Self-Taught Artist

Joanne Raptis ’16 Experiments with Styles and materials

By Merri Rosenberg ’78

The images are striking: an evocative still life of gourds, a shimmering landscape of autumn leaves in a quiet wood, a delicate tea cup and saucer, an oil painting of ballet toe shoes, even a rendering of Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring, reinterpreted as a mischievous creature and drawn in the Japanese style of animation, known as anime.

The diversity of styles and subject matter would be impressive for a professional artist; that these are the works of a Barnard undergraduate make them especially intriguing. No wonder the student curatorial committee of SGA selected sophomore Joanne Raptis’s work for an exhibition in the fall of her first year, nor that one of her extracurricular projects is illustrating a children’s book, an assignment that came to her from a writer who admired the student’s work online.

Raptis has been drawn to art for as long as she can remember. Primarily self-taught, she was inspired in sixth grade by the cartoon character Sonic the Hedgehog to make her own comics. “I bought a bunch of books at Barnes & Noble, and developed my own style of anime,” says Raptis. She also taught herself to use watercolor, acrylic paints, and other materials on her own, though she took a summer pre-college class at Columbia in studio-art oil painting.

Although Raptis deliberately chose not to go to art school, when she came to Barnard, she plunged into her passion for art. She took a plein-air painting class her first term, an adventure in learning about New York City and art technique, happily transporting her wet oil canvas above her head on the subway ride back to campus. Most of her classmates were juniors and seniors who generously shared tips about which types of brushes would achieve a particular effect, or offered a technical solution to a baffling aesthetic problem.

For now, she’s diligently meeting her general academic requirements. Raptis is currently taking an architecture studio course to see if that might entice her beyond the fine arts, but concedes, “Nothing has caught my attention like visual arts.”

Still, art isn’t all that keeps her busy. She also takes ballet through the dance department, is in Orchesis and the Columbia University Ballet Ensemble, and swing dances. She is also active in the Greek cultural organization, Hellas, and the Artist Society, which meets Friday nights to sketch models.

The tug toward Morningside Heights was practically pre-destined. Her aunt and mother are alumnae, and her parents—both doctors—met at Columbia. Even so, her mother told her, “make your own decision,” she recalls. Raptis applied to Barnard as an early-decision candidate, and was elated when she was accepted. Raised in Whitestone, Queens, it was important for Raptis to go to college relatively near home. “My family and I are very close,” she says.

The city had a definite allure, as did the possibility of spending weekends at her family’s Poconos home, where some of her father’s photographs of the surrounding lakes and woods are departure points for her own work.

Barnard has impressed Raptis on a number of levels. “What makes the school so wonderful is the people who go here,” she says. “People really do interesting things, and have novel ways of combining their interests, and have plans for what to do with them. There’s so much you can do, and Barnard [students] are people who want to do things. It’s important to have confidence. Barnard women are fearless.”

See more of Raptis’s work at and

Latest IssueSpring 2021