Life’s Rich Pageant

Posted March 27, 2017 by Kerry McFall

flower bouquet with text about Alzheimers

“Alzheimer’s Flowers”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

My Mom was recently diagnosed with “Alzheimer’s pathology”.  That means her Rich Pageant is heading into a fog bank.  It’s complicated, this haze that comes and goes.  She is stubbornly refusing to acknowledge it, falling back on the mythology of her generation, that “I survived the Depression and WWII and I can survive anything” brand of immortality.

As part of recent developments, my sweet sister-in-law and brother sent me this bouquet.  Sketching and painting have become an integral part of my days, an exercise in finding the good and praising it.  So I took this opportunity to include words describing the emotions that wash over us all.  The words are hazy to match the feelings.  The little strips of flowers are like that funky paper tape (Washi?) you see in crafts stores, not there for any particular purpose, not really holding anything together, but kind of like a bandaid that might make a kid feel a little bit better about the latest booboo.

And the pageant still marches on, slowing a little on this curve…

 

Life Drawing

Posted by Kerry McFall, March 18, 2017

All drawing is really life drawing, right?  Landscapes are geography and biography and every kind of life.  Cityscapes are filled with the architecture that has resulted from someone’s life.  Funny how the nude human body is what most artists think of, though, when someone uses the term “life drawing”.

I’ve been doing some life drawing, or as I prefer to call it figure drawing, at our local Arts Center‘s Open Studio evenings.  It’s daunting, but I’m determined to keep at it.  Human flesh tones seem unforgiving.  Human shapes require accurate representation, at least if you’re going to satisfy the Resident Critic at my house.  There is no formal instruction, just a bit of informal critiquing among a handful of folks.  The models so far have been very cooperative, even fascinating, posing in a not-very-warm basement, bringing their own props, costumes, and sound tracks.  One even brought her very own live turkey!

I’m not very confident about posting nudes online, so I choose the ones that are mostly covered.  I suppose that’s a holdover from my mother’s prudish condemnation of anyone older than 6 months appearing anywhere anytime in their “birthday suit”.  I confess that I still feel just a bit naughty when I’m in a room with naked people.  Or it could just be a creeping suspicion that some mysterious censor somewhere is going to see my drawing of a nude and ban me forever from the Internet.  We’ll see, won’t we?

Sweet Violets

Posted March 15, 2017 by Kerry McFall

painting of dog violets

“Sweet Violets”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, prints available

My Sunday stroll took me to the Covered Bridge Path on the OSU campus.  It was the first mostly-sunny day in an eternity, and the community was out in force, mostly biking and running.  Even with the sun shining, everything was still saturated, and the violets I discovered peeking out of the old oak leaves at the edge of the asphalt were pretty soggy.   The true miracle of violets, however, is that no matter how drippy, they still send up their sweetly scented promise of spring.  Maybe we won’t all be washed away after all!

Every sketch or painting provides lessons to learn.  For this one I was fiddling with contrast, trying to push the values so the sunny bits would really pop out of the dark, wet background.

I started with just watercolors, blocking in some pale grass color and bright purples, then added black ink lines and a lot of green.  After that, I fussed and bothered over every little detail, using a white Signo Uni-ball pigment paint pen, lifting color with a damp brush, adding textured emphasis with the side of a colored pencil… until finally I decided that I needed A) stronger paper, and B) to stop fussing and bothering!

When I convert my jpg photos to gif format for web viewing, PhotoShop always provides a little palette created from the painting in a corner of the preview pane.  Being a quilter, I find these irresistible.  Wouldn’t it be fun to make a tiny quilt for every painting… ?  to hang alongside?  Maybe someday, when life is slower… HA!  Dream on.

The “42 Degrees and Raining” Blues

Posted March 7, 2017 by Kerry McFall

This is almost the worst weather Oregon has to offer.  It’s not just that it’s cold and wet and gray and miserable, the real issue is that it’s been like this for an eternity.  Since February 1st.  Seriously.  Oh, sure, there are a few soggy crocus here and there, but it’s too ugly and windy and wet to even go for a walk to see what’s sprouted lately.

