Isabella Whittaker is a babe creating babes. Currently at university and forging her own path on the local art scene, she's killing it. Whittaker's distinct style is a total treat on the eyes, inspired by long days at a secret beach location and women of all shapes and sizes. Her current collection, babes, are being shown at Henley Beach Swedish Tarts with great success.
When and how did you first get into art?
I’ve always had a piece of paper or a canvas under my nose. I particularly remember when I was about seven, my grandpa purchased a huuuge slab of this beautiful A1 paper whilst on one of his usual Saturday garage sale hunt. The paper lived under my bed and on the weekends I would go nuts experimenting with various mediums on this special paper. My mum and dad met at design school and have always encouraged me (and my sister) to be creative. Visits to ‘Premiere Art’ in the city was something we did frequently, I can still smell that shop. It has one of those smells that makes you so happy and eager to get creative.
During school holidays I would be doing short drawing courses at Carclew, Little Picassos and Ruth Tuck Art School. Ruth Tuck was particularly amazing, we’d drive east into this beautifully green block of land, mum would drop me off with 15 other kids and we’d sit in this cold, dim workshop learning how to draw self portraits. Halfway through the session we’d eat our pre packed lunches in the sun on the rocks and play down by the creek. It was absolutely magical. If fairies were to live anywhere, it would be there. It was just so green.
As a family of four, we’d sit in the sun and paint the afternoons away. We used acrylics on huge canvases, watercolours, marbling, print making, attempts at tie dye with beetroot juice and lino cuts just to name a few. We painted with chalk and water on the footpath outside my house in summer and even gave the cubby house a colourful makeover. I feel like I never really got into art, it was just there from the very start.
Why do you love creating?
The whole process is so relaxing to me, it gives me the opportunity to think about nothing and everything at the same time. I totally zone out and listen to hours and hours of music. I find that I prefer to work on larger scales of work that take up chunks of time and have me out for blocks of five or six hour each. Before babes, I was creating these amazingly detailed rangoli/ mandalas which were so much fun to develop. These patterns to me were mindless to create so it was about the state of being at peace and listening to music. The babes are much more simplistic, but I’d still prefer to do an intense chunk of even seven or eight hours at a time. The other side of creating that I appreciate is being able to express a way of thinking or how I’m feeling. Without saying a word, I am able to tell a small story or project emotion.
How did you establish your artistic style?
I’m still not sure I have a personal style, it changes every few years as the environment changes around me. Although I’m loving the babes at the moment, it’s just as likely to change at any point. Being at university has taught me heaps about design principals and developing my own style, I’ve also been exposed to some very groovy people and the lifestyle of being in the city which is most probably impacted the way I draw and what I take for inspiration for my ‘babes’.
How did you come about the idea of the ‘babes’, your current collection?
It was just a few days over summer, I filled a whole A4 art journal from start to finish of these faces. The evolution is amazing! I kept trying new things, every single head was different, I literally didn't stop until I was happy. The funny thing is, they are still developing which is the beauty of it. I have a bit of a strange obsession with collecting plants hence all the foliage in my designs. It keeps it fresh and happy. The babes I draw have diversity in size, skin colour and religion just because I think it looks so beautiful and should be recognised as a normal thing in society. And I always made the girls realistically sized. This was more of a personal issue for me, and drawing it reassured me of who I was in a way.
Who/what inspires you?
I take inspiration from everything! I have my eyes open all the time and I’m frequently taking photos. I follow amazing Instagram’s that are constantly giving me ideas. Just as a whole, scrolling down my feed and soaking up different colour combos and styles. I also take lots of inspiration from my beautiful mother. She has the most amazing drawing style and the older I get, the more my work starts looking like hers (lucky me). She loves drawing woman figures with sweeping hair, flowers and flowy dresses, all in a very similar simplistic style.
Your ‘babes’ currently have residence at Henley Beach Swedish Tarts. Was this your first exhibition? How does it feel for the general public to be looking at and loving your creations?
YES!!! It’s so incredibly exciting!! And what a feeling it is to have hundreds of eyes on each piece. For months and months I’ve be creating and developing these ‘babes’ and apart from posting some successes on Instagram, no one really got to see them. It’s so rewarding seeing a whole collection up on the walls of Swedish Tarts and having them up for 3 months gives them a generous exposure time over Spring (babes are up from the 1st of September till the 30th of November).
I certainly feel a huge sense of accomplishment.
What’s the ultimate art dream for you?
This is tricky. I would love to continue developing my style and perhaps even start making ‘babes’ patches for people to collect and whack onto their funky denim jackets. As a career, my ultimate art dream would be to travel around to music festivals and create, film and edit movies recapping the adventure. I like to call them ‘feel good movies’. They don’t really do much but put you in a warm, happy mood. Creating digitally is just as important as on a piece of paper for me. So yeah, I guess being a roadie for a band and staying creative would be my ultimate art dream…
You make your own clothes, too. How did you get into that and why?
Making clothes has been something I’ve looooved doing since I can remember. My mum is a bit wiz on the ol’ sewing machine and so is my beautiful nana. My nana would make a majority of her clothes when she was my age, especially dresses that she would go to dances in at the local hall. She has taught mum everything she knows about sewing and then passed the skills (and the short temper) on to me! I’m such a rookie, but there’s something about the challenge that makes it an exciting exercise for me. It’s pretty cool to be able to whip up a shift dress to rock and know that it was made by yourself. I only make very basic items, but I’m really getting into making outfits out of mohair and crochet rugs. I created this super funky two-piece for a music festival a few years ago. It was this spectacular grass green and white plaid. I’ve also made a shift dress that I wear religiously out of a tan mohair knee rug. It’s just fun, it’s different and you know 100% that no one else will have it.
Your Instagram is proof that you love a getaway, where’s your favourite local hotspot?
Camping, adventuring and escaping has to be one of my favourite things to do since I was little. When I was younger, as a family, we’d always disappear to a beach or a remote campsite for the weekend, rain, hail or shine. Lucky for me, my best friend, Sarae shares the same passion (and has a drivers license) so we can run away all the time!! We love the beach, so anywhere with water, and we’re there. Our top (super secret) spot is in Innes National Park. Our days there are full of discovering, creating, drifting off sleep to Flight Facilities’ hour-long deep house disco set in the sun and eating.
What are your favourite things about being on the Radelaide art scene?
It’s all very exciting to finally have an audience for my art and people are so positive about my babes too. There are so, so, so many funky designers and artists around Adelaide and I feel so privileged to be a small part of it. It’s super important to get support and I have been absolutely spoilt rotten with the attention and positive vibes oozing from little ol’ Adelaide.
How can people find you and your work?
I had no clue how my ‘babes’ would go and how people would react to them so the exhibition at Swedish Tarts was almost an experiment. Seeing they are getting so much love (which is totally incredible), I’d love to have some more art exhibited and put for sale in the near future. We’re only just over two weeks in and I’ve already sold well over two thirds. I’ll continue doing what I’m doing and see how my art develops.
You can follow Isabella on Instagram at @bellawhitts.
For commission work or other inquiries about her art, contact this babe at firstname.lastname@example.org
Isabella's 'babes' will be at Henley Beach Swedish Tarts until the 30th of November.
All photos courtesy of Isabella Whittaker.