Sarah Buell Dowling Fall Blog

Sarah Buell Dowling Fall Blog

Still Life in Oil

Still Life in Oil

I’ve not done very many paintings in oil, nor am I a still life painter, but I recently took a workshop with Chris Groves, a very talented, Charleston-based painter, and above is the result.

Oils are messy! But I LOVE that you can change up, reposition, and recolor, which is much more difficult to do with watercolors. I love the transparency of watercolors, but I love the texture and freedom with oils. They each have their own beauty. My only obstacle yet is to find the medium with which I can create line, which is my first love. I’m pushing to find where I can create what’s on my heart with which medium with the greatest effect. I truly welcome comments, critical or otherwise!

The idea was to set up the still life in a box with a light aimed on the subject creating a dramatic effect of light and dark, a technique known as “chiaroscuro,” a method perfected by Rembrandt.

Still life set against cloth background

Still life set against cloth background

Here the still life is set up in a box using fabric and draped behind the vase and orange. The light is affixed on the left side of the box aimed at the vase and orange. The drama is set!

Laying in the ground

Laying in the ground

We first chose a color palette, from which I deviated enormously, so I didn’t include it. We next lay in a reddish/brown pigment on the canvas, and lifted paint with paper towels while it was still wet to create the values (from light to dark), and the composition.

Blocking in the colors

Blocking in the colors

Here I’m laying in blocks of color, and trying to figure out what I’m going to do with all that fabric on the left side of my painting. Where do I want the focal point to be? Am I creating contrasts using only lights and darks? I want to remember to use cools against warm (the orange against the vase) to create contrast. You also have to consider that, even if you like something about a painting, you might need to eliminate it as it adds nothing. I was attracted to the shadow to the right of the vase, but I had to tone it back as it was drawing the eye there rather than to the vase and the orange.

This is the workspace with the actual still life in the background

This is the workspace with the actual still life in the background

This picture shows my workspace with the still life in the distance.  This was only a three-day workshop (six hours/day), so you have to work relatively quickly.

Nearly Done

Nearly Done

Now it’s getting to the hard part – looking critically at the composition and contrasts. Am I creating enough light and dark? Is the background staying back or competing with the foreground? Is everything too much in the “middle ground?” How do I  make the vase sit on the fabric; are the shadows convincing? These and many others are questions that go repeatedly around in my mind. How much reflection should the orange create? This is where I make my own decisions, and am no longer looking at the still life. I want the warm of the orange in the fabric, although it’s really not there. How far do I push it? Is the brown in the background a warm brown or cool? The shadow in the fabric as it turns towards the floor needs to be warm in order to come forward in front of the blue vase.

Still Life in Oil

Still Life in Oil

This is the final piece! In the painting, the vase is more aqua but I need to invest in a better camera… I hope I’ve given you some indication of how difficult painting can really be. It’s a shortcut, for me, to brain implosion. I don’t do landscapes because there are so many decisions to make, so many colors, so many lines, so many blocks of shade and light. Perhaps, when I’m more adept, one day I’ll attempt one and succeed. This painting, however, was great fun, and I felt somewhat successful.
We’ve finally settled into our new home. My studio is presently in the dining room….I like that it’s next to the kitchen…


To Purchase any of my work, please phone 1-912-223-8674 or email me from my contact page. Thanks!

May Blog

watercolor of young woman


I painted this somewhat abstract painting, “Cautious” in response to seeing a photo of my aunt (taken somewhere around the mid-1930s) hiding in the back of a room peopled with mostly old women wearing assorted hats and solid shoes – perhaps, a garden club meeting… She was not comfortable, and I loved her stance and obvious fragility. I used these colors to augment her being set apart, young and alone. I am always torn between super-realism and folk art. This, to me, seems a bit in-between the two. I did this piece as a study for a large painting, which I’ll start soon. I think it will be a powerful work large!

Taking Off Framed Watercolor on Arches cold press paper $1700.00

Taking Off
Framed Watercolor on Arches cold press paper

This piece “Taking Off” is taken from a photo that I saw on a friend’s Facebook page. Bob McCarthy is a renowned musician, and a terrific photographer! I am so often moved by birds, and this Canada Goose was no exception. They’re like dancers of the ballet sort… I just loved the movement of the water and the anticipated lift-off!



