How 99designer Niva van de Geer went from lawyer to full-time illustrator

Allison S. Gremillion

To celebrate the launch of our Dutch-language site (and our fun community contest for the new King of the Netherlands), we’d like to share the success of Dutch-designer Niva van de Geer (aka N24). Niva went from working full-time as a lawyer in the Netherlands, to traveling México with his girlfriend, MacBook Pro and 99designs.

He graduated with a Master’s degree in International and European Law, all the while continuing to follow his passion for drawing. After deciding to quit his job at the law firm, he packed up for México and devoted himself to illustrating and designing full-time.

Niva wanted to share how the flexibility of 99designs has allowed him to build clientele and make money while traveling, and how other designers can do the same.

EkBalam

Name: Niva van de Geer
Location: Netherlands
99designs handle: N24

How has 99designs changed your career?

I knew about 99designs from the research I did when I first started thinking about pursuing a creative career. When we arrived in México, I entered my first contest. At the time, it seemed like a good way to get some experience working in design and illustration, but I never expected it to turn out the way it did. I ended up winning the first contest I entered and getting more out of the experience these past months than I ever imagined.

As I get more into 99designs, I’m surprised by the ease of use and the personal contact with the clients. I now travel everywhere with my MacBook Pro and Wacom tablet, and it’s great to be able to work on contests and communicate with contest holders wherever I happen to be.

N3

What would you say to designers who want to travel?

If other designers are planning to travel for extended periods of time, I would definitely recommend they bring their computers to work on contests. I essentially travel to be able to design full-time myself, and I use the prize money to continue traveling. Even if you are just traveling for fun, it’s always nice to keep working and perhaps even win some contests — then you are able to extend your travels by a couple of days or weeks.

N1

With your background being in law, how have you been able to grow in design?

The continuous flow and wide variety of contests are great for any designer, but that goes double for someone with my background and level of experience (or lack thereof), the moment I started entering contests I had:

  1. The opportunity to work directly with real clients and build lasting client-relationships.
  2. The opportunity to learn a wide range of skills and styles and build a diverse portfolio.
  3. The opportunity to work alongside and learn from all of the other designers that are active on the platform.

I came to 99designs primarily to learn and I have been learning with every new contest I entered.

Niva1

What types of client-relationships have you built?

I tend to communicate with clients quite a lot over the course of a contest, and I have kept in touch with most of them.

A great example of a contest that turned into a lasting client-relationship was an illustration contest for Kentucky Monthly magazine. They ended up choosing my fairly unconventional illustration for their October issue and mailed me a copy after it came out. I sent a picture of me with the magazine in the Maya village of Ek Balam where we were working at the time. They ended up putting it in the February issue of the magazine as one of the first entries in their new Mag on the Move section. We have kept in contact since and are talking about working together again in the near future.

There are several other projects I am working on, with clients who I’ve gotten to know, whether I ended up winning their contest or not. Currently, I am working on a project with a client who got referred by one of the contest holders I worked with before.

Niva4

What are 3 important things designers can do to have success on 99designs?

  1. Take your time. Read the brief carefully, try to understand what the client is looking for and start by doing research and making multiple sketches before settling on a design.
  2. Be original. Try to look at the contest from different angles and come up with a unique design solution. You obviously do not want to copy what other designers have already done and presenting a contest holder with a wide range of options early on can definitely be beneficial to the overall quality of the contest.
  3. Challenge yourself. Look for contests that are outside your comfort zone in order to learn new skills and styles, not only from working on your own entries, but also from the work of the other participating designers.
n24

Where are you located currently? Where do you think you’ll be in the near future?

We started out in Mérida, the capital of Yucatán, and are currently living in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas. I am working as a full-time freelancer, and have started learning animation on the side. I’m continuing to use 99designs to improve my skills as a designer and illustrator.

We’ll probably return to The Netherlands in the next couple of months. Working full-time as a designer and illustrator here in México has been great, and I would like to continue building my portfolio in The Netherlands working for Dutch and international clients, both online and off.

Want more? Check out Niva’s design portfolio here.

The author

Allison S. Gremillion
Allison S. Gremillion

Based in San Francisco, Allison (Alli) Stuart works as Head of Community Marketing at 99designs. When she's not writing articles and communicating with designers, she is working on her Children's Book. She also enjoys extreme sports, like sky diving and traveling to new places. Alli has a Fine Arts Degree with a concentration in Graphic Design from Louisiana State University, her home. Geaux Tigers!

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