Getting to know Kohenoor Kamal: designer and illustrator

This week we talk to Kohenoor Kamal, a designer and illustrator from the North West on the highs and lows of freelancing, what sparks creativity and her favourite spots for inspiration across the North.

Can I start by asking you a little about yourself, where are you from and what do you do?

Hey Jenna! I’m an illustrator and designer based in the North West of England. I have been freelancing for a few years now and enjoy making bright, colourful works, which are influenced by my passion for colour, texture and detail. 

I grew up in a Bangladeshi household surrounded by delicious Bengali food as well as the beautiful culture that comes with it. I think a lot of this has had huge influence on my work, from the intricate and detailed clothes my family wear to the food that my dad (a chef) cooks.

Growing up with a traditional Asian background as a first generation Bengali meant that I grew up with a lot of pressure and expectation of what kind of career I should have been looking at. The kind of person that I am always wanted to reject these expectations and pursue my own path of working in the creative industry.

I had many battles with my family about them supporting me on this journey and I think they found it quite difficult to accept that I wanted to pursue this venture as they are from a working class background and their main focus was to make ends meet. I think since then I have been very fortunate that they have been able to witness my passion for creating art and the work that I have been able to get off the back of this, which I am grateful for.

When did you decide that you wanted to be a designer and illustrator?

I have always been a creative person, but it was only when I went to university that I felt like I could use that creativity and work within the creative field. The good thing about the university that I went to was that I was able to explore different specialisms outside of design, some of those things included animation, illustration, photography and art direction. 

At university I felt like I had the tools and knowledge on how I could pursue working as a designer and illustrator. Even though I had trained and studied within the realm of graphic design, I always had an interest in subjects outside of this, especially illustration. I would go on to embedding this into projects using my knowledge of design principles and experimenting with how I could play around with this hybrid of specialisms and use creative problem solving to answer briefs and produce artwork.

My course emphasised the integration of the contextual nature behind projects and this framework helped form the decisions behind my work, such as thinking about how I can make a meaningful impact with a design with the consideration of aesthetics too. In the past, I would make pieces of work that were visually appealing, but I think this extra consideration has helped me make more meaningful pieces of work.

How did you go about getting into the creative industries?

I think the key thing for me was integrating myself into the creative scene, particularly going to events (even virtual ones) and talking to different people. I used to find this nerve wracking, so to help me get out of my comfort zone I asked a friend if they would want to attend events with me to make things a little less anxiety inducing.

Social media has played a huge part in where I am now and the kind of work that I have been able to get. Whether that’s posting new work on Instagram or connecting with different pages that promote people’s work or creative resources where I have shared my own personal experiences on how I got into the industry. 

How would you define your design style?

My design style is a combination of things , I like to embed texture into my work wherever I can as well as using bright and engaging colours. I have also incorporated illustrative features into my work to resonate with my differing creative qualities that I enjoy working on and combining all of these lovely things.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

At the moment, I’m working on a number of projects whilst I have the availability. Last year, I was juggling a number of projects, which was really exciting but also quite time consuming so I am now focusing on developing and experimenting with illustrations of food, portraits and animation. 

I have a project that I did early on in the year with Root-ED and I was able to exhibit some of these food illustrations. Here, I illustrated an array of key ingredients featured in recipes which people had contributed to them. After doing this project I played around with more of this in my spare time, such as illustrating a recipe card of my own, which includes the ingredients to a special recipe of mine which my parents had taught me.

Animation has also been something that I have been playing around more with since working with Leeds Inspired to help them produce Call to Action artwork for their grants and website. There is something very fun about working out the logistics behind simple graphics and figuring out how to make something move fluidly.

What have been some of the career high and lows so far?

I am proud of the fact that I have been able to establish a career in an industry which can be quite cut throat especially having had obstacles in my way and out of my control, such as finishing my degree throughout the first lockdown and graduating into a pandemic, which left me and many of my peers with so much anxiety and uncertainty about whether we would be able to pursue this.

