#MemberSpotlight on Nicole Spencer, children’s portrait artist and illustrator

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How did you get into the industry?

How I got into the industry might just be my favourite question! At age 18, I moved away from home to pursue a medical degree. My hope was to uplift and transform a hurting world. Feeling disillusioned after four years of study, I realised that there would be little left of me if I were to pursue this goal by this means.

Needing a creative change, I began styling and creating album artwork for local music bands. My clothing items caught the eye of local industry leaders. My sister and I decided to team up and began a ladies-wear label. Within in three years our clothing range was on show at South African Fashion Week and we would open our first store.

Our unplanned fashion journey began with a small capital outlay, and since we were the nuts and bolts of the company, I was not-exhaustively tasked with: trend forecasting, visual merchandising, catalogue photoshoots, fashion design,  branding, print media, online and in-store marketing, packaging solutions and designing our second store. The latter half are all in my opinion underpinned and enhanced by illustration.

Where are you based now and who do you work for?


I live in a picturesque village called St Francis Bay in South Africa. It’s a hive of activity in-season and a tight knit community out of season. As it is elsewhere around sunny South Africa, its flora and fauna are exciting and it has inspiring cultural contrasts.

I work from home, as a freelance illustrator and artist for individuals, local companies and events. Recently, I have decided to shift gears and have opened myself up to Creativepool’s client network.

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

An art form I’d love to explore is stage and wardrobe design for theatre. I love the idea of the volume and scale; the dramatic, exploratory, tactile and imaginary aspects of this creative skill.

Can you explain your creative process? What makes it unique?


My creative process for illustration is somewhat organic, I tend to conjure up the biggest ideas I can think of and find an emerging theme or thread. Next, I filter those ideas down into workable and economical products.

Then I try to give it another fresh burst of energy before I present the concept or product! I tend to always want to incorporate a sense of movement.

How would you describe your style?

I became a little disheartened when I tried to “pin down” my own style and couldn’t. A friend of mine, for example, is her own brand, what she chooses to wear, eat, how she decorates her home, all just seems to come out of the same effortless press.

I had the notion that it is more professional and more credible to be able to succinctly describe one’s personal style, but I have discovered that not accomplished creatives give a finite answer. That said, it’s been said of my style that it’s quirky and colourful and of my work that I bring personality to inanimate objects.

Which individuals do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?


I admire Renata Liwska’s tender and thoughtful characters in subtle scenes in illustration. I also like her story: She grew up in Poland, and stayed sure of herself, even against opposition. She uses personal experiences in her illustrations which make them intriguing and emotive.

What tips would you give to aspiring creatives looking for work?

Tip 1. If you do contract with a project you end up not liking, don’t fight against what the client wants (unless it's immoral), but if you don’t like the aesthetic, make your suggestions, and if they don’t like it, stick to the programme, do the job well and move on to the next one!

Tip 2. There are often connections and opportunities right under your nose - get creative with your existing networks and routine places you visit.

Tip 3. Once you have a portfolio or a CV, look for companies whose aesthetic and ethic you see a fit with.

What tips would you give to other professionals to get more clients?

My top tip is to get really inventive with your own business card and look for seemingly obscure or simple opportunities to market yourself in deft way. One example of this would be to sell your business card, which has been disguised as a ‘must-have’ and affordable postcard.

What kind of tools/kit/software could you not do without?


1. Paper. It’s my starting point, it saves me a lot of time getting the right composition.

2. Permanent Markers. I love the visual clarity they give an idea right from the get-go.

3. Fine liners I use for full works or to finish off pieces.

4. Online courses, especially short ones such as Domestika that I use to help me refine certain skills.     

What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

Praying in the morning before I begin my day. Bouncing ideas off peers and mentors to see if they are seeing something I am missing. Making myself accountable to at least one person that will make sure that I am on track and finish the project.

What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?


Conceptualising, designing and opening a concept store for a clothing label my sister and I started ten years before, Hermanna Rush. All our years of designing, branding-building and risk-taking had paid off.

What is the one thing that you would change about the industry?

I would love that more illustrators and publishing platforms would think about the lasting impact of their work in terms of its audience and the message it sends, even if it is tied to or pushing a trend.

Any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

Yes! I’d recommend the book Pig and Small by South African author and illustrator, Alex Latimer. This is a lovely online article on Renata Liwksa:


Abby Edwards’ has created cheerful HappySelf Journals which can be viewed at this link:


And for ideas and inspiration, the book Usborne Activities 365 Things to Draw and Paint is sure to keep work playful.



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