Milou | From barista to illustration artist
By Eleni Meraki
From an early age my parents realised I was not cut out for school. As a child I was always collecting pictures, making my own artworks. I finished high school but going to uni was not right for my personality. I‘ve had every job you can imagine; from selling Indian pants to barista. It was only through the encouragement of friends, family and lucky coincidence that I found my dream career.
5 THINGS ABOUT
NEVER FINISHED ART SCHOOL | COFFEE LOVER | SELF-TAUGHT PROFESSIONAL | INTUITION OVER RATIONAL | DOG LOVER
LEAP OF FAITH
One Christmas I was exceptionally broke so I decided to make personalised paintings as Christmas presents for my friends and family. They were a hit and I started drawing and painting more and more. One day a gallery owner walked into the cafe where I was working at the time and where some of my work was hanging. A couple of weeks later was my first exhibition at a club in Amsterdam. Then on my 25th birthday, Elle magazine called - they wanted to use one of my paintings for an article. That’s how it all started. Just by getting myself out there.
MILOU NEELEN - WHATEVER MEETS THE EYE
I started my own company, where I work as an independent print artist and illustrator. I work with different clients on lots of different types of projects from fashion magazines (ELLE), to wall paintings in stores, logo's (Milou created ours!) to patterns and the list goes on... The variation is what I love and keeps my work fresh.
After a few expositions of my work, I created an online portfolio. An agent came across my work and asked me if I was interested in a full-time job at a fashion brand. Working for a commercial company was a great learning experience to develop my skills and confidence and then make the step into freelancing.
THE TOUGH TIMES
Planning. Work and life merge very quickly. At one point I was working 24/7. You have to make conscious decisions about your work hours.
The art of saying "no". When you start working for yourself you want to get as much work in as possible. Some of the work I was doing was not creatively stimulating but just got me money to live. It's tough to say no when you have no financial stability, but you have to do work that represents the kind of professional you want to become.
Finances. Have some savings hidden away, it's is a good way to feel more secure while navigating the freelance ocean. And having an accountant! Very important and absolutely worth the money.
True to the 'starving artist' cliche, I started with nothing. In fact, I had just enough money to pay my rent at the end of the month. When I made the decision to start freelancing full-time and quit my job, I had saved 3 months of rent as a buffer.
I got an accountant early on, that really helped me sort out my administration. There are lots of tools out there to help you as a freelancer, like an online test to estimate your hourly rate based on the number of clients and the hours you wanted to work. That was really helpful.
My goal is always to have enough in savings to last me 3 months without any money coming in.
5 INSIDER TIPS
Follow your instinct. Don’t over-rationalise important decisions.
Only advertise or share the work you want to do again.
Freelancing can be lonely; working in a studio with other creative/freelancers is a good option and worth the investment.
Working for a big commercial company is a fantastic learning experience before going solo.
Make solid agreements with clients (planning, revision rounds etc.) and stick to them.
Written by Eleni Meraki
Eleni is the founder of Guts & Tales. She is a hypnotherapist, mind-trainer, coach and creator of the women’s coaching program Be Your Own Muse. She helps women become clear, confident and courageous to be and live true to themselves.