Dingding Hu

Dingding Hu is a New York based illustrator and designer. She is a life observer, color lover, and storyteller who aims to make juice out of the everyday ordinary. She specializes in illustrating scenes, characters and objects, and is passionate about illustrated product.

Dingding has made stickers for Google Allo, illustrated a map of Chinatown for MOCA NYC, as well as designed characters for TED talk. In 2016 she started to create her own product line, Hu is Hungry, a stationery and gifts collection that celebrates everyday life through food themed illustration.

Dingding Hu | Illustrator | Freelance Wisdom

Tell me about your path to becoming a freelance illustrator and designer.

I originally studied advertising back in Shanghai for college. Upon graduation, I took a giant leap into illustration and came to America to attend graduate school at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. After I finished my MFA degree I moved to New York, aiming to become a freelance illustrator. I have taken on different temporary positions while improving my portfolio towards more professional and unique, as well as reaching out to a variety of clients. Gradually my work has gotten much better than from the beginning, and I was lucky enough to have worked with some really awesome clients along the way. This year I finally started to work from my home studio full time!

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

I got my first big client because the art director saw some of my work on Behance. I got another good client because a producer saw my work at MOCCA. In addition I have put in a lot of effort sending out promotions to my dream clients repeatedly over a long period of time! Other opportunities have come from people I’ve met at a gallery or craft fair; we simply chatted and clicked.

Dingding Hu | Hu is Hungry | Freelance Wisdom

What inspired you to create Hu is Hungry your stationery and gifts line?

I love food, which is obvious. So when I first started out, I took some advice from my peers and started a tumblr that was dedicated to practising drawing food, called Hu is Hungry. Then one day I got a big number of reblogs, and gained more fans in 24 hours than my other tumblr did in 2 years. After that I made a pin based on one of my food drawings and surprisingly sold a lot when I was tabling at MOCCA, more than most of my other creations. I started to think, “maybe this is something I should consider pursuing more seriously.” After finishing a big project back in 2016, I dedicated 2 months of my time fully to Hu is Hungry, and from there, everything started to build and grow. I also realized that all my temporary positions have taught me something about making a product as well as running a brand, which makes it feel right to combine all my experience in retail to run my own business.

Now that you've gone through the process of bringing this vision to life, do you have any advice for fellow illustrators/designers thinking of opening their own shop?

First of all I feel like I still have a long way to go to make it what I have envisioned. If I have to give any advice, I think most importantly you need to identify what is your key message. You can either be a very stylish illustrator and focus on selling your signature style or a very good storyteller and sell your narratives. You have to make a decision and then create a lot of work around it, then filter the better ones over the not as good ones. A big collection of consistent items is important for a shop that seeks growth.

Dingding Hu | Hotpot Party | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for being your most productive?

The goal is to focus. Things that helps include good sleep, lots of coffee, energetic music. Sometimes surrounding myself with strangers really helps. However I cannot work with my friends or family unless it is a drawing for fun session.

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?

Two things. Time management is among the most difficult ones for me, and maintaining confidence in what I do is also important but quite difficult. I struggle as well as practice consistently to be better at both, and I am happy with the improvement that I have made.

Dingding Hu | Room For Tea | Freelance Wisdom

How do you continue to attract your ideal clients?

I try my best to deliver good work to my current clients, at the same time I put myself out there as much as I can. I have also upgraded my promotion packages over the years and keep sending them out. Last but not least, I try to surround myself with a positive and supportive creative community.

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?

I highly recommend hiring an accountant, I admire people who can deal with taxes themselves, but I do not trust myself with that at all. Other than that, I am a super organized person. I have a lot of lists on my phone based on different aspects of life and level of priority. I also try to maintain a well categorized studio setup, I take full advantage of shelves, a storage unit, folders and labels. I once took a part time position at a showroom, and I think that taught me everything about organizing.

Dingding Hu | Foodie Girl | Freelance Wisdom

Are there any projects on which you're ruminating that you'd like to make time for someday?

For me I think keep evolving Hu is Hungry is among my favorite things to do. I currently put all my time besides client work into it and I constantly feel I need more time.

