Bodil Jane | Illustrator
Raised in an artistic family (her parents are both freelance artists), it doesn't come as a great surprise that Amsterdam-based illustrator
choose this path for herself. Yet with a passion for her craft and an unrivalled entrepreneurial spirit, Bodil Jane has successfully paved
her own way since graduating from the Willem de Kooning Academy two years ago. Vibrant, energetic and full of life, her illustrations can be considered a reflection of her personality,
and we can't wait to see what she takes on next. We caught up with Bodil Jane in the comfort of her studio space off the Amstel River and discussed success and finding a balance
between work and personal life. -
Text and photos by Margot van der Krogt
Tell us about yourself.
I was born in Amsterdam but grew up in Haarlem. I was raised in a very creative family. Growing up, I was also making things. When we went on vacation I always brought along scrapbooks, diaries and drawing books. My parents are both freelance artists – my dad works mainly in advertising creating storyboards while my mom is more a decorative illustrator and paints ceramics. They both had an atelier space at home, and every week we had a drawing and craft afternoon with my neighbors. When I was younger, I knew that I was going work in the creative field. When I finished high school I studied illustration at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam. It was there that I learned what an illustrator in the technical sense of the word really meant. And I did an Erasmus Exchange program in Copenhagen before finishing up my studies with the graduation project ‘ (Re)Discover the small food shops in Amsterdam West ’.
I’ve heard so much about your graduation project – what inspired it?
A huge Albert Heijn grocery store was about to open on the Jan Evertsenstraat in the Baarsjes, right around the corner from my house. I thought it was terrible – there were many great small shops in the area, like the Turkish bakery, the deli Sterk in Eten, Hong Kong Superstore and Caribbean Asian Market, and with the next Albert Heijn at about a 10-minute walk from there, you were more likely to pop into one these curious small shops. I was afraid that with the new Albert Heijn just around the corner, people in my neighborhood would forget about them. So I created a small city guide of the area and encouraged my neighbors to support the local shopkeepers. I created portraits of the owners, drew a few of my favorite products, and created in-depth profiles of five of the shops in the neighborhood. I was so passionate about the project and actually got to know some of the shopkeepers quite well.
What happened next?
Well before I graduated, I already had quite a few things going – I was already in contact with VPRO Dorst and they asked me to illustrate a spread for them. Amsterdam-based agency PUP approached me and asked if I wanted to be a part of their platform. I also completed internships before graduating, one was at a design shop where I learned (among many other things!) to create large window displays and products with illustrations on them, and the clothing brand King Louie of the shop Exota (on the Hartenstraat). And in the time I had left I started doing freelance work. It helped that I had a really great supervisor, Merijn Hos - he’s a great illustrator and a great inspiration. I remember being asked to do an illustration for Jamie Oliver Magazine and talking through it with him, which was so helpful. So when I finally graduated, the freelance part just kind of took off!
So when you graduated you knew you wanted to be a freelance illustrator?
At the academy I remember them telling us, “You’re going to have an incredibly hard time finding work and making a living off being an illustrator.” But I thought to myself, “Wait a second. You can do this for a living. I’ve seen it first hand, my parents are both successful freelance illustrators.” I decided I would give it a shot for myself, and I had given myself half a year. If it didn’t work out, I would get a job on the side at a restaurant or a café. Right out of school I rented a studio space at Cinetol on the Tolstraat (now I have a studio space on the Weesperzijde), and I joined the agency Shop Around . Through them, I was able to get some serious jobs, like creating packaging for the grocery store Jumbo. When you’re a recent graduate and you’re offered a good sum of money and you know you can make it through the month… It was such a great start.
Did growing up with freelance parents help you on your way?
I guess you could say that I’ve always had a pretty good idea of what it would be like to be a freelancer. Thanks to my parents, I learned that you really have to ‘sell’ yourself and your work. I remember being with my mom when she was talking to potential clients and hearing her talk about her own work saying, “Isn’t this piece just incredible!” and my sister and I thinking, “Mom, you’re bragging!” But now I get it, that’s how it works. So yes, I think it definitely helped.
And how are things going for you, a year and a half later?
