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

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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.

Where is your focal point?


Between Wells, Nevada and Twin Falls, Idaho

by cheri

Heading to Montana last month by car on April 19, equipped with enough Lysol wipes and PPE to sanitize a barn, we had the great good fortune to view rural Idaho’s tumultuous skies, threatening the alfalfa fields like that dominant older sibling you may have had.

The vicissitudes of this image mirrored my heart as it clamored for the stability and reassurance that terra firma offers while simultaneously having to evaluate and then navigate fast-moving threats from above, many of which were out of factual range.

Left to my own sense of real world order, honed from 70 years of assessing true danger for myself and my family, a thermometer if you will, for safety measurement, I observed the overwhelming drama emanating above in dark and stormy clouds.

As I adjusted my lens, the light yellow of the field relaxed the nerve-endings in my eye and I snapped this photograph.

Looking back, I realize that keeping my eye on the ground is a more useful way of assessing where we are heading in both a practical and symbolic manner.


Nature’s solace

IMG_7388by cheri

I have always retreated to Nature when human events trespass on my sense of well-being.

Out on a damp compacted gravel road, the crunch of my boots and the whistle of the wind are the only accompaniments I need for perfect peace.

Perfect peace.

Most all of us have experienced this ethereal feeling, hoping to capture it, like whisking a  firefly out of the crisp night air and putting it into a shiny glass lantern forever.

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As this artistic example of confinement reminds us, the human experience can be limiting if we allow it to be.

That is the daily challenge–to train our minds to appreciate that sentient moment when we realize that this life is enough and can bring us perfect peace.




Color our lives with hope


photo by Glenn  ©


by cheri

I’m back to painting again which feels great and invigorating.

In this challenging time, color reminds us of the good in the world, of the possibilities, of the miracle of prism, light, refraction, ocular function, and Mother Earth.

My neighbor Glenn just has a perfect eye for color and composition. His photo of a Bay Area sunset several weeks ago just knocked my socks off. What differentiated it from other setting sun photos is the orange creamcicle band above the mountains behind San Francisco. The saddle of the hills in the foreground, the white strong barn and the other structures tucked in for the night make this a breathtaking scene.


I stopped to photograph some poppies yesterday. The hills are blanketed with more of them than I have seen in many years. They serve as a godly reminder of hope in a month where we are isolated from our loved ones.


At the farmer’s market, we  found a bouquet of roses. After sanitizing the wrapping paper, I released the captives, who, freed from their confinement, bathed their skinny legs with water at their feet, and opened themselves up to a colorful show.


Oregon Beaver for my Oregon relatives photo by c.sabraw©

Lastly, for my friends in the snow.

The beautiful blue tints of water, snow, and sky remind us to look up, express gratitude for what we have–for our lives, for the lives of those who are gone from us, for the hope of spirit and for continuity in this grand universe.


Montana River photo by c. sabraw ©

The Emotional Connection to Art

Winter Cactus-1

by cheri

Whether our childhood, teenage, or adult memories tug at our hearts like an adorable puppy or newborn lamb, such images from our past, especially those that summon up feelings of well-being and even sentimentality,  are some of our strongest clues into who we are.

Our unique DNA, along with our lifetime experiences with other people, animals, Nature, and the mysterious, meld into the sentient beings we have become and predict the type of art to which we are drawn–at least that is my belief.


Aix en Provence

It’s usually the image that draws me into a painting, photograph, or sculpture. Rarely is it the color. Where can my imagination go upon viewing a river in the woods, an old barn, an abandoned house on the prairie? Such images when put to canvas whisk me away, like a good book, a symphony, or an evocative black and white photograph.


A Ribbon of Fog, Carmel, California

I’ve been painting long enough to understand that we all have our preferences.
A roiling sea, a cove of still water, the beach at dusk, a calf nursing, a filly frolicking, a weathered face, a blurry building in the rain, a reflection of a swan on a placid pond–all stop me in my tracks and beckon the heart.

normandy trotters

The Beaches of Normandy

Painting or writing from the heart, just as composing or planting or sewing or sculpting from the heart,  reveal the heart at its soulful best.


Cottonwood Falls, Kansas

photos by c. sabraw



A Giclée Moment


Can you guess which one is the original?

by cheri sabraw

Galleries take a pretty good chunk of the profit when selling a piece of art. They mark the price up, usually over 50%. The art collector then pays a premium price to the gallery.

