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Artist finds niche in collaborating with local bands

by ELSA ERICKSEN Daily Inter Lake
| May 16, 2024 12:00 AM

When artist Isaac Passwater returned home to the Flathead Valley following his graduation from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, it was only meant to be a short summer break before he moved to Portland in search of work in the arts. 

Then the pandemic happened and the artist found himself stuck in his hometown. It’s been four years and Passwater is still here, embracing a growing arts scene and developing his style while building on unexpected community connections. 

The 27-year-old has been an artist his whole life, earning him recognition as a student at Bigfork High School where he illustrated a comic book for his senior project and doodled in the margins of his assignments. His talent in 2015 landed him in the Daily Inter Lake, where he spoke excitedly about attending art school while dreaming about his future career.

Looking back, Passwater laughed about how different his ambitions are now. Attending MCAD exposed him to a wide variety of art styles and gave him new direction as an artist. 

“I remember when I was in that senior article, I was talking about doing comic art, and I’m glad I didn’t,” he said. “I found out I didn’t really like it all that much, the process of making comic books.” 

Through his classes, Passwater discovered that he wanted to take his artistic career in a different direction. 

“I like trying to tell a story in one image and doing it that way, so I really fell in love with [editorial] illustration,” he said. 

Passwater’s day job is as a graphic designer for Distillery Products, a Kalispell-based company that engraves glass products for liquor brands like Jack Daniels. He is the company’s first true graphic designer, and the job has been an opportunity to apply many of the skills he learned in college. 

Passwater admitted that as someone who planned to make a name for himself in a big city arts scene, he was initially skeptical about the opportunities available in his hometown.

“Obviously for well-paying stuff, [big cities] are where you would want to go… there’s so much going on and so many different people,” he said. 

The Flathead Valley had a surprise in store for him, though, and it came through good old-fashioned small-town connections.

“I ended up talking to Connor [Crevier] at Old School Records when I was trying to get a record player set up at my place, and I was showing him some of the artwork that I did, and he was like, ‘You should talk to the guys in Wizzerd,’ one of the local bands here,” Passwater explained.

From there, Passwater said, everything “perfectly unrolled.” 

The sounds of psychedelic rock had inspired his artwork for nearly a decade, and Wizzerd’s music was no different. As he listened to the band, he drew inspiration from their “heavy, slow, plodding sound” and showed the result to the band.

They loved it, and Passwater discovered a new arena into which he could pour his creative efforts. He also does work for The Gray Goo. 

“I’m working with all these bands and all the artwork they’re wanting me to do is stuff that’s right up my alley, so it worked out really well that way, finding this underground metal scene that I had no idea existed,” he said. “There’s a lot more going on here than from what I remember when I was here in high school.”

His illustrations are bold and feature vibrant color choices with intricate details that appear only upon closer inspection. People, animals and fantasy creatures are reimagined in his work. 

Passwater described the relationship as a win-win for both himself and the bands, a chance to capitalize on their individual strengths and support each other’s respective artistic pursuits. 

“I hate posting on social media or dealing with that, so working with the bands has really benefited me because they do all the marketing for me,” he said. “I just get to make them cool art and then they post it and they share it.”

For the bands, Passwater’s striking artwork is invaluable for advertising and posters and shirts and stickers. Passwater especially enjoys creating designs that can be used in a variety of ways, and the bands are “stoked about it too because, especially for local bands, it’s hard to find artwork that you can afford.”

Passwater is encouraged and inspired by the rapidly growing artistic community in the Flathead Valley, pointing to operations like Highline Design, who are “doing everything they can to bolster the arts scene here and bring in new things and new ideas.”

“ It’s definitely growing fast, and I’m appreciative of that and everything they do,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”

Passwater plans to stay in the valley for the foreseeable future, building on the connections he’s made and embracing the burgeoning arts scene. He’s come to view his hometown as the perfect place to grow as an artist while accomplishing his goals. 

“I had a checklist when I graduated of all the things I wanted to do: an editorial illustration for a magazine, can designs, album art, movie poster,” he said. “I’ve knocked out all of them except for the movie poster so far, which has been kind of weird how well everything’s worked out for me, just in my hometown.”

Passwater can be reached at isaac.passwater@gmail.com. His website is https://www.isaacpasswater.com

    Work by Issac Passwater
 
 
    Work by Issac Passwater
 
 
    Work by Issac Passwater
 
 
    Work by Issac Passwater