How to Make a Living as a Freelance Illustrator with Merijn Hos

How to Make a Living as a Freelance Illustrator with Merijn Hos



This episode features Merijn Hos, an Utrecht-based illustrator, visual artist, and occasional art director. We cover topics such as his work routines, advice to illustrators who are just starting, his experience with ADHD, what makes a good illustration brief, how he develops his style, and much more.


Merijn Hos is an illustrator, visual artist and occasional art director based in Utrecht, the Netherlands. He graduated in 2004 with a BFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts, Utrecht.

"You’re always behind if you follow trends."

He has worked for clients such as Apple, Nickelodeon, Calvin Klein, Dropbox, New York Times, Coca-Cola, Nike, Wired Magazine, and Adobe, to name a few. Besides illustration, he works on sculptures, art direction, and films, in collaboration with his brother Jurriaan, and he also exhibits his work internationally.

  • Introduction [00:00]
  • Episode Introduction [00:52]
  • Advice for Illustrators Who Are Just Starting Out [02:15]
  • Routines of a Professional Illustrator [04:54]
  • A Tidy Desktop Is a Tidy Headspace [09:05]
  • How to Develop Your Illustration Style [13:18]
  • Making a Living As an Illustrator [17:34]
  • Short Episode Break – Support the Podcast [20:23]
  • Merijn’s Current Struggles [21:13]
  • What Makes a Good Illustration Brief [24:28]
  • Mistakes and Lessons Learned [27:19]
  • Advice for Being a Better Illustrator and Creative Professional [33:50]
  • Episode Outro [35:33]

    Merijn: “The unknown is super scary. Don’t be scared. Go for it and you will reach new heights.“

    This is the Creative Voyage podcast, a long form interview show with the mission to help creative professionals to level up. I’m your host, Mario Depicolzuane. I’m a creative professional myself, active in the fields of graphic design, art direction, and creative consulting, working with companies such as Kinfolk, MENU, and Sonos.

    Through Season One of this podcast, I present in-depth interviews with some of the world’s most inspiring creative professionals, revealing the stories that shaped their lives and careers, plus actionable strategies to help take your mindset and skills to the next level. I invite you to join me on this journey

    Mario: In this episode, I talk to an illustrator, visual artist and an occasional art director.

    Merijn: I’m Merijn Hos. I’m from Utrecht, the Netherlands. I live here now for 20 years since I did my studies. Just turned 40. I like to work in multiple disciplines. I think that’s important for my profile, to see things a bit broader than only illustration. 

    Mario: Merijn has worked for clients, such as Apple, Nickelodeon, Calvin Klein, Dropbox, New York Times, Coca-Cola, Nike, Wired Magazine and Adobe to name a few. I find his work authentic, layered. Even though there are certain styles, or themes which he explores more than others, there’s a lot of breadth, which are particularly alike. Besides illustrations, he works on sculptures, art direction and films in collaboration with his brother Jurriaan. He also exhibits his work internationally.

    Mario: At the time of this conversation, Merijn has been working in the field for 14 plus years, which finds him mid-career and in a position where he seems to be thriving as an illustrator and creative professional.

    Mario: In this episode, we’re going to listen to the highlights of the conversation I have Merijn in September 2018. We covered topics, such as his work routines, device to illustrators who are just starting out, his experience with ADHD, what makes a good illustration brief, how he develops his style and much more.

    Merijn got his first commission almost by chance just out of the university. It was a six-month long freelance gig for a kids company in Amsterdam, where he was in charge of the whole line, which includes stuffed dolls, final figures, props for photoshoots. At the time, he wasn’t even aware that all those different tasks were part of the profession.

    Even though he studied illustration, experience during that job made him think for the very first time that illustration could actually be a cool profession and that set him off on his journey. I’ve started my conversation with Merijn asking him what advice he would give to a new talent entering into illustration. 

    Merijn: The main thing I always say is don’t follow trends. You’re always behind if you follow trends. You will never be significant if you for example, now start working in a Memphis direction. It’s not something that you figure out yourself. That way it’s not going to be special. I think that’s an important one. Just try to come up with something that you found out yourself, I guess. 

