Niki Groom aka Miss Magpie Fashion Spy is an award-winning freelance illustrator based in Bristol. A former fashion designer, four years ago Niki turned to full-time illustration thanks to a rapidly growing client base and Instagram following. Her clients include Clinique, Molton Brown and Liberty. She’s also frequently asked to live illustrate at events. In sharp contrast to her commercial fashion and beauty work, Niki has also drawn people living in the Calais refugee camps and continues to work with the Refugee Women of Bristol. Niki spoke to The Spoils about Bristol’s hidden gems and the creative community.
“I live in Totterdown – the colourful row of houses you see on the hill when you come into Bristol Temple Meads station. Six years ago I moved from a succession of rentals in London to buying in Bristol on a whim really but it’s been perfect for me.
I love living in such a mixed area with a real community feel, but what Bristol has given me most is the space and time to be creative. I walk everywhere – everything is just a 25 minute walk from my doorstep - and that gives me really valuable thinking time and inspiration.
When I was living in London and feeling hemmed in, I Googled ‘creative retreats’ and found this amazing sunlit studio overlooking the sea in Scotland where I drew for a week. I’ve tried to recreate that feel with my ‘Sun Room’ at the back of my house where I work. It’s crammed with easels and plants I’ve bought from Old Market Plants, whose calming Instagram stories I love, and indie magazines from this gorgeous stationery store in Clifton Village called Papersmiths.
If someone was coming to Bristol for a short break, I’d recommend staying in the newly opened Hotel du Vin on Avon Gorge, which has the most spectacular views overlooking Clifton Bridge. I’d start the day with a swim and lunch at The Lido, a hidden gem behind a row of Georgian townhouses in Clifton.
Wapping Wharf is my top recommendation for a wander with quirky independent shops set up in shipping containers and laid-back restaurants. My favourite restaurant, Root, serves vegetables as the key dishes with meat like pork belly as side plates and there’s a gorgeous terrace overlooking the harbour. There’s also a restaurant called Box E which only seats 14 people and has the most delicious tasting menu. Bristol has a lot of secret cocktail bars with that speakeasy vibe, like the Red Light where you call from a knackered looking phone box outside to be let in through the graffitied entrance.
What I really love about Bristol are the multipurpose cultural spaces, like the Bristol Old Vic, which is such a beautiful building. The other day I went there to see a video installation and then sat and had a drink and drew. The music venue Colston Hall is being refurbished at the moment but it had that same inspirational open-to-everyone feeling.
I like stopping off at the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery for an indulgent half an hour tagged onto a walk. Last time I was there they had a fascinating exhibition of Japanese wood blocks. KimonoKimono would be my number one fashion destination. It has the most pristine and beautiful vintage collection.
I’ll occasionally head for a morning coffee to 25A Old Market, which has a really calming vibe and a lot of people on their laptops. I also love Baristas Coffee Collective which is owned by an old school friend and a real community hub. When I first came to Bristol, I had a little exhibition there. In London it would have taken months of planning and I loved the ‘let’s just do’ it attitude.
I interact with a lot of people on Instagram and I’m often invited to events. I felt I should try networking but I’d end up sitting in a corner drawing, then putting it up on Instagram where the people I didn’t talk to all commented on it. I’d rather chatting was unforced. I’m looking forward to a talk by Caroline Criado Perez about her book Invisible Women, as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas.”
Main image credit: Remco Merbis