Art & Animals

Arden-Arcade Artist Puts Heart and Soul Into Her Work

By Cathryn Rakich
September 2018

Barbara Dow put the final touches on the pet portrait just in time for Christmas. The custom oil painting of Tank, a 10-year-old Great Dane, was a surprise present for her client’s nephew, the owner of the silver and black senior dog. What made the artwork so special was that Tank passed away the day after Barbara took his photo from which she created the heartfelt gift.

“When I showed the painting to her, she started to cry,” says Dow. “It is so fulfilling to capture an animal’s personality in a painting. It makes me feel good if I can pull the pet’s soul out in my artwork.”

Barbara Dow’s love for art and animals has helped her shape her life and give back to the community, not only as an artist, but as a volunteer and teacher as well. After moving to Sacramento from Wisconsin in the early 1980s, Dow took oil and watercolor classes at American River College.

Her artwork began to evolve under the guidance of instructor Gary Pruner, an accomplished artist recognized for his dramatic use of color, and bold and provocative subject matter. “Gary taught me so much about color,” Dow emphasizes. “I love to exaggerate with lots of different colors. Why not use violet on the tree trunks? This is what makes it exciting.”

Dow was inspired to continue her art when friends began to purchase her work. But her biggest inspiration came when one of her large oil paintings sold at a local gallery. At the time, Helen Jones of the Helen Jones Gallery (then located at Town & Country Village) hung student artwork in her shop window. Dow’s painting, titled “Anticipation,” of three ballerinas waiting to perform sold in just three weeks.

Dow’s style varies from interpretive with an impressionistic flair to what she calls “photo real.” Her subjects have included flowers, vegetables, Aspen trees, European fishing villages and a California mission, among others. One of her photo-realistic paintings of an old-fashion ice cream soda with a strawberry nestled into the whipping cream hangs at Burr’s Fountain on Folsom Boulevard in East Sacramento. Two of her impressionistic oil paintings of fallen amber, rust and crimson leaves have appeared on the cover of Inside Publications. “I often pick scenes, objects, shapes that I can play with on the canvas,” Dow says. “The results produced when blending the different colors are amazing.”

Dow’s love for companion animals, especially cats, came later in life. “I grew up with dogs. And I could not have pets after I got married because one of our daughters was asthmatic.” Then one day a stray neighborhood tabby cat came into her life. “Buffy was my baby,” Dow recalls. When Buffy died at 19 years old, Barbara began visiting Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary, then located on 56th Street in East Sacramento. “I found myself going there a couple times a week to hang out with the cats. It was my therapy.”

Hanging out at the Happy Tails adoption center turned into 16 years of volunteering twice a week as a trained adoption counselor. Her primary responsibility was helping to match the homeless felines with community members looking for a new furry family member. “I got to love them while helping them find homes,” Dow says. She discovered her talent for pet portraits after painting several of the feline residents at the sanctuary now located on Folsom Boulevard.

In addition to taking on commissioned animal paintings, Dow teaches watercolor to children ages 6 to 12 years old. “We make it fun. It is learning, but the kids get to create,” says Dow, who uses watercolors because “it is one of the few mediums that is easy on little hands.”

Dow retired in 2003 after 17 years as an administrative assistant and data manager with the University of California Davis Medical Center. She has shown her artwork in several local galleries, including Kennedy Gallery and Barton Gallery in Downtown Sacramento, the now-closed 20th Street Art Gallery in midtown, Sacramento Fine Arts Center in Carmichael, Artistic Edge in the Arden area and Blue Line Arts in Roseville. She took first place in the 2014 juried Northern California Aspiring Artist Debut for her oil painting titled “Heirloom Tomatoes.”

“I enjoy the challenge and excitement of creating something on the canvas that represents my heart and soul,” she says. “My challenge is to interpret what I see and produce a permanent visualization to be shared and enjoyed with the viewer.”
Dow and her husband, Bob, of 15 years live in the Arden-Arcade area. For more information on Dow’s artwork or to commission her for a pet portrait, visit

Cathryn Rakich can be reached at

Stay up-to-date with our always 100% local newsletter!

* indicates required
Type of Newsletter
Share via
Copy link