Who designed the panda?.. Interview with an international stock illustration designer

Interview with Martin Fredskov. By Bjørn Smalbro - FrameMaker.dk

Anyone who has worked with graphics in one form or another knows how dependent you are on the huge amount of cheap and good stock graphics available online. There are many stock sites with Adobe Stock, Deposit Photos, Freepik and many, many more.

The relationships between them can be difficult to figure out, but one thing's for sure... there's an insane amount of awesome graphics that can be bought quite cheaply.

Martin Fredskov is based in Kalundborg, Denmark and is in his early 30s.

Martin is a seasoned graphic designer with more than 13 years of experience as a graphic designer and has been working with stock illustrations on a serious level for 4 years. From the start, he has worked exclusively in vector graphics and has made it his mission to utilize as many pixels as possible with vector graphics.

He can be hired for graphics and drawing work through his website vektorkongen.com eller Fredskov.com

I have often used stock graphics myself and the other day I was looking for a panda in vector graphics for a small article. The panda was easily found on Adobe Stock, but the more I scrolled through pandas, the more I realised that many (as in many, many) of these fine animal drawings must have been made by the same person! With a few quick searches, I realised that the man behind the thousands of vector drawings wasn't just a fellow countryman, he was also represented on a huge number of different stock sites and with huge amounts of high-quality drawings. An authentic, international stock illustration designer!

Curiosity to meet someone who contributes to the graphic world's shared libraries on such a massive scale drove me to seek him out. Martin Fredskov is his name, and his approach to stock graphics turned out to be much more interesting than I could have imagined. Therefore, I decided to do a small interview with Martin Fredskov to give others an insight into a different way of working with graphic design than most graphic designers are familiar with.

How and when did you start the project?

I first started being curious about stock graphics in 2016 when I was selling on the Danish ColourBox. It was a small, ugly portfolio of about 40-45 illustrations of a quality I wouldn't want to sell today.

It was far too few illustrations for a portfolio with organic earnings, and I only sold 7 downloads over the 1.5-2 years I had my user account there - some of which were to people I knew.

I closed the account in 2018 and in December 2019 I decided to draw some daily drawings in the "flat" style I draw most of my stuff in for Vektorkongen.com. I made some topic lists in December, January (2020) and February that I followed and drew. It became the start of a collection of illustrations for sale as stock graphics, and several of the items from the lists have ended up as stock graphics in my portfolio.

You've done graphic work on a scale that makes your stock graphics a "project", but was it a project from the beginning?

The aforementioned topic lists were a project in themselves, but more dedicated work on a limited set of topics was something I ended up doing over time because it was the animal illustrations that sold, and because they were the ones I enjoyed drawing the most.

And which project exactly? Was it "I want to try to sell some stock graphics" or was it "I want to build a portfolio of "passive income" and I can figure out how to make vector graphics"?

It started as a fun project, daily training. However, it quickly turned into "Let's give stock graphics a more serious effort".

Passive income... I'm under the impression that's the goal of your tremendous work?

It's the ultimate goal, but really it's just as much a hobby.

I only do it when I enjoy it or have nothing better to do. I could easily produce more in a day than I already do, but I would simply burn out on it - especially the administrative work.

Can you tell us a bit about how passive income works when working with stock graphics?

It's really quite simple - you upload it to one or more platforms. Once they've approved your artwork, it's available for licensing through the various sites at whatever terms they set (and you've agreed to in an online contract).

When they sell a license, you get royalties saved up on those sites, and once you've saved up a minimum amount, you have the option to get the money paid out - typically this requires a PayPal user, but it's also available for other providers on some sites.

The royalties of each sale varies from site to site, and on your sales volume. Typically 20-40% as a non-exclusive seller, and if you sell your stuff exclusively on a site where you have the opportunity to do so, this is of course higher. I personally don't sell things exclusively on one page, and wouldn't dream of it - if only Adobe opened up the possibility.

AdobeStock also gives you a free one-year subscription to an optional single app from CreativeCloud when you sell enough. I'm not sure what the outcome is, but I got it in my 4th year at Adobe Stock.

Now that AI is a thing, new sellers should also be aware that not all sites allow AI-generated content. As of writing this, AdobeStock is the only site that allows it - with a few caveats. Both ShutterStock and AdobeStock sell licenses for your content to be used as part of aggregated datasets, for their own AI apps and for others to buy. You can opt-in and out of this through your settings."

What is "passive income"?

The concept of "passive income" is basically about having a source of income where you don't "trade hours for money". Youtube videos are a classic example. If you're good at making small videos about DIY tricks and become popular, these videos can bring in far more money than the hours spent making them. Passive income can also be a blog with advertisements, Instagram or, more old-fashioned, stocks. There are definitely degrees of complexity in the concept of passive income, with one end finding intricate ways to "game the algorithm" and get content to "trend" and the other end finding simple setups such as stock graphics, templates, etc.

 

How many platforms are you on?

AdobeStock, ShutterStock, Dreamstime, and VectorStock. I've also tried BigStock, PantherMedia and Pond5, but they were discarded relatively quickly due to lack of sales and a slow platform that made the administrative work worse than it already is. Pond5 also seems to be more focused on video clips than illustrations, so maybe the target audience just wasn't there.

