The Great Shakeout

Posted by Kerry McFall, October 21, 2016

Scrub jay sketch

“Bob’s Cache”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Oregonian’s are all supposed to be preparing and practicing for the Big One today (10/20/2016) by participating in the statewide earthquake drill called the “The Great Shakeout”.  I think most of us have gotten over shrugging our shoulders and just hoping to be in the first wave as the Tsunamis wash us to Kingdom Come.  We are constantly being reminded that the Big One is coming because research shows that anticipating emergencies, and thinking about how you might respond, actually increases your chances of survival.

In that spirit of preparedness, we keep our cache in the garage, stocked with tuna, granola bars, and bottled water, and the old sleeping bags and tarps are fairly accessible in tubs under the workbench.  There’s a big wrench by the back door (for shutting off the gas valve and/or the water main), right next to the flashlight and fire extinguisher.  Got flashlight batteries? Yep.  Got candles?  Two big new ones scented like hazelnut latte, which is probably the closest we’ll get to coffee for months if the earthquake does what’s anticipated.  (I do have an adorable tiny backpacking stove that burns a tiny tin of fuel, but it should last about an hour, tops.)

Prepared?  Not really, but it’s a start.  And what about all of our furry and feathered friends?  What is to become of them?  Case in Point:

Jay caching acorn

“How Scrub Jays Cache”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Bob the Blue Jay has amused the neighbors and us for a couple of years by burying nuts in the lawn, then covering them with leaves.  I decided to do a little research to prove to myself that he would never be able to find them again… but I proved myself WRONG.  There are many scientists who believe that crows, jays, and nutcrackers know what they’re doing – each autumn, they are preparing for a cold winter, when no nuts will be readily available, and it’s called “caching” for them, too.  And although it varies between bird species, there’s a pretty good chance that old Bob the scrub jay will be back for those soggy nuts later, right where he cached them, under the 47th four-inch yellow leaf south of the viney maple beside the birdbath.  Even after I get around to raking the leaves, apparently he’s still got a good chance of success!

Knowing that Bob and his buddies are gonna be fine, I think I’ll go buy a few bags of dry cat food, and a few boxes of chardonnay and add them to my earthquake cache… Worse comes to worst, we can help Bob find his hazelnuts, and share the cat food with Sparky after the tuna runs out.  Plus, the wine requires no cooking, provides a few calories, and warms the belly and the soul.  Prepared?  Closer.

If you’d like to learn more about birds caching food, here are a couple of interesting web pages on the topic:


Moving Between Sunlight and Shadow

Posted September 30, 2016 by Kerry McFall

Sunlight and Shadow at a festival

“Fall Festival 2016 Corvallis”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, 8 x 10 prints $25

The biggest challenge for me with  “urban sketching” is squirmy people.  Not only do people move constantly and strike awkward poses, they wander in and out of the light, in and out of my line of sight.  (Hey, that almost rhymes… ) Okay, that rose hedge in the center could be a little less pointy. And I only fudged a tiny bit by using a couple of photos I snapped to help capture the poses as folks strolled around the festival.  The actual Hat Lady was not quite this elegant or graceful, to be honest – she was more of an old-school unreconstructed hippie who just happened to have a really lovely hat… which is rare here in Corvallis, the honorary Capital of The Land of Dopey Hats.

But this was a fun challenge.  What started out as a quick sketch made from a shady bench became a watercolor with a story to tell.  Is the lady with the hat about to rendezvous with the guy in the orange sweatshirt?  Does he even know she’s there?  Or did the guy with the backpack, walking out of the picture, just realize that he’s been stood up and is going to the beer tent to assuage his broken ego?  And what did that shadowy little kid find under the tarp on the left?

