Liisa Chisholm graced the pages for the art interview for Issue 1 of Vague Mag. See below for the full article in its entirety!
Interview by: Guy Jones
Photography by: Rich West (unless stated)
A connoisseur of the dungaree and the ability to break any pessimism nearby (even Rich West), Liisa Chisolm is the truth! Burning the candle at both ends without so much of a frown, as this would still be wasting potential time she could be illustrating, skating or generally being one of the best people to socialise with. A true gem and another fine edition to this community we adore.
Tell us about where you grew up in Canada, it was fully Rockies wasn’t it?
Yeah I grew up in Calgary but I spent all my free time in the mountains. I’ve been skiing since I was 2.
Fuuuck! Was this the start of the transition into skateboarding?
I didn’t skate at all until I moved to London. I was just ski racing before that. I was racing biathlon which is cross country skiing and shooting – skiing with a rifle on your back. It’s so satisfying, you have to ski as hard as you can and then come into the range and slow your heart rate down. There’s a Canadian coin called the Teenee which is the same size as the target, just under 5cm for prone shooting (lying down) and just under 12cm from standing.
That’s so much gnarlier than what we would consider a biathlon here.
(laughs) I broke my foot and had a bone taken out of it then moved here for uni about 5 years ago.
When you first moved here, how long until you started skating?
It was just after I finished my foundation year, so about a year. I was super timid when I first moved here I was scared of everyone. I think I was always interested before but I couldn’t risk hurting myself with training (biathlon), which was twice a day, six times a week kind of thing.
When you did move here to study you certainly took advantage of the facilities, experimenting with multiple mediums, where did this motivation come from?
I think I get a bit too distracted and excited as well. In uni it was really hard to get into the screenprinting room but ceramics you could just walk in, show up and make whatever you wanted, so I definitely dived into that one when I had the chance to. I think I was just being a bit indecisive more than anything!
I guess it’s like the language thing where once you’ve been exposed to one medium, you understand the restrictions and could maybe pursue a different idea through a different medium?
Yeah exactly it all feeds into each other. I did a textiles degree but it was really open, so I think the degree at Chelsea is a lot more material exploration – you could get away with doing anything kind of. There was an open access kiln at uni, I wish I owned one. It was open access so you can go and work whenever you felt like it.
How did your parents react to BMT/Blast Skates when they came to your end of year show at Chelsea?
They loved them! They understand that those guys are my family over here. My mum was drinking prosecco out of the bottle with them and my dad was repping his Crocs so hard!
What did you have on display there, your textiles?
Yeah it was a bunch of garments, which I think was the first proper textiles I printed throughout my entire degree. I basically tried to teach myself pattern cutting from Christmas onwards up to the degree and ended up not really sleeping much for 6 months (laughs). I was happy with it in the end.
You can see a lot of childish innocence with a more sophisticated finish in your designs.
I don’t know if I actually know how to draw (laughs), so it’s just keeping things playful and just being really instinctual I guess. I find whenever I try and develop any drawings extensively they go in directions I hadn’t intended. A lot of the time, the first or second drafts have been the ones I’m happiest with and I think it’s kind of become the way that I work more than anything.
What medium are you currently pursuing for this style of illustration and where does it end up?
I’ve been working at a print design studio in Seven Sisters since the start of 2017, which has been really nice because it gives me full creative freedom to just draw whatever I want. They then take the prints and sell them to different brands all over the place; China and around Europe. The companies take the designs and manufacture them themselves. The studio I’m working for sells designs to absolutely everyone, from high street to luxury fashion.
You returned from Japan recently, how long were you there for and did you host any exhibitions out there ?
I went for 3 and a half weeks. I had an exhibition in Tokyo (Play). I’ve had another Play exhibition at Hoxton Cabin which I was stoked on. I’ve got one coming up with Aysha Tengiz and Caitlin McCarthy at Daily Goods in Camberwell, my caffeination spot in London. I’m panicking because I’m 2 drawings in and don’t have very long to go (laughs) but I think I work better under pressure. I think I’m pretty panicked when I’m working, I just need to have something to hammer it out for and make it work.
People defo need the deadlines to get stuff done. Have you had an exhibition in Japan before?