Sketch of Audubon's warbler on suet feeder

“Suet Wars”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

When we returned from San Diego, I dug out the old suet cage and popped in a block of whatever Schmidt’s Garden Center had to offer last time I was there.  It didn’t get much attention for a month or so, but given the non-stop gross weather, it’s been a real hot spot this week!  When this fellow showed up a few days ago (Audubon’s warbler, aka yellow-rumped warbler according to Google), I was thrilled: color outside the dining room window!  Warm, golden – COLOR!  Then, lo and behold, a pair of bluebirds.  More COLOR, cheeky, sleek, and fairly exotic for this intown neighborhood!  Then some sassy juncos started a bit of a turf war with the warblers this morning, and it was hysterical to watch the strutting and bullying and yes, twittering… almost as much fun as watching an SNL skit about Trump… but I digress.

I begin to understand why people enjoy bird watching.  But just when you’ve found something relaxing and blood-pressure-lowering, some flea-bitten random cat slinks through the back yard and you come unglued, yelling and pounding on the window…    Ah, Spring!

Vintage

I sketched with the Corvallis Sketchers last weekend at Beekman Place Antiques, and choosing what to sketch was a real challenge!

sketch of shelf items in antique store

“Beekman Place Antiques”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I hadn’t been in an antique store for quite a while, and it was kind of a shocker to realize that most of this stuff was what I grew up with!  Antiques used to be really old… but this was all so familiar.  So I looked up the definition of antique, which seems pretty clearly agreed upon that the object must be 100 years old at least.  Whew… I decided that a whole bunch of this was vintage, not antique, and that made me feel better.  One definition of vintage I found is “properly defined as something of high quality that demonstrates styles of the past.”  Okay, I can live with feeling familiar with so many vintage items!

And there was so much of everything!  Small, large, rusty, shiny, every nook and cranny was filled with fascinating things.  It took me a long time to decide where to sketch in the rambling building, and even then I had to work really hard to focus on just a few central pieces.  These weren’t the most beautiful, or the most valuable, but the doll looking at the price tag caught my eye, so here it is!  True confessions: I did work on it a little more at home, filling in the background and doing some highlights, and you’ll see from the photo below that I took a few liberties with what to put in and what to leave out.  As I so often do!  But then, that’s what makes it art, right?

“Photo Beekman Place”

Will definitely be going back, as the crew there at Beekman were so welcoming and pleasant.

 

Slowing Down

 

Posted February 12, 2017 by Kerry McFall

There is a fabulous old sailing ship moored on Harbor Drive in San Diego.  I spent a long time sketching the rigging and sails and tackle and I don’t-know-what-all, trying to unravel where this or that rope connected, until I came up with a reasonable facsimile and decided enough was enough.  Such complexity!  I tried to imagine what travel would have been like on that ship, sliding into the bay after tossing at sea for days.  But making the drawing served the purpose of calming my jangled nerves as we wrapped up our visit and prepared to come home.  That was January.

Tall Ship sketch/painting

“Tall Ship”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Traveling by train week before last gave me another opportunity to calm down.  There were no television screens reminding me of how tenuous the world has become, no wifi (except the occasional 1-minute blip) so no emails, no text messages, no calls.  I could see rabbit tracks in the snow for a few hours as the Coast Starlight climbed up and around Shasta and past Odell Lake.  So many invisible rabbits!  Or maybe just a few very busy rabbits leaving all those tracks… I thought about drawing, but even at  train speeds, the scenery went by too fast.  So began February.

