Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Under Sun Stars and Sails by Marsha Hall Brown, Illustrated by Dawn Secord

This project has been a few years in the making.   It was great to work with Marsha again.  I was thrilled when she asked me to illustrate this historical book published by Spinner Publications of New Bedford, MA.

The book follows a whaling family's real life experiences at sea between 1851 and 1861.   Marsha Hall Brown is a descendant of the family as well as the island of Nantucket's founding families.  Marsha had some of the artifacts I painted and sketched in her possession at the time of the illustration process (most of which have now been placed with the Nantucket Historical Association).

It seemed at times that I was on the journey with the family.  It would have been fascinating to been at sea with them.   One can only image the adventures of young Helen (Nelly) as she traveled the globe. 
There are some historical illustrations included in the book which are wonderful.    It amazes me that illustrations, such as the historical ones included in the book, could survive not only the decades but the elements.

The current illustrations, including the maps and cover, were done by me.  Countless months were spent researching maps circa 1851- 1861 for the map illustrations.    Panama in 1852, for example, is not what we know today.  The routes to travel from one coast to the other were crude at best.   Many maps were studied before I created the illustration for that area.  It was critical that the map illustrations created were accurate for the time period.   Each illustration was created with a detailed sketch and discussed with Mrs. Brown before rendering a final illustration for publication.  I studied whaling vessels for illustrations.   Fortunately, Marsha was a wealth of information.   She is an expert on the inside and outside of a whaling vessel.  I studied the royal dressing trends for the illustration of the Queen of Tahiti as well as foliage and landscape for accuracy.   For the young Nelly, I researched clothing for a child during that time period.   The cover illustration was absolutely my favorite.  The gown Mrs. Marshall wore for the vessel's true return to port was made especially for the occasion.    The gown is still intact and part of the collection donated by Marsha Hall Brown to the Nantucket Historical Association.  I was able to use several actual photos of the gown to create the illustration for the book's cover.   The horse hair chair used in the Captain's quarters illustration is still in possession of Mrs. Brown's family.  Researching antique furniture and items was of great interest as my own grandmother was an avid antique collector.  There are many fond memories of accompanying her to estate sales and witnessing the auction process.  Her basement smelled of turpentine and wood stain.


The above photo is of Marsha during a book signing in Nantucket at Mitchell's Book Store.  Having personally visited that book store a few years ago, it is my favorite photo of Mrs. Brown's book signing tour. 

A deep and heart felt thank you and expression of honor to Marsha Hall Brown for including me in such a wonderful project.  

Friday, July 12, 2019

Emilee - A Seal Point Himalayan cat - Mission Impossible

This painting of Emilee was a covert operation.   Two sisters, living on separate sides of the great USA, saw my work.   One sister, I'll refer to as sister X, contacted me and wanted to arrange for me to paint the other sister's cat, Emilee.

The painting would be a surprise.    During the months that passed while on my waiting list, I stalked Emilee's parents' Facebook pages and posts.  I was ever vigilant of any photos of Emilee.  Photos were copied and pasted to a file on my computer.   Concurrently, sister X was also secretly gathering reference photos of Emilee for me. 

You know, it is difficult to collect reference material when people don't know you are collecting reference material.  Photos were too dark, photos were to small, photos were too far away.  Dog gone it!!!   Then I found it.  Yep, the ideal reference photo, well almost.  Emilee had a scowl on her face in the ideal photo.  She looked a tad irritated.  Fear not, I had many other photos from which to glean a happy Emilee expression.

The painting was finished and ready to ship.   The delivery date was planned for recipient sister's birthday.   Federal Express, another unknowing party in this surprise, delivered right on schedule.   Anticipation filled the air.  Sister X and I waited for the surprise to be unveiled.   It was killing us.  Recipient sister's husband had a busy work schedule and was not getting to Federal Express to retrieve the package.   OH MY GOSH!!!!   Finally, he gets the package, quickly sets it in their house, and heads back off to work.  He had no idea what the box was.  Okay - more waiting.

Later in the day, sister X received the long awaited phone call - crying and laughing filled her ears.  A thrilled recipient sister had found and opened the painting of her beloved Emilee.

Sister X had kept the secret for all those months.   It is so difficult to keep such a secret.   I admire her self control.

