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Alice Isaac on developing a signature visual style

Image-maker and animator Alice Isaac on how she got started in the industry and developed her characteristic approach

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Walk the walk is our series where we ask creatives about the early stages of their career and getting started in the creative industry. Image-maker and animator Alice Isaac tells us about her collage and mixed media projects and working for clients such as Nike, Prada, and Adidas. Read on to find career inspiration for young creatives on self- promotion, beating creative block, and tackling a creative brief.

For people who don’t know you, can you tell us a bit about what you do?

I am an image-maker and animator who mainly works with collage and mixed media. I have been lucky enough to create work for some pretty amazing clients like Nike, Reebok, Adidas, Prada, Diesel, and Flaunt Magazine.

How did you get started in the creative industry?

I originally trained for 3 years as an editorial make-up artist at London College of Fashion which I pursued for a few years but never really progressed. I gave this up to work in the design and illustration industry in a more admin based role. Up until 2.5 years ago, I was working as a Project Manager/Producer at ilovedust and then at the Goldenwolf studios until I realised, at age 32, that I wasn’t happy in my career and the source of my unhappiness was due to being creatively frustrated.

After being made redundant I took a huge leap of faith in myself and started from scratch. Even though I had worked in the industry for years by this point, technically, I had a very minimal skill set and no formal training in illustration or animation. If I was going to pursue this creative path I had a lot of catching up to do.

I was casually browsing creative job boards. One day I saw that the artist Quentin Jones was looking for an assistant. She’d been a huge hero of mine for years, and while this would be a bit of a humbling step backward for me, I knew this experience would be invaluable. I worked with Quentin for just under 2 years learning her processes and approach to working with mixed media. Then every evening I went home to watch Youtube tutorials and learn how to animate. I was really enjoying it, steadily getting better every day and realising that my animation skills were improving. I was starting to make creative choices that felt a lot more like me. I was making experiments with collage and animation, sharing them on social media and getting a good response and some interest from some (now) clients… and here I am.

How did you kick start your career in design and animation? How did your style develop?

Collage is a brilliant medium to pick up quickly when you can’t draw well. I think a lot of my style actually comes from not being able to draw or animate very well. I developed something that was achievable within my skillset, so everything is kept quite simple but trying to elevate it in the coolest way possible. I also work on a lot of projects where I’m working with pre-existing images or footage that I need to find a way to make it look more interesting while still maintaining the integrity of the original material.

What are your main influences and inspirations in your creative work?

I gravitate quite heavily towards fashion imagery, faces and the human form in general. It has always been my default, it’s a realm that feels very familiar and comfortable to me. I have a bit of an obsession with fashion magazines and seek out progressive and bonkers editorials that transcend stereotypical notions of what fashion or beauty "should" look like. I love a lot of mid-century surrealist photographers but I’m also hugely into more current photographers, digital artists and art directors like Daniel Sanwaald, Dexter Navy, Jesse Kanda and Isamaya Ffrench.

When you get a brief for a job, how do you get started?

The very first thing I will do is break down the mandatory client requirements of the brief, figure out which of the rules are more flexible and what is absolutely fixed. Collage as a medium can be quite time consuming so it’s important to know my boundaries in terms of deadlines and what is achievable in that time. Without fail, I always start with research. gathering references for me to build an idea from, I often make response mood boards for both the client and for myself as a jumping-off point.

What do you do to flesh out an idea or beat creative block?

I always think looking outside your medium is a great way to reinvigorate your brain and shake things up a bit. It's really easy to fall into a kind of tunnel vision when you only look at the same resources. Also, I think if you have the luxury of being able to take a bit of a break away from a screen it helps. Whenever I'm stuck I’ll often go and check out an exhibition, grab a new book or magazine, listen to a new podcast, anything that feels like a change and is away from my desk.

When you work with a brand, how do you balance your style with theirs?

It's a tricky one. It really is all about compromise. I often have to remind myself that the reason a brand has chosen to work with me is that they have seen my work and they like what they do. Usually, in the first round, I will push it as far as I can with my style and give the client the opportunity to ask me to pull it back a bit. Very often you have to give up a lot of your own choices and try really hard not to have an ego about it. But, more often than not, the work can look better for having that level of collaboration.

What gets you excited about animation and image-making?

Learning new stuff. I still consider myself to be in a very early stage of this career. I have a real passion to keep learning animation and experimenting with images and trying new things. I’ve just bought a huge bundle of vintage 60s and 70s dutch porn comics that I’m going to make something that Instagram will probably take down within 5 minutes.

What career advice would you give to your younger self?

I would probably tell myself to not give up on the creative stuff, keep going. I’d tell myself it’s going to be a rough ride, but it’s going to be alright.

What's your biggest tip for self-promotion and kick starting your creative career?

Honestly, I’m terrible at self-promotion, but I’m getting better. I had a tendency to overthink it and quite often I just didn’t feel confident about sharing something for the fear of getting a weak or bad response. But now I just share things regardless, the likes and comments shouldn’t be the focus, just the fact that it’s out there in the ether and it has visibility. Whether you love it or hate it, social media is your friend. It certainly has been to me, I’d say 90% of my work has come through Instagram. I have had the benefit of seeing the creative industry from both sides. As a producer, I was always looking for new talent and freelancers on social media and I know that’s the way a lot of hires are made nowadays so don’t neglect it.

Take a look at more tips and inspiration to help you kick start your creative career or with your New Bloods entry.

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