124 NW 9th, Portland, Oregon 97209

About the Artist

Lisa Onstad spent her childhood in a Northern California suburb, sneaking into her neighbor’s secret garden, getting lost in the pages of a good book and making colorful art with her 64-set of Crayola crayons. She grew up to make paintings and artist’s books inspired by urban landscapes, her collection of vintage ephemera, and the infinite number of colors in her paint box.

Lisa received a BA in Fine Art and Psychology from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon in 1986; an MA in Art Therapy from the College of Notre Dame in Belmont, California in 1991; and a certificate in Book Arts from the College of Art and Craft in Portland, Oregon in 2001. Lisa has shown her work nationally, and her paintings and artist’s books can be found in private and public collections in the U.S. and abroad, including the Yale University Special Collections, University of Washington, Seattle and the Atelier Vis-à-Vis, Marseille, France.

During the past fifteen years Lisa has worked as an art therapist, managed a letterpress print shop, and taught painting and book arts workshops in Oregon and California. These days, when she’s not teaching or making art in her North Portland studio, she enjoys reading to her son and wandering the trails of Portland’s Forest Park. On occasion, she has been known to disappear into the wilds of her neighbor’s overgrown garden, looking for inspiration.


When making art, I welcome serendipity into my creative process and try to find a balance between chance and intention. Through my process and with my materials I explore the tension in this relationship.

My paintings evolve intuitively, although I usually start with images and colors from nature – a tangle of branches, a stand of trees or the pumped-up pinks and reds of Camellia blossoms. After building up several layers of paint, I sand the painting. Any sense of regret I might have about abrading the surface is overcome by a feeling of anticipation as I brush away the dust. A dreamlike image is revealed, full of soft edges and pools of color, almost as if I had no hand in its making. I refine the random combinations of brushstrokes and colors I’ve uncovered by adding purposeful shapes and definition to the final composition.

While my intention to capture specific details in nature may be foiled by the spontaneity of my process, I create images that capture the essence of a particular place. And my methods allow me to explore the juxtaposition of soft and hard, order and chaos,  the known and unknown.

My ideas for artist’s books are often triggered by my chance happenings upon an intriguing line of poetry or a diagram in a book, and the connections I make between those found words and images. I use lists, indexes and maps from my collection of ephemera to describe a moment in time, a memory or a relationship. I add layers of hand-painted elements, collage and letterpress to my books to create a narrative that can be read in multiple ways. This allows the reader to make my story their own.