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.


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.

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.

Getting out into Nature!

IMG_1790 2

Rancho 2018  9×12 oil on linen

by cheri sabraw

My friend Mary, an accomplished oil painter, came up for lunch and painting last week.

We set up our easels and then walked the property, searching for an interesting display of Nature and light.

Mary suggested we paint the three trees, two oaks and one walnut, above our rock wall.

When all was done, I had learned through Mary’s generosity of time and instruction to layer my backgrounds. She also taught me to use the other side of a paint brush to scratch branches into the painting.

Mary is upbeat and encouraging, full of ideas and care.

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and believe that the peacefulness of the experience is reflected in my finished work.

Thank you Mary!


The importance of drawing


by cheri sabraw

Although it seems obvious, the importance of drawing images that will appear in your paintings cannot be overstated.

I suppose if one is an abstract artist this statement is not true, but for those of us trying to paint realistic images, especially animals, making sure that the proportions and the anatomy are correct is tantamount.

How many times have you ruined a perfectly good (and expensive) canvas or linen board because you just jumped in and started painting?

I can count at least 10 paintings that are tucked in the back of my closet because I didn’t spend the time drawing.

Now, I draw all my horses first.

I use charcoal and a sketch pad. When I am satisfied that the animal’s anatomy and proportions are accurate, then I draw the figure right on the canvas in light charcoal. Oh I know. Experienced painters say to use a light wash of raw sienna or burnt umber to draw but I’d rather use a light charcoal and my hand rather than an extension of my hand–the brush.

Whether you are painting a landscape with an olive, redwood, or pine tree, it helps to draw first.

That way, you can also see the composition you have created and make changes before commiting to the use of paint.

Oil paint is expensive. Why waste it?


Jerry 8x10 oil on linen