Ruud Hendriks (Momo)

Ruud is a freelance illustrator with with one of the cutest, most cheerful illustration styles you'll ever see
August 22, 2020

What has your journey to a freelance illustrator looked like?

I always had a passion for drawing since I was a little kid, but I actually studied communication and multimedia design, in the Netherlands.

And at that time I actually thought I wanted to become a web designer, because the web 2.0 bubble at time, you know, it was very interesting and yeah, I was quite interested in it as well, so the drawing thing kind of took a back seat at that time. So four years later I graduated as a web designer and I worked as a web designer in a company for two or three years.

During that time I kind of rekindled my passion for illustration and I felt like my job, I didn't hate it, but I also didn't love it. I didn't feel passionate about it. I just went, you know, to collect a paycheck, and live your life, you know, pay your bills. But I felt like there's more to it that I could do.

And so at the same time, when I was still working as a web designer, I started doing some illustration commissions. And I actually enrolled in an agency in Amsterdam while I was still full time employed. My good friends, like colleagues, they knew. And one of them is also was also my manager and he was like totally on board with it, but I didn't discuss it with like the upper management.

I have to say I did work on a pretty cool job while I was still working as a web designer; we made an animation for a Brazilian funk/soul artist. And this was actually for the label of David Byrne from talking heads. So I got more and more like excited for that. And I got less and less excited for my actual job. And so at some point, I quit the job, because also my ex girlfriend got a job in Scotland. So the timing lined up with us relocating to Scotland.

I didn’t have a job in Scotland, so at that time I started doing full time freelance illustration, which at the start was hard because obviously you start off with no clients. You have this project behind you, that I was very excited about and I thought, you know, a lot of people are gonna see it as, because it's a big thing, this guy Tim Maia in Brazil he's very famous and very popular. And obviously David Byrne is very famous and very popular. Oh my God, I felt that people are going to see that I made this and things are going to roll now, but they didn't really, so I still felt like I had to start off from scratch.

The agency somehow didn't really work out either. Maybe we got like one or two jobs after that from them, but nothing huge. However, this was definitely the push, like you said, including that we were moving to Scotland, so I was quitting my job anyway.

I felt really excited about this project I'd done with this agency, and I felt actually the passion again, that I hadn’t felt at all during web doing web design. So I really wanted this at this point. And then I just went for it, like, like completely full time. I signed up with a coworking space also in Scotland, to also like meet some other creative people, maybe learn a little bit from them. There was some nice designers there as well. And yeah, that's how I started becoming a freelancer.

How did you learn the business side of being a freelance illustrator?

I was never really an incredibly organized kind of freelancer. I just went for it. I was inspired by other illustrators and I saw in a way like, okay, they are making money out of this, so it's possible to make money out of this. And I learned a lot from them, like how they would tackle things, how to make your art, your drawings, commercial. A lot of people can make really cool drawings, but it's another thing how these drawings are going to be applicable, from a commercial perspective, because that's what you also need to think about if you want to, you know, make money out of this.

How did you find your illustration style?

The style was always kind of inside of me. I think like, even when I was drawing as a kid, it was always kind of like cute cartoony. So it wasn't like, okay, I'm going to do this, it was always there. I did learn a lot from analyzing other designers or illustrators though, you know, what works and what doesn’t, and you just develop from there. You take some ideas and you create your own, and that’s how it goes I guess.

In the beginning I felt like I was copying maybe too much from other people. And that felt really bad, you know, because I really wanted to be an original artist. I didn't want to feel like I was copying, but some people actually told me “Oh, it's a little bit like too much like this. Maybe you should change it up a little bit”, and I did. And I felt that throughout the years I really did create my own style.

I guess you start being inspired by people, but the trick is not to copy them, but to just take little bits and pieces from everywhere and then mash it all up in your own, you know, you know, your own style.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?

The best thing obviously is having your own time and doing everything at your own pace, if you can. I think that's everybody's dream when in a nine to five job, you know, like, because I felt when I was in the office working at this web design role, I felt a lot of this time I was just waiting until it was five o'clock, even if sometimes you don't have that much work on.

So you've just pretty much wasting your time until you can go home because the boss says it's okay to go home. Whereas, as a freelancer, I'm not saying you work late as probably you don't, but at times where it's less busy, I mean you can easily take a day or a couple of hours in a day off. And when it is busy, you do what you need to do up until it’s done. And then you go home, you know, it makes much more sense. It's much more efficient to work this way. And I haven't looked back since, like, I never want to go back to a true, ‘real’ job.

