Interview with body positivity artist, Izzy Weis!
To start the year, we have the pleasure of speaking with Exeter-based artist, Izzy Weis, about her fantastic portfolio of body positive artwork! During our discussion, we touch on the reasons why Izzy decided to focus on the female form to begin with, the ways in which her art is helping people feel more confident about their bodies, the elements of her work that she finds the most rewarding, and more!
Britain Uncovered: Hi Izzy! A lot of your early Instagram posts feature art that is quite abstract and experimental in nature, but among these pieces was a drawing of a nude female with a caption stating that you “miss life drawing”. Had life drawing been a big part of your early career/experiences as an artist? And what was it you used to enjoy about it so much?
Izzy: I studied art at college and went on to do a degree in Fine Art; life drawing was heavily featured on both courses. It was something I always looked forward to because it helped to develop my drawing skills by presenting me with a variety of body shapes and poses – as well as pushing me to work in ways that I wouldn’t normally, such as quick one minute sketches. I also really valued the input from the lecturers.
Britain Uncovered: In June 2020, your Insta account became devoted almost exclusively to body positivity nude art, and we’re pleased to see that this is something that continues to this very day! What made you want to go in this direction, and what’s the most rewarding part of creating art of this nature?
Izzy: I started painting properly again in the first lockdown. I’d done a few bits since finishing my degree in 2015 but had been limited in terms of time and space (and probably motivation!). I initially chose the female form because it was something I could source easily online because my opportunities for inspiration were restricted due to lockdown. And as mentioned in the previous question, life drawing is something I’ve enjoyed before so it was an obvious choice.
At first, I didn’t think too much about what the art was about because it was about the process as a means to keep myself sane and occupied. But it’s evolved into promoting body positivity and I’m so glad it has because I’ve stumbled across something that means a lot to me. The most rewarding part is hearing that women relate to my paintings, making them feel better about their own bodies. If my paintings can help one woman to feel more confident, then I’m happy.
Britain Uncovered: Nude artwork, such as the fabulous pieces you create, can be empowering and help to promote body confidence, but it can also be used to help desexualise the female form. What are some of the most important themes and messages you’re seeking to convey through your work, and how is it intended to make the viewer feel about themselves?
Izzy: I think first and foremost it’s about body positivity and empowering women. That’s my main focus. I want my work to improve how women feel about their bodies and that extends beyond the model. I hope that women see bodies they can relate to and see them in a positive light.
Something that I’ve recognised recently is wanting my work to reclaim the female form and breaking down society’s views of what women should or shouldn’t be. I recently put up a post about using the words “tits” when referring to my work and how people felt I should use a different word because it was deemed unladylike. Which is crazy to me, because what does ‘ladylike’ even mean? At first I was just using the word ‘tits’ in a light-hearted way, but this reaction provoked something in me that I wasn’t anticipating.
I want my art to portray women in a variety of ways because I believe we can be a combination of anything we want to be. I’m tired of women being perceived as dainty flower princesses. I want to show that women can be strong, sexy, delicate, muscular, curvy etc. Thinking about me personally, I have so many dimensions to me as a person; I walk miles in all weathers and can squat 80kg, but also can be sexy on my terms.
Britain Uncovered: We noticed on your Instagram feed that you often undertake commissions, which we know can be a really rewarding process for both the artist and the model. How do you go about these pieces once you’ve received the reference image you’re working from, and how impactful have the finished pieces been to the individuals featured in your work? Are commissions a good way to help people look at themselves from a fresh and more celebratory perspective?
Izzy: Working on commissions is something I really love and so far I’ve had such a wonderful response. Usually people have an idea of what they would like in terms of style, composition and colours, but I often give advice on how to take the photo. I’d then sketch out the main shapes and start painting from there! I always work from black and white images because it helps me to see the tones better. I don’t send photos of the painting in progress to the customer unless asked because I prefer their first experience to be of the finished piece.
