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.

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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:

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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.

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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

Summer Project - Making my Etsy shop more searchable

It has been a busy summer and I am afraid I have neglected my readers! Back in early June I discovered a site called Etsy Ranks which connects to Etsy and gives you all sorts of useful information to help you improve your shop and search potential. It pointed out simple things like spelling errors as well as more complex things such as whether you are using enough of the given characters in your title and if you are using your tags efficiently in the first paragraph of your description. It was a real eye opener for me and even though I found for the most part that my shop was ranking high, it made me take a closer look and I was astonished to find that some of my listings which hadn't been edited in years, frankly, had terrible titles, descriptions and tags. So I rolled up my sleeves and went through the Curious Portraits shop listing by listing which took me the better part of the summer.

I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at the listings of other successful sellers whom I admire and let them guide me in making my own items more marketable.  I began with my titles which are the most important searchable part of a listing and tried to think like a buyer and what terms they would likely use to search for an item. For example I changed the title Spiritualist Fox Brooch to Fox Portrait Brooch, Fox Pin, Victorian Fox, Oval, Spiritualist Fox, Gothic, Steampunk, Halloween. By doing so I was listing all the information in order of importance as well as keeping it clear and descriptive. Next I tackled the item descriptions and tried to clearly describe the item as well as suggesting ways it could be used and who it might appeal to. My original descriptions, albeit charming, were more like stories and were lacking in searchable keywords. I also made sure all my related products were shown in the photos and had proper links. Last but not least I up-dated all the keywords, making them more specific and adding in style tags such as Gothic, Victorian and Steampunk if appropriate. This was indeed a formidable task but one that clearly needed to be done and in plenty of time for the busy Christmas season. I am happy to say not only are hits to my shop steadily increasing but sales as well! Below are some of the new items I've recently added to the shop.

New Victorian Animal Notebooks feature an allover print using my favorite portraits.

New Victorian Animal Notebooks feature an allover print using my favorite portraits.

For the new 2017 calendar I up-dated the look using new animal portraits and put the dates in a grid which many of you requested for the 2016 calendar.

For the new 2017 calendar I up-dated the look using new animal portraits and put the dates in a grid which many of you requested for the 2016 calendar.

New Victorian Writer Portrait Notecards featuring Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne, three of my favorites.

New Victorian Writer Portrait Notecards featuring Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne, three of my favorites.

New Victorian Animal Necklaces.

New Victorian Animal Necklaces.

New Dog Adventurer Notecards just in time for Halloween.

New Dog Adventurer Notecards just in time for Halloween.

Don't forget to follow me on Instagram @lisa.zador  and Facebook for daily up-dates!

The Frog Prince

I never tire of Grimm's fairy tales and have always found The Frog Prince. particularly charming. It was somewhat challenging to portray a slimy, bumpy frog as a friendly and approachable character without making him too cartoon-like. I've been preoccupied with night time skies lately and thought the stars and the fireflies would bring an element of mystery and serenity to his portrait. Below are some of the stages of the painting beginning with the sepia under painting.

The Frog Prince final painting

The Frog Prince final painting

The Frog Prince stages of painting

Cheesy Portraits - Dairy Farm Animals

The idea of painting a series of farm animals has been in the back of my mind since I visited Fox Hollow Farm while working on their wine label and met so many beautiful animals. A few weeks ago I was enjoying a particularly creamy and delicious camembert when the idea of combining my love of cheese with the farm portraits came to mind. After some research I settled on 3 of my favorite cheeses made from the milk of a cow, a sheep and a goat.

The three finished dairy animals complete with their own special cheeses.

The three finished dairy animals complete with their own special cheeses.

I painted the animals as individual portraits first. I then created the laurel wreath, the banner and the cheeses on the plates separately and put them all together in Photoshop for the final artwork.

The three original dairy animal portraits without their laurel wreath frames.

The three original dairy animal portraits without their laurel wreath frames.

I wanted them all to have a different sky. From the beginning I knew that the sheep should be on a night time sky, given the association of counting sheep, and the deep blue ground would set the white of his wool off nicely. The goat had such a cheery face that I thought he should be set against a clear blue sky with fluffy white clouds and the cow reminded me of early morning milk for my coffee and cereal so he is pictured with a colorful dawn sky.

The original sketches before I worked out the laurel wreath frames.

The original sketches before I worked out the laurel wreath frames.

I toyed with the idea of putting each cheese on a differently patterned plate, mostly because I have a passion for mismatched vintage china, but in the end I thought keeping the plate, wreath and banner consistent in all three tied them all together as a set. The portraits are all available as prints with or without the frames and cheeses in my Etsy shop Curious Portraits.