Fall Festival is one of Corvallis’ seasonal trademarks.  Artists and artisans fill Central Park, each tent and booth representing at least an entire year’s worth of hard work and creative sweat.  I somehow doubt that most of the festival goers realize just how much effort it takes to get those tents up and decorated and stocked and ready for action.  For many artists, the circuit of summer tent sales like this are how they pay the rent, and it’s a tough way to make a living.  It almost feels like we the “shoppers” should leave a tip for every time we say, “I LOVE your work!” and then mosey on to the next tent without buying a thing.  Just sayin’.

Jiggity Jig

Posted September 13, 2016 by Kerry McFall

"Corvallis Farmers Market 2016", mixed media by Kerry McFall, 8 x 10 print $25

“Corvallis Farmers Market 2016”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, 8 x 10 print $25

Home again, home again… I have to admit, it’s a relief to be back in Corvallis after our summer as “vagabonds”.  Familiar landmarks and events, friendly faces… even with the few unwelcome changes (that hotel taking shape on the waterfront is HUGE, not exactly the same scale as most of the rest of the buildings… tsk) it’s good to be home.  We are still pet-sitting for another week while our AirBnB tenant finishes up his stay, but we’re back in town and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is over for this year!

Before we got to town, we spent a couple of days at the Oregon coast, which is always good for sketching if you can find someplace out of the wind:

"Gulls and Cormorants on the Lookout", mixed media on toned paper by Kerry McFall

“Gulls and Cormorants on the Lookout”, mixed media on toned paper by Kerry McFall

I found a couple of small crab shells with barnacles growing on them – I’ve never seen that before.  Wonder what it means to the crab industry?

"Crab Shell with Barnacles", mixed media on toned paper by Kerry McFall

“Crab Shell with Barnacles”, mixed media on toned paper by Kerry McFall



Passion (Flower)

Posted September 4, 2016 by Kerry McFall

Along the crumbling cliffs of Bolinas Bay in Northern California, these vines twist their way into the hearts of shrubs and trees, popping out at unexpected intervals to dazzle passersby.

"Passion Flower Vine", mixed media by Kerry McFall, 8 x 10 prints $25

“Passion Flower Vine”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, 8 x 10 prints $25

The colors are impossibly vivid, bright 1948-vintage red seamlessly mixed with glowing magenta and barely-there pink, set off by a surreal deep purple hairy center circle.   Orange and gold nasturtium vines also climb the cliffs, but they seem mundane by comparison.  The passion flowers are uncommon in my Oregon Girl Experience, and therefore somehow seductive, fascinating, alluring.  Like men with French accents…

On the last day of our vagabond adventure for the summer, I wandered down to the cliffside in search of a landscape to sketch.  These vines kept popping out at me, like impetuous children playing hide and seek:  PEEKABOO!  Over here!  Here I am!!  So I really had no choice but to break off a stem, skip back to the house, and fire up my watercolors.

I took a photo of the bay, promising myself I’d do a landscape soon.  Along with all of the sketches and paintings I’ve promised myself I will do from the hundreds of photos I’ve taken from the rest of this fascinating, unique summer.  Soonish.


Posted August 11, 2016 by Kerry McFall

I’m not sure I had realized until now just precisely how much trees define my world.  Look at this painting – it is at first glance about the building.  I actually painted it because of the building (a Queen Anne style “cottage”.)  But as I put on the finishing touches, it occurred to me that no, this was actually about the trees.  After all, this scene is at an arboretum…

Queen Anne cottage and Lake Baldwin

“Los Angeles Arboretum”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, 8 x 10 prints $25

The first thing that pops is the bright pink Crape Myrtle in the middle.  Yes, it really is THAT pink, even in the heat of August (102 by the car thermometer).  To my Oregon sensibilities, spoiled rotten and accustomed to peaks covered in blue evergreens and valleys lush with deep green oaks, the next pop comes from those tall, graceful palm trees,  ever so tropical.  Next, the pale willows at the edges of what little water remains in the “lake”.  There is also a magnolia lurking behind the Crape Myrtle.  And last but not least, there is a big dying deciduous tree in the background.  It was technically difficult to draw – I wanted to be accurate, but it’s ugly.  I almost left it out.  But that is perhaps the most important tree in this piece… because California trees are dying left, right, and center.  Quietly, quickly, they are dying, everywhere you look.

