An Exercise in Contrast: Pandas vs. Donald Trump

Posted November 10, 2017 by Kerry McFall

Donald Trump is touring Asia, representing the United States. Pandas are residing at the San Diego Zoo, representing China.

Trump is a danger to the planet and every creature on it.  Pandas are seriously endangered, with or without the rest of the planet.

painting of panda bear

“Pigeon Toed Panda”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Black and white is a difficult combination to work with, artistically speaking.  It’s hard to keep one from overpowering the other in a work of art.  After I painted the border for my Panda, my first reaction was, “Oh, boogers, those diangles in the corners are too strong…”  But the more I looked, the more it became apparent that their strength was useful to impart the feeling of being caged in a zoo.  They provide visual imprisonment, preventing your eye from leaving the enclosure, just like the bears are physically imprisoned, walking round and round and round on their pigeon-toed paws.  Don’t get me wrong – I fully understand the need for protection and research, but that doesn’t mean I don’t wish for a world where humans weren’t wreaking such havoc with our planet, where pandas were safe in their own environments.  Maybe that’s why his hind foot is ever-so-slightly outside of the border…

Trump is in it for the money and the power.  Pandas are in it for survival.  I am THIS close (holds up fingers with no space between) to wishing we had a panda for president instead of Trump.  It would be way cheaper just in terms of the cost of golf weekends, or making sure the Tweets weren’t being hacked by Russia, China, North Korea, &/or the teenager down the street.  Pardon the rant.  It’s been a year.

pencil sketches

Panda prep sketches, Kerry McFall

Ducks Foot In The Mud – Finley National Wildlife Refuge

Geese are reliable, to a point.  They fly in V formation.  Pretty much.  They migrate every autumn and spring.  Except the ones who decide that life on the golf course year round is way less work.  They are majestic flyers.  Mostly, aside from those awkward landings now and then.  I suspect that they post sentries, so most of the flock can relax and poke around in the mud — I saw it at least once, and tried to capture it “en plein air”, as shown below.  What you don’t see here is that these guys were around the edge of the marsh, but several hundred yards north were literally thousands of geese.  They were all about 1/4″ apart, gabbling excitedly in the shallow water… until with a roar they were suddenly all airborne!  Didn’t manage to capture that…!!

painting of geese in the marsh

“Finley Geese Sentries,” mixed media by Kerry McFall

Ducks I know less about.  When I hear them communicate out at Finlely, I am reminded of the Three Stooges laughing, “quwhack-whaa-whaack!” The one thing I’m really sure of about ducks is that their wings flap really, really fast when they fly.  I also know that they leave terrific footprints in the mud, and the traditional quilt pattern Ducks Foot in the Mud is based on the simple geometry of their webbed feet.

Traditional quilt pattern interpreted 

Purists may look at the painting below and note that the quilt pattern in the border is about ducks, but there are no ducks in the painting.  What you don’t see is all the mud where the cattails grew, and there were bound to be some duck (or goose) prints in that mud, so technically we’re OK.  Call it artistic license!

Painting of cattails with quilt-like border

“Ducks Foot in the Mud”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Speaking of technical, below is the progression of my paintings.  The final one above was Photoshopped using the Poster Edge tool, which gives it a bit more texture than the one in my sketchbook.

Flamingos and Balance

sketch of flamingo design, work in progressFlamingo Paisleys sketch, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The San Diego Zoo welcomes you with a breath-taking splash of Hot Caribbean Pink, the perfect color therapy for difficult times.  The Flamingo Pond caught my eye for sketching the minute I walked through the entry last week – such gorgeous, elegant colors and shapes!  Out came the watercolors and the squeezy brush, and splish-splash I almost captured those vibrant pinky-oranges.  A week later back at home, I pulled out my sketchbook again and studied the shapes more closely.  I decided that flamingos are really a simple series of paisleys… I sketched out my impressions on the painting, and plan to work them into one of my “diangle” projects.

But the flamingos weren’t finished with me.

flamingo on one leg, painting and ink

“Flamingo Balance”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I tried another painting from my photos of just one bird, balancing on one leg and looking quite smug.  Even the tiniest of eyes can convey conceit:  “I can stand on one leg forever and you fall over after 10 seconds – hah!”  I need to work on lengthening the neck and legs for my next bird… and on my own balance!

“Flamingo Balance”, by Kerry McFall close-up on eye

Purple, the Ultimate Complementary Color for Autumn

Posted by Kerry McFall, September 28, 2017

If Orange is the color of the Season – then purple is my Go To complementary color.  That’s mostly because it seems to be Mother Nature’s Go To color as well.  Purple asters, both wild and tame, lurk at every roadside and flower bed.  Purple fall crocus appear out of nowhere in early fall, without benefit of leaves (how do they that?!)  Berries ripen into purplish globes, even tomatoes come in purple!

sketch of bamboo and purple tomatoes

“Purple Tomatoes”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Wild asters show up in this primarily black and white scheme, so tiny you can barely see them in the background, more lavender than purple:

white ink sketch on black paper of milkweed pods and sees

“Plant It and They Will Come”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Domesticated asters are showier, and they provided the perfect offset to the “Delicata” squash my neighbor Carolyn grew this year.  Okay, so banana yellow isn’t exactly orange, but the flesh inside IS orange, so close enough for the guys I hang around with.  Now there’s an oldie but goodie expression… my guy doesn’t even like squash, come to think of it… but he’ll eat it if I bake it with enough maple sugar and butter.  But anyway, the purple complements the background, which is my very orangey wooden table top.

Yellow squash and purple flowers

“Delicata Squash and Asters”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Photo by Kerry McFall, still life arrangement with squash and asters in a Botswana sweet grass basket

In the autumn, I’m pretty sure autumn is my favorite season!  Then again, I love it when McMenamin’s has a big fire on the hearth in the Winter, with rich hot clam chowder, snow on the firs… fickle, that’s me!  You can probably tell I have trouble sticking with any given artistic style or layout, too.  I should probably do something about that.  Maybe.

 

Smoky Autumn

Posted September 17, 2017 by Kerry McFall

Finley National Wildlife Refuge, especially in these quiet few days at the end of a long, hot summer, provides a calm not quite like any other.

Yesterday we saw where Invisible elk have left their hoofprints in the newly plowed soil at the edge of the dike, seeming to appear out of nowhere and slip back in to impossibly narrow tunnels in the brush.

“Finley Barn: Still Standing”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The old barn is still standing against all odds.  I sat for several hours, completely focused on counting window panes and trying to get that red just right. The roof, once a tidy expanse of wooden shingles, is a living surface, moss upon moss upon lichen, thick and undulating, brightly colored orange and gold molds topping off green and copper and deep chocolate layers.  Owl poop – or is that swallows? – drips down the red siding of the sheltered roof peak.  I could justify the wonky perspective in my sketch by maintaining that it’s a saggy old building, but that would be cheating… the wonkiness is primarily my failure to understand some architectural basics!  Lessons learned!

Beside Cabell Marsh, Chickadees call softly to each other.  Great Blue Herons stare into their lonely reflections on the surface of the pond… and just as you feel yourself relaxing into a nice little Zen stupor, one of them bellows hoarsely at the world for no apparent reason and makes you jump and squeal.   What is that noise they make?

Lazy carp seem to wave from the middle of the pond, big fins sticking up from the shallow muddy water.  Swallows flit and twist above the surface, sometimes scooping up lunch with small sprays dripping back.

The geese have not arrived.  Unlike the rowdy OSU students due back to town this weekend, I so look forward to the arrival of the geese every year as they sing their way back from the far north.  Four ducks apparently stayed the summer.  Many more will join them soon.  Our day of wandering and relaxing ended earlier than planned as smoke drifted in from wildfires up north and out east… I hope the geese aren’t delayed or harmed by the smoke, but how can they not be affected?  The rains arrived this afternoon, perhaps that will put things right in the Pacific Northwest, perhaps nature can restore herself yet again.  Here’s hoping.

Seussical Inspiration: Cornus Kousa

Posted September 13, 2017 by Kerry McFall

When I read Dr. Seuss as a kid, I used to think the guy was crazy.  Fresh off the Bookmobile shelf, I flipped through a couple of his easy readers and quickly concluded that most of his books were filled with drawings of impossible plants and animals.  None of them looked like anything that grew in Klamath Falls, Oregon, (or even Eugene which was the cosmopolitan center of my small universe), and were therefore unworthy of being taken seriously.  Even his words were silly.  Fine for little brothers, maybe, but far too childish for my 3rd grade level of sophistication.  Besides, my mother disapproved of the Cat in the Hat… duh, he was naughty.

A few decades later, I have decided that my 3rd grade self was a conceited little snot, and my mother was an uptight troll.  And Seuss was a genius.  And his art was Inspired, and inspiring.

Painting of berries

“Kousa Dogwood Berries”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Every now and then in my wanderings around the world, I believe I have discovered some of his inspiration for those crazy plants.  The critters still mystify me, but the plants aren’t silly at all – they are REAL!  Take the above drawing for example – doesn’t this plant just take you back to  some of the illustrations in Seuss’ landscapes?  I’m not sure which book this reminds me of… but I saw this tree on my Sunday neighborhood stroll and fell in love with these crazy berries.

Kousa Dogwood Berries, photo by Kerry McFall

I consulted Google and decided that these must be Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa), native to China and Korea.  It took me several days to work up the nerve to start this painting/drawing because I needed to figure out how to get the berry details right… which I didn’t quite manage because the final doesn’t do justice to those bluish berries, but I almost got the green and pink ones.  For my art geek friends, here are some of the stages as a work in progress:

Pencil and watercolor layout, then yellow highlighter for leaf veins – an unfortunate choice as it turns out, because it kind of overshadows the green watercolor of the leaves.  Lesson learned. Then more watercolor under crumpled plastic wrap for background texture.  Finally brown, black, and white ink, and a bit more colored pencil.  If I need an illustration for a fantastical story about soccer balls on a stick, I’m halfway there!

And for the record, I like to eat cake in the tub!

Cake In the Tub, by Dr. Seuss

Summer’s End: Waste Not, Want Not

Posted August 29, 2017 by Kerry McFall

painting of Asian Pears

“Monday Windfall”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The Eclipse seems to have worked some kind of dark magic on the Pacific Northwest, dark in the sense that our skies are smudged with the smoke of many acres of forests burning.  The smoke has actually mediated the heat a bit, shielding us slightly at the height of the afternoon’s scorching temps.

Smoke in the Willamette Valley is not a new thing.  Native Americans used fire long ago to keep the meadows free of pers istentfir tree invaders, leaving forage and open access for game animals.

I am old enough to remember the Field Burning Years, those final hazy days of summer, breathing grass smoke and picking blackberries in a sweating frenzy to earn money for back-to-school: Pendleton wool pleated skirts and knit kneesocks.  The smoke and heat lasted well into September.  Makes my legs itch just thinking about those hot woolly walks home from school.  I can’t imagine today’s young women putting up with those outfits for a minute!

Pendleton Skirt ad

For many years, growers would burn the stubble in their grass and hay and wheat fields, eventually resulting in freeway pileups and a legislative ban on field burning.   Ironically, they thought the burning was necessary to clear the way for the next year’s crop, I vaguely remember something about mildew spores, but turns out it’s better for the soil to just turn the stubble under… Not that I would wish to go back, but for what it’s worth I have concluded that within reasonable limits, the smell of sweet grass smoke was better than the acrid forest smoke we’re putting up with now.  But we can’t legislate away the wildfires.

