Featured Illustrators

Nicole Black

August 2017

Nicole Black chats to us about how the move to focusing on her illustration when starting out pushed her to develop her style further, wanting to bridge the gap between art and illustration. Having studied both Graphic Design and Fine Art, Nicole enjoys combining the two worlds with her analogue and digital combinations.

What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened?

Looking back I don’t think I have ever had a solid plan! There have definitely been goals along the way but a lot of big decisions have been based on intuition or gut feeling. One thing that I remember distinctly in my final years of high school was that when it came to deciding on a course for uni I never felt certain in my choice between studying more traditional Fine Arts or Graphic Design. In fact, I got one year into my Visual Arts Degree and decided to swap into Visual Communication—only to swap back again! This has been a constant pattern in the years following and I feel has somewhat informed my practice today. Whilst I had initially followed my love for painting and drawing by studying Visual Arts, I personally felt limited with how I could market and promote my work (keep in mind that this was in 2011 before instagram!). I wanted to know the practical applications like how to develop a brand/ visual identity and how to use the adobe programmes but also loved the idea of working within the parameters of a brief. I moved to Melbourne in 2013 and graduated from a diploma of Graphic Design at CATC in mid 2014 and I think my initial plan was to follow a more traditional path and get a studio job. I suppose I assumed that this was what I wanted to do but a lot of the feedback I received at the time, from interviews and meetings with people in the industry, was that my portfolio was quite illustrative so I decided to pour my time and energy into developing my style further. A lot of my creative heroes at the time were bridging this gap between art and illustration and that’s where I felt the strongest pull. I started taking on freelance projects and with a friend applied, and was approved, for a stall at Supergraph in early 2015 which was the perfect opportunity to start showing the work I had been creating. Around the same time I was offered a casual teaching position and I decided to find myself a desk at a co-working space to start treating my illustrative ventures with more seriousness.

What are your three must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why?

This is really hard to narrow down as I seem to always be seeking these things out but the first three to come to mind are (podcast) Creative Pep Talk- Andy J Miller, (Book) Big Magic- Elizabeth Gilbert and the Jealous Curator (blog) (also has a podcast called Art For your Ear that’s worth a listen!)

Are you involved in any mentoring/teaching/workshops and if so how does it shape your practice.

Yes! I was fortunate enough to hold a few teaching appointments over the last couple of years. I was also running workshops from both my shared studio space in Melbourne and through Workshop Melbourne and other venues. It was a hugely rewarding part of my practice and I’m currently organising a couple more workshop appointments for the next couple of months! I really believe in stepping away from your own workspace/work and sharing your creative-thing (whatever that ‘creative-thing’ might be) with others; it forces you to look at your practice in an objective way and you’re in the perfect position to be constantly learning and growing.

How did you develop your style as an illustrator and what tips would you have for others?

I have felt at times that my style is not yet fully-formed but I think that there are certainly common threads that connect the work I have produced over the last couple of years. There’s definitely been an inclination towards particular subject matter (namely lovely ladies, a love of line, floral/botanical elements and paint splodges.. Just to name a few) I get inspiration from so many places from fashion; seventies, pattern, great artists of years gone by, design, nature. As many artists seem to do, I’ve been collecting or making note of these sources of inspiration for many years whether it’s cutting out an image and pinning it up somewhere or recording it in my art journal. It doesn’t seem like much at the time but I’m always amazed when I look back over my old art journals from even my high school days, I was entertaining similar ideas or themes in my work. I guess these are the big clues!

When I’m starting a new piece, I really like to follow my curiosity and experiment to get really familiar with how a certain medium will behave and whether I’m even enjoying the process or not. I think it’s this reflection that is really important in the ‘finding your style’ game. We can get caught up following a trend or style but if it doesn’t gel with us intrinsically in the way we like to make, this will somehow show up in the work. I also really believe that it’s the hours spent putting lines on the page or pushing pixels that help to strengthen this voice in our work—so patience is a really important factor. You’ve got to be willing to put in those hours and bounce back and try again when things don’t work how you predicted they would. When you’re starting out it’s only natural to want to emulate the style of more established artists/designers but as you start to invest the hours into your practice and be aware of your own inclinations, I feel that’s when you’ll start to carve out your own style.

Aside from that I guess having studied both Fine Arts and Graphic Design makes me hesitant to stick analogue or digital entirely; I like to combine the two wherever possible and blur the lines between the two worlds. I love the contrast between spontaneous and detailed. I’ve been known in the past to be working on a piece for hours and hours only to turn around and cut something out or glue something on. I don’t like to be too precious with my work and at the end of the day it’s the process and that keeps me coming back for more.

Who would be the “dream client” that you would do anything to work for?

I’d love to work with a brand/company/individual who would like to commission designs to go across textiles or surface design or other products. I guess the dream client would be someone who shares my creative vision and values and is has an open mind to the possibilities of a project!

What’s the big goal in the next five years?

I think that the biggest goal I have had over the last few years is just to grow my creative business and take on new and interesting briefs and work with clients who share my vision. My aim is to eventually get signed with an agency. Thinking back to when I was studying and certainly to five years ago, I don’t think I could have ever predicted some of the opportunities that have come my way so I’m excited to see what is in store for the next five!

What’s on the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months?

I am currently working Adelaide so I’m really keen to see what’s happening here in the creative scene. I was living in Melbourne for almost 5 years so the change has so far helped shift my thinking on the kind of work I was doing and given me a bit of perspective for future goals. I have a couple of exhibitions in Melbourne I’ll be involved in including a Solo show in November and one I’m curating and designing with a friend that’s scheduled for the beginning of next year which I’m very excited to share more about soon!






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