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Dreamworks from an artistic palette

By Katherine Wartell

In local artist Shay Dodson’s converted studio—it used to be a second bedroom in her apartment—Dodson paints with an undeniably feminine color palette, often using variations of bright blues, purples and pinks.

Her work is primarily influenced by the female form and chiefly consists of portraits, often of herself, and nudes. The dreamy quality of her paintings and often marked brush strokes are evidence of her abstract expressionist style, and she credits Mark Rothko as one of her main influences. 

The style of abstract expressionism gained momentum after World War Two, but Dodson said, it’s a school that is also very male-dominated.

For her part, Dodson uses the style to focus on body image, self-esteem, gender roles and sexuality.

Her female forms might appear to be innocent or passive, but, she said, they are painted with a strength behind them.

At times, her nudes allude to what feminists’ call a woman’s double-bind, or the conflicting belief that women should be virginal and innocent while also simultaneously fulfilling men’s desires. 

In practice, Dodson often paints with oil on canvas or acrylics. But she has been experimenting with water media and digital painting, a method in which she’ll scan a drawing onto her computer and then use Photoshop to manipulate the image and give it an abstract-like quality.

Typically, Dodson said, it takes her about one to two sessions, a few hours each, to complete her smaller paintings. It takes up to 6 months to complete an oil painting since they dry so slowly.

Dodson’s larger oil paintings can sell for upwards of $400, but she likes to offer pieces at every level: postcard sized prints for only a few dollars, larger prints for around $15 and smaller paintings between $25 and $40.

Though Dodson prefers to work alone, she sometimes participates in group collaborations, including contributing to murals where all artists paint at once and a practice where each artist starts a painting, and then passes it on other artists to make additions and deletions as they see fit.

Dodson graduated from Kansas State University in 2007 with a degree in painting. She earned her master’s in the fall for academic advising.

It is Dodson’s goal to advise and counsel art students at the secondary level.

She has lived in Manhattan for approximately a decade but was born in Houston and grew up in Sugarland, Tex.

Her mother is also a painter, though Dodson said she paints in a more traditional style. As a child, Dodson would observe her mother working and want her own canvas and paints.

She learned the more technical, mathematical aspects from her father, including how to draw houses and buildings using a t-square ruler. For awhile, Dodson thought she wanted to be an architect, but that didn’t pan out.

Dodson came to Manhattan, in the footsteps of some friends, on an art scholarship and with the support of her parents. “A lot of students’ parents don’t encourage kids to go into the arts,” she said, adding that it has been helpful knowing her parents believe what she is doing is worthwhile.

Her interest in advising came through her interest in psychology and art therapy and her desire to work with other people, as, Dodson said, working on art can often be very self-involved.

Presently, Dodson works on campus as a website and graphic designer.

Dodson’s work is available through her website,, on her Etsy page under the username Shealeigh, and at The Eclective studio in Topeka.

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