Phyllis Dobbyn Adams: The Edge of Realism & Abstraction

October 18, 2019

Salmon Marsh painting by Phyllis Dobbyn Adams, available at The Drawing Room

“Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry.” This is how Phyllis Dobbyn Adams often describes her approach. Her paintings are whimsical, but full of depth and texture thanks to a combination of her creativity, technique, and inspiration.

Phyllis is inspired by water, growing up by it, and seeing it outside her New Bedford studio’s windows. Phyllis grew up in an artistic family of painters and photographers. Her mom always had an easel with oil paint downstairs in the basement, but raising nine children left her little time to explore her artistic talent. 

While her own first love was art, Phyllis initially worked in technology as a computer software manager at Lotus and IBM in Cambridge, MA., and also started the first quality engineering lab for Media 100, a digital video editing system. Fifteen years ago, she decided it was time for a change. Phyllis retired and immediately signed up for a figure painting class, spending three afternoons a week at the easel. Since that first intensive program, Phyllis has trained under many artists, learning about different techniques, finding the freedom to explore color, and discovering her own artistic voice.


“I do my best work when I’m straddling the edge of realism and abstraction,” says Phyllis. She achieves that by abstracting shapes and exaggerating colors. Phyllis will start by quickly sketching out an idea, whether it’s of boats, birds, or cabanas by the water. From there she’ll play a bit in Photoshop to experiment with composition and colors. Then the magic begins by translating the idea to the canvas. Phyllis works with acrylic paint and often does an underpainting of colors, using a palette knife to bring in shapes and texture.

“When beginning a painting I start with some idea of what the work will look like but it changes quite a bit from what was first in my mind's eye,” she says. “During this process I have to let myself go and trust my intuition. It is both fun and scary but when a painting emerges it is all worth it.” 

Beach Bums: from sketch to finished painting - work by Phyllis Dobbyn AdamsBeach Bums from sketch to finished painting


The paintings that emerge, whether an abstraction of beach blankets, a series of “beach bums,” or a commission for a private collection, are colorful, graphical, and uplifting. Her customers often say her work brings them joy.

“It’s whimsical, airy, light.” She adds with a laugh, “You don’t want to see the dark. I might express that in my poetry, but I don’t need to paint it. This is what comes out when I paint. This is the escape.”

Her work is hanging in private homes, at Boston Children’s Hospital locations in Boston and Dartmouth, and in the Yale Women's Center at Bridgeport Hospital. A selection of her work is also available for purchase in The Drawing Room, located in historic downtown New Bedford.