I’ve also been able to transition from one industry to another as well as be able to go back and forth between the two. With illustration and design, for a good amount of time I didn’t think I’d be able to pursue any illustration-based work but I think this was more about my lack of self-esteem. With time I’ve started trusting my process and seeing the engagement that I’ve received has proved that I can do both. 

Something that I didn’t expect from working as a freelancer, is how much work can fluctuate from one extreme to another and managing my own expectations and setting boundaries. It can make me quite anxious when there are periods where it’s very quiet because it feels as though I won’t pick up any more work, but something that I’ve learnt is to look at this in a more positive light and utilise this time by working on more personal projects and refining my skills. 

Also, I didn’t expect how reliant I would be on social media for getting new clients and also putting myself out there. It can be a double edged sword using social media as a freelancer and in your spare time, as well as the blurred lines between being on Instagram all the time and checking how much engagement you might get on a post or stories. I think it can become quite consuming when you fall into that state and I know that many people, myself included, still feel this way. But, I’m still thankful for having access to things like Instagram and Twitter where, even though I don’t have that many followers, I’ve been able to find so many more creative friends who are dotted all over the place.

I think another aspect I’m really quite proud of is the fact that I’ve been able to transition from one creative industry to another as although I studied a graphic design union, I actually wanted to study illustration but I wasn’t able to get onto this course at my university so I made use of what things I could learn on my course and then carried this through to what I was actually passionate about and I ended up creating this sort of hybrid of  illustration work, which has subtle tones of design principles behind it and I think that’s what makes my work stand out. I’ve always found it tough to pinpoint myself because I have this multidisciplinary practice, which is inspired by so many different creative fields and it’s hard to say oh yes I’m this one particular thing but I think that’s just the nature of creativity.

What inspires you as a designer?

I feel like at the moment I am fluctuating between lots of different  things I would love to work on or people I would like to work with. I have always admired the work of Studio Moross and I have been following the work of Aries Moross since I was in college. I love their use of experimental components using colour and texture. As well as this I love the work of Sha’an d’Anthes. The friends that I have made over the course of this journey have also played a large part into what I’m inspired by as the work they do motivates me to see the kinds of things that they are getting up to. 

What would be your ideal project to work on?

My ideal project at the moment would be to work with more musicians. Whether that’s in the capacity of producing albums or single artwork or being able to work on print-based ephemera, as I have always had a passion for tactile things such as screen printing and making things with my hands. I think something that I’ve found since making the transition to making more work digitally, using programs such as Procreate, is that I don’t use many handmade processes anymore but this used to be something that was the key focus behind my work.

Could you tell us a bit more about the poster you created for In Good Company Leeds’ poster campaign?

Being able to work with Laura Wellington, my good friend George Brown and Kate Phipps on producing this poster design, as well as being able to see it large-scale plastered all over the UK to celebrate key workers — this poster design was probably one of the most exciting projects that I worked on last year. 

I wanted to highlight some of these key workers and I illustrated a few people from mine and George’s family who are key workers. For example, I included a small illustration of my mum into this project and as a nod to many key workers who have worked really hard throughout the pandemic. In the design I wanted to portray a sense of empowerment and feeling proud that these people have worked really hard, and all sorts of colours are used to make it eye-catching so it could be visible in a variety of environments. I’ve actually had nurses, paramedics and teachers get in touch saying thank you for being part of the design.

At the time, George and I had just graduated from the same course and while both of us are very passionate about the work that we do, we were finding it hard to land design roles and jobs because of the uncertainty during the pandemic, so we were really grateful to have this opportunity to work with Laura and to make this poster design because it’s not often you get to go straight from university to having your work displayed on a mass scale, whilst also raising money for a good cause. 

How has the North shaped you both personally and professionally?

I think the people have definitely had a huge influence over who I am today. I have met so many wonderful creative people in all kinds of industries and being able to learn about different people’s perspectives has only helped me become more open minded as a person as well being there to push me when I’ve needed it to pursue a project that I’ve wanted to do and put off.

