Iris van den Akker

Illustrator & animator

hello@irisvandenakker.com

+316 46 28 13 63

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how to start an illustration business #1

Recently, I decided to take the plunge and quit my job at Ambassadors to pursue a full-time freelance illustration career. I'm as excited as I'm frightened, and overwhelmed as I sometimes feel I need to think of 38471 things at once. Which is why I wanted to document my journey as a freelance illustrator, even if no one reads it. I feel it's a great thing to look back on in a few years. And hopefully, someone might learn something from my struggles, so their freelance journey can be less stressful.


I've worked at the post-production studio for nearly three years now and learned a lot, especially on all things animation. I created storyboards, concept art, background design, character design, some 2D animation, you name it. It was fantastic to have such a diverse job and I'm very lucky to land myself a fulltime job right after finishing my education, especially one in the creative industry.

One of my first line-ups for an animation project at Ambassadors. This was for ASN Bank, who wanted a 'creature of habit' for their commercial.

However, after a while, something started to itch. Amazing as these projects were, they were always group projects. I missed my own say in things sometimes, and I missed the feeling to point at something saying 'See that? I made that. All by myself'. Silly as it may sound, but I'm really a 2D illustrator and most of the stuff we produced was 3D and pretty different from my original designs. Which is logical, because again, they were group projects.

The final render of the Creator of Habit for the ASN Bank commercial.

I decided to take on some freelance work next to my fulltime job. I was already drawing most of the day and most of my nights anyway, so why not make a business out of it? I updated my website and portfolio with my latest work, focusing on illustration rather than animation. Most of my work was created for animation in the advertising industry and I felt I needed a change. I then went to portfolio reviews at art festivals and got mixed reviews. Overall, people reacted positively to the quality of my work, but because most of it was personal stuff without context, it was hard for them to see my work in a commercial way. I needed clients.

Tip 1: Clients sometimes need help to see your work in context. Show your work printed in magazines, on fabrics, out in the streets. This helps them to visualize what your work can do for their brand.

I looked at other illustrators, what jobs they had, which clients they worked for, and e-mailed around my portfolio. I want to say here that for every 100 e-mails you send, you get maybe 10 back, and only one that might lead to a paid project. This is normal. Art directors are looking for specific stuff, and even if they like what you do, it doesn't mean that they can use your work right now. With freelancing, it's important to be patient.


I focused on magazines and newspapers because I had heard those jobs usually have very tight deadlines, meaning I could handle them in the evenings and weekends. However, my first job out of Ambassadors was for Throw&co, a throw company set up by Trevor Basset, who is a senior designer for Starbucks. He works with multiple artists to make beautiful, hand-woven throws. Even if this project didn't mean a lot of work, it was an amazing feeling to see my illustration on a product. Even more so to cuddle up with it on the couch on rainy nights.

My next project I also found through Instagram. I stumbled upon Lake Coloring, which is a fantastic coloring app that won the Apple Design Awards in 2017. You can download it on your iPad and have lots of artists to choose from. The great thing is that they really love their artists, and promote them regularly on the app and through social media. Subscribers can choose between free coloring pages, but also have a subscription on their favorite artist. I was lucky they let me design 12 coloring pages for them, with complete freedom (love it when you get complete freedom!). This project is not out yet, so I can't show you much, but I will give an update on my blog when it's live.


These projects were really great to do and I was lucky to be given so much freedom, but they didn't pay enough to make a living out of it. This was when my next project turned up, but I will talk about that in my next blog. Stay tuned!