Stella Ishack’s prints aptly demonstrate the combination of the modern and the traditional that we at the Lot 5 Collective believe in. She combines pencil drawing, watercolours and Photoshop to produce unique, dynamic, modern images of contemporary subjects. We talked to her about her work ‘FKA Twigs’.
Lot 5: Can you tell us a bit how you work?
Stella: Well, my starting point is always to overwhelm myself with inspirational reading material – I start most weeks by buying a few fashion magazines and familiarising myself with them. At first, I’m not even looking out for anything in particular; I just skim through and see if any image makes a lasting impression that compels me to revisit it. My drawings are usually an amalgamation of various faces, bodies and styles that I see both in real life and in magazines. Next, I think about composition – which parts of the face and/or figure I want to draw attention the eye towards. With Toulouse-Lautrec as one of my favourite artists, I try to emulate the way he deliberately leaves certain areas of a work unfinished, manipulating the viewer’s eye. I aim to do a similar thing with my work: using either a super sharp pencil or watercolour paint, I create areas of intricate detail and juxtapose these with areas of emptiness, hoping in the process to create some sort of harmonious contradiction. Once I’ve finished painting or drawing the subject of the illustration, I use digital software to render a simple, yet complementary background. The beauty of software like Photoshop is that you can experiment with colour schemes and ideas for hours before committing to anything.
Lot 5: Beyond being a representation of how she looks, is there a deeper reflection of FKA-Twigs in this image, or in the way that you’ve created it?
Stella: When I came across the photograph that inspired this piece in Elle magazine, I actually didn’t know very much about FKA Twigs; I was purely enraptured by her gaze, and the way in which the image seemed to remind me somehow of ‘Girl With A Pearl Earring’ in both its composition, content, and effect. Once I had read the accompanying interview with FKA Twigs, and subsequently watched almost all her music videos, I was sold. She’s someone whose creativity and talent goes beyond just making music; she’s an unapologetic, unconventional, strong, artistic visionary, who remains all the while, endearing, delicate, and real. She somehow defies the term ‘celebrity’, and yet is one for all the right reasons. I felt compelled to draw her, but more importantly, I wanted to be sure to use my creativity as a way of highlighting hers and bringing it to the fore.
Lot 5: Is there a thread running through the people you choose to portray in your images?
Stella: I’m not sure it’s entirely a conscious decision, but I think there is definitely a recurring theme in my work. I think in conventional fashion illustration, the emphasis and attention is placed on the clothes being worn (for obvious reasons). The figure wearing the clothes is often no more than a sentient mannequin, and I think on some level what I try to do is to bring the attention back to that person, to make them as real as the clothes they are wearing. Despite being a lover of style, I use my art as a way of resisting the idea that one has to be disempowered or a mindless follower to enjoy fashion, or to wear it. All the women I represent occupy powerful, possibly unconventional positions; in ‘Suit Up’, the model wears an androgynous tuxedo in place of an evening gown, in ‘We’re Painting the Roses Red’, the model is feminine and flowery, whilst wearing a King’s crown. In all these drawings, the figure is rendered in painstaking detail; she is not more or less important than the clothes she chooses to wear, they are a part of who she is, and one cannot be represented without the other.
Lot 5: Your work is very contemporary. How does that reflect the training that you’ve undertaken? How did you get to where you are today?
Stella: Having trained in the atelier method, and being a perfectionist, I find that drawing things realistically is my comfort zone as an artist. I don’t believe that realism, classical methods of drawing and being contemporary have to be mutually exclusive. Knowing how to draw something realistically grants one more artistic freedom, and gives one the ability to pick and choose what to represent in a more informed way. I learned while at school that drawing portraits and the figure brings me the greatest joy, and so it seemed obvious to me to combine this with my love for fashion. I thought it would take me much longer to find a personal style I felt comfortable with, but with a careful combination of my training habits and carefree drawing for the sake of experimentation, I found a groove I was comfortable with pretty quickly.
Lot 5: What direction do you think you’ll move in from here?
Stella: Working alongside the incredibly talented artists of Lot 5, I feel constantly inspired to incorporate more fine art elements in my work. I would love to experiment with oil painting at some point and see how this compares to the ‘super sharp pencil’ approach I’ve become accustomed to. I’m constantly trying to find new ways to attempt a less is more approach to drawing; to convey the appearance of sketchy simplicity, whilst employing all the representational techniques I’m used to using. I’m excited to see how my work will develop this year!