As well as this, going to university in Leeds where there is an amazing network of creative people as well as the city in itself. I regularly go to exhibitions and meet up with creatives who are based there. Leeds has been the apex for a lot of things for me and I consider it a second home for me just as it has allowed me to find the confidence I needed to push the boundaries of what I could make and beyond.

Where are some of your favourite places in the North?

There’s too many to count but some of my favourite things to do in the North include popping into local independents to do some work and also catching some downtime with friends. Some of my favourite restaurants in the North can include Bundobust, Cafe 164 and Rudy’s Pizza as well as galleries such as The Whitworth and Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where I go to get inspiration for new work.

What do you like to do outside of work?

This is a tough one as a lot of the things I love doing surround creativity in some form or another. I think my favourite thing is to go exploring or to see friends. Working as a freelancer, I find that often I’m either swamped with work or I have much quieter periods, so I like to use the most of my time to catch up with friends and go to galleries, cinemas and restaurants. I also enjoy cooking when I can. I grew up with Bengali food with my dad being a chef and I think that’s where I get my love for food from, I find it the most soothing thing to do when I feel stressed.

Interview: Jenna Campbell

Imagery: Courtesy of Kohenoor Kamal


Olivia Hanlon: Founder & CEO of Girls in Marketing

Name: Olivia Hanlon

Job title: Founder & CEO if Girls in Marketing

Career path: Before setting up Girls in Marketing as an e-learning platform and community, I was working as an SEO marketer for a property company. Whilst it wasn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I truly loved SEO and I was determined to find other marketers with the same passion for this industry as I did. 

That’s when Girls in Marketing was born! In the beginning, it was a side project alongside my full-time role. Eventually, our growth meant I could quit my nine-to-five and run Girls in Marketing whole-heartedly – with the help of a few freelance SEO clients I had on the side. 

Having weekly and monthly focusses is really important as a business owner so that you can stay on track. I have autonomy over my working week; something I never had working for someone else. I love being able to provide other people with opportunities and helping to train new marketing talent too. 

I wasn’t expecting my career path to land here; I just rolled with the punches! Sometimes the best things happen when you just go with the flow. To anyone out there worrying about where their career is headed or what they want to do, try to have faith and know it will all work itself out.

Ideas & Planning: There are so many complex productivity models out there that several business owners swear by. I recently read Grace Beverley’s Working Hard or Hardly Working, which is packed full of helpful methods to successfully plan any task or business concept. But the truth is, my process of planning ideas doesn’t use anything new – I just do what works for me and tailor my workload accordingly. 

When coming up with a new business concept, I schedule a meeting with my team almost as soon as the thought enters my mind. It really helps to air out the strengths and weaknesses of a larger project like this in order to move forward. I really value other people’s opinions, so sharing my ideas is the first step when it comes to planning. 

I will then put together a flowchart of how I envisage the project to run and what the overall process looks like (basically the bigger picture.) After that, I will go into further detail using a Google Doc before entering everything into a board. This helps the team to collaboratively see what tasks need doing and the due dates for each item. 

If I’m working on a small project or task, my best advice is to act quickly. Don’t let yourself overthink the plans too much. Instead, just take that initial step to getting it done and you’ll see your ideas come into fruition much quicker.

Finance: At Girls in Marketing, we carried out vital research around salary insights in the marketing industry as so many companies protect what they financially offer their employees. There is also a huge issue around the gender pay gap, as well as the gender seniority gap, something that Girls inMarketing aims to tackle through accessible marketing education and resources. Far more men maintain senior roles in marketing and are the decision-makers, despite the fact it is a largely female-dominated industry. 

Our research showed that over half of the women who participle feel as though their monthly paycheck doesn’t reflect their experience level or responsibilities. Typical marketing salaries completely vary depending on your position within the company, and the size of that company, but according to Glassdoor, the average marketing salary is around £33,0000 with a starting salary of £21,000+. As a small business owner, there are other financial factors to consider. From marketing tools and hosting platforms to equipment expenses, tax and other businesses fees, things can get extremely expensive. It’s important to be calculated with what you’re spending, and pay an account or accounting software to help you with your bookkeeping. Girls in Marketing offers a membership, which means we have hundreds of monthly transactions so it’s incredibly important things are kept in order, and we find paying a professional to do this is much more efficient.