What is one thing you wish you knew when you were starting out?

I wish I was not so afraid and shy to connect with people who were successful in my field; it turned out they were usually really kind and gave good advice!

Dingding Hu | Hotpot Fish | Freelance Wisdom
DingDing Hu | Illustrator & Designer | Freelance Wisdom

Any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?

My list keeps changing, currently I have been listening to the soundtrack of Crazy Rich Asians while working, and I recently finished the audio book “How to raise the perfect dog”. For podcasts I usually go to Design Matters and Freakonomics.

Anything else that you'd like to share?

We perform best when we are passionate about what we do, and when we are in charge of pursuing our own passion, whatever it is. Have a plan and take small steps!

Dingding Hu | Dumbest Job Ever | Freelance Wisdom
Dingding Hu | Designer & Illustrator | Freelance Wisdom

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Confidence, Persistence, Efficiency

Get Social with Dingding

website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook

Marloes De Vries

Marloes De Vries is an award-winning illustrator and author based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. With almost 10 years of freelancing under her belt, she has a wealth of knowledge which she enjoys sharing openly on her blog. We are inspired by her perseverance, honesty, and commitment to self-care and excited to be sharing her wisdom with you today. Enjoy!

Marloes De Vries | Freelance Wisdom

Tell us about your path to becoming a freelance illustrator and author.

Drawing has always been my main focus and being creative is deeply rooted in my being. I started drawing at a very early age, around 3 years old. I always said I wanted to be an artist when I was a little girl. When I got older and my cousin said she wanted to go to art school, I started saying the same. At 14 I started designing websites and at 18 I got accepted into art school.
I graduated with a Bachelor of Design in Visual Communication when I was 21. I didn't study illustration as my teachers said I couldn't draw very well. That broke my heart. I tried forgetting about illustration and I ended up in advertising. I was an art director for some years and dabbled as a freelance editorial photographer for a couple of years until something within me said I should get back to drawing. That was scary for me as telling stories in pictures is the thing I love most, and I was certain I couldn't handle another rejection. But the first drawing I made in years was received so well that it was a kickstart for my new career. I've been freelancing as an illustrator for over 8 years now and I am writing now as well. I have written a picture book which I really need to send to some publishers, and I'm writing articles for magazines. This writing is combined with drawings a lot and that balance is perfect. I also create comics and cartoons for magazines and myself. I am exactly where I saw myself when I was 5 years old, which is magic.

In the beginning, how did you attract your first good clients?

It took me a while, to be honest. I was working as an illustrator for three years when I got an assignment of which I thought: "okay, this is going in the right direction!" They came directly though Instagram.
I'm not one to go to networking events as I can't do small talk. So with social media the whole game changed! Instagram was the ideal platform for me to showcase my work without the need to do small talk. I love that I'm in direct contact with the audience I draw and write for.
Marloes De Vries | Bench Sit | Freelance Wisdom

You now work with one of your dream clients, Flow Magazine, congrats! How did this come about and what advice would you give to others hoping to get to work with their own "wish list" clients?

I had been posting hand lettering on Instagram for over a year when Flow Magazine contacted me asking if I'd liked to do that for their magazine. This was over 5 years ago and the thing was that I was doing something not a lot of people were doing at that time. Hand lettering was not very popular back then as it is now. 
Coming up with something original is always the best way, if you ask me. You have to be your own voice, stand out from the crowd. I also think it's a matter of building credibility. At first, everyone struggles because you have to build your business first. But as soon as you have shown that you meet your deadlines, that you communicate clearly about everything, you're pleasant to work with and you work your hardest, things will start rolling.

Your blog is a platform for personal musings as well as a place to share information, inspiration, and advice for fellow freelancers and illustrators. What motivated you to start sharing in this way? 

I mainly started blogging because I was getting so many questions from (aspiring) illustrators about how to do certain things. At first I was answering them all individually but as the same questions kept coming, I thought: I should write this down and make it publicly available. And that's how I started my blog! I also like to share some insight in my life; who I am as a person defines a great deal of my work.

