Faculty Member Scott Zaragoza on His Creative Journey at Otis College

Faculty, News | December 14, 2023 | BY Anna Raya

Artist Scott Zaragoza

The artist and Otis alum teaches drawing and composition courses at Otis Extension and in the Foundation program.

By Anna Raya

Faculty member Scott Zaragoza is one of several instructors whose time at Otis College started as a student. While at Otis, Zaragoza studied Fine Arts with an emphasis in Painting, and he has been teaching for almost 20 years, starting as a teaching assistant while still an undergrad. He later began instructing for Otis Extension and eventually the College, where he teaches courses including Life Drawing and Drawing and Composition. In 2022, he earned a Teaching Excellence Award. 

Zaragoza is a photo-realist artist exploring various wet and dry media, including oil, acrylic, charcoal, colored pencil, and oil pastel. His work has been exhibited in a solo show at the Salon Gallery in London and in group shows abroad and locally, including George Billis Gallery in Los Angeles. 

Original artworks featuring actor Jeff GoldblumMost recently, he was approached by Brain Dead clothing brand to create a series of original artworks featuring actor Jeff Goldblum. Of the experience Zaragoza said, “This led me on a fantastical journey of creating an extinct dodo and larger than life carnivorous plants. Details were emphasized for each piece in the collection and environments were composed to feature the Brain Dead look.”

Below Zaragoza shares what he loves about teaching art and design students, what makes Otis unique, and how he gets out of creative ruts.

What artist has had the biggest impact on you and your work?
It’s hard to say that there is one artist in particular who has had the biggest impact on me. If I had to boil it down to an artist that I’ve looked at and admired over the years, I’d say Salvador Dali. 

When did you first realize you’d have a career in art and design?
I first realized I wanted a career in art and design when I decided to try my luck at getting into art school. After getting accepted to Otis I knew I was right where I wanted to be.

“I like to think of teaching as an extension of my studio practice, where the hard work and innovation comes with great reward.”
Scott Zaragoza

What instructor had a big impact on you when you were a student?

I’ve been so lucky to have had the experience of working with extremely talented faculty and mentors over the years. The one that quickly comes to mind is Carole Caroompas. I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the time I had working with her in experimental drawing classes and as a junior and senior mentor. She always knew when to call me out on parts of paintings that I was either trying to hide or that I didn’t feel quite right about. Even now when I’m working on a painting in my studio I can hear her voice over my shoulder asking if I’m sure about that color or detail. 

What do you love about teaching art and design students?

The thing I love most about teaching art and design students is the challenge that comes from working with amazing talent. I like to think of teaching as an extension of my studio practice, where the hard work and innovation comes with great reward. 

What’s a favorite “aha” moment you’ve enabled a student to have?

Nothing brings more satisfaction to teaching than seeing students light up at moments when true growth can not only be felt but also experienced through their drawings. This often happens during class critiques when a student can experience other perspectives and insights from fellow classmates, which sometimes helps them see ideas they may have overlooked. 

What’s a favorite student success story?

My favorite student success story is knowing that a student from one of my first Life Drawing classes is now a brilliant digital media teacher here at Otis.

Do you have a teaching mantra?

I would say that my teaching mantra is to “look for enjoyment in the process.” 

“I think the common misconception with art and design students is that there’s limited success after graduating.”
Scott Zaragoza

What class would you still love to teach that you haven’t already?

I would love to start teaching Painting I and Experimental Drawing and Painting classes with the Fine Arts department. Over the years I’ve worked closely with Chair Meg Cranston, both in and outside of Otis, and can say that she brings a dynamic vision and leadership to the Fine Arts programs. 

What’s a common misconception people have about art and design college?

I think the common misconception with art and design students is that there’s limited success after graduating. My thought has always been that if you value your ideas and your artistic voice others will value them as well. 

What’s the best way to get out of a creative rut?

I’ve found that the best way to get out of a creative rut is to crack open those old sketchbooks, journals, or even your favorite movie lists to inspire you. An artist’s job is to remember that inspiration is all around us constantly. All it takes is seeing the path that lies past the roadblock.

Is there anything the Otis Community doesn’t know about you?

One thing that I rarely speak about is that I grew up in a single parent, low-income household. College was seen as something that other people had the luxury of experiencing and something that seemed out of reach for me. Thankfully I had a very influential teacher who was an Otis graduate who gave me the encouragement and space to see myself as an artist. I learned that all it takes is one voice to help change the course of a young person’s life.

Main image: Portrait of Scott Zaragoza and photo of him working on Yoi and Zumie, 2022 (oil pastel on paper) provided by Scott Zaragoza.

Watch Zaragoza sketch one of his favorite artists.

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