May 2017

by Cassie Stephens, Art Teacher Johnson Elementary

Tumble, 2015, Acrylic, graphite, charcoal, paper on Venetian plaster on canvas, 24” x 24”

I recently had the incredible opportunity to meet Nashville-based Canadian artist Doris Wasserman. I discovered her when I was searching for local artists and her beautiful paintings popped up. I absolutely love the air, space, color, and radiating light that shines through her work. On a whim, I sent her an email to see if she’d be interested in taking part in the video series of artists that I share with my elementary students. Not only did she agree, but she hosted me both at her showing and invited me back to her beautiful home studio.

Doris was originally a medical illustrator. She decided to take an abstract painting class . . . and the rest is history. Well, that makes it sound like the journey was an easy one. If you’ve ever tried your hand at abstract painting, you know that it really is a journey full of ups, downs, self-doubt, and discovery. Doris likens getting into the groove of painting to meditation. When I look at her work, I can sense the peace and calm that comes from mindful breathing.

Doris and I share similar painting backgrounds in that I was once a representational artist. In fact, my degree is in painting. Over time, I found that style of painting to be very constrictive and I lost interest. During my college years, abstract painting was frowned upon by my professors. It was ingrained that the only real painting was realistic painting. What a pity that I missed out on learning just how incredibly rich abstract painting can be.

Doris Wasserman in her studio

Listening to Doris talk and witnessing her process was very eye-opening to me. I love her method of hanging a wall of canvases in varying shapes and sizes. How fun would this be for my students? How freeing would it be for my kids who struggle to get things “just right” as I used to do?

Doris’s method is to put a color on her palette, a heap of white, and some medium that gives the paint more viscosity. Working in acrylic, she applies paint with one hand and scrubs with the other, using inexpensive house- paint brushes.

As she works, Doris also will collage bits of paper into her work. Sometimes the paper is so subtle you have to look for it, and other times it has more of a voice in her work. As Doris paints, she also uses the back of her brush to scribble and sometimes write onto her canvases.

Her process and her work inspired me to look more closely at abstract paintings. When I was in her studio, Doris asked me if I miss painting and if I think I’d ever get back to it. At the time I told her no . . . but after visiting her studio, chatting with her, and editing her video, I have to say I’m feeling very inspired. Thank you, Doris, for not only inspiring my students but also me!

See more of Doris Wasserman’s work at

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