Looking is the key.  Apparently it’s a lost art.

Admittedly, it is difficult to see anything when you’re flying down the freeway at 90 mph hoping to hell that idiot on the Harley doesn’t splatter himself all over your windshield.  Do people here ever slow down?  Apparently not.  To me it seems that they go from offices to workouts, as fast as they can, then pull into their automatically-opened garages and disappear into their air-conditioned units.  “Units?”  Yes, units.  Ten or twelve on what used to be one suburban lot.  Where there used to be one dwelling, there are now multiples, with nearly every square foot of earth paved or otherwise impermeably covered.  (Sound familiar, Corvallis?  Beware…)  If it does rain, the water has nowhere to go but into the sewers.

California does not have a patent on not looking, or not paying attention to what should be as plain as the noses on our faces.  This whole planet is guilty of that.  But Californians do have a major issue with drought and water management, contrary to what a Certain Politician has blustered.  Reading about the drought from the 45th parallel is one thing (yep, that’s where I usually live.)  Or from Trump Tower.  But being in the middle of it down here, we see more water running down the sewer gutters from broken sprinkler systems day and night than there is in any “river” in Southern California.  We see the naked branches of dying trees stretching heavenward for help everywhere… ancient magnificent oaks, towering pines … it breaks my heart.

Back home, I’m pretty sure our tenants are looking out the front window on a patch of summer’s brown grass.  That’s a natural process that many Oregonians have finally embraced over the last few years – it greens up again as soon as fall rains come.  In the back, things are shaded by a giant fir, so it should still be green.  I’m hoping they’ve been watering the fruit trees and gardens enough to keep things alive until we get back.  Trees – they define our landscape, they matter so much for clean air, and they take so long to grow.  I’d go outside and hug that little palm tree in this back yard right now… but I am learning that certain kinds of palm trees are as prickly as pine cones, so maybe I’ll just give it a little pat on that prickly trunk, and a big drink of “grey” water.  Oh… but that means I have to actually get up and do the dishes… dang.  Onward and upward!

A Gus by Any Other Name…

Posted August 7, 2016 by Kerry McFall

Gus the First, i.e. the first Gus I painted in a portrait, was a Dog of Intention.  He knew what he wanted, which was to GO, anywhere.   We met in Marin County, CA last month, and I really enjoyed the challenge of painting his eyebrows.

dog portrait

“Gus the First,” mixed media by Kerry McFall

Gus the Second, with whom we are currently pet sitting here in Monrovia, CA, is a beast of a different color.  Chocolate color, to be exact.  And a different nature – A Dog of Disinclination.  I mean, it is 90 degrees out there in the boiling sun, and he was born in Great Britain so perhaps he just doesn’t prefer the heat.

chocolate lab with butterfly

“Face Off”, mixed media pet portrait by Kerry McFall

A butterfly teasing him fails to yield movement.  Or a duo of small yappy dogs challenging his territory.  Or even a ball being thrown!  If he could talk, I know he would be saying, in  a lovely Cockney accent, “Whatever.”  But that being said, he is well-behaved, easy to take care of, affectionate, and quiet.  He can sniff out a hidden treat blindfolded in seconds flat, which is the only clue that he is, indeed, at least part labrador.  Good boy, Gus!

Hurdy What?

Posted August 5, 2016 by Kerry McFall

dog portrait with instrument

“Hurdy Gurdy Dog”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I learned on our recent visit to Sonoma that my cousin Rob is a big fan of Hurdy Gurdys – wait, what?  A hip graphic artist guy in NorCal, into yoga and not into gluten, and his true passion is a Medieval instrument that sounds like a collision between a bagpipe and an electric keyboard and a Tennessee fiddler?  I am always fascinated by what inspires the passions that drive people’s lives.

