Interview: Emilia Buggins on Freelance Design, Being a Night Owl, and Sticking To Your Guns

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Welcome to another episode of whatever I end up deciding to call this interview series! Today I'm chatting to Emilia Buggins, a freelance art director and designer from London, with an incredibly diverse range of styles and a lovely work ethic. She's also a dab hand with a camera and has the sweetest little sausage dog I've ever seen. And I've seen a lot of sausage dogs in my time. If you want to hear more about working for the freelance dream, some inspirational female designers, and basically just want to get to know the lovely Emilia better, get to reading!


Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Emilia! First of all, for any readers who don't know your background, tell me a little bit about yourself.

Emilia Buggins:
It's a pleasure and of course! My name is Emilia Buggins and I'm a creative graphic designer-cum-art director. I illustrate and love playing with photography and video too. Variety is the spice of life after all. Last year I finally made the jump from being permanent at an advertising agency while working my own side hustle, to full-time freelance life. 100% no regrets, will full ambitions to take it all the way up to 11. I'm half Finnish, half British, and I'm pretty inspired by the unconventional simplicity and sisu of Finnish design and culture. I haul from the 'sunshine coast' of the UK but I live in London with my boyfriend and my sausage dog, Piggy, who is definitely the most popular personality of us all, and most certainly the cutest.

Magic & Musings:
Piggy is too adorable! Now, if you could describe your design style in three words, what would they be?

Emilia Buggins:
Quirky, colourful, and elegant.

Magic & Musings:
I think they all work perfectly! When did you first get into design? Did you study it formally or come across it as a hobby? If you did study it formally, would you say this was a good or bad experience regarding allowing your creativity to flourish?

Emilia Buggins:
I would say I first got into design as a kid but I just didn't know what it was. I would always be drawing or making things and once I discovered graphic design was a thing as a teenager, it all sort of fell into place. I did my A-Levels, followed by a foundation year where I decided to apply to Central St Martins for my BA. I had gone to an open day and fallen in love with the beautiful old building and the honesty of the course director. Magically I got accepted and I would say that it was a really good experience in terms of creativity. Everyone on the course had been top of their class - which was as intimidating as it was inspiring, but it was a really supportive atmosphere. We were set briefs every two weeks for the whole of the three years, each time you had to research, develop a response to the project, and create the outcome. It pushed you to really think conceptually and the whole learning process there was very independent, which is something I loved, probably why freelance life suits me to the T. You could build the course around what you were interested in. I wish more knowledge of the real world had been imparted but I wouldn't change my experience there for the world.



Magic & Musings:
On Magic & Musings I love talking about female-identifying and non-binary artists and their work. Which female artists, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look at when you need a spark of inspiration?

Emilia Buggins:
What a good question. I guess I tend not to think about gender when I look for inspiration and am usually inspired by people's processes more than anything. But I do have my female design heroes and creatives I admire and aspire to be like. I love the work of Paula Scher at Pentagram who has to be the most badass female designer in the industry. In the world of advertising you have Cindy Gallop who is just incredible. I also recently saw Grey London's CCO Vicki Maguire talk, who was the most down to earth person I've seen speak. She also owns a sweet shop! Work-wise I'll also look back at the same people for inspiration: Designers Ro&Co, Lotta Nieminen, Sagmeister & Walsh, Hvass & Hannibal, and Vicki Turner. I'm also surrounded by some incredible female friends who are just killing it right now. They're probably the most inspiring and motivating people of all.

Magic & Musings:
Of all of your designs, which are you the happiest with and why?

Emilia Buggins:
I'm not sure I can pick! I love all of them for different reasons. I guess the work I'm happiest with has been the projects for people/companies who are doing amazing things to benefit the world or people in some way. I work very closely with a modern pharmaceutical brand called Sagitta which is looking to provide products and tips which take a preventative approach to health. I love the idea that this brand could really help people in the long run and encourage them to be active participants in their health through easily-accessible information and the best products. I also worked closely with Yellow Bird Project to create cool things where the profits would go to charities. And I recently worked on a branding project for a vegan burger company. I might not be vegan myself but I do understand the impact that animal agriculture has on the environment, so it's a good feeling being able to work on a project that encourages people to make a kind choice for the planet, even if it's just a little one.


Magic & Musings:
This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I'm really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or a particular album you listen to?