Three Mennonite Women

Three Mennonite Women

I’ve added this next piece, “Three Mennonite Women,” just so you can see my process which is often messy. I like the idea of these three, but I’ll definitely redo it, maybe several times until I get what I want. Lots of times I don’t even know what I want. I’m just pulled, and then I work until it makes some sense to me.

Here is a closeup of the three ladies (click on it if you’d like to see a larger rendition). The color is quite blah but I’m often drawn to that as well. I like the lines. I like the shapes. I’ve also used some watercolors that are “granular” and they give a texture to the painting which adds some interest. These ladies are waiting for a train, but they could be waiting for almost anything.

Three Mennonite Women closeup

Three Mennonite Women closeup


I thought you might enjoy seeing where I work. If I’m not here, I’m in the other side of the house in the office where my husband works and which houses our computers. There I set up my blog.

Here I am in my studio. Not quite sure what I'm thinking...

Here I am in my studio. Not quite sure what I’m thinking…

My paints and water are on a table right behind me.


Another studio shot

Another studio shot

Here you can see my palette and water holders. With watercolor you leave the areas blank where you want white or you lift the color with a damp paintbrush.  You’re constantly using water to either lay down paint or lift it off the paper. Depending on the amount of water, your color will be more or less intense. The less intense (or the more watered down), the more you can see the paper through the pigment. That’s the beauty of watercolor. You can layer the paint, and see the underlying colors, creating it’s distinctive look.

Behind me is a large table where I mat and frame my work. You can also see that mat cutter in the photo below. I keep hoping there’ll come a day when I can hire someone to mat and frame…sigh.

Studio bay window

Studio bay window

This is what I look out on. I really love my studio! I have a bird feeder right outside, and I love watching the birds and seeing the marsh colors change throughout the day. There are few things more beautiful than a marsh, I think. Who would think that a swamp could be filled with such color and majesty! God’s handiwork at His finest, I’d say.

Thanks so much for looking in here. I hope you’ve enjoyed it!



Early Spring Blog

Early Spring Blog


The Performance Is Finished

“The Performance Is Finished”

Drawing on Arches hot press paper using Faber Castell pencils.       SOLD

I did this drawing as sort of a cathartic exercise. My youngest daughter was on track to be a prima ballerina from an early age. I can’t say how many hours we logged going to studios, schools, rehearsals etc. This past summer, we went to NYC as she had a opening with the American Ballet Theater. We were there a week, and she looked at me and said, “I can’t do it, I just don’t have the passion necessary for this…”  – I could fully understand; it’s a life that demands everything…

 She’s now in Colorado working on a Dude Ranch… she’s in heaven!

I thought I would do a series of ballet studies, and say my “Good Byes.”

The pointe shoe is really a beautiful thing. I wanted to portray not only the fact that the shoe itself was “done” but that, so often, we need to leave or bring closure on things in our lives that no longer “fit.”

 This piece just won First Place in the Jekyll Island Arts Festival. That was nice.


Update on Anite!

The monies raised from the sale of the print have enabled 2nd Story Goods to build a toilet for Anite and her kids. Thanks to all who helped! The photo below shows the toilet in progress. If anyone can figure out what’s going on, please let me know! I’ve posted here a conversation that I’ve been having with Kathy Brooks, who runs the ministry, below:

Anite's New Haitian Toilet

Anite’s New Haitian Toilet

Kathy: hey love, I am so excited to give Anite the money tomorrow ( today , now)
She is working on her house , and really wants to put a toilet in for her family…
( so they don’t have to go out in the field) ..again, there really aren’t words for the
difference that makes for her and her daughters! I think that is a great use of
these funds… such dignity in that …. thank you for listening that creative
wild God we serve!

Sarah: Hard to tell what this is? Can you explain? It looks like a circular wall. Will it be a toilet?

 Kathy: Yes. It is about 15 feet deep. It’s really hard to tell here. So sorry.They have already begun buying block to finish it. Takes SO LONG !! O. My. But it is happening.



