Work hard, says Maine artist Dorette Amell. She knows what she’s talking about. She worked hard to find her voice and to become the fine artist she is today. A woman who practices what she preaches.

Read more to find out what inspires Dorette to create art.


Cautionary Tale (Bitterness) 2015
Casein on Birch Panel 8 x 8”
Photo by Jay York

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I don’t remember ever not wanting to be an artist. Seriously.


Prayer 2015
Casein on Birch Panel 8 x 8”
Photo by Jay York

Where/when did you go to school?

I attended parochial schools through the eighth grade. I dropped out of high school in my junior year. I did eventually earn a GED. Along the way, I taught myself to draw and paint.

After leaving high school, I lived in Boston for a couple of years and would bicycle myself to evening classes at the Boston Museum School and the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. During the day, I worked in a bindery near South Station.

I moved out to Los Angeles in 1972. School became a means to an end, a way to pick up a new skill set, a way to keep my hand in art and make a living. I attended Graphic Design and Illustration classes at Santa Monica City College and completed a stiff course in Sign Graphics at Los Angeles Trade Technical College.

I did not take the BFA, MFA track … frankly, I barely knew it existed. In the late eighties, I moved back east and attended AB Tech in Asheville, North Carolina where they offered a London City and Guilds satellite program. I earned an Advanced Craft Certificate in Painting and Decorating.

My work history informs my Fine Art. Thirty years of painting on the job has given me invaluable experience with materials and fostered steady technical improvement. I’ve been employed as a Sign Painter and Muralist, as well as a Decorative and Trompe l’oeil Artist.

Locally, you may be familiar with my Sahara Club mural. Concurrently, I’ve carved out time for my own projects and studied Art History in an informal way. I will still read a coffee table book with great relish.

Although I gained some traction within the galleries in the late nineties and early oughts, I am sorry to say that several lengthy and intermittent bouts with depression would periodically derail my efforts. I have always worked, but I did have a difficult time mustering the needed ambition to get out of the house, let alone trying to launch a Fine Art career.

That said, those years gave me quite an inventory! I am now happy to report that the blues have departed and I am enjoying a renewed zeal with regard to art marketing and life in general.

In 2010, wanting to round out my formal education and get prior learning credit, I once again enrolled in school, this time seeking a BA in Studio Art from the University of Southern Maine. So you see Diane, I understand much of this “Late Start” dynamic!

At USM, I was able to begin developing skills in Digital Media and Printmaking. I also expanded my knowledge of traditional painting techniques and broadened my understanding of Art History and the Philosophy of Art. I have encountered some wonderful teachers and excellent support staff at USM.


Rising Sun Fuji 2011
Graphite on Paper 9 x 12”
Photo by Jay York

What is your preferred medium and why?

I still love to draw. I once read that if you wanted to paint well, and here I’m talking about representational work, you must first learn to draw well. As an obedient autodidact, I took those words to heart.

Currently, I am doing a lot of casein painting. By some fluke of the fates, I wound up in an Entry Year Experience class at USM with Alan Bray who has been very generous in sharing his knowledge of this tricky but very satisfying medium. Painting in casein has many similarities to the deliberate methods used in a good representational drawing.


Two Mushroom Fuji 2008
Acrylic on Canvas 4 x 9”
Photo by Jay York

Where do you find inspiration?

Folk and Religious Art, Heraldry, Pop Culture, Mythology, Max Ernst, Norman Rockwell, Aubrey Beardsley, Marisol Escobar, Louise Nevelson, Hokusai and the work of my late friend Robin B. Purnell. Lately, I’m crazy about Carlo Crivelli.


Leopard Skin Fuji 2007
Colored Pencil on Paper 4 x 6”
Photo by Jay York

What is your process?

I’ll get an idea and then it varies. I move from one medium to another on a regular basis and have a lot of different kinds of work going on at the same time. preliminary drawings before I dig into a painting. It saves a lot of struggle later on and often I find that the drawings will stand on their own. 

Sometimes I’ll cut up work and collage it into an assemblage and then do some acrylic trickery overall. There I employ a “stream of consciousness” conceptually and a “fly by the seat of your pants” approach with regard to technique. On the other hand, the casein pieces are of necessity very controlled and well plotted throughout.


Another Door Opens 2015
Acrylic on Canvas mounted on Polychromed Wood Panel 30 x 40 x 2”
Photo by Jay York

What’s the story behind your Fuji Series?

I started  “New Views of Mount Fuji” on November 1 of 2005 in Los Angeles during a prolonged stay. I wanted a large project with smaller elements that would not require a dedicated space.

The series allows me to quickly explore genre, media and concept. It has made me laugh and at times shocked me into sadness… and moved me everywhere else in between.

My friend James Scarborough wrote “The series comments on the way a familiar thing becomes invisible; one way to make it visible is to make it unfamiliar, if not a little absurd. Think of how the artist Christo would wrap entire islands and buildings, the better to recall attention to that which had perhaps escaped one’s notice. Amell’s series is the Bonsai version of Christo’s work.”

Over the past year, I have been posting one of my Fuji pieces every Friday on my blog, Dispatches from the Rabbit Hole. I’ll write a few sentences or a short essay about the piece or post a pertinent quote.

I am now collating some of this work into book form and shopping for a publisher. You can view more of the Fuji Series on my blog.


As Above So Below (10,000 Things) 2014
32 x 14 x 4″

Do you have some words of wisdom for beginning artists?

Work hard at developing your chops. Always keep learning. Be teachable, but be yourself. In all of history, you have never been duplicated and have your own unique voice.

Choose your friends wisely, that is very important. Without the support and encouragement of my friends and wonderful family, my road would have been rockier by far.

Thank those who have helped you. Thank you, Diane Atwood, for your kind interest in my work. Thank you very much indeed.

See more, read more

If you’d like to see more of Dorette’s work, visit her website. You can read more about the story behind her Fuji series on her blog, Dispatches from the Rabbit Hole

Thank you for reading this post about Dorette Amell. I was as inspired by her life story as I am by her work. One of the goals of the My Late Start is to learn more about artists in Maine, what their process is, what motivates them to create and what words of wisdom they have to share with those of us just starting out. I’d love to hear what you have to say. Share you thoughts and ideas in the comment section below. I’m also always looking for Maine artists to profile.

Where do you find inspiration?

Folk and Religious Art, Heraldry, Pop Culture, Mythology, Max Ernst, Norman Rockwell, Aubrey Beardsley, Marisol Escobar, Louise Nevelson, Hokusai and the work of my late friend Robin B. Purnell. Lately, I’m crazy about Carlo Crivelli.

Categories: Blog


Christine Richards · January 10, 2016 at 4:07 pm

What a nice article! Even I learned something new . . . about my sister. Very proud of you . . . always!

Debi Vondras · February 13, 2016 at 10:59 am

Diane, what a wonderful piece about Dorette. We love her, and her work, and have a stunning painting of hers in our home.

    dianeatwood · February 13, 2016 at 11:07 am

    Thank you! I enjoyed writing about her.

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