Dogs of a Different Color

Kelley Donnelly looks at a dog and sees a colorful character. Blue, red, yellow. Her pooches are a flamboyant lot.

Paula Waterman sees light and grace. Her dogs are realistic and often in motion, flying across a field in dogged pursuit of a ball or romping in snow.

Waterman, 56, has been making art as long as she can remember. “I drew before I wrote my name,” she says. She spent a year and a half in art school, but she considers herself self-taught. Her subjects are mainly waterfowl and dogs, rendered in oil.

“In the end, you have to do the work yourself and figure out how you’re going to do it,” she says

In contrast, Donnelly, 41, started painting at 35.

“I knew it was something I wanted to do but I didn’t know where to begin,” she says. “I didn’t know what to paint.”

Radley, her Rhodesian ridgeback, was her first subject. The finished acrylic portrait didn’t look much like her dog, but Donnelly doesn’t mind. She says she “would go crazy trying to paint something realistic.”

Her first sale was a red dog with starry eyes, wearing a collar that read Keep it Simple … Now throw me a bone. She had it on exhibit at a coffeehouse in Washington, D.C. and was happily surprised when the owner reported the sale.

She continues to paint dogs. Mutts and purebreds alike. Pets of friends. Dogs seen on the street. She calls them all her “crazy dogs.”

Donnelly has taken on commissions, but she doesn’t do portraits or breed-specific paintings.

“I hated saying no,” she says. “But people want me to paint their dogs as they see them, not as I see them. My dogs are characters, not posed pets.”

Waterman, on the other hand, makes it her job to give owners what they want (

“Some want the dog’s head and shoulders, the classic portrait,” she says. “Others want the dog chasing a Frisbee.”

Waterman photographs the dogs, then gives the owners sketches for approval before starting on the final portrait.

“Sometimes owners don’t think the dog looks quite right,” she says. “They tell me that eye isn’t right or the nose is too long.”

Waterman not only paints dogs but also lives with five of them in her central Maryland home.

Aussies are her family dogs and the breed she paints most. She donates some of her work to the Australian Shepard foundation, a non-profit dedicated to funding health research within the breed.

She branches out as official artist for American Kennel Club breed clubs. She’s painted Pembroke corgis for a show this month.

“I receive a stipend to do a painting used for the best-in trophy framed print,” she says. “I can paint and pay my bills.”

The original is auctioned off, and the image is used on souvenirs, such as like T-shirts and pillows, for that year’s show. Sales benefit the breed clubs.

She also sells through galleries. McBride Gallery in Annapolis hung her first show and still represents her work.

Donnelly, on the other hand, is a part-time artist, earning the mortgage payment as a design patent examiner for the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. Six months ago, she left the noise of D.C. for the quiet of the Willows in Chesapeake Beach, where she lives with her boxer Tank, Chloe the Cairn terrier and Scrappy, a beagle mix.

Her crazy dog paintings hung out at [email protected] gallery in North Beach and at Annmarie Garden’s Artsfest 2009.

She has to finish more new paintings before another show.

But if you just must have a painting of big brown dog wearing a goofy expression and cowboy hat, you’ll find it on Donnelly’s website: