Flatland Touristers (& Other Tennessee Road Hazards)

autumn colors in Cades Cove

“Unimproved Road”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Ever heard the expression, “She looked like 10 miles of bad road”?  If there was ever any doubt in my mind about what that might look like, it was swept away last week when I looked at myself in the rear view mirror of our little Fiat.  Only it was 12 miles of bad road, to be exact.

If you go to Cade’s Cove, Tennessee, in the Smoky Mountains during the riot of autumnal glory known as “The Colors”, you will find a lovely valley, equipped with a one-way loop of perfectly good paved road, featuring fabulous landscapes and a few historic primitive buildings.  If you go with my husband, you will then find yourself taking the “Cherokee Graves Trail” shortcut, also known as Rich Mountain Road, out of the valley for the allegedly even-more-fabulous view from the top of the ridge. The entrance to the road is clearly marked with a sign reading “unimproved road“.  If you catch “The Colors” toward the end of autumn, the “road” itself will be all but invisible beneath a thick, lovely blanket of colorful leaves.

In Tennessee, apparently “unimproved road” is shorthand for a series of stone formations eroded into 12 miles of washboard switchbacks, pocked by deep pools of runoff, with steep dropoffs down one side and tangled tree trunks up the other.  Don’t even think of turning around, not even to save your marriage.   Until you hit the first rock formation at 30 mph, you might be convinced that it could at one time have been called a “road”.  However, it was clearly intended to be used as a footpath for bears and wild pigs.  The nickname about the graves begins to make sense about 6 miles in — we didn’t see any actual graves, but those guys were obviously murdered by their wives once they finally got to the top, because they still had to get the rest of the way down in the dark.

After this adventure, my husband is no longer allowed to call himself, “a Tennessee Boy” (or ‘Boah’ as the locals pronounce it).  For Christmas he will receive a custom-made T-shirt proclaiming him to be what his mother used to condemn, the dreaded and despised “Flatland Tourister”.

And in point of fact, gorgeous colors in the dark are simply… dark.

 

 

Celebrate the Arts!

painting of Old City Knoxville TN

“Celebrate the Arts!”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

This is the third in my Old City Knoxville series.  Last week at sunset I was looking up at the Commerce Building on Gay Street, wishing that modern architects understood the appeal of arched windows, and loving the way brick ages.  I had hardly even noticed what the text on the banner said — I was thinking that between the brick and the banner I could get a very “University of Tennessee Orange” color scheme.  Serendipity – it was about celebrating art!

This series has become an adventure in painting with the color palettes of old brick.  I am becoming more and more enamored of the brick “pentimento,” those vintage painted signs that can still be seen on many buildings, advertising “shoes and rubbers” or “the best part of the meal”, some in layers over each other.  Here in the Old City, it’s like searching for ghosts from Knoxville’s Industrial past, peeking between old factories and new skyscrapers to find clues of who used to work and live here.

Knoxville local developers have made a good faith effort to revitalize the neighborhoods yet keep the architectural “old city” feel.  We have been staying here downtown now for going on three months, and loving that art is indeed celebrated, and so is fine dining, not to mention we can walk everywhere, or take a free trolley.  That being said, I can also see the unintended consequences: every time one of these grand old buildings gets renovated into condos or upscale retail or office space, another artist has to find a different and affordable studio or gallery space, because yeah, most artists can’t afford the upscaled rent.  That means moving ever further into the abandoned industrial (and sketchy, in the personal safety meaning of the term) areas, or out into the vast strip mall wastelands of Kingston Pike. Ouch.

Here’s a glance at all three in the Old City series together – please remember that you can click Buy Now to get your own prints for just $18 each!

Making Do: Tussie Mussies

watercolor fo two RAF bouquest

“Double Fun”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I’m still working on Random Acts of Flowers paintings and sketches – there’s a steady stream of lovely bouquets to work with, and I’d love to be able to do them all!  Some recipient locations call for small bouquets (not a lot of room on a bedside table), and some days call for being able to stretch the limited number of donated flowers to reach all of the potential recipients.  (Interesting to note that brides try not to schedule weddings in Knoxville on football game weekends, so after a game, there aren’t as many flowers!)  Those are the days when volunteers rise to the occasion and come up with extra-creativity to use simple things like baby’s breath and a bit of ribbon, or maybe just two roses, to make delightful little “tussie mussies” or “nosegays”.

