From pupil to mentor, Joan Lazarus mastered the palette


Joan Lazarus spent half of her life learning how to artistically express herself. Now, at 77, Lazarus took up the mantle of being a teacher and showing others what she has learned.

Lazarus’ art career began in her early 20s when her husband bought her an art kit. She started painting on her own until she decided she needed an art teacher to improve her skills. With the encouragement of her watercolor teacher, Lazarus studied at C.W. Post, now Long Island University, and learned the basics of what she now teaches to seniors at the Town of Hempstead’s senior enrichment program.

“I can paint in all mediums,” Lazarus said. “I didn’t really go to art school. I found teachers who could teach me what I wanted to learn.”

Starting with oil painting, Lazarus then learned acrylic and watercolor. At college, Lazarus became more of a conceptual artist. After graduating  in 1968, Lazarus attended various art workshops in Garden City.

“A gentleman came around behind me at the workshop and asked me to come to his adult classes,” Lazarus said. “It was at Uniondale High School, and he said he will help me with my art.”

Lazarus went to Frank Zizzo’s class weekly for five to eight years. Zizzo taught her how to paint with oil.

After studying with Zizzo, Lazarus wanted more guidance on her watercolor paintings. She went to an art gallery in North Port and found “little gems of watercolor,” painted by Molly Dougenis. Dougenis was teaching at Huntington Township Art, which is now called the Art League of Long Island.

“With watercolor, she taught me how to paint wet on dry paper,” Lazarus said. “So, if it was a flower or a petal, you would wet the petal and drop the color into that, and it wouldn’t go past the wet part and onto the dry paper.”

After Dougenis told Lazarus that she learned everything she needed to be a successful colorist, Lazarus went back to studying under her college teacher Bob Yasuda.

Learning under three artists over the span of about 25 years, Lazarus was ready to pick up the mantle of being a teacher and give others the knowledge that was instilled in her. Lazarus has been working with the Town of Hempstead for the past two decades, leading art classes that help seniors tap into their creative side. Lazarus was able to make a living from these classes, along with other classes she taught prior to working with the town.

“I sold some art pieces, but it wasn’t my main source of income,” Lazarus said. “So, I taught art at all sorts of places. I started teaching at an adult art class in Lynbrook because Zizzo taught oil painting and drawing there so when he didn’t feel well, he would ask for me to sub for him.”

Lazarus taught adult education art classes for about 30 years, starting in 1986, in her home community of Lynbrook. After teaching there, she went on to teach oil painting, watercolor, and drawing class at Greis Park. Then, after seeing there was an opening for a painting teacher, Lazarus started working for the town.

“In the Town of Hempstead class, there’s all levels of ability,” Lazarus said. “I teach them how to do portraits of celebrities like George Clooney and Rob Lowe. When they are done, they put the artwork on the wall and they all look like the celebrities that they drew, but just with a little different flavor from each artist.”

Since the 1960s, Lazarus embarked on her art journey, which is far from over nearly 60 years later. For those interested in taking part in Lazarus’ classes, she teaches at the Bellmore Senior Center on Tuesdays from 12 to 2 p.m., and at the Levittown Senior on Wednesdays. For more information on senior enrichment in the town, call (516) 485-8100.