Alice Isaac: ‘You’ve got to test the boundaries’

TagsUs by Night, design, graphic design
  • this is antwerp
  • this is antwerp
  • this is antwerp

Alice Isaac is a freelance image maker and animator from East London. Her diverse background within the worlds of fashion, editorial, illustration and animation brought her to Antwerp, this year. She was on stage for the first time at Us by Night, a design & creativity festival in Antwerp. We talked to her about her career switch, why it’s sometimes necessary to ‘fuck’ with Kendall Jenner’s face and this one amazing bookshop she discovered in Antwerp.

This is Antwerp: You started off your career working in production and as a project manager, do you sometimes miss working in this field?

Alice Isaac: No (laughing loudly), I’m much happier doing what I’m doing now. The main reason that I stepped away from doing production and being a project manager, is that I had a very very small amount of creative involvement in what was going on. I started to realize that I was getting frustrated, but I hadn’t quite identified why. I’ve grown up being quite artistic and I studied art and makeup design. There I did have that creative output and therefore wasn’t as miserable at that time. Even though it clicked, I kind of ignored it and still continued to work as a producer until I really got to ‘the end of my tether’. I realised that I had to change something, so I’m much happier now. But it’s not like I naïvely thought that the workload would be easier working as a freelancer, or that I could pick my own hours.

TiA: In your talk you also expressed that you experience(d) al lot of self-doubt, because you didn’t possess any specific technical abilities such as animation or drawing. It’s something very recognizable for a lot of people. What advice can you give to these people?

Alice: The thing that I’ve learned from having the self-doubt, is that it’s something that we actually should embrace. Because everybody has it. Everyone has varying levels of it and there’s people that are head of the game, creative directors, owning a company…they could be the most experienced people and have self-doubt. Everybody has it, but it comes down to how you manage it and that’s something that took me a little while to learn. I was really lucky to have a really supportive network of people who were saying ‘you’re doing alright, get on with it’. I know that’s not something that everybody has, but I think it’s worth having the conversation with people. I think it’s interesting because -I don’t know if you’ve noticed- I talk a lot (laughs) and I’m quite honest about how I feel. I work in an industry where I get really frustrated with the bullshit-side of things and I’d rather just be really open and honest about everything.

TiA: You also taught yourself the profession, for example by watching YouTube tutorials?

Alice: Yes, it was a really tricky one because my husband is an extremely talented animator, but not quite the same type that I do. I also worked at Golden Wolf and everyone there is pretty much an animator or designer. I had these people to learn from, but I’m quite stubborn (laughs) and I was like ‘I want do this myself’. I wanted to learn the basics and then you’re ultimately faced with these short courses that cost like £3,000. When you’re  living off tins of beans, it’s not worth it. On YouTube, however, everything is freely accessible. I’m also kind of a control freak and was like ‘if I do this for myself, it’ll ultimately feel a little more rewarding’.

TiA: You worked with major brands such as Adidas, Prada, and people like Kendall Jenner and Billie Eilish. How does working with them differ from working with smaller brands?

Alice: It’s often way more restrictive. Because you’re working with bigger brands and they’re ultimately working with different people’s agendas and their own sets of rules. So like for example with the adidas project, I was working with Adidas’ brand guidelines and then I was also working with Kendall Jenner’s guidelines. If you gave me the images and said ‘go fucking wild’, I would’ve done something so completely different. I couldn’t do that in this case. But with those brands giving me everything I need, I also have to respect what they want. What I do tend to do with those kind of jobs, is that in the first instance I’ll push myself as far as I can. I mean…I’ll fuck with Kendall Jenner’s face until they go ‘no, no you can’t do that’. I will never go completely nuts, because they’ll probably be terrified. I’ll go to where I think is just slightly out of their comfort zone and then they’ll ask me to bring it back a bit. You’ve got to test the boundaries to get something out of it that feels a little more ‘you’. Sometimes they know exactly what they want, then you don’t have any say and kind of have to get on with it.

TiA: Even though you’ve accomplished a lot, you don’t like to be called an artist. Why is that?

Alice: It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s more that I struggle with what I perceive to be an artist. I just don’t think I am that. It’s been also compounded by listening to a lot of the talks this weekend. I think art is way more conceptual and has a lot more depth in terms of where ideas are coming from. It’s ultimately incredibly intelligent, whereas, I just make shit look nice. At the moment I count myself as being very early in my career and I know that I will adapt and progress as I go along. But I know, and this sounds terrible, that I need to maintain some kind of commerciality to make money from. There’s people that I’m absolutely in awe of that make fine art and I love their work, but I know they don’t make it commercially. I’m also just not that deep (laughs). I love hearing about other people’s process and inspiration. My depth of inspiration isn’t enormously conceptual, yet. I’m sure I will get there, at the moment I’m just trying to keep my head above water and make things look pretty. Part of the thing is also, art is ultimately subjective. It’s whatever anyone feels or takes of something that you made, that’s utterly personal to them. If they think it’s art or if they thinks it’s shit, that’s completely fine.

TiA: Do you have any favourite Belgian artists?

Alice: I have to admit that I don’t know many Belgian artists, but I’m a big fan of Dries Van Noten. I went to go and see the window displays because where I’m staying, is not that far from his flagship store. It was so amazing, I just wish I could afford the clothes. I also know that Antwerp is famous for the Antwerp 6 or something like that, that’s pretty cool. Just walking around the city today like: when can I move here? And can all the shops just take all of my money? I found the most amazing bookshop today, they were selling like vintage, not-quite-porn magazines (laughs), old Playboys and stuff. I spent a ridiculous amount of money. I have no idea how I’m going to get them home in my suitcase, but this is stuff I don’t have in London.

TiA: Have you ever been to Antwerp before?

Alice: Yes, I came here three years ago. I came to Us by Night when it was at the different location and that was when I was a producer. It’s pretty weird being here in this capacity now. I vividly remember fantasizing about being on stage, but I’d never ever thought it would be possible. That’s why I got a bit teared up at the end of my talk because I was like ‘OMG this is actually happening’. Up until that moment I was just worrying about stumbling through my lines, when I got to the end I was like ‘oh god it’s over, I’ve done it’.

TiA: Do you have a favourite spot in Antwerp?

Alice: That bookshop that I went to was amazing. I can’t remember the name though, and if I did, I’m not telling anyone either (laughs). We also went to this museum that’s not far from here and has this amazing building with glass cut-outs (the MAS). I’ve just really enjoyed walking around the city, it’s so beautiful. I think I’ve eaten all the breakfast I could possibly eat. I really wanted to go to some other museums, but I’ve ran out of time unfortunately. I definitely want to come back, there’s so much more to explore.


Text and pics by Julie Gabriels


Making a book in four days: we create, we invent, we never rest

this is antwerp


this is antwerp

Us by Night 2018: the full report

this is antwerp