Painting from the heart

by cheri block sabraw

img_3095

Linda Leinen, a wonderful writer and photographer whose blog I have followed for a number of years, lost her feline companion, Dixie Rose, last year.  I asked her for an interesting photo as my intention was to paint a small portrait of Dixie for Linda. The photo she sent did not disappoint. You can see it on the left of these two images.

As I painted away, trying to capture the whim and eyes of a gorgeous calico, someone else kept kneading at my soul, a person who has lived a challenging life and spent the last years addicted to opioids, the result of pain-killers given to him after a back surgery.

I learned that he had gone cold turkey and is now opioid free.

And yet, he has spent the last years alone in a very small space with his cat, who served as company during the long wet gloomy winters of Oregon.

But his luck changed.

His former landlord came over to see him and offered him a larger apartment.

A breath of life! A change for an aching back and sagging spirit. A bath tub even!

To decorate!

When I learned these things, the painting switched directions–from Texas to Oregon–and now hangs in his apartment, along with other items he has found at antique and thrift stores. The painting, titled Dixie Rose, arrived on Christmas eve.

As I knew she would be, Linda was more than gracious as old souls often are.

I find the act of painting for others with no expectation of a sale, the most satisfying hobby I’ve had in years.

Not that I don’t enjoy selling a painting, but giving is the best.

Advertisements

She has the most sand of anyone I know…

IMG_2405

Photo by cheri sabraw 2018

IMG_3308

Oak Creek 16×20 oil on linen 2018 for my friend Susie

 

 

by cheri

(I am sharing a post from my other blog today)

by cheri sabraw

In Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Huck says of Mary Jane Wilks, a 19-year-old girl he meets and admires and who, along with her sisters, is the object of a failed scam by the Duke and the Dauphin,  …She has the most sand of any girl I know…

My first question to my students after finishing that chapter was “What did Huck mean when he described Mary Jane as having sand?

Eventually, amid answers that ranged from the granular to the universal, someone would observe that Mary Jane had courage.

Ahhhh… I would nod,  You must mean ‘grit’, don’t you? and then I would insist they look up the word grit in the dictionary.

Most of us hope  we have such strength of character, courage, pluck, or grit when faced with life’s greatest challenge: that moment when we face our mortality.

……………..

I first met Susie in 1972.

I was a first-year teacher at the tender age of 21, hired as a Learning Consultant  and English teacher by Joe,  my former teacher and principal.

Susie, then 26, was a bouncy confident vivacious blond (those were the days when you could refer to a woman as a blond instead of a guidance counselor.)

We clicked like Dorothy’s shoes in The Wizard of Oz.

I found Susie–a native Arizonan married to Aldo, the basketball coach and business teacher at the high school I attended, to be energetic, fun, and full of life.

Before long, Susie and I were both pregnant and informed Joe, our Italian principal, that we would be taking a leave of absence.

Joe did not take this news well as two of his most popular blonds and brunettes had been compromised and he would need to replace us.

Damn it he said in his office when I told him the news before I almost threw up from morning sickness. Good God! What? First Susie and then you? What’s in the water here at this high school?”

……………..

Years passed. Susie and I had two kids each and became best friends. I say  Best Friends but the truth is, Susie was my best friend but she was a best friend to at least 50 other women. I accepted that fact, pleased to have a best friend from my standpoint.

Our families met many Friday nights to celebrate “Friday Night in America.” We would party, drink, watch TV, and entertain the neighbors, who eventually would stream into Susie and Aldo’s home.

If I had a secret that needed working out, I called Susie. Her common sense, willing ear, and sense of play made my secrets dissolve.

As life does, it moved on. Susie’s husband Aldo died too young. Susie soldiered on, eventually moving from counseling to the District Office at our local school district, in charge of the Gifted and Talented Education Department.

Our kids married and had their own kids. We were there together for all of those occasions.

Then, to my disappointment, Susie moved out of California and back to Arizona 14 years ago. Of course, I handled this with maturity. I only cried a bucket of tears.

……………………

Last April, a text arrived with an Emoji wearing a stern facial expression. Call me when you have a moment the text said. This cannot be good news, I thought.

And it wasn’t.

Susie told me that she had  early stage stomach cancer and  was headed to MD Anderson in Houston, Texas, for chemotherapy, radiation, more chemotherapy, and then, six months later, the removal of her stomach. In one of my more shallow moments, I asked her if we could still have a glass of wine together. She laughed and said, “maybe.”

In September, I visited Susie six weeks before her scheduled stomach removal. We ate out, drank some wine, laughed about old times, took some photos, watched British television, and talked about life, religion, and philosophy. When I got into my bed each night of my visit, I marveled at Susie’s strength and grit, her resolve and bravery.

Of all of the people I have met in my lifetime, with whom I have some intimacy, Susie is the person who has mastered the practice of staying in the present moment.

………………………

A human stomach holds between 4-6 cups of food.

Susie has a newly fashioned pouch made from her small intestine and attached to her esophagus, which will hold 1 cup of food at a time. She must eat every two hours to maintain weight. The miracles of modern medicine!

Ron and I drove up to see Susie on Friday.

There she was! Beautiful, smiling, laughing, greeting us at the door.

It would have been easy to pretend that nothing had changed.

When someone we love has survived an illness, a disease, or an accident, their essence seems  palpable and intense.

Their eyes seem wiser, deeper, and instinctive.

Susie radiates with purpose and grit.

Long live Susie, my dear friend.

IMG_3309

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From reference photo to an oil painting

Mill Creek Reflections 20x24 oil on Belgian Linen 2018

Teri’s View  20×24 oil on linen 2018

by cheri sabraw

Plein air painters teach their students to use a limited palette when heading out to the forest, the stream, or the coast for a day of painting. With only six colors or so, you can mix up a an entire spectrum of color while still staying within the same color families so that the painting looks unified.

The limited palette, which often includes a warm and cool version of each of the three primary colors, enables the plein air painter to unify the scene in terms of color but also in terms of value.

I am not a plein air painter and have no burning desire to be one although I surely admire their pluck. Dealing with insects, the elements, and lookie-loos, while schlepping equipment through the dale, always looking over one’s shoulder for a wild animal that might eat the plein air painter alive–all of these thoughts make my comfy studio with hot coffee or chilled wine (depending on the time of day) perfect for painting.

In the studio, I still mix all of my colors from primary colors, along with burnt sienna and umber, ivory black, and Gamblin greys–cool and warm. Occasionally, I will use Dioxide Purple as well.

This painting “Teri’s View” is 20×24 oil on Belgian linen. Teri is my sister-in-law and grew up on the long and winding road where my husband and I and dog now reside and from where so much of my photography springs.

Teri has moved away but wanted a memory of the hills, the oaks, the cattle, the clouds and the sky that she treasures from her youth.

And so I began to design my photo and then my painting.

I tried to guide the eye to the focal point by directing two small branches over the bull and then thrusting the heavy grasses on the side of the road and in the shade of the trees upward.

The painting, as they always do, took its inspiration from this photo below but very quickly, like our sweetest dreams, took on a life of its own. In the painting, the grasses became more important, the foliage became thicker, the tree on the left became impressionistic, and the cow became a bull, but the color palette remained true to the photo; namely, the greens are cool and the sky and clouds are warm.

IMG_1314

And there you have it.

Texas oaks and blue bonnets

IMG_3071

Texas oaks and blue bonnets 9×12 oil on linen 2018

by Cherylann (aka Cheri)

We flew into cosmopolitan Dallas and drove to stylish San Antonio, Texas, to visit our “kin” in 1993.

You see, my mother Joan (aka Josie) was born in Dallas in 1930; her father Nathan (aka Jimmie) had been born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1900; her mother Rosalie (aka Rosie) had been born in Anna, Texas, in 1900.

A whole lot of “kin” from the Lone Star State. Perhaps you have seen the tee-shirt with the logo on it which says, “Don’t Mess With Texas.” It’s true. They have sense of self and state as big as, well, Texas !

Our daughter Sara decided to attend SMU (Southern Methodist University) in 1992 to please her grandmother and please her she did.

She stayed in Texas for four years, completed her degree in English, and came home to California where the humidity level is below 50% most of the time.

Here in California, we have been spoiled by the raw beauty and variety of our topography. From the redwoods in Humboldt County to the Pacific Ocean near Carmel to the walls of granite in Yosemite National Park to the stark desert of Death Valley–California is a cornucopia of eye candy.

Texas can boast of its own beauty and certainly one of the most stunning landscapes the eyes can see is the highway between Dallas and San Antonio in the spring when all of the  blue bonnets that Ladybird Johnson had planted to beautify what was once a rather barren landscape.

When we drove that highway in 1993, we passed at least 50 wedding parties having their wedding photography in the middle of a field of blue bonnets. We had Sara get out of the car so I could take a picture of her in such an environment.

Bluish purple, light blue, lavender–these little flowers with white tips cover the soft rolling hills like a mystical carpet of blue.

Also present in the Texas Hill Country are the oaks, my favorite trees.

My next painting will be of a stately oak here on our road, one which I have been walking by for 25 years.

IMG_3024

IMG_3025

Hooray for Lynn Savery

by cheri sabraw

Wonderful and surprising news out of Australia last week when an unknown and self-trained artist Lynn Savery won the most lucrative art prize given in that country–the $150,000.00 Doug Moran prize.

And.

She beat out a whole host of professional artists with her self portrait.

3543

She told The Guardian Australia that “…This was her first oil painting and her first portrait, but she has “dabbled in drawing and other things.”

The art world can be a snobby self-satisfied and insecure group, which caters to name dropping, art collectors’ lucrative whims, and trendy trends.

Like dog show judges (see Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy’s satire  on that world in the film Best in Show), art show judges often follow suit by awarding prizes to artists whose work they know rather than the best work.  I’ve often thought that all art contests ought to be judged by non-artists. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Congratulations to Lynn Savery but more kudos go to the judges who selected the painting they thought was the best without regard to who the artist is, where she went to art school, whom she has studied under, whether she is a plein air artist or a studio artist, and whether she uses photography as references or not.

Hooray for them!

How refreshing.

In oil painting, is it cheating to trace an image?

IMG_2645

My current project is a painting of the 2018 Breeders’ Cup. I have a rough drawing of the winning horse, Catholic Boy. The horse and definitely the rider (LOL) aren’t quite right but I will fix them as I paint. The painting will be blurred.

by cheri sabraw

I’ve been called naive before.

And it was with such naivety in all things painting–painting sales, galleries, the art world, art contests, juries, and more that I returned to a childhood hobby three years ago. Since that time I have learned the subjective nature of art contests, of gallery owners, and of art collectors.

Strangely, I thought all realistic oil or acrylic painters drew their own subjects from either raw talent or from their photographic references.

When I started my painting hobby, I began drawing on a sketch pad and took a class from old-timer Ned Jacob in the Superstition Mountains through the Scottsdale Artists’ School last December, which focused on drawing and then painting horses in a plein air setting for five days.

I found standing around a corral and holding a sketch pad hard work but more challenging was the act of replicating with some emotion and accuracy an animal difficult to draw.

Since that time, I continue to draw all of my animals before I attempt to put them to canvas.

On Instagram, I follow a number of artists whose styles I admire.

In considering an art class taught by an accomplished artist  whose work is of the highest quality, I followed a thread on his website to the materials list he had posted for his prospective students. And there I saw it on the list–tracing paper!

What?

Perhaps his students have never drawn a horse or a dog, so he invites them to trace their photographs right onto their canvases. Maybe he, himself, does this.

I remember my disappointment  upon seeing the documentary “Tim’s Vermeer,” in which Tim Jenison makes a case for Vermeer’s use of the camera obscura. 

You mean the Dutch Masters and all who followed didn’t necessarily draw their own subjects?

What is painterly? What does an artist’s signature on a canvas mean?

 

 

Why I paint

IMG_2020

Scarlett and Mandolin, Morgan horses 12×16 oil on linen 2018  $400.00

by cheri sabraw

In teaching myself the techniques of oil painting during the last three years, and in making myriad mistakes, there have been times when I have wished I had continued my art education after my first year of college at the University of Southern California.

I’ve always loved art and painting from the time I picked up a Crayola and scribbled across the page. My favorite subject was always art; you will not be  surprised to learn that I liked to do things a little bit differently from the art crowd in my 4th grade classroom.

Staying in the lines was never my goal. Shading a hippo in tones of brown and grey was no fun. My hippos had to be purple with pink teeth. Precision was not my goal. Expression and emotion were and reflected the artist behind the lines and color.

My mother hired a teacher for me when I was a shrimpy 6th grader. My first painting was of Mt. Fujii. The oil dried slowly; the process taught me a patience that has stayed with me a lifetime.

Ten years later, as a freshman at USC in 1969, I signed up for Freehand Drawing. In that class, I saw my first naked man. ( Yes, morals have changed but my report is the truth.) My scribbling became, by necessity, more realistic. The models were fat, with layers of skin and rolls. The men had no problem letting it all hang out. I was absolutely amazed at the variations of the wondrous human body and in the confidence of the models.

I suppose that experience caused me to consider geology as a major.

After years of answering the bell, correcting student writing, managing my business of 1000 students ( equals 2k parents) a year, I retired.