Emilia Buggins:
My favourite time to do work is about 10 at night, and I can happily crack on with things 'til about 3am. I just adore the peace and alone time that comes with darkness and find I can focus so much clearer than any other point in the day. When I can't do that, because the rest of the world doesn't work like that, I rely on a solid cup of tea, just slightly milkier in colour than a standard cup (with oat milk), and a moderately organised workspace to get me through. I also go through phases of listening to music or the 'How I Built This' podcast on NPR or having Netflix or TED talks on in the background, depending on how I'm feeling and how much of my brain is required.

Magic & Musings:
Podcasts are pretty much my number one way of getting work done and feeling motivated. There's so many amazing ones to choose from, and I'll be definitely adding 'How I Built This' to my list. Moving on a bit, what do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?

Emilia Buggins:
Take a break - go for a walk with Pig, work on a different project, talk to my mum, clean, read, have a bath, give my mind an evening of rest. But never for too long as it's so easy to lose momentum and not so easy to start back up once you've paused for too long.


Magic & Musings:
That's basically the same as my list when I'm feeling a little stuck. Having a bath is a surefire way to get me back on track.

What are your favourite tools you use to create your illustrations? Are there any books on creativity and/or working for yourself you would recommend to others?

Emilia Buggins:
I don't really have a set style for illustration. Typically I'll try and think of what is most appropriate to the brief and then I'll have a go at it. However I am most comfortable with watercolours and pencil drawing, or using Illustrator to see how I can blend fluid lines and flat coloured shapes, and I also love playing around with photos and seeing how they can be messed around with.

Foe things to read there is a very, very handy post on Jessica Hische's website on The Dark Art of Pricing which I found super useful. For motivation I love reading The Great Discontent as it's very inspiring. Also perhaps this isn't necessarily about creativity but Patti Smith's Just Kids and the Steve Jobs biography are very motivating, brilliant reads for their approaches to work alone.

Magic & Musings:
Just Kids has that same effect on me. Patti's approach to work is inspiring, and her world sounds so beautiful.

Have you ever explored working in another medium?

Emilia Buggins:
Only during college really. Part of an art foundation is to discover what areas you might be interested in just by trying them. I suck at textiles, I can't use a sewing machine to save my life much to the dismay of my mum - I am in awe of people who can. I quite enjoyed working with glass and ceramics but really graphics is where I feel at home and it's a place where many mediums can come into play.


Magic & Musings:
What would you say your relationship is like between your business and the internet/social media? Would you say this has helped you greatly in your success, or not?

Emilia Buggins:
I think the internet has been the most amazing thing for me, without it I definitely wouldn't be able to do what I do. Social media has been great for building a network but the main thing for me has simply been email. It's meant I could work with people I've never even met in real life on some really lovely projects. I find the process of working through email simplifies getting briefs too. Often I've found if there's a discussion in real life that a lot of the items discussed will be forgotten or not clarified, whereas with writing you have the time to think and make clear what needs to be achieved.

Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in this field?

Emilia Buggins:
I came to realise a couple of years ago that there are many ways to the top. Some ways will be faster, some more scenic, but there's always a way. As long as you stick to your guns you can reach any point you are shooting for. The only reason anyone really achieves success is because they don't give up. I wish I had realised that earlier as I probably wouldn't have been so tough on myself.


Magic & Musings:
Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song?

Emilia Buggins:
I read Shonda Rhimes' Year of Yes at the start of the year and it was very motivating. I'm also reading a book by a lady who didn't spend anything for a year and it's been making me consider how much money I could save, which I think is wise for anyone in this day and age. 

The Get Down on Netflix is amazing. New York in the 1970s just as disco was at its peak and the rise of hip-hop began. Baz Luhrmann magic and ten years of research and work went into getting that show made and it's incredible.

I'm a music nerd who has been getting a bit bored recently which is sad, but the music that's been getting my groove is by a small London band called Zola Blood. I went to see them play and they were extremely good live. Highly recommended listening.

Magic & Musings:
Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Emilia! Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work?

Emilia Buggins:
I guess the only thing I might want to add is advice for anyone considering freelancing or starting their own business. I would 100% recommend it but I would also say to do it smartly. Get the struggle out of the way while you have some solid income to rely on - build up contacts, work and save up an emergency fund, put the word out that you're looking for things to do and eventually it will happen.

If anyone wants to find out more you can check out my website. I try to update my portfolio and blog when I have time. Also Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. And if anyone is in London and wants to have a chat or meet a cute pup, I'm always up for tea!

Thanks so much for having me.

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