It’s going very well. Right before graduation we had to present where we thought we’d be in five or ten years. And to be honest, after working freelance for six months I had already checked so many things off those two lists. For example, I wanted to work for the Volkskrant Magazine at some point and I just recently did a long-term project with them. I wanted to make a print for a clothing item, and I had the opportunity to do that for Love Stories . I created packaging for the shop ANNA+NINA . I won an award for the illustrations I made for the first edition of Amsterdam &Co magazine . I wanted to work with an agent, and I found an agent. I wanted to work at a studio, and I found a studio… It’s kind of crazy.
Have you also experienced more difficult moments?
In the beginning, I had a hard time wrapping by head around the fact that I was in this by myself. Of course, my parents were there to coach me along the way, but it was my work, and I had to do it. People around me were saying, “Oh Bodil, look how easy things are going for you, everything’s just coming your way!” And I had to say, “It’s not just coming my way, I’m working my butt off!” There have been times that I’ve been called out of bed early in the morning by my agent telling me that I’ve misunderstood the brief and that the client needed the final illustrations by 9am. And at that moment thinking, “But wait! I’m only 22, I can’t do that!” It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. I also went through a period of time that I was a little burnt out. When I just started out I was terrified of making mistakes and I didn’t want to say no to anything that had come up. And I doubted myself with every project I was doing, wondering if I could really deliver what they wanted. I went through a two-week stint that I didn’t have any work and I remember thinking, “Yep, this is it. It’s over.” (Laughs).
What do you think has been the key to your success so far?
I honestly don’t think it’s just my work. Being a successful freelancer is also about being a good communicator and really getting to know the industry, if you know what I mean. I respond to emails immediately. I always meet my deadlines. It’s such an important part of working with clients; they have to know that they can trust you.
So true! Ok, let’s take a look at your work. How would you describe your style?
All my work is done by hand. I’ve always used watercolors, it’s something I’ve done since I was a kid, and I’ve gotten to the point that I’ve perfected the technique. I used to be quite messy; ink drips and it’s hard to perfect it. I liked that my work little blobs and ink drops here and there, people thought it was charming. Now that I’ve mastered the technique, those mistakes don’t happen anymore, so I have to manually bring them back... It’s funny how that works. But I guess you could say my style is quite girly and playful. And colorful! I draw quite close to reality, so I might see a nice interior in a magazine and draw elements from that. I mostly work with lifestyle themes, so food, fashion and interior design, and I work primarily for magazines. I’m currently looking into branching out with animations or more product work.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Most of the work I do is on commission, so I receive mood boards from clients and use that as inspiration to create the illustration. For my own work (which I don’t have much time for right now) I find inspiration at flea markets I’m quite the collector, I collect packages, fruit stickers, books with botanical drawings and antique scientific illustrations, rare objects/curiosities like porcelain doll heads or silver boxes in the shape of an apple... All kinds of things. I also love beautiful packaging. And I’m drawn to abstract paintings, especially to the bright colors. But I guess I’m usually not very free to find inspiration from other places when I'm working for a client. That’s what makes it a job; there's a beginning and an end and that’s it. When it’s your own work, it’s easier to get caught up in it.
Would you want to do more of your own work?
I really like creating products, but I don't really enjoy selling it. And it takes so much time. And I’m quite concerned about sustainability right now and often think, who’s waiting for me to make a tote bag, there are so many of them already; it’s kind of like producing just to produce. I would love to spend two days a week creating my own work but when I have worked on paid jobs for five days straight, I can’t wait to just take a break and enjoy the weekend.
How do you combine work/life? Is it hard to find a balance?
After graduation, I went through quite a tough time. I had been in a relationship for five years and it had just ended; I was heartbroken. As a response, I decided to devote all my time to work. All I did was work, all the time. I did little else. Now that I have a new relationship (I’m completely smitten!), I realize that this desire to work all the time is less. It goes in phases really. But I actually work from 9 to 5 most of the time; I guess you could say that I’m quite a civil freelancer (laughs).
How do you see the future?
I’m trying to focus on keeping things going the way they are right now. Of course I have dreams – like working for Hermes some day, I love the work they do with illustrators, the beautiful prints, and the window displays. But for now, I want things to stay as they are.
Thanks Bodil Jane for this interview! Check out her work on her website , and be sure to follow along on Facebook , Instagram and Pinterest .