From a very young age, Isabel Hu (C '23) was always drawing—sometimes on scrap paper, sometimes in an art book, and a little too frequently on her family’s couch. Nowadays, Isabel frequently finds herself stopping to look for the visually intriguing elements in her daily life, often snapping pictures to reference in future works of art.
“Literally yesterday, I went to the [Penn] museum, the Egyptian section,” she says, fiddling with the stylish longboard in her hands. “[I saw] these tiny statuettes … I’m planning on doing something with them.” Isabel does far more than just appreciate art—she uses it as inspiration for the creation of her own unique artistic language. While her mediums of choice have shifted and likely will continue to morph over time, her enthusiasm and passion for creativity are everlasting.
Isabel was originally trained as a traditional hyper–realist painter, meaning she was taught to translate images directly from photographs to canvas in the most true–to–life way possible. “I feel like that [hyper–realism] really stunted a lot of my creativity,” she says. “It was very direct, but I wanted to start exploring my own style.” This motivated her as she grew older to create more expressive and innovative works. Using Procreate and the Adobe Suite on her iPad, Isabel quickly realized that the options to channel her creativity were endless. With amenities like an infinite color wheel and the ability to toggle layers, easily erase mistakes, and zoom in and out, the digital medium has opened Isabel’s eyes to a world of artistic possibilities.
As a design major, many of her assignments require her to feel comfortable with producing digital art, but Isabel’s drive to create on her own time is what has made her fluent in the medium. Journeying from a reference image to a sketch to a final draft, full of vibrant pixels of color, has become second nature for Isabel—so much so that she comically finds herself trying to zoom in on paper.
Isabel is particularly proud of one digital project: a transformation of her best friend into an action movie character. She was inspired by a pose she saw while scrolling on Instagram, and she used it as a starting point for the piece. Working with a bright and innovative color palette that she felt matched her friend’s aura, Isabel created a dynamic, creative, and visually engaging rendering. When scrolling through her Instagram feed, the countless depictions of friends show just how much Isabel cares about the people in her life. Some of these friends have even asked Isabel to design them a tattoo, including a Tree of Life design now on her friend's peck.
These tattoo designs are another way Isabel employs digital art; she’s even gotten many of her designs tattooed on her own body. For Isabel, a tattoo is both a personal work of meaningful art, as well as an act of rebellion. “It says art in my mom's handwriting,” Isabel says, pointing to the Chinese character on her chest. “She doesn't know,” she says with a mischievous smile. Interjecting during our discussion about why she is drawn to tattoos, Isabel tells me that she’s getting another one tomorrow. This self–designed piece, now on her shoulder, is of two snakes emerging from a flower and symbolizes various forks in her life. It adds to her vast and growing assortment of tattoos ranging from a Creation of Adam–inspired set of hands to Snoopy from Peanuts.
Despite facing consistent pressure from her parents to abandon her dream of creating art professionally, Isabel has stood her ground—understanding that others' dreams should never trump her own. Likewise, when hyper–realism stopped satisfying her craving for creativity, she started to explore other avenues more conducive to expressive experimentation, like tattoo and digital art. Isabel makes her life choices by questioning whether or not she’ll regret them decades down the line. This mindset has led her to study design, seek out a summer tattoo apprenticeship, and work art into her daily life. Isabel hopes her “no regrets” mentality will inspire other students struggling to commit themselves fully to art. “Just go for it,” she says with a smile.