On another fun side, the recipient sister (Cindy) loves to follow the antics of my dog, Bling, on Facebook.  For a fun twist, I had Bling as an additional secret agent, delivering the package to my car to take to Federal Express.  Thank you to Cindy for loving my girl, Bling, and following her on Facebook. 

Sister X (Diane) was so awesome and such a dream to work with.  I am not sure who received the best present.   Was it Diane (sister X) for a successful secret gift?  Was it Cindy (and her husband, Mark) for receiving their special gift?  Or, was it me for being able to be part of such a wonderful and loving family by creating a painting for them?    It has to be a three way tie!

A few of the many reference photos of Emilee.  Isn't she a doll!

Saturday, June 8, 2019

A painting of Roxie - Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Roxie is the first Cavalier that I have painted.  It is a breed I've long wanted to paint.  They are such an adorable dog.    This is a breed we've talked about owning when we get older and find an Irish Setter may be too much to  handle.  Time will tell.

It was exciting to receive the commission.  The painting was a gift and I had no idea what breed of dog the gift recipient had.   It was exciting when the photos were emailed.   The primary reference photo is the favored photo of the beloved Roxie.   This photo was more or less a black and white photo.  Therefore, additional reference photos were needed to clarify her coat colors.

Roxie is 14 years old.  It is tough when our pets reach the age that we worry all the time about time.  How much time do we have left with them.  What are we going to do with ourselves when that time comes?   Is their remaining time going to be quality?   Hopefully, Roxie has many more years with her family.  
Each painting I do for others is precious to me.   Each painting I create is an opportunity to give families the gift of having a special tribute to their cherished family members for many years.
Thank you for having me paint the lovely Roxie.  
If you are interested in having me paint for you, please click on the reference photo above and you'll be redirected to my website.
Best wishes,
Dawn Secord

Friday, May 31, 2019

A Painting of Gavin

It is always a fun experience when people approach me to paint one of their pets and tell me they have the perfect photo for my reference material.  They send me the photo to view, and yes, they have the perfect photo.

The painting of Gavin started with such a photo.   For those of you who own dogs, we all know "the look" they give us at times.  It may be they are being invisible for whatever doggie reason they have, it may be they are pouting because we are leaving, it may be dozens of reasons for the look.   In the perfect photo, Gavin had his head up with a slight breeze blowing.  He was proud and doing what he wanted.  I would have loved to have known what he was thinking at the moment the photo was taken.

Gavin's owners wanted me to down play the white beginning to frost his aging muzzle.   Also, his coloring had lightened with age.  I used some photos of a young Gavin for his coat color.   In the background was a large tree.  It was agreed that the tree competed with Gavin as a focal point in the painting, so the tree was omitted.

I always love it when people share a little bit about their dogs.  Not everyone wants to do so.  Gavin's parents were comfortable talking about Gavin and here is what they shared:

Commission a painting of your dog

      Windwood Celtic Flame Afield (Gavin) - BIS/BISS Ch Windrose Who’s On First? X Am/Can Ch Windwood Flambe’ O Redridge

Having owned many setters, both Gordon and Irish, Gavin has been a joy to live with for the past 12 1/2 years. He began a show career as a young dog earning 9 points and one major; however, his real life Dad deployed to Afghanistan and showing stopped for over a year and he never returned to the ring. For the past 12 plus years Gavin has excelled at being a companion and friend. He is an arrogant Irish Setter and he knows he is beautiful. In his opinion, the world revolves around him. Not only is Gavin beautiful and athletic, he is extremely intelligent. He demands your attention when he wants it (all of the time for the most part), but should you decide you want his attention he will become aloof and act as if he is the untouchable.

Each year it has been a tradition to take a yearly photograph for Christmas sharing. The photo submitted to Dawn was taken on our property in WV at the end of the fall season in 2017. Gavin is extremely photogenic and the secret to getting good shots of him is to take him out somewhere and to sit down and let him settle in, wait, and watch for his beautiful moments. He will not fail at producing elegant poses all on his own. As you take photos, he will hold his head high in the air enjoying the attention as he did in this photo and remind anyone watching - “I am handsome, and I know it. I am ALL Irish.”

Dawn has done a remarkable piece of an artwork for us that will be cherished for many years to come. We were lucky enough to see her work in progress with this piece at the Irish Setter National in Asheville, NC. It brought tears to my eyes when I first saw it as I noticed the accuracy in which she has captured every detail down to the fine texture of his hair on his face and head. Her work is stunning and we are grateful to her for this beautiful piece of art.