Yeah I had one last time I was out there too actually. I wanted to paint a shop shutter and contacted someone that I found on Instagram. Their friend actually ended up having a gallery there and it all just fell into place. It was so good because I met so many people; I was wandering around the neighborhood in Tokyo where I knew absolutely no-one, then someone started frantically waving at me and it was some guy that I met who I guess lived around there (laughs). But it was such a bizarre thing bumping into somebody I knew in Tokyo. There’s so many people that have connections to Stockwell who I met out there. Pretty much the whole time I was out there we were sleeping on floors with friends who had been to Stockwell for a day or two kind of thing.
he Stockwell community is super strong and very multi-cultural, when did you first go to the Brixton Beach?
I started skating Stockwell with Daisuke (Kagoshima). I met Dai the week he moved to London and we started going to Stockwell together all the time, so that exposed me to the Stockwell lot I guess. They’re all so sound.
There’s too many good things about that place. How was it at first?
I was shit scared the first time I went. I hid in the corner trembling (laughs). But I got used to it eventually.
And were you straight to Stockwell local?
Erm I wanted to start skating, I was basically googling “Where can I learn to skate when I have no friends” (laughs). I came across ‘She Shredders’ in Brighton and dragged my old flat mate out there with me, she just sat on the side and heckled me the whole time. But Lucy Adams taught me to drop in there, and after 3 weeks of that I started skating London because I couldn’t be bothered with the train ride. I think just having Lucy there to not make fun of me when I needed to be fully kitted up and feel safe, that was solid to have that.
That’s what comes when you have friends to skate with, the support.
Exactly. I didn’t want to just show up and ask some guy to stick his arm out for me to figure out how to drop in because I was too embarrassed. I haven’t been involved that much in the girls skate stuff otherwise, but Stockwell (especially now) has such a rad group of girls, Daphne was there long before me, but then Aurora and so many others. I can’t name people because I’m totally going to forget someone and then I’ll get axed but its a really good group.
I love that story about Jake Phelps smashing a bottle at the park and somebody made him clean it up.
That was Vickie! She screamed at him until he cleaned it up and she’s an air hostess, so she met him again in the States. He was like “Fucking hell it’s you?” and she was like “Yes it is!”.
What a legend! Again Brixton Beach has the variety pack of legends.
It’s solid too because my friendship group ranges from a 5 year old to a 65 year old at Stockwell and that’s really nice. I think the girls events are really good to a point because it gets people feeling comfortable and it’s nice meeting other people that do what you do. But also it’s like you don’t have to be best friends with someone else just because they skate. I think that pressure comes into it a lot of the time, where people think just because 2 people are girl skaters they have to be best friends when not all the guys are best friends. I just want to skate with likeminded people.
Was it like this with Biathlon?
Well it was co-ed teams when I did it. Our biathlon team was called ‘Biathlon Bears’, but then the boys team got changed to ‘Biathlon Bears’ and the girls team to ‘Girls with Guns”. They just temporarily segregate it for the juniors now. I was coaching the boys for a season, my job was mainly trying to stop people stabbing each other in the eye with ski poles rather than actually teaching them how to ski (https://www.globosurfer.com/how-to-ski/) because what do you do with a bunch of 6 year old boys? It’s just herding a bunch of kids around, the girls group was tame. When I was young I think the thing that made it most fun was that we were running mad together. I was really glad I was part of the co-ed group and I think they should push it back to co-ed because by the time you’re like 13/14 it’s back to that anyways. It was good, a bit of healthy competition, on the range especially.
Do you still go skiing with rifles when you do go back to Canada?
Yeah my coach lets me come back and shoot which is always really good, it’s nice to be able to keep that bit and skiing is a lot easier to just go and do. It definitely helps to go back shooting, it’s just the calmest thing ever (laughs). The smell of gunpowder is my favourite smell (laughs) which is probably not good to say in an interview, it makes me sound absolutely insane. It’s sick, most of my team is still racing, I was at a sports school so everyone was doing crazy sports. My best friends were in luge, where you’d hit 85mph on a sled, figure skating, a gymnast who got a hip replacement at 18. So many absolutely amazing athletes. Most of them have been like me and been injured and forced into retirement sort of thing, but it’s such a stoked bunch of kids so it’s nice to have all of them.
At least they had fun, I know when I’m going to be a pensioner I’ll be fucked but at least I thought I was a rockstar whilst fucking myself up.
Is that weird going from being super careful about everything I do to chucking myself at pavement?
(laughs) Yeah definitely.
Everyone who’s ever skated with me knows I don’t stay on my board very much (laughs).
