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Off the clock with watercolorist Liz Tamayo

Liz Tamayo seizes spare moments every day — dinner at a restaurant, the family vacation, even waiting for her computer to boot up in the mornings — to sketch and paint.

“I can’t imagine my life without doing something artistic,” Tamayo said.

Tamayo is a student affairs coordinator of undergraduate admissions data at the Office of the President, where she has worked for more than two decades. But when she’s not producing tables and charts on new undergraduates, she sketches and paints bright watercolors that pepper the walls of her office and home.

“It’s another voice, an outlet,” Tamayo said. “Some people write to express themselves. For me, it’s painting and sketching. There’s just something about you and a canvas.”

On a Friday morning, Tamayo drafts an email in her office, surrounded by colorful paintings that capture memorable moments on family vacations. A large watercolor of her daughter and friends in Puerto Rico hangs on the wall behind her desk. Scenes of people and places in Mexico and New Zealand on small easels add color to her office and enliven the pages of a calendar. Art books line the top of a file cabinet. A paintbrush and watercolor case sit on her desk beside stacks of paper.

Watercolor is Tamayo’s preferred medium, mostly because the tools are so portable. Paper and a watercolor palette are easy to tote on trips, ready for her to sketch and paint when something different or unusual catches her eye.

But it’s not just on vacation. Tamayo has made art part of daily life. In the mornings, she spends a few minutes painting a scene from her desktop calendar while she waits for her computer to boot up. Sometimes, she draws sketches of her colleagues while waiting for a meeting to begin.

“I use every opportunity that I can to sketch and draw,” she said.

Tamayo has given her watercolors to family and friends as gifts but hasn’t put any up for sale.

“That’s a whole other part of art that I’m not into right now,” she said. “It would be nice, but it’s not what drives me. I do it because I love it. This stuff kind of feeds my soul.”

The Student Affairs department has included Tamayo’s work in its holiday cards and in an invitation to a retirement party. Ghanya Thomas, special assistant to the interim director of undergraduate admissions, describes Tamayo’s pieces as “colorful” and “timeless.”

Tamayo doesn’t consider herself a master of the art. She takes weekly watercolor and figure-sketching classes to help her skills continue to evolve.

For those who don’t think they have the skill for art, Tamayo has a bit of advice: “One of the things I’ve learned is that things don’t always have to be perfect,” she said. “It just takes practice. Take classes. Just get started. Pencil to paper is all you need to sketch.”


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  1. Evera Spears June 28, 2011 Reply

    Congratulations Liz “Artist for the Soul” Tamayo,

    The knowledge of your somewhat “hidden” talent is now on display for all of UCOP to know.

    Sketching while waiting for the computer to start-up sounds much more pleasant than tapping finger nails on the desk, like that’s going to make the process go any faster!

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