Staff by Day, Pet Portraitist by Night

After a 26-year hiatus, ITS Project Manager Fran Megerdichian goes back to the drawing board. Find out how she can turn your Maltese into a masterpiece!

Fran Megerdichian may spend her days working on application development and planning and directing implementation of projects in ITS. But when the computers get powered off, the pencils come out and she brings animals to life as a pet portraitist.

While most kids were inspired by The Cat in the Hat, Corduroy, and The Velveteen Rabbit, Megerdichian was immersed in the work of 18th century English horse painter, George Stubbs.

“He inspired me in first and second grades,” she says. “I started drawing as a kid. When I was in third grade, a teacher called in my parents to let them know I had some talent and should be pursuing [it]; that they should take me out of school to go to art school.”

Despite this encouragement, Megerdichian’s parents thought art was a waste of time. So she traded in her pencils for programming and went to work for IBM Global Services at 19-years-old and continued with a successful 26-year career. But something was missing. Five years ago and with no formal training, she dusted off her old pencils and went back to the drawing board.

Specializing in canine and equine portraits, Megerdichian uses graphite, charcoal, and colored pencil to make the animals come to life.

“I love seeing an image come out through the paper. That’s my inspiration,” Megerdichian says. “When I see that it’s about to pop out off of the paper, it consumes me and it’s what I want to achieve.”

What started as a request from someone to draw a dog to surprise her husband for his birthday has now turned into a part-time business.

“It was just like the 80’s Faberge commercial… ‘And they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on,’” Megerdichian says. Currently, Megerdichian completes one to two portraits a month, each taking between 10 and 12 hours from start to finish. “The passion for me is seeing the expression on their faces when they see the portrait,” she says.

Through her artwork, Megerdichian reminds us of the special place animals have in our lives. In addition to dogs and horses, she has completed portraits of cats, cows, deer, and a chipmunk. She’s even dabbled in some mixed media. Using a photo taken by a photographer of a lion on a safari, Megerdichian matched it in graphite and placed the photo against the drawing in a face off of the two media. And now, she has her eyes set on something bigger…literally, with hopes to one day draw an elephant or other exotic creature.

In addition to her work with her four-legged friends, Megerdichian provided 15 graphite illustrations for “Dr. Edward Maynard Letters from the Land of the Tsar 1845-1846 America’s Pioneering Dental Surgeon Turned Civil War Gun Inventor,” a biography about 19th century pioneering dental surgeon and inventor of Maynard tape primer and the Maynard carbine, a rifle used by both Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War, which included illustrations of figures from Russian history.

“People say it’s never too late,” Megerdichian says. “When I picked the pencils up again, I was 43 or 44. They were from third grade. But I picked them up.”

To see more of Megerdichian’s portraits and to find out how you can turn your Charlie into a charcoal masterpiece, visit her website and make sure to like her on Facebook.

Are you a Pace faculty or staff member with a fun hobby, interest, part-time job, or passion? Know someone that fits the bill? E-mail to share your story with us and other faculty and staff!

Staff by Day, Stylist by Night

While many of us are RSVPing to weddings this season, Pace staff member Christie Nadratowski is playing an extra special role: Making sure brides look as beautiful as can be when you see them walking down the aisle.

At Pace, Christie Nadratowski works in the Office for Student Success advising students on policy and procedures and helping them get over any roadblocks they may encounter. On weekends, roadblocks come in the form of bridezillas for Nadratowski, who moonlights as a hair and makeup artist.

An opera major in college, recitals were a common event for her and her friends. And with recitals come hair and makeup, but the prices were unreasonable for any college student.

“I started playing with my roommate’s hair and thought ‘I could do a lot of with this,'” Nadratowski said. “I started to do typical styles that people like and became good at it, so people started asking me to do it.”

When Nadratowski moved back home from school, she was working at a boutique when a phone call would take her college hobby and turn it into a part-time job.

“This soon-to-be bride came in and took a phone call in the middle of the store and started crying. I asked her what was wrong and she said that her hair and makeup person had cancelled and her wedding was the next day. I told her I would do it for her,” Nadratowski said.

Grateful for her saving the day, the happy bride wrote her a letter of reference and referred her friends, giving Nadratowski clients of her own.

When she moved to New York, a friend of a friend who was a photographer needed a hair and makeup person and soon she was working with several photographers, including one of The Knot’s “2011 Best of Wedding Photographers” Michael Chadwick, doing more headshots, beauty shots, proms, weddings, and theater.

She’s also conducted stage makeup workshops at Elmwood Playhouse Theater in Nyack, which includes special effects makeup like aging and injuries (bruising and bleeding).

But her favorite? “Weddings! Brides don’t usually have an exact [style] in their head, so I get to be creative and make it happen.”

Of course, we couldn’t leave you without some quick tips from our Pace expert…

For brides who say less is always more, when it comes to makeup, Nadratowski says that’s not always the case. “Bright sunlight washes out the look of makeup on camera, so if you’re going to be taking pictures between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. you need to wear more makeup than you think.”

And while some said Kate Middleton’s eye makeup was too much, Nadratowski argues that “it was probably intentional so that her eyes would show up big and bright in pictures. Her entire eye was lined which is done to set her eyes apart from the rest of her face in photos, especially when there are so many cameras, they want your eyes to be distinct.”

