The artist otherwise known as … Izzy Greer ’14

As I sat down to chat with Izzy Greer ’14, I noticed that her hands were streaked with gray – the product, she explained, of a project for her drawing class. “I had to paint my fingernails purple to hide the charcoal,” she said, laughing. “I look like a miner.” As we discussed Greer’s artistic background, from her experimentation with a variety of media to her compulsive doodling, traits emerged: her eagerness to try new ways of making art and her ability to run with an idea. Put another way, she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty.
A native of Santa Barbara, Calif., Greer credits her grandmother with getting her creative juices flowing: “She got me started with watercolors and sketching flowers when I was really little,” she said. At school, Greer moved on to an essential stage in the artist’s development: doodling in class. While this became a pastime (as well as a distraction), it also led her to new media. She notes her eighth grade history teacher as one unexpected source of opportunity: “I hated his class, hated him, but he knew I was into art because I spent all class doodling,” she said. Recognizing her creative inclinations, he commissioned her first painting – with a catch. “It was a reproduction of ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware,’” she said. “I added in his favorite historical figures, like Churchill, hanging off the back with a cigar, and Napoleon.”
Another opportunity came from a family friend and fellow artist whose home had burned down. “She asked me to help make a memorial,” Greer recalled. “We got started making these sculptures from the ashes, and it turned into an exhibit for charity.” In a similar venture, she participated in a show benefiting the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, which had also been damaged by fire. Taking her childhood art projects in a new direction, she tried her hand at ash painting: “I drew in glue and sprinkled ash on it like glitter,” Greer said.
Through high school classes, Greer expanded her palette to include photography and printmaking. In addition, she served as the staff illustrator for her school’s newspaper, which “showed me the business side of art: dealing with people telling you what to draw. I learned to be flexible,” she said.
Since arriving at Williams, Greer has taken “Drawing I” and “Drawing II,” which have allowed her to develop a thematic vocabulary in addition to her technique. “I tend to draw a lot of faces,” she said. “I find it’s the most interesting thing to draw, because it’s always hard for me to do. On my own I do pictures sometimes, also doodling out of the blue – which I’m doing less here than I did in high school,” she hastened to add. Two of these doodles found a home in the first-ever edition of The Sketchbook last semester.
Outside of class, Greer volunteers once a week at Pine Cobble Elementary School working with students on art projects. “A lot of what I do is trying to get them to focus and not hurt themselves,” she said. As her words suggest, the position provides its own rewards and challenges outside of the creative process, “I really like working with kids. They’re so sweet and so honest – so brutally honest,” she said.
Recently Greer found an outlet for both pursuits – making art and working with kids – through a job as an illustrator for Lucky Penny Press, a Santa Barbara-based publication company. The company creates picture books that can be downloaded through an iPhone application. After receiving a story, accompanied by a breakdown of the pages, Greer decides upon illustrations and then executes them in acrylic paint. It’s a job that draws on her experience in creating art on demand for her high school newspaper and art classes. “I like having boundaries, knowing what direction to work in,” she said.
Greer plans to continue with studio art, resolving the ever-looming question of a major while serving a deeper personal purpose. “It helps diffuse the crazy,” she said. “I kind of need to be doing art; if I’m taking a class it gives me an excuse.” As for untried media, her ambitions range from bookmaking to slightly less defined areas: “I would like to do something where I use dangerous tools – something fun,” she said.
In addition, she is “loosely” planning a second major in history. She attributes her interest in the field, which she confesses “I used to hate,” to her painting for her middle school teacher. The experience gave her a new view of history: “These are real people with real stories. It’s so grand – everything is connected,” she said. This mindset reflects the approach she has taken with her art, using the people around her as subjects and letting her encounters with them provide new links in her creative development.
Thinking of herself as “an artist,” though, remains a work in progress. “It makes me afraid of taking myself too seriously,” she said.