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Watercolorist Jackie Dorsey paints what she loves. It so happens she loves Athens, and she loves music, both subjects that have inspired much of her work.  

“I’ve been in Athens 10 years, and I love this city,” she says. “My first big solo exhibition was an homage to Athens.” Those paintings, exhibited at OCAF and The Classic Center in 2017, included images of Athfest scenes, a local restauranteur, a community activist, a popular radio personality, and other local places and people that inspired her.  

Now her most recent project to paint legendary Georgia-based musicians has been completed and is on exhibition at The Lyndon House Arts Center through Sept. 1. Viewers will recognize many of the portraits such as Emily Saliers and Amy Ray of Indigo Girls, Mike Mills of R.E.M. Big Boi of Outkast, Cindy Wilson of the B-52s, and Chuck Leavell of the Rolling Stones. Others were recommended by Lisa Love, director of the Georgia Music Foundation, which helped fund the project.  

How she did it 

Beginning in 2017, Dorsey started contacting some of the selected musicians, many as they came through Athens.  

“I had to go through management before I got to the talent,” Dorsey explains. “I shared that there would be an exhibition and that it might tour.” She sent them her resume and examples of her award-winning work.  

Retired from academia, Dorsey describes herself as a self-employed artist, specializing in watercolor portraiture. She’s won Best in Show in nine exhibitions, chosen for over 40 juried shows, local, state, national, and international, and has been featured in many publications. 

She says each portrait took several months, including at least one photo session that would take place at either the musician’s home, studio, or even at a performance.  

“Photo shoots were fun,” she says, noting that she used lighting, props and took hundreds of photos at each session. For those who weren’t comfortable around a camera, she would do a second session. “I would then narrow the photographs to the ones I’d like to paint and have them approve how I was going to portray them.”  

“I dug deep into each of the musicians’ discography and appreciated their artistry beyond the top hits,” she continued. “I also tried to gauge how I wanted to portray them by just interacting with them. 

Dorsey explains that watercolor is an unforgiving medium – it’s hard to correct any mistakes – so she often does multiple paintings of a subject in the same pose. “When I have multiples, I can take some risks I might not normally take. If I have a couple of paintings that I feel satisfied with I can do a third one and not worry about taking a risk.”   

The 20 portraits, with a high level of realism, took five years, working almost nonstop, she says. Some of the musicians wanted to wait to see their portrait hung; others wanted to see theirs when she finished. “They could have vetoed it – if someone didn’t like it, I wasn’t about to show it.” No one did. See this riveting exhibit for yourself – it’s up until Sept. 1.  

Legendary Georgia Musicians in Watercolor, by Jackie Dorsey 

On exhibit through Sept. 1 at the Lyndon House Arts Center. Each portrait has a descriptive label on which Dorsey composed a short biography for each musician and described the photo shoot. In some instances, she provides a QR code that links to her favorite cuts on the artist’s YouTube site.  

There is also a full-color exhibition catalogue, with each copy personally autographed by Dorsey. Available at

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