New York based artist and designer Elyssa Dorf is no stranger to hard work. The 26-year-old from Westchester is the owner and creative mind behind the design centric brand Cheery Designs. Adding color and eccentric design to everything from wall art, apparel, to face masks, Elyssa made it her mission to spread cheer and add color to people’s lives. She has discovered a niche in designer-inspired, street art style prints that center around pop culture trends, taking inspiration from the metropolitan, cultural hub of one of the most artistic cities in the world.
We catch up with Elyssa to talk career beginnings, artistic inspirations, and the importance of supporting local art.
Where did your passion for art begin?
We weren’t allowed to watch TV growing up, except for on the weekends. So we definitely needed to find other ways to fill our time. I’ll never forget that when my parents moved into the house that they still live in now, while my mom was unpacking the entire house and my dad was at work, she just left me with a giant roll of paper, a pair of scissors, and a paintbrush. And that was kind of the beginning of just feeling limitless when it comes to creating. And just this sense of accomplishment when you can finish a piece and call it yours.
After you graduated from university, how did your career start?
I studied Communication Design in undergrad at Skidmore College, a small liberal arts school. And then I got my graduate degree from Pratt in Design Management. Right after undergrad, I did product and package design for Two’s Company. I worked there three weeks after graduating for around three years. That was fast and furious. The amount of work I did there in three years was insane. I learned probably more than I had learned in undergrad, just because you really do learn by doing, stepping away from the theory and actually going into practice.
How did Cheery Designs come into being?
Cheery popped up during grad school. I did grad school on the weekends and at night and then I worked for this travel agency during the week. And I was just stressed out of my mind. And even when I didn’t have homework, or I didn’t have work, I couldn’t find a way to calm down and disconnect. But what truly makes me happy is designing on my computer and drawing on my iPad and just doodling. I needed a way to make myself feel better. So that’s when I created Cheery just as my personal escape. And for the first couple of months it was just me and my mom looking at the page and her liking my posts. And then eventually I ended up being able to foster this community and find like-minded people who were seeking the same thing on social media.
How do you manage the balance of a full time job and a business on the side?
Everybody in my life makes fun of me, because I keep coming to these crossroads. Once I graduated from grad school, everyone was like, “Good, she can breathe. We’re just gonna have fun”. And then I decided to make Cheery something more. I like to have a lot going on, I guess physically so that I don’t have as much going on in my head because there’s no room for it. It’s definitely a balancing act. When people want to do projects with me all I do is say yes. And it’s gotten to the point where my husband said, “I don’t care who it is. Anyone who asks for projects, for portraits, for tie-dye, you have to say no”. And I just secretly keep saying yes to everybody. So it’s a lot of late nights, early mornings, and a lot of my mom helping me.
How did the signature colorful style of Cheery Designs come about?
I think just being inspired by everybody and everything around me. Being in New York, there’s obviously a tonne of influence. Walking down the street for me takes longer than it should because I love being in a city, I love the window displays. I hate the subway, not because it’s gross, but because I’d rather be above ground in a car, so I can just look out the window. I’m very much an observer and very affected by my environment. I have folders of tags from clothing brands, tear outs from magazines, photos that I’ve taken on the street. Cheery is my way of putting it all into one spot.
How do you manage the criticism that comes with being an artist?
I do struggle with that in the sense that I almost project it myself, in anticipation of people’s reaction. One of my friends is a nuclear physicist, and when she complains to me that she’s stressed at work, I have nothing to say because there’s no comparison. I feel like art can come off as unnecessary and trivial – people don’t know what to do with their money, so they buy art. But I really see it as being a huge part of our culture. When the pandemic began, and everyone was in this state of unrest and didn’t know what to do at home, the tie-dye trend came back. And then when the Black Lives Matter movement hit, the first people to react were artists. I think I see us as people who document the times, and I think there’s a lot of psychology behind it.
You live in a cultural hub, one of the most artistic cities in the world. What does this mean to you and how does it inspire you to keep creating?
I think at first, it was the opposite. I had grown up outside of the city in a smaller town. And then I got to the city, and I was like, “Wow, there’s a lot of me. There’s a lot of girls who are my age, who have this degree, who want to be designers in New York,” and it was very overwhelming. But then after becoming part of the culture, and kind of wiggling my way into the group, I realized that I have grown so much by being around these bigger, better established people. I feel like the culture of up all night hustling of everyone who came here with a dream has become contagious. When I’m up late at night and I get discouraged, I’ll go out on my balcony, and I’ll see so many other lights on in other apartments. It’s just inspiring to know that everyone around you is here for a reason.
Why is it important to you that people support small businesses and local art?
I think part of what makes our culture what it is are the local artists and designers, and it cultivates the area that you live in. So not only for a local economy, but also because you should be voting with your dollars. So when it comes to if you’re buying from Amazon or buying from the guy down the street, you’re really showing your loyalty. You almost feel like you’re making a difference. You know that person smiles when you buy something from them.