Haitian Mother


Anite is a Haitian woman who works at 2nd Story Goods, a non-profit cottage industry started by my friend Kathy Brooks. She tells Anite’s story below:


We stand outside Anite’s tiny thatch home, the one she moved into this past June with her four children. I reach down to fix the collar on the dress of the little girl standing there with Anite’s daughters. Anite tells me that the little girl’s family lived next door until recently and were forced to leave. The momma left with her baby and left this daughter behind. Alone.

Anite is a young widow and might weigh 75 pounds soaking wet. I wonder how many days she has gone without food to keep her children fed… She is a woman of faith. She is a woman fiercely determined to keep her family together and raise her kids well.

Anite has taken this little girl in.

So, this young girl is maybe eight years old. She is so thin and small it is difficult to say. Anite has taken in another mouth to feed, another body to clothe, another child to hold when she cries.

She slays me.

She tells me that God will take care of them, that He promises to do that for those who care for those in need. So she does.

♥ ♥ ♥

I was so touched by Anite’s story that I felt prompted to paint her and offer the print as a means to give money to her family and others like her through the ministry of 2nd Story Goods.

If you wish, you can purchase a signed, limited edition Gicleé print (museum-quality paper using archival ink) for $48.00.

The print will come unmatted, rolled in a solid tube ready to place in a mat or frame.

I will send $35.00 from each sale to 2nd Story Goods for Anite and families like hers.

The remaining $13.00 will cover the cost of reproducing your limited edition print and shipping it to you!

You can place your order through all the various means on the sidebar next to the painting.


 ♥ ♥ ♥

I’ve tried to take some pictures as I’ve worked on this watercolor so you can see the progression.


laying in the painting

First step in laying in the painting

This is really not the first step but you’d never be able to see my “first step” pencil drawing as it is so light. So, this is the step after the drawing where you lay in shapes and try to establish some colors.

Next step

The next step is to lay in the background and continue to fill in the face.

Now I start laying in the background shapes and colors trying to balance the background against the foreground. In this painting, I don’t want the background to compete very much as Anite’s clearly the focus. I try to keep the colors somewhat muted.


And  here is the final piece!

Haitian Mother




♥ ♥ ♥

I can’t believe so much time has passed since my last blog! This has been a year of settling kids in college, or not college. I keep thinking I’ll have my own life, but perhaps that’s a myth…

Anyway, I’ve managed to squeak in painting, and I’ll try and catch you up. I’m going to try and keep this post updated (ha) so you can check in at your leisure, if you like. I’m presently working on a piece called “Waiting.” This was generated by a series of photos sent to me by a friend of three Mennonite women at the train station. I’m always intrigued by what people might be thinking, especially when waiting.


He Heals the Brokenhearted

He Heals the Brokenhearted

This painting, “He Heals the Brokenhearted,” was accepted for the 72nd National Exhibition of the Watercolor Society of Alabama, Spring, 2013.


The summer has been filled with illustrations, one a commission (below), the others have been submitted to a children’s book publisher (on the right panel).


Garden Whimsy

Garden Whimsy

The poppies are just for fun…

watercolor of poppies



That’s it for now. As the kids are going off on their lives, I’m starting to get excited about regaining mine… !!


Autumn Blog

Autumn Blog

Thanks for peeking in here! Teaching is not my forte’,  but I hope you enjoy this attempt to show you a bit of the watercolor process.

To begin,  I placed this painting on a board at about a 45°  angle. I taped it down, and then started drawing. Below is a sketch of the two hens I drew on the paper. Normally, I draw with a very light pencil so the lines can’t be seen through the paint. Here I’ve darkened them (in Photoshop) so you can at least see them… the bottom of the drawing got so dark, I had to eliminate it…

Drawing of two chickens
First Sketch of Two Hens

Next,  I laid in the shapes, the lights and the darks. I decided to use black India ink in some areas as it’s more intense than watercolor and has it’s own interesting properties. I put ink on the tails and around the feet of the two hens.  Water dropped on the ink causes it to fan out and makes an interesting effect as on the dark hen’s tail tip.

Laying in the colors, lights and darksLaying in the Colors and shapes

I continued to layer the colors going from light to dark (with oil paint, you generally go from dark to light), testing the colors on the paper next to the painting, finding the color I need. You can see on the feathers of the orange hen the layers of color, especially on the closeup of the finished hen.

