The A to Z...

Of making a creative career work

Words: Phendu Kuta | Photography: Liezl Zwarts | Creative Direction: Unlabelled Magazine

Making a creative career work is no mean feat. Even though some people manage to make it look effortless, behind the cool social media posts, countless accolades and recognition is a lot of hard work and dedication.

We profiled five very diverse creatives from different industries so that they could share how they make their creative careers work. Think of it as a dose of inspo for the year ahead.

Jake Michael Singer is a visual artist who completed his BA degree in Fine Art at Michaelis School in 2013. His work focuses on architecture, urban landscapes and how people interact with built space. He has shown his work in Cape Town, Joburg, Washington DC, Venice, Los Angeles, Lima, Edinburgh, Basel and Paris.

Performer, dancer, musician, and muse Manthe Ribane was first known as a member of the Joburg-based dance group V.I.N.T.A.G.E crew and travelled the world as principal member of Die Antwoord’s dance ensemble, before moving on to focus on her solo career. Since then she has co-founded DearRibane113 with her siblings, which is an agency that deals with conceptual set design, graphic design, film and music.

Pietermaritzburg-born Matte Nolim, real name Siyathemba Duma, is a fashion graduate from the Durban University of Technology. Matte established his label in 2014 after participating in the KZN Fashion Council's program called "21 steps to retail". He has since showcased at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Joburg and twice at SA Fashion Week.

Nolan Oswald Dennis is a Zambian-born multi-media artist and was the 2016 winner of the FNB Art Prize for his elaborately contoured and delicate line drawings that can best be described as symbolic maps. Dennis is also a member of the Joburg-based art collective NTU, for which he produces works that function as a response to the commercial, cultural, and technological hybridity that represents our way life in SA and beyond. 

Nandi Dlepu is a creative entrepreneur who in the last year launched BLOOM, a woman-only conversational platform, and FRIDAYS – a bi-monthly live performance event that provides a stage for up-and-coming as well as established local acts. She has worn and still wears many other hats, which include producer, director, art director, event organiser, THE WKND SOCIAL co-founder and founder of Joho Moms. 

These creatives share their A-Z of making a creative career work.

Awareness / self-awareness

"Somewhere along the line, I began to understand that this is what I'm meant to be doing." Jake


"Freedom is definitely a motivator, freedom of expression as well as the freedom that comes from social development. It's important for me to feel like I'm giving back to the world. As a content producer and creative, this means I've been moulding my career to reflect this." Nandi

Create your lane

Matte attributes his success and current position to "not following the crowd and doing what feels right and necessary".


"The most fulfilling part of what I do is the sales (lol) and knowing that people love it enough to reach into their pocket for it." Matte

Quoting Biggie Smalls, Manthe says: "Being broke is childish."


For Nandi, striking a balance between standing by (and for) yourself and standing with others is important. She adds, "I believe in communities and collaboration".

Fall to Fly

"I've had a handful of disastrous moments or chapters in my personal career that I draw from – things I never want to feel again, positions I don't want to find myself in again and ways I have let myself and others down. On the flip side, I have a handful of highs I like to recollect to keep me going. Like, I want more of that feeling, how do I go about feeling more of that?" Nandi

Go the extra mile

Matte puts an emphasis on learning and advises, "studying your course really well and then when you graduate study your industry just as much. Knowledge from tertiary institutions alone won't make you the best in your field."

Haphazard (the world)

"The best thing I can say about the journey to where I am is that it has been a constant effort to find other ways of seeing the world and other ways of sharing that world. The work I make is a result of this struggle to see things as they really are and aren't." Nolan


"Follow your gut, always, and all the work you put in will count for something. Giving up is never an option and there are no shortcuts that are worth it." Matte

Journey = Destination

"Success is made of tiny victories along the journey. From decision to decision, task to task, day by day, and from week to week. The journey matters as much as the destination." Nandi

Keep it moving

"Learn early on that you will fail, that you will make mistakes and that you need to keep on moving. My recovery game is on point. I'm not the stay-down type and on top of that, I make a point to come back better and stronger." Nandi

When it comes to dealing with challenges and adversity, Manthe's method is: "I face it, evaluate it, find a solution and move on. Sounds very computerised, but it really helps me a lot. Holding onto problems is like holding onto dirt that will only drag you down."


"I'm a big dreamer and that really drives me to never give up and stay striving for more." Manthe


Speaking her dreams into existence and having a vision to remind herself of where she is going is how Manthe transcends challenges and adversity.


Jake states that one of his greatest lessons so far is realising that he has more work to do.


"I've had some wonderful opportunities but now that I know what footprint I want, opportunities are easier to distill and should make for a smoother journey. Being able to recognise a great opportunity is one thing, but having the ability to recognise if it's for you is another." Nandi


Nolan says that when faced with adversity or challenges in his work, he deals with them by reaching out to the people closest to him, "I speak to Phumlani Pikoli as often as possible. I call my parents when I'm really not sure what to do. I ask my younger brother for his opinion on everything I don't understand. I rely on people." Nolan

Question dogma

Jake reveals that producing work that connects people to their humanness, which exists outside the system of global capitalism is one of his motivations.

Matte looks up to new-age brands like Vetements as they question the definition of luxury and are changing the face of fashion.


"Being real is one of my most valuable personality traits." Manthe

Staying Power

"When I started working I was a receptionist in a design and animation studio until I got my degree. I was then moved into the production office, which was an exercise in patience. I had a passion for broadcast which I made known quite early on so when channel imagery and promo work for SABC came, I was on it." Nandi


"Sticking to my word at times can be a challenge. But I've learnt not to overload my day with lots of commitments. When things are hectic we have to make things happen regardless" Manthe 

Uncertainty is OK

"I could not be a visual artist without having a safe space to feel uncertain. I have had the good fortune of meeting a group of artists who I trust with everything: Lisolomzi Pikoli, Tabita Rezaire, Bogosi Sekhukhuni and Keleketla! Library." Nolan


"I used to always tell myself that I need to be versatile within my craft." Manthe

Work, work, work

"Of all the personal characteristics that were most valuable in getting me to where I am today, hard work is the most clichéd because it’s the most true."  Jake


"Produce the best possible work you can and then create the best possible opportunities. Seek and ye shall find. Repeat." Jake

Your Prerogative

For Manthe, success is having the courage to live her dream and get paid for it.


Jake expresses that success, for him, is the ability to still be producing on his deathbed.