A Brush of Color

Artistic inspiration sparks a lifelong passion

Photography by Jeff Amberg

On her website, Noelle Brault captures the essence of what it means to be an artist: “Painting gives me the opportunity to be creative. I love color and light. When I paint I feel connected to many beautiful places and things. My wish is to make others feel the way I feel when first inspired to create a painting.”

Noelle, like many professional artists in Columbia, cannot remember a time when she was not creatively expressive. It is innate. Arguably, art is a God-given talent — one that may be honed and even transformed throughout a lifetime.

 “As a very young child, I remember my mother saying that I would be the artist and that my sister would be the actress,” says Noelle. “I always knew that I wanted to paint, but I did not start taking art lessons until around seven years ago.” 

For Sarah Bowers, who grew up in Sumter, weekends at a family farm in Calhoun County inspired an artistic bent. “Art class was always my favorite in school. By the time I was in high school, I wanted to take every available art course.” 

Laura Burns agrees: “As long as I can remember, I have enjoyed it. It really does thrill me in a way that maybe only artists can understand.” Laura hails from Tennessee, but now calls Columbia her home.

Angel Allen, who grew up in Charleston, says she always had her “hands in something” as a young girl. “I loved to sew, color, paint, build and draw in the sand.”

Laura Burns, an interior designer by trade, began painting as a creative outlet outside of her day job. She focuses on basic shapes and colors versus preconceived notions.

Grown Up Art

However, what often happens to child-like whimsy, folly and creativity is that it stays behind in childhood. Somewhere along the way, the reality of choosing a realistic and responsible life path confronts you. 

Laura is an interior designer. Sarah taught art at an elementary school in Charleston for two years, then moved to Columbia and worked in administration. Noelle works full time in the IT department at Southeastern Freight Lines. 

Angel went to college to become a nurse. Ironically, it was in college that she took an art history course and a watercolor course and excelled at both; in contrast, she labored over biology and chemistry. She changed her major to studio art and is now a full-time studio artist and art teacher at Cardinal Newman High School. 

Laura’s transition to becoming a grown-up artist actually making money selling her art came as she began to envision art for her clients’ walls. She has not painted many pieces for her day-job clients, but began painting as a creative outlet outside of work. When Rowland, her husband, decided to go back to medical school, she had the idea to take her talents and see if they might work for extra income. Now she is paid not only for commission work, but for a body of work she sells in galleries and at private and public shows. 

“When I first started getting back into painting about a year and a half ago, one of my first pieces was entitled ‘Forsythia.’ A few months later, at Christmas when I was helping my mom clean out old papers, we came across many of my preschool art projects. One was a finger painting of a forsythia. It struck me how long I have enjoyed art and creating things.”

Sarah studied studio art and art education at Converse College and was able to focus on drawing and painting classes. “I was blessed to have talented art instructors who helped cultivate my creativity and provide a clear foundation in art.” 

Joel, her husband, encouraged her a year ago to pursue art full time. The couple transformed a spare bedroom into a studio. 

Sarah dabbles in watercolor and graphite, but oils and acrylics are her favorite. Trips to Edisto Beach and the family farm are her main inspirations. “You cannot help but be captivated by the warmth of a sunset over the marsh or the sunshine over a cotton field. The beauty in creation is what prompts me to create.” 

Eight years ago, Noelle walked into a gallery in Charleston and was introduced to paintings by West Fraser. Dramatically, she felt an overwhelming desire to paint. She was struck by West’s attention to light. “I love light, shadow and atmosphere.”

Noelle says this attraction to light naturally gravitated her toward painting landscapes and urban scenes — anything that shows light penetrating. Yet, her artistic interests of late have also included portrait painting. Noelle’s preferred medium is oil on linen. 

Angel’s preferred materials are varied: clay, glass, metal, beads and found objects. She seeks to achieve “movement, texture and pattern — in nature — within relationships in my soul.” Commonality and community are primary themes in her multi-medium mosaic and ceramic pieces. 


Angel Allen, a full-time studio artist and art teacher at Cardinal Newman High School, seeks to achieve movement, texture and pattern in her varied ceramic and mosaic pieces. After the shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, Angel was inspired to create this mosaic piece with a surface reminiscent of the earth’s crust and plate tectonics to reflect the seismic shifts that occur in society where fissures develop and eruptions boil and then things settle. Angel seamlessly represents our movement toward and away from each other; ebbing and flowing in a world that does not always make sense. 

Like creative writing, many artists realize they must schedule time to paint and create — as well as leave room for spontaneous spurts of artistry. Angel fits her artistic time in after teaching high school ceramics. She estimates spending between 20 and 25 hours each week creating. Teaching, though, keeps her creative mind tuned. “Teaching forces you to learn, and I often get great ideas from my students. The collaboration is wonderful.” 

Laura garnered ideas not from students, but from a teacher. “My high school art teacher taught me to paint what I see, not just what I think I see. This is important because to portray something in a painting, you must set aside preconceived notions of what is there, and truly see the basic shapes and colors that blend together to make the whole. I enjoy painting places I’ve traveled and being inspired by the world around me.”

Laura says emphatically, that while she hated using acrylics as a child, she has learned new ways to layer washes to achieve the desired effect. “I enjoy that I have to work quickly (because the paints dry quickly), and get more of an abstract look instead of such a realistic look. Sometimes I’ll use only a pallet knife, and sometimes I use mostly a brush. It’s always exciting to stand before a blank canvas and think of all the possibilities it holds.” 

Artists naturally gift many pieces they create and, if they do not end up selling pieces for a fair price — which is always a challenge — they may live with them. Some pieces become favorites. “It’s a joke between Joel and me that I have a few that are part of our ‘permanent collection,’” says Sarah. A 10-inch-by-20-inch painting of two flying egrets is Sarah’s current favorite piece. “I think it captured sunlight and the birds’ reflections over the water.”

Two years ago Angel finished a piece she calls “Iconic Respite,” a mosaic depicting a Cypress tree as if it were in a cathedral or is the cathedral. “It’s my favorite, and I still have it.”

Laura has a painting hanging at Mr. Friendly’s of an orchid. She says it would be in her apartment if she had a wall on which to hang it. She has managed to squeeze in about five pieces on her walls — two are of Italian tile designs that she saw in Vatican City when she visited in 2011. Another is of her wedding bouquet and the view from the site where she was married in her home state of Tennessee. 

Noelle Brault spends her weekends painting landscapes and urban scenes using oil on linen and capturing dramatic light penetration.

About Town

One’s idea of an artist’s life is often that of seclusion in a home or studio space. This is not always the case for these local artists. This past summer, Angel was selected to participate in the Tin Shop guest artist studio program in Breckenridge, Colorado. She was able to reside and work in the Breckenridge Arts District for three weeks; while there she held an open studio and offered public workshops. 

She also gives kudos to Columbia for the Columbia Museum of Art as well as the local art community. She believes many artists and art promoters in the area are working very hard to get the word out. 

Noelle sells her work at The Picture Place on Forest Drive, Spencer Art Gallery on Broad Street in Charleston, as well as from her home studio by appointment and from her website. While she is at her computer during the week for Southeastern Freight Lines, she is in her studio most weekends. However, Noelle gets about town at least one Saturday a month when she hauls her materials and easel to paint on location with a local group called About Face Drawing Sessions. She also paints portraits from life twice a month with this same group at the Columbia Museum of Art. 

Although a painting she titled “Looking Glass Falls” is her present favorite, she is proud of the fact that one of her paintings is part of the permanent collection at the South Carolina Governor’s Mansion; it hangs in the Small Drawing Room. Noelle’s work is also on display at businesses downtown: Sylvan’s Jewelers, the Capital City Club and Good Life Café. 

Laura works at least 40 hours each week as an interior designer with Pulliam Morris. Yet, every chance she gets she is involved in art shows, festivals and private home showings. Her work is displayed at Row Gallery, Mr. Friendly’s and Nest. Etsy, Facebook and Instagram have been popular marketing tools, and she posts new works upon completion and waits for comments and orders. 

Like many artists today, Sarah, too, finds success using social media as a retail outlet. She also has works at Little Lambs and Ivy on Devine Street and has considered offering an open studio once a month so people can view her art. 

Sarah Bowers dabbles in watercolor and graphite but prefers oils and acrylics to capture inspirations from trips to Edisto Beach and her family’s farm.


The great thing about creating art is that age is just a number. As long as an artist can move, an artist can create. 

Angel does not plan to slow down. “I have several ideas for projects I’d like to spend some time on — one of which is a big mosaic heirloom tomato sculpture in front of City Roots. I’d like to study more and continue working as an artist-in-residence somewhere. I’d also love to do a collaborative mosaic project with school children in a country that doesn’t have what we have, and I want to create a large community work just from our discards — old jewelry pieces, broken china, buttons and nick-knacks. It could be a memorial piece with items from loved ones, but I want it to be joyful. I’m still thinking on that one.”

Noelle says she simply wants to continue to grow as an artist. One goal is to become a Signature Member of the American Impressionist Society and Oil Painters of America — both of which require that her work be juried into their national shows three years in a row. Already, her work became the poster for the 2010 Central Carolina Food and Wine Festival. 

Sometimes meals are skipped because Sarah — who paints almost daily — is so consumed by painting. She insists, however, it is because she experiences such joy in the process. 

Laura says her work schedule allows for only five to 10 hours each week of devoted art time, yet she often lies awake spinning with ideas for paintings still yet to be started. “I want to bring joy to others and glorify God through my talents,” she says. “In the next year, my goal is to paint as much as I can and continue to develop my style.”

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