For Natalie Lerner, the return to art was a rediscovery.  The daughter of a pair of artists—her mother a master printer and former head of the Ringling College letterpress program and her father the acclaimed painter and former Ringling College instructor Leslie Lerner—it seems there was never a time when art and art-making weren’t part of her life. “It sounds really silly now,” she says, “but I just saw it as normal.”  And drawing came naturally, something she would practice near every day of her life all the way up through high school.

She wanted to be a biologist and maybe study forensics, but she applied to Ringling College of Art and Design instead. After all, she was still drawing every day. “But when I was in school,” she says, “I really didn’t like to draw.” What had come from a place of intrinsic joy and instinctual play became a series of exercises and expectations. Freedom became pressure. Play became work. “Going to school, it sort of…” she trails off for a moment, finding the words before coming back strong. “It formalizes it and it changes it. I felt like I wasn’t a draftsman.” After graduating, she didn’t draw for a year and a half. Tragedy brought her back, with the passing of Ringling professor Kevin Dean.

A friend of her father, who had himself passed at the age of 55 only nine years prior, the loss of one echoed the other and Lerner found herself drawn back to the page. “I wanted to make a drawing for him,” she says of Dean. “It felt important enough to say.” And with a simple pastel and pencil drawing of a ladder, the floodgates were opened. “I really was able to blossom,” she says. Today, certain symbols remain—the ladders and ropes that Lerner calls “tools of retrieval”—though she’s still learning to interpret them. In early work, she sees a lot of herself talking about her father, but now sees her view widening. “I think the work is not so much directly about him anymore, but more about how that experience opened a window for me into how to view things,” she says. “Loss changes your understanding of the physics of being.”