One old artist, Ned Jacob, told me that he had a showing of his art every year in his home. He sent out invitations and collectors came because they knew the prices wouldn’t be gallery-inflated. And while all artists would secretly love to have a gallery interested in our art enough to promote it, today artists sell their own work directly to the collector. Platforms such as Instagram have contributed to widespread self-promotion.

I am too slow of a painter to seek gallery representation, nor am I a professional trying to make a living from my art.

So where to show a piece of art? How to sell one?

One can join local artists guilds if they exist in your community. If you have a brother who is a dentist, you can hang art for sale in his office, or if you frequent an independent coffee shop, perhaps the owner will let you hang some of your art.

In my case, I decided to send holiday cards with a photo that I took with my Panasonic Lumix camera of my latest painting ” Before the Snow. ”   I glued each 4×6 photograph to a high-quality card stock and sent them out this past holiday season.

The first nibble that came in was from a friend who lives in Arizona. He asked me if I sold my art and in particular was this painting for sale?

Then, another friend in Arizona asked me if I would make a giclée copy, something that had never occurred to me.

A giclée is a photographic copy of an original piece of art work. I read that 65% of galleries now sell giclées because they are affordable.

I began reading reviews of photographers and graphic artists who produce giclées and eventually chose Tony Molatore at Berkeley Giclée. 

Tony used the following equipment: “Our production equipment consists of a Sinar 4×5 Studio Camera, Betterlight Scanback, and Epson 9800 Printers utilizing Ultrachrome Inks.” After printing Before the Snow on high-quality canvas, he then stretched the copies onto stretcher bars. One very cool aspect to this type of reproduction is that in Photo Shop, he extended the painting’s edges out 2 inches and then wrapped the canvas around the stretcher bars in what is called a Gallery Wrap. There is no need for a frame although certainly one can be used if the collector desires.

The results more than exceeded my expectations and now 10 copies of my painting, Before the Snow, are headed to collectors.


These three are going to collectors in Arizona.


Winter’s calming mitten

IMG_6446by cheri sabraw

As we approach Frost’s “darkest day of the year,” I noticed the quiet of winter’s approach as I walked our olive orchard today.

I’m sure, wherever you live, you see, hear, and feel it too.

The songbirds have flown for wetter pastures, leaving crows, jays, and chickadees to guard the fort. The owls seem to have taken the land for their own, perched in oak and sycamore branches quite close to the house, beginning their nighttime conversations like an orchestra warming up.

The olive trees  have begun to drop their fruit and settle in for the winter.

The redwoods, so engorged with water from last year’s winter and from dangling their feet all summer in the little creek, stand up so tall–the two reminding the one up stream to express appreciation.

And all of the oaks, redwoods, olives, and sycamores salute and congratulate the lush hillside on its tawny brown coat.

At the top of the hill are those bay and oak trees who remind us to settle in, cling to what we find solid in our lives, and remember our place in the universe.



More Montana

by cheri

The Guest House 18x24 oil on linen 2019

I’ve begun a new painting after a 3-month absence from my little studio. It’s not that my interest in oil painting has waned, but rather that life has been jam-packed with activities and responsibilities.

When in Montana last, I walked a tract of land during a frigid October day. The temperature was 21 F. My  boots crunched the hard ground in a mesmerizing cadence as I determined to trace the perimeter of the pasture.

The sounds of the river accompanied me in my journey; the aspen trees, now barren but still clinging selfishly to their dead leaves, served as sentries; the tall grasses assured me that no snakes were at their feet.

The wind picked up, perhaps visiting the valley from the Northern Plains of Canada. I pulled my woolen hat down over my ears and adjusted my gloves more securely onto my small hands.

No other human beings disturbed my fall reverie around the pasture. I was alone in Nature.

I turned west on my walk and was met with a stalwart granite hedge of mountains.

And I took a photo, pulling my hands out of their sleeping bags for just a moment.

As it often happens  out of shear luck, the image was as breathtaking as it was in reality.

The Absaroka Mountains towered over the valley with new snow covering their foreheads. The dark grey sky stepped aside briefly for a yellow sun to make her presence known at the end of the day. The alfalfa field, resting after her summer delivery, still green with fertility, perked up for the photo.

The roof of a cabin in the distance called out to the sun.

” Illuminate me.”

And she did.

That scene is what I am painting now.