VAP2021-Q1 Words and Pictures

Sketches in time: an interview with Heather Drayzen

Written by Rose Silberman-Gorn.

Rose: Where are you from and where are you currently based?

Heather: I’m from San Antonio, Texas and currently based in Brooklyn, NY.

Rose: When did you start making art?

Heather: I started making art regularly in my junior year of  highschool. I transferred to a fantastic art magnet school that changed my life. I grew up with a family that made things—my mom would decorate cakes and my aunt would do craft shows. However, growing up in San Antonio, the arts were not offered as a regular program. I had no exposure to artists and didn’t really have any idea of what art was exactly, so that high school art program was mind blowing for me and helped me to find my path.

Rose: How has your art shifted or changed over time (in terms of style, medium, technique, subject matter)?

Heather: Early on out of college, I would paint from my vintage family photographs as well as vintage photographs of musicians, like Johnny Cash and June Carter. While I’m still doing the same type of paintings now, they’ve evolved to become more personal. I needed to live for some time and experience life with all the raw emotions and moments those singers were making music about in order to really be able to paint meaningfully from my life.

I primarily worked in acrylics, watercolor, and drawing until about 4 years ago. I signed up for life portrait painting classes at SVA on Saturdays with John Parks and switched to oils. I learned so much about color theory from him!

Rose: When did you start painting loved ones in everyday moments? Why do you think you were drawn to this subject?

Heather: I’ve always been interested in painting or capturing people I connected to. I grew up with a single mom—my dad passed when I was three from cancer. I’ve pored over family photo albums. I analyzed them, trying to figure out who they were—who my dad was—and what life was like for my parents before me. I think that I’ve always been drawn to documenting my loved ones and my life in some form. It’s helped me process my own identity and experience. 

Rose: I saw in my research that you’re an art teacher. Do you feel that this impacts your personal artistic practice, and if so, how?

Heather: I constantly have art on the brain and am researching new resources for teaching. Teaching has forced me to become hyper-organized and disciplined with time management which has helped me develop a more concentrated personal work ethic. Also, seeing my students light up and get excited about art reminds me all the time about why I got started in the first place!

Rose: What are you aiming to depict or convey in your paintings?

Heather: I’m aiming to depict small everyday moments as a way to capture a memory or feeling of a moment in time. I sample images freely from my past and present, bridging the gap between how I see myself and how I see others. My colors and loose brush strokes aim at revealing empathy and connection between time, space, and subject. I’m hoping to highlight the narrative threads between my subjects as well as their interrelation with their surroundings. All my paintings are vignettes within the larger narrative of my life.

Rose: What does your process look like when starting a painting? What makes you decide/realize that you want to paint a memory/moment? 

Heather: I have a drive file of hundreds (maybe thousands?) of my own photos (and sometimes photos from friends) that I archive to work from. I take photos all the time. Their comfort level with the camera is important. It’s hard to put into words on what exactly drives the decision to paint that moment. It can be the environment or perhaps it’s that the image feels like it transcends time. I start with loose line work and underpainting. I then come back to it and paint on top. I’m also currently experimenting with other methods like molding paste and absorbent ground.

Rose: What outside sources influence your artwork (i.e., music, movies, books, other artists)? If they don’t necessarily influence, what do you enjoy consuming?

Heather: So much! I regularly look at painters from history like Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, Berthe Morisot, and Edvard Munch as well as contemporary painters. I recently devoured a Cecily Brown catalogue. I enjoy consuming music and it might influence me in spirit though I find it distracting to paint while listening. Cat Power, Andrew Bird, and Elliot Smith’s songwriting and sound have influenced me for years. Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise Trilogy and Boyhood along with any film with/by Greta Gerwig sticks with me too.

Rose: What’s your studio practice like? How do you stay motivated to work on art?

Heather: I paint in a spare room in my apartment. I try to paint early in the morning before work or right after I’ve finished. It’s the best space for me and the only way I’m able to get in there most days. When I work, I turn on a podcast. I have several paintings going at once which keeps me motivated. I also get feedback from trusted friends.

Rose: Who are some of your favorite artists?

Heather: Definitely the artists I mentioned earlier, Bonnard being #1! Early on in college I was influenced by Alice Neel, Elizabeth Peyton, Karen Kilimnick, and David Hockney. I’m grateful there are so many more figurative artists working and getting global attention now–Jennifer Packer, Jenna Gribbon, Doron Langberg, and Polina Barskaya.

Rose: What are your goals for your artwork in the future?

Heather: My immediate goal for my own artwork is to experiment more with surfaces and to continue expanding my narrative to capture more interiors, still life, and other family members and friends. Post vaccine, I’d like to paint more family/friends from life. I want to exhibit regularly and take on a residency abroad. I would love to curate a Drayzen family show one day since my husband and sister-in-law are artists too. I’m excited by the idea of showcasing their work next to paintings of them.

About the writer: Rose Silberman-Gorn is a painter and sculptor who is currently based in Ridgewood, Queens. She makes cartoonish, surreal paintings and polymer clay sculptures which explore emotional experiences resulting from childhood trauma. She has exhibited in recent group shows at Local Project, Ethan Cohen Kube, Arts in Bushwick, and Her work can be found on her website and on instagram @rosesilb.

About the artist: Heather Drayzen is an artist living in Brooklyn, New York.  She earned her BFA from School of Visual Arts and her MAT from Rhode Island School of Design. She is continuing her education through the New York City Crit Club. Recent online exhibits include One in a Year with The Painting Center,  Portraiture with Manifold Global, and Resonant Strangeness with Marram Arts.  Her website is and her Instagram profile is @heatherdrayzen.