A beloved childhood dragon comes to life

Dragons are a particular favorite of mine and have become quite popular in recent years. Any fan of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones will tell you that this mythical creature did indeed exist. But long before these rather violent dragons became the norm there was a little dragon named Puff that captivated me as a child. I drove my parents crazy insisting they play the song Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary for me endlessly. It is a nostalgic song about the end of childhood and not about an actual dragon at all but as I child I believed in Puff absolutely and it broke my heart that he had to leave at the end. So this portrait is my homage to that dragon that touched me, and probably many others, so deeply.

Prints, cards, ornaments and brooches are available in my Curious Portraits shop.

Cornelius the pig

I have had so many requests to paint a pig portrait and have just been waiting for the inspiration to hit me. I had in mind a Renaissance thinker or philosopher and wanted to portray the intelligence and personality I believed he possessed. It is painted in oil on wood panel beginning with a grisaille underpainting and maintaining the color palette of a Bronzino or Holbein.

Prints, cards, ornaments and brooches are available in my Curious Portraits shop.

Women of Courage

I have long been interested in the women’s suffrage movement but it wasn’t until I began researching this print that I really learned how much these women sacrificed and suffered for their ideal. Many of the women here in the US such as Ida B Wells and Lucretia Mott, were also staunch Abolitionists which proves how truly committed they were to civil rights in general. There are so many notable women involved that it was difficult to choose a handful to represent the movement. I knew I wanted to highlight the the remarkable Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Emmeline Pankhurst but the rest were more difficult to decide upon and I would have to do a second print to include them all. After much reading and discussion with friends, I left out Margaret Sanger because of the controversy surrounding her involvement in the Eugenics movement. It is unfortunate because I do believe she was an important part of the overall story and that she became known for a movement that is difficult for us to understand given where we are today. I encourage anyone interested to read further about these courageous women from the US and the UK who fought against all odds, who marched, were imprisoned and ostracized for their beliefs at a time when women truly had no voice.

Suffragette Cards

Suffragette Cards

Suffragette Portrait Miniatures

Suffragette Portrait Miniatures

The truth is out there

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This retro cryptozoology print was inspired by the Creature Features films I loved as a child. My fascination with unsubstantiated species continues to this day and I just can’t read enough stories or listen to enough podcasts about the Loch Ness Monster, Mothman, Spring Heeled Jack, Bigfoot, or the Jersey Devil. Many of these have been explored on the X-Files, Coast to Coast AM and the Lore podcast to which I listen frequently in my studio. This is hardly a complete compilation and I may have to do a follow up piece to include mermaids, unicorns and leprechauns, to name a few. Prints and notecards of Cryptozoology are available in my Curious Print and Pattern shop on Etsy.

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Orphan Omelette joins the ANTHROPOMORPHIC Egg Family

Orphan Omelette

Orphan Omelette

 

Most times, an idea for a painting comes upon me gradually: bits and pieces forming in my head based on current interests. I will sketch it out then change it, let it sit for awhile and change it again until it is ready to be painted. Sometimes however an idea springs out of the ether: inexplicable and undefinable yet I know absolutely that it is right and needs to be painted. These for me are the most exciting projects, they are almost gifts from beyond. I never think they will appeal to anyone else but sometimes I am proven wrong.

Uncle Omelette was a perfect example of this. To this day I do not know how he arrived in my mind or from where his name sprang. I don’t know why he is an egg, nor why he is cooking breakfast. The idea simply came to me in that fertile time right before I get out of bed in the morning when my daydreams are at their best. I awoke, sketched him out immediately and knew he was ready to paint. He has remained one of my most loved portraits. Perhaps the fact that he is an egg shows his vulnerability and his act of cooking breakfast is proof that he is a caregiver. (One of my dear friends even suggested he is a portrait of my ideal mate).

A few years ago I decided to list him in my Curious Portraits shop on a whim really. I never believed he would sell even one print. To my surprise he has become one of the most popular characters in the shop. I even have customers write me to say that he reminds me of their bald boyfriend or husband or that they are buying the print as a gift for a cook. It pleases me no end when others see the good in him and want him hanging on their wall.

