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reframing aging - focus on lisa esherick

Story by  Cynthia Overbeck Bix, photos by Nancy Rubin


Each month, Reframing Aging: Bonus Edition publishes extended excerpts from interviews with Ashby Village members featured in the Reframing Aging exhibit. This month, read more about Lisa Esherick.


Lisa Esherick

Age 77

Current interests: Painter; traveler; gardener

Career:  Painter, art teacher


“I think we have to do things with gusto!”

Lisa looks and moves like someone two decades younger than her chronological age, and she has a youthful spirit to match. From her early studies with the Bay Area Figurative painters to today, her commitment to making art has continued unabated. 


What sustains me

Painting has been my life, so I’m always engaged in that. I studied art at the California School of Fine Arts, which became the San Francisco Art Institute. I come out of the Bay Area Figurative movement.


In addition to painting, I love to do very quick sketches—charcoal, pencil, ink. Anyplace, wherever I am, I like to draw. On BART, anywhere. I slap my drawing board on top of my kitchen sink and draw the birds outside my window that come to the feeders I put up.

I have tons of sketchbooks.


Animation is a new thing I’m engaged in. It takes a lot of drawing, shooting, erasing, and redrawing to get one minute of film—perfect for my drawing addiction!


I have so many choices of which project to do next. It’s a good problem to have.


On retirement

I taught art for 30 years through City College and at a variety of other places. Also, I taught classes for kids at the Berkeley Child Art Studio, and I taught at Head Start and the Economic Opportunity Council (EOC).  


I retired from City College in 2006, because I was really sick of driving into San Francisco and trying to find parking places. That was a relief! Although during that period I did do lots of freeway drawings and paintings, so being out and on the freeway was good.


On activism

I’m not a political organizer, but I grew up licking the stamps. My mother, Rebecca Wood Watkin, was a political activist in the Democratic Party and ran quite a few major political campaigns. She was a dynamo. I’m political in my own tiny way. I go to some rallies and protests, like those supporting Planned Parenthood and Indivisible—I make signs to bring.


On growing older

Talk about mornings! I have a very slow start. But I’ve got good years left—I’ve gotta keep going! I love to travel.


I continue to push myself to keep active. Actually, painting is surprisingly active and athletic. You are lifting and moving canvases. I’m on my feet all the time when I paint. I do hold the brush a little differently because of my arthritis. Certain things, like opening paint tubes, are harder for me now.


As you grow older, you think about what you want to throw away, and what you want to keep. I belong to Bay Area Women Artists Legacy Project (started by Edith Hillinger, in her 80s). She got to thinking about her legacy and what to do. She got together a bunch of local women artists to think about how we would preserve our work. I think it’s important to save only what you really want to be remembered by.



On creativity

I used to tell my students, Don’t color inside the lines—make your own lines! And make a mess! It’s all your own hand, and your own energy. And there’s something to be respected about that.


What I would say, too, is —make more mistakes. I’m still learning from my own mistakes. When you make a mistake and you say, oh, that’s not right, you obviously have some idea of what would be right. So remake it, but don’t be afraid to just do it, and do it strongly, with real strength, not tickling around the edges.


To see Lisa’s work, visit



 Lisa Esherick 4 years old  
Younger Lisa, 4 years old

Lisa Esherick
Lisa today