John and Rhonda Donohoe - Afield Setters, Milton, WV

Commission a painting of your dog

Thank you to the Donohoes for having me paint Gavin.  I enjoyed every minute!  And a special thank you to John Donohoe for his service in protecting the great USA!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

This is a painting of Bandit and Coors - two litter mates.  I know their "brother" Troy.  He stayed with us when he was a pup for a few weeks as a favor to a friend.   Labrador Retrievers are such great dogs - clowns while loyal, intense while casual - they are just great dogs (not to be redundant) but they are.

Thank you to Christen and Andrew (and their Aunt Suzanne) for having me involved with this special project.  I asked them to share some information about Bandit and Coors.  Below is what they had to say.

Thank you for capturing our dogs’ unique features, although they are always truly brother and sister and
love to be right next to one another, they have such different personalities. Our Blonde girl “Coors” is
such a tomboy and has no idea how big she is when she sits on the couch next to you or when she ends
up putting her big muzzle on the pillow next to your face early in the morning.
Our boy Bandit has such a deep bark on all muscle frame but wants nothing more than to be loved on
while he stares at you with his big brown innocent eyes.
These guys together have the routine down to with in minutes of the first meal, big bone when we
leave, what time I am supposed to be home to feed them dinner and then the long stare for when It is
time to go on our evening dog walk, maybe they have trained us. We love taking them on vacations and
well as eating donuts together on the weekend. Bandit and Coors are usually so well behaved until you
show them any sort of water and then all bets are off for, they never want to get out no matter what
temperature it is outside.
We love them as our own children and wish they will never grow old but at least we will have this
painting to remind us of how much they mean in our lives.
Thank you again so much
Christen and Andrew Lee

Here are the reference photos for the painting.



Monday, March 11, 2019


This is a painting of Liz.  She is no longer with us, but definitely she is there in the hearts of those who knew and loved her.


I asked her owner to share a little bit about Liz.  Here is what she told me:
    She is the sister to BIS Sh Ch. Quinniver's Old Time Rock N Roll.  The best "girlfriend" ever!     I miss her terribly.

It is always a heart tugger for me to paint a dog that is no longer with us.   It is an honor and so very important to give the dog's owner a special painting that will touch their hearts in a personal and tender way.   Having lost dogs myself over the years, it is an unspoken bond I hold with the dog's owner.   The pain can take your breath away and time stands still.   For me, the pain doesn't lesson with time, I simply learn to deal with it.   There are times, years after losing a dog, unexpectedly I break out in tears.    When a person asks me to paint their dog that has passed, it is personal for me.

Thank you Pam for having me paint your special girl.


 It was so exciting when Sophia's owners asked me to paint her.


I've spent time in and out of the show ring with her and not only is she beautiful physically but her personality is delightful.  We'd taken photos of her for the painting a couple times.  She is so photogenic that picking a reference photo for the painting was very challenging.

Thank you to Sophia's parents for having me paint her and for our friendship.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A painting of Oscar and Scooter.

This painting was commissioned to be given as a gift.


Within a year's time, the recipient of the painting lost her beloved dog, Oscar, and her horse, Scooter.

What a huge loss.  My heart always hurts when hearing of the loss of another person's pet. I hope my art will help soothe their pain.   If not now, hopefully in the future when their heart is healing.

I asked the gift giver to share a little bit about Oscar and Scooter, this is what she told me:

Oscar was a rescue that my friend Christy took in many years ago.  Oscar did agility but as Christy would say, he did it because he wanted to please her.  Oscar was retired after receiving his PACH and was Christy’s constant companion. He loved going to the barn to be with his horse, Scooter, but most of all he loved Christy.  Oscar was an easy going dog that was loved by all that knew him.  Unfortunately, Oscar died suddenly earlier this year and left us heartbroken.  He was one of a kind and is missed each and every day.

Hoping Oscar and Scooter are running again, together, in lovely green pastures.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A painting of Calypso

This is a painting Calypso created in pastel.


I'd photographed her twice for the painting and her owner kept going back to a photo taken of her as a young dog.  There are times when we have to follow our hearts.