    Merijn: You can get inspiration from all of those things, but try to make it your own. Add something special. Also if you’re an illustrator, I would look further for inspiration than only to look at other inspiration, but look at other disciplines, got to museums, look at photo books, look around you, look at fashion, look at whatever. I think looking in a broad way for inspiration would benefit you much more than as like a tunnel fishing on other illustrators and look at what they do, because you don’t want to become like them. You want to become your own person, with your own style and your own qualities. That’s important.

    Merijn: This is a major one, I guess. Yeah, the other thing is you really have to put in the time. Work hard. Work every day. Don’t wait for assignments. Self-initiate. If you’re thinking, “I want to do a design for a dress,” you should get in touch with someone on your own level that designs dresses and said, “Hey, let’s collaborate. I want to do a cool design, a cool pattern. I print the fabric, you make a dress.” Shoot some pictures of that. Get those pictures out there. That’s also super important to not wait for things to come to you, but yeah, just go for it.

    Mario: Yeah, to be proactive about it. 

    Merijn: Yeah. 

    Mario: You have to be proactive and also patient.

    Merijn: Yeah. You have to be patient. Then the other thing is don’t get every image you create out there, only the images that you’re really proud of and be selective with what you show to the world.

    As passionate creative professionals, it’s often hard to separate the “work” from the “life.” It’s something that perhaps we shouldn’t be trying to do and instead aim at a more healthy integration of work in our life. Of course, there’s not one single answer to that question, and it really depends on the individual to individual. I was interested in hearing what Merijn’s work routines are. 

    Merijn: I usually start working at 7:30 in the morning, because in the morning I have all the energy and my head is clear. From 7:30 to 11:00, I do – I think I do the majority of the work. Then after that, some e-mails and then back to work till about 6:00, 6:30. Then I try not to work in the evening, but I always end up working.

    Mario: Okay.

    Merijn: I work all the time. Also if I have the time in the weekend, my studio is downstairs my house, I live in a special building. The first floor is studio space 60 square meters and then my living room and kitchen are on top of that and on top of that is the bedroom. It’s designed for this type of work. Also, because I work a lot with clients in the US and other parts of the world, it’s super helpful for the time difference that you’re close to your work and not – I have to do stuff in the evening and it’s convenient this way. Yeah. Work for me super organic. It’s just part of who I am and what I do. Work and free time, they flow together naturally. I don’t know, work is life I guess.

    Mario: Yeah, in a way it is. Yeah.

    Merijn: It sounds scary, but it makes me happy. When I’m on a holiday, I’m answering e-mails. I work all the time and that’s okay.

    Mario: Yeah. I mean, in a way it’s like finding what works for you. There’s not one solution to do a work schedule. That’s one thing, and then also if you actually enjoy what you’re doing and it fits you, then that’s actually perfect and it’s actually I think better to aim for that, instead of having the work-life balance, having the work-life integration. Life, it’s all just one flow, instead of maybe having the work part, which is maybe something in what you don’t like that much and then the other part. That’s good.

    Merijn: Yeah. Well, for example this summer, I went to Iceland for a week. When I came back I said to myself, after that break I’m not going to work for three weeks. I had a very busy first half of the year and I’m going to take some time off. I’m going to force myself not to do anything. Being in the house, or around the house, or in the Netherlands, it made me miserable. After three days I think, “What am I doing, man?” I just got back to work. 

    Mario: How does your day look like in regards to the type of work you do? How much is it actually, I don’t know, working on a solution for an assignment that you probably have a more like a research, experimental phase then there’s the refinement phase, there’s a lot of those administration things. How does that looks like in your day?

    Merijn: I would say doing e-mails. The administrative part is I think it’s about 10%. I’m lucky to have a real good agent in New York that helps out with all the contracts and keeps an agenda with projects. I’m in touch on a daily base. I can really focus on the work, instead of being busy and negotiating with clients. Yeah, it’s a good team that way. Working on creative it’s like the majority of the day. Same with my agent in Helsinki, Becca; they help out similar. 

    Mario: That’s really good. It sounds really, really good. 

    Merijn: Yeah, that’s really nice. Then the administration part, like the invoice is in all that stuff. They do that as well. That’s nice. Then Texas, I have someone for that. I’m not doing that to myself. I really believe that if somebody else is better in that, they should do it. 

    When I was researching for my conversation with Merijn, I read an interview he did for Fontanel, where he talked about his experience with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. The condition is characterized by problems paying attention, excessive activity, or difficulty controlling behavior, which is not appropriate for a person’s age. Up to 50% of people diagnosed in childhood continue to have symptoms into adulthood. Between 2% to 5% percent of adults have the condition. 

    In the mentioned interview, Merijn talked about the drastic changes he did in his personal life as a way of managing the condition. I found his solution compelling, so I’ve asked him to share his experience with ADHD and how in the end, a tidy desktop resulted in a tidy headspace. 

    Merijn: I have ADHD, like attention disorder. I used to be, like everything around me was one big mess. The house was a mess, my desktop was a mess, studio was a mess, my administration was a mess, everything. I was living unhealthy. I was just working. Then one day yeah, I don’t know. It was enough and it got too busy in my head. I thought I should see a psychologist and talked to him about it. 

    Merijn: I went there and then he said like, “Okay, okay. We’re going to give you Ritalin.” I was like “What?” He gave me a recipe and I went to the – I got it and I still left a little box here, but they were on the table for three weeks and I thought like, “No fucking way. I’m not going to take those pills,” because I obviously read about it and they mess with your creativity as well. They make you a more flat person. I was like, “No, no. This can’t be the solution.”

    Merijn: I bought a book, a self-help book about ADHD and at the third page there was this sentence and it said like, “Organize your life. It will make your head clear.” I never finished the rest of the book and I was like, “Okay, this is what I’m going to do.” I flipped the script and I went really obsessive with organizing my life. 

    Merijn: I started cleaning everything up, threw away everything in the surrounding that were distractions, got a good agenda, cleared my desktop, keep everything super organized. My pen has its own place, my jacket has its own place. It drives my wife crazy, but I’ve been doing that for the yeah, I guess the last maybe six, seven years now and it really changed my life. Everything is so much clearer now. I’m still super busy in my head, but now it’s okay because the rest is clear. I’m much more productive and maybe even more professional, I don’t know. Yeah, it really helped. That’s what I did. 

    Mario: Were you diagnosed with ADHD?

    Merijn: Yeah.

    Mario: As a kid already, like did you – were you aware of that?

    Merijn: I was aware of that already. Yeah, that’s as a kid already. That’s why I was always looking for tension and that’s why I end up doing graffiti, or skateboarding, just to look for excitement, to get the energy out. I think I was pretty lucky to find those things in my life, because a lot of other people to find those things in drugs and things like that. Yeah.

    Mario: Yeah. This was your release off, which is good. Yeah. You had a very, let’s say drastic change.

    Merijn: Yes. 

    Mario: Are you still keeping it up that?

    Merijn: Yeah. Yeah, I’m still keeping it up I had this one thing that I was still doing it that I stopped with three years ago and that every Friday I would go to a bar and drink 12 beers. I thought I needed that to clear the head or something, like a stress relief. I was always thinking this is such bullshit. Then three years ago, I was – I still remember, I was on my bike back from the bar on a Friday night and I thought, “Okay, this was it. I’m done so. I quit drinking as well. I started exercising and get a more healthy lifestyle. I think that was the last step in flipping the script. Yeah, it did me well.

    Growth seems to be a determining factor of long-term career success and personal satisfaction. By looking at Merijn’s portfolio, it’s easy to observe how he changed, from early more figurative drawing-based illustration to current, more abstract, textured and totally rich work. I wanted to hear how Merijn is making sure that besides working on client assignments, he also develops as an artist, illustrator and creative professional. 

    Merijn: I know it’s super important to keep developing yourself, because otherwise at some point you get behind because people get tired of what you do. It happens naturally, I must say. At this moment, I’m working on stuff that nobody has seen before and that I probably won’t show for the next year or something, till I’m confident with it myself. 

    Merijn: I’m always working on new stuff, yeah, to keep things exciting, but also as a reminder that I shouldn’t be too comfortable with what I’m doing now. It’s fun. That stuff that I do on the side that I won’t show to the world at the moment yet. It’s my hobby.

    Mario: Yeah, It sounds for you, it’s very organic and natural.

