Phatu Nembilwi is a talented South African illustrator and designer with enough entrepreneurial flair to have turned her passion into her livelihood. As the creative director of her own studio, Phathu digitally illustrates playful, humanist scenes – both imagined and real – for clients as well as her own portfolio. One of her latest projects is a children's story book.
There’s an energy to her work that we just love – the characters in the scenes she creates are dynamic, thriving, radiant, and engaged with the world. There’s a sense of abundance created by her rich, vibrant color palette, and the delicious botanical elements that appear in her work.
For our Women’s Month brief, Phathu illustrated a vibrant scene from a South African township, where small business thrives at grassroots level, and real community flourishes on the streets. Her full scene is also broken up into individual elements of dancers, drummers, vendors, kids on bikes, South African flora… a fantastic collection with a wide range of applications for your own designs.
During the design process, we had a chance to chat to Phathu about her work, her inspiration, and the value of creativity in the world we live in.
What tools do you use to create your work?
I sketch my ideas on paper before transferring them to illustrator to create the vector design. Then I finish them in Photoshop for print or web.
Your work can seem wild with color and energy, but also very controlled at the same time. Is your approach spontaneous, or do you plan in detail before starting a project?
I can say a bit of both, but more spontaneous. When it's spontaneous it can be inspired by a thought; something I saw, a feeling or experience. When it's detailed, I have something specific that I want to talk about and I want people to listen.
You often portray interactions between people, that tell a story. Do these ideas come naturally, or do spend a lot of time developing them?
Most come to me naturally. I am very aware of my surroundings and the people I interact with – those experiences inspire my work.
I'm sure you have to market yourself to get new clients. Do you regard yourself as a brand, with the same challenges as any brand trying to stand out in the world?
I regard myself as a brand because as much as I'm selling my artwork, I am also marketing myself as an artist. I think people want to know my story and see it reflected on my work. So yes, I face the same challenges as any brand.
You're a South African woman, with a unique cultural heritage and experience. How does your identity inform the work that you put out into the world?
I can say it's the core of my work. I want to tell stories the way I see them, and experiencing life and being a South African women plays a big role.
What value do you think creativity & art have in a world striving towards equality?
Great value! Art provides a safe space for self expression with no limits, rules or expectations. An artist is judged and represented by the work they create, regardless of gender or race. It also brings people of different backgrounds together as they connect through the work an artist makes.
You can search for Phathu’s ‘Drum Circle’ collection in the Over app, within the Graphics finder. You can add the full scene she’s created to your canvas, or just sections, or individual sections and elements to share your own story during South African Women’s Month. You could also just use Phathu’s unique illustrations to develop your brand’s graphic style.
Here are a few examples of templates our designers have already created in Over. Why not use these as your starting point, and personalize a professional design for your next event, promotion, or message on social media?
Try out Over for free today, and dig into more than 70 000 hi-res graphics to supercharge your social content.