With a loose, energetic style and an eye for retro fashion from the 80s and 90s, Australian artist Rhea Isaacs creates illustrations that are full of fun, with just a hint of attitude. Working under the moniker YoungEarlGrey, she is not shy about using bubbly pink love hearts, loud 80s colour schemes, high belts or zany stripes.
Though she grew up and trained in Australia, Rhea moved to Paris in 2015 to merge with the European illustration scene. It’s been a big success, and her work has found a market among both edgy and established names in fashion, music and publishing. Music and entertainment in the 1980s are some of her biggest influences – from Back to the Future to Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen. She is an avid retro sneaker collector, has a wardrobe full of vintage fashions, and even owns an original jacket from Planet Hollywood Sydney, which was only in business for a few years.
The American artist Keith Haring is one of Rhea’s biggest artistic inspirations because of the way his work bridged commercial and fine art. Reading his diaries has given her the encouragement to take her career in new directions, and that sense of pure optimism is reflected in her work.
Rhea began by studying animation in Sydney, but moved to Melbourne to study illustration at the Northern Melbourne Institute of Technology (now Melbourne Polytechnic). Transferring to Sydney College of the Arts, she majored in Print Media and graduated with honours.
Though she began her training drawing traditionally with pen and paper, today Rhea works completely digitally. Having said that, her process is very similar. She draws everything on her Wacom tablet, then uses Photoshop to block in her strong colour work. A little grain is added to the image for a more tactile feel, and shadows are added using a cel shading method in a loose style. Her backgrounds range from photography with filters and grain applied, to block colours with a slight gradient, depending on the mood of the piece.
Rhea’s style will take you back to the 80s and 90s, capturing a bright and positive world where everybody wears chic clothes and cool sunglasses. She has always been fascinated by the idea of capturing the magic of that era. However, her work is not without nuance and using shadows she fine-tunes a range of moods in her illustrations, giving them greater flexibility in editorial applications.