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!

curious portraits prints.jpg

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

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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.


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!

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!

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:


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.

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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!

Uncle Omelette: Creepy Food Icon or Ideal Husband?

I just finished this painting and thought I ought to do a post about it. Apparently Uncle Omelette is frightening people (if my friends reactions are any indication) and I am trying to understand why.  I suppose the somber colors and his inscrutable expression might be a factor. I admit that Anthropomorphic Food, one of my favorite subjects, can be a little creepy to some. I thought that telling the story of how the portrait came about would perhaps make the subject seem a little more friendly.

Originally this was going to be a portrait of Humpty Dumpty who seemed the perfect subject to be included in my series of anthropomorphic food icons.

Uncle Omelette-finished painting. Lisa Zador
Uncle Omelette-finished painting. Lisa Zador
Humpty Dumty sketch. Lisa Zador
Humpty Dumty sketch. Lisa Zador

One night during a bout of insomnia (when many of my best painting concepts appear) I had the idea that he shouldn't be sitting on a wall, as he is often portrayed,  but should be shown doing something domestic, to sort of show  Humpty Dummpty "at home".  It occurred to me that it would be funny if he was cooking bacon since he is after all, an egg. The painting then evolved into the second sketch. I was even going to paint him in bright, vintage kitchen colors with a pistachio green wall and vintage pot holders hanging in the background.

Uncle Omelette Sketches. Lisa Zador
Uncle Omelette Sketches. Lisa Zador

I began the painting as I always do with a grisaille underpainting using brown and white to block in the light and shadow.

At this point I became distracted with other projects and put the painting aside for about two months.  A week or so ago I decided it was time to work on it again. I know that sometimes when I let a painting sit too long I lose my train of thought. I felt strongly about this particular portrait and thought it deserved to be finished. I began to add in glazes of color and it became clear to me that all the background elements were unnecessary. The slightly green background  against the burgundy shade of his suit felt almost flemish to me. I found the contrast of this formal painting style with the absurd subject matter very exciting. I knew that the painting was nearly finished.

Uncle Omelette Painting Stages 2. Lisa Zador
Uncle Omelette Painting Stages 2. Lisa Zador

When I look at Uncle Omelette I see a kind, caring face. The fact that I named him "Uncle" (something that again came to me during a sleepless night) made him seem immediately familiar.  Cooking for someone, in my opinion is a very caring act; in my family it is the best way to show people you love them.  So in my imagination, Uncle Omelette is a benevolent and loving family member who is trying to take care of me.

Uncle Omelette-finished painting. Lisa Zador
Uncle Omelette-finished painting. Lisa Zador

That being said I must also add in that according to my friend Danielle, because I am often attracted to bald men and am always saying that I would love a chef as a partner, this is actually a portrait of my ideal husband.  I may like her interpretation the best!

An Unusual Portrait Commission

Lisa Zador-Joey the Bat About 6 months ago I was approached by a gentleman who was interested in commissioning me to paint a portrait of a stuffed toy. This in itself wasn't all that unusual, I have done many portraits of vintage Steiff animals and have painted favorite stuffed animals on commission. The interesting part was that I was to be one of many artists he was commissioning to paint his stuffed bat....named Joey. When I began to research him I found that not only did he have his own Facebook page (Joey T. Bat) but that he had travelled all around the world and been photographed in every location. The more I read, the more intrigued I became. Joey's owner also didn't want to see sketches or concepts at all but preferred to be surprised at the end. That was a little unnerving but I assumed that he looked over my work and had a rough idea of what the outcome would be.  He even provided a "Stunt Joey" for me to use as a model as I wanted to set the light source up myself and not rely upon existing photos. I did use those photos however to note the subtle differences between the actual Joey and the stand in. It was difficult to decide how best to portray him; should he be outdoors? If so what would the best setting be? Should he be full body or simply his face? I tried several different poses and made quite a few sketches before I settled upon a classic head and shoulders. After all, that is the signature style of most of my animal portraits, stuffed and otherwise. I also decided to paint him in sepia tones instead of full color. I thought it added dignity and sense of mystery to him. He is in fact only 5" tall standing so I wanted to zoom in to create a greater sense of stature.

I sent this photo of the painting to his owner yesterday who was very pleased and said that I captured the softness and peacefulness of Joey which is exactly what he had hoped for so I couldn't be happier! It has turned out to be a delightful experience and one I thought worthy of sharing. These are my favorite kinds of jobs, the unusual ones that bring you in contact with such interesting people who you never might have met otherwise.

You can read more about the Joey T. Bat project on Joey's blog  Zip Me Up. It tells the story of how the project came about, how it has evolved and is chock full of wonderful photos!

You can see more of my Vintage Stuffed Animal Portraits on my website or in my Curious Portraits shop on Etsy.

Full Moon

I have always imagined the Man in the Moon to be kind and benevolent presence. Whenever I see the full moon I feel peaceful and reassured that someone is looking out for us. I've tried to capture that in this portrait, the first I've done in ages. It is so good to be back in the studio again!

Dove Portrait in Needlepoint

I was away visiting my sister this weekend and was able to finish a needlepoint I have been working on for nearly a year. It is one of two patterns I designed after a a pair of paintings of mourning doves I had done. I've shown the second one is in progress because I always like to see how other's begin their projects! I just love charting out the crosstitch patterns on graph paper. It is tedious work but very satisfying when it is finished.

Red Dove Needlepoint in Progress


Original Dove Painting

Mr. Peanut Portrait Finished

I have just finished the first Mr. Peanut portrait and I can't wait to begin the second. I decided to do it in color (as opposed to just sepia tones which I was considering) but I kept it on the dark side to give it an aged look. I think it captures the essence of the Mr. Peanut man I remember as a child when I didn't realize that it was actually a human in a costume.

Mr Peanut portrait 1
Mr Peanut portrait 1

Mr. Peanut

Due to a series of unfortunate events this is the first post for the new year. 2011 began for me with an abscess tooth which ultimately had to be pulled. Surprisingly this was NOT the tooth that broke the week before Christmas so I had 2 to take care of on opposite sides of my mouth. For this reason I ended up taking a break from my artwork for a few weeks but now that I'm feeling better my creativity is returning. I am beginning the year with a pair of portraits that may be the most curious I've done so far. They are portraits of one of my favorite subjects: Mr. Peanut. My long fascination with him began when I was a little girl and my Father took my Sister and Me to Atlantic City for the day. It was a big event for us and a sort of family tradition as he had also taken my Brother when he was a kid. This was back in the early 1960's when Atlantic City was a real amusement park like Coney Island. I remember that  at Steel Pier we went down under the water in the Diving Bell, posed for old fashioned photos as old west sheriffs with my Father behind bars as the prisoner and watched a woman dive off the pier on a horse. It was a magical day but the most memorable part was meeting Mr. Peanut for the first time. I admit to being a bit terrified of him back then. You have to imaging being a 5 or 6 year old child seeing this gigantic peanut with dark, un-seeing eyes lumbering toward you on spindly black legs. He was silently menacing with a sort of black screen over the monacle and eye hole. In those days the Mr. Peanut people didn't talk to you, they just bobbed their giant peanut bodies up and down in a gesture of greeting. Since then I have have not only come to terms with my fear but actually embraced Mr. Peanut as a nostalgic representative of my childhood. I have a Mr. Peanut mechanical pencil that I love drawing with (except that I cannot find lead to fit it any more), I have a set of Mr. Peanut salt and pepper shakers and even bought a silver ashtray in a curio shop in Amsterdam. The shop owner had originally purchased it in Brooklyn and brought it back to Amsterdam where I bought it and brought it right back to New York!

As you can see he has been on my mind for a number of years but I was never sure how I wanted to portray him. For this pair of portraits I felt it was important to portray the Mr. Peanut that I best remember which is as the actual costume.  There have been several versions over the years but after much research I've found the type that I believe was used in the early 1960's.  I thought it would also be interesting to put a skyline of Atlantic City in it's hey day in the background and some striped bunting to lighten it up and make him seem less frightening. I've only gotten the sepia underpainting on the first portrait finished so far and I like it so much I am considering not putting in color at all. We'll see..

Christmas Parrots

Well I took the sketches I did on the table cloth last weekend and worked them up into proper drawings for a pair of paintings. I got the idea from looking through my sketchbook where I had found this old sketch of 2 parrots together. I thought green parrots with red fezs would be beautiful and strangely Christmas themed so I am adding them to my Christmas portraits queue.

Acorn Man Portrait

I have always been interested in anthropomorphic fruit and veggies. I love giving them faces, arms & legs. Essentially giving them personalities. When I was a kid I used to collect acorns and make little people with them using pipe cleaners and painting faces on them. Well last week I was out jogging by the Hudson and saw the acorns were ready and falling from the trees so I collected a bunch to give to my squirrels. (The ones I feed from my fire escape). I kept looking at the bowl full of them, admiring their smooth brown surfaces and remembering how I used to love them. That was what inspired me to immortalize one in a painting. To honor the humble acorn, a true symbol of autumn.


In the spirit of the season I am continuing to explore the ghoulish side of my work. These 2 paintings were inspired by german composite (plaster, paper mache...) figurines from the 1920's. They are all quite unusual and chillingly jolly. I look forward to beginning a new set this weekend.

Halloween Portraits

This is my favorite time of year, I get so inspired thinking about Halloween! I've always had a love of vintage Halloween decorations and have a nice collection of things mostly from the 40's and 50's (lots of Beistle made). I've recently been looking over things from the 20's, mostly german made that are just gorgeous and soooo perfect for portraits! I must have 20 items sketched out so far but am starting with a few plastic ornaments from the 40's the first of which is this Jack O Lantern. This is the sepia underpainting, color will follow.

Pieps the Steiff Mouse portrait

I finished up this portrait yesterday and was so happy with it I scanned it with the paint still wet! I loved this mouse when I bought him from Ebay and I just knew he would make a terrific subject for a painting. I am working on the Steiff tabby cat portrait now...