Under these golden smoky skies, our tiny fruit trees are dropping fruit on the sidewalk left and right.  The Asian pear is having a particularly rough time, with leaves looking scorched and sad.  “Windfall” usually describes fruit dropping conveniently so you don’t have to figure out how to reach it to pick it. Our windfalls seem premature, but maybe this is just Mother Nature eliminating the wormiest runts.  My husband salvages them all, laboriously cutting out the yucky bits, peeling off the tough bumpy skin.  He collects the resulting sweet tiny bites on a saucer and serves them for breakfast.  Waste not, want not!

This painting was made on grey toned paper, using watercolor, gouache, brown ink, colored pencil, ceramic marker, and white ink.

Harvest Time: an Ugly Duckling Tale

Posted August 24, 2017 by Kerry McFall

The heat has not been nice to my cucumber vines.  My tomato vines are not happy either.  Even though Ricardo my young garden assistant watered faithfully and thoroughly while we traveled a couple of weeks ago, now my backyard is full of crispy sunburnt leaves, and wilted stems.  I got my old re-purposed lawn chairs/vine supports out late this year, so nothing wanted to grow as I envisioned, leaving a garden full of ground-hugging ugly veggies.  Not good.  No matter how Not Beautiful my produce is, though, there is NOTHING that can compare to that first burst of real home-grown tomato flavor each summer!

final version of watercolor of veggies

“Tuesday Harvest”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The sketch/painting above was spur of the moment, made a couple of days ago in my standard white sketchbook while slurping the bounty of the first harvest.  The lemon cukes are seedy, yes.  The tomato skins are tough, and there’s a bit of blossom-end-rot, but nothing a good paring knife can’t take care of.  I admit I got a little carried away with the splatter technique here, but the idea was to convey how juicy it all was. Possible alternative title: Ugly Duckling Harvest!

Painting of cucumbers and tomato

“Thursday Harvest”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Now this is more like it!  Whatever that means in terms of art…  more like what I had in mind, I suppose.  A more careful composition, more thoughtful execution, more attention to detail. The grey toned paper in this sketchbook makes the highlights really pop! The veggies are just as scrawny and misshapen, but they are just as much fun to paint, and just as tasty as if they were blue ribbon winners at the county fair!

Eclipse: The Real Deal

Posted by Kerry McFall, August 21, 2017

“Totality 2”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

 

“Totality, The Real Deal”, mixed media by Kerry McFallA few weeks back I imagined what the eclipse might look like, and posted my painting here.  Today, I saw the Real Deal.  Totality at 45 degrees latitude.  Magic.  Wonder.  Awesome in the truest sense of the word.  But I’ll never know what the fish did during the eclipse…

One second I was fiddling with my eclipse “shades” trying to figure out where the sun had gone.  The next second the park filled with gasps and sighs.  I pulled off the shades, and was speechless.  Right up there above our redwoods, above our playground, above us tiny mortals, there were three huge spikes in the glistening corona.  The sun had hidden her face and donned her crown.  If I had been a primitive woman, I might have recognized an ancient symbol, maybe a celtic triskele foretelling my reincarnation as a goose, or a Norse symbol for Odin’s Triple Horn.  But being the creature of my own experience that I am, the first thing that popped into my head was a car logo… Cadillac?  Packard?  Oh for crying out loud.  I scolded myself.  Then I thought that maybe had I been Native American a few centuries back, would I have seen a wolf or a coyote?  Or, scary as it was, as an early Christian would I have seen the devil…  Then boom some idiot set off a few fireworks, which pulled me away from going down that mental path.

And then I got caught up in the chill of the moment — it really did get chilly.  And caught up in the thrill of the moment: Oh My God it’s really happening!  It was dark, “adult dark” as we called it in our family – time for the kids to come inside, but the kids always protested it was still light enough to play outside.  Street lamps flickered.  Elderly neighbors across the park turned on the lamps in their living room.

