Kelly Isaak: Finding the unique in everyone

Story by Andrew Bardsley
Photo by Liam Glass

Amid the dozens of rooms within the infamous Shamrock Hotel, a once popular yet rough spot, sits local artist Kelly Isaak. The hotel, closed in 2015, has been repurposed as the arts facility, NVRLND, where each of the dingy, rough-and-tumble rooms now serve as art spaces for local artists – Isaak being one of them.

Upon entering Isaak’s studio, you are struck by the dozens of faces staring back at you, each possessing a unique feature – such as an interesting facial expression or glasses – and each telling a different story.

Isaak, a graduate of Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD), majored in drawing but also spent much of her time at the school painting. Following graduation, Isaak took her craft to Tokyo where she lived for six years

“It was initially only supposed to be one year, but that quickly turned into six,” recalls Isaak.

It was a combination of both necessity and limitations that led Isaak to a new form of art: photography.

“We were really limited in the space we had in Tokyo; my whole apartment was probably the size of my studio.”

Isaak spent a great deal of her time in Tokyo immersing herself in both film and digital photography.

“I found a public dark room in Tokyo and worked with a few photographers and that was pretty much all I did until I came back to Canada.”

Isaak now takes many cues from her photography, incorporating them into her current artwork.

“When I came back, I would go to figure drawing classes three times a week and I eventually started using photos as reference for my drawings.”

With her current project, Isaak is working on a series of coloured-pencil portraits, each one with a radically different colour scheme than the last.

“Something about each person makes me think of a certain colour. I try and do something that would be an interesting juxtaposition between the subject and the colour I choose.” 

Her new project stresses techniques that Isaak has not relied on as heavily. It is a new experience for the artist.

“I used graphite and charcoal before and, with those, it is really easy to get it to have shadows and shading but with [coloured pencils] it is sometimes really hard.”

Isaak, now working as a teacher in the fine arts department of a local high school, passes on her wisdom to her students, telling them they “have to start noticing what is different about everybody and finding what makes them unique before you can draw or paint them.”

Currently putting together an exhibit that she hopes to showcase in 2019, Isaak focuses on people whose faces tell a story, whether that person be a stranger or a family member. Isaak is here to tell the story of the everyday person with her work.

Check out Kelly Isaak’s work on Instagram and her website.