How Artist Isa Beniston Finds Creativity at Home

Fun comes first for the mind behind Gentle Thrills.

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Isa Beniston sometimes worries that her apartment says too much about her. The Los Angeles–based artist is beloved for the airbrushed paintings, apparel, and home goods that she sells under the moniker Gentle Thrills. Once introduced to her work, it’s hard not to notice it everywhere—her drawings have been used as props on Hulu’s Shrill; she’s airbrushed outfits for Post Malone; and she’s collaborated with, every rainbow lover’s favorite online retailer. 

When she’s not at the studio, she’s at a flea market or estate sale, soaking up inspiration and documenting it on her Instagram Stories—and bringing it into her home, too. Much of what she purchases secondhand she alters, like the sofa that she hand-painted, and most everything else in the space was made by a friend or a family member. The end result is expressive and cohesive: a perfect reflection of her personal style. Here, she shares how her passion for decoration has helped her to fully express her creativity.

Have you always been passionate about decorating your space? 

Absolutely! When I was in sixth grade, my mom let me pick out some things from the PB Teen catalog. My sister and I had to share a room, so we did a little makeover—I was allowed to choose the color of the walls, the comforter, and all that type of stuff, within reason. 

In high school my parents let me live in the garage. One of my walls was a metal garage door, so I used magnets to cover it with Polaroids I took and posters I would find at the thrift store. I got so poster obsessed that I would even put them on the ceiling. I was very into creating spaces and decorating in every sense of the word.

Do you find that when you’re feeling burnt out from work, you still enjoy decorating? Since your job is creative, it seems as if they’d be linked. 

There’s something really special about having total control of your space and being able to put whatever you want in it. For me, nesting has become a huge part of my weekly routine. It’s a recreational activity for me. I love being in my apartment and tidying it—putting things in nice little piles and sweeping. 

Curation of what goes into the apartment is a major part of my artistic practice. I go to estate sales, flea markets, thrift stores, and antiques markets. I love figuring out what room things go in and how a room informs the piece. It’s funny to put things in the bathroom that aren’t intended to go in the bathroom. Each room in my apartment has very loose themes—all of the art in my kitchen is food related. In the living room I have a wall where all of the pieces have eyes that stare at you, which is also where the TV is, so that’s funny. 

Do you grab things specifically to reference in your work?  

Oh, absolutely! In my studio I have about six big shelves of figurines, tchotchkes, and key chains—all sorts of secondhand ephemera that I have gathered as reference to paint or draw because I found them funny, charming, or weird in some way. On a recent thrifting story I did when I was in Colorado antiquing, there was this miniature spilled milk bucket. I was like, “What!?” A couple people responded on Instagram and said, “Oh, my grandma had this growing up and it’s actually a companion to a kitten figurine, so the kitten’s lapping up the spilled milk.” I love figurines as a way to tell stories. 

Is there anything you would make for your home but not to sell in bulk? 

Definitely. There was a time when I had made face pots, but I only made 20 to sell because we lost so many in the firing. I also had all of these tie-dyed T-shirts made for Gentle Thrills, and my friends pointed out that tie-dyed bedspreads were trending—so now my whole bed is tie-dyed: fitted sheet, flat sheet, duvet cover, and pillowcases. I also paint a lot of the furniture in my house, and I like to reupholster things with fabric that I’ve airbrushed or digitally printed. That’s not sustainable for my operation, but my dream is to one day have a shop where I’ll sell furniture that I find secondhand and then repaint or reupholster. 

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the decor in your apartment? 

My m.o. with my apartment for the past two years has been to have nothing on the floors that isn’t furniture, in order to help reduce the overall sense of clutter. Anything that’s on the wall has to be in a frame. That helps it not feel like total chaos. Another rule I have is that if I have to buy something for the apartment, and an interesting or colorful version exists, I should buy that version. Like if you need a trash can, go out of your way to buy a cute trash can.

What I enjoy is how my space affects me subconsciously without even thinking of it. Sometimes, I’ll realize I drew something that I saw in my apartment every day for six months. 

Are there any designers or artists whose work you’re particularly excited about right now? 

Aelfie, Black Kandy, Billy Lily, Dusen Dusen, Kaye Blevgad, Recreation Center Shop, Eleonor Bostrom, Ugly Rugly, We Are Out of Office, and the Long Beach Flea Market, which is my favorite flea market for unexpected homewares.

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