No time to paint!


by cheri

My painting lapsed in 2020.

But rest assured, I have dozens of photo references from my summer and fall in Montana which will provide inspiration for more of my paintings. And. We are building a garage at our home in Montana with an art studio for me, so my productivity will increase.

I hope.

As you can see from the above photo, I am now the proud owner of Sugar Pi, a Portuguese Water Dog puppy.

I’ve raised 11 puppies in my life and this one is by far the smartest of the bunch. She is making the transition from biting maniac to loving companion. Oh sure, she has bursts of frenetic insanity, egged on my Dinah, our 12.5 year old Labrador.

And speaking of eggs.

It must be my age or maybe the absolutely appealing nature of this creature, but I am now making her scrambled eggs every morning. For lunch and dinner, she has kibble with human veggies.

No whipped cream yet, but that is in her future.

Sugar Pi, daughter of Grand Champion Honey Bunch and Grand Champion Bernie (Best of Breed and 6th in Working Group at the 2019 Westminster Dog Show) and number one All breed Portuguese Water Dog for 2019, will surely be a terrific animal subject for me!

Stay tuned.

The Arctic blast recedes


by cheri sabraw

The Absaroka range, in particular the Shell Mountains you are viewing in this photograph, have become my most-loved view.

This particular photo, taken yesterday as the snow receded and an unseasonable warm sun revealed the tawny brown-green of the Montana grasses, will be a reference for an upcoming painting if I ever get started now that a Portuguese Water Dog puppy will join our family on November 13.

Or should I paint this one?


I’ve been in Montana, now, during all four seasons and I must say that this color palette is my favorite. Oh sure, I love the new green of spring and the kaleidoscope of fall colors but this late fall early winter gold, brown, and pale blue takes the cake.

The aspen trees have almost dropped their dead leaves but for some reason continue to hold on to them. The cottonwoods you see flanking the river looking like whisk brooms and beyond also rail against winter’s insistence.

And then those yellow ochre grasses! And that pale grey snow! and the shadows!

Maybe I will paint this scene.

Maybe I will just ruminate on the beauty of Mother Nature and Divine Consciousness.

The Theory of Special Relativity


by cheri sabraw

Note: This piece is a repost from my original blog, ” Notes from Around the Block.”

I’m almost finished with Walter Isaacson’s biography of Albert Einstein titled “Genius.”

In it, Isaacson spends quantum verbiage trying to simplify Einstein’s remarkable equations that, post Newton, explained the significant physicality of our universe such as light, gravity, thermodynamics and the relationship (or relativity) of heavenly bodies to such invisible natural occurrences.

Einstein was able to conceptualize and then master equations that proved his theories largely by his early focus on thought experiments, his boundless creativity, and his feisty defiance of authority.

I’ve had to up my caffeine intake to understand this material.

Relativity isn’t confined to the subject of physics.

I remember during class discussions with bright high school juniors and even brighter university business students, often using the phrase, ” It’s all relative, isn’t it?” Here I meant that the subject at hand could only be discussed in relation to something else. For example, if we were discussing The Scarlet Letter, Hester’s decision to have sex with her pastor invariably came up. Was this wrong? A moral sin? Were there extenuating circumstances that the puritan community might have considered before banishing her to a life alone and to the branding of a large capital A on her bodice? The puritans saw her behavior in absolutes.

Some of us think in absolutes; others, in relativity.


Here, Ms. O’Keeffe is advocating for abstraction. Her point, I think, in this quotation is that painters who paint realistically aren’t as capable of communicating reality as are painters who leave things out…say one breast or a purple scrotum or a decapitated teapot. We the viewer are left with spaces, so to speak, to fill in with our own sensibilities. Surely, according to Ms. O’Keeffe such artistic expression is superior to the art of Maynard Dixon or William Keith who painted grand landscapes with recognizable trees and stony edifices called mountains.

It’s all relative, isn’t it Ms. O’Keeffe?

Which painting do you like? This one?


Or do you like this one?


When I tell you that the first painting is Cezanne’s and the second one is Louis Collin’s, does that color your opinion?

Here is a close-up of the lacy gloves.


Einstein girded his relativity theories with hard-core mathematical equations. They become absolute, do they not?

In art, we do not have E=MC 2.

All we have is a pool of relativity.


It’s up to us to decide the value of art by taking a close look.

