Women's Lib: Artist Zaria Forman Talks Magical Landscapes

Trip out on some of fine art's best nature drawings.

Zaria Forman has traveled to the most remote places to draw the most beautiful and insane landscapes. Her drawings leave a lasting impression—the kind that makes you feel like you've walked on air.

Her works have appeared in National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and The Huffington Post. Her drawings have been used in the set design for the Netflix TV series House of Cards.

Zaria’s most recent achievements include participation in Banksy’s Dismaland (Aug­/Sep 2015), a solo exhibition at Winston Wächter Fine Art in New York City (Sep­/Oct 2015), and a four-­week art residency in Antarctica aboard the National Geographic Explorer (Nov­/Dec 2015). 

Last November, Zaria delivered a TED Talk at TEDTalksLive NYC, which just aired in March, because, well, her work is what dreams are made of. 

Photo by Brian Maranan Pineda

The KIND: Where does your inspiration come from?

Zaria Forman: The inspiration for my drawings began in my early childhood when I traveled with my family throughout several of the world’s most remote landscapes, which became the subject of my mother's fine art photography. I developed an appreciation for the beauty and vastness of the ever-changing sky and sea. I loved watching a far-off storm on the western desert plains; the monsoon rains of southern India; and the cold Arctic light illuminating Greenland's waters.

Greenland no.63, 50"x75", Soft pastel on Paper, 2013

The KIND: And what about this brilliant and intimidating sense of adventure? Where do you get that?

Zaria Forman: I have very fond memories of our family trips and consider them a vital part of my upbringing and education. I feel very fortunate that I had the opportunity to see so much of the world, and to learn first-hand about cultures so vastly different from my own. This myriad of experiences instilled in me a love and need to continue exploring and learning for the rest of my life.

Waipi'o Valley, Hawaii no.1, 30"x45", Soft pastel on Paper, 2015

The KIND: Describe your creative process.

Zaria Forman: When I travel, I take thousands of photographs. I often make a few small sketches on-site to get a feel for the landscape. Once I return to the studio, I draw from my memory of the experience, as well as from the photographs, to create large-scale compositions. Occasionally I will re-invent the water or sky, alter the shape of the ice, or mix and match a few different images to create the composition I envision. I begin with a very simple pencil sketch so I have a few major lines to follow, and then I add layers of pigment onto the paper, smudging everything with my palms and fingers and breaking the pastel into sharp shards to render finer details.

The process of drawing with pastels is simple and straightforward: Cut the paper, make the marks. The material demands a minimalistic approach. There isn't much room for error or re-working since the paper’s tooth can hold only a few thin layers of pigment. I rarely use an eraser––I prefer to work with my “mistakes,” enjoying the challenge of resolving them with limited marks. I love the simplicity of the process. It has taught me a great deal about letting go. I become easily lost in tiny details. If the pastel and paper did not provide limitations, I fear I would never know when to stop, or when a composition were complete!

Photo by Brian Maranan Pineda

The KIND: What's it like being a woman artist? Are their challenges you face as a woman?

Zaria Forman: Unfortunately, the art world is still largely dominated by men. This has to change, but I’m not sure I have an answer for how to make that happen. I am thankful that it doesn’t seem to have affected my career path, or at least not in any way that I am aware of. I hope I can play a small part in inspiring young women interested in pursuing a career in the arts, by showing them that female artists can be successful.

Svalbard no.33, 60"x90", Soft pastel on Paper, 2014

The KIND: What was it like doing a TED Talk?

Zaria Forman: It was a major highlight of my career thus far. I felt extremely honored to not only be on a TED stage, but also to share it with a number of brilliant and inspirational people. It was an unforgettable experience!

Photo by Brian Maranan Pineda

The KIND: If not art, what would you be doing?

Zaria Forman: That’s kind of like asking me “If you were dead, how would it feel?" If I had to take a crack at it, I would guess I would still be teaching yoga, probably focusing on running retreats in tropical places.