    Merijn: The fun thing is when I show it in a year, Yeah, probably not a lot of people will understand it, but I’m pretty sure that into it three years I will do assignments in that type of work. That’s how it always goes. Yeah.

    Mario: It’s almost like something that when you say like that is something, which could even be like structured as a process in a way. 

    Merijn: It is process. Yeah.

    Mario: Because in a way you seem to be even as a personality sounds like quite open to those things and you just explored by it by nature. Even for somebody who is maybe not like that, what you’re doing currently, so looking like exploring a certain thing which, is exciting and probably something not often seen and just incubating it for a while and then just releasing into the world and then giving you the chance for two, three years. It almost sounds like it could be a good strategy for –

    Merijn: Yeah. Yeah, it’s my strategy. I don’t think a lot of designers work like this. I think it’s a bit strange and maybe to a lot of designers a bit radical. I don’t even think about these things. In a rational way, it just happens like this. 

    Mario: I think it’s really interesting. I mean, I’m just connecting the dots and I never thought about it in this way. Because I think that could also be a solution to the thing that you said at the beginning of not following trends and actually trying to be, let’s say a step ahead, instead of a step behind. This is one of those ways, I guess.

    Merijn: Yeah. Yeah, you see it with the gradient and graying things that I did. I started with those I think and the first time I showed them I think was three and a half years ago. Not to brag or anything, but now you see it everywhere, that type of work. It became a trend. I did it before the trend. I don’t know, somehow that happens a lot to me. That’s also the thing that in the beginning of my career in 2004 when I was drawing the characters, not a lot of people did the characters. Because I was drawing characters, I think I was the only one in the Netherlands. People said, “Wait. We have to work with this guy. He’s doing characters.” That’s a similar approach. 

    Merijn: I was doing something in art school and teachers didn’t understand. Other students they didn’t understand. Then when I got out of art school, it just hit or something. It was like, okay. I think it was always in my DNA.

    Mario: It’s interesting how it sounds like you don’t get discouraged, because the thing is if everybody around you is telling you like, “What the fuck is this.” A lot of people will just be like, “Okay, I’m just going to do whatever is expected.”

    Merijn: Yeah. I’m quite confident, because you always have this inner circle of friends and people you know that have good taste and are ahead as well. They encourage you to keep going. You know that you’re on the right track with something. 

    Mario: Yeah. I guess that comes also with experience, because it can be maybe harder if you’re a 19-year-old young person.

    Merijn: Yeah. I can say that back then, I did it more subconsciously. Now, it’s the trademark I guess.

    A crucial factor which is a frequent source of struggle for illustrators is making enough money to earn yourself a living, especially as young professionals. It can be daunting to navigate the fees, quotes, rights and how to structure that in your practice. Here, Merijn shares his advice on that.

    Merijn: When you’re a younger illustrating without an agent and a big brand comes up to you, you always have to consider a couple of things and that’s how much time you need to work on it. You have to come up with a figure for that. You can depend that on an hour hourly rate and multiply that with the hours that you think you’re going to work with it. Then you have to consider the usage, where they going to use it for is it print? Is it only on web, or social media, or is it for television? You have to consider all those things, and those things add up in the fee.

    Merijn: Then it also depends on the brand, how huge is the brand. There’s not a specific rule, I think, but it also depends on the budget that they have. If they come up with a really nice number and you feel comfortable with it, you should go for it, I guess. There’s a number of things to consider. It’s just not just the hours that you work on it, but also for example, if you work very fast and you have a style and you create an image in three hours and that image is going to be used everywhere around the world on billboards. You can do that on an hourly rate.

    Mario: Yeah, exactly.

    Merijn: You say, like I ask a €100 an hour. You want to get €300 for those billboards, that’s crazy. You have to think about usage. It really depends on how big the market is that they going to use the image in. When you’re young and somebody comes up to you with a job that size, looking back at it, I would probably get some advice from somebody. I would go to someone that help me out. I’m pretty sure there’s an – if you go to an agent, or even an accountant, or someone like that, they can help you out with that. I wouldn’t deal with it myself if I didn’t have the know how.

    Mario: I think that makes sense. Yeah. Just like yeah, even asking an agent for a per project collaboration or something. Yeah.