I have often wanted to paint another egg man but the sketches never came to life and I had put the idea aside. A few weeks ago though this image of a child egg came to my mind in a similar fashion as that of Uncle Omelette. I saw him clearly in my mind, this orphan egg with a melancholy expression, dressed in an old fashioned sailor suit . I don’t really know how he relates to Uncle Omelette but I’ve come to love this little fellow and I feel somehow that he is content hanging on my wall next to Uncle Omelette.

 

Uncle Omelette

Uncle Omelette

Mysterious Rabbits

I have been equally fascinated by and frightened of giant rabbits since I can remember. Not giant rabbits exactly but what appear to be giant rabbits and are in fact people in rabbit costumes. I am not alone in this: I have a Pinterest board devoted to photos, mainly from the 1950’s and 1960’s of children accompanied by gigantic and often misshapen rabbits. I don’t have a clear memory of actually having had to sit upon the lap of one of these creatures yet this vague fear persists.

I do however remember that as a child my large italian family would spend Easter together at our house in Wildwood NJ . One Easter in particular when I was quite small, my cousin Cindy received a gigantic stuffed rabbit from the Easter Bunny that I remember as being at least as tall as we were. I was jealous of course, having not received one myself, but also reluctant to pass by her room on my way to the stairs for fear I would see its large, lifeless eyes peering out at me from the darkness.

This portrait is my homage to that fear of vague danger lurking in the dark. Even though he is shown emerging from the shadows, his gift of a single egg convinces me that there is nothing to be afraid of after all. Prints are available at www.curiousportraits.com

Some terrifying rabbits from my childhood

Some terrifying rabbits from my childhood

Atlantic City Memories

I have been fascinated with Mr. Peanut ever since I first encountered him as a young child on a trip to Atlantic City with my father and sister. It was a magical day on the boardwalk, long before the casinos arrived. On Steel Pier I remember watching a woman on horseback diving into the water, taking a sepia toned photo with my sister inside a make believe jail where we were holding my father prisoner and another where we were poking our heads through carnival cutouts. We even went down under water in the mysterious diving bell! Anyone familiar with vintage Atlantic City will surely remember these amusement park wonders.

 

What sticks out most in my memory however, was walking past the Planters Peanut shop and seeing black spindly legs with spats and slowly looking up to see a gigantic peanut man towering above me: head silently bobbing back and forth with dark holes where his eyes should be. It was terrifying but for some reason instead of being traumatized by this experience,  I instead became fascinated to the point of obsession as the years went by. I collected Mr. Peanut ephemera and even had the chance to design a vintage Mr Peanut print for Nick & Nora pajamas years later licensed by Planters that remains one of my all time favorite prints.

 

This portrait was my homage to the Mr Peanut costume of the 1960’s that I remember so well. It conjures up for me the smell of roasting peanuts and the touch of the salty breeze from the ocean on my skin. It has since become one of the most popular prints in my Etsy shop and even led to a private commission for a similar portrait (holding the bag of peanuts). I can only imagine that it is because there are many of you out there that share fond memories of Atlantic City and

it’s neighboring towns and boardwalks during the glory days of the Jersey Shore.

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Diving Horse Atlantic City
Planters Peanuts Atlantic City
Diving Bell Atlantic City
Steel Pier Atlantic City

Lost and Found

This portrait, painted about 15 years ago holds a very special place in my heart because it is of my dearest, most treasured childhood toy, Green Bunny. He was passed on from my brother to my sister and by the time I had him he had faded to pale yellow. He had been so loved that he was missing his eyes and mouth. I sewed jingle bells on for eyes and that is how he remains today.

