All Creatures Great and Small

Capturing an animal’s true character and individuality is difficult to do in a picture — even more challenging in a painting.

Animals hold a special place in the heart. Whether a stray dog walking down the street, the temperamental, yet lovable 17-year-old cat or the happy, boisterous puppy waiting at the door each evening, every pet has its own personality. Capturing an animal’s true character and individuality is difficult to do in a picture — even more challenging in a painting. A few artists in Columbia have perfected that ability, some through pet portraiture paintings, others as artists who simply like to incorporate pets into their paintings.

Barbara Welles

Barbara Welles has been painting for more than three decades, painting hundreds of portraits of animals, each one with its own story to tell. Many of Barbara’s paintings are considered small pieces of artwork, at 7 by 7 inches in size. While they may be small in stature, they are grand in design and character.

Most of Barbara’s paintings are commissioned work, but in many cases, she has fallen in love with the painting and has created it again and again to sell to others who love it just as much. Her gorgeous painting of a black lab looking contemplatively in the distance kept selling, so she kept painting it. She painted her Jack Russell picking up rocks at least 10 times due to the demand for the painting.

One of her most memorable paintings is of the white stud horse named Willmoes that she painted before he died. He was a famous show stallion in Europe and a successful sire of show horses in the United States.

Barbara has many favorites — the lab, the sheltie, the cat — but all of her paintings hold a special place in her heart. Barbara’s love for her paintings and her subjects is apparent before she is even finished creating the final piece. “I really get a kick out of my paintings,” says Barbara. “The animals are so cute and sweet, and I will often just start giggling while I’m painting. I’ll want to call the owner and show them the painting while it’s in process. I just get so excited about what the end result will look like.”

She also gets nervous. Take the painting of the bay horse that she labored over for her godmother, D.D. Ford, meticulously focusing on each detail to ensure it was as realistic as it could be and as perfect as her godmother would want. Later, when she was visiting her godmother, she was thrilled to see the bay horse, along with another of her paintings, beautifully framed and placed in a very prominent part of the dining room. “It was so special to me to see my paintings in such an important place,” says Barbara.

Before creating her portraits, Barbara spends a great deal of time taking photos of her subjects in various poses, allowing her to choose which pose would work best for the painting and sometimes combining looks from different photos if more than one subject is included. As her classic style continues to evolve even after 30 years, Barbara is now incorporating more people into her paintings. She recently created a large painting of a girl on the beach with her dog, and that is quickly becoming one of her favorites. 

While Barbara loves the subjects in her paintings, she enjoys painting backgrounds just as much — lakes, oceans, marshes, and even furniture. She has painted her own dogs with chevron stripes in the background, and she also enjoys creating a wallpaper-like backdrop. She is always thinking creatively. “I haven’t yet done all my ideas!” she says.

To contact Barbara for a commission, visit or contact City Art. 

There is no questioning the great love people feel for animals — whether their own or those captured in a photo or painting. Hanging these stunning pieces of art throughout the home adds both joy and memories, capturing the goodness and beauty of these great four-legged souls. 

Heather LaHaise

Heather LaHaise has been painting since she was in kindergarten. She started out drawing and soon found that her favorite subject to draw was Snoopy. She would often draw him for family and friends. In fact, she drew him so many times, her father reached out to Charles M. Shulz, creator of the Peanuts, and told him of his daughter’s affinity with drawing the much revered dog. Heather received a signed letter from Mr. Shulz in 1976, which remains one of her favorite possessions to this day. Perhaps it was this early connection to Snoopy that moved Heather to include animals in so many of her paintings.

Heather only takes commissions on a very limited basis. More often, she incorporates animals into many of the paintings that she creates on her own. While dogs are her favorite subject, she has included other animals, such as a precious gray bunny rabbit, in her paintings. “I paint whatever inspires me,” says Heather. “I have used animals as an integral part of my paintings, but it’s less about painting animals and more about painting what I love.”

