YGT INTERVIEWS Designer-Maker Emily Hayes


Emily Hayes is a freelance designer and illustrator based in the north of England. Her approach to creating handmade gifts, stationery and homewares is rooted in colour and experimentation, yielding playful and unique results. Emily’s independent business, EH! launched last year and is now a flourishing hub for printed products and design-led items that appeal to a huge range of creative shoppers.

Having worked, studied and taught both in Liverpool, London and Berlin over the last few years, Emily’s turned her hand to all sorts of projects, from editorial illustration to brand identity. We caught up with her to ask a few questions on what inspires and motivates her each day and how she keeps her great business venture running so smoothly.

Tell us about what you design and make…

My range of illustrated gifts and homewares, includes tea towels, greetings cards, cushions and notebooks. What has really always been fundamental to my work in whichever style, shape or form is humour and mischievousness. Even if it’s subtle it’s always present. I am particularly interested in parodies and humour that subvert and play with recognisable ideas and references. I enjoy images that appear innocent but contain another message or even a bit of darkness so I use ambiguous phrases in my work.

My background is predominantly in printmaking so colour is very important to me. I like using block colours, layering and limited palettes to produce bold graphic images. Storytelling, lettering and narrative have always been central to my work. I also love discovering interesting ways to communicate these things. This interest actually led me to take up my Design Interactions Masters at the Royal College of Art, London.

How does your location affect your creations?

I’m currently based in York and it’s really great being back up north. I find people to be so friendly and there are many quirky and funny characters that enjoy a chat in the street. I think the idea that reality can be stranger than fiction is very true and many of my observations and conversations naturally find their way into my work. All of my products are made in the UK and many of them are manufactured in the north of England; it’s fantastic being able to support local businesses and manufacturers.

How do you balance your time and manage to run a creative business?

There’s a lot of competition in the creative market but it’s a good thing in a way, it keeps you motivated. Getting on with what you have to do isn’t just about competition though. It’s a joy just making the work and taking pleasure in seeing other people connect with it. One of the hardest parts of running your own business is being able to switch off from it. I really love my job and find my work pleasantly addictive but downtime is also important. Everyone needs fuel for their fire. I personally love a bit of street dance.

Tell us about your workspace and processes…

Within the last month, I’ve just moved to a new space that is above a large Art Deco pub encouragingly called The Winning Post. I’ve moved around a lot in the last few years so it feels like such a luxury to have a solid base that I can call my own. I work through the day answering mails and orders. I mainly create drawings and designs in the evenings as I’m naturally a bit of a night owl and like the peaceful atmosphere.

I love listening to radio plays and documentaries while I work. I like the idea that you can get a free education just by listening and it makes for good company too. I can’t listen to music because it always makes me want to dance. When coming up with ideas I get everything out until I have a big mountain of free, scribbly drawings and writing and then I pick which ideas I am instinctively most drawn to taking further. Sometimes I like the sketch just as it is as drawings in their first stages have a certain energy and freshness. I then develop the concepts and drawings further to be sent off to print.


 What inspires you?

Playfulness with ideas and concepts is central to the ethos of the EH! brand and so the initial inspirations to the collections have been very eclectic. Retro packaging, folk art, surrealism, science, pop culture and nature have formed some of the starting points for the collections.

My inspirations and references are often changing. Recently, I have come back to looking at 90s UK comedy that I watched through my teen years. I admire Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer; I love their surrealist style and the element of surprise they bring to each show with weird props and challenges. I’m really inspired by designers and artists that play with styles and mediums while retaining a strong sense of identity such as Martin Kippenberger, Claes Oldenburg, Urs Fischer and Yorkshireman, David Hockney.

Drawing is really important to me and I think it’s fundamental to every part of the creative process. There is something about drawing by hand which you can never quite replicate on the computer. All my designs are hand drawn which I feel makes every piece individual and unique. As well as retaining these traditional methods I also like to embrace modern processes to produce an interesting mix os textures with a contemporary feel and high quality finish.

Tell us about some of your favourite projects…

Producing my first product range was a really exciting time as the initial deadline was very tight so there was a real buzz to create a massive amount of work in short time frame. When you get in a flow like that, it’s great. My favourite designs include, Man at Home, You are one of a kind and The Next Step. One of my favourite notebook patterns would have to be Face Up! Mega as I really adore anthropological illustration and that design is my nod to that. I published a small run of books in Berlin some years ago but my big dream project for the future is to publish a large series of illustrated books that are both practical and funny.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently working with the theme ‘subverted classics’ but that’s all I am going to say for the moment. Also a commissioned piece to brand and unite over 200 independent shops in York on a large map. This project surfaced after the floods that hit the city over Christmas 2015 and damaged many small retailers’ properties. A new group then formed called, Proudly Indie York who are making something positive from the sad event. It’s been very appealing to me as not only is it about supporting independent businesses but has also challenged me to create something highly functional with lots of facts and information, as well as being as distinctive and playful as the shops themselves.

Do you have any advice for aspiring maker/designers?

I would say work really hard, get to know people and enjoy yourself. I feel like this may be obvious but sometimes it’s easy to forget the simple things. Discover what gets you genuinely excited and understand what makes you different from others. Play to your strengths but also challenge yourself.

So, next time you’re searching for the perfect card, an illustrated print or unique gift, head over to the EH! shop to browse a collection of independently created gems, made right here in the UK. Keep up with Emily, her new projects and works in progress on Facebook and of course, on Instagram too.

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Words: Emily Beeson | @younggoldteeth