The instrument itself is beautiful, smooth shiny wood decorated with a “simple” black and white border around the curved edges.  Simple my foot – just those little slanted lines are really a challenge to get in the proper sequence, some big, some skinny, which I learned as I tried to include a border in my portrait… you’ll notice it was cropped out because I couldn’t get it to work!  There’s also a little gnomish face carved at the top of the neck.  Rob brought it out happily at our request and tuned it up, to our delight and to his dog’s slight dismay.  It’s not called a “drone instrument” by accident (drone as in the sound, not as in the annoying flying robots), and it appeared that the sound of the wheel rubbing on those rosined strings was not Aku’s favorite.  He much prefers, oh, say, the rattle of dog kibbles into his dish.

So you’ve got curvy wood, a wheel, strings, keys, and a gnome.  Very cool.  The strap functions more like a seat belt cinched at the waist, keeping the instrument from running away with the player as the player cranks the little wheel thingy at the bottom… The player gets to be guitarist, drummer, keyboardist, violinist, and dancer, all in one.  Sure enough, once it reaches the right rhythm and synch, voila —  Music at its Basic Best! Rob even blogs about Hurdy Gurdy music on a regular basis – it’s worth a look!

Aku was a good sport about the whole Hurdy Gurdy afternoon, enjoying his spot on the patio couch beside the instrument once the conversation turned to old family stories and reminiscing about this and that.  Good times, made better by the presence of a contented animal companion.

Gold Country

Posted July 29 2016 by Kerry McFall

The golden fields of this small ranch look as velvety soft as a yellow lab’s ear, but the grass is so dry and brittle that it crunches with every step.  When the wind comes up it feels like somebody left the oven door open.  We’re in Clements, CA for a few days.

oaks, swallows sketch

“Oak Meadows at Dawn,” mixed media by Kerry McFall

Speaking of soft ears, there does happen to be a yellow lab here, and a golden retriever, but since this is an AirBnB, somebody else worries about taking care of them.  We get to play with them and they keep us company, along with two rowdy white kittens, dozens of wild bunnies, a billion toads and lizards, and five clever roosters who masqueraded as hens until puberty caught up with them earlier this week…  the crowing is still pretty rough around the edges, but there can no longer be any doubt, fellas.

painting of two adolescent cats

“Top Cat”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

We’ve done a bit of exploring in “old towns” in NorCal, which all look so familiar:  I expect some cowboy film star from the 1960’s to come jangling down the street in boots and spurs.  Point Richmond, Sacramento, Folsom, Sutter Creek; they all have a bunch of the original 1800’s era buildings.  Old buildings don’t seem so miraculous in Europe, where most were made of stone or brick and clay tiles.  But many of these are wood, and it amazes me that they have survived fires, bugs, earthquakes, and vandals to stand another decade at least.  Many of the buildings have been re-purposed with varying degrees of success into tacky Christmas outlets, candy stores, visitor centers, wine shops, art galleries etc.   But a few, like the Monte Verde General Merchant store in Sutter Creek, survive nearly intact and can be toured by appointment… which we didn’t learn about until it was time for us to leave, but if you’re ever in the neighborhood, contact for more info.  Or drop by the visitor center early in your visit, where you might get to meet Ginger the Doorbell Dog and her lovely owner.

"Corner of Main and Eureka", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Corner of Main and Eureka”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Perspective continues to elude me, but drawing these old streets is a fun exercise in puzzling which roofline ends where.  I spent two hours on the balcony of the Sutter Hotel with my Happy Hour Chardonnay, where fans whirred and misters spritzed, to do this painting.  It was 107 degrees down in the street, but probably a cool 99 upstairs.  It’s hard to stop once I get going – kind of a zen thing.

And on the topic of Chardonnay, it’s not really news that grapes are the new gold.  We have been amazed at the lush greens here in the vineyards, in high contrast to the dry grasses and dusty oaks on the hills above.  Vintners irrigate here from wells – I wonder how the water tables are doing…?  I realize how little I know about such things.  Look out Google, here I come!

