The arts have been a part of Izy Kali’s life since as long as she can remember. When her family moved to Malaysia and she began her IB Diploma Programme (DP) studies at the International School of Penang, her work as an artist only grew as part of her identity. Izy continued on to study illustration at the University of Brighton, UK before launching a career specializing in illustration and motion graphics for social media.
We spoke with Izy to discuss her inspiration for the IB mission poster and learn how she built her career. See her portfolio or contact her at www.izykali.com.
Listen to the full interview on the IB Voices podcast
Could you tell us bit about balancing your experience as an artist and student?
I did the IB on an island in Malaysia, Penang. My parents had been living there for about twelve years. After I finished, I went and studied illustration and now I work in graphic design and do mainly social media as my main job with motion graphics on the side.
I always thought that all of the other subjects fed into the arts side of my education—especially my literature classes. I would get a lot of inspiration from the stuff that we read, from the poems—and even maths with the golden ratio. I think that balance isn’t necessarily the right word, it’s all part of one thing really, everything kind of does interconnect. I didn’t feel the need to really have balance, I thought it was balanced by itself—I always had art on my mind anyway.
Was there a moment when you knew you wanted to become an artist or has drawing and creating illustrations been a part of your whole life?
It was definitely a part of my whole life. Since I was small, I just always drew and painted and I kind of never imagined myself doing anything else. I didn’t have any other dreams, that was absolutely it. It was just a part of me forever, since I could remember, I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I didn’t know how I was going to make any money with that and neither did my parents but they were super supportive.
“Since I was small, I just always drew and painted and I kind of never imagined myself doing anything else.”
I started off like most artists do, where, after I graduated in illustration I realized I didn’t want to do all of the jobs that are typically part of illustration, like book illustration. There was definitely not one moment where I thought, “I am now a working artist” It was a long and grueling process of me doing things for free and slowly putting my rate up and doing a lot of things that at the beginning I wasn’t very good at. It takes so much work until you can do this as a job. It took a very very long time for me to become a professional illustrator.
What we really want to talk about is the IB mission statement poster. What was your first reaction when you heard about this project?
I was so surprised because it came completely out of the blue. I got a LinkedIn message from Scott [an IB staff member] saying, they would like me to do some proposals for the mission poster and found me by searching for illustrators on LinkedIn. It was amazing and was definitely the biggest project I had worked on at that time. It was really exciting and also kind of intimidating, but I was super excited to get started on it.
Was working on this project different from any other brief you had worked on? Did your background with the IB help inspire the design?
Yes, it was so different because I work in graphic design, advertising and social media. Everything that you do has a very straightforward reason for existing—you’re trying to sell a product or you’re trying to get the consumer to do x, y, z. But this was very much like the kind of projects that I did back when I was in the IB. I had to convey a feeling and the hopeful world that IB is trying to produce. It was very different, and it was very much like a fine arts piece and not a design job—so completely different from everything I do day-to-day.
“It was meant to represent how education and knowledge is the key to opening all of these doors and bringing you to a future where you can make the world a better place.”
The way that I did art during the IB in my classes, we were always taught to really think through something before you start creating it and have a true important reason for creating something and really try to convey something more than just a pretty picture. It was really ingrained in me during all of my art classes. And of course, I could actually understand what we were trying to convey with the poster because I lived it, I experienced it during my education.
Would you be willing to describe the poster to someone reading or listening to this?
I went through the process of drawing quite a few different sketches and then the one that worked the best in a general consensus was more, kind of, abstract. It’s meant to be is inspiring, with rolling hills and trees and there are these two students, IB kids, in a hot air balloon traveling towards the open sky. It was meant to represent how education and knowledge is the key to opening all of these doors and bringing you to a future where you can make the world a better place. You can really go where you want to go and achieve the things that you want to. It’s very emotive through the colors and the textures that I used to bring out a really hopeful feeling.
If you could give advice to your past self before starting the IB diploma what would it be?
I think the main thing would be—I always compared myself to other people and tried to do things by a certain time. I would say: “okay by the age of twenty I really need to be here and have this caliber of job or have all these things completed”—neither of those are a good way to think and it doesn’t help in any way. So, doing things on your own time is really really important and not being so hard on yourself. If you work hard, things will work out. It doesn’t need to happen in the next two years; maybe it’ll happen in five years. I would say, be way less hard on yourself. I think young kids around that age, when you’re finishing IB, have a really detailed path that they want to go on and that’s not the right way to live.
There are two sides of the coin—I think I wouldn’t be as hard working if it wasn’t for the IB. They don’t push you that hard if they didn’t believe, all of the teachers I had, they truly believed in my abilities—that’s why they expected a lot out of me.
Was there a specific teacher that you felt like really help you and supported you as an IB student?
Yes, definitely my art teacher. He was really great, and he helped me with my extended essay as well. I spent so much time with him talking about all the possible options that I could write it about and it was really fun. He made it really fun—and really interesting because I made it about an art topic as well and he was super supportive. From the get go he always said, you can go to universities for this, and here are the ones that I think you can go to. He just had so much information and there was no doubt in his mind—where there was definitely doubt in my mind—I was a teenager, as you know, it’s a very nerve-wracking time and he also gave me courage to go to the U.K. by myself.
Is there one memorable moment from your IB education that stuck with you over the years?
We had an exhibition which was our end of year art exhibition—we spent so long framing everything by ourselves and putting everything up—and we invited everyone from school to come. It was the first time I’d really accepted my work, even my teachers and staff would take me really seriously and it made me feel really validated—I’m not just a student doing it but that I’m a serious artist and that this is something I could pursue in the future. It was just really good for me to have that experience because it gave me the courage to go and do this as a profession.
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