I was glad to be home, even though I missed the sunny mornings of southern Cal.  But duty called, and I had to get my mother to a medical appointment, so I drove to Eugene.   I got her there, I got her back home, and I headed back to Corvallis.  Highway 99W seemed far less threatening than the tangle of San Diego freeways … until that one moment when I sensed that the car to my left was turning the hell right.  And I was between that car leaning into me at 40+ mph and a traffic island with a huge cement base of a monster metal pole.  Reality does odd things at those moments.  BAM.  She hit my door and front fender.  I bounced off the curb of the island, then goosed the gas pedal to speed up and cranked the wheel just enough to avoid the pole, held tight to keep from veering into the flooded ditch, braked, and eventually stopped.  Ppssshhhhh.  Flat tire?  Hydraulic something-or-other?  Ugh.  Deep breath.

So that’s over with, and I’m okay.  She’s okay, too, but I’m betting her insurance rates are going to go way up !   Life can change in a matter of seconds.  Just when you think things are complex, you blink, and it’s even more complex.  I’m trying to remember to savor those sweet moments when it seems, however briefly, simple.  Pet the cat.  Count the rabbit tracks.  Hold hands.

 

This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Posted February 5, 2017 by Kerry McFall

This is what democracy looked like yesterday.  Just your basic Saturday filled with errands and housework, shopping and baking a chicken pot pie for supper… and a Town Hall Meeting at the community college.  Senator Ron Wyden was welcomed by an overflow crowd, and my neighbor and I were among them.  I’m a bit too arthritic to be sitting on a gym floor for very long, so we didn’t stay for the entire Q & A event, but I’m glad we went.  The speaker in the sketch was meant to be Senator Wyden, but it doesn’t look a bit like him I’m afraid.  He was wearing blue jeans and a sports coat, though – I did get that part right!

“Democracy Saturday”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I’ve been doing what I can where I can.  Holding doors open for folks with big parcels, smiling at strangers when we pass on the sidewalk, sending congressional emails nearly daily, but somehow that doesn’t feel as important or as effective as Showing Up.  Being a part of an energized crowd of people who ask intelligent questions and clearly express themselves feels like I’m doing something.  It’s like voting with my time, my energy, and my body.  Being there is good.  Making noise is a good stress reliever.

For now, without violence, I am making a statement about what I believe democracy is and can continue to be.  Being old enough to have been around this block too many times, I fear that the violence will come, and I don’t know what my response will be then… But for now, this is what Democracy looks like in Oregon.  I’m proud to call Oregon my home.

As Mr. Wyden said yesterday, “Speak up, push back, have intelligent alternatives.”

Beyond the March

Posted January 22, 2017 by Kerry McFall

sketch of protesters in San Diego

“Women’s Protest March”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I am “tickled pink” (pardon the expression) that the Women’s Marches went so well, and so peacefullly, all over the world.  In San Diego, my husband and I joined the marchers, enjoying the wit and wisdom and art of the signs people created, reveling in the multi-generational and multi-cultural flavor of the conversations around us, wishing we had brought our umbrellas!  Some of my favorites: “So many issues, so little signs!”  “I thought we got this s**t over with years ago!”  I didn’t make a sign, couldn’t decide…  I’m invoking the “80% of success is just showing up” principle.

The police we saw and talked with were courteous and not dressed like Storm Troopers, a big plus.  I kept looking around for, you know, snipers and FBI photographers and CIA drones… but not a one did I spy.  Which doesn’t mean that we don’t all now have our lovely faces in a big facial recognition database somewhere in the Cloud tagged T for Troublemakers – oops, there goes that little Conspiracy Theory voice in my head again, that one with the Tin Foil Hat…  Dang, wish I’d thought of the Tin Foil Hat before the march, that’s what I could have worn as a Pussy Hat alternative!  (see previous post here on my blog http://www.gallerynouveau.biz/index.php/2017/01/an-old-girl-speaks-up/.)

It’s a good start.  My kids used to hate it when that was my response to a paper they were writing or a job they were working on.  Why?  Because the implication is unavoidable: we’re nowhere near being finished.  We did well, very well, but I’m quite certain that our President didn’t get the message…  and this being a democracy, we will never be able to stop working on equal rights, climate change, immigration issues, the quest for peace…

I for one have very little clue how to proceed.  Anybody got some fresh ideas?  Hey, wait – what if we all wrote REALLY LARGE letters to Mr. Trump and his crew, as in real paper letters in big decorated envelopes sent via USPS, every week, thus flooding the Whitehouse mail room (is that still a thing?)  Perhaps they would be less likely to be ignored.  Or knit stuff, like potholders, with messages, sending it to said hypothetical mail room.  Nice messages, of course, ever so sweet in a double entendre kind of way… Oh, I dunno.  Like I said, ideas anyone?