The Writer's Chronicle Cover Illustration

 

My most recent project for The Writer’s Chronicle was an open ended assignment which was both a challenging and satisfying puzzle to solve.

The cover illustration was for an essay about the Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan which focused on the structure of the book: the way the chapters stand on their own as well as making up a larger story while moving back and forth through time.

I began by jotting down ideas as I read: time passing, relationships and looking back, for example. The theme of time stood out to me so I knew I wanted a clock face to feature. Another strong element was the way the individual chapters functioned as cells in a comic strip, or frames in a strip of film. After some experimentation I decided that to convey the feeling of nostalgia the piece evoked in me, I would represent time by creating a clock themed background wallpaper that had a vintage feel and over lay framed images that when seen together, created one larger image.  I put this together digitally for the concept sketch using stock clock faces and sketched frames but for the final I hand painted the clock faces and the frames and layered them in Photoshop. The only change we made was to brighten the sepia toned palette of the sketch. I chose a soft color story inspired by vintage wallpaper.  I love projects like this that stretch my imagination and give me total freedom to experiment.

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Writers-Chronicle-Sketches

Fox Hollow Vineyard Wine Label

I truly enjoyed creating this label for The Fox Hollow Vineyards. They first approached me about creating the perfect fox to use as their brand. He had to be regal yet friendly. Their vineyard used to be fox hunting land and I thought it would be a humorous choice to put him in full fox hunt garb.

We knew from the beginning that he should be seen straight on; however, in the early sketches,  I experimented with various shaped horns and hand positions until we found the perfect combination.They suggested we use a landscape as the background which I created in the original painting but then thought it would be fun to use a fox hunt themed pattern instead.I jumped at the chance and created a tonal print in black pencil to keep it soft so that when the fox image was added in Photoshop, it would stand out nicely.

They loved the pattern so much that they asked me to design a tablecloth and coordinating napkins to be used for their first wine tasting.

 

The Finished Label - The original painting - The fox hunt pattern

The Finished Label - The original painting - The fox hunt pattern

Early Sketches

Early Sketches


A Brief Tribute to a Beloved Idol

The death last week of David Bowie has brought up the past in such a stunning and unexpected way that I felt I needed to write a few lines about how he influenced and inspired me throughout my life. It began when I was a teenager watching his ground breaking performances with my sister on The Midnight Special and evolving through my college years during which he was recording my most treasured albums: Low, Heroes and Lodger not to mention the 2 albums he made with Iggy Pop, The Idiot and Lust for Life. I was just starting my artistic journey and these masterpieces could not have come at a more important time. They were like nothing I had ever heard and their mere existence helped me to stretch my imagination and believe in the infinite possibilities of the creative mind. He led me to discover the genius of Brian Eno and his Oblique Strategies, a set of cards with various sayings intended to help one get over a creative block.  I learned of The Exquisite Corpse which is a collaborative means of composing music and artwork introduced by the Surrealists , not to mention the magical theatrics of Klaus Nomi and Joey Arias. I can't possibly record nor even remember the many ways he has contributed to my education and fed my thirst for knowledge. His music has been a constant part of my life and he will be so dearly missed. 

One of my favorite photos of Bowie with Iggy Pop mimicking the antics of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

One of my favorite photos of Bowie with Iggy Pop mimicking the antics of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

Bowie and Tilda Swinton switching roles.

Bowie and Tilda Swinton switching roles.


The Mouse King

Every year I do paint a special portrait for Christmas and use it as my Christmas card. I have been wanting to do another mouse portrait and the idea of painting the Mouse King came to me while watching the Battle of the Nutcrackers on Ovation. Anyone familiar with that ballet and story knows that the Mouse King is not the most likable character so my Mouse King is more a representation of the wise and benevolent leader I imagine the character could be.

The Mouse King - final portrait.

The Mouse King - final portrait.

This portrait began very differently and even though at the time I was pleased with the sketches, I found myself hesitating to begin the actual painting. I know my own process fairly well and tried to trust that I was resisting it for a reason and let the sketches sit for about 2 weeks. Finally I figured out that what was bothering me was that I wanted this mouse to be more realistic and expressive then he was in these initial sketches which seemed too stylized and simplistic.

First sketches for the Mouse King

First sketches for the Mouse King

So I sat down with it once again and tried using just his head and shoulders and knew right away that I was on the right track. It is always difficult to change direction once you are set on a particular sketch but I've learned that moving forward on an idea that I am not fully committed to usually leads to a mediocre piece at best.

