James’ New Puppy

This is James and his new puppy. His grandmother (a dear friend) asked me to paint a portrait as a Christmas present to her son and his wife. She wanted a soft look, and watercolor is a perfect medium for that.

I was given a 3″x5″ photo from which to work, and the finished portrait would be 16″ x 20″. Help! Thank goodness for PhotoShop. I was able to blow the picture up and see some of the details. Next the colors. Would they be accurate? Mary sent me samples of hair and skin color as James lives in Colorado…I live in Charleston…


This is going to be a short blog as I got well into James’ portrait and remembered I needed to take photos. You can see some of the drawing here, and the puppy is well underway. I used a combination of Transparent Red Oxide and Quinacridone Sienna to arrive at the wonderful orange/copper color on the nose and highlighted in the fur. At this point, I’m just starting to figure out the fingers and hand placement. Also, what is going on with the rear paw? Which leg was it attached to (look at the photo below)?

Women Waiting


Here is the sweet photo of James and the puppy.

Women Waiting


I thought you might like a closeup of James’ sweet face. I really wanted to capture his intent, his thoughtfulness. I hope I succeeded.

Women Waiting


Mary sent me this wonderful picture.  “They love it!” she said.

No sweeter words.

Women Waiting



Pastel Portrait

     A dear friend, Jan Fincher, asked if I’d do a pastel portrait of her three children when they were little (being now fully grown with children of their own).
     She then gave me a wonderful 3×5 photo taken many years ago of the kids in a bed of tulips! It’s the only one she had of them all laughing together at that age.
     The light was behind them casting shadows on the right side of their faces. I felt like a sleuth trying to figure out what the eyes were doing behind those shadows. You’d be amazed at how much moving something, even something as small as a dot, can change the character of a face. A millimeter or less can make a big difference!

Below is a closeup of Aimeé, the youngest. I love that face! Here I’m trying to find the placement of the features. The hardest part was capturing the slight amusement in her eyes and mouth.

Women Waiting

In this next image, I’m laying in the tulips. I’m also thinking about this wonderful red hair!

Women Waiting

Now I’m adding in the siblings. Ashley has reddish blond hair. Will’s hair is brown.

Women Waiting

About this stage, I’m realizing that these tulips are as big as Aimeé’s head. They really are this size in the photo, but it doesn’t work here.

Women Waiting

I’m also discovering that if you forget what you’re doing and lay your hand down, say on the tulips, you’ll then find that red pastel settling wherever your hand lands next. I spent more time than I like erasing or washing my hands…grrr.

Women Waiting

Below you’ll see that I’m starting to reduce the size of the tulips, trying to treat the picture as a whole. For me, probably the hardest part of painting is eliminating, deciding what is important and what isn’t. That’s probably why I don’t do landscapes. Just look at how many different shapes, lines and greens are out there! Brain implode.

Women Waiting

Once I got the ok from Jan that I’ve managed to capture the kids’ likeness, I started to relax and fill in the legs and sneakers.

I’m thrilled that the Finchers are pleased. Jan told me, “I’ve shown the picture to all three and they all have commented on what cute kids they were! Ha ha!”

That they were!


If you’d like to honor someone with an original portrait, I’d love to hear from you!

Please go to my contact page

Portrait of a very dear friend

Watercolor Portrait


My childhood best friend, who died last year was just so full of life! She loved to laugh.
We met in pre-nursery school, and were both “Doots.” We started the renowned “Doots & Doots Detective Agency”… solving all manner of crimes…often ones that we committed.
I was asked by her siblings to paint her portrait as a gift to her husband. I so dearly wanted to capture this loving, zany friend who was always looking for a joke or plotting something mischievous.
I have to say that this was the hardest painting I’ve ever done. Often I’d cry.
But the painting was presented to her husband last week, and I was so touched by his thoughtful note:
“I can’t begin to describe the impact of your painting. Such a blessing. God’s in His heaven and Sandy’s with Him. Love you.”
Oh, I’m so glad I was asked.

Here are a few thoughts en route to the painting

This is what’s called a “value study.” I gave arbitrary colors to the various values on Doots’s face, namely dark black and dark blue for the darkest values. The middle values on the face are purple/gray. The interesting thing I learned is that you can use ANY color in a painting and it will make sense as long as the value is accurate. It will look astoundingly right. Value is key!

I’ve enclosed a value chart here going from the lightest light to the darkest dark, so you can see the variations.

Doots’s brother stopped by, and we determined that he had the same coloration as Doots. These are the sample colors that I used primarily on her face in the painting.

I should add that the finished painting (above) is actually on white paper, so the colors are not accurate (sigh). The camera has a hard time registering white, and often gives the picture a yellow, red or blue cast. Frustrating!

