood. Creating t-shirt designs + gift products for hoopers simply made sense. At this same time, my sister Rachel had been working on a cute hooping t-shirt design for herself to wear at hoop class. We were totally on the same wavelength. In March, HoopPretty was born ~ a t-shirt + gift brand for hoop dance enthusiasts. I developed a brand identity, tagline + created the marketing art ~ our mascot being “Wilhemina”, the hooping mermaid from my original pattern, named after the alter-ego of our hoop dance teacher, Anna.

BI: “Wilhemina the Hooping Mermaid” was the very first design I test-marketed, from the fabric I had designed and had already received a good response. I mocked-up the design on a stock photo , and set up a test site, ads and a mailing list for pre-ordering. With a sizable mailing list, I decided to move forward with printing shirts and setting up a shopping cart site. Exciting!


BI: In April, naturally, “Hooping Badass Octopus” (as I dubbed him) made his debut next. This was meant to be more of a gender-neutral design. Most hoopers are ladies, but there are a few dudes out there as well and I didn’t want to ignore them. I did a pre-order for this design as well and got a great response!


BI: Now we have a portfolio of over 25 designs combined, a great brand and hundreds of wonderful fans! It’s completely gratifying when our fans send us happy, smiley photos of them wearing our shirts. I’m also proud that we are on a first name basis with many of our fans who keep coming back for more! As a niche design business, I think it’s important to maintain that connection with your customers. Not only does it help you make better designs (to fit what they’re looking for) + give better service, but it just feels good to hear that you are making a difference in someone’s life and providing them with a product that they truly appreciate ~ even if it is just a simple t-shirt or button.


BI: I believe, as surface designers, we help people develop + show off their identities and give them a deeper sense of pride and meaning to what they consume. Perhaps it sounds a tad ego-centric but I’ve been digging deeper into why I love surface design so much and I think this is why. Why would someone choose a solid color t-shirt over one that has a cute hooping giraffe on it? It’s about feeling special and unique. Showing what you treasure that makes you YOU. Everyone craves that. I love making that feeling happen.


A news clip of Barbra’s hoop troupe, the HoopFreaks, warming up for the Holiday Lights Show

BI: Hooray for Accomplishment + the Future! We’ve placed our designs on everything from clothing to stationary. Rachel + I are preparing for a BIG 2011 hoop season (Spring/Summer) and will be out vending at events + workshops, performing more and planning for lots of travel. Hooping has been an underground activity for the past decade, but it’s truly coming into it’s own in 2011, as many Hoopreneurs are predicting. (Think: the “new yoga”) To think it all started with a love of hoop dance and some doodling. Inspiration can come from all sorts of places. Find your passion.

And here’s where you can find Barbra:





  1. Thanks for the feature and the love! You did an awesome job putting this together, Cindy Ann.

Share your thoughts