Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 3.37.36 PMby cheri sabraw

This acronym, KISS, is of my own invention. It stands for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

Having taught the writings of Henry David Thoreau for 18 years, I should practice what he preached. “Simplicity, Simplicity, Simplicity!”  he said often as he strolled through the woods at Walden Pond.

When it comes to painting, design, and execution, Mr. Thoreau’s words apply.

Last week, I attempted to paint a scene from this  lovely photo.

Here is my first version on a large 24×36 inch canvas.


Several problems exist in this painting, not the least of which is the headless filly! I decided to paint the mare as a dark bay horse to provide contrast with the yellowy-green scrub.

The filly would become a light chestnut to complement both her mother and the scrub.

Fillies and colts are difficult to paint because their bodies are not proportionate. They are growing. (Think of a German Shepherd pup which must grow into its enormous ears that stand up at about 4 months of age. )

This filly is not as muscular or as old as the one in the photo. My rendering of her  hind quarters was decent but not accurate. Her forelegs were better but her neck was too short so off with her head!

I thought the dark shadows in the foreground were enough to draw the eye down and anchor the horses to the earth.


Then the trouble began.

Since I was working wet on wet, when I tried to put her head back on, the colors blended. I kept fiddling with her muscles and proportion. Finally, I darkened her coat and that was the beginning of the end.

Her hindquarters now were wrong as were her hind legs.

The next rendition shows a better filly body and head.


I kept painting, wet on wet, still believing I could salvage the work.

A painting of a horse must be anatomically correct or some old cowboy will walk by the painting and point the error out. I began what I call “over-fiddling,” and although I improved her conformation, rear hocks, forearm and elbow, she now looked different in texture from her mother. I found that part distracting.

So, I complicated things which I tend to do in life.


I lightened her face and tried to add the western sunlight highlights.

At that point, I felt that I, too, was in the weeds.

So why not leave the horses and address the fact that the green in the background looks odd?  I sent a photo of my painting out to some trusty friends who observed that perhaps the values (light and dark tones) were off. Agreed!


I painted the distant hills brown, added more scrub and warm orange color to the land. I also painted in shadows but because was painting wet on wet, the shadows blended with the yellow making them blue instead of green.

Now, this elegant scene on which I was working was a choppy muddy mess with a nicely rendered simple mare and little one who had been over painted and now looked out of place.

Complicate! Complicate! Complicate!

I’m going to start over today on a small piece of linen canvas.

Hopefully, next time, I will have a painting that is simply elegant.



15 thoughts on “KISS

    • Oh yes. And so is determination. To that end, I have finished a new painting of the same scene that I actually like. And as you know, with every painting that fails, there is a silver lining. I am finding my silver (hopefully).


    • Hi Susan! I am a teacher, first and foremost, so sending my deteriorating versions in order to teach “something” seems comfortable. Hope all is well with you!


    • Thanks Brig. One thing I have learned is that amateur photography of oil paintings is hard to do. The tail and hind leg of the mare do look separate on the original painting. The colt’s neck is too think. I have finished my smaller version of this photo and am happy with it. (SHOCK). Will post next time. btw, you know your horses. I welcome your suggestions.


  1. I’ll surmise the constant fiddling with this painting came out of your anxiety – anxiety for perfection. You weren’t insouciant enough.

    So, rather that saying “Simplicity; Simplicity; Simplicity” the next time you paint, try saying instead, “Insouciance; Insouciance; Insouciance”. It could just transform your painting life.


    • Hello Christopher,
      I wouldn’t identify my feelings as anxiety in this case, not that I, like us all, haven’t experienced anxiety.
      In this case, especially when painting figures or animals–and not an abstract painting–if anatomically the figure or creature is incorrect, then the painting fails.

      You are correct about one thing: I do like my images to be as close to perfect as possible.

      I love your word choice of “insouciance.” But for me, “Indifference, indifference, indifference,” goes against my basic value structure and personality.

      But of course, you know that!


    • Yes. We definitely have a love for simplicity in common, Lue. Why do you think the magazine Real Simple does so well? Would we all like to uncomplicate our lives?


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