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



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...



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




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.

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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




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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… !!