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In Pursuit of Passion: Musketon

By Leslie Anne Peterson

If brands crave one thing above all others, it’s the affections of millennial consumers. So creatives the world over—when they’re working for these brands—spend a lot of time figuring out how to attract this golden demographic of teenagers and young adults. And who better for the task than a millennial himself? 

With his bold, distinctive illustration style, Belgian artist Bert Dries, better known as Musketon, speaks to his generation. This influence gives Bert the freedom he craves in his career and draws interest from major brands that want to collaborate with him. Curious about this brand work in particular, I was able to find time to speak to Bert as he relaxed on a sun-soaked beach in Los Angeles. Clearly, the only worry he had at the moment was his tan not being perfect in time for Coachella.

But while this might not look like working hard to find clients, looks can be deceiving. Bert is simply reaping the benefits of all the labor he has put in behind the scenes.

“In the long run, it always comes down to working really, really hard,” he says. “I do post pictures of me enjoying myself for the fans, like at the beach, but I’m always working hard in the background.” 

A typographic illustration of the letter M, by Musketon, aka Bert Dries
An illustration of a car, by Musketon, aka Bert Dries
An illustration of clasping hands, titled

Musketon has become well known for his bold illustration style (the center image is a self-portrait).

CREATING HIS OWN OPPORTUNITIES

Bert’s work ethic is fueled by a desire for complete control over his career, and a desire to pursue only the kind of work he has a passion for. And in the earliest years of his career, he was faced with a difficult decision: “When I finished school, I applied for work at some agencies,” he explains. “They told me I had great talent, but if I wanted to work for them, I’d have to give up my dream of being self-employed.”

This ultimatum was exactly the push Bert needed toward venturing out on his own. The life of a self-employed artist is one that requires discipline, diligence, and creating structure where none is built-in—traits Bert claims he didn’t have at first.

“I’m probably the least-structured guy you could imagine,” he laughs, “but you have to realize you’re running a business, and you need to have structure if you want to be successful.”

An illustration of Darth Vader's skull, by Musketon, aka Bert Dries
An illustration representing Marilyn Monroe's skull, by Musketon, aka Bert Dries
An illustration representing Walter White's skull, by Musketon, aka Bert Dries

Skulls are a common theme in Musketon’s work. These three illustrations are part of a larger series, Famous Skulls.

Armed with zeal, talent, and his manager, Toon, to keep him organized, Bert set out to make his virtually unknown enterprise a go-to for large brands in Belgium. His first big client, Nike, was one he had always wanted to work with, which made him fervent in pursuing their business.

“I made a portfolio based on my personal work and put Nike logos all over it,” he says. “I sent it to Nike, saying I was a big fan, and I put a lot of time and effort into proving I was committed to the brand.” 

An illustration of a shoe by Musketon, also known as Bert Dries
An illustration of an
An image of a Nike sneaker by Muskton, aka Bert Dries

In his bid to win the shoe company as a client, Musketon created Nike ”fan art.”

It would be three months before Bert heard anything from Nike, but the response he received was worth the sleepless nights of anticipation. He elatedly signed the first contract of his career, staying true to his ideal of pursuing only work he has a passion for.

It’s often said that success begets success, and once his Nike designs were released, the resulting publicity Bert received attracted even more clients, not the least of which were Mazda and MTV Belgium. But having the collective attention of his home country was not enough.

“MTV Belgium came and offered a lot of money. We told them we’d rather have only some money, and an introduction to MTV international,” he says.

A collection of stickers created for MTV by Belgian artist Musketon
a collection of stickers created for MTV by Belgian artist Musketon

Musketon created this sticker collection for MTV.  

MOVING ONTO THE WORLD STAGE

It’s obvious that Bert has learned a lot about working with brands. A drawback of being self employed is that there’s very little margin for error, and you’ll take whatever publicity you can get. In essence, choosing the right client is very important.

“I could do work for a Belgian beer brand, but it wouldn’t have the impact that working with Coca-Cola would have,” he explains. “We try to decide which brand is more valuable, and which brands we have a passion for.”

With so many voices clamoring to be heard, Bert also has to find that ideal balance between fulfilling his own creative needs and fulfilling the needs of clients.

“When you work for brands, there’s a lot of money at stake, so everything has to be timed perfectly. Otherwise, people start freaking out.” he says. “With personal work, there’s no money involved, and there are no expectations from people, so you can just do whatever you want.”

photo of a Mazda art car with a sticker wrap created by Musketon
photo of a Mazda art car with a sticker wrap created by Musketon
photo of a Mazda art car with a sticker wrap created by Musketon

Musketon created a complete car wrapper to turn this Mazda 3 into a custom art car.

THE LESSONS OF SUCCESS

Undoubtedly, Bert has experienced hardship on his journey to success, but he considers every setback a valuable lesson.

“The best thing you can get from a client is negative feedback. There’s so much you can learn from it,” he says. For Bert, every idea that doesn’t work is just one step closer to something that will. And he acknowledges mistakes he made in marketing himself in the beginning of his career.

“I sold myself as an illustrator, but that gave brands a very narrow view of what I do. Now I sell myself as an artist, which lets me express myself more freely.” This rebranding of himself as an artist gives him access to a larger variety of work—and more closely defines what he’s capable of.

Whether he’s working for a client or pursuing a personal project, Bert’s process is very much the same: “I always start by sketching with a pencil and paper. Then I bring that sketch into Adobe Illustrator CC and set it as the bottom layer. Then I just keep adding layers on top,” he explains. “There are times when I start directly in Illustrator, but it’s not the same because it feels more natural on paper.”

In-progress shot of an illustration by Musketon, commissioned by Nike.
In-progress shot of an illustration by Musketon, commissioned by Nike.
In-progress shot of an illustration by Musketon, commissioned by Nike.

Nike was the artist’s first major client.

When sketching concepts for a brand, however, he tries to be as clear as possible.“When I work for a client, I try to not be messy with my sketches. You want them to get the concept immediately.”

Digital design isn’t all our man Musketon can do. For instance, murals and wall paintings are something he hopes to do more of in the future.

“I have a digital style, but every once in a while I turn off my computer and just start sketching on paper. It brings me back to the foundations of art and gives me a new perspective.” he says. Sometimes even he has to bring it back to the basics.

With Coachella behind him, Bert’s back to work developing designs for his newest client, Coca-Cola. He draws inspiration from traveling and a return to the fundamentals he was taught in his formative years. “I’ve started appreciating classical art again,” he says. “My school was very big in teaching the old masters, like Rubens.”

Follow Musketon on Instagram to see his personal work and his work for major clients like Coca-Cola.  

In Bert’s story of success, it’s obvious that passion is a big part of the equation. But in order to do good work, you have to find opportunities. And that’s another great lesson to take from Bert’s story.

“If you don’t have any projects going on, you have to look for them yourself,” he says. “You need to create your own chances and put yourself out there. That’s the only way to get clients…. Start emailing people and showing them your work. At some point, something will happen.” 

Now take an in-depth look at Bert’s work for a global campaign celebrating Coca-Cola’s 100th birthday—read “A Cultural Icon, a Centennial Celebration, an Emerging Illustrator.” And to learn more about how Bert built his career and very impressive portfolio, check out this Adobe masterclass, featuring the award-winning artist.