Maya Stepien: Going Dutch

Amsterdam-based ADC Member "never gets bored" with her career in illustration

ADC’s Illustration Month — along with the month itself — is drawing to a close, but not without us showcasing a few more ADC Members who happen to make a living from their drawing talents! This has been a fabulous theme, and we hope you have been as wowed by work (and the people behind the work) as we have been.

Our next Illustration Month feature comes to us from Amsterdam, with a skilled freelancer who is passionate about bringing visual communication and humor together.


adc_mayastepienMAYA STEPIEN
Amsterdam, The Netherlands



Just about every kid can draw, but not every kid is particularly gifted at it. Where did your childhood artistic inclinations come from?

I grew up in an artistic family. I loved to draw from an early age, and the studio of my parents was my playground. Everybody around me was creative. As a child that was the only career I really knew. My family would show me their support but I had to work hard and sometimes face criticism.

When did you discover that “Hey, this could actually be a career”?

It came so naturally. I studied graphic design and at first I thought I would continue to work in this field. I always loved illustration but I considered it as a side job. Luckily, shortly after my graduation I was commissioned with my first big project, and even though the first year was rather challenging I decided to take the risk and pursue illustration as a career. I enjoyed it too much to just give it up.

“…I decided to take the risk and pursue illustration as a career. I enjoyed it too much to just give it up.”

How would you describe your illustrative style? Do you fight against having a particular style, or do you embrace your style as your “brand”?

I tend to work in two styles. The first one is very graphic. I love bold colours, textures and geometry inspired shapes.
The other one is more minimal, hand-drawn with strong colour accents. I am trying to merge them a bit. While it is great to have a recognisable style, it’s also important to have room for development and improvement.

Walk us through your usual creative process.

• Brief from a client/art director
• Sketches
• Digital Process
• Small changes and alterations

Sometimes when a project has to be more aesthetically pleasing than conceptual I might skip sketching and directly move on to Illustrator and create up to three versions for the client to choose.

Tools of the trade: do you have any specific pens, pencils or other instruments that you swear by?

For sketching I usually use the Koh-I-Noor Triograph pencil. It’s super thick and chunky. It allows me to get ideas out of my head fast and without worrying about all the small details. It gives a certain ease to the shapes. Besides that I cannot live without my Wacom tablet and Adobe CC.

What is the most challenging thing about a career in illustration?

Defining the line between your work and a private life. If you love your job you might end up working more weekends than you should.

“If you love your job you might end up working more weekends than you should.”

Is there a particular project of yours of which you’re especially proud?

I really enjoyed working on “Greek Tragedy 2015”. It is a self-initiated project that was really fun to do and I always wanted to make some political but witty illustrations.

Cocktail party talk: how do you describe what you do to someone who isn’t in a creative field, and what’s the typical response you get from them?

I make images for editorial and commercial use like magazines, apps, brands, packaging, ads and so on. Most people know what an illustrator does, but they are not aware it’s far beyond children’s books.

Where do you seek out creative inspiration?

I just look around!

Which professional illustrators do you look up to?

As a child I was obsessed with Jean-Jacques Sempé and I still admire his sense of humour and eye for every day situations. I like the work of Jean Jullien for similar reasons.

At the end of the day, what do you love most about being an illustrator?

It never gets boring! Every project is different, and you never know what’s around the corner.

Illustration Month continues throughout January and February, and is open exclusively to ADC Members. Not yet a Member? Join today!