Heather’s style balances themes of realism and abstraction. Her goal is for people to become connected to what they see. And because of that innate connection to animals, particularly dogs, she often finds herself incorporating them into her paintings. “I think we can all learn something from animals,” says Heather. “They are a great subject; they make our lives comfortable; they add so much to our lives.”

Heather often finds her inspiration on adoption websites and in photos of animals that need a home. Friends will also send her photos of animals they have seen that they believe will strike a chord with Heather. “I like the rescue dog as a subject,” she says. “I always root for the underdog, and I hope that my paintings may inspire someone to go rescue an animal. My paintings and this focus show that inspiration can really come from anywhere.”

Heather finds herself drawn to Labrador retrievers because of their humanlike qualities. And as an owner of a lab-pit bull mix, she often finds herself including pit bulls in her paintings as well. Heather’s attempt is not to always be painting something realistic. Instead, she paints what she sees when she looks at these beautiful animals. “Simply put, everyone will get out of it what they get out of it,” she says. She also incorporates humor in her paintings with words and the truly joyful faces of the animals she paints. 

Heather’s creative positioning of the animals in her paintings — some centered, some cropped, some off center — provides an interest and depth to her paintings that makes them unique and attention-grabbing. While she prefers to paint in acrylic, as it dries quickly, she also uses mixed media, including watercolors, oil sticks and collage effects, whatever will best communicate the feeling she wants to evoke, all the while bringing joy to all who view these pieces. 

Heather’s paintings can be found in Columbia, Charleston, Greenville, at Crate & Barrel and by contacting her or visiting her website at


Margaret Fowler

Many artists have a particular realm of art on which they like to focus — perhaps it’s children or landscapes, churches or oceans. For Margaret Fowler, it’s animals — other people’s animals, to be more specific. Margaret has been painting since elementary school, winning awards at state fairs at a young age. It’s always been something she loved — and also feared a bit. “When I sit down to a white canvas, it’s terrifying,” says Margaret. “I just have to put a mark on the page to get my thoughts flowing, and when they come out beautifully, it’s so rewarding.”

To be sure, art is a difficult field in which to succeed. It’s a competitive environment where artists have to find their own place and make their mark. Margaret has found painting portraits of animals to be her niche, and currently, that is her primary area of focus. It’s also a very personal one. Creating a painting of someone’s special pet is not an easy task, particularly when it comes to the eyes. “The eyes have to be perfect — it’s where you capture the animal’s personality,” says Margaret. “If you miss getting the eyes right, then the whole painting just doesn’t feel right.” 

Margaret goes into painstaking detail to ensure the animal looks like her client’s pet and captures the true personality. She works in oils primarily to achieve what she calls a buttery, richer end product. Margaret works in layers, starting with painting the canvas Alizarin Crimson, allowing that to dry and then building on top of that. “I build in layers, and as I paint on top of each layer, the pieces suddenly have more life to them and get richer with each layer,” she says. Margaret may have as many as seven paintings in process at the same time, all in various stages of layering. At times, she finds herself working as if in a factory line — adding to one, moving to the next. Going down the line in this manner ensures that she never gets bored, and more importantly, that she allows each painting to have the necessary drying time. “There is always the temptation to jump in, but if I jump too soon and it’s not dry, I’ll ruin the piece,” she says. “It’s a very detailed, process-oriented way of painting, but it works.”

Most often, Margaret will paint from a photo. She holds a photo shoot prior to beginning the painting — a shoot that she says is almost as important as the final painting, as the photo must capture the animal’s true character and disposition. She will take photos from several angles to ensure she can create the best layout and design for the owner. While much more challenging, Margaret has painted live in the pastwhen she was first starting out, she and her art teacher would go to the zoo and sketch the elephants and other animals. Thankfully, elephants move a lot slower than dogs! But still, it’s not an easy process.

Sometimes letting go of the final artwork isn’t easy either. Margaret gets very connected to the pieces as she paints them — the same thing she hopes others will do when they see them. “My hope is that the owner will connect to the painting, that the end product is more than they had even hoped for. That’s the joy in painting for me.” 

Those interested in having a pet portrait painted by Margaret can reach her at