The Mouse King Final Sketches

The Mouse King Final Sketches

I had originally intended to put a swag of garland behind him but I was so happy with the peaceful night time feel of the portrait that I decided to paint the garland separately and use it for the Christmas card but keep the portrait itself simple. I offer it both ways in my Etsy shop Curious Portraits.

The Mouse King with the garland.

The Mouse King with the garland.

An analysis of Pet Santas - Bingos 2015 photo with Santa

It is the time of year where I bathe and primp my dog Bingo and cart him off to the local pet store for his annual photograph with Santa. All in all I am pleased with this year's photo as Bingo looks very puppy-like for his 15 years. But the Santa, as kind as he was, had on the most bizarre outfit. I understand that these are the B-level Santas that are available for pet stores, probably just a youthful employee.  I must however ask, where do they find these outfits? The way the moustache is attached to the hat creates a bizarre Ancient Aliens type of helmet. Do they really think that dogs won't recognize these imitation Santas? I seemed to remember that the earlier photos had much more realistic outfits so when I got home I thought I'd pull out his past photos for comparison and decided to make up this chart. (You can read more about the Maniacal Dog Mother of 2013 here.)

Pet Santa Comparison Chart

All that being said, I am grateful that pet stores provide a Santa at all and must admit that they have always been very kind and gentle with my dog.  I truly enjoy this tradition but I must admit that tomorrow I am heading over to Bergdorf Goodman to have Bingo photographed with the REAL Santa...

Bingo with the REAL Santa

Bingo with the REAL Santa

Bingo and Myself with the Bergdorf Goodman Santa

Bingo and Myself with the Bergdorf Goodman Santa

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Bingo in the Land of the Pharaohs

My favorite week of the year is here and it involves sending out my annual Halloween card featuring my long suffering dog Bingo in some form of mortal danger. Each year I agonize over it; second guessing myself, re-sketching, re-painting, changing it at the last minute up until the 11th hour. I always think I am so behind schedule until I look at the date the card went out the previous year and am surprised to see it is always sent at the last minute.

This year I decided to change it up a bit and go back to the sepia toned look of "Ghost Stories for Dogs" and "Sleepy Hollow". It was a tough decision because I was so happy with the 1950's sci fi look of the previous 2 years "Outer Space Bingo" and "Deep Sea Bingo". I originally got it into my head that Bingo as a mummy would be funny. That evolved however into Bingo playing the role of Howard Carter and being the one who discovers the mysterious dog mummy. I really wanted to stress the darkness of a tomb and show everything lit by lantern light which was no small challenge. Poor Bingo had to pose standing upright above a spot light while my friend took photos. I also posed one of his dog toys propped up with its arms out to see how the light might fall onto a dog mummy, if one actually existed. In the end it was the light source that made the whole thing work. I even had to let go of all the hieroglyphics and cave paintings I had put into the background when I knew it had to be inky dark to make the action going on in the foreground stand out. When I thought I was finished and ready to lay the card out, I had the idea to make it look like an old torn photo in order to stress the vintage over all feel. I found some old book reference on-line and fiddled with it in Photoshop until I came up with the finished product.

Here is the progression of the painting.

Here is the progression of the painting.

It is always so hard to keep the finished image in my mind as it goes through the various stages from sketch to finish.

Sometimes I have to get creative when trying to imagine something that doesn't actually exist and it comes in handy being a collector of eclectic objects to use as stand ins!  Prints of Bingo in the Land of the Pharaohs are available for sale in my Etsy shop Curious Portraits.

Curious and Creepy!

Are you feeling an eerie chill running up your spine? Perhaps a vague sense of foreboding? Don't worry, it's only Halloween creeping up on you! Here are some of my favorite curious and creepy portraits to help you get into the Halloween spirit...

Headless Dogs, Gentlemen Skeletons and even Edgar Allen Poe makes an appearance!

Headless Dogs, Gentlemen Skeletons and even Edgar Allen Poe makes an appearance!

We have been busy preparing our new Black Beaded Portrait Miniatures too. They add a nice touch of Victorian gloom to any wall. You can read about the history of these Portrait Miniatures and how they inspired me in this earlier blog post.

Any image in the shop can be customized into a beaded Portrait Miniature.

Any image in the shop can be customized into a beaded Portrait Miniature.

Don't forget to follow us on Instagram for works in progress and upcoming items.

Happy Haunting!

October Curiosities

October is here bringing not only crisp, chilly air and falling leaves but some of my favorite autumn characters such as Pumpkin Gentlemen, Acorn Men and Squirrels! My shop assistant Bingo and I are busy preparing for the Halloween season (our favorite time of year!)

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Don't forget you can also follow us on Instagram for daily posts, works in progress and check out current inspiration and favorites on our Pinterest boards!