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Entrepreneur of the month: Micha Huigen

Illustration Design, Zwolle

Every month, the ArtEZ Business Centre and the courses together select a student or alumnus as Entrepreneur of the Month. Their stories give you an idea of what to expect, based on current topics from the professional field. Is there a secret to cultural success? Do you have to excel in your art or is it about selling yourself? Is it a matter of luck, wisdom, hard work or a good strategy?

Entrepreneur of the month: Micha Huigen


My name is Micha Huigen. I graduated in 2018 from the Illustration Design programme at ArtEZ Zwolle. I make detailed illustrations that carry viewers into a world of my own design. My works are composed in such a way that you feel like you can enter into them. There is a lot to see, and you can keep discovering new things. One glance isn't enough. I find it very important to give viewers that space to explore. I am convinced that life gets much more interesting when you take a position of curiosity, and that's something I want to encourage. I can best express that in my autonomous work, although whenever possible, I bring that attitude to my commissioned work as well. I have made illustrations for magazines and newspapers as well as posters and album covers. Lately, I have been working more for De Volkskrant and VPRO Gids, but I have also begun to expand my network abroad. For example, I did commissions for The Verge and Magic the Gathering.

VPRO cover, Micha Huigen

Starting with mediocre part-time jobs

After graduating, I was very motivated to build a career as an illustrator and I registered at the Chamber of Commerce straight away. So from that moment onwards, I had become an entrepreneur. On paper, anyway. But I still felt like a total newb. At ArtEZ, there was always more of an emphasis on the creative work itself, and not much guidance when it came to entrepreneurship. In the Illustration Design programme, we were primarily taught to develop ourselves as visual artists. Maybe it's difficult to teach entrepreneurship in a way that is helpful to every student. But after graduating, there were a lot of times that I wondered whether it was all going to work out.

I had quite a few mediocre part-time jobs to be able to pay the rent. Stacking heavy packages on conveyor belts at a mail sorting centre. Or walking through trains as a rail caterer, with a huge load of unhealthy snacks to sell to passengers. In the beginning, I mostly did some small illustration commissions for bands and start-ups. In the process, and through acquisition, my network slowly began to grow. I'm glad that I'm now at a point where I can live off my illustration work and no longer need a part-time job. I'm very grateful that I have the opportunity to focus exclusively on my passion, and I try to take every chance I get to develop myself as a maker.

A nice place to work

My work never feels like an obligation; it feels like something that I was meant to do. I have a workspace in the centre of Zwolle, in the attic of a monumental building. I share it with another illustrator, Reinout Dijkstra, and with animator Anselm Oettel. I'm always happy to go to my studio. Of course there are commissions with tight deadlines or difficult topics that just can't seem to spark my imagination. That can be stressful, but I also enjoy those challenges. I never found them to be particularly negative experiences.

Micha Huigen

Have the courage to sell your work

Selling my work to the world and to potential clients is something I had – and still have – to learn a lot about. I'm not a salesman by nature, so in the beginning, it was difficult for me to send unsolicited e-mails to big magazines and bands. But cold acquisition can still be very fruitful. Sometimes in unpredictable ways.

For example, about a year-and-a-half ago, I sent an e-mail to The Believer: an American bimonthly magazine with essays, reviews and stories. After not hearing back from them for a few weeks, I was pretty sure that nothing was going to happen. But a few months later, I suddenly got an answer from their image editor, asking me to make a spread and two smaller illustrations for the magazine. They were well-received, and then I was asked to make the cover for the next issue. During our collaboration, the image editor of The Believer moved to The Verge, which is one of the world's largest technology news websites. She then asked me to make an illustration for them to accompany an article about how people store files on their computers nowadays. That was a great challenge, because it's a major platform, and I wasn't sure if my visual language was suitable for this topic. I was used to incorporating many natural elements like flowers and plants in my work. But it turned out well, and the editorial board really liked my illustration, so I quickly received a much larger commission afterwards.
This was the biggest commission I have gotten so far: I had to make 25 illustrations that could be combined into one large image. The deadline was super tight, and I worked 13-hour days sometimes. But it was definitely worth it, and I'm very happy with the final result. It's amazing to realise that it all started with that one e-mail. This commission was huge for my career, because I'm getting more jobs from the United States now. I was also recently approached by an agency named Pekka. It's quite an honour that they want to work with me. I feel like this could be another major step forward, so I'm very excited to learn what might come out of that!

The Verge, Micha Huigen

Learn from your colleagues

It's honestly not that long ago that I graduated, about three-and-a-half years. But I always did my best
to keep developing my visual language and build a strong portfolio. I took the illustrators I admired as an example and tried to figure out what they do, both as artists and as entrepreneurs, that I could still incorporate in my own work. I don't mean that I copied their style, of course, but I tried to learn from the knowledge they had gained. It's also been good to take risks sometimes. It was quite scary to leave my part-time job after three years and live exclusively off my creative work. But it was clearly the right move for me.

Take your work seriously

By now, I've learned that growth is not a linear development. There are always peaks and valleys. You can cross those valleys, too, even if the creator's block sometimes seems never-ending. You can have epiphanies in the most unexpected moments. What is important is to take your work seriously. For example, if you are asked to make an illustration but the budget is very small, which is quite common certainly early in your career, you need to ask yourself a few things. For example, will this work contribute to my portfolio? If the commission doesn't fit with your ambitions and you're not getting paid well for it either, you need to ask yourself if it's worth doing. Are there a lot of people who will see this work? Is it good promotion material? Does the client have a lot of connections and might better commissions come out of it in the future? Or do they have a ton of followers on Instagram, for example? Every commission can lead to potential future work. But be well-aware that making art is your job, and that your work is worth money. There may be a lot of people who think of art as a hobby, but it's much more than that.

Micha Huigen

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