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What does female-led creative work look like to you? Design Studio

What does female-led creative work look like to you?

  • 10 read
  • 26/01/2023

Established in 2018, Not Not Smiling, aims to amplify the voices of female and female-identifying creatives, and provide a platform for them to connect and share their knowledge, experience and work. What was once an event that took place once a year to mark International Women’s Day, Not Not Smiling has grown into an annual series of physical events, online conversations and a blog series that provides a platform for even more voices worldwide.

In this series, we ask female - identifying creatives from around the world, short questions covering topics including the meaning of creativity, inspiration, their processes and how we break the gender bias in our industry.

In this edition, we ask what does female-led creative work look like to you? Are there any preconceptions of female-led creative work that you wish to see dismantled?

A glimpse into Fuchsia MacAree's portfolio

Fuchsia MacAree

Illustrator. Dublin, Ireland

Female-led creative work looks like an infinite amount of things.

"I can often naturally identify more with female-made work - I feel like in the last few years there has been an explosion in the commissioning of stories that I can relate to personally. Hopefully, as time moves on we'll reach true intersectionality, and work being funded and commissioned will accurately reflect the wider population.

Female-led work is such a huge catchall term that any preconceptions couldn't be applied across the board. Personally, I don't subscribe to the idea that I have to change my behaviour to fit into a masculine working world. I like being overly polite and kind in emails! I like using exclamation marks! I do try to avoid the discourse about how people should act or approach the working world, I want to make things I'm happy with and support others who are doing the same. That's how I feel empowered and build connections with other female creatives."

Fuchsia is an Irish illustrator who grew up in the Irish Countryside and now lives in Dublin. Her interests lie in nature and human connections.

LinkedIn, Website

Examples of Zoe Pulley's work

Zoe Pulley

Designer. Rhode Island, United States

For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within that knowledge that our real power I rediscovered. It is this real connection which is so feared by a patriarchal world. Only within a patriarchal structure is maternity the only social power open to women.

"Excerpt from The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House, Audre Lorde, 1984"

Zoë Pulley (b. 7/93) was born in Chicago, Illinois and grew up in South Orange, New Jersey. She currently is based in Providence, RI, pursuing her MFA in Graphic Design as a Presidential Fellow at Rhode Island School of Design. She received her BFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2015 and began a career in apparel design in New York shortly after graduating. She designed many a legging and sport bra during this time for brands such as Under Armor, Splendid and Spalding. Motivated to preserve generational narratives of Black experiences through print, textiles and other media, Pulley pursues ongoing projects including the jewellery line GRAN SANS and the collaborative open-call project called Black Joy Archive.

Her current work primarily focuses on the narratives of Black folks and questions the visibility of Blackness and meaning of these stories within various spaces. She loves to laugh, she loves her grandma and she currently loves the color orange (again).

Instagram, Website

On the left is Joanna Shuen, on the right is an example of her work

Joanna Shuen

Graphic Designer, Sydney Theatre Company. Sydney, Australia

The main characteristic of female-led creative work is everything that happens in the background.

"It includes the intangible qualities that a female leader, manager and colleague bring to create a safe workplace. The tacit rapport among women is a strength of creative work; you can't see it in the final product, but it is integral to how the work comes about. I don't believe female-led creative work has a particular aesthetic – it's not all pink and rosy – and female leaders are not 'bossy' – they're assertive."

Joanna Shuen is a designer and artist whose practice is bound by material exploration. From print to image-making to digital, her practice involves playful experimentation and in-depth research that examines the past and analogue processes to help inform and communicate her ideas. The result is a unique visual style with strong conceptual solutions that present reality in unusual and visceral yet thoughtful ways. Her hands (and house) usually bear remnants of her current project. She is currently a graphic designer at Sydney Theatre Company.


A snippet of Ticiana Suili's art

Ticiana Suli

Artist. London, United Kingdom

My journey as an artist has derived from a deep desire for stillness.

"This desire to create did not solely derive from being a woman, therefore my womanhood is not at the core of my work. This idea that female led creative work has a “look” only insinuates that a woman’s identity is bound to her sex. It fails to look beyond her womanhood for ease of assumption that at the core of every female creative there must be some underlying characteristic that binds us all together.

