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.