Interview by Gale Straub
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.
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.
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.
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! 🙂
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.
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.
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!
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:
I think it’s in that space you’ll eventually find your connection again.
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.
Gale’s the host and creator of She Explores. If she’s not editing, reading, listening to podcasts or hiking, she’s probably making homemade ice cream or playing cribbage with her partner.