It seems to be helpful to people to see their body from someone else’s perspective. It’s common for women to view their body in a negative way often because of how we’ve been conditioned by diet culture and the portrayal of the female body in the media. A nude painting of yourself can be a really powerful and positive experience, and the feedback I’ve had has echoed this.
Britain Uncovered: As well as impacting the viewer, does working on commissions and nude art in general help you (as the artist) feel a greater sense of empowerment and body confidence too? Several of our previous interviewees have stumbled across this as an unexpected side-effect, and focusing on the body so closely, and for such prolonged periods of time, seems as though it can really help the artist. Is this something you can relate to as well?
Izzy: This was something that I hadn’t anticipated but I think it explains why I’m so passionate about my work because it’s struck a very personal chord. I’ve had difficulties with body image since my early teenage years. I was stuck in the classic cycle of crash dieting, losing weight, gaining weight, and repeating for many years. This was fuelled by unrealistic body standards and diet culture.
Over the last 18 months I’ve learnt that it isn’t my body that’s the problem. It’s how I’ve been conditioned. Painting and connecting with other women has changed how I view myself, enabling me to have a much healthier and positive relationship with my body, as well as with food and exercise.
Britain Uncovered: You recently had a stand at the Fore Street Flea Market in Exeter, where you had a selection of your art available to buy on the day. What kind of response do you get from the general public – many of whom are perhaps discovering this type of artwork for the very first time – and do you feel as though it’s important to have a physical presence like this, in addition to all your online channels?
Izzy: It’s really interesting seeing people’s responses to my work. I’ve noticed women covering their partner’s eyes as they walk past, which I find a little odd because they are just paintings! It just demonstrates how sexualised the female form has become, highlighting why it’s so important for the general public to see work like this.
I do understand that not everyone wants nudes on their walls, but my work isn’t just about creating a pretty picture. It’s about empowering women and reclaiming the female form so it’s important for people who may not normally see art like this to encounter it.
I recently had a man heckle me as he walked past with a friend asking if I was the model. I asked him if he thought that was an appropriate question to ask… funnily enough he didn’t respond and carried on walking. The vast majority of feedback has been positive though and I’ve had great conversations with people about the importance of promoting body positivity.
Britain Uncovered: Turning our attention to the body positivity movement in general – aside from your own work as an artist, what do you make of this increasingly important cause, and do you feel as those social media is helping to move things in the right direction and embracing bodies of all shapes and sizes? We know you’re quite keen to promote all types of bodies through your work.
Izzy: Yes and no. There is definitely a lot more presence on social media relating to body positivity which is inspiring to see and gives me hope. There seems to be a lot more awareness of the impact of diet culture and people are actively speaking about it. It makes me sad that this is required, but it’s so valuable. I really hope that it will prevent further harm to people’s mental health as well as helping to resolve the damage that’s already been caused.
Whilst I’m hopeful, there is still a huge presence of heavily posed and edited photos which continue to perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards. People like the Kardashians and shows like Love Island contribute to this and it’s scary to see how much influence they have, especially on teenage girls. Things are moving in the right direction, but there is a long way to go.
Britain Uncovered: Would you say that you consider yourself to be a body confident person by and large, or do you find this challenging to a certain degree? What tools or techniques could help an individual to feel more secure and at ease with the skin they’re in?
Izzy: As I mentioned, my body confidence has improved massively over the last 18 months. However, it’s still something I have to be mindful of. I have days where I feel super confident, but I often have days where I struggle. I’m much better at being kinder to myself and accepting that these days happen, which minimises how much it affects my mood.
One thing that I’ve found useful is thinking about my body in relation to what it does, instead of solely what it looks like. I also find it helpful to remind myself about everything that can influence body shape such as hormones, food, water retention etc. The thing I’ve found most beneficial is to remind myself that it’s okay to not love your body every day. There’s a huge pressure for women to do this and it’s an unrealistic expectation. I think a lot of people, like myself, struggle to do that. This can lead to feelings of shame and again, is just another form of telling women what to do in relation to their bodies. Acceptance is key. It’s important to understand and normalise that bodies change day to day as well as removing the pressure to totally love our bodies the way they are all of the time.
Britain Uncovered: On the theme of body confidence, we have to ask…! During a recent visit to Glasgow, you ended up at the top of Conic Hill overlooking Loch Lomond and posted a photograph of yourself topless looking down at the lake – and you mentioned that you wanted to go “full nakey” but you were worried about people coming up the hill! How did this experience come about, and what did you make of it? Do you feel that clothes-free experiences such as these are a good way of helping us to accept and embrace our bodies?
Izzy: To be totally honest, I’m not entirely sure where the idea came from. It was something that popped into my head prior to the walk and I just had to go for it. I think it was probably a ‘free the nipple’ reference. It sounds cliché, but it was really liberating.
I don’t have a huge amount of experience with clothes-free experiences outside of the house, but I can imagine they would have a positive impact. Going to a nudist beach is on my lists of to-dos for 2022!
Britain Uncovered: You also noted alongside one of your posts that it can be quite important to take nude photos of ourselves: “Not for your partner, the person you’re texting or a random artist on Instagram. Not for anyone else but yourself.” Could you possibly elaborate on this notion and explain why you think it can be such a helpful exercise?
Izzy: We should feel sexy for ourselves, as well as for others. Taking nude photos can help with body acceptance and improve confidence. It allows someone to see their body from different angles and perspectives as well as helping them to get used to looking at their body.
The aspect of doing it for yourself is important because the process can be just as helpful as the end photo. I guess it can be seen as a form of self-care because you’re allocating time to do something to improve your mental health, and the reason you should be doing that is for you and no one else.
Britain Uncovered: There’s a really eclectic mix of empowering body positive nude art across Instagram at present, and so much of it intrinsically linked to supporting the body positivity movement. How much do you enjoy seeing everyone’s creations pop up on your feed, and can it also be challenging at times to come up with fresh and original ideas that help you stand out from the crowd?
Izzy: I follow some really amazing body positive artists, and it’s great to see like-minded people using their creativity for such an important issue. Artists will always be inspired by other artists but I’ve tried to develop my own style as a way to set my work aside from others – but it is difficult.
I do sometimes find myself with creative block, especially when trying to think about where to take my art next. However, because this is a relatively new venture for me, I haven’t felt the need to come up with too many fresh ideas just yet. Instead, I’m focusing on improving my skills to produce better paintings before moving on to new ideas. I do have some ideas for the future floating around my head though!
Britain Uncovered: Thinking back to your career as an artist to date, what would you consider to be some of your favourite pieces, and which works are you perhaps most proud of? Are there any that are perhaps overlooked or under-rated in your opinion?
Izzy: I have so many favourites and all for different reasons. The second painting with a black background I did, who I’ve since named Venus, is definitely one of my favourites. I take a print of her to every market and she gets a lot of attention. Working in this style enabled my creativity to flow a little more than the other style because I had more control.
My most recent commission is also in this style and has definitely been added to my favourites. Audrey, the brown and gold lady, also makes the cut. But I think I actually prefer the print version finished with gold leaf – I’ve got one ready to put up in my bedroom along with a Venus print and one other that I haven’t decided on yet.
A few others that need a mention are Celia, Becky, Sarah, Catherine and Ashlee (is it okay to have that many favourites of your own work?!) In terms of ones that are overlooked, possibly the Goddess Series. They don’t seem to be as popular so I stopped working on them, but may pick it up again in the future.
Britain Uncovered: Finally, what does the future hold, and how do you hope your art will progress in the coming months?
Izzy: My focus for the next few months is to portray a wider variety of bodies in both of my styles which is why I’ve recently asked for models. I keep toying with the idea of portraits but I need to work on my drawing skills first, so that’s a little way off. Also, I would love to be involved with an exhibition and to have some work for sale in galleries. I have some other ideas but will keep them hush hush for now!