Dream a little dream for me


by cheri sabraw

I finally put brush to canvas this weekend after a 9-month hiatus. This little 9×12 oil on linen is titled Dream a little dream for me.

During this challenging time in history, we have all been forced to cope in the best ways we know how. I thought I would paint up a storm; instead, my brushes lay motionless and my creativity moved to the attic.

As all of my paintings seem to do, this little piece might represent an ideal setting where the Red Angus cattle lie down in the field and rest, where the snow clings to crags on the Absaroka Mountains even though the temperatures are warm, where the shadows are friends and the wire has no barbs.

In times like this, it is paramount that we stay with our dreams while expressing gratitude for what we do have.

From a technical point of view, this painting is a lesson in blending color and more importantly, in mixing color.

The colors are warm, not cool. I used cadmium yellow medium, a warm yellow, along with cadmium red light, ultramarine blue, cadmium orange and titanium white.

From there, I mixed a yummy palette of greens, oranges, and golds–all of the colors I saw that day in south central Montana on my walk.

I hope your walks yield health, beauty, spirituality, reverence, and hope.


by cheri sabraw

Hay Round, Montana, 2020 photo by c sabraw

How does an oil painter create texture in a painting?

Many abstract and abstract impressionistic painters use impasto, a gelatinous material that can be mixed with paint and put onto a canvas with a palette knife. The texture becomes three dimensional.

I have used impasto but prefer a layering effect in which I paint the dark undercoat of an animal, a tree, a grassy field, a cloud and then let it dry. After that, I use opaque oil colors and put hair, leaves, blades or swirls in. Then, I use transparent oils to paint over the opaque highlights and texture begins to emerge. I repeat this process 3-5 times.

It is not for the painter who wants a piece done in a day. It calls for time and patience.


I wish I hadn’t painted over this somewhat completed oil but I wasn’t happy with it. As I look back now, It was better than I thought, especially the texture. I should have been a bit more patient with myself!

In this large painting below, I spent about 4 months layering the colors to achieve the depth that I admired in the Dutch Masters. They used layering extensively.

Texture is one of the aspects of life that makes life worth living. Three-dimensional friends, love, food, music, and culture.

It works well in satisfying paintings, too.

The Big Rock Candy Mountain

Montana sky
Sweet Grass County
photo by c. sabraw 2020

by cheri

with credits to Harry Mcclintock and Sterling Sherwin

There are clouds and then there are clouds. There are songs and then there are songs. There are photographs and then there are photographs.

When I saw that pink Frostie cone sitting high on her frosty throne, away from the storm clouds and man’s humble attempt at beauty, I immediately thought of the Big Rock Candy Mountain, written before the 1929 stock market crash and enjoyed by humble Americans throughout the Great Depression.

One evening as the sun went down
And the jungle fire was burning,
Down the track came a hobo hiking,
And he said, “Boys, I’m not turning
I’m headed for a land that’s far away
Besides the crystal fountains
So come with me, we’ll go and see
The Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
There’s a land that’s fair and bright,
Where the handouts grow on bushes
And you sleep out every night
Where the boxcars all are empty
And the sun shines every day
On the birds and the bees
And the cigarette trees
The lemonade springs
Where the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
All the cops have wooden legs
And the bulldogs all have rubber teeth
And the hens lay soft-boiled eggs
The farmers’ trees are full of fruit
And the barns are full of hay
Oh I’m bound to go
Where there ain’t no snow
Where the rain don’t fall
The wind don’t blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
You never change your socks
And the little streams of alcohol
Come trickling down the rocks
The brakemen have to tip their hats
And the railroad bulls are blind
There’s a lake of stew
And of whiskey, too
You can paddle all around ’em
In a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains,
The jails are made of tin
And you can walk right out again,
As soon as you are in
There ain’t no short-handled shovels,
No axes, saws or picks,
I’ma goin’ to stay
Where you sleep all day,
Where they hung the Turk
That invented work
In the Big Rock Candy MountainsI’ll see you all this coming Fall
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains

Ghost Riders in the Sky-Painting Clouds

by cheri sabraw

As a child, I listened often to the Sons of the Pioneers, on an album my father adored, and thus, played on our turn table every Saturday and Sunday morning. To this day, my favorite song of theirs is Ghost Riders in the Sky, which they recorded in 1949. Although the song has little to do with clouds and more to do with renegade cowboys’ deathly penance, I’ve always associated it with a renegade sky. I’m sure you will agree that the sky above fits that description.

