Friday, January 24, 2014 by


One thing is for sure: the beautiful paintings of Dawn Secord do NOT belong in any attic!! They are displayed proudly by all who own them. Dawn Secord lives in California and has been an artist from a very young age. In fact, she related this story to me about her first endeavor: "I entered my first art competition when I was six years old. I found it on a crayon box. I tried to draw the cartoon character on the contest flyer, which entries had to render, all in crayon. Then I used Kleenex to blend and soften my edges. It was such a great drawing, so I thought. The date of notification for the winning entry came and went. I was heart broken that my mailbox was empty (a real mail box as this was 40 years ago)."

Jewel sitting in the soft-sided crate in Dawn's booth at the dog show

We are all happy that did not deter Dawn from continuing her career in the field of art. Dawn's first lesson in oil painting was when she was about ten years old she said. Her first sale and commission of a painting was to her high school principal. Dawn studied under Sally Strand, Michael Situ, Duane Wakeman and others. (Sally Strand is known for her use of light and colour). You can see from this that she not only is a very talented artist but she also cares so much about her finished pieces that she takes and has taken lessons from the best in her chosen field. This dedication to art continues in her career as she attends workshops once or twice a year that are offered by modern day artists.  The workshops can be expensive but they enhance Dawn's ability to maintain her training. She told me, "We can never stop learning". (Words to live by in any situation really).

Dawn told me her favourite artist is Rembrandt. She likes his use of light. Look at his paintings when you have the chance and take special note of the light and dark areas in them. You will come to a new appreciation of the work put into those paintings. Dawn taught me a lot during our interview!

Everything has a focal point and Dawn's is the eyes of her subject. They keep the viewer "inside the painting". Her favourite of the many paintings she's done might just be "Sweet Dreams" It was done from a picture and the serenity keeps the viewer from leaving the painting, in this one the paw keeps the person "in" the scene. It is illuminated by the hardwood floor. The eyelids got special attention from Dawn to show the gentleness of the Irish Setter. Dawn paints many subjects, but my interview concentrated on the Irish Setter because it is the breed I collect and Dawn shows and owns Irish Setters too.

Probably one of the most famous (to the Irish Setter world especially) of Dawn's paintings is the one that won the AKC's competition for its first poster. Dawn had been to a friend's house taking pictures. Just for fun, they put the puppies in a large trophy cup that was her club’s perpetual trophy for best bitch. She titled the painting with a single puppy in the cup: "Full of Dreams" although the AKC did not use her title, the picture won their admiration and the first place prize. Many posters were sold with this picture on them.

Dawn likes to work from photographs because it is difficult for dogs and puppies to sit still as long as she requires doing a painting. She paints animals, humans, and landscapes preferring pastel for animals and oil for landscapes.  It takes about two weeks for her to complete a painting but she does have a waiting list. Her studio is in her house and tours are by invitation. There is also a gallery that displays her work. She sets up a booth at only two shows a year: Palm Springs and the Irish Setter Club of America Nationals. With a waiting list of from six to eight months, you can understand why more shows would not be feasible.

Drew at a show

Besides being a very busy artist, Dawn has three Irish Setters of her own and shows them. She also has cats. When she goes to the shows where she sets up her booth, she always has her dogs in the booth with her and they enjoy meeting people. They are trained to stay in their crates popping their heads out the tops to meet and greet. Everyone enjoys seeing them.

Jewel (retired BIS BISS CH Rendition Treasured Moment) is Dawn's therapy dog. After hearing about the workshops, showing, lessons, animals and then finding out she does therapy too; I was tired!! Amazing that this talented artist fits all of this in her busy days but she does. Lucky for us! Dawn said she especially likes to visit the nursing home on Christmas Day for those who may have no one visit them. (Sounds like dedication to producing fine art is not the only way in which she is dedicated - what a wonderful thing to do!). How many people would take time out of their holiday to visit strangers?

But, to get back to the art: Dawn does thumbnail sketches before starting the actual portrait. There is something called "the rules of thirds" in art and it involves the selection of where things should be placed in the paintings. The sketches are divided into nine areas, so you can see that a painting just does not happen by rendering colour without a detailed advance plan. Doesn't this information give you a new appreciation of all the work that goes into a painting?

A portrait Dawn has just done and is really happy with.

Dawn's biggest surprise, she said, was that the pet portraits became so popular. She's been selling her artwork since she was seventeen years old. She learns about the dog (or other pet) through the person who owns him or her and that helps her create the personality in the painting. People get very emotional when they receive their finished painting from Dawn. Because it is such a humbling experience to see how people react when they view the portrait of their beloved animals, Dawn will not rush any painting. That is evident in the ones she uses in her advertisements. There is one in the current issue of the Memo magazine (Irish Setter Club of America's publication) of an Irish Setter mother and pups, the puppies each have an expression special to that particular puppy, the mother shows obvious affection and protectiveness while still conveying the softness of temperament of our breed. The background even has attention to detail - the wheel tracks continue on through the painting instead of just stopping, extra work, yes, but it keeps you "in the painting" too. Everytime I look at the painting again I find another puppy! One puppy is by himself asleep beside the wheel of the wagon. He reminds me of my first Irish Setter, Rebel, who used to like to sleep apart from his littermates. It is fun to look at the painting and pick out "your" special puppy.
Dawn is a member of the Board of Directors of the Irish Setter Club of South California and she was also a past president and editor of the newsletter for that club. She is also a member of the Dog Writers Association of America (me too!) and the Cat Writers Association of America.

To find out more check out Dawn's Website: or email her at     Thank you for taking the time to talk to me, Dawn, I learned so much and am happy to share your talent with my readers!!

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