My Portrait Process: the Charcoal Art of Zizka

Zizka is a talented charcoal artist living in Cleveland, Ohio, where she maintains Studio Zizka while pursuing her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Cleveland State University. She was raised in Medina, Ohio, where she received the unusual gift of generational immersion in the art world from the age of three. Zizka’s aunts and uncles gave her access to their fascinating studio spaces, allowing her to witness their drawing and painting process. This experience left a lasting impression upon her as a child, and she has carried the artist’s perspective forward into her adult life. Art runs deep in her genes.


When approaching a subject, Zizka in no way aspires to a sense of photo realism. Instead, she endeavors to capture the spiritual likeness of the person, creating an image that is both accurate and recognizable, but never a mechanical replica. Zizka seeks to accomplish the transference of emotion from every individual face by recording it in her portraits. Her goal is to capture the physical uniqueness of each person’s features, thereby transmitting an intimate glimpse into their personality. She feels that her subjects must be drawn in a way that is interesting to her; otherwise, they may prove uninteresting to others. To Zizka, there is interest to be found in anyone’s face. She considers it her job to find that captivating “something” and reflect it back to the world.

In preparation, Zizka spends about ten minutes staring at the face she is planning to draw. The first things she notices are the shapes and expression of the face as a whole. She studies the eyes with the greatest amount of concentration and intention. After getting a feel for the essential elements, she begins to take into account secondary details such as measurement and lighting.


As an artist, Zizka prefers to keep her portraits quite loosely drawn in terms hair and clothing, which she typically draws last. In these areas, she employs broad marks and quick, gestural lines. She starts with a soft vine charcoal, which she finds easy to brush off the paper with her hand as needed while laying down the first marks.

The subject’s clothing and hair are later added to enhance the drawing, but these elements generally hold lessened importance for Zizka. She prefers to assign greater emphasis to the intricate details of the eyes, nose, and mouth, since this is where the personality is actually conveyed. She finds that a looser style with regard to hair and clothing, in combination with heightened realism and finer detail for facial features, makes for a truly interesting drawing.

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