Alumni Spotlight - Eileen Dorsey

As an artist, it is always important to connect with the community. An artist’s network, whether it’s through their studio, galleries or even social media, can lead to amazing opportunities and recognition. A shining example of this is School of Art alumna Eileen Dorsey, who began her career as a figurative painter, and later started embracing landscapes after she earned her undergraduate degree. These eye-catching landscapes, in which she experiments with exciting color palettes and textures, are the subject matter she is known and loved for. Her work has been exhibited in numerous galleries around Northeast Ohio and her distinct style is adored by many. 

Landscape painting by Eileen Dorsey
Eileen earned her B.F.A. from Kent State in 2006 and now she paints in her space at 78th Street Studios in Cleveland. She has been wildly successful as a professional artist, being named “Best Artist” by local publications such as Cleveland’s Scene Magazine and being commissioned to paint murals for the local restaurant chain Barrio and the band Twenty One Pilots. We checked in with Eileen to find out more about her recent awards, the local murals she has painted, and how her time at Kent State impacted her career. 

Q: What artistic movements and styles inspire you?

A: I have always been drawn to Expressionism. My early career works were actually figurative, drawing inspiration from artists like Egon Scheile, Alice Neel, Cecily Brown and Willem DeKooning. I have always been drawn to work where the marks have a confidence to them. I think I achieve similar responses with the colors I choose and the marks I make on the canvas.

Q: Your paintings often show scenes of nature. How does Northeast Ohio’s expansive Metropark system inspire your artwork? Do you have any favorite parks and trails in the area?

A: Northeast Ohio’s Metropark system has given me the opportunity to combine two things I love— painting and walking in the woods. We have some fantastic park systems here in Northeast Ohio and I am constantly finding new spots that creep their way into my work. I have a very particular section of the Rocky River Reservation that has always produced some of my best works. The intersection of Valley Parkway and Hogsback Lane is absolutely gorgeous in the autumn months and is a spot I return to often.

My process is pretty simple. I will go for a walk or hike with no real intention to take resource photographs for my work, but I know I’m always going to be inspired. There’s something about the way the light that peeks through trees and shifts throughout the day that catches my eye and I feel the need to document it. When I start a painting, I scroll through years of photos. Whatever happens to catch my eye is what I work from. Each painting has a point that is inspired by either the composition or the light. Most of the time I’m using several photos and I college them together in my drawing on the canvas. The idea isn’t necessarily to recreate the scene as it was, but to pay homage to the moment in time.

Q: You have received several awards, including Scene Magazine’s “Best Artist” of 2020 and 2018, and Cleveland Magazine’s “Best Artist” of 2020 and 2019. How does it feel to have received these honors?

A: The short answer is surprised and ecstatic. Cleveland isn’t short of talented artists and I am honored to receive the title as Best Artist. I have no real perception of how people see my art other than the collectors that respond to my work directly. It’s flattering to know that my work has such a broad appeal that it is acknowledged by these awards. With my studio being in a public space like 78th Street Studios, I have been able to build an audience that votes for me in these awards. It’s not something I expected. I am especially humbled when I am accepted and place in juried exhibitions. Getting attention from galleries is also important. The recognition definitely validates the hard work I’ve put into my art.

Landscape painting by Eileen Dorsey

Q: How has working in 78th Street Studios helped you to advance your career as a professional artist and are there any methods you have learned to help expand your client base? 

A: Being in the 78th Street Studios has helped me advance my career in more ways than I can describe. I signed a lease to my studio in the fall of 2009 before the monthly Third Friday art walk even existed. At the time, I just needed a space to work, so getting a studio outside my home helped me maintain and advance my artistic practices. Within the first year of my lease, Third Friday art walks formed. 

As the popularity of Third Friday grew, I found I had a new audience. More and more people would stop by and over time my studio wasn’t just a workspace— it also became a gallery space. I began to sell work and develop a following. In the years leading up to the pandemic, we would have up to 2000 people visit the studios on a Third Friday. I now have the opportunity to show my work every month in the largest arts complex in the city of Cleveland. 

As for advice in expanding your client base, just keep doing something, whether it is applying to shows, attending receptions, or posting online. Social media is an important tool that you can’t neglect. It can take some trial and error, but people will start to notice. Have an excuse to post regularly. Give people a reason to be interested. I’ve used several ideas for social media campaigns like a dice game to engage collectors with chance discounts on featured artwork. I’ve also done “What’s on the Easel Wednesdays” that highlight new paintings that I’m working on, giving me a platform to update my audience on shows and projects. Regularly keeping connected to my audience builds algorithms. If you stop posting, you kinda float off into nothingness. The idea is to have more eyes on your art.

Eileen Dorsey painting an indoor mural of trees.

Q: You have painted murals for restaurants such as Flannery’s Pub in Cleveland and Barrio in Columbus. Dr. Amy Acton, former director of the Ohio Department of Health, even took a photo with the Barrio mural that you painted in honor of her. Can you describe some of your experiences with creating these public murals, and how this process differs from painting on canvas?

Eileen Dorsey painting an indoor mural of a skeleton for the restaurant Barrio
A:
Creating public murals is so much more challenging, but in many ways, is more rewarding than working in the studio on a canvas. Public art has a much broader reach. I have the opportunity to show everyone my work, not just people in the art community. You’re on site, in a strange spot, using different tools, and renting equipment. Surfaces can be challenging as well, whether exterior or interior. With exterior you’re dealing with the elements and rough surfaces. You can’t be on a lift in the wind because it’ll start shifting. It’s definitely more taxing on your body.

You also have to deal with contractors that may need to disrupt your work. A lot of times you make concessions in what you are having to paint. When you’re painting in a space, you have to think about the perspective of the viewer and where objects, such as outlets, electrical panels, tables, or light fixtures will be placed. You have to keep in mind how it will be viewed and what will obstruct the view. But your work will be seen by people who might not normally seek out art. My community is basically creative people, so to be able to connect with someone who didn’t realize they liked art means a lot to me. That inspires me to do more murals.

Q: When you were a student at Kent State, you studied with Chuck Basham. Later, the two of you were featured in the exhibition Recent Landscapes at the Massillon Museum. Can you talk about the influence that Basham had on your career as an artist?

A: I had Chuck Basham for Drawing I. It was the first art course I took and I thought my work didn’t look as good as the other students’. I was really down about it. It was halfway through the semester and we were working on a still life drawing project. Basham came by and said, “You have a really good eye for things.” It was that simple sentence that changed my career. After that I really focused on my studies and had a few more classes with Basham. I always wanted to show with him and it meant a lot that I had the opportunity. It was even more special that the exhibition was in a museum. When I was a student, I was a figurative painter. I didn’t start to paint landscapes until eight years later. Not by any design, we both paint colorful landscapes. The exhibition at Massillon brought it all together.

Learn more about Eileen and her work on her website: https://eileendorsey.com/. 

POSTED: Wednesday, April 28, 2021 - 1:45pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, April 28, 2021 - 4:06pm
WRITTEN BY:
Grace Carter