An Old Girl Speaks Up

Posted by Kerry McFall January 18, 2017

I’ll be participating in the Women’s March on Saturday, in San Diego, but I won’t be wearing a pink Pussy Hat, and here’s why.  (For the short version, just skip to the last paragraph!)

knitted pink "pussy hat"

“No Thanks”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

My first political demonstration was in 1969 when I was a highschool senior about to graduate.  It was an anti-war rally, and I was terrified.  My best friend’s mother had gently challenged me to stand up for what I believed.  Not what my parents believed, not what my peers believed , but what did I believe?  Did it matter enough to take a stand?  She was a college professor, and at the time the President of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters.

So, I didn’t tell anyone I was going, and I marched, pretty sure I was going to be jailed or shot.  For a few blocks, I held my head up and strode with confidence.  When I was about to pass the Phone Company building, where I had just scored a terrific new job as an operator, I faded into the background, went over one block, then re-joined the group  two blocks away.  I reasoned that if I lost that job, I wouldn’t be going to college, and I felt that a college- educated female activist would have a far more powerful  voice than a female voter with no credentials.  At that time, I even harbored ambitions for law school, another reason to not provoke the “powers that be”, i.e. those ladies who were scowling down at the street from the operator’s break room on the second floor, and who would be happy to see me fired.

Chicken?  I like to think of it not as cowardice, but as caution.  The Operator job did put me through college, which has served me well.

After that introduction to “activism”, I got involved in different ways.  I wrote letters, made phone calls, served on committees, and knocked on doors, mostly for women’s issues.  After a stint in a D.A.’s office as a legal assistant working with abused women and rape victims, followed by another as a manager at a social service agency, I decided that Planned Parenthood and NARAL were critical to women’s lives and health, and I worked quietly and hard for them, doing what I could where I could. I volunteered in my children’s schools and lobbied hard for Spanish language instruction.   I’ve never broadcasted my beliefs, but I’ve never dropped back again like I did in that first march.  And briefly, at the turn of this century, I thought we women might just have succeeded, we might have secured our rights to contribute to governing this country and the world, to control our own bodies, and to be paid equal dollars for equal work.

I have now worked for lo these many years, mostly as a writer in a technical field where women earn much less than men. Early in my career, I was shocked when a male manager (whose wife was 8 months pregnant) propositioned me… what a worm.  At another point, a federal agency was cutting budgets and I was called in to discuss my job as a contractor.  I got to keep my job, and my male counterpart was laid off, because we did exactly the same job, we were both top-notch writers, but he cost more.  I worked there for 7 years, taking home less than 30% of what the federal agency paid for my work – the contract company kept the rest, and told me to go ahead and find another job if I didn’t care for the arrangement.  As if.

Recently, being politically active has become more difficult.  Writing letters?  Or Emails?  Do they ever get read?  Apparently not.  Making phone calls?  How many robots do you want to talk with?  Knocking on doors?  No way – people don’t answer their doors.  Turns out that money makes the world go round – but what exactly gets done with my donations?  Ads – who watches them?  No clue, especially in presidential or congressional races.

So here I am, now a jaded “old Girl” as my grandson calls me, about to take to the streets again in frustration, knowing that this march might make me feel slightly less impotent (I know, interesting choice of words in this context) but probably won’t make a rat’s ass worth of difference in healthcare or immigration issues or wage equality.  We worked SO HARD for so many decades only to now see a man at the helm who by all appearances thinks women are sex toys.  Come on, Bozos– how many more “Welfare Queens” will be added to the mix if you take away birth control?  And that’s only the beginning of