Networking: Personally, I joined a programme for business owners and leaders located in the Liverpool region in 2021. The Shift programme by Gather was fully-funded and gave me a chance to network with other business owners in the area. I found it incredibly inspiring to hear other people’s stories and talking to others made me reflect on our services and offering, which is a crucial part of development and growth for us. 

I don’t schedule networking sessions on a weekly or monthly basis, and the Girls in Marketing community allows me to regularly communicate with marketers and freelancers but I always jump at the chance to attend an event if I can. It’s the best way to get creative ideas for other people and propel your business into success!

Work Environment: When I worked in my nine-to-five role, the office culture wasn’t inspiring or uplifting. As I started to build my small team and find an office of my own, I knew I wanted to create an environment for people that I had dreamed of. 

We have a very relaxed, creative space for people to work and we always carve out time for discussions about new projects.

I’m so thankful to have built a community of 170,000+ marketers across social media and be running the business of my dreams. If you want to join us, take a look at our website or follow us on Instagram.

In Conversation with Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee, Aerospace Engineer and STEM Ambassador

Although the industry is still overwhelmingly dominated by men and the number of women studying engineering courses remains low (just one in seven), for those who have pursued their passion for STEM and engineering, such as Krystina Pearson-Rampeearee – a chartered engineer from Liverpool who works as a Senior Flight Systems Engineer – brighter skies may be ahead.

After being inspired by a family trip to see an airshow as a child, Krystina went on to become the first engineer in her family and now volunteers as a STEM ambassador and mentor to promote diversity and inclusion in the industry and encourage more women to consider engineering as a profession.

Last year, she set up her own business AviateHer selling accessories to further promote this goal and inspire young women to consider STEM careers and push past gender stereotypes. Late last year, we spoke with Krystina to find out a little more about her career to date, the change she would like to see and why she founded her own business to pave the way for future generations of female engineers.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I was born and grew up in Liverpool where my parents moved to after emigrating from Mauritius. I’m now a Senior Flight Systems Engineer working at BAE Systems in Warton, Lancashire and living in Liverpool, the city that feels like home to me.  

What made you want to pursue a career in this field and what does a typical day at work look like for you?

I was inspired to study a Masters degree in Aerospace Systems Engineering after visiting an airshow with my family one summer whilst in school. I still remember the feeling of awe I felt on that day and that was the point I can trace back to where I knew that I wanted to be a part of the Aerospace industry. 

I began working at BAE Systems six years ago as a Flight Systems Engineer on various projects. My current role involves developing new technologies for a future combat air system as part of the Tempest project. For me a typical day varies, I could be working with various suppliers, liaising with other specialist disciplines or carrying out my own tasks, all with the goal in mind of looking at how new technologies can be integrated onto a future platform. 

Growing up, did you feel like a career in STEM was accessible to you as a woman?

Growing up, I saw my parents in STEM careers, although not engineering, and I did feel like a career in STEM was open to me. There was a disparity in my physics lessons at school yet the gender disparity was blatant when I started university as one of only two women on my course. Going from my school experience to this was jarring, especially in the first few weeks. This did not overshadow my experience at university though, my coursemates became my teammates, and gender was not an issue.

When did you first know you wanted to work in this field?

I always enjoyed creative classes when I was growing up but my favourite lessons were physics and maths. Engineering was always a top choice for me, even though my parents wanted me to pursue a different career path. However, I wasn’t aware of the various types of engineering until I went to the airshow and started researching the Aerospace industry.

What challenges did you encounter on your journey to become an aerospace engineer?

Following my four years at university, I struggled initially to find a job due to my lack of real-life experience in engineering. When I was looking at my options following school, apprenticeships were not highlighted as an alternative option to university therefore a degree qualification seemed to be the natural next step to take. I persevered and got there in the end.

As a STEM ambassador and founder of AviateHer, what do you want to change in the industry?

