Lisa Zadravec
From Washington, DC, Northern Virginia area.
Mediums: colored pencil, oil. I like to try my work on many different surfaces.

Style: Narrative Realism

The need to tell stories is big in my roots. I come from a family of writers, I tell mine in pictures. Though a realist I am not bent on photo realism, in this age of technology, why not just print a photo out on canvas. I guess you call it painterly or expressionistic, letting the artist's hand show in the strokes and the pencil marks.


The Other Sister

The Other Sister © Lisa Zadravec, colored pencil, gouache on mattboard - This is my daughter turning 18, graduating wearing the Anne Bolyn Necklace her teacher promised her for doing her work, poppies are a symbol of remembrance.


I am art-school trained, taught traditionally, oil painting in the Maroger medium method, but I find I like to work most in colored pencil. I do so with the same layering I would use if painting. I am not a big purist media. I use gouache. I draw on different surfaces, Kraft paper, birch, matt board. Once I was inspired by an artist from Africa who did a family portrait on leather. I loved that the material suited the skin, all the colors of skin in the family. I searched for a paper that would do the same for my daughter’s skin and it was the rough surface of mailing paper. I rubbed school chalk into it to make it glow. I drew with school pencils and pens and student grade watercolors. It is the technique not the materials. It is the artist’s eye and hand.


Please tell us about your first experience creating:

Into the WildI have always created. I grew up just knowing I would be an artist. My mother was a writer who took me to galleries and cultural places growing up in DC, my grand parents lived in East Hampton, then a retreat home for many artists. I grew up intimately aware of great art. Art was just something I always did.




Into the Wild, colored pencil on black paper, photo references with permission © 2013




How long have you considered yourself an artist?

So I have been an artist my whole life. I started actually taking art at four when I disagreed with the “rules” of our parochial school’s art (slash) science teacher. So my mother signed me up for art at the local rec center. My art teacher there was a local artist! Maybe that is why it is so important to me that I teach art so that kids don’t only learn from art educators.


What are you trying to convey to viewers through your art?

I like to tell stories in my art, stories that happen in moments or seconds. It can be as momentary as a glance, the way light falls or a child pointing her toe in the backyard pool. Can you read her mind that she is really swimming in the deep, doing water ballet? Art is how I express the stories in me.



Forfarshire © Lisa Zadravec, colored pencil on Bristol. My take on a Colored Pencil Magazine competition piece. I seemed to see a romantic escape, moonlight and the sea. It is almost a romance novel in a picture.


Tell us about your creative process

I am struck by something, the light, a concept, a face in a snapshot, one of those storytelling moments. It may be as small as the way the light falls. A picture develops in my mind around this. I seem to have the whole composition in my head before I start. Art is just the work it takes to get it out. I don’t do a lot of preliminary sketches. The concept works itself out in my mind. Sometimes over long periods of time, even years. The piece itself speaks to me about what surface it should be made on and what materials it needs to be made in. When I finally sit down to work, I work quite fast. Working is like praying. There is an open channel between you and the source of your gift. Whether painting or doing colored pencil I am using a classical technique. This is what I was taught. My drawings in colored pencil take longer than oil paintings to create.


What things inspire you to create art?

People, often children, more often women than men. I guess these are the people I know best. Only lately I have looked more towards nature and animals.


Water Ballet

WaterBallet © Lisa Zadravec, colored pencil, gouache on paper - My other daughter in a backyard pool my she had her toe pointed, just so. This does not exist like this as a photo, I re-create the moment.


What exhibitions have you had?

When I was still in art school, I was asked to show at one of the most prestigious galleries at the time. I wrote them a long letter about not liking the gallery commission system. My teachers were shocked. But I showed my work at a local restaurant, run also as a gallery. I had my own gallery space at an important nightclub. Now that I am older I have had a show at the library, which I find to be more of a cultural center in the suburbs I now live in, I have done group shows and art markets. Ok, I would do a gallery show if someone twists my arm. I am mature enough now. But I like the alternative spaces where art meets real life.


Have you sold any of your artworks?

I have sold pieces done on commission, portraits. And recently using social media. But mostly to people who already know me. A person in a totally unrelated field told me once that what we sell people is our story. The more people I can tell my stories too, the more I sell my work to those I don’t already know.


How do you promote your art on the internet?