“Double Fun” above is an experiment in “loosening up”, not doing the usual detail I do over the watercolor base.  I kinda like it!  (I was tempted to paint in a couple of goldfish in the vases!)

“A Breath of Fresh Air” below, shows again how a vase can totally make the bouquet; this one looks like a tiny 1940′s vintage pitcher (maybe 4″ high?), possibly hand thrown but I didn’t get to check the bottom of it for details before it disappeared into the delivery van.  A few branches of some kind of shrubbery, a couple stems of baby’s breath, and voila – instant bouquet!

watercolor of baby's breath in pitcher

“A Breath of Fresh Air”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

 

Step by Step: The Next Wave of Bouquets

It looks like it’s a “GO!” to put together a series of Random Acts of Flowers Bouquet Paintings for greeting cards!  With that in mind, here are a couple of insights into the current process for creating the paintings.

The bouquet-creation process is described in detail in my previous post at http://www.gallerynouveau.biz/index.php/2014/09/arranging-flowers-not-so-random-acts-of-volunteers/.   That is the social part of the process for me, and being there as the bouquets are created gives me a powerful motivation for painting.  I don’t just get to play with flowers and chat with the other volunteers as they work their magic.  I witness the inspiration and inner workings of the organization,  like I did this morning: the door opened and a dripping woman appeared out of the driving rain, pushing one box through the door and going back for another.  ”These are from my daughter’s wedding this weekend,” she said, “and since your kindness touched me so deeply two years ago when I was ill, we wanted to be sure these came to you.”  She had already made most of the flowers into small arrangements, the ideal size for an RAF delivery.  The few loose ones were scooped up almost immediately by delighted volunteers who needed just those two daisies or that one piece of greenery to finish off their bouquet.  Recycling flowers and smiles at its best!

So here are the steps to a painting:

Step 1.  Show up.  (Woody Allen maintains that this is the key to success no matter what you’re doing.)

Step 2.  Photograph some of the Fabulous RAF Bouquets – not fancy photos, I’d say they are more like utility photos to use as memory aids.  There are WAY too many  bouquets to choose from and they show up on the back shelves at a fast and furious pace, so this requires mostly good timing to snap the shot before they get loaded into the delivery van.

Step 3.  Go home, and start with a quick and loose “underpainting” in watercolor, based on memory and the photograph.  A glass or two of chardonnay is useful for encouraging what we artists like to call “spontaneity” at this stage.

Step 4.  Draw in some detail, usually in waterproof ink.

Step 5.  Optional:  Add more detail with whatever media works.  For a spattered, textured look, start flinging paint, or soak an old toothbrush in juicy paint and pull your thumb down over the bristles.  Or, grab the nearest three-year-old, take cover, and let him do it!

Step 6.  Scan or photograph the painting, process it in PhotoShop as needed.  I’ve begun adding a green border to the paintings to add some consistency to the format.

Et Voila!  The two bouquets in this post were created at RAF on Tuesday, September 29, 2014.

 

Arranging Flowers: Not-So-Random Acts of Volunteers

sketch of coral roses

“RAF Coral Roses”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Tuesday morning the Random Acts of Flowers office was a sea of roses and leafy branches, bordered by dozens of vases and rolls of ribbons – a flower lover’s Disneyland!  After my flower arranging class a couple of weeks ago, I had worked up the nerve to volunteer.  The other volunteers were cinching up aprons and diving in to the blooms as my new friend Lorraine showed me the ropes (and scissors, and wires, and even how to de-thorn roses using a little flexible plastic soap dish!)  Many of the volunteers were seasoned regulars, and by working with them, I learned all kinds of interesting tips and tricks.  The most important thing: shop the entire room, plus the cold room, plus the vase warehouse, because you just never know what treasures lurk beneath the tubs of blossoms.  Treasures like dried cattails, bunches of those little red or pink berry thingies,  a clear coral-colored lucite vase, probably vintage 50′s ( I managed to snag that one!)  Or three velvety deep burgundy callas, ever so gorgeous and elegant, plus a metallic 80′s-style vase which coordinated perfectly with them, which became the inspiration for this arrangement by another volunteer:

sketch of metallic vase and flowers

“RAF Gorgeous”, mixed media with digital manipulation by Kerry McFall

Time flew past as we all chatted and clipped and consulted.  I was in my “arting happy place,” that same place I find myself when I draw or paint: completely oblivious to anything but what is before my eyes and in my hands.  Noon already!  And I was thrilled to look up and now see wave after wave of carefully arranged flowers, each one unique to the arranger’s designs and whims, each one including a Random Acts of Flowers card with the name of a sponsor or donor.  The flowers had come from weddings, events, florists, families; some arrived in perfect conditions, others needed serious de-constructing and trimming and rehabilitation in a fresh water bath.  Another set of volunteers had accomplished all that earlier on Monday.  Still other sets of volunteers spent hours washing and counting vases (recycled or donated), cleaning up after everyone else, and finally delivering the arrangements, delivering the smiles.

It occurred to me only as I was too tired to really do anything about it, that I should photograph some of the arrangements and paint them.  Another volunteer was talking about making prints of photos or paintings and doing cards or a calendar, thus giving the arrangements an even fuller life.  Hmmm… great idea!   So as a possible proof of concept, here are two paintings, the first one based on my favorite arrangement that I put together, the second one based on one of the volunteers’ favorites that hadn’t already been put on the delivery van by the time this inspiration struck.

What could be better inspiration?  All the flowers and arrangements and creative arrangers that I could possibly imagine, a fun group of volunteers to work with, and smiles all around.  I’m liking Knoxville!

Technique Notes:  I photographed the arrangements in the workshop – not the best lighting, but a good tool for remembering details.

Back in my “studio” (aka the dining room table,) the first painting was lightly outlined with transparent watercolor, spattered with a toothbrush all over, then lines were drawn with ink.  Several more layers were then painted using both opaque and transparent watercolor, and highlights were emphasized with wax pencil and white Sharpie marker.

The second painting was done using the same sequence, only more wax pencil to make the batik-type white edges.  BUT after all that fuss and bother, it wasn’t as colorful as the original, and I didn’t like the proportions – wonky vase, flowers not big enough, etc….  So I fired up my Photoshop and messed around until I had it closer to what I originally intended – ain’t technology grand?

sketch of saloon building

Knoxville’s Old City

This building is about a two block walk from our apartment under the bridge on Jackson Ave, in what is now known as the Old City.  It was built in the railroad district, an Irish neighborhood.  Diagonally across the street, is a Scottish pub featuring “Tatties and Neeps”, whatever that is… I think I’ll be having that for lunch at some point soon!

The posters in the window say it is available, but I’ve heard that it’s being remodeled.  I hope they hurry so we get a chance to enjoy it!  This was drawn from the patio of the restaurant across the street, shaded by dogwood trees – a great site for plein air.

 

flower arrangement

Random Acts of Sunflowers

 

We hit the ground running when we arrived in Knoxville and were invited to attend an award ceremony honoring our son Larsen Jay.  He founded a charity called Random Acts of Flowers about six years ago, dedicated to recycling and repurposing flowers and delivering them to people in hospitals and care facilities who might not otherwise ever get flowers.  Or visitors.  Or know that someone cares.  (Back Story: he broke every bone in his body falling off a roof.  He got a lot of flowers while in the hospital.  He took them around to other patients, and was amazed at the response. He wanted to pay it forward.)   He received the Innovation award from the Healthcare Heroes organization at the luncheon.  Kind of a Big Deal. 

Later that evening, I was lucky to be able to attend one of RAF’s special flower arranging events (photos below), where you learn from a pro PLUS you get take home an armload of flowers.  The RAF staff were so welcoming, the snacks and wine were terrific, and for a newcomer to town, it was a great way to meet like-minded people.  The arrangements I made are not going to change the face of floral design (it’s way more complex than I ever imagined!) BUT they made great fodder for a couple of paintings/sketches!  I’m hoping to volunteer to do some arranging and delivering for RAF while we’re here – it’s like Arts in Healthcare that I did in Corvallis:  you experience firsthand the fulfillment of giving.  No thank you cards, no fancy plaque, but giggles and smiles and handshakes and hugs.  And the occasional tears. 