Marloes De Vries | Freelance Illustrator | Freelance Wisdom
Marloes De Vries | Being true to herself | Freelance Wisdom

It looks like you've taken a little break from blogging now. Can you tell us a bit about the decision to take that break and what you learned from it? 

I update my blog when I've got something useful to share. At least, that's what I believe hahaha! I don't put a lot of pressure on blogging as my illustration work and writing comes first. When I have spare time left I now take care of myself first. In the past I spent all my spare time on making work for social media, or blogging. Now, I take walks,  go for a bicycle ride, read a book, or binge watch a good tv show. In the past year it came to my understanding that I wasn't take enough care of my own well-being and that I was putting others first all the time. It had to change because I was burning out. 

You now offer workshops! How did you decide to start offering workshops and what do you enjoy about engaging in person like that?

In the beginning, this was years ago, I taught only children. About five years ago I switched to teaching adults. It started as a way of earning money, as illustration is quite tough to make a living from. For about three years I was teaching a lot and I lost interest and joy, because it was taking all of my energy. I realised I give so much during workshops that I needed at least one full day to recover. That's typically me by the way: I give it my all, or nothing. So then I decided to not teach more than one workshop a month and that is the perfect balance for me! I can give my all for one day to a group of people. 

The people that come to my workshops are amazing. Most of them are sensitive, caring souls and they are so enthusiastic about drawing! It's a pleasure helping them, motivating them. My workshops are very personal, sometimes there are a few tears shed. I believe making art has to come from deep within you, so in one way or another you have to open up to draw. I feel very blessed to have people in my workshops that are willing to do that. They're brave.

Marloes De Vries | Cleaning Mess | Freelance Wisdom
Marloes De Vries | Opening up to draw | Freelance Wisdom

You have lots going on, illustrating, authoring, workshopping, do you have any tips for being your most productive?

I am incredibly passionate about telling stories and drawing, and I could do that all day. But doing dishes or laundry? That's just piling up. 
I think there are two ways to be productive: the first one is being intensely passionate about something that you want to do it every day. The second way is routine: if you do something every day for at least 40 days you're making it part of your daily routine. It embeds in your brain as something you have to do every day, just like brushing your teeth.
Maybe I should do that with doing the dishes… ;)

What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?

I'd say I find the money the biggest struggle. Over the past 8 years I've seen the fees for illustration going down (especially in the Netherlands) and sometimes I worry if this profession will still exist in 10 years. On the other hand my career has really blossomed in those years as well so I keep holding on to that.
I'm not quite sure why the fees are going down so much as illustration seems to be really popular right now. Maybe I'm a bit contradictory here because on one hand I worry about the future of illustration, but on the other hand I really believe in working hard and making a career for yourself. I don't believe in talent. I wasn't born illustrating or writing like this: I worked for it. I think people can do more than they think and I think saying someone built a career on talent alone is not motivating.
Marloes De Vries | Cleaning House | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details? 

If you are able to hire someone who can do it for you, do so, don't do it yourself. Before I even had one client, I contacted an accountant to do my taxes. I'm rubbish at that, if I were to do it myself I know for sure it would cost me a lot of money because of errors I would make.
What I did learn over the years is to use folders on my computer for incoming and outgoing invoices, and receipts. I use an online invoicing system for all my outgoing invoices and it notifies me when they're not paid. It's good to sign up for a trustworthy service that can do that for you. I pay about €10 a month for it and it's well worth the money because it saves me so much time. I track the time I spend on projects online with Toggl for example. I wrote an article about this too.
The thing is that as a freelancer you want to do those things you're good at. It's a waste to spend too much time on things you can easily delegate or automate. We live in a great time where we can outsource and automate a lot of things online. So do that. This means you will have more time to spend on those things you are best at.

There is a wonderfully detailed post on your blog about working for exposure / working for free. If you could distill that post to one must know piece of advice, what would it be? 

It's good to ask yourself when you're considering to work for free why you think you don't need compensation for your hard work. There are times it might feel better to work for free, for a charity for example, but there are times a company might take advantage of creatives' passion because they know a lot of creatives are willing to work for free.
My rule is: if someone is making money with something I created, I should earn money too. Asking fair compensation for your skills shows that you're a professional. Working for free can really devalue your worth as a professional creative.
Marloes De Vries | Magazine Illustration | Freelance Wisdom
Marloes De Vries | on getting paid for your work | Freelance Wisdom

Do you have any tips for freelancers who work with clients in different countries from their own? 