What more logical hobby to take up than painting?

Three years ago I read that one must do 100 paintings in order to improve. Well, I have done about 30-40 paintings, most of which I have thrown onto the dump pile.

But a few, maybe ten, have survived little Cheri’s critical eye. Several have been sold. To think! Others have been claimed by family members.

As I approach my 4th year of oil painting, I hope my work is beginning to reflect my  aspirations.

The next phase of my painting  may find my brush strokes loosening up. Mark Twain said that before one can break the rules, one has to know them. I think I’m getting there.

 

 

Some gallery notes

P1110510

Red-Tail Hawk on the top of our four-story redwood tree. I took this photo yesterday.

by cheri sabraw

On our travels, we visited a number of art galleries in Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado. While my husband studies the art, I usually interview the salesperson, who these days, often happens to be the gallery owner.

Long after husband leaves the gallery in search of either another one or an ice cream, I am still questioning and listening to the answers to my queries.

“Is it just me or does much of the plein air art painted today look the same?” I ask a gallery owner in Wyoming.

“You are right,” he laments. “Many scenes beautifully rendered but how many barns, hay fields, vineyards, ocean ledges, forests, rivers, and greying skies can I sell?”

I wade into one of those dicey rivers and continue.

“I would think you would be forced to look for art that is different in some way. Is that true? After all, you are ARE in the business of selling art.”

“Yes,” he says, stimulated by the authenticity of the conversation. He leads me to four paintings that are not impressionistic, not abstract, not plein air, but instead, are figures of animals done in simplistic strokes on board, not canvas.

“What do you think?” he asks me.

“They are different,” I observe.

“We haven’t sold one, ” and with that answer, shakes his head.

At a gallery in Vail, Colorado, one full of large-scale pieces of realistic art that demonstrates an understanding of all the important qualities of a fine piece of art, the owner confesses that most people are not buying this type of art. They want modern, contemporary pieces that match their lima-bean colored sofa.

I reflected on my own attempt to paint well, one that I continue to this day.

“Sort of discouraging for those of us who can see the skill and talent in this paintings hanging in your gallery, ” I comment while trying to avoid stepping on a plump old Labrador lying by the door.

P1110513

I waited ten minutes for her to flee her perch and was fortunate to snap this picture. Please eat the rattlesnakes you see on our property, I say.

Getting out into Nature!

IMG_1790 2

Rancho 2018  9×12 oil on linen

by cheri sabraw

My friend Mary, an accomplished oil painter, came up for lunch and painting last week.

We set up our easels and then walked the property, searching for an interesting display of Nature and light.

Mary suggested we paint the three trees, two oaks and one walnut, above our rock wall.

When all was done, I had learned through Mary’s generosity of time and instruction to layer my backgrounds. She also taught me to use the other side of a paint brush to scratch branches into the painting.

Mary is upbeat and encouraging, full of ideas and care.

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and believe that the peacefulness of the experience is reflected in my finished work.

Thank you Mary!

 

Oh those eyes!

by cheri sabraw

IMG_1725

P.T. 109 12×16 oil on linen 2018 I live in a rural setting and walk by these girls every day. One morning very early when the sun was perfectly low, this piebald Angus girl came up to the fence. Imagine my delight when I saw her number was 109, my birthday. The red tag and the green grass hanging from her mouth, along with the light, made it a perfect setting for an oil painting.

Painting an animal sets the artist up for criticism, unlike painting a tree or flower.

There’s always an old cowboy at the show who will let you know immediately that a certain muscle is wrong.

I’ve just finished reading Leonardo by Walter Isaacson, a long and detailed biography of Leonardo da Vinci, who, I learned, never stopped his dissections of the human body. In fact, when he was painting the Mona Lisa–which he carried around for 16 years making changes to it–he dissected the mouths of corpses, trying to get that mysterious smile just right.

The last time I dissected anything was 50 years ago in sophomore biology. Those stinky slimy frogs, bathed in formaldehyde, were enough for me to change my mind about vet school.

I cannot paint an animal until I put the eyes on. Then, somehow, the creature  becomes easier for me to draw and paint.

This girl, a piebald Angus, begged for a photograph, which I dutifully snapped. The light was perfect. Her face was in half-shadow with a large orangey-pink nose and a red tag. But what really cracked me up was that she stopped chewing her fresh green grass when she saw me trudging up the mountain. That mouthful of grass is, I think, what makes this painting sweet and maybe one you would stop to look at a bit longer.

For me, it is the eyelashes that draw me in and those are not enhanced!