Next step Chickens – Third Step

Closeup of orange chickenCloseup of Orange Hen

The painting is almost finished except for defining the beaks, and laying in the sky and clouds. This is hard to show as it happens so fast (maybe I’ll do a video some time as the process is really fascinating, I think). First, I carefully wet the background around the hens down to the rails (saturate might be a better word). Next, I mixed a large amount of Cobalt Blue paint with a little Quinacridone  Coral.  Then I lay the paint across the paper, starting at the top.

Because of the angle of the board, the paint descended – fast! I kept laying in the original color as it descended down the page. As I got closer to the girls’ heads, I started dropping in a pink/coral color and some Quinacridone Gold. You literally do drop the colors in and they fan out and blend, creating a beautiful look which is unique to watercolor. It’s beautiful!

There are several techniques for creating clouds. The one I use most often is to take some paper towel (Viva) and lift the paint while the paper is still quite wet. You can also lift with a paint brush, or wait until the paint dries and lift with a small scrub brush. Watercolor paper is extremely durable, and you can scrub and lift. Even Magic Eraser ( like you use on your kitchen floors) works great!

Watercolor showing how to lay in the skyAdding the Sky

Here is the finished painting – sky, beaks and all.

Spring News

Spring News

Spring is here (gorgeous!), and it’s time to tend to my long-overdue blog.

Oil painting of seated woman

Study of seated woman

I’ve been working on a number of pieces over the last months but I’m going to take you through this one that I’ve been painting over a number of weeks. I”m attempting a style of painting called “Tenebrist,” in which most of the figure is engulfed in shadow, but some parts are dramatically illuminated by a beam of light (in this case a spotlight fixed on the side of a black-encased box which is aimed on the model). Caravaggio, a Baroque artist, is generally credited with the invention of this style.

Start of glazing technique_oil painting

Study for Glazing

The first step in preparing the oil painting is laying down a background color, usually a dark reddish/brown, with an acrylic paint.

The next step is to lay out the drawing (this model is quite ample and a delight to draw), and lay in the lights. The oil paint is very much thinned down with linseed oil to create a thin glaze. I was fascinated with the way the light illuminated her skin, a bright red, winding it’s way up her leg, through her body and resting on her face. She has a wonderful head and chinline. I might add that she’s a terrific model as she never moves!

Second phase of glazing

Second phase of glazing

After the painting dried for several days, I next lay in a rose color as a glaze; namely a very thin layer of oil paint and linseed oil. The rose color, interestingly, over the dark brown becomes a dark blue. The remainder of the painting is done in layers of a thin glaze which, being translucent, gives a feeling of depth to the figure. Vermeer is one of the masters who used this technique beautifully!

Third phase of glazing with oils

Third Step in Glazing

This was the third week of adding glaze. It’s a long process and I have to admit I didn’t always glaze but added full color in order to move along faster. Also, I decided I’d enter a local competition and felt uneasy with this model being unclothed. So, using a slip that I had, I improvised and added a slip to the model. I’m sure it’s not as good as it would be if I had the real thing to look at but I loved the subtle colors of blue/green complementing the rose of her skin.

Close-up of study

Close-up of face of model

Oil painting of seated woman

Study of seated woman

That’s it for now. I learned a lot from this study, and I hope you learned something from my description as well.

I just started a watercolor of a barn and a horse, which I’m painting for a fundraiser at my daughter’s school. It’s for Derby Day, thus the horse. Next blog I’ll try and do a sequence of that piece so you can see how watercolor works. It’s very different from oils. I really love both mediums; each has it’s own beauty.

Happy Spring!


This Time What’s New?

Heron lifting off

This oil painting is based on a photo taken by my friend, Malcolm Hughes (, and was photographed on Jekyll Island, GA, a beautiful coastal island of inlets, marsh, and native and migratory birds.

It took me forever to figure out what was going on in the left wing as it really is a study in movement. I want to do a large watercolor of this piece as I love the way the wing disappears and reappears as the light hits it.

