August 29, 2013

INTERVIEW: Isobel Knowles

I talk to the artist and animator about music videos, Astroboy, and a serendipitous incident which determined her career.

Isobel and the hotdog which features in the music video The Business World by Monnone Alone.

She’s someone I’ve admired since we met about seven or eight years ago. An original, creative genius who works incredibly hard at her craft. She is a multifaceted, intelligent, go getter, filling up her time being a member of a girl band, running her own business, and creating kick-ass music videos.

She does so much cool stuff with interesting people, sometimes I wish I was her. Those who are lucky enough to travel in her circle, would tell you that she is independent, passionate and always herself.

With attributes such as these, and the fact that they share a surname, you could easily mistake her for the celebrity rated #17 in Forbes’ Most Powerful Women of 2013 list, BeyoncĂ©. But instead, I’m talking of a young woman who is equally talented, deserves as much adulation, and I totally think could Run The World, it’s Isobel Knowles.

KATIE: Can you briefly recount the milestone/s in your life which has made you the Isobel Knowles we know and adore today?

ISOBEL: 1. My mum was a ceramic artist while I was growing up. She was at home working in her studio drawing, painting and making pots and we did a lot of art stuff together.

2. I had to make a fake job application in year 9 economics class. I flipped the job search book open to letter A, stuck my finger down randomly on 'Animator' and suddenly I knew that was what I wanted to do. Or at least have a go at anyway!

3. My art and media teachers gave me a studio to myself to set up and make a big animation project for my final year at school and I spent every spare minute in there experimenting and learning.

4. I studied Media Arts at RMIT which was a very open arts course teaching me amongst other things, self-motivation, critical art thinking and the importance of an artistic community.

5. I did the NEIS program which made me a lot more focused on how to make it all work as a business.

6. All along I've been playing music. From piano lessons when I was 7 to being in school bands, touring in real bands, making records and making soundtracks for friends and my own short films. I like to include a musical sensibility in my animation work, not just with music videos but with all kinds of things!

Where you an artistic/crafty child?

I did spend a lot of time drawing, cutting things out and making stuff out of recycled containers or things from the garden.

What was your favourite TV cartoon, comic book or fictional character growing up?

Astroboy. Such a brave and humble hero who was so curious about how to fit in with the other kids.

What do you like most about being a creative person?

There are a few things. Number one is having the luxury to have my ideas come into existence. That is very satisfying. Number two is getting to work with people I am inspired by. And number three is the time flexibility. My schedule is it's own creative being!

What's your least favourite part of the creative process?

When something isn't coming together well. Or when time gets away from me and I'm not able to do as good a job as I'd have liked.

Some of your projects, for example, the children's book, Owl Know How found you teaming up with textile designer Cat Rabbit. Do you prefer to collaborate over working autonomously? Why?

I like both worlds. Collaborating is wonderful for having two or more minds at work and coming up with something different to what I would otherwise think of. It also means I don't have to spend every day working alone!

The children's book titled 'Owl Know How', created by Isobel Knowles and Cat Rabbit.

An adorable short animated film by Isobel to accompany the book, 'Owl Know How'.

A lot of your animations have a cute, old school DIY aesthetic to them. Do you embrace new technology in order to make your job easier or do you prefer the traditional painstaking and time-consuming method?

I combine the two. I am impatient and could never go completely old school. I also find the old school ways less painstaking for some things. I use whichever technology feels right for the project. But certainly painting, cutting, pasting, sewing and setting up cameras and lights is a lot more fun to sitting and staring at a screen all day. I like to make my work fun to do so that it will hopefully also be fun to watch.

You have animated some great music videos over the years. How does this process differ to, say, creating the award winning interactive installation You Were In My Dream?

With a music video I begin by listening to the music. Responding to the music visually is priority number one so I figure out some movement or imagery I want to include and then I build a concept around that. With an artwork, it's usually something else that is the beginning point. Either the concept is clear from the beginning or comes from responding to a theme or to a mode of interaction. I like to fit concepts to medium to make sure the final work has some layers that connect to each other.

A still from the award winning installation, 'You Where In My Dream'.

Do you get sick of hearing the song you're animating?

I never get sick of the song. When you're working with something your focus is different to when you're simply listening to something. You really get to know the thing inside out. Then, when you hear it years later it's like seeing an old friend!

Here's my personal fave music video of Isobel's 'My Old Ways' by Dr Dog.

What's the best piece of advice you've received?

Be yourself. AND take care of yourself!

Is there true love?

YES. It comes in a variety of colours and tones.

What else is coming up for you?

I'm working on two exhibitions at the moment:

A Matter of Factory with Cat Rabbit at Westspace Gallery opening Thursday, September 12 and running until Thursday, October 10.

Stitching Time, a group show I'm curating with Dell Stewart at Craft Victoria that brings animators and textile artists together to collaborate on experimental installations. That one opens Thursday, October 15.

I'm also putting the finishing touches on some animations for The Melbourne Museum to go in their new Bunjilaka exhibition opening Saturday, September 7. Find details here.

AND my band, The Icypoles has finally finished mixing an album which will hopefully be out before the end of the year! ♦

A few sneak peek images from Isobel's upcoming events to get you excited!