The vast skies of Montana

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2e11by cheri sabraw

My husband and I have traveled to Montana many times.

Last month, we flew up for a long weekend and next month will do the same.

The landscape and sparse human population  there create a sense of childlike wonder and enchantment for me.

I tend to exhale deeply while in Montana and gaze at the vast tracts of undeveloped fields, rolling hills, and jagged mountains with the enthusiasm and reverence  of a newly- minted nun.

Many have said that Wyoming and Montana are the last vestiges of a wild land left in the continental United States.

The painting above is a response to a drive we took out of Ennis, Montana, a touristy place where fishermen and Yellowstone park goers intersect. Heading down toward one of the western entrances to the park, three mountain ranges guard the valley like loyal sentries–the Madison, the Gravelly, and the Tobacco Root.

The yellow sweet clover was blooming; the tremendous starched-white clouds were gathering moisture; the lazy fences were holding up under the elements. I chose to photograph and paint the Madison Range.

This 12×16 painting will look lovely dressed up in a dark black heavy wood frame.




How much time does the average person spend looking at a piece of artwork?

by cheri sabraw


San Simeon School House   9×12   oil on linen   2019

We live in a busy and frenetic culture these days. There never seems to be enough time to pack it all in. The days of lounging on the patio reading a book have passed for many of us. Studies show that because of all of the computer gadgets we use, which flip us from one topic to another like electric pancakes,  our concentration time is ephemeral.

A study  I read about a year ago  indicated that the average person spends no more than 27 seconds looking a  piece of artwork.

In my own experience, I have found this to be true. Actually, when viewing my paintings at several shows this past spring, some people didn’t even look or if they did, it was a cursory glance. They were looking for abstract art, I was told. It seemed to me they were more interested in the refreshments!

I sent an image of one of my latest oil paintings pictured above to my family members and certain friends. I wondered how many might ask me if a UFO was perched on the coastal mountain range above San Simeon.

Interestingly, only one of my friends–Judy–asked me what in the heck were those whitish dots sitting on the hill.

“That’s Hearst Castle, Judy,” I replied.

“Oh yes, Paul and I visited the castle when we spent a week in Cambria,” she answered.

No one else mentioned the castle which, right or wrong, led me to believe that they hadn’t looked carefully at the painting. Maybe those familiar with San Simeon did see the castle up there on the hill and didn’t feel the need to comment.

In my time at major art museums in the United State and Europe, I have spent much more time than 27 seconds looking at art, trying to understand why the artist chose the composition and colors that he or she did. The Wedding Feast at Cana in Paris’s The Louvre Museum magnetized me for at least 30 minutes. Bruegel the Elder’s painting The Harvesters hanging in  the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC had the same hypnotic effect on me.

Here is my latest painting.

If you look closely, you will see Sutro Tower across the Bay in San Francisco.

More importantly, you will see a line of Angus cattle that travel down the mountain at least once a week to eat their special feed by the water troughs.

Finally,  you will see a redwood tree that seems to just pop out of the rounded woods in a direct point to the heavens. We call this tree “Pet.”

Fog Coming In 8x10 oil on linen 2019

If there is any take-away from this blog post, it would be to slow down when viewing art and focus into the painting to see what treats may be there.


My familiarity with the bank of bays



by cheri sabraw

After a winter hiatus from oil painting, I am back in the studio.

Since my childhood, I have admired a bank of bay and oak trees that rest at the top of a round hill, a view that can be seen from San Francisco, Oakland, and the north bay. Higher on the hill, where the round hills become steep, towers Mission Peak in its triangular splendor.

This scene has been on my art radar for several years, but it wasn’t until this week that I put brush to paint and paint to canvas.

My first rendition I painted on a large canvas and although I mixed up plenty of paint from my original 4 cool colors and white, the painting did not unify for me. Here it is:

Mission Hills at sunrise

The photo reference I took on a cold December, 2018, morning just as the sun was rising in the east. The striking feature on my photograph was the way the sun lit up each clump of trees, making them look like green Christmas ornaments. Cattle grazed way up on top; some piebald steers’ white faces I could see.

Most striking was the almost wall of dry erect grasses and their scrubby dark green undergrowth.

Although I received some positive comments from certain family members, I found the painting lacking in unity. The bush on the left side seemed contrived, even though it was in the reference photo. The lonely steer in the right lower foreground seemed out of place.

I decided to paint the same scene the next day, trying a different style and changing the colors.

That result is seen above.

When I was a young girl, my boyfriend and I used to climb up to that bank of bay and oak trees and…..well… know.


This scene brings back warm memories.

Painting from the heart

by cheri block sabraw


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.

She has the most sand of anyone I know…


Photo by cheri sabraw 2018


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.









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.


And there you have it.

Texas oaks and blue bonnets


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.



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.


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


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.

Why I paint


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


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.


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.