    Merijn: It really depends on the market. If you do something for a client, a national client in the Netherlands for example, the market is way smaller than when you do something for let’s say, China or the US. It’s much more feasibility. That’s also something to consider. Then with editorial work, it’s pretty clear, if you do an illustration for a newspaper, you get probably €350 to €550. A cover is usually a €1,000 to €2,000. That’s standard rate. You can figure that out yourself, I guess.

    Mario: After a few Google searches, you’re probably good.

    Merijn: Yeah, yeah.

    Hey, friends. You’re listening to the Creative Voyage Podcast. We are roughly in the middle of this episode, so it’s time for a short break. There’s no team behind the show. It’s solely produced and edited by me, Mario. I don’t have any sponsors, and I have no plans to add any. Nevertheless, I can use all the help I can get growing the show. If you like what you’ve heard so far, there’s three simple things you can do for me and future episodes. Number one, review the show on Apple Podcasts. Number two, tell a friend and share a link on social media. Number three, visit the shop on and support the show by buying bespoke Creative Voyage Products. Thanks everyone. Let’s get back to the show.

    At this point in our conversation, I wanted to hear what are Merijn’s current challenges, which led us to discuss the evolution of one’s creative practice and how to navigate the motivations behind it.

    Merijn: One thing that’s in my mind the last years, maybe the last five years already is that where does this go and where do I go into the future? Am I going to do this work under the same profile till I get old, or I’m always thinking like “Should I do a next step? Start a studio? Maybe do a completely different career?” I don’t know. That’s something I’m always thinking of. Then in the end, I always keep thinking, “I’m super comfortable with what I do and I’m happy with what I do. Why change it?” It’s a constant thing that’s in my head that is it okay what I’m doing? Is it not something that’s – that is now and not the future? Yeah.

    Mario: Yeah, that makes sense. 

    Merijn: It makes me nervous sometimes.

    Mario: I think that’s natural and it’s almost like, I’m not sure who said this quote and I’m probably not going to say it in the right way, but it’s more like, if you’re worried about it, you shouldn’t worry. If you’re not worrying about it, you should worry. Something in that way. I think it is good to aim, or try to be self-aware of those things and just keep them in front of your mind.

    Merijn: Yeah, yeah. I guess so. It’s a really good quote, actually.

    Mario: Yeah. Because then, like sometimes yeah, you can get a answer which can be a very, like a revelation and you’ll make a sudden change or something. Often, it’s actually just probably posing a question constantly or for a long time and over time you may be grew into the answer. It sounds esoteric, but no. Almost everything is. 

    Merijn: A lot of people say to me like, “What’s your next step? Why don’t you start a studio? Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you do that?” Then I’m like, “I’m super comfortable. I’m happy with what I do. I make good money. It’s all good, so why change it?” Maybe because you want more, but maybe I don’t want more. It always sticks in your head. 

    Mario: I mean, yeah. The motivation of wanting more of something just because it seems to be a thing to do or just culturally, like a thing to do with not the best motivation. It’s more like, the only potential issues if you become too comfortable, then you’re probably not growing and then over time you can just start feeling a bit uninspired or something. 

    Merijn: Exactly. That’s exactly what I meant also. I think more can be boring. More responsibilities. Starting a studio that would give me different – a lot of more stress on different levels than the creative process and I don’t want to focus on those.

    Mario: Yeah, that’s the more if you’re – yeah. In case you’re interested in being a manager as well, then it’s good. If maybe you’re not interested in that, then it’s –

    Merijn: That’s not me. 

    Mario: Yeah. That it’s actually better not to do it, because people often just feel pressured by culture, I guess to do those next steps, but they’re not for everyone. 

    Merijn: No. It’s good to know that of yourself.

    When commissioning illustration as a client or an art director, it’s rare to get an insight on what is the best way to do it, especially from the other side of the table directly from an illustrator. I used this opportunity to ask Merijn what for him constitutes a good illustration brief.

    Merijn: It makes me happy if the brief is very, very clear and specific because most of the time when clients ask me, they know very well what they want. I’m always super happy that they say like, “Okay, we ask you for what you do. We give you a lot of creative freedom because we’re confident that you will come up with something cool.”