I wonder what that same characteristics are for men. What does the male led creative work look like to you? We ought to dismantle the notion that female led creatives are producing work solely based on their womanhood. That a woman’s work can be easily spotted as though there was a piece of string tying her to the next female creative. These preconceptions limit our scope of understanding when trying to connect and understand women’s work. It neglects all the other aspects of her identity by putting her gender/sex at the forefront. In doing so, we are unconsciously creating a subcategory of the female creative that insinuates a woman’s only desire for creating derives from her experiences as a woman. We are more than our sex, our experiences run deeper and deserve the same recognition and depth as a man’s."

Currently living in Brighton, London raised digital artist, Ticiana Suli, has been honing her skillset on Procreate since 2015 where she first discovered the limitless possibilities of digital creation. She developed her love for abstract expressionism through the accessibility of a digital medium that allowed her to work anytime and anyplace on her iPad and iPhone. The app's accessibility provided her with the financial freedom to create whilst exploring deeper into her subconscious mind. Having used art as a therapeutic tool, Ticiana's work is a glimpse into the underpinnings of her mental health. Since graduating with a degree in Sociology, her work also explores socio-political concerns surrounding themes of capitalism, identity and control.

She currently volunteers for a young person's mental health organisation, Art in Mind, where young people are able to freely express themselves in a safe space through artist creation. Her journey as an artist is in hopes of reaching other people that have battled with their mental health, that may find inspiration and answers through her work


Examples of Sarah Gladwell's work

Sarah Gladwell

Design Director, Here Magazine. Auckland, New Zealand.

To me, the work often comes across as inclusive and accessible, while at the same time current and radical – sometimes in a quiet way, sometimes not.

"Refreshingly, there are more female creative directors at agencies these days and they tend to lead their teams with importance placed on a healthy work/life balance, which is certainly dismantling the preconception that only good creative work can come from late nights led by tyrannical egomaniacs."

Sarah Gladwell (she/her) is a graphic designer from Aotearoa New Zealand, based in Gadigal Land, Sydney, Australia. She is the design director of Here – an architecture and design magazine about what it's like to live in New Zealand right now.


Shabnam Shiwan

Shabnam Shiwan

Creative Director, Osborne Shiwan. Auckland, New Zealand.

A creative voice is shaped by our own lived experiences. Gender is simply part of that.

"Our studio is always seeking to better understand our client needs. Strategy, empathy and simply just asking questions allow us to think outside of any preconceived ideas. As a female creative, my aim is to balance head and heart - big, bold conceptual ideas that resonate emotionally.

I think it’s fair to say that sometimes we all have preconceptions, defined by groupings such as gender, ethnicity or even disability. I’m affected by all of these but, by being authentically ‘me’, staying connected to culture, and really listening, I avoid most preconceptions."

Born in Lautoka, Fiji, Shabnam Shiwan grew up by the Pacific Ocean, near tropical rainforests and colourful marine reefs. As Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi Design Worldwide, Shabnam has created memorable work for Delverde, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare and Spark NZ. Shabnam has been recognised in AGDA, Clio, AIGA, One Show, TDC, ADC, Good Design and Red Dot awards. Her work has been exhibited in Objectspace and published in Graphis (USA), I.D. (USA) and Page (Germany). Clients include Auckland Art Gallery, Taupō Tourism, Allpress Espresso, Fiji Tourism, Godavari Diamonds and Atamira Dance Company. Shabnam is a participant in Here Now, an international mentorship programme for BIPOC creatives.

Linkedin, Website, Instagram


Through Not Not Smiling, we have worked with a number of charities local to each of our offices that support and uplift women. This year, we are delighted to be supporting:

Young Women’s Trust in London who are working to achieve economic justice for young women.

Hour Children, a leading provider of services to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women in New York State.

Women’s and Girl’s Emergency Centre (WAGEC) is a feminist, grassroots organisation that supports women and families in crisis and advocated for social change in the community. They are based in Redfern, Sydney and work on the lands of the Gadigal and Wangal people of the Eora Nation.

We will be sharing more on each of the Charities across our blog and social channels soon. Please be sure to check them out and support their work if you can.

Not Not Smiling