When you flip through a magazine you may just see articles, photographs, and advertisements, but when Sacramento artist Eileen Downes flips through one she sees materials—and inspiration. Calling herself “the artist who ‘paints’ with bits of torn paper instead of paint for a palette,” Eileen has built a successful career out of her intricate collage work. With gallery representation, commissions, and work in private and corporate collections across the United States, she works out of Sacramento, where she lives with her husband and three daughters.
Coming to collage
Trained with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Studio Art from Sacramento State and a certification in Graphic Design from the University of California, Davis, Eileen originally followed a career path in graphic design and scientific illustration for a local civil engineering firm. After that, she ran her own small graphic design business, Quality Graphics.
She had always enjoyed making art, however, and over time began to develop her technique as a fine artist. Her transition into the medium of collage was influenced by her training in graphic design. She says, “In graphic design I worked with text and [I] have always been interested in letterforms, so when I found a way to combine both text and fine art…that was it. I often use the curves and shapes found within the letter forms in the torn magazine paper as shading or highlights within my collage paintings.”
Inspiration & artistic style
Eileen is consistently inspired by the world around her. For example, she explains, “The series of landscapes, fruits, butterflies, and flowers are all about gifts from God, and I am amazed at their beauty. The Stepping Up Series (Shoes) embraces the diversity of human personalities by focusing on different types of shoes…[which] are symbolic of different lifestyles, attitudes, and personalities in God’s people.”
Eileen says, “I enjoy the freedom of expression that art making provides, and I feel both led by God and totally fulfilled emotionally during the art-making process. Fulfillment is really more about the process than about the finished product.”
Technique & process
Eileen started out as a painter but, about 10 years ago, she says, “I started adding collage elements to my paintings and then I discovered that I really like to just ‘paint’ with the torn paper instead of paint…that way I can include text directly into the layers of the painting.”
Look closely at any of Eileen’s works and you’ll be able to catch glimpses of a number of recognizable items. Often, she says, “Words, phrases, and imagery from the materials that make up the collage become visible upon close observation of the work, adding to the meaning of the piece.” Her work consists of layers upon layers of torn bits of magazine paper, and each layer is significant to the overall finished look of the piece.
While magazines may be the main source material for her work, Eileen also likes to incorporate non-traditional collage items, such as band-aids, gum and candy wrappers, family photos, and letters. The work is finished with small touches of oil pastel, and left with rough edges to the paper to build the layered effect.
Watch this clip from News10 for a sense of how Eileen’s work is created:
Eileen often donates her work to benefit causes that are important to her including: Lymphoma Society research, The Pence Gallery, KVIE, The Birth Connection, local churches, Team Will, Heart Gallery, and many others.
Near to her heart, however, is her neuro-art project, Beauty and the Brain, which she launched in 2004 to bring awareness to brain cancer treatment. Paintings from her Beauty and the Brain series are presented as gifts to neurosurgeons in recognition of their “skill, innovative techniques, and caring demeanor.”
The project was born from Eileen’s husband’s fight with brain cancer, and nominations for worthy doctors are accepted on an ongoing basis, with one painting awarded per year. To submit a doctor for consideration, email Eileen with the doctor’s contact information & the reasons for the nomination.
Find Eileen’s work
Eileen’s work is represented by Blue Line Gallery in Roseville, Petroglyphe Gallery in Mokelumne Hill, and the Woman Made Gallery in Chicago. Head to Petroglyphe Gallery on Sunday, December 16, 5pm-8pm, for their Christmas Reception and see lots of Eileen’s work on display!
On top of gallery representation, Eileen works consistently on commissions for corporate art collections, the main source of her art business. Her current such project is four large, custom pieces for a new hospital foyer in Kentucky.
In addition to corporate commissions, Eileen enjoys working closely with individual clients. Many of these custom commissions incorporate the client’s own family photos, letters, and other such sentimental items to add an even more personal touch to the final work. For more information about commissioning a custom artwork from Eileen, go here.