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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!