Driving home last week, hurried along by a stormy sky, I came around a curve, only to have this startling layer of clouds present itself. I had to pull over to take the photo.

As a painter and observer of clouds, I think about which technique to use when trying to put a sky into a landscape. And since I work from top to bottom, that decision must be made first. If the painted sky doesn’t work, I must start over.

The bright grey and white cloud above Mt. Livingston, made so by the hole in the cloud cover above, stood out exactly as you see it. Clearly, the bright white cloud looks as though it fell through that hole!

All dramatic elements of a stormy sky are evident in this scene. The pale blue glimpse of the atmosphere above tempers the ferocity of the storm.

In painting clouds, it is important to start with the darkest part and work lighter. You can also soften the edges of the clouds with a paper towel as opposed to a brush.

Most clouds are not white but rather shades of grey, blue, yellow, and orange.

Here’s a link to the Sons of the Pioneer’s version of Ghost Riders.

Johnny Cash also recorded the song at a much slower cadence.



Chasing the light


South Central Montana photo by c. sabraw 2020

by cheri sabraw

Photographers and painters hunt light like moths. Early morning light or dusk light are the prizes for the Robins and the Starlings.

Last night on our way home from having our first normal dinner out since early March, wherein the servers did not wear masks, the light was perfect. Somewhat symbolic for my English teacher’s soul.

A herd of Red Angus cattle with coats as shiny and burnt orange as the great Secretariat’s, grazes in a grassy field up to their shins. They were my goal last night.

But it wasn’t to be.

By the time we arrived at their fencing, the western sun had dipped below the mountain; alas, they were shrouded in shade. Boo hoo!!

Do you see the antelope in the middle of the field in the photo above? Perfect light. Might make a nice painting.


Heading home

The light continued to leave but not before I snapped this last shot of a nubby green hillside covered in sage and wild flowers.

It’s important to keep our eyes on the prize when so many activists, terrorists, and politicians would like us to descend into darkness.

I’m absolutely not going there.

For love of an aspen

IMG_7533 2

by cheri

I’ve become quite attached to my aspens, trees I have always admired for their elegant shape and artistic beauty. The name quaking aspen personifies the trees, as some of them–through their own life experiences or quirks of nature–have been buffeted by beavers, fungi, and deer.

They are not solitary beings like stately California oaks or enormous sycamores, prodigious trees that through evolutionary requirements demand and  inhabit a 50×50 ft space in order that mighty limbs might reach and deep roots might spread, hoping that humans  fawn over their expansive trunks and  branches.

Aspens prefer to grow together in stands, whispering to each other as the days move along.

It was several years ago when we traveled to Colorado to stay with our friends, Chris and Tom, that I had my first up-close-and-personal encounter with their stately aspens.




It wasn’t until we visited the chic and opulent ski resort, Aspen, that I even associated its name with the tree.

In looking at Tom and Chris’s grove, I was struck by the place where the trunk enters the earth. I saw legs and shoes with spats in one cluster and  an elephant’s leg in another.

Now that I have my own groves to tend, the shepherd in me has come out full force. Last fall, they hung onto their leaves for dear life, finally surrendering them in the dead of winter. Then, they spend most of April and May teasing us with a leafing out that came as slowly as a glacier. Finally, the shimmery leaves are out, each a perfect reflection of glittering light.

And then the moment of an artist’s truth: Can I paint them?

This question remains to be answered.


Two crows on an Idaho fence

by cheri sabraw


Two Crows on an Idaho Fence 2020 11×14 oil on canvas

I just finished this small painting created from the photo reference on my last blog.

Leaving the reality of the photo, I allowed my intuition to take over, speculating about the land before the farmer lassoed it into his field.

The small crows on either side of the of the painting, sitting almost invisibly on a failing fence line, like sentries protecting sacred land (as evidenced by the illumination of the alfalfa field despite a coming storm), are philosophical about what they see.

The sage, dry grass, and rocky trails comfort the eye.

The last vestige of a sweet cerulean sky heads for bed.

The billowy clouds in the distance sail away too.

Storm clouds move in, surely to wash away the dust and cleanse the soul.