    Merijn: I like when the brief is specific and free, that they ask me for what I do and that it’s not a puzzle to find out what they want and then I come up with something and then it’s like, “Oh, no. That’s not exactly what they want.” Because a lot of the times, they know exactly what they want. I rather have that they say it upfront, than make me guess. That’s something that I learned in the last 10 or more years that when a briefing is not clear, ask, call them, go after it. Yeah.

    Mario: For example, is that like, let’s say you get a specific brief and you know what’s expected. Do you just do that task and that’s it, or do you because you also said you like the freedom of it, so that can be two things, which can be hard to reconcile?

    Merijn: Oh, yeah, yeah.

    Mario: Do you maybe do then two proposals you’re like, “Okay, here’s what you probably want and here’s maybe what you might want and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about.” How do you do that?

    Merijn: It depends on the brief. If a brief is very specific, as a creative I wouldn’t want to piss off that I direct it by doing something completely else, because on one hand it’s cool, but you can do it as a suggestion next to the thing that he’s asking. I wouldn’t only do something completely different if you – I wouldn’t be a smartass, because that will be the last time that they ask you.

    Mario: Yeah, exactly, exactly.

    Merijn: I have seen it happening with friends that did these things. A lot of times it didn’t end up well. You can always do an own suggestion. If you have a better idea, I think it’s better to give them a call, or sent them an e-mail and say, “Hey, I have this order idea as well. Do you think it’s cool that I try that out as well?” I think you should be open about it and not arrogant.

    Mario: Do you do that often?

    Merijn: Yeah, it depends. It’s always good to get on – when I get a briefing most of the times, we set up, my agent and me, we set up a call with the client to discuss everything and then you can ask about this topic in a natural way. Don’t put a lot of weight on it. Explore what they think. A lot of the times, there is actually a lot more freedom than you think, but it’s good to know that upfront. 

    What we do when failure occurs matters, those can be the most valuable experiences if we are willing to learn from them. I’ve asked Merijn to share some of the mistakes he made and the difficulties he experienced on his journey so far. 

    Merijn: There’s so many things that went wrong, maybe from both side different expectations or yeah, and that’s something that happens sometimes because I work in different styles, or I create something and they had something completely different in mind, or they didn’t know exactly what they want and then you come up with something and they are like, “This is not what we want.” That happens a lot. Also, that you create something that’s so cool and that you’re really happy about and it never sees the day of light because the project gets killed. With illustration, that’s okay. We did some super cool animation projects that will never see the day of light and that’s so many hours.

    Merijn: You do get paid, but it’s not always about the payment. We have these things on our computer somewhere on file and we can’t do anything with it. That’s frustrating sometimes. To come back to the question about the clients and expectations, nowadays I always ask the client to grab some images from my portfolio and send them to me. This is the direction that we want. This is what we have in mind. I ask about colors. When things are not in a brief and I think that they’re relevant, I always say – I say, “Do you have an idea about colors?” If they say, “No, we leave that up to you,” that’s clear. 

    Merijn: It’s okay to ask a lot more questions than only the things that are in the brief, if you’re insecure about things. Get as much information as possible I guess. I think that works for both parties.

    Mario: Even I’ve been reading some literature about those things, positioning things even from the budget perspective, but it also goes with the creative perspective. When you as a creative actually address some things and when you ask back and even say some obvious things that you would rather avoid, or you’re afraid that maybe because of that, the client won’t like you. If you actually address them first, it really changes the whole dynamic and it’s actually the more professional dynamic, which is very counterintuitive and it’s something that I’ve been just thinking about recently.

    Mario: Even work with the money issue. If you know that you have a certain fee and you’re a certain point in your career, or you’re not expecting certain types of budgets, it would actually be good to almost at the first interaction to raise an issue, or just to raise the topic of money and be like, let’s talk about the budgets, because I might be a bit expensive because blah, blah, blah. I think that really –

    Merijn: Absolutely. I 100% agree. Yeah. That’s what I also what I said in the beginning of this talk, all these things that you wouldn’t mention when you just start out, like you’re scared to start a discussion about money, or that you say things that would maybe change the mind of an eye director, or it’s super professional to any questions that you have, or any concerns, just put them on the table and it will only benefit you. If that is something that will scare the client away, they don’t want to work with you in the first place.

