Something Is Not Quite Right

Portrait of a Young Woman, acrylic and ink, by Kerry McFall

Portrait of a Young Woman, acrylic and ink, by Kerry McFall

I finished this portrait today, and I really like it – but dang, it looks nothing like the lovely young woman it is intended to represent!  Also, as John Singer Sargent said, there is something wrong about the mouth… And I’ve reached that point with the painting that I’m afraid to put on even one more stroke.  But I learned so much just in the doing, and I spent hours in my Happy Place, completely absorbed in a tiny shadow, or a subtle color shift, listening to the voices in my head squeal, “Ooh!  That worked!” or mumble “Meh.  Try again.”  Simple pleasures.

Also I finished an assignment for Sketchbook Skool, another exercise in Not Quite What I Had in Mind, but then again, I learned that colored pencils alone just aren’t enough anymore!  Apparently once you’ve opened the Pandora’s box of mixed media, there’s no going back.

"Wash Up!' colored pencil sketch by Kerry McFall

“Wash Up!’ colored pencil sketch by Kerry McFall

Pink Snow

"Pink Snow", watercolor and ink by Kerry McFall

“Pink Snow”, watercolor and ink by Kerry McFall

Oh, Yeah – that was really fun!  After a week of being dazzled by the Danny Gregory Sketchbook Skool online course, I tried to clear my head with a glass of bubbly Proseco and a painting where I just did what I know how to do.  No new media or techniques.  Nothin’ fancy.  But lots of fun!

How I Spent my Sunday Afternoon

How I Spent my Sunday Afternoon

The streets in our old neighborhood were lined with these double-cherry trees (prunus Kanzan? Japanese flowering cherry?)..  I walked there yesterday to see if they had begun to bloom.  They were at full throttle, bursting and waving in the breeze.  Another two or three days, and drifts of pink petals will fill the streets… Pink Snow Week!

Life’s Rich Pageant Marches On!

sketch of tulips with handwritten notes

“Flaming Tulips” mixed media by Kerry McFall

In spite of everything – in spite of earthquakes, mudslides, lost airplanes, insane political hijinx, everything – the life force of spring asserts itself.  Thankfully, the earth still seems to turn at the same speed, and winter lets go.  Hallelujah!

I am currently enthralled with my first online art class, Sketchbook Skool.  It is all-consuming, leaving my dining room “studio” looking like the aftermath of a major windstorm.  I sit here for hours, sketching, painting, then giggling and gasping at the creative outpouring from 1,000 students all over the planet as they post their artwork and share their insights and fears.  Just Wow.  It’s the same feeling I had when I first encountered the Urban Sketchers in New York City – these people are so wonderful.  And I am so lucky to be a part of this Rich Pageant!

Here are a few more sketches from this first weeks’ assignments:

Sketchbook Skool

sketch of blue mocassins

“Moccasins”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I am taking an online course by Danny Gregory called Sketchbook Skool, and the above piece was the first assignment.  The idea was to use NO pencils for a first quick outline, but to draw directly with ink.  Then to write on the sketch, and to draw something that I feel strongly about –  it was fun!  It’s also just a bit overwhelming because at last count there were over 600 students taking the course.  This means that there are over 600 very talented and fascinating folks all over the world posting their sketches and sharing their lives and commenting back and forth, and it also means that I am not going to get the housework done this weekend like I had planned.  Oh dear… hee-hee!

Technique Notes:  Danny suggested doing a watercolor background wash (actually doing a bunch of pages in advance with random colors just so you don’t have to spend as much time waiting for paint to dry), then doing a filled shape of your subject (still no pencils!) in Gouache.  Of which I have none, so I improvised with a bit of acrylic thinned with water.  It worked nicely, but I would do it a bit lighter shade of blue next time.  Then do just the edge of the shape in ink, then off you go with whatever detail you want to add.

A Multi-Cat Day

This morning when I sat down to begin my “sketching warm-up exercises” (which I have to say are far less painful than the Yoga Plank thing I tried recently), I noticed my old cat Baby catching the sunrays in the front window.  Given the lack of other nearby inspiration, she had her portrait done.  In pencil.  Then I added watercolor.