Oil and watercolor are so different. With watercolor you would be able to blend the background and wing. If you saturated the paper, lay the paint in, one color following the other (with watercolor your paper is usually at a 45° angle so that the paint runs down the paper), the colors would blend. This effect would be almost impossible to render in oil. With oil you can move the paint around and change things so easily but blending is, to my mind, more difficult (I’m reasonably proficient in watercolor but still a babe with respect to oil). Watercolor is not as forgiving as oil but you can lift color, and it’s easier than people realize – Magic Eraser not only cleans the floor but it works wonders at lifting pigment…

I’m amazed at how much white paint you use with oils. It’s just the opposite with watercolor. You don’t even use white paint. You just work around the white of the paper or lay down a very translucent wash, and lift with your damp brush where you want white.

I don’t know if you want all this information or not but my husband says that people are interested. Let me know as I thought I might take pictures of my process next time so you could see how a painting evolves.

Oil painting of little girl I saw on Saba, a Caribbean island

Little Saba Girl

This is an oil painting of a little girl I saw on Saba, an island in the Caribbean. I loved her expression, and the Spanish features of her face, the young nose that is still flat at the tip. It is really difficult to do the eye in this position. It’s so easy to make someone look rather bizarre. I love her mouth. Beautiful!

Watercolor of man at Gould's Inlet

This is a watercolor of a man fishing at Gould’s Inlet where I walk every morning with my dog. I’ve painted this fellow numerous times as I love the colors and the lighting of the hat, his skin, and the shirt. There is great challenge in not only making the light and colors sing, but in making the shirt hang well. I love painting fabric that is lit in some way.
Sarah and Maisy at the beach

May you all have a blessed Thanksgiving,

and a very Merry Christmas!

Prophesy in Isaiah of Jesus
Isaiah Prophesy

What’s New This Time

What’s New This Time

Watercolor of Felder Ann

Felder Ann

I just finished my first commissioned portrait, and it was a stretch!! The difficulty with doing a portrait for someone you know is that it needs to look like them…obviously.

Closeup of Felder Ann watercolor portrait

Closeup of Felder Ann

Felder Ann has the most extraordinary eyes. I’m delighted that her parents felt that I captured them in the painting. Unfortunately, the photographs don’t capture the painting very well. New camera, wrong setting…

watercolor of "Going Home"

“Going Home”

I did this painting of “Going Home” a while ago from my imagination. It got triggered when I saw a large woman with her baby on her back during a fire drill in an apartment building in Alexandria, VA. That got combined with images from Saba, an island in the Caribbean, that had stuck in my mind. More and more, I see that I’m moved by scenes of vulnerability and light.

I want to redo this painting in time for the Telfair Museum Show in Savannah, November 11th. This time I’ll get a model (it might have to be my daughter, Katrina – I’ll just fatten her up…more Starbucks).
This is a big show, and I’ve promised myself I’d have a unified look. I’ll post things as I complete them.



What’s New

What’s New

Katrina in watercolor

This piece, “Pensive,” won first place and People’s Choice Award at the Jekyll Island Art Show. This is a watercolor painting of my daughter, and what I really loved aside from her stance was the light on her blouse and her hair, and the orange of the bench.

Two Old Friends holding each other
Two Old Friends

This watercolor, “Two Old Friends,” was accepted into the Southern Watercolor Society Exhibition and won the North Light Books award. This painting was prompted by seeing a small photo of a group of people in a hospital. Several of the women looked like these two, and I was touched. This has a folk art feel to it, different from my more realistic stuff. I’m always trying to resolve the tension of wanting to illustrate/capture humor, and wanting to capture poignancy/reality. Maybe some day they’ll meld.

Wading Heron

“Dusk” was accepted into the Alabama Watercolor Society Exhibition and won the Georgia Watercolor Society award. This piece was based on a photograph by Bobby Haven of the Brunswick News, Brunswick, GA.

Carl Fougerousse, oil painting teacher
My oil painting teacher, Carl Fougerousse

This is an oil painting I did of my teacher Carl Fougerousse. The model never showed up so Carl sat. I was thrilled as he has a much more interesting face; great nose and hair! Good looking fellow!

I still want to work on the shirt. I’m fascinated with light on fabric. I guess I love the way light plays on almost anything. God’s touch.

That’s it!

To Purchase any of my work, email or call: 1-912-634-1577.
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