People: Interview with freelancer Emily Coxhead

People: Interview with freelancer Emily Coxhead

Name: Emily Coxhead

Creative Medium: Illustration, photography and graphic design

Twitter: @EmilyCoxhead Site:

Emily, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

I'm 22, a freelance creative (although I don't particularly like that word, because everyone's a 'creative' these days right? But it's the only thing that really covers all the different parts of what I do) mostly focusing on Graphic Design, Illustration and Photography. I graduated in BA (Hons) Graphic Design in 2014 from Manchester School of Art. I think I knew in my final year of uni that I wanted to give it a go on my own first rather than getting a job in a studio or something. Throughout my time at university I worked hard on networking, building contacts, my portfolio (both design and photography) and gaining as much experience as I could outside of my course, which I hoped would benefit me as I left uni. 

What’s your day to day life like as a freelancer?

Every single day is different, I can pretty much guarantee that. 
Some days I'll be working on 6 totally different jobs at a time, a logo for a band, a promotional design for the children's book I illustrated, packing 'happy boxes', merchandise for a singer, editing gig photos, writing lovely letters to strangers etc etc. Other days I'll (have to) spend catching up on emails and (trying to) keep my books up to date. Every now and then I'll spend the day at the printers, getting my greeting cards and other bits printed and cut… and some days I'll bake cookies or something, because… why the hell not?!

Photo: Emily's office

Can you give any tips for any creatives out there who are thinking of becoming a freelancer?

I get quite a few people emailing and asking me this question, and it's difficult to answer because A) I'm still new to this myself, and trying to figure the whole thing out. B) It's about YOU as an individual having the initiative to think "you know what, this is what I want to do and I'm going to make it happen" - That sounds a lot easier said than done though, and it is trust me! A lot of people are under the misconception that being a freelance is an easier way out and it's funny because when I tell people I am self employed or work for myself or whatever you want to call it, I find myself defending it as if working hard at something you enjoy and actually like doing is something to feel guilty about.
Being a freelancer doesn't just happen overnight unfortunately, a lot of people choose to do it after they've worked in several companies/agencies/studios and they've gained enough knowledge and understanding from all of those different bits to be able to go it alone. So, it was a pretty bold move for me to make coming straight out of uni at 21 and setting up on my own. However, like I said I had built up quite a solid foundation of contacts and experience throughout uni and I decided whilst I didn't really have many overheads or too much to worry about I'd give it a shot, because I think if I didn't then I might never have. Don't get me wrong, I still have a ridiculous amount to learn, and more mistakes to make but if you're a strong-willed person with an idea or vision - You will make it happen.

The best advice I could give is to surround yourself with good people, talk to those people and ask questions - always. Being freelance can sometimes be a weird and lonely place, there will be some days where your sat at your desk refreshing your emails (or scrolling through Instagram) thinking you made the wrong choice but go out and meet up with somebody, call somebody, write a list, go for a walk… or bake cookies! Google, everything (nobody at school, college, uni or anywhere tells you about HMRC, taxes, National Insurance contributions, cash flows and goodness knows what else! But there are workshops and people to help with all of that fun stuff that comes so naturally to creatives). You WILL have to hustle for work and some days you won't know where the next bit of work (or money) is going to come from, you MIGHT have to get a part time job at a local bar or shop but it WILL be worth it because essentially you're shaping your future exactly how you want it to be, you're carving your own path and doing what you love and that's something to be incredibly proud of.

Where do you think your passion for graphic design/illustration came from?

It's a bit of boring answer because this is probably what most people say, but I have always known. From being teenie tiny I'd spend hours drawing and painting… Apparently I wouldn't even sit and watch a film without having a pen and paper to draw (unless it was Babe or Homeward Bound - I was a big fan of animal films). Through school I'd always be more bothered about the arty subjects and Maths would make me cry (still does!) I chose to do Graphic Design and Art as my subjects in High School and got A* in both. In college I chose Graphic Design, Digital Photography and English Language - Although I was originally told I wasn't allowed to do two heavy art based subjects because the work load would be too much, although I got A* and A in both of those subjects as well as a B in English. I then went straight on to uni and was told that I wouldn't get in with A levels if I hadn't studied an art foundation course as well, but I got in and graduated three years later with two marks off a first (we won't talk about that!) - Anyway, the point I keep making is if you want something enough you've got to go for it - It's easy to look at somebody's journey/life and think they've been lucky or landed on their feet… But a lot of the time that's not the case, you just don't necessarily see the struggles or the set backs along the way.

We’re pleased to see how well The Happy Newspaper has done! For those who don’t know, can you explain what the project is about?

Thank you! It's been kind of crazy. The Happy Newspaper is a newspaper to celebrate all that's good in the world, a platform to share positive news and wonderful people. It's an idea that seems to have been in my brain for quite some time but I just didn't know what exactly I wanted it to be, if that makes sense. I knew that people and their stories fascinate me, the fact that there's 7 billion people on this funny old planet and every single person has the most incredible story to tell. I knew that the general news depresses me most of the time, but yet there are so many wonderful people doing incredible things in the world every day… It makes no sense to me that these people aren't celebrated or at least recognised. Through the likes of Facebook and stuff now we are able to see some of these 'everyday heroes' as I call them, when one little act of kindness goes viral and restores our faith in humanity just a tiny bit… Well it's basically that, but squeezing as much good stuff in to one newspaper as I can.

After the success of your Kickstarter campaign, what are your next steps to roll out the project?

I've already started on the content for the first issue, which will be out at the end of December and will celebrate all the good stuff that's happened in the world throughout 2015. I have the most amazing little team of volunteer writers who are helping me piece it all together as well as some incredible illustrators/designers, chefs, poets… all sorts! I want the newspaper to also celebrate creatives and people who add a little bit of sunshine to the world in their own ways too. So, yeah the first issue is the main focus currently and is probably going to be like a 'bumper' issue as it's covering a whole year, where as I'm hoping if all goes to plan, future issues will be more regularly - Maybe quarter yearly to begin with. 

Do you have any big dreams for The Happy Newspaper?

Of course! If you don't have dreams, then what's the point? The Happy Newspaper website is currently being built which is exciting, and who knows if it starts to grow we may look in to having an app, maybe! or it's very own news channel… how cool would that be?

If you could quiz a famous creative, who would it be and why?

Ohh tough question. Would Roald Dahl be classed as a creative? He had the most creative imagination, ever I think. The way his mind must have worked to create all of those stories is fascinating… I Imagine it would have been quite something to have been able to talk with him and maybe catch a tiny glimpse of the magic he created. 

What can we expect to see from you in the final months of 2015?

The Happy Newspaper, for sure! Kickstarter made me promise that I'd stick to my deadline so that'll be out end of December. I've been working on loads more greeting card designs so they'll be being printed/put up for sale soon and also some merchandise bits, but they might have to wait until the New Year now (New Year?! Where has this year gone!?) … I'm not sure what else, yet… More happy stuff, probably. My main aim is to add a little bit of sunshine to a person's day through all the bits of stuff I do… If it makes a person smile in some way, shape or form then my job there is done.


Emily hasn't got long left on her kickstarter campaign and I'm pretty sure she'd love any help possible! Click here to find the project.


Similar Articles