Painting almost always requires many failed attempts. For instance, I couldn’t get the right side of Doots’s face without her looking truly bizarre, so I’m hiding it in this photograph… I, also, realized that her mouth was too wide. She also looked fat, and I didn’t want that, so I scraped the whole thing. Sort of like bad batches of cookies…

I didn’t take many pictures as I worked through this painting as I was so absorbed that I forgot. Next time I’ll do better…

Aside from my fine art paintings, I’m illustrating a book of fables that my husband has written called “Timely Tales.” I love them! Here are two preliminary illustrations. I’ll be posting new ones here as I trot along…


Goose getting out of bed

It’s Carnival Day!


bored chicken

I’m bored!

                    Back to Work…

Well, now it’s time to get back to work… 

Thanksgiving Blog

Sarah's Update  What a year this has been! Most of it has been dedicated to illustration and the publication of our book, Frog's Rainy-Day Story and Other Fables. I've been able to grab time to fit in these little paintings, which I've grown to love. I have them...

James’ New Puppy

This is James and his new puppy. His grandmother (a dear friend) asked me to paint a portrait as a Christmas present to her son and his wife. She wanted a soft look, and watercolor is a perfect medium for that. I was given a 3"x5" photo from which to work, and the...

Pastel Portrait

     A dear friend, Jan Fincher, asked if I'd do a pastel portrait of her three children when they were little (being now fully grown with children of their own).      She then gave me a wonderful 3x5 photo taken many years ago of the kids in a bed of tulips!...

Out On A Limb

Out On A LimbThis piece, "Out On A Limb," was so much fun to paint! This is a watercolor on watercolor canvas, which I've never used before. Every medium has its own very distinct look. This wood stork is young. Notice that it still has tufts on the top of its head,...

Charleston At Dawn

This is a commission that I just finished for someone who had seen the photo (below), and wanted me to paint it. I knew that the photo below (taken by Luke Champion, a teenager who has split-second reflexes) needed to be a watercolor, as there were these wonderful...

Winter Rose

How this still life evolved I started out with this rather pathetic setup. The rose was dying, and I'm working against time. I loved the light on the vase, and the colors in the rose, but not the pine table top. This is when I decided to improvise.    I laid in the...

The Pink Hat

"The Pink Hat" is a painting I've been wanting to do for months! A dear friend had been to Uganda, and this little girl's picture was among the photos. Her innocence was so compelling. So was the hat. Interestingly, the most difficult part for me were the hands. The...

Portrait of a very dear friend

"Doots" My childhood best friend, who died last year was just so full of life! She loved to laugh. We met in pre-nursery school, and were both "Doots." We started the renowned "Doots & Doots Detective Agency"... solving all manner of crimes...often ones that we...

Teaching this class was so much fun!

I taught my first class! They liked it!! Who knew....   When I was in my twenties, I taught an art class of about twenty students, all ages. Within several weeks, most of the class had evaporated!  After that, I determined that I should leave teaching to...

Painting On A Billboard!

  I never thought that a painting I did with enticing lips would be chosen to be on a billboard!     A wonderful group called "ArtPop" (ArtPop Street Gallery) is on a move to fill billboards all across the US and eventually even in Europe with art!...

Sarah Buell Dowling’s First-Ever Sale

I'm posting birds probably because it's spring, and we're moving, and I'm decidedly feeling the nesting urge. Our house has sold, but we're not clear where we're headed yet, except we know we're staying in Charleston. I want all my paintings to find a nice home...

Christmas Commission

This painting was a Christmas gift from Luke to his wife, Rosie. Tackling this portrait was scary because I know Rosie, and I wanted this to be good, PLUS I’ve never done anything with this many different personalities in one portrait. I mean, look at the...

Christmas Blog

  Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to All!   Sarah    


Merry Christmas & Happy New Year to All!            

Holiday Season Blog

"SOPHIE"   Pastel Portraits Make wonderful Keepsake Gifts! "Two Asparagus" - watercolor print "Shallots" - 11" x 11" watercolor available for sale "Merry Christmas, Sophie" - Personalized digital print fits right into an 11" x 17" frame ~ wonderful gift for a child ~...

Pastel & Charcoal Pencil Portraits!

"SOPHIE"   I'm now offering colored pastel as well as sepia and charcoal portraits! These make really wonderful gifts! Patrick’s boys actually picked the charcoal as the look they would like. They’re thrilled! To see more portraits and to order click...


Image size - 11" x 14" Matted size (ready for framing) - 16" x 20"                        ~ 3 DIFFERENT CHOICES sepia on toned tan paper sepia on white drawing paper charcoal on toned gray paper                        ~ I'M NOW OFFERING PENCIL...

Sarah Buell Dowling Spring Blog 2016

I'm madly painting and framing in anticipation of this Spoleto Festival. I have no idea what to expect, but I'm hoping that the people who might like my work will find me. As you can see from the paintings on this post and in the side panel, I don't have one style. I...

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!





watercolor of young woman


Study for a large painting. 14″h x 11″w. Framed in a beautiful black and gold frame 17 1/2″h x 14 1/2″w




Anite – Watercolor on Arches hot press paper – 19″h x 21″w

Anite is a Haitian mother. Her story is on my blog

$1700.00 framed