I was thinking about how I would paint this scene.  This was a dark that wasn’t the right thickness somehow…  There’s a star!  And another!  Moments later the three spikes were out-sparkled by a new pearly bead on the bottom right of the crown…

Everyone sighed.  There was a general kerfluffle as we had to put those pesky shades back on to see what was happening to the spikes.  Poof.  They were gone.  There were calls for instant replays, complaints that no way was that two minutes.  More sighs, sighs of satisfaction.  Sighs of gladness.

Some experiences live up to expectations and go beyond.  Like the color of the water on Hawaiian beaches, the totality of a solar eclipse goes beyond what we were led to believe.  I don’t want it to be over.

Editing a bit at 6:30 p.m., still Eclipse Day:  after seeing some photos by photographers in my area, specifically Christine Paige  , I edited the original (below) to widen the spikes a bit, also the corona.  Even so, I was pleased to have gotten as close as I did from memory to the general layout of the corona!

Corona of solar eclipse at totality

 

 

We Won’t Be the Only Ones Watching

Posted July 23, 2017 by Kerry McFall

#makingALivingAsAnArtist #totality #eclipse #fishArt

trout watching totality

“Oregon Eclipse 2017”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The media is abuzz about the potential crowds showing up for the coming total eclipse of the sun.  Neighbors are wondering how much food to stock up on before the hordes descend.  The library is full of cool books about eclipses – I checked out one called “Mask of the Sun” about the history and forgotten lore of eclipses.   I recently wrote about my concerns that eclipse fans need to stay on trails when they’re tramping around here in the woods.  And the OSU art gallery, the LaSells Stewart Center, is planning an exhibit in August focused on all things celestial.

I was going to submit my painting (above) for that exhibit, in fact I painted it expressly for that show, painted it on the day before the submission deadline.  I wasn’t procrastinating, I just managed to come up with the concept and squeeze in the two hours to create it in the proverbial nick of time.   I was wondering how the darkness would affect all of the creatures who would experience it.  And what about fish?  Would they be aware?  What would it look like from their watery viewpoint?  What do fish see anyway?

I actually have quite a long history with fish.  One of my middle school science projects involved getting up in the middle of the night for a week to see if my goldfish were sleeping.  Another project asked the burning question, “Do fish see colors?”.  Both projects led me to the conclusion that I was in way over my head for middle school research technology in the 60’s.  My kids were curious about fish, too -there was one memorable moment, waiting to attempt a left turn from 9th street onto Circle Blvd. at what passes for Rush Hour in Corvallis, when a small voice from the back seat inquired, “Do fish throw up?”  Still don’t have an answer for that one…

And over the years, I’ve made and sold quite a bunch of fish art.  Fiber art, digital art, sketches, oil paintings, birdhouses… fish are so very elegant and graceful.

“BirdhouseView7″by Kerry McFall, Acrylic and mixed media on roughcut cedar

So, I finished my Totality painting after some inconclusive internet research about fish that involved the potential for neon and infrared paint and light.  But then…  then I saw that it cost $20 to enter a piece (up to 5 pieces actually) to be juried in.  And then I realized that I didn’t have a mat and frame to fit the size of my painting, I would have to buy new.  So there’s another $40 to $60 for just a basic prep.  And then I thought about the gallery commission – it’s usually 40%.  And then I reminded myself that I’ve exhibited there many times, and nothing has sold.  I’m not being pessimistic, mind you, this is simply experience speaking.  Artists often pay – a lot – for the privilege of attempting to sell their work.  Just like corporations and governments rarely offer “real” jobs anymore, (they contract out to headhunters and middlemen who take 40 to 65% of what would otherwise be a decent salary), the majority of artists can expect to earn just about enough to buy their next batch of art supplies, if they’re lucky.

So now what?  I know ways to market my art.  I’ve studied it.  I’ve done it before, with some success.  But I’m so weary of all that.  This is not my year for that much effort.  Now I have another unique original to add to my “body of work”.  I like it.  I had fun doing it.  I learned something.  It makes me smile.  Those are the real reasons I make art.  And that’s enough.