I have a website and a Facebook page. I am also in some groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. Although this is promoting myself among other artists, I do hear about more opportunities through those associations.


Fathers and Sons

Fathers and Sons © Lisa Zadravec, colored pencil, gouache on paper - The distortion of the unnaturally large hands, the protective father, the grandfather’s wisened expression. This was a favorite commission.

Tell us about influences.

Naturally I love the portraiture of John Singer Sargent, all people who love portraits do, but go back and look at the hands, fingers disappearing into the fabric, the Spanish influence in his work. I am also always blown away by the work of my former teacher William Newman. He painted some baby birds in a nest a few years back and I could have stared at them forever. The translucent skin at the edges of the baby birds’ open mouths was amazing.


Please recommend another artist you admire, and tell us a little about them:

J.Jordan Bruns, He is probably the polar opposite of me in style. I just love his work. Especially the more architectural. I took my students to meet him and he talked about working through his own difficult times. That maybe his crumbling buildings and endless spiral stairways were a search for a way out. He is also telling a story. Though his new work is different it still has the movement of those earlier pieces. His paintings are like seeing action movies, they literally swirl on the canvas.


Tell us something interesting in your life:

My father once told me not to tell people my work was done in colored pencil. He said, “That’s like saying some masterpiece was done in crayon.” I am glad colored pencil and mixed media work has become more respected. There were days when it was only for illustrators. Of course in the old days Norman Rockwell was not one of the American Greats, he was just an illustrator.


make believe Lisa Zadravec

Make Believe © Lisa Zadravec, Oil on Canvas - These were the children from a commissioned piece but with clown faces and balloons and the skyline of Venice, all imaginary.


What is the most annoying thing someone has said to you about your art?

People (non-artists especially) always say annoying things about art. Try to remember they think they are being helpful. Your own family or friends don’t have your vision. People should not comment as you are working, they cannot see the finished piece already in your mind. The best is to work privately or only amongst other trusted artists until you feel ready to present your work publicly.


Do you have any regrets in your life as an artist?

Hmm, regrets, that I spent the last 18 years teaching and raising my girls. Is that a regret? Or that I was racked in pain from four leg surgeries over 11 years. I know I am coming back to things late. Or launching my career again at an older age. The other thing I have been during this difficult time is an awesome teacher. Not everyone has that gift. I had some great teachers, and those of us who do teach well, also have that obligation to pass along the legacy of art.


One More Time

One More Time © Lisa Zadravec, colored pencil, watercolor on board - My mother’s last visit to the beach which she loved. Hug then might be painful, she may squeeze your arm, or you may press your cheek against hers.


“I am not afraid… I was born to do this.” - Joan of Arc. When was the last time you felt that way, and why?

Doing my art, teaching. I remember My mother going to give a speech with one note on an index card (some name she needed to remember) and getting up and being witty and eloquent, every time. That would make me nervous driving in the car to the Pen Faulkner award she was presenting or whatever Poetry reading she was hosting. But I can walk into a classroom or face a blank surface with the same bravado.


What plans do you have for the future of your art?

I want to publish books. I want some books about teaching art and I want to illustrate my stories ideas. I want to show the work of my students as well. They amaze me. I want to bring art to the public in a new way and accessible way. My teaching has shown me what art does for thinking process, no matter the age or ability of the person. I want that to be accessible to the people.



Milo © Lisa Zadravec, colored pencil, gouache on clayboard - I loved the light on this cat’s face, I was experimenting claybord for the first time to recreate it.


Do you have any good advice for emerging artists?

Learn your craft. There is nothing as annoying as those who call themselves untrained or self-taught. I guess they are trying to take all the credit or make an excuse for not having had the opportunity to go to an art school.

But #1 do not insult the teachers in the books you have read and tutorials you have watched to say they taught you nothing.

And #2, just as we would scoff the one-hit wonder in music who says, “I’m self-taught, can’t even read music.” We would say. “Then go learn! Imagine how good you would be if you did!” It is bad stewardship over a talent you have been given to not go find out all you can about it.

Learn everything from everywhere you can and never stop. I am still learning, trying new things and listening to other artists, everyday.


Lisa Zadravec - Telling Stories With Art

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  1. Thank you for sharing Lisa's story. Not only is her artwork amazing--she is eloquent in describing her work and her love of art. She has real talent. I wish her great success.


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