A little fun backgriund information is that Calypso had a litter of pups two years ago.   Her daughter closely resembles this reference photo.  Her pup, Lyric, is a mini me (ha ha).  The pup was sired by my dog, Drew.   It is always amazing how things happen.  Back when it was first discussed for me to paint Calypso, it would have never have been on my radar that her owner would one day use my dog in her breeding program.  Some things are just meant to be.


I hope you enjoy the painting.  As always, it is such a gift when someone wants me to paint their dog.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A painting of Rogan

Rogan is such a cool dog.  He shows us what can be done with an Irish Setter.   He has beauty, brains and a loving gentle personality.


It always is so sad when people see me with one  of my dogs and say (something like this) - "Oh, I used to have one of those when I was a kid.  They are such stupid dogs."   It is always awkward - do I respond negatively as their statement is insulting, or do I try to be kind.   The kindness wins out everytime.  But, there is a little voice screaming inside me trying to get out. 

Irish Setters are very smart dogs.  Do they have a lot of energy?  Well, yes, they are sporting dogs - bred to work the field all day.   They have to  have the drive and build to do so.   As they get older, they quiet down.  Just like we do.   I remember as a child jumping on the bed with gusto and glee.  It was awesome, it was exhilarating.   Would I do that now?  No way - I'd  probably fall off  and break my leg or something.   Ha Ha.  Point is, Irish Setters are very smart dogs and can accomplish whatever we ask of them.   It comes down to the same thing for all dogs, the more time we spend with them, the more they are trained and socialized.   Our dogs, regardless of the breed, can do so much - it is up to us.

I asked Jeanne, Rogan's owner, to share a little bit about him and this is what she shared:

      GCh Ch Roclyn Rockafella, CD BN RE CGCA (Rogan) is a sweet, loving boy who excels in both the show ring and in performance events.

Thank you Jeanne for having me paint your boy.   It was my pleasure.   Below are the reference photos I took of him for the painting (plus one taken by another party).  It was a hard choice to decide which photo would be the primary reference photo.   When we are having a challenge  picking the photo for the painting, I like to put the top choices side by side.  It helps the elimination process.

Friday, August 17, 2018

A painting of baby Rowan

I remember meeting Rowan like it was yesterday.  The first time he looked at me I melted.    He is a wonderful dog.   It was very exciting when his owner expressed an interest in having me paint him as a baby now that he is a veteran.  

My husband and I have paintings of our dogs when they were pups.  There is something special about having the adult painting of a dog and seeing our dogs as they currently are, but there is something that is very heart warming about capturing those priceless moments when they were wee ones.

A number of photos were considered when approaching this painting.  The direct eye connection with the viewer that was captured in this baby photo really touched me.   I knew it would make a great painting.   So glad Rowan's owner agreed.

Rowan's owner offered to share with us a little bit about her special boy - here is a peek into this special dog, Rowan....

  Rowan (AKA Darnella’s Autumn Riverdancer CGC) came into my life on a cold December day in 2008. Arriving on a flight from hot and sunny south Florida, this scared 12 week old puppy landed at O’Hara Airport to snow and cold. The Chicago cops who helped me load his crate into my van thought he was a blood hound puppy. Fortunately, his half-sister Katie welcomed him immediately into our small family with only a touch of the diva.  His show career never materialized but he is all and more that an Irish Setter companion should be. He is so sweet, gentle, and loving. He was a perfect therapy dog for my mom before she passed at age 97 - always gentle and loving. He was a favorite at her nursing home before she passed. He is, without a doubt, my Heart Dog and a Velcro boy to boot.  He is facing some serious health issues right now but I am hoping we still have some good times together.
Thank you to his owner Cindy for having me paint him again and for sharing his story with us!


Monday, August 13, 2018

A painting of Ray and Roderick

This painting was finished a few weeks ago. It has been shipped and in the hands of the lovely lady who commissioned the piece. Her two boys, Ray and Roderick, are at the hunt tests regularly and are awesome dogs. I was able to meet them both last year and take photos of them. 

Their owner supplied additional photos of them actually out in the field. I always say, "The more photos, the more reference material for the painting!" The background for the painting is from an actual competition with Ray. (And speaking of Ray - the dog in front) he happens to be a pup out of my dog, Drew. So, he is Bling's half brother. The resemblance in their eyes is uncanny.