Technique Notes:  The big bouquet is apparently known as “hand tied”… it was a huge handful of flowers, and my tying was fairly arthritic, but the good news was there was a big vase to hold them all, so tying was kind of a moot point.  For me, the whole point was the camaraderie, and the painting to come.  I began the painting with some big sloppy shapes painted with opaque watercolor, which makes a nice bright base.  Then I used brown ink, and added transparent watercolor washes.  Oh, yes, and spatters of opaque.

The smaller bouquet was made in a 4″ glass cube.  A bit of chicken wire was folded over the top, then a big square of burlap was tied around that.  Flowers and a small cabbage were stuffed into the holes in the wire – okay, that’s the short version of what happened.  But it didn’t have to be the same on all sides, it didn’t have to be symmetrical, and it was still “hip.”  Worked for me!  This one was done just with transparent watercolor, no opaque.

 

Community Poetry Birdhouse – If Wishes Were Fishes

Linn Benton Community College sponsored a call for artist’s this spring asking for artist proposals to decorate “birdhouses” that will be mounted in their Albany campus parking lot.  But there’s a catch – they aren’t for birds!  They’re for interactive poetry… watch for more information from LBCC about how that will work, but in the meantime, here are some photos of my birdhouse, titled “If Wishes Were Fishes”.

When I heard the title for this project, words began to pop into my head: birdhouses > feathers > flight > community > a sense of place > icons >iconic fish > flying fish… and finally a snippet of a poem, “If wishes were fishes, then horses would ride.” I have never really understood that phrase, but I’ve always loved the mental images it inspires! So instead of birds being the focus, my sketches took shape as fish flew inand out of water waves and air waves, progressing through a day and a night in our part of the Willamette Valley, represented by Mary’s Peak and satellite imagery of the rivers.  My background as a fiber artist means that I just had to find a way to include some fabric, so the interior became a silky, glimmering stage to receive the poetry notebook.  A very fun project!

Grandma Kerry Is GLAD That Eloise and Edgar Are Not Hamsters

"Eloise Elphant", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Eloise Elphant”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I want to go on record as being completely humbled by those young parents, and aunts and uncles, and grandparents, who have been doing the online art course in Sketchbook Skool with Very Small People at their elbows.  And into their art supplies.  And crawling all over their studios… or dancing on the kitchen tables…  as they try to draw and paint.

We are currently in Knoxville, Tennessee to spend about four months with our grandsons, aged Almost 3 and Already 6.  It has been such fun, and we’ve only been here a week.  Right now we are sharing Kid Wrangling duty with a young friend/babysitter/nanny (Bless you Alex!) until their Mom and Dad get back from a business trip.  There is simply nothing like the excitement of a train – a “longlonglonglonglong TWAIN!!”, or of a Krispy Kreme donut assembly line – “a Piwate donut!!” (yes, they now make donuts decorated like pirates), when you are holding the hand of someone with red hair and boundless energy.  Think Gerald McBoingBoing.

Over the last 30 years, I had forgotten the energy  and manual dexterity and back muscles it takes to just get a squirming 30 pounds into a car seat.  Or to remember to cut up the onions and Green Stuff into invisible minced bits for spaghetti sauce.  Or to not actually say, “Don’t point the slingshot at the window!” (say, “Point it at the dirt,”, no need to be planting ideas) – or more to the point, “WTF was their father thinking to leave a slingshot within reach?!!”

So we’re all fine here, but some of us aren’t getting very much art done until Mom and Dad get back to town in a couple of days.  I hope to be able to do a trip map with sketches about our 12 day, 3,000+ mile drive to get here.  But in the meantime, kudos to those of you who find the time and energy to paint with and in spite of the Very Small People in your lives.  And enjoy every minute of it, it slips away in a heartbeat.

"Patrick Strikes Again", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Patrick Strikes Again”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I wish I had taken a picture of the homework page that Henry did with his sketch of Eloise, but it went back to school with him on Monday and it’s now probably in the Library of Congress.  That’s okay though, I’m guessing there will be more art to share in a day or two!