When I was 5 years old my family moved from Philadelphia to New Jersey and somehow during that move my beloved bunny was lost. It was such a deep loss for me at that age and I truly mourned him. I never stopped thinking about him and launched many searches throughout the house to no avail. Then one day, years later, my cousin Cindy and I decided to explore some forbidden boxes way back in a closet that were at the bottom of a tall pile. I clearly remember trying to pry open the flaps and peek inside without toppling over the stack. I found curtains folded on top, one of the least interesting finds to a child, but kept digging deeper until my hand touched  something soft and fuzzy which I slowly pulled out. To my astonishment it was Green Bunny. I honestly don't think I have ever been happier than when I saw that faded little face. I think I was actually speechless with shock but then burst into tears of absolute joy.

Over the years since then I have suffered deep, personal losses in my family and I believe that somehow, this painting became a representation of them all. It wasn't intentional: it started out as a simple study but it has remained hanging on my wall and has the ability to bring to me to tears but also to give me a great sense of comfort. It is a thread that connects me to my past: to a childhood spent surrounded by a close and loving family. Today is the anniversary of my mother's death and when I was feeling her loss this afternoon I looked up and this portrait reminded me that her spirit is around me every single day.

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Can We Talk About the Elephant in the Room?

This pink elephant was originally begun as an homage to one of my favorite elephants of all time: the polka dot elephant from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer animated movie. Since I was a child that sad little elephant has haunted me. My childish mind couldn’t comprehend why he had been banished to the Land of Misfit Toys, I would cry to my Mother that I wanted him even if no one else did. When I was putting away my Christmas ornaments this January, including  my polka dot elephant ornament and stuffed toy the idea for this portrait was born.

Of course few paintings progress as planned and I soon realized as I painted that the polka dots were not going to work: they made him look as if he had measles which, of course, was not my intent. The half finished painting sat there for weeks in my studio staring out at me. At some point I realized that every time I passed by, the jingle from Crispy Critters would run through my mind. For those of you that do not remember Crispy Critters, it was a popular cereal in the 1960s that was 90% sugar and that came in the shape of animals: monkeys,Tigers, lions etc. At one point  pink marshmallow elephants were added and I was beside myself. According to my sister, I was already inexplicably obsessed with elephants and every time the commercial came on TV with the special Pink Elephant jingle, I went nuts. (Unfortunately I cannot find that particular jingle on YouTube so you'll have to take my word for it).

All these years later  that annoying jingle became the key to solving the problem of this painting and I went forward making the elephant a nice shade of salmon pink which, it turns out,  worked perfectly with the deep olive green ground I had already painted. The portrait pretty much finished itself from there.

So even though in color, he resembles the pink elephants of Crispy Critters, to me he remains a poignant reminder of that neglected polka dot elephant on the Island of Misfit Toys that no one wanted.

Pink Elephant Brooch and Ornament from  Curious Portraits.

Pink Elephant Brooch and Ornament from Curious Portraits.

Prints, notecards, brooches and ornaments featuring the Pink Elephant are available in my shop Curious Portraits.

 

A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing

Wolves have gotten a bad rap over the years, especially in children’ literature. When I first thought of doing a wolf portrait, the first wolves that came to mind were from The Three Little Pigs and Little Red Riding Hood, both of which were rather mean and intimidating. It got me thinking of how some people who are gruff on the outside are often actually masking their own vulnerability and insecurity with their behavior. They just need someone to listen to them and offer some understanding and friendship. So I reasoned that if people could be that complex, wouldn’t it be possible that wolves could also have a softer side? Now I know that in reality wolves are nothing to take lightly but since the animals in my portraits are usually wearing clothing,  I thought I could stretch that a bit with artistic license. So here is my portrait of a woodland wolf, gathering red berry branches to liven up his little den: wise and perhaps a little stern but also kind-hearted with a gentle, sensitive side.  

Woodland Wolf Portrait-Lisa Zador

Woodland Wolf Portrait-Lisa Zador

The Three Little Pigs - illustrator unknown. McLoughlin Bro’s: New York. Ca 1900.

The Three Little Pigs - illustrator unknown. McLoughlin Bro’s: New York. Ca 1900.