Huge thank you to Yana for having me paint for you. It was an honor!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

A Dog Bling - a Children's Book in the Making

Many of you know I've been working on writing and illustrating a children's book.  The dummy has been completed and is being sent out to agents.  Woo Hoo!!  The main character of the book is a dog Bling.   Bling is my dog and she is an Irish Setter.   Her best friend in the book is a goldfish named Sushi.  Sushi is a real fish too.  Bling travels the country with me - visiting friends, family, hanging out in my art booth as my mascot, and going to dog shows.  

When creating a dummy book, an illustrator does not complete all the illustrations.  The goal is to have a few illustrations to show an agent or publisher what your work would look like.   The agent or publisher may have other ideas for the book and it is a waste of time and effort to do too much before finding an agent or publisher.   My proposed cover is done and a few of the page illustrations.

The above image is the first illustration I'd completed for the dummy.   To promote the book and Bling's Facebook page, I am doing an art giveaway featuring this first illustration.   This original illustration was painted in pastel and is framed.

If you are interested in winning the work - please go to Bling's Facebook page at:


There is no cost and the shipping of the artwork is free as well.   All you need to do to enter is follow the instructions on Bling's Facebook page to enter.

Bling also has a website now and a fan page for children to receive messages from Bling (with the approval of their parents of course).   Bling's website is http://www.adogbling.com    Go take a peek!

For those of you interested in winning the artwork - good luck and thank you for your support of Bling and my children's book.   If you are an agent or publisher and are interested in seeing the dummy or reading the manuscript, please email me at  ...  adogbling@gmail.com

Thanks so much!

Friday, August 3, 2018

Thru an artist's eyes...August 3, 2018

This morning was another "pull over quickly and take that photo" day!  

While driving, I came across a huge cactus standing proudly in all its glory.   This mature majestic plant was flowering and had the largest soft yellow blooms I'd ever seen on a cactus.   Without hesitation, I threw the car in reverse, backed up to be parallel with the cactus, put the hazard lights on (sometimes the left side of my brain engages), and jumped out of the car.

With cell phone in hand, I was looking up at the cactus in seconds.  The cactus was even more amazing standing next to it.   It was hard not to question the age of this plant.  Who had passed by it for how many years?   Had Native Americans ridden their horses by this cactus in years passed or was it just a place to find shade for the occasional road runner or rattlesnake?  My cell phone camera was clicking away.   The cactus had to be 10 to 12 feet high.   The morning light was illuminating the blossoms with strong shadows being cast in the folds of the plant.  The scene was mesmerizing.  Then reality snapped me out of my trance and I thought, "Wow...I wonder if the home owners are watching me?"   At that very second, about 6 feet away from me, the car door opened from the car parked in the circular driveway.   A man exited.  I jumped.  The beauty of the cactus was so fixating, the fact a person was sitting there watching me had completely gone unnoticed.

Quickly explaining my art and quest to take photos for a blog, the home owner started laughing.   He didn't mind me being in his yard.   We had a wonderful conversation.  He confirmed the cactus was quite old and had been cut back a number of times.  He also told me the fruit was edible and offered me some.   Politely declining, he was thanked for his kindness and we both had a great laugh.  Walking the short distance to my car, I had to wonder...what was more beautiful - the cactus or the enjoyable conversation and laughter with a complete stranger.   Let's call it a draw.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Thru an artist's eyes...August 2, 2018

Our senior dog, Monet, is rapidly approaching her 12th birthday.   She hasn't changed a bit.  Yes, her face is white and her gait not quite as spry....but her eyes...they are still the same as they were 12 years ago.   She has this zest for life that shines through her eyes. 

There is something magical about the eyes - notice with Monet's eyes how the wetness reflects the objects in front of her like a mirror.   Look closely.   We can see the reflection of the blue sky, of me kneeling in front of her with my cell phone to take the photos - even the driveway and surrounding foliage. The white hair of her face envelopes her darker eye which is the focal point of this photograph.   Isn't it fun to take the time to look a little more deeply into the photo and see these small finer points.   There is so much beauty in this photo.  The beauty of the dog, the beauty of the flowering Crepe Myrtle tree and the hints of the blue sky peeking through.

 Next time you look at an image, take a moment to look a little more deeply and find something you didn't expect to find.  There may be visual surprises in the subjects you didn't think would be fascinating or beautiful..