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June 1, 2018

Adelaide designer Nicole Stewart takes her work to the world

From a modernist home in the Adelaide Hills, Nicole Stewart is creating design and illustration sought after around Australia and the globe – including, repeatedly, by British comedian and actor Stephen Fry.

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  • Story: Farrin Foster

Nicole Stewart has been part of Adelaide’s creative scene since before the city even acknowledged it had one.

The designer and illustrator graduated uni in the early ’90s, and went from running a studio and putting on art shows with friends, to working with book publishers, to taking a job at Imagination – the firm that went on to become Imagination Entertainment, but was at the time an embryonic internet start-up.


The works hanging in Nicole’s living room are, left to right, created by Paul Sloan, Rosetta Santucci, and Simon Ifould.

It was there that Nicole made an international connection that has been a major part of her career ever since.

As an early-adopter of computer and internet technologies, Nicole was ahead of the web design game. A colleague at Imagination recognised the potential in that.

“I worked there with Andrew Sampson. He’s a producer, he actually studied at NIDA,” says Nicole.

“He got in touch with Stephen Fry back in, I think, the late ’90s. I think because of some kind of theatre connections. It’s pretty crazy, but from there it was literally just saying that Andrew and I would do his website for him.”

Nicole’s studio colleague Peggy

Stephen decided to take up the offer, and Nicole set about creating his website. That working relationship blossomed – Andrew went on to move to London and go into business partnership with Stephen, and Nicole has now been creating things for them for almost two decades.

“There’s been some different things over the years – lots of different incarnations of the website, I worked on his book of Oscar Wilde short stories, that was a great chance to do some illustrations,” says Nicole.

“It’s been a lot of projects over the years, and he’s just released this new podcast series I’ve worked on.”

The most recent work has been made in her home studio – a side nook just off her and her husband’s bedroom in their family home in the Adelaide Hills. Prior to 2014 though, Nicole, Ian, and their kids were based in Melbourne.

The lure of Melbourne was initially work – Nicole had an opportunity to join Imagination’s web team, which was based there. But, after more than a decade spent living there, as the city became increasingly more logistically difficult to navigate, the family felt the pull of South Australia again.

Returning home, Nicole has become part of a community of other creatives working from home in the Hills, and is working on steadily building a list of local clients to add to her international and interstate roster.

This is very nice

“Being able to talk face to face – I guess that’s the ideal relationship,” says Nicole – who has recently collaborated with the Hills Montessori School and City of Adelaide.

“And because I’m working up here, it’s nice to get out and see people.”

In between clients, Nicole is also working on her own projects – the foremost of which clearly draws inspiration from the rambling, gum-filled, quintessentially Australian land that surrounds her home.

“I’m really interested at the moment in how good design can engage people in the natural world – in going out and being outside. I just feel there’s a real hole in what people know about the outside of Australia,” says Nicole.

‘There’s some information available, but sometimes it’s presented in a sort of outdated way. I like the idea of trying to contemporise this information.”

And we like the idea of learning about Australia’s weird and wonderful flora and fauna through Nicole’s idiosyncratic aesthetic.

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