Little Red Riding Hood. Illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Little Red Riding Hood. Illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Prints of the Woodland Wolf are available at my shop Curious Portraits.

Curious Portraits at Curiosa

I am so thrilled that Curiosa in Toronto is now carrying Curious Portraits in their delicious new shop! They had their grand opening this summer and chose some favorite Gothic and Victorian prints and cards from my shop as part of their inventory. Though their website is still being finessed, you can see photos of their wondrous products on their Facebook page, Curiosa Society and Instagram feed @curiosasociety They have a tantalizing selection of cards, jewelry, quill pens, sealing wax, prints, and more, plus all manner of Harry Potter themed items. Everything a Steampunk, Gothic, Victorian loving person such as myself could want. I may just have to schedule a trip up to Canada and see for myself!

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These are some of the eclectic selection of prints they'll be carrying.

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Sherlock Holmes & Victorian Mystery Writers Prints and Posters

I've been an avid fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories since my older brother first introduced me to them many years ago. They were probably the reason I became so fascinated with Victorian mystery writers and Victorian England in general. I devoured books by Wilke Collins, Sheridan Le Fanu, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Charles Dickens and of course Edgar Allan Poe (even though he was not British), to mention just a few. Even now I am eager to discover a particularly well written Victorian mystery by a contemporary author such as The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox, Drood by Dan Simmons (a must for any Dickens and Collins fan) or Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield.  So when I decided to do a line of textile prints based on literary figures I chose Sherlock Holmes as the first. I had already done a portrait of Arthur Conan Doyle in which I used the smoke from his pipe as a design element. That was the starting point for this print along with his iconic Meerschaum Calabash and Churchwarden pipes. I then added in elements representing some of my favorite stories along with general items that any Sherlock Holmes fan would recognize such as his deerstalker cap, 7% solution of cocaine and the VR (Victoria Regina) made of bullet holes on his wall.

Sherlock-Holmes-Allover_Lisa-Zador

Unfortunately I had a very difficult time sourcing a digital fabric printer who could print on chiffon that is thin enough for the ink to bleed through so that it could be used as a scarf. Spoonflower, who is my go-to printer didn't carry anything thin enough so I temporarily had to give up the idea of the scarves. I didn't however want to abandon the idea of the literary prints so my next step was to take the elements and use them in an engineered poster design. I kept the central theme of the pipe smoke and the story elements but put them against a black background to make them stand out and also added in some Victorian fretwork across the top to tie it all together and here is the result:

Sherlock-Homes-Poster-Lisa-Zador

The next step was to create notecards from the print, each displaying a different story and available along with the print at Curious Portraits.

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A Challenging Project for The Writer's Chronicle

I recently had the pleasure of illustrating the cover story for The Writer's Chronicle for an article called "You Are Making Me Now" by Joy Ladin. It was particularly challenging because it began as a study of the presence of God in American poetry but evolved into a discussion of the author's transgenderism and how that affected her relationship to God in her own poetry. I wanted to touch upon all these points that were not only interesting but integral to the article and I thought a sort of Byzantine religious icon might be effective since figures from stained glass windows and mosaics of that period tended to be not only generalized but androgynous as well. I added in a book and pen to represent the poetry and really enjoyed creating illuminated manuscript-like pages centered around the masculine and feminine symbols.

Writers-Chronicle-Lisa-Zador-May-2017

The inside illustration was for a different story entitled "The True Story" by Viola van de Sandt which was about how biographers deal with missing information in their subject's life. Virginia Woolf's biographies were used as an example so I decided to do a series of cameo brooches of her arranged as if in a display case with one space left blank as if a brooch had been there leaving only the shadow on the faded fabric. I am very fond of Virginia Woolf's writing and thought the delicacy of the carved cameos would an effective way of portraying her.

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As always it was a pleasure to work with Supriya Bhatnagar who I can always count on to provide challenging and fascinating material to illustrate!