    Mario: Yeah, exactly. It’s a really good way to validate the people that you’re working with. The best-case scenario you just showcase that you’re a professional and you clear important questions very effectively. I mean, the worst-case scenario is you don’t get a job, but it’s fine. You don’t have to get every job and probably a lot of those jobs aren’t for you.

    Merijn: Yeah. In the end, those jobs maybe become – would become a real struggle, or super annoying. Yeah. At this moment, I’m much more confident. I’m mid-career and I say no to clients a lot, because I can afford it, but I can really understand that if you’re just starting out and only have one or two jobs each month and you can just make the rent, that you’re much more scared to say these things. It comes with experience, but it’s really good to consider. 

    Mario: It’s something that you’re going to have to consider and find the balance, because you don’t want to go into the other direction and then just becoming like a yes person and just becoming a very indispensable contractor who does whatever.

    Merijn: Yeah. I remember when I just started, we had a few lessons at art school about usage rights and fees that you should get. There were some standards for it, some organization here in the Netherlands that had standards. Then I would go to client meetings and then – or in e-mails, I would mention those things. Then a lot of the times, I would never hear back from them. That was something that after that, I just decided no, I’m not going to mention these things again. Now I’d actually do, but I don’t know. When I was young, the client was feeling that you were insecure, I guess, bringing up these things.

    Mario: Yeah, it is. Yeah. It is a progression and something that just develops and you can grow into it. It’s definitely important to always keep it in mind.

    Merijn: It has to do a lot with self-confidence, I guess. Yeah. Some people have that at a younger age. I didn’t really have that.

    Mario: I mean, it’s almost like in a way, good to be humble in that way, because if you’re never worked professionally, or if you’ve worked just a little bit, you don’t actually know what value you can provide. Maybe you can guess, or maybe you have one or two projects, but it’s almost delusional to be then confident about that. Then as you progress, you can see the impact of your work and the value that you actually give and then your confidence develops.

    Merijn: Then also later in the career, right? I started seeing myself differently. At first I was like, I’m making a cool image and then they’re going to use it and that’s it. Later on, I started thinking about it more in a way like I’m creating an image and they are making money with that image. I feel more confident to ask money for it, because they are making money.

    Mario: Yeah, exactly. You want to be giving value. If you’re getting value, you should get something valuable in return.

    Merijn: Yeah. It took some time to find that out.

    We’ve come to the very end of my conversation with Merijn. As with other guests, I’ve asked him to highlight three parting pieces of advice based on what he learned so far. Here’s what Merijn shared with me.

    Merijn: The first thing would be don’t be afraid of the unknown. The unknown is super scary. Things you have never done can be really, really scary. For example, when Nickelodeon reached out to me with the Yo Gabba Gabba show, it’s a huge TV show in the US. They wanted me to do an animation. I never did it and I was like, “Fuck it. I’m going to do it. I don’t know how, but I’m going to pull it off.” I never did anything with animation.

    Merijn: I didn’t know how it worked. I know my brother did it, but I wasn’t in real good contact with him back then. I was like, “Okay, let’s go.” I did it and I was so scared. Then two months later, we had this animation. It was on national TV in the US and it was such an eye-opener. Don’t be scared, go for it and you will reach new heights. Yeah, that’s so that’s the most important thing, I guess. Don’t be scared. Yeah, don’t be scared of the unknown. 

    Merijn: The second, exploring new things and technologies, also to stay ahead and experiment with things. Don’t get comfortable. Yeah, the last thing is maybe it’s really obvious, but you really have to put in the hours. You can be talented, but if you don’t put in the hours, no one will notice. Just do a lot of work, but also be happy with it.

    Hey, for everybody at home keeping score, I believe we touched on a lot of useful information for anybody out there interested in illustration and growth as creative professional.

    I want to thank Merijn for coming on to the show. He’s an awesome illustrator and an inspiring creative and I’m grateful for the honest insights he shared with me. Links to Merijn’s work, his Instagram, as well as to some other things mentioned during our conversation can be found in the show notes at

    You can follow on Instagram, and you email me directly on Tell me what you think of the show. If you haven’t, already be sure to subscribe and until next time my friends. Take care.

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