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… 

Fall Blog 2015

"GREAT BLUE" At last I am finally painting! "Great Blue" (oil on canvas) has been a long time in the making. The piece below is the initial painting. I love the blues in that piece but I was more interested in achieving a more natural look. I've done few landscapes,...


  I saw this spoon in a drawer of antique silverware belonging to my mother. I was struck by this particular one and its simple beauty. I loved the way the silver caught the colors that were nearby: the orange ruler and the aqua of a glass bird. They really...

Sarah Buell Dowling Fall Blog

Sarah Buell Dowling Fall Blog

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...

May Blog

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...

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!