The Puppet Playhouse

I just finished one of the most enjoyable and unusual projects: designing and painting the images for a retro puppet theater. When Brian and Hanson of Puppet in the Pantry first contacted me and told me about their vision of a puppet theater with a vintage, sideshow feel I was very excited. We bonded immediately on our love of vintage carnival, circus and boardwalk ephemera and also our shared dog lover-mania. The first thing we did was decide to put their dog Daisy and my dog Bingo's portraits dressed as clowns on the antique doors for the front. The space was tall and narrow so I designed a scroll pattern to frame the portraits and painted it in gold metallic. We used this gold ornamentation on the other pieces to tie it all together.

Detail of the front doors

Detail of the front doors

Puppet Theater Doors

They have a carpenter working with them who created a wooden die cut for the front of the theater. Brian and Hanson sell vintage toys and wanted me to add some toy soldiers and since Brian used to be a Broadway dancer he wanted a comedy and tragedy mask as well. The basic shape of the curtains and footlights were already die cut so I came up with some dramatic drapery to give it depth.

Puppet Theater Front

For the sides of the theater they wanted to use my Mr. Peanut and Mr. Softee portraits as old theater posters. I gave the portraits yellowed, ragged edges and faded them a bit in Photoshop to age them. Then added in old fashioned hand shaped arrows pointing to the Stage Door and the Ticket Booth.

Puppet Theater Sides

As soon as the carpenter puts it all together I will add some photos of the finished theater. This was truly the best kind of project: not only did I get to be creative and have fun but I also made 2 new friends in the bargain!

Quirky New Portrait Commission

I recently finished a particularly fun commission of 3 paintings: variations on my Mr. Peanut, Mr. Softee and Uncle Omelette portraits. My client loved the dark humor of the originals and wanted something very similar but with a twist. We decided to have Mr. Peanut shown in front of his own shop window on the Atlantic City Boardwalk eating a bag of fresh roasted peanuts. For Uncle Omelette we thought he could be actually cooking eggs as a street food vendor and we have Mr. Softee eating an ice cream cone in a night time setting with strings of lights instead of bunting behind him.  These were three of my very favorite portraits and it was such a pleasure to re-visit them with this new set! Prints are available in my shop Curious Portraits.

The original set of quirky portraits

The original set of quirky portraits

The St. Lucy Christmas Bear

I am fortunate to have several dear friends who are Swedish and who have introduced me to the many beautiful Christmas traditions they have in Sweden. My favorite is the St. Lucy ceremony which I have attended at the Swedish church here in NYC. It features a procession of girls dressed in white with red sashes led by a girl in a crown of candles and lingonberry branches. As I understand it the story is that St. Lucy used to bring food to the Christians hiding in the catacombs of Rome and would wear candles on her head to light her way and leave her hands free to carry the food. This whole idea of bringing light into the darkness is so inspiring and so I borrowed some of the ideas for this year's Christmas portrait. A peaceful bear bringing light and hope to a dark world. Merry Christmas everyone and wishing you peace in the new year.

Bingo and Astro at Quigley Mansion

My new pup Astro joins Bingo this year for his annual Halloween portrait which is my canine tribute to one of my favorite Saturday morning programs growing up in Philadelphia called Cartoon Corners (aka the Gene London Show). It starred Gene London portraying an artist who lived near a haunted house called Quigley Mansion and had a tremendous influence on my career choice as well as my love of mysteries and the paranormal. His character, among other things, was always solving mysteries, encountering ghosts and finding secret tunnels and hidden passageways. All in all it was the perfect show for someone like me who also devoured Nancy Drew books and loved Scooby Do and Johnny Quest. He was a captivating story teller and would use his drawings to illustrate the tales. He truly made me believe that my dream of becoming an artist was possible, something for which I am forever grateful.  I had the opportunity to meet Gene London many years later at a party here in NY and he was so warm and gracious even as I swooned all over him. This year's portrait is dedicated to him and his wonderfully enchanting show. You can see a charming interview with Gene London here.

Bingo and Astro at Quigley Mansion