I want to inspire more young women to consider a career in STEM, more specifically engineering. There is currently a shortage of engineers in the UK. Companies are realising that a diverse workforce brings a lot of advantages such as more innovation, which is an important part of engineering. This means that there are opportunities out there.

I also feel that stereotypes in society play a part as well. Boys and girls are brought up with targeted advertising or gender roles which encourages gender biases. Young girls may feel embarrassed about enjoying physics as there is the perception that it isn’t cool.  

Leading on from that, how can those changes take place in a tangible way?

I believe that changes can be made with more visible role models. I see amazing women in engineering in my network but the stereotype of what a typical engineer may look like isn’t relatable to young girls. 

There is also the awareness of engineering itself. Engineers can make a difference and there are so many paths with an engineering career! Showing young people how engineering has been used in everyday life and how it can be used for the future will definitely help bring about change. When I was younger, I didn’t realise how many different career options there actually are in engineering. For example, I didn’t even know the job I am in now existed until I came to searching for jobs after university. 

Have you seen more women enter the industry in recent years and if so is this due to greater mentorship and encouragement from other women? 

I have seen more women enter the industry and this is absolutely due to encouragement from other women and mentorship. I think women are actively striving for change and are more than willing to support young women who are considering future careers in STEM. 

Selected as a Northern Power Woman Future List 2020 and winner of WeAreCity Rising Star Award, how did it feel to be given this recognition of your work? 

It was such an honour to receive the recognition alongside a brilliant group of women! It meant even more to me personally as I had only recently returned from a year’s maternity leave in 2019. To come back to work and go on to receive the recognition I have done has motivated me to open the door to more opportunities to push diversity in engineering, and showcase my experiences to young women.

If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about life, what would it be?

If I could give my younger self a piece of advice it would be not be so scared to put myself out there. I suffered from a lack of confidence when I was growing up which held me back from networking and getting involved. This changed once I had my little boy and started ‘winging’ motherhood. My confidence grew and I’m now saying yes to opportunities and trying not to be so afraid of failure!

During the first lockdown you started a business selling enamel pins to highlight diversity in STEM, how was it received and why is it so important to you to further this cause now?

The response was fantastic! I hadn’t expected such an amazing reception and the messages of support I’ve received have really inspired me to continue. The cause is perhaps more important now than ever because the Coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately impacting women’s careers and it’s so important that we retain women in STEM. 

Which charities are some of the proceeds going to and why did you select these particular causes?

I donate part of the proceeds from each pin sale to charity, with each pin contributing to a specific charity associated with the message of the pin. It started with my first Engineering pin for which I chose the Women’s Engineering Society and whenever I have expanded with a new pin I have researched to find a charity that is working to increase diversity in that field. The charities that I ended up selecting are the Women’s Engineering Society, the British Science Association, the Association for Black and Minority Ethnic Engineers (AFBE-UK) Making Engineering Hot campaign, Stemettes Futures, the Young Women’s Trust, Fly2Help and Eco-Sud. So far, in total, almost £1000 has been raised thanks to my wonderful customers.

Lockdown rules permitting, how do you like to spend your spare time?

In my spare time I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, volunteering as a mentor and STEM Ambassador and travelling all over the world (when possible!). I really miss attending live music events and festivals at the moment so I hope we can get back to those soon.    

Where are some of your favourite places in the North?

My home city of Liverpool has some of my favourite places such as Sefton Park, the Docks and Lark Lane for delicious food! I also enjoy visiting the Lake District and the Northern coastal areas as I love being near the sea.

Thinking outside the (cardboard) box

In 2013, Hannah Saunders founded Big Fish Little Fish to hold monthly music-oriented events uniquely suitable for the whole family. Top of the list of priorities was to offer a safe and welcoming environment for families of all sizes, and to combine the unmissable atmosphere and vibrancy of traditionally adult-focused music events with child-friendly activities such as face-painting and arts and crafts, providing enough variety to keep even the smallest party-goers happy and engaged. The result was a monthly rave that prioritised good fun and great music.

Continue reading “Thinking outside the (cardboard) box”