You started skating here, is this something you do when you go back to Canada, or do you focus on different things?
I don’t skate that much when I’m back because everyone that I skate with is here kind of thing. There’s a park not too far away from my parent’s house, it’s got a bowl and a bit of a street course so I go there a bit. I usually go hiking everyday and cycle the rest, making the most of the mountains. I moved to Canmore when I was still racing, it’s an hour from Calgary, otherwise you’re doing the back and forth driving for training. Everyone in my family is involved in biathlon. My brother is a wax technician for the Canadian team now so he’s still in the circuit even though he’s retired and my mum helps organise Canmore World Cups and my dad helps out with wax stuff as well, so it’s a full family thing.
Skating is obviously a great lark but do you ever miss the competing of Biathlon?
Biathlon still holds a pretty big place in my heart. I wasn’t planning on retiring until I was older, obviously depending on how results went. I had a super good season when I was 16 and then had a season of massively high heart rates leading to a bad season after that. I was starting feeling pretty good again and ready to get back into things and then broke my foot.
Was that just before you moved to England then?
It was a year before. I broke it in the gym, then they had me training for 9 months afterwards. There was 2 x-rays, a bone scan, an MRI and then they finally figured out that there was a bone chip moving up and down my foot everytime I took a step.
(Collective empathetic grimace)
Do you have any input into the manufacturing? I’ve noticed with your own designs things are more ethically sourced.
Exactly, I think anything I’m doing under my own name, I try and keep as local as possible just because it’s rad to support anything local really, other design makers, factories and stuff in the UK or Europe if UK isn’t an option. But then in contrast to that I spent my first 6 months working in luxury fashion, after graduating which is still really weird to think about.
Tell us about some of your collaborations, the Doc Marten one was so dope.
That one happened after linking up with one of their Menswear designers on instagram, she helped sort out my Grad collection sponsorship and their illustrator feature came afterwards. That was pretty sick because it was just “Do what you like on a pair of boots” type thing. Alec took some sick photos and we just hung out and painted and ate a lot of snacks so it was pretty solid (laughs).
Another collaboration I discovered you did was a campaign bus for the Lib Dems?
(Laughs) Yeah, I illustrated the Lib Dem campaign bus, the year they completely shit the bed (laughs). I worked at a bakery during foundation and the friend I was working with ended up being the graphic designer for the Lib Dems that year. It was one of those weird things when the opportunity arose. “Yeah why not?” It was an experience for sure, it was cool seeing stuff in print that size because I don’t know when I’ll ever do a bus again.
I noticed that when you captioned it on your page you left it quite ambiguous as to your actual opinion.
Exactly, at least it wasn’t UKIP (laughs).
Would you like to do more artwork within the skateboard industry? Board and tee graphics etc.?
Yeah I’d be stoked to do that, just anything, I’m pretty open for everything because I think each project brings a new angle making you think about things in a different way. It’s always cool just working with people that you haven’t before. I’ll just be sending loads of emails out I guess trying to find someone to help me pay my rent (laughs).
How do you feel hanging out with other artists, is it competitive, or more of a community?
I think it’s been something that has pushed me so much, because I wanted to switch to an illustration course for so long…I’m really glad I stuck with textiles in the end – because I was doing more illustration it helped me stand out from a class of 90. I think most of the guys that I skate with are all doing something creative and it’s just really fun seeing what projects everyone is doing. Bromley’s always smashing it with Blast Skates and then pretty much everyone at Stockwell is doing something creative so it’s always sound.
Do you think that pushes your productivity?
Yeah I think so. It’s really cool because you go out and skate then sit down and just talk the art side of things as well, it’s just nice being able to combine two things that I love so much with so many people who are really stoked to do both of them.
Their vernacular isn’t classic art ponce either, it’s more “Faakin ‘ell, that’s faackin’ sick!”
(Laughs) It’s funny because there’s so many super mellow guys at Stockwell as well, they’re just the loud ones that you hear all the time I guess? (Laughs) It’s such a good group of locals, I think the biggest thing for me is that you can show up anytime of day and there’ll be someone that you know standing around, having breakfast, or just chilling, like 4 in the morning you find someone passed out in the sugar bowl.
Embodiment of a solid community to say the least, when are you next checking in a the Brixton Beach?
Purchase and appreciate Liisa’s marvelous work by going to – www.liisachisholm.com
Follow Liisa – @liisachisholm
Say “Hi” in real life also.