Next came a flip through the pages of a design book about Art Deco, and the Mean Keelah was born.  ”Mean Keelah” was what our little neighbor used to call one of our cats when he was learning to talk… Skyley, aka Mean Keelah, was the original Grumpy Cat.  Only meaner, and with bigger teeth.  As I worked, following the style of G. Darcy from 1920, Mean Keelah was reincarnated.  Reincarnated several times, as I experimented with this and that, including a digitally-enhanced version.

Then I got to wondering how that mean kitty could become a cute kitty – what is it about those lines that implies such evil?  So I messed around for a little longer, using the same approach and style.  Meh… the technique works for “cute kitties” as well as mean, but the cats are just more in a long line of simpering felines – nothing is new under sun.  I like the Mean Cat #2 best, the rest got a bit too dark with additional paint layers.  Although, that digital version does have some distinct Halloween possibilities…



Taking Bar-Hopping to New Heights

sketch of rabibit jumping over brick buildings

“Taking Bar-Hopping to New Heights”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

McMenamins Edgefield resort is simply one of the coolest places in Oregon if you enjoy art, history, music, food, and drink … which ought to just about cover most of the human population.  It has more pubs (of various shapes and descriptions) per square acre than anywhere else I can think of, and art where nurses climb out of TV screens or pipes float mystically above matchbook flowers.  Black rabbits peer out at you from everywhere, much like the “hidden Mickeys” in Disneyland.

We suggested it as a meeting point for a business colleague, which gave us a great excuse to spend a night.  Just outside of the mythical Portlandia, its vintage buildings and gardens are gorgeous, and every building has at least one elegant restaurant or kitschy bar.  There is also a brewery, a winery, and a distillery.  The sketch above is the view from the Black Rabbit Bar in the main lodge, looking down into a courtyard-  even when it’s pouring rain, there’s plenty to sketch.  We had a gourmet dinner, (included in the “Hammerhead Package” price), followed by a free bluegrass concert in the Blackberry Lodge next door featuring “the Howlin’ Brothers”.

Another reason to go there: McMenamin’s Restaurants have a “passport” promotion going on, (the kind of marketing hype we usually avoid , but this is really fun), where you get a stamp in your passport book every time you visit a different location.  After ducking in to every bar on the property (and you don’t have to buy anything to get a stamp), we got a $20 gift certificate!  Many locations also have an art treasure hunt, so we shed our thin veneer of sophistication, wrote down the clues, and our inner 10-year-olds went skipping off to find Seamus McDuff hiding in a painting… and when we found him, we got a prize: a really nice corkscrew and a bag of freshly-ground coffee.


“McMenamin’s Edgfield Library”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The sketch above was made in the Library of the main lodge.  I was practicing interior perspective, and trying to convey just how rich in color and pattern the whole place is.  While I sat at a table there, a parade of interesting people buzzed around me, including the very damp staff of Oregon Brides Magazine as they set up a wedding photo shoot outside in the rain…

"Edgefield Bride", pencil sketch by Kerry McFall

“Edgefield Bride”, pencil sketch by Kerry McFall

WHAT were they thinking when they scheduled that?!  Poor girl was shivering even before they cranked up the dry-ice “fog machine”-  it looked like a Pagan Sacrifice more than a wedding… Rain or shine, though, Edgefield is a fun place to spend a couple of days.

3,500 miles: The Map

hand-painted map of 7 states

“Map of the Heartland”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I still have dozens of reference photos from our recent trip that I want to paint and sketch from, but I needed to put together this map piece before doing anything else – seeing the whole route really helps me make sense of the various bits and pieces of an adventure!  (You can read more about the trip in some of my previous posts.)  I was thinking as I worked on this that it would be fun to add little thumbnail images of the sketches and paintings I did in the various locations, but I decided that I’d really rather be working from newer inspirations.

