Colored pencil drawing of an ant holding up a stop sign made from a bottle cap. The main text reads: "Happy Anniversary, Creative Imposter". The second text reads: "A look back, a look forward. 20 years as a freelance illustrator".

Looking back, Moving Forward: 20 years as a Freelance Illustrator with Imposter Syndrome

Author: Kimberley Hoffman
Est. Reading Time: About. 7 Minutes

Confessions Of A Creative Fraud

I must admit, I am really divided on celebrating this milestone anniversary. On the one hand, 20 years? Can it really be 20 years already? Can I truly celebrate my 20th anniversary of being an independent illustrator when I often felt like an imposter? 

I struggled for so long.

How many book trade fairs did I visit? How many »Illustrator Portfolio Hour« lines did I stand in only to hear that I didn’t fit into their, the publisher’s, program?  

Starting a Business With A Young Family in Tow

When I set up shop in 2004, I was raising a young family. My son was just three years old. I might have waited a little longer, but the government was supporting entrepreneurs and start-ups at the time. I h a d to start sometime. The feeling of finding time for all things business, with finding time for all things family, was overwhelming. It wasn’t an easy task. 

The German Department of Revenue

Working in illustration, as an independent illustrator, isn’t like opening up any other kind of business. The government (and financial logic) says you need to turn a substantial profit within three years of opening.

They accused me of writing off my hobby. But you don’t graduate from Parsons School of Design just for fun.

As I explained once to the federal tax department: it is a process. I don’t have a physical store somewhere in the middle of town where people can come into and just buy things. I needed to build a better network.

I Needed A Network

My Imposter Syndrom Makes Itself at Home

Back then, I didn’t know many other illustrators. I joined the Illustratoren Organisation e.V., desperate to find colleagues in Germany. I laugh now, because I’d sent of my application and promise to pay for the membership without giving a thought to whether this was a scam or not. Were they imposters? No. But looking at the portfolios on the IO website made ME feel like one. 

Finally Clients! Finally Commissions!

Not getting enough illustration jobs made me feel like an imposter. One of my first clients was ClicClac, a local family magazine. I dare say that the drawings I did for them cost me more to create than I earned. They were colored pencil drawings. 

Another job came along for a local lantern festival. I drew a sympathy figure, a lion and created a program broschure. 

Illustration - oil pastel and colored pencil, motif: many animals march bravely through the forest to find the source of the Amazon. The caption reads: Soft colors, Courageous figures "How the Amazon was created" from "Around the world in a cooking pot" Bobo-Verlag ISBN: 978-3-981448-0-3 Edition 2011
oft colors, Courageous figures—How the Amazon was formed.

Hang in There, Don’t Give Up

Often enough, I was on the verge of giving up and applying to work at something, anything, probably at a place I wouldn’t enjoy. And every time that point came, a small job came in. One that whispered, don’t give up. You could liken these small jobs to bubbles of air in water when you are falling to the bottom of the ocean. I inhaled them in deeply and held my breath until other bubbles came along. 

One of those little bubbles turned out to be one that inflated my illustrator lungs. It came in through XING, back in the day when XING was a great community to connect with and not the job  search portal it is today. Monika Huelsken-Stobbe was looking for illustrators for a cookbook to raise money for a project benefitting children with migratory backgrounds. Children like my own, I reasoned — children whose parent or parents came from another country. The NGO »Cookita« and the book »Cookita — im Kochtopf um die Welt« (Around the World in a Cooking Pot) was born. 

Maybe, if you put something good into this world, without expectations of repayment, it comes back to you in other ways. 

And it did. 

Cookita and the »House of History«

That project with Cookita led to giving a lecture at »Haus der Geschichte« in Bonn. When Monika Huelsken-Stobbe asked me if I would join her in giving the lecture, I had never heard of the place. I figured it would be a place similar to the local adult education programs in my area. It was only when people’s jaws started dropping after hearing me mentioning the place, that I realized what a jewel the place was. It was really such an honor. And at the same time, made me feel even more like a fraud. 

Front and back of the coloring and drawing book "LineLino - On the farm.
Innovative learning to draw and paint in one!

The German Design Awards 2016

The book we produced began to open doors. The publisher, Bobo-Verlag, asked me to create a special activity book, »LineLino — Auf dem Bauernhof« (On the Farm with LineLino). This activity book was nominated for the 2016 German Design Awards. 

Does that mean that the imposter syndrome left me?

Not exactly. The feeling of being an imposter never really goes away. But you can ease it up if you change your perspective. 

As an illustrator, I literally understand perspective. 

It’s All A Matter Of Perspective

It was at another Frankfurt Book Fair. I stood gazing at some books in a booth which prompted one of the publisher’s employees to inquire if they could help me. I smiled as my thoughts spilled unfiltered into words: »Well, I was just looking to see if your books fit my style.«.Apparently, judging from the expression on her face, she had never looked at an illustrator out of that perspective and invited me into the booth to view my portfolio. 

For me it was an »aha« moment that changed my focus and how I began to look at my own illustrations. 

Illustration of a rat for the Chinese Year of the Rat in oil pastel and colored pencil. The caption reads: I thank all those who have accompanied me in my creative development. 20 years. I am blessed to have you by my side.
Thank you for being part of this wonderful creative journey.

Looking Back at 20 Years

Throughout these twenty years, I have met wonderful people who have made this journey from Imposter to Creator worth every second of the way.

Happy 20th Anniversary to all who have been part of my creative journey. I am blessed to have you at my side. 

Part 2: Silberburg wimmelt