I've also recently started uploading my illustrations on RedBubble as merchandise and am always looking for more platforms and monetization opportunities.

How do you deal with copyrights as an individual?

In terms of unlicensed use of my illustrations, it's not something I check up on - I simply have better things to do. I've done some basic protection on my portfolio [vektorkongen.com] in the form of watermarks on illustrations, and saved previews in a size that can't be used for much commercial use, but that's about it.

When I as an illustrator avoid violating copyright and trademarks, I do so by avoiding subjects such as buildings and people altogether. These subjects were part of my original ideas, but after some research I realized that it was a bit of a minefield in terms of Copyright and Trademark.

Can you tell us a bit more about how you keep track of such a huge amount of graphics in practice?

I have a spreadsheet with a row for each product with a title, ID, total downloads, total earnings, and total earnings from each individual page it's online on - with color coded status information. Also, a status of whether it is online on my portfolio and if it requires corrections.

The spreadsheet also includes a log to double-check data and a few monthly statistics with graphs going back to January 2020. With passive earnings, as well as special orders, so it doesn't mess up the data for the passive earnings.

In addition to my vectors, there are also a number of other products, including posters in a children's universe I once created called Story of Yookster. They will probably be on Vektorkongen at some point now that I've started to reorganize the site into a shop, but for now it's only on my private portfolio.

Tools of the trade... It seems to me that you use Adobe Illustrator for most of your work. Could there be issues with the age and version number of Illustrator drawings, which is a native format?

I use Adobe Illustrator for almost all of my work as a freelance graphic designer and use it for 100% of my work when creating stock graphics.

To avoid the problems you describe, the different sales platforms have some requirements for files.

I upload my own files as EPS files, saved as the Illustrator CS version of the format. This makes them about 20 years backwards compatible, in addition to working across programs. My canvas size is always set to 3800x4000 pixels, as the different platforms also require this to hit a certain size.

Do you have any knowledge of where and how your graphics are used?

I have very little idea how they are used - once upon a time someone from Spain contacted me to make a series of animals I needed in my gallery. He needed it for a pest control webshop - icons for different categories.

I've also had a university student who needed a male and female of a bird I had already drawn for his assignment. Since he wasn't sponsored, I donated the licenses for his work.

In addition to the animals, I've also made a number of custom icons that have been used for chats (chat memes), websites and apps, which are also sold licenses for online.

Do you know anything about which countries buy graphics

Only ShutterStock and RedBubble (Merchandise) give info on where things are sold to in the world, but from ShutterStock I know it's sold all over the world. I've seen map pins in pretty much every country except for a handful in Africa and maybe some of the small island nations around.

Do you have any idea how many colleagues you have?

Absolutely no idea. But there are several people on YouTube who share data and probably also a few blogs I don't know about. I myself shared data for a year in my blog on Vektorkongen, but stopped it again as I didn't feel the blog was written in a very interesting way. Who knows, I might do it again at some point.

Do you know if there is a "gamification" of search results for both end users and uploaders on the stock sites you use? It has been my impression that this is the case on Redbubble. That there is a relationship between visibility, portfolio size, sales, etc. that to some extent "gamifies" the uploaders in a certain direction.

I think there is in any place where money is involved. ShutterStock and to some extent AdobeStock do not allow content that is too similar. For example, if you make a design that appears in many different colors, ShutterStock will reject it 99% of the time, and AdobeStock will also reject it from time to time.

All other sites don't actively do anything about it.

For me, this is a bit of a problem with ShutterStock, as some animal species are really "just" in my simplified style a copy of the other animals, with different colors. In those cases, I make sure to get them online on Dreamstime and VectorStock, so they are at least available in at least a couple of places.

Some illustrations are such small corrections that even I'm not sure if it's worth uploading. For example, on the common kingfisher, only a small red spot on the lower beak is different from male to female, and some bird species, only the color of the eye is different - of course, I made them anyway, and they are also on Vector King, in case I put them up for licensing.

In relation to search engines, I've also toyed with the idea of making duplicate lookups on my site (with the same ID on the file), with e.g. subspecies, or other species that can be searched for. subspecies, or other species that in my simple style are identical to animals/plants I have already drawn. However, this is not something I've started yet, as I'm afraid that with "only" 700 animal drawings, it would lower the quality of the site's gallery. That's holding me back a bit.

I sense from the range of subjects that you have a great love of nature. You have an amazing insight and precision in your drawings, and I am especially impressed by the precision in the description of species. It's never just "a fish", "a big fish" or a "really dangerous fish" - it's always a fish with the correct name and Latin designation. It shows a slightly deeper engagement with nature. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Nature, and especially animals, has always been one of my interests.

In my early teenage years I made my own animal encyclopedias that I printed out, with information and pictures I found in books and around the internet. I did it in Microsoft Publisher back then, and typically re-did things over and over again as I got better at layout.

I've considered, on several occasions, doing it again. It would be online on a blog with my own illustrations, but have also come to the conclusion that the information would probably not be much more than what you find on Wikipedia written about, and would really rather just draw more drawings and put them in a system and on the many sites I already have my stuff online on.

Some useful links:

Portfoliohttps://vektorkongen.com

Yooksterhttps://fredskov.com/yookster


Here you can find Martins portfolios:

Licenses:

Merch: