The Painter’s Journey – Part 1: Finding your painter’s hands

Recently I received a very touching email from a young painter who wanted to know more about me and my artwork. She was especially  interested and inspired by my painting technique and use of colour to express the elements portrayed in my work. Many people ask me where I learned how to paint the way I do – and the the basic answer is that I taught myself.

This will be the first of a few blog posts where I will endeavour to share my knowledge and experience painting with watercolours, acrylics, pen and ink, and maybe a few other things as well!

Unicorn painting liza paizis

Sleep of Innocence 2010

To start at the beginning of my artistic career  – I was an obsessive drawer from the age of two, and by about 4 years old I felt a very strong urge to create images from my very active child’s imagination in any way that I could; luckily my parents, being artistic themselves, encouraged and nurtured me all through my creative journey. Drawing came most naturally to me, but soon I intuitively began to experiment with colour, design and composition.

An elderly lady with whom I attended some after school art guided me to growing confidence in expressing my inner artistic vision, with the use of pattern, complimentary colours, symbolism and playfulness in art. I will always be indebted to Mrs. Smith in Johannesburg for the joy she instilled in me for the creative process that all humans inherently posses.

In grade 2 I traded a drawing I made of 2 giraffes kissing, for a chocolate bar, and from that time on I knew my art was worth something. I sold my first painting of a fairy holding a peacock when I was 15 years old, then when I was 19 I embarked on starting my own arts business, beginning with screen printed t-shirts of my fantasy drawings with unicorns, mermaids and cats. Here are the first commissions of that time:

childrens room fantasy painting

Fantasy paintings for a child’s bedroom

My style was still very linear and graphic, but later that I year I completed work for a more painterly, dreamier commission, combining the subject matter of a cat with a passion for the colour green:

GREEN CAT ~original watercolor cat painting~

Green Cat  1995

This Green Cat was done on canvas board, using a technique which I had developed in my final year at school for my art exam – a self portrait painted on stretched canvas using pen & ink, watercolor and acrylic. I found that the best way to learn to blend watercolours  was the hard way: use a very difficult surface like canvas (primed) , to develop a respect and understanding of the more watery aspects of paints and how to make them work for you. The trick is to begin with a light wash of whichever colour will be dominant in your painting, and then work over that in gentle layers as your vision unfolds.

Liza Paizis self portrait

Self Portrait 1992

Mostly, however, I was doing very intricate black and white drawings using a technical Rotring drawing pen with archival pigment ink, which are great for steady line drawing because they steadily dispense the ink through a precision point with a continual flow, making the lines even and smooth and easy to fill in.  Below are examples of this type of drawing, which were for a series of 3 commissions. I started with the faces and a rough idea in pencil of what the composition and organic shape of the composition would be, then just drew straight in ink using the process as a form of meditation. I still use this technique today, and never fully sketch my paintings or drawing out. I find it is much more authentic and spontaneous to rely on what comes naturally from one’s imagination through hand and instrument, than to relay on sketching everything out first.

imagination black and white drawing

Imagination I and II

Here is a later example of this process at work in Fairy Cat:

fairy cat

Later, well into my 30’s and living in Australia running a business Redwhisper Studio co-owned with John Robson, many customers there asked if I had been to a “Steiner” or “Waldorf” School because my artwork was so much like what the educationalist and philosopher Rudolf Steiner taught.  This was completely fascinating to me: that I had never hear of him until then, but upon further investigation I realised that my intuitive painting was very much like his artistic educational vision  – very dream-like, with bold and emotional use of colour and delicate blending of thoughts, impressions and the very colours themselves to convey the essence of the artist’s inner world.

rudolf steiner painting

Ceiling, First Goetheanum, by Rudolf Steiner

What this said to me is that everyone has innate creative ability, and those of us who choose to express it through painting need look no further than our own intuition and imagination. Of course, this does take discipline, hard work and inspiration, but the tools are there inside us, just waiting to be unlocked and used.

More on how I explored this in the next part…..Thank you so much for visiting my creative blog, and please feel free to share your own creative thoughts, I would love to learn and share with you!

Francescas Room Francesca Woodman painting by Liza Paizis

Francesca’s Room 1999


The Owl House

I am currently on an extended stay in my home country of South Africa, re-connecting with my family and taking in the exquisitely vibrant countryside for inspiration and new developments.

I stopped off on our travels around the beautiful Eastern Cape province into the tiny and little known township Neiu Bethesda in the dry Karoo region. The only reason one would do this is thanks to an incredibly visionary woman called Helen Martins. This amazing but extremely isolated outsider artist lived here up until 1976 when she took her own life due to her failing eyesight and subsequent struggle to realise her creative urges.

Her life here was made known by the wonderful South African writer Athol Fugart in his play (and resulting Hollywood film) The Road to Mecca. Helen left a treasure of art and imagination in her tiny home and backyard, some of which can be seen in the photos below. It is now called The Owl House.

What captivated me the most about her ethereal realm was the care and vivid imagination that went into creating it. She lived this creation every day; she slept and dreamt within its luminescent walls and smiling, whimsical faces of the creatures she had conjured up from cement, wire, beer bottles and pieces of discarded ephemera…and then she gave them life and showed them to us.

Thank you dear Miss Helen for such a joyful gift from such a lonely but inspired heart….