Idiots, Kimonos, and Hoop Skirts

Posted Monday, July 25, 2016 by Kerry McFall

Sketching in a cool museum on a hot day.  Does it get any better?  The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California holds “Sketch-It” events once a month, and I was able to attend one yesterday.  A young art educator (as she called herself) offered a folding chair, paper, pencils, and encouragement as a couple dozen folks sketched in the glass exhibit.

I had hardly walked into the first big room when I knew what I wanted to sketch – a life size translucent glass kimono, lit from everywhere and nowhere, bowing slightly.  The aqua glow that emanated from every edge and fold made it seem ghostly, effervescent.  Somehow she had created this work in three large chunks, lighter at the top and the bottom part darker.  And as a bonus, there was a young girl sketching on the opposite side of the sculpture, so I had a brief opportunity to include another sketcher on my page.

I haven’t done much with pencil for a long time, and although I like the flexibility of being able to erase, all the smudges make me crazy.  Shiny grey patches on my hands, my clothes, my pages… but apparently this museum has experienced idiots actually drawing on the paintings and other exhibits with ink, and paints, etc.  Grr-r-r-.  So they limited us to pencil.  I wanted to paint that aqua light so badly…  Even so, what a privilege to be in the presence of such creative force.  I fiddled around with some color in Photoshop after I took a photo of my sketch, not the same as watercolor but it does give you an idea of the color.

"Boy Sketching at Crocker", pencil by Kerry McFall

“Boy Sketching at Crocker”, pencil by Kerry McFall

This is a free program, and anyone over the age of 5 is encouraged to draw!  During the two hours I stayed in that exhibit, there were about thirty people brave enough to give it a go, folks of all ages.  The educator came through now and then to see if we needed anything. I have found in my own work  as art educator that it is usually the kids who are eager and absorbed, and the adults who tend to be fussy.  She fielded admirably the question from the whiner next to me who demanded, “What did I do wrong?!  This is awful!  I just can’t get this sleeve to work!!”  I was glad it was my day to simply keep drawing.

sketch of ballroom, Crocker Museum

“Hoop Skirt Settee”, pencil drawing by Kerry McFall

I moved to the historic ballroom of the museum after a bite of lunch in the cafe, and began to draw a Victorian settee designed to accommodate women like those of the Crocker family who wore hoop skirts or bustles.  Oddly enough, the public were actually allowed to sit on this one — go figure!  Another benefit of staying in one place so long: I got to hear several historical tidbits about the family and chuckle at people’s reactions as docent tours come through.

I would gladly go back to this museum on a weekly basis, but our stint as pet-sitters here in Hot North Central California is about up.  Cue Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride music!







That Awkward Phase

Posted by Kerry McFall on July 22, 2016

"That Awkward Phase", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“That Awkward Phase”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Pet sitting for cats is very different from pet sitting for a mini-parrot.  Parrots are way easier.  They don’t leave half-dead lizards right outside the patio door.  They flap and squawk if you’re not behaving just as they wish, but they do not bare their fangs and hiss.  But this too shall pass, I’m sure, having been around many cats.  Cats are contrary.  That’s what they do.  And eventually, even Drama Queen Cats warm up to me.  That’s why kitty treats were invented.

Today, just after I finished these not-quite-flattering portraits, Stinker Pot decided to let me pet her.  Not just three times, but not five either.  Not anywhere but behind her elegant ears. And just so I don’t get too confident, she let me know that social time was over with a no-nonsense hiss.  Little by little… we’ll be friends soon.  Rosco is a little more mellow, having already donated the tip of one ear earlier in his long life – he just wants his food on time and in the proper quantities.  It’s up to you if you want to pet him, he doesn’t mind, but you’re going to probably get stuck by some of the burrs under the fur on his belly.  Hopefully I’ll be able to do more flattering  portraits in a day or two!