Technique Notes:  

8.5″ x 12″ heavyweight sketchbook paper, AAA map section

1.  Laid some watercolor washes using the predominant colors in my memory – lots of browns and a bit of blue.  Carved a “stamp” out of a wine cork to resemble tumbleweed, randomly stamped over background.

2.  Pasted on the map overlay with acrylic medium, after using an x-acto knife to cut out all but the necessary borders and “blue highway” lines.

3.  Added vignette sketches from favorite points on the road – ink, colored pencil, watercolor.

4.  Added torn bits from used dryer sheets:  stretched to shape, dipped in watercolor, pasted on with acrylic medium.

5.  Added written descriptions; sealed with acrylic medium.

6.  Started planning next trip!

Visual Journaling: Affirmation

"Affirmation - Journal Page" mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Affirmation – Journal Page” mixed media by Kerry McFall

Spring is the ultimate affirmation.  We celebrate with symbols of our saintly (shamrocks) and pagan (painted eggs) pasts, we clean out drawers in some instinctive response to the urge to nest, we daydream in the park instead of doing our homework…

I’ve been taking a class at the local community college titled “Art Marketing/Support Group” from Cynthia Spencer, a well-know Corvallis ceramic and fine artist.  It has helped me focus and slow down.  Our final assignment was to make a plan to continue with what we’ve learned, so I whipped together a simplified version of a visual journal page.  As noted above, a visual journal or a sketch journal is a never-ending experiment, one which can be enjoyed as much during the making (cut, paste, scribble, splash!) as during the reminiscing a few weeks or years later when you thumb through the pages.  I don’t usually cut and paste much because I prefer to use my own drawings and designs, but after a prolonged daydreaming session, a nice reproduction (with source credited – thank you, Trader Joe’s catalog) provided a useful solution for meeting the deadline!

March Moon

sketch of moon behind tree branch

“March Moon”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Last night I looked up from my book and was startled to see the full moon gazing back at me.  The moon is even more of a stranger in March in Oregon than the sun!  Rising like a pearly balloon over the park, it floated among the tree branches, silhouetting the swelling buds.  Over the phone lines, beyond the tops of the distant redwoods, shrinking as it rose, I watched it climb until it disappeared above my window.  I found myself thinking how I would paint it as I gazed… so, I painted it!  Now it just needs a poem, or a haiku…

Taming My Inner Squirrel

Was it just a week ago that I picked a branch of tumbleweed out of a fence at a New Mexico rest stop on the highway, humming to myself that Sons of the Pioneers song about tumbleweed?


Has it been just a week since I left colorless winter behind and came home to a muddy garden lush with weeds (and slugs… and sowbugs…)?

sketch of tumbleweed

“BitterCress”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Driving through so much flat, brown land back in the heartland had calmed my Squirrel Brain a bit, but as soon as I touched down here at home, it was back with a vengeance.  Gotta finish the Call and Response piece!  Gotta make a painting from all of those photos!  Gotta fertilize, gotta weed, gotta take care of a mountain of mail!  But then it slowly dawned on me Sunday evening that I was NOT getting up to go to work the next morning, so I didn’t have to get that all done in one fell swoop.  What a luxury!  I really can draw every day.  I don’t have to give up anything else to make that happen.   Happy sigh.  My Inner Squirrel is now seated quietly in a yoga position, softly humming the tumbleweed song… which is stuck in my head…

I’ve always wondered what the name of that little weed was.  Yesterday a neighbor clued me in to Bittercress – it grows incredibly fast, matures quickly, and once it starts to shoot seeds like a machine gun (thus the nickname shotweed), your garden beds are doomed!  On the plus side, it is edible… supposedly tastes like radishes.

Technique Notes - The Bittercress painting was sketched lightly in pencil, then outlined with a Pitt artist pen.  I painted the plant with a thin watercolor brush, let that dry, then outlined around the ink lines with white china marker.  I then quickly flooded the page (outside of the circle and inside the border) with blue (spring sky blue!) using a fluffy fat brush.  I like the “resist” effect so much!  Once dry, I added a few tiny shadows, etc. with colored pencil.