Only a few miles off campus, Isaac Ardis ’11 is doing what every Bowdoin student aspires to do after graduation—pursuing what he loves.
Since graduation, a lot has changed for the burgeoning artist. After working briefly for a consulting firm in Munich, Ardis decided to return to Maine and focus on painting.

He began painting during the winter of his senior year when, scrambling to find holiday gifts for his parents, he rediscovered his artistic side. Ardis gave his mother and original painting, and she gifted him a box of oil pastels and a notebook in return.

After that, “there was no going back,” said Ardis.

Ardis double-majored in Math and German at Bowdoin, and was also a co-leader of Students Mentoring through Art (SmART).

Currently, he and his younger sister Julia, a writer, are living in the home of painter Katherine Bradford.

“[Bradford] is a marvelous painter and someone I look up to. It is an honor to be here in her space and in her barn where she paints,” he said.

Like Ardis, Bradford did not take art classes as an undergraduate at Bryn Mawr, and became a painter only after college.

“I know that she has gone through what I am going through in here. To be able to share that with her is really powerful,” said Ardis.

Ardis has transformed Bradford’s barn into a mesmerizing space. Every wall, table, and open area is adorned with Ardis’ work. Each piece stands out from the others and captures your attention. 

“I’m not trying to paint the ultimate painting when I start. I’m just trying to paint a piece of the picture,” said Ardis. “And I don’t know what the whole picture is. You do it piece by piece and a space like this then has more meaning as a whole, than any one of these pieces alone.”

Ardis has also been working closely with his mentor, John Bisbee, Bowdoin’s sculptor-in-residence. It was Bisbee who connected Ardis to Bradford. 

“He has had a big impact on my thinking and my working.  John tells me, ‘Don’t talk about it. Don’t think about it. Just do it’,” said Ardis. “That’s meant a lot to me because it puts practice at the center of attention, so the medium can become a second language for both thinking and talking.”

And Ardis has taken Bisbee’s advice to heart. His days involve waking up, painting all day, going back to bed, and waking up to do it all again—he says that this is exactly what he wants to spend his life doing.

As Ardis continues to develop his techniques, he also acknowledges how his experience with design has influenced his work.

“The difference between art and design is that design is the way to get there and approach the problem. But it doesn’t tell you what the problem is or what it means or if it’s relevant,” said Ardis.

Ardis synthesizes design practices in his art by developing innovative painting techniques. For example, one of his techniques involves creating a mold and layering it with paint. After he removes the edges of the molds, he is left with blocks of paint, which he calls “paint fish.”

Ardis’ medium is much more than brush on canvas. He uses anything he can find, ranging from paint chips to plastic spoons, or strings to washer rings.

“Whatever I have I try to use,” he said. “I try to never waste things.”

One of Ardis’ larger projects right now is a collaboration with his sister for a children’s book. Beyond this, he plans to “keep painting, keep making art, and keep doing what I’m doing.”

“Try to just be honest with yourself and with your piece. Think as you’re doing it,” said Ardis. “It can be a struggle to keep your practice up to pace with your thinking. But for me that’s really critical because it forces you to make an authentic piece and on a good day it’s a surprise. I love what I do.”