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.


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.


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!

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 Gentleman Fox for Fox Hollow Vineyards

I've just finished working on one of my favorite projects; designing a wine label for Fox Hollow Vineyards. Joe Casola and Kim Casola hired me back in December to paint a handsome and gentlemanly fox for the labels of their new wines premiering in the autumn. They were so wonderful to work with and their beautiful farm was truly an inspiration.  We began with a formal portrait of a gentlemanly fox with a landscape background representing their farm.

Fox Hunt Portrait by Lisa Zador

Once the portrait was completed Joe had the idea of isolating the fox from the background and putting some sort of pattern behind him. With all of my textile design background and love of repeating pattern, I jumped at the chance to design a fox hunting themed pattern. We wanted to keep it soft and neutral to sit nicely in the back so I drew the elements in black pencil instead of painting them in gouache as I normally would.

Fox Hunt Pattern by Lisa Zador
Fox Hollow Label Detail by Lisa Zador

We don't yet have the printed labels but Joe mocked up some sample bottles just to see how it will look! I did a blog post back in March about the design process including sketches and preliminary drawings which you can read by clicking here.

Fox Hollow Wine Labels Lisa Zador


About a year ago I had an inspiring meeting with the wonderful editors at Skyhorse Publishing. It was so refreshing to meet with people in the publishing industry who are so enthusiastic about what they do. We discussed enthusiastically our favorite children's books and illustrators from classics to contemporary. This experience made me think a lot about my own favorite stories, how they affected me and also how I would approach illustrating a book; a task that I admit seemed overwhelming at the time. One book that I have recently discovered is Pinocchio. My most recent visit to Florence coincided with the anniversary of the publication of the book by Collodi and I picked up a copy in italian. I had previously only been familiar with the Disney version and was surprised to find not only how dark the original story was but also how many colorful animal characters it involved. From the Rabbit Undertakers to the Poodle Footman not to mention the Cricket Ghost plus a menagerie of dogs, cats, a snail, squirrel, owl. I realized it presented the perfect challenge for my first series of book illustrations. Here are the first finished drawings and painting, I'll be adding more as I go along.


First I had to work out what Pinocchio would look like. I thought he should be simple since he was a puppet carved out of a piece of wood. Even though he is quite mischievous in the story I also wanted to portray his innocent and trusting nature.


This is a drawing of the piece of wood Geppetto finds that originally inspires him to create a puppet. I wanted to create a number of the images in black and white since most books require both black and white and color illustrations. It was a challenge for me but I wanted the drawings to look purposeful and not simply black and white versions of otherwise color images. I have always loved using Kohinoor Negro leads and pencils which are unfortunately no longer made. They create such a rich, velvety black when I use them on Stonehenge printmaking paper!


The scene where Pinocchio is sick in bed is one of my favorites as it is filled with interesting characters. These are the Rabbit Undertakers that appear carrying a small coffin to frighten Pinocchio into taking his medicine. It was only after I had finished it that in reading over the Italian text I realized there were supposed to be four rabbits, black as ink! Well I suppose I could get away with dressing them is black but if I ever put this into print I'm afraid I will have to re-do this one!

Favorite 19th Century Authors - Jules Verne

In this series of paintings I am paying homage to some of my favorite writers from the 19th century. The first in the series was Edgar Allen Poe whose chilling words continue to thrill me today as much as they did when I first read them years ago. (The story behind his portrait can be read here). The second in the series just had to be Jules Verne. His stories filled my childhood with adventures to far off lands and beyond, firing my imagination and always leaving me wanting more. In this illustration I wanted to touch upon as many elements from his most famous stories as I could reasonably fit into one portrait including From Earth to the Moon, Around the World in 80 Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Five Weeks in a Balloon all of which are still in print. His fantastic vision of imagined space travel, undersea exploration and science in general are so incredible when seen from the viewpoint of the mid 19th century. He truly was the Father of Science Fiction.


Favorite 19th Century Authors - Edgar Allen Poe

Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes; since early childhood I remember my Father encouraging me to journey to the far ends of the world through the pages of a book. I am so grateful for that advice and continue to explore all sorts of different worlds and time periods while safely curled up in my armchair. One of my favorite genres is the mystery and like many others my first love was Edgar Allen Poe. If only I could re-experience the thrill of reading each of his stories for the first time! The Raven, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Gold Bug, Murders in the Rue Morgue; each one terrifying and exciting in it's own way. So when I decided to pay homage to some of my favorite writers from the 19th century for a series of paintings, the first one simply had to be of Edgar Allen Poe. I decided to keep them in a sepia toned palette, reminiscent of the daguerreotypes of the time. Since The Raven continues to be his most popular poem I favored that image but also incorporated a scarab, a heart and a black cat from his other stories into the background wallpaper. I am so excited to be working on these illustrations and am already up to my elbows in the second portrait of the series featuring Jules Verne!

Edgar Allen Poe Portrait - Lisa Zador Illustration

Edgar Allen Poe Portrait - Lisa Zador Illustration

The Writer's Chronicle

I am so pleased with the new issue of The Writer's Chronicle which features an illustration by yours truly. It was such a pleasure to work on and I couldn't be happier with the layout and the beautiful script they chose for the cover story title.


The title essay explores all the ways the image of the window has been used in nonfiction beginning with Forster's Room With a View, one of my favorites up to the present. It was a challenge to illustrate and initially I thought using an actual window would be too predictable. My love of repeating patterns however kept drawing me back to the possibilities presented by a curtain and wallpaper if a window was viewed from the inside out.  As I sketched out different ideas  I kept coming back to my original thought of using a lace curtain as a sort of veil between the inside and the outside. The essay mentions captivity vs. freedom as one of the concepts a window could represent and I thought incorporating the motif of keys and locks into the lace could be a subtle and graceful way of portraying that.


The second essay was even more abstract. It explored all the different elements a writer must consider in creating a character's identity in a story. I decided to continue the theme of a repeating pattern that I had used for the cover and incorporate some of those elements including location, religion, home life, occupation etc. This was an engaging project and the art directors were a dream to work with. I am so excited to be part of this issue of the magazine!


Autumn Leaves

Autumn has always been my favorite season. As soon as Labor Day is over I start anticipating all the wonderful things I love about the season. Here in the Northeast the air is already beginning to chill and I am on the lookout for the changing of the leaves. As a child growing up in South Jersey I spent hours in our yard collecting different leaves, seed pods and acorns. I decided to try to capture these moments from my childhood and put them all in one painting. Researching all these familiar leaves and seeds was like going home again. The Tulip Poplar, the Sycamore and the Sweet Gum feel like old friends. Just looking at them all together brings the scent of woodsmoke to my mind and puts me right back in my Parent's yard all those years ago!

Prints are available for purchase in my Etsy shop The Curious Kitchen

Prints are available for purchase in my Etsy shop The Curious Kitchen

Two Handsome Men and a Richly Roasted Coffee...

I recently did an illustration for the Rabbit Coffee Roasting Company's premiere coffee label. They just had a very interesting article published about them and their company in Opulence magazine and I thought I would share it. Being such a coffee enthusiast myself I found their story and all  the subtleties of the coffee bean roasting process so fascinating. It was such a pleasure working with Iain Yeakle on this project and I am so pleased with the final product. I am however waiting for a sample bag of these rich, velvety beans to reach find it's way to me...

Two Handsome men and a richly roasted coffee bean, what more could you ask for?

Two Handsome men and a richly roasted coffee bean, what more could you ask for?

Rabbit Coffee Roasting Label new.jpg

Two Wonderful Blog Posts about Yours Truly

I want to mention today how honored I am to have been featured on two wonderful blogs this week!

The first is by Evelyn Pelati, a talented jewelry designer who has a knack for finding interesting artists, craftsmen and designers to write about on her blog.  Just click the image to read more of her post about yours truly! You can see her beautiful jewelry on her website: evelynpelati.com


The other one is called Papoose Clothing by Ashley Duggan Smith who makes the most adorable and charming children’s clothes. Just click the image to read more of this wonderful post. You can find her unique clothing line in her Etsy shop Papoose Clothing.

papoose clothing-curious portraits

Thank you Evelyn and Ashley for your very kind words about my work!


Face Your Deepest Fears this Halloween!

My dog Bingo is facing his deepest fear (of water) this Halloween for his annual card. He has bravely donned his diving gear to explore the mysteries of the deep. I hope he will be an inspiration to you. A very Happy Halloween to everyone! (c) 2013 Lisa Zador

Prints of Deep Sea Bingo are available in my Etsy shop Curious Portraits!

A Custom Kitchen Towel Design for a Fabulous Abode

I am so happy to finally be able to post this new kitchen towel design.  I finished it nearly two months ago but because it was to be a surprise I had to sit on it until I could get it to it's intended recipient. It was designed to celebrate my friend's wonderful beach house in Cherry Grove, Fire Island where we have spent many happy hours surrounded by colorful people and amiable animals eating, drinking and always laughing. I incorporated as many of the key elements as I could fit that make this place special such as his favorite deer and the squirrel that lives in the roof not to mention the drag personas they have come up with for the Pines Invasion every July 4th. It is a magical place and I truly wanted to honor it in the  kitschiest way possible. Deer-Abbey-Kitchen-Towel-Lisa-Zador

It is available for purchase at my Etsy shop The Curious Kitchen.

Pumpkin Season has arrived

Every year around this time I find myself on the lookout for that first little bit of orange at the green grocers, usually in the form of mini pumpkins. Then follow the larger pumpkins and decorative gourds soon after. It truly marks the beginning of autumn which is my favorite time of year. Last year I was wandering through the farmer's market in Fort Greene, Brooklyn and I found a treasure trove of the most beautiful decorative gourds! I bought a whole bunch and they inspired me to paint this Pumpkin Varieties Chart to help usher in the season.  Just looking at these makes me smell the wood smoke and feel the chill in the air. Soon it will even be time to pull out my vintage Halloween decorations and begin carving a pumpkin. I like to try out different faces each year, usually scary and since it is always so hard to decide upon one, I thought I would do a painting of all sorts of Jack O Lantern faces, some scary and some friendly. I added in a black scroll border complete with crows to finish it off! Both paintings are available as prints in my Etsy shop The Curious Kitchen.

The Elusive Muse

I am often asked how I find inspriation and once found, how I hold onto it.The creative process is a mysterious thing and everyone has their own personal relationship with their “muse”. I myself have suffered through many setbacks and  time periods barren of creativity. I find these times to be profoundly challenging so over the years I have developped some habits and practices to fend off those dark days and I thought it might be helpful to share them One thing I have always done is maintain a sketchbook. It is a great place to keep your thoughts organized and to have a visual record of your creative evolution. It doesn’t have to be fancy or even neat; it is after all for your benefit so don’t worry about making it pretty. Just get a blank unlined sketchbook and start filling it up with ideas, sketches, clippings of inspiration. I even put in postage stamps that I find particularly beautiful and lists of things I hope to accomplish. These are all mixed in with sketches of ideas, sometimes different versions of the same concept.

lisa zador-sketchbook

pg 1

I take a smaller version with me when I travel and fill it with sketches done on the spot or notes about something I found inspiring, all for future reference. So many things will come to mind when I am away from the studio which I would never remember if I didn’t jot them down.

lisa zador-travel sketchbook

I also keep pen and paper by my bed as I tend to come up with some of my best ideas during the night or in those magical moments in the morning when I am just waking up.

lisa zador-sketches

Another thing I do is to keep a wall of inspiration. Mine is actually the 2 sliding doors of my closet which are flat white and just begging to be filled up. I’ve heard other people say they keep a clothesline in their studio and clip pages to that .The idea is to keep your ideas in front of you for focus and to keep you moving forward. I usually have sketches of the different projects I am involved in and those I haven’t gotten to yet as well as any inspiration I have collected pertaining to them.

lisa zador-inspriation wall

In my studio I have a library of reference books including artists biographies, how-to books and clip art. I don’t know where I would be without Dover Publications and their exhaustive collection of reference books including early advertising engravings of everything under the sun including old wood type, engravers ornaments, historic textile design, period fashion and costumes, animals, it is just endless. I go back to those books on a daily basis for ideas.

lisa zador-reference books

lisa zador-reference books

I also keep an extensive collection of reference files. These days they are digital but I still go back to my paper files on a regular basis as well. Keeping them organized is very important so that they will be easily located when needed. For example I will have “Textiles” as the main folder, then “Vintage”, “Damask”, “tablecloths”, “Christmas” etc. Another good habit is to re-name the photos when you drag them into a file. For example instead of using the given name which is usually just a number, I will re-name it in simple terms that I can easily search for no matter where it ends up on my computer. So instead of "DC2257666" I’ll call it "mouse-umbrella-victorian".

I am often involved in several projects at once so I find it helpful to keep individual files for each project that will have printouts of reference and sketches all together instead of in one pile on my table or scattered around the studio.

lisa zador-project folder

So now when I find myself in a dry spell or stuck in a project and not knowing in what direction to take it I can relax with a cup of tea and flip through my sketchbook or my paper files or sit down at the computer and browse through my reference files. Something always pops out at me unexpectedly and provides the missing piece of the current design puzzle.

mr peanut - lisa zador

Finally, one thing I have learned is to stop myself from second guessing an idea. It is easy to talk yourself out of doing a new painting or project because it sounds unusual or you tell yourself no one else could possibly be interested in it. I had sketches for my Mr. Peanut portrait on my inspiration board for nearly a year before I finally started the painting and it is now a popular favorite in my Curious Portraits shop. If I believed that voice in my head telling me that no one would want to buy anthropomorphic food prints The Curious Kitchen shop wouldn't exist. Trust your instincts, it is your creative self trying to get your attention! I hope you find this helpful and I would love to hear about your own personal ways of fighting off “artists block”!

anthropomorphic breakfast - lisa zador

Insect Camouflage

Insect prints

I have always liked the idea of camouflage; of being out in plain view yet hidden at the same time. I've done several playful camouflage prints in my day including elements such as dinosaurs and reptiles. There are endless possibilities of background pattern and color. This time I wanted to use some insects that I particularly like and thought I'd hide them inside a damask pattern using camouflage colors. I have always loved grasshoppers (probably from the "Cricket on the Hearth"), and of course dragonflies are just so stunningly beautiful. I also added in a cicada because I love their melodious arrival each August and also a beetle (thinking of scarabs).  I liked it so much not only did I paint one up as a stripe in non traditional camouflage colors but I also decided to make prints from the individual insects for my The Curious Kitchen Etsy shop. Insects may not be everyone's favorite creature but I am attempting to bring some  beauty to an often maligned subject matter!


Insect Damask



Lovebirds Collection

Love Birds pair I have really been enjoying working on this series of decorative illustrations and textile designs, it has been a nice break from my usual dark, moody work! This group began as a simple bird illustration, I was going to use various song birds but as I worked it out I had the inspiration to put love birds on a swing together. I think it is so touching that love birds mate for life, they seemed like the perfect subject matter at this time of year with Valentine's Day approaching. Once I painted them I fell in love with the colors and decided to make the whole thing about love birds. I used a pink ground which is unusual for me but it seemed perfect for the aqua, mint, butter and melon in the birds. The two pieces above are available as prints and notecards in my The Curious Kitchen shop on Etsy.

Bird Toile Detail

Love Birds Stripe - Plates


The Curious Kitchen up-date

My new Etsy shop The Curious Kitchen has been slowly coming along. I admit that I neglected it  a bit during the holiday season but am happy to say I am now giving it my full attention! This shop features more decorative prints of paintings done in gouache on paper that reflect my love of vintage illustration and collectibles. Here are some new additions: parrot-portraits


These two parrot portraits were adapted from a textile design of mine. I never tire of painting parrots, I find them to have the most expressive faces and of course the most beautiful colors!

Parrot Damask

Rooster PortraitsThese four rooster prints were also adapted from one of my textile designs. I think roosters are so cheery.My Mother had decorative rooster trivets hanging in our kitchen back in South Philly and I think that must be what inspired me. Rooster-PrintMore of my textile designs can now be seen on my website lisazador.com.