What’s the hardest thing about being self-employed?

Well, for me personally, it's probably doing everything that isn’t drawing. Like you might not think about it much, but it's like, first of all, setting up your business, registering, doing all your paperwork, keeping track of all your income and outgoings to do your taxes, do your accounting, and so on.

Also, negotiating with clients I hate, I hate it so much because you you're required to come up with like a price to put on yourself, you know, like how much are you worth? Which is a hard thing to do. And it also comes with a lot of trial and error for me, because I feel like I talk a lot with other freelancers and artists and stuff, and nobody really knows. It's always just, yeah. If the client is this, you can do a little bit of that. You know, there's no structure, no set price you should ask or something.

And it even depends on what kind of work you do, and what kind of client you work for. It has a lot of variables, so I don't like that part, but you know, it is part of the job.

Do you have a favourite memory or standout moment from your self-employed career so far?

That's a hard one because I don't think I have like one particular job that, you know, really stands out. However, I did really like this job I did for Wok To Walk, which is like a worldwide noodle company.  And I had my design on their box, worldwide, from Australia to Europe to America, it was everywhere and that felt really good. Like I had pictures coming in on Instagram from everywhere with my box!

Another job I'm really excited for now is a recent one, artwork for a video game. And I really do like video games. So I'm excited for this to come out.

What does your typical work day look like?

One thing I really value is having a routine, and I learned this as well when I was starting off.

For me, personally, it helps the best. Even though nobody's telling you that you have to be in the office from nine to five, still try to treat it like such, you know, be your own kind of strict boss, or you won't get anything done. Even if you don't have any work on, there's always something you can do, like promote yourself, make drawings, so that potential clients can see what you can do for them.

So for me, a typical day: I go every morning to a coworking space. I see it kind of as my office, you know, like, it feels like going to work, which really does work wonders for my productivity. If I stay at home, you know how it is, you take your time, you have a shower, you make some coffee, you walk the dog and before you know it, it's the afternoon and you still haven't done anything.

So you should keep a routine, I think. So on a typical day I go into work to the office, and stay there until like four or five. Usually in the morning I answer some emails or some DMS I got, and then I start drawing whatever is on that day, you know?

And like I said, if I'm not working on a project at the time, like right now I'm not, then I think of things I can do in the morning, you know, to build my brand. I make a drawing almost every day, if I'm not working for a commission.

What advice would you give your younger self to help with your self-employed career?

That is an interesting one. I'm not sure. I don't want to sound cocky, but I think if I would do it again, I would probably do it the same way. Like I said before, it was a good decision to have my home and work separated, which makes me a lot more productive, treating it as a job. Like I said before, I've never had a big plan of how I'm going to tackle things, but it just made sense, you know? And when it comes to developing your style, you just find out things that work for you, both that your audience reacts to and what works commercially, what is commercially viable.

And then I just keep adding onto that. Keep working towards, you know, the perfect style, I guess that works for you. But at the same time, I would say never do anything that you don't have a passion for. You can come up with a style that might work really well, commercially, but if you don't feel it, what's the point of being your own boss.

You still have to do what you love. That's the thing.

What's next? What are the goals you're working on at the moment?

Well, my ultimate goal is to actually move from commission-based work to doing my own brand. It's always been my goal, but it's really hard to build because, you know, brand recognition. You grow very slowly in my case.

So yeah, when I started as a freelance for myself, I created this little dog character called Momo. That's why I'm ‘Hey, Hey, Momo’ online, and the idea was always to build a little world around Momo and create a little stories and make them have little friends. And so people will identify with the little dog in the hat, that's the goal.

I want to do like a little comics of him and then eventually make it commercial again by selling t-shirts and prints. Kind of like Hello Kitty or Pusheen or how they do this stuff. That's some inspiration for me. That's what I want eventually, that's the goal.

Do you have any resources you could recommend that helped you, for others working towards self-employment to check out?

I mainly still use the main channels, like Twitter and Instagram, and also I use Pinterest a lot. Pinterest is great for your own boards, like when I'm drawing on my iPad, I have Pinterest boards open on the same screen, so I can get inspired. I try to get inspired all the time, you know? So yeah, I would definitely recommend making your own Pinterest boards of stuff you really love and work from there. That's great. Although I must say like, I don't like their recommendation algorithm cause somehow I still get cakes and dresses and stuff, even though all my pins are just illustrations.

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Ruud Hendriks (Momo)

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