For your hair do’s, hairspray is essential, no matter how uncomfortable it feels, she says. “Gel dries too hard and mousse does not hold shape for an entire day, so if you want your hair to stand the entire day, I’m going to use a lot of hairspray.” And if you’re going to be wearing your hair down, be sure you don’t apply it right after a hot blow dry. “Make sure your hair is cool to the touch, otherwise the curls will absorb the hairspray and they’ll end up being weighed down and falling by picture time.”

For those of you who like the hairspray so much that you’re willing to use it to keep your makeup in place, Nadratowski says “Don’t! It doesn’t make your makeup stay; it just makes it easier for dirt to stick to your face. Use translucent powder instead!”

You can see some of Nadratowski’s looks here.

Staff by Day, Locavore by Night

For some of us, cooking is a chore. But for Cara Cea, manager of public information at Pace, it’s so much more. As an award-winning cook, food writer, and farmer’s market president, food isn’t just something she eats. It’s something she lives for.

Mark Vergari / The Journal News

By day, Cara Cea handles media relations for the Westchester Campus. By night, it’s all about the ratatouille pizza.

“It all started because my son and I had seen the movie Ratatouille. He said ‘Mom, can you make me ratatouille?’” Cea says. Thinking he knew what ratatouille was, Cea spent hours chopping vegetables and cooking it up. When it was ready to be eaten, her son’s response was a familiar one: “Ewww, I’m not eating that.” Rather than give up on the ratatouille, Cea went to plan B: pizza. “Kids will eat anything on pizza. So I bought pizza crust, put all my ratatouille on the pizza, threw on some cheese. He loved it!” she says.

It was this inventive pie that earned Cea a spot in The Journal News’ Locally Grown recipe contest. As one of four finalists, she participated in a cook-off at The Garrison restaurant that was televised on RNN and the ratatouille pizza became an award-winner.

The cook-off led to requests from Cea’s local farmer’s market. First, they asked her to speak at the market and hand out recipes. Next, she was volunteering on the board. Then, she began doing PR and advertising for them. And soon, Cea was named president of the Suffern Farmers’ Market, where she also manages their website, Facebook, Twitter, and blog.

In addition to her Suffern Farmers’ Market responsibilities, Cea is spreading the word about local food and farmers as a guest blogger for the Journal News’ Small Bites as well as her own food blog, Farmers Market Cooking, which she uses to inform people about local farmers and recipes that use local foods.

Cea’s even brought her expertise to Pace, speaking about the role of the individual in local foods at the Foodshed Conference, the annual meeting of the Environmental Consortium of Hudson Valley Colleges and Universities co-sponsored by Pace.

“It’s important for people to become aware of how your food choices affect not only local farmers, but also the environment. There are so many things to consider, food miles, for example. If you’re eating an apple from Washington State, when New York grows them, not only are you not supporting local farmers, but that apple had to travel 3,000 to find you,” Cea says. “There’s the environmental and the economic impact. In these times, we want to support our own local economy.”

And Cea is all about practicing what she preaches—growing her own basil, parsley, peppers, onions, scallions, garlic, lettuce, broccoli rabe, cauliflower, and heirloom tomatoes, from seeds that were passed on from her grandfather-in-law in Italy. She is also committed to expanding her garden and hopes to one day be able to eat three seasons of the year out of her garden.

“Local food is my passion and my cause,” Cea says.

And, of course, we couldn’t leave you without the award-winning recipe.

Ratatouille Pizza

1 medium zucchini, sliced into 1/8 -inch slices
1 small eggplant, sliced into thin ( 3/8 -inch) slices, about 2 inches by 1 inch
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 thinly sliced yellow onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh parsley
Salt and pepper
1 store-bought or homemade pizza dough
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
Handful of pine nuts to sprinkle
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano to taste

For the sauces

Both tomato sauce and pesto can be bought ready-made at the market, but recipes are below for those who want to use the freshest ingredients:


2 to 3 cloves garlic
2 cups fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons pine nuts (pignoli nuts) or walnuts or a combination
Dash of salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated freshly grated Parmigiana Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese (or a combination of the two)
  • Place garlic in a food processor and mince. Add the basil leaves, pine nuts and salt. While the processor is running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until all the ingredients are puréed. Add Parmesan cheese and mix. If the pesto is too thick, add an extra tablespoon of oil.

Tomato sauce

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small, yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 or 5 fresh (or canned) tomatoes
Fresh basil to taste (about a tablespoon)
  • Chop the onions and mince the garlic and sauté in the olive oil until lightly browned. Add the tomatoes and basil. If using fresh tomatoes, add a small amount of tomato paste (to thicken) and some water. Sauté on medium-low heat for about 15 minutes to blend the flavors.

For the pizza

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet or pizza pan with olive oil or another vegetable oil spray. Set aside.
  • Salt the zucchini and eggplant slices and sauté in a pot with olive oil, peppers and onion for about 10 minutes to soften.
  • Stir in garlic and tomatoes and season to taste. Remove from heat and sprinkle with parsley.
  • Spread pizza dough on the pan. Cover pizza dough with tomato sauce and then spread the vegetable mixture over the pizza.
  • Top with fresh mozzarella, drizzle with pesto and sprinkle pine nuts and Pecorino Romano.
  • Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: 4 servings