Illustrator Frederique Matti on overcoming perfectionism as a designer

Living in the heart of Amsterdam, Frederique Matti is a freelance illustrator & designer. When she’s not illustrating you can find her chilling out with her cat Baltazar or delving into Asian cuisine.

You made the jump to being a full-time freelancer a year ago. How did you gain the confidence to make this decision?

A bunch of things came together at the same time. First, I found myself in a job that didn’t fit well with me. Second, I started considering going freelance, something I’d already been dreaming about for a while. Lastly, being unhappy in my role made those dreams seem much more achievable.

I was very insecure about making the jump to full-time freelancing. However, because of these 3 events happening at the same time I felt like I now was the time to at least try. I felt confident that I could always go back to a job if it didn’t work out for me.

Frederique Matti

Initially when I finished my studies I started working as a digital designer at an agency. I had just moved to a new city, needed to make rent and craved some stability. I knew I wanted to work as a freelancer from the moment I graduated, but I felt like I needed to save money and gain some experience.

In a way I started planning for this move from that moment on. One of the things I did is began saving money. When I did take the jump last year, my savings account gave me the freedom to focus on the type of work I wanted to do.

This turned out to be very important: The work you put out there is the work you get known for — people will always ask you to do more of that type of work.

One other thing I did was that I started doing some small freelance jobs on the side when I was still working full-time for a company. This is nice because you get a taste of what its like running your own business, without all the stakes yet. Doing so also helped me land some clients that I still work with today.

Having your own business is a lot about minimising risk, so having some stability set up before I made the jump helped a great deal with my confidence.

A lot of your work is digital, including your sketches and early explorations. How does this influence the final result?

As an illustrator with a background in digital design, the computer has always been my playground. I started experimenting in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, and worked from there. Most of my early illustrations are made with a trackpad and/or a mouse, carefully placing vector points. For the longest time I didn’t even sketch that much.

At some point I realised that sketching is a lot of fun and a really good way to progress my style. My style began changing from being all vector + texture, to vector combined with hand drawn elements.

That again changed when I got my iPad Pro. I’m still trying to figure out what the best workflow is for me with the iPad. However I know for sure that my style has become more fluid and hand drawn overtime, and also more fun!

When I started my own business as an Illustrator I thought that meant I had to leave the design side of my previous work behind. It turns out that design and illustration is a beautiful combination. Both parts almost equally feed my work.

I don’t design interfaces or products anymore, but I do illustrate for them. Because I have background experience as a designer, I have a greater understanding of my canvas — which helps me and my client a lot.

You illustrations range from editorial to illustrative. How do you strike a balance of creating something you love vs. what the client needs?

The work that I do for editorial purposes is inherently more free. The briefs are usually a lot more open and focus more on creating a good visual metaphor.

I love editorial because it challenges me in a different way than the work I do for digital products.

Illustrations for digital products is where I get to combine my skills as a designer and illustrator. In these projects, I work a lot with their existing brand or extend their brand in the most visual way: with their own illustrative style.

Style wise I’m always looking for a balance between my own style and what fits the clients’ brand well. I actually enjoy this a lot as it allows me to develop different sides of my work and subjects.

Those subjects can be very abstract sometimes, as I usually work with tech companies.

I once worked with an Artificial Intelligence company and found out that there are a lot of weird and scary visual cliche’s about AI. Its quite the challenge to make something fresh and positive about something so abstract!

As designers it’s easy to get caught up in perfectionism. How much do you refine your doodles before posting them? Or do you try and embrace imperfection?

I had a really hard time with sharing my work in the beginning. I found myself between the gap of my personal taste (what I want to make), and what my skills and abilities allow.

A lot of the things I made early on I never finished or shared. The challenge for me was exactly to do what I was afraid of — Share the work, even if I don’t like it.

To help encourage myself to do this I created an exercise for myself: To make a small illustration everyday that I had to share.

This exercise was perfect for me because it forced me to confront my fears of sharing something stupid or ugly. As I began sharing, I learnt that nothing horrible happens when you share ugly work. In fact, really cool things can happen when you make yourself visible.

I think perfectionism is a blessing and a curse. Eventually you want to be in the position where it pushes you to make good work without crippling you.

It’s coming to the end of your first year as a freelancer. How have you gained clients throughout the year?

One of the most important things I’ve learnt is saying out loud that you’re available for work over and over again. Oh and getting really good in explaining what you do!

It helps that my work is so visual. Basically everything I make is marketing material for my own business. I try to take advantage of that by being active on websites like Dribbble, Instagram and Behance.

Interestingly enough I feel like I get most of my work though twitter and word of mouth — both of which aren’t visual media.

I’ve put a lot of time and effort into networking over the last couple of years — the word ‘networking’ always makes me feel like a grownup! It sounds so business-ey, but it does help. My style of networking is typically talking to people online or at a meetup in a pub with a beer or something!

Getting to know people in your industry isn’t always only business. In a lot of cases the people I meet become my friends too! I’ve gained new clients though my network more than any other channel.

Making beautiful work is not the only important thing when working with someone. It’s also about trust and good communication — two things you get to build gradually over time as you have more conversations with one another.

How important is it to you as an illustrator to explore outside of your comfort zone?

I have a strong preference for certain colour combinations, as you might guess by looking at my work! 😆

I find myself in the position where I make an effort to use other colours, and then for some reason find myself going back to pink and blue again! I just can’t seem to shake it.

However, I do love exploring other colours and styles which I often do in editorial work. Exploring outside my comfort zone helps me to progress my style while providing me with the opportunity for happy accidents. I love it when something happens on my canvas that I didn’t expect and it surprises me in a nice way.

Follow Frederique on Twitter, Instagram, Behance or check out her portfolio here.

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