Lizzy Ragan on the Transportive Practice of Painting After Paralysis

Lizzy Ragan, Watercolor Artist

Interview by Gale Straub

Lizzy Ragan; photo by Katy Weaver

Lizzy Ragan at work; Photo by Katy Weaver Photography

Lizzy Ragan is a public health professional, an outdoor enthusiast, an artist, and a paraplegic. She describes the last identifier as the most recent due to a climbing accident in 2019. The world has changed greatly in the past two years, and, on a smaller scale, Lizzy’s personal and professional worlds have been transformed as well.

Since the accident, Lizzy experiences time outside differently than before. She’s relearning activities like climbing and exploring new sports like hand-cycling. On the whole, the outdoors is no longer accessible to her in the way it once was. On her personal Instagram, @lizzy.ragan, she highlights accessibility in National Parks she visits and encourages her followers to pay attention, too.

“Everyone is pre-disabled,” she wrote during Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month, “Look at lack of curb cuts a little differently. Look at grocery carts in disabled parking lots a little differently. Design your business storefronts and bathrooms a little differently. Be an advocate for inclusiveness and accessibility. Be an advocate for people like me.”

In her professional life, Lizzy’s focus is infectious disease epidemiology and research. Since the onset of the pandemic, her focus is almost entirely on COVID-19.

While how she spends time in nature has changed in the last two years, painting is one way Lizzy is able to immerse herself in both the grand landscapes and the small, intricate details in nature that have always transfixed her. For anyone who would love to visit the Pacific Northwest one day (or is missing it badly thanks to the pandemic) you’ll find yourself transported by her watercolors which highlight the flora, wildlife, and grandeur of the place she’s called home for much of her life.

Let’s get to know Lizzy through her work, and in her own words.


Lizzy Ragan on movement, watercolor, and taking her time:

What are your earliest memories of creating? What mediums do you gravitate most toward?

When I was a little girl, I used to spend summer days with a family friend who happened to be a world-class colored pencil artist. She would take me on walks through the woods where we’d pick flowers and find curiosities, then we’d go back and lay them out on the table and draw. She taught me from a young age to look for the details and intricacies in the world around us. I went from colored pencils, to watercolor pencils, and now work almost entirely in watercolor.

Sunflower watercolor painting by Lizzy Ragan

Sunflower watercolor painted by Lizzy Ragan

You share a lot of photos and stories of yourself in motion: handcycling, kayaking, climbing… How does movement inspire your art? 

Movement gets us out into the world! My art is inspired by the outdoors both big (e.g., mountains) and small (plants and critters). There are few moments when I feel more inspired than when I’m out on a trail, on the water, etc. just soaking it all in. 

Are there any new outdoor activities you’d like to try or relearn?

Oh yes… I grew up riding horses. And I mean living and breathing horses. For numerous chapters of my life, this meant seven days a week! Getting back into riding has been a major goal of mine, but the barriers have been shockingly numerous (too long to divulge here). As I write this, I’m crossing my fingers that I’m close and by early next year this will be a part of my life again.

In general, since my accident, I’ve set an annual goal of trying two new sports a year. I was given the advice early on that adaptive sports are an opportunity to try a sport anew and see it through a fresh lens. Who knows, maybe I’ll finally decide I like bowling? (Very, very slim chance.) Editor’s note: ha! 🙂

Conversely, how does stillness inspire your art?

I think to truly capture something through art, you have to be willing to sit with it. To be still with it. To consider it from multiple angles. What is a painting anyhow but a snapshot—an artist’s interpretation of a moment in time. 

watercolor painting by Lizzy Ragan

Watercolor painting by Lizzy Ragan

In a recent post reflecting on the 2 year anniversary of your climbing accident, you write that before your injury, you painted maybe once or twice a year but now you pick up a paintbrush almost daily. Could you share a bit about the role painting has played in your healing?

Since my accident, painting has provided a meditative space for me. I can lose myself for hours with a brush in hand and everything else goes on mute. It’s been such a crazy two years between my accident and COVID. Painting is my haven from all that chaos. It’s admittedly also become a new way to experience places that are often no longer accessible to me. It gives me an opportunity to be up in the mountains again.

I’ve noticed a theme in the subjects you focus on in your work: flowers, birds, and mountains. All contain a level of detail that can be difficult to portray in watercolor. What draws you to these subjects? 

Mountains, flowers, birds…these are the sorts of things that make the outdoors amazing. The big and the small. I think beauty can be found in the details, which I try to capture in my art. I do find myself being self-critical of my desire for such precision with watercolors. So much of medium’s beauty is its wildness. I’ve been working a lot on letting go of control and letting my art flow more. There’s probably a good life lesson to be learned there!

As your draw towards art has ebbed and flowed over time, what would you say to someone who is feeling disconnected from but (longing for) their creative spark?

It’s so hard to predict what will reconnect us with our creative sides. For me, it happened to be a loss. I have two thoughts here:

  1. We have to be patient with ourselves. Creativity can be inspired, but it can’t be forced. 
  2. Create time and space to do the things and surround yourself with the people who make you feel the most alive.

I think it’s in that space you’ll eventually find your connection again. 

What do you hope others feel when they engage with your art?

That’s an interesting question because so often I feel like creating art is a selfish act—I do it because, through it, I rediscover my center. Perhaps what I hope others will get out of it is an opportunity to see these slivers of nature through a slightly different lens, and therefore appreciate it in a new way. 

Lizzy Ragan holding a watercolor painting up

Lizzy holding her watercolor painting up. Photo by Katy Weaver Photography


Learn more about Lizzy Ragan at LizzyRaganArt.com and see more of her art at @lizzyraganart & follow along with her adventures at @lizzy.ragan.

  1. Wow! Amazing artwork! Since I work in Virtual Reality, you may want to check out a program called TiltBrush, where you can paint in 3D. You can travel around your painting even seated! I was curious in your infectious disease epidemiology and research if visualizing virus structures in 3D would be helpful?

  2. Beautiful profile of an amazing woman! And talented artist!!!

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