Make sure you have everything in writing. This goes for working for clients in your own country too of course. Make sure you get a proposal contract signed before starting any job and make sure you have clear agreements on what you are giving a client.
When working for foreign clients it's good to get a specialist involved concerning taxes and the like. I have an accountant that checks everything for me before negotiating about fees, because it might happen that you have to pay a lot of taxes in another country and that would be a waste.

Can you tell us a bit more about the "time to myself" break you took in the British countryside, what made you decide to do this and what advice would you give someone looking to do something similar?

For the past five years I was in survival mode, trying to keep head above water. I was really bad at saying 'no', I always took on a bit too much, and although my brain wants to, my body can't always keep up. In September last year, after a big deadline, my body said 'no'. It was done with working so hard and I collapsed one night.
I knew that I should stop working so hard and I needed to learn how to say 'no' to others, not just to myself. I decided I would go away for a month by myself to England because that's my favourite country. I feel so at home there and I feel so at peace. So I booked three weeks in the Peak District, not working, just sleeping, hiking, making food every day, reading, taking care of myself.
It was the best thing ever.
The thing about going by yourself to some place to rest is that you don't have to worry about a partner or travel companion. You don't have to adjust your wishes to have some middle ground. This means you go back to your own core. What do I need to feel good? I couldn't have done it with my partner, I would worry too much if he's enjoying himself.
If you want to do something like this I recommend doing it alone. It may sound scary but it's the best gift you can give yourself. Research the place you want to go (make sure you have a supermarket in the area for basic stuff) and stay for at least two weeks. Because the first week you will need to unwind and get rid of your daily habits and then you'll have another week to fully rest. Don't make too many plans, just see what happens. 
Marloes De Vries | Learning to Relax | Freelance Wisdom

Any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?

I really enjoyed Steal like an Artist by Austin Kleon. It has very little text in it but it's so on point!
Recently, I started listening to music again. I don't know how it happened, but for two years I didn't listen to any music. I'm listening to Philip Glass or singer-songwriters. I love lyrics with a heart felt story.

Is there anything else that we missed that you'd like to share? 

In this day and age it seems to me that being successful is mandatory. I believe that takes away so much joy of doing something you love. Not everything you do has to be prize-winning or has to be a successful career. It's okay to just enjoy something, have a hobby, even if you don't get instagram-likes for it. I think we're setting the bar too high sometimes. I'd like to encourage people to go back to their core: what did you enjoy doing when you were 6 years old? Try doing that again, without wanting to make a career out of it, because filling your life with those things you enjoy makes life so much more fulfilling. 

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Perseverance, passion and an open mind.
Marloes De Vries | Love Myself | Freelance Wisdom

Get Social with Marloes

W E B S I T E  |  I N S T A G R A M  |  T W I T T E R  |  F A C E B O O K

Becky Simpson

Becky Simpson is the founder of Chipper Things, a paper and lifestyle brand that celebrates friendship and play. Becky is also an art director, illustrator, graphic designer, author, and speaker. Her work, in all these areas, fuses her passion for connection, process and play. She believes in celebrating our wonky traits and delighting in the ordinary.

We love this interview for SO many reasons but especially because Becky embraces the dance between freelance and full-time work and celebrates what each type of work has given her. Make sure to read all the way to the end for hidden gems of wisdom on this topic!


Photo by Alex Crawford 

Photo by Alex Crawford 

Tell us about your path to becoming the illustrator and designer you are today.

I’ve always been the art kid. I’m from a small town and was pretty coddled as THE artist. Some of my earliest memories have to do with being affirmed in my creativity. I’ve always known I was going to have some sort of artsy career. I studied graphic design to be “practical” but eventually inserted my doodles into projects whenever I could. It’s just what I enjoyed doing. After doing a lot of that and developing a style (which I never sought out to do, just happened by way of drawing a lot), I became equal parts graphic designer and illustrator. Then I wrote my first book (I’d Rather Be Short) while I was at my first job and that launched me into my freelance career.

In the beginning of your freelance career, how did you attract your first good clients?

When I first started freelancing I had one main retainer client (healthcare stuff). One of my mentors told me not to put all of my eggs in that basket but I didn’t listen. Things eventually petered off with that client and I was struggling. I had no consistent work and I was terrible at quoting projects—I had zero clue as to the value of my work or the time it would take to complete. In fact, I charged $200 for my first project—album art for a friend—and I apologized for it. Facepalm. It was a long road, but I started to attract good clients the old fashioned way: creating good work, posting the kind of work I wanted to keep making and telling people that I was looking for x-type of work. It’s important to note that I had the space to be such a dodo because I had a book advance that I received right before going freelance. I wish I didn’t blow it on not being a good business owner, but that’s what carried me through those terrible months (and honestly, it was a big struggle for at least a couple of years.) Another note: That book probably gave me zero freelance work, but it did give me clout and cool opportunities, which eventually (indirectly) led to projects.
Okay, one last thing (and maybe the most important): I’ve always been involved in the design community and I’ve attended a lot of conferences. Much of the work that comes to me is word of mouth or friend of friends of friends. A lot of it traces back to folks in the industry I’ve gotten to know over the years. I showed up to my first conference not knowing ANYONE and actually left with new friends. I’m telling you, this “who you know” stuff is real and the good news is that you can meet these people by putting yourself in front of them.
Photo by Sydney Whitten

Photo by Sydney Whitten

Becky Simpson | Put Yourself Out There | Freelance Wisdom

After 4 years of freelance you switched to a full time job. How did it feel to transition back to full-time work after 4 years of working on your own?

I started working full time again about a year ago (I have since moved back to freelance and as of when this is posted—it will be my first day at my new full time job). To be honest, the process of going from freelance to full time a year ago was quite tumultuous for me personally.  I had all of my identity wrapped up into freelancing/doing it myself (I was too proud—I had spoken at conferences! Published books! Talked about business stuff!) I thought that I was failing but the reality was that at that time, freelance wasn’t serving me anymore. I wanted a remote lifestyle, but I wanted consistency and more structure. Running two businesses (freelance + Chipper Things) made everything feel heavy. I wanted it to feel light again. And the craziest, most unintuitive thing actually happened: I felt so much more freedom with a full time job than I had felt as a full time freelancer. Much of that has to do with the company I worked for, but relinquishing control does have its powers.

You mentioned that your full-time work has made you a better freelancer, can you tell us more about that?

Since I don’t need it I’m way more picky. I’m selective with my time and I charge more than I used to. I did this with a big project and quoted $12k—twice as much as I felt like I “should have charged for my time.”  And guess what? I landed it! The client said that I was clearly a pro and they were willing to pay more than they expected as long as they could have someone reliable. That happened again recently (much smaller project). The funny thing is, after both were said and done, the “high amounts” I quoted were totally appropriate prices due to all of the (underestimated) work that went into it. I wouldn't’ have found this out if I had a scarcity mindset.
Becky Simpson | Pants Notebook | Chipper Things | Freelance Wisdom

From 2015-2016 you were an inaugural Adobe Creative Resident and you launched Chipper Things during that time (congrats!). What was your biggest ah-ha moment from that experience?

I found out that chipping away at something slowly but surely (and consistently) is more powerful than big leaps. A small illustration every day for 100 days gave me a library of content that I still use. This has served me more than working hard all weekend of staying up until 2 AM grinding out work. I leaned other stuff too, but this one first came to mind.

Additionally, if you could give one piece of advice to illustrators/graphic designers thinking of opening their own shop, what would it be?

Start small. I wish I didn’t launch Chipper Things with so many products (over 80!). I didn’t even love some of them all upon launching but had it in my head (because I heard that’s how Rifle launched) that success means blowing people out of the water with quantity. What a waste of resources and energy! If you want to sell products start as small as possible, using a platform like Etsy or even printing on demand with someone like Printful. Send free stuff to people you admire (with no strings attached) and proudly, unapologetically tell the world about what you are selling. Remember, sincere enthusiasm is not bragging. Enthusiasm is contagious and gives others permission to do the same.
Becky Simpson | Good Vibes | Freelance Wisdom
Becky Simpson | Sincere Enthusiasm | Freelance Wisdom

You do all the things, freelance, run Chipper Things, manage your course on Brit &Co, work you have any tips for being your most productive?

First of all, nothing is ever done at the same time. Each big thing happens in its own season—never all at once. It’s easy to be intimidated by other peoples’ resumes, but we have to remember the most successful people focus on one thing at a time, execute it, then do the next thing. My main day-to-day productivity hack is the pomodoro technique in the Productivity Planner (I was a Bullet Journal purist until this one, though they can be used in tandem).

With all those ventures in mind, what has been your greatest struggle as a creative business owner so far?

Right now it’s getting out of the spiral of 24/7 work. Work begets work. I’m doing too much right now (but thankfully as of this week I’ll be back to a working-more-normal-hours rhythm thanks to some cool big life changes). When you’re so saturated with work/career stuff, the default mode becomes a lazy productivity: accomplishing something—anything—is easier than stepping back and evaluating the bigger picture or creating systems to eliminate much of the work in the first place. Current struggle: I want to hire help for Chipper Things in the near future but feel held back by the whole “But it’s easier if I just do it,” and “It’s not big enough to need THAT much help but it’s too big for me to keep managing it all on my own” dance.
Photo by Constance Higley

Photo by Constance Higley

Tell us about these big life changes! And how will it help your work-life balance?

In a couple of weeks my husband  and I are going to embark on a year of traveling and living in an Airstream!  And as of the publication of this interview, I’ll be working full time (remote, obviously) for Tubby Todd. These big changes forced me to 1) Get a fulfillment center for Chipper Things 2) Turn down freelance projects and 3) Greg is going to have a bigger role in Chipper Things, which means he’ll be taking over the stuff that gives me the biggest headache and takes a lot of my time. This trip is a reset that is forcing me to implement the kind of systems I’ve preached about in the past.

Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?

I wish I hired a bookkeeper day one. I thought it was so expensive but I sucked at it, which of course cost me more time and money. If you’re a small business, the bookkeeper will probably not cost very much. It’s worth looking into, so you at least know where to turn when you do feel “ready” (though you are ready right now). I love Quickbooks. It took me too long to hop on that train too. The ultimate hack though? Ask for what you want. I believe Oprah said it best: “You get in  life what you have the courage to ask for”. Oh! And I love how Kathleen and Emily (of Being Boss) say to never leave money on the table. AKA, never delay sending an invoice or cashing a check. Sounds simple and obvious enough, right?
Becky Simpson | The Roomate Book | Freelance Wisdom
Becky Simpson | Roommate Gift Ideas | Freelance Wisdom

Any music, podcast, or book recommendations that you'd like to share?

I’m due for a reread of Essentialism by Greg McKeown.  It’s all about weaning off the non-essentials in life (geared more toward business. Appropriate for both freelancers and full timers). It’s inspiring and quite freeing. Shoot, I'm going to listen to it after I’m done with this interview. I usually audiobook business books.

Anything we missed that you'd like to share?

I think a lot of times people say they want to be freelance, but maybe what they really want or need is just to work remote. The freelance lifestyle has a ton of perks (WORTH IT), but working remote and full time (for a company you love) has many of the same benefits as a freelance lifestyle. Of course, the actual company does make a big difference in the equation. And it’s likely you’ll still need and want the freedom to do personal projects. I’m a big, big fan of the freelance lifestyle (that’s what brought me so many cool opportunities). I just want to push back on the notion that freelancing is the only way to be free. There are a lot of other freedoms that come with a job: Financial security, structure/stability, energy, etc.
Becky Simpson | Everybody has a story | Freelance Wisdom

The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:

Passionate, curious and accountable (I don’t think the last one is necessarily an attribute, but there needs to be some sort of accountability for there to be challenge and growth.)

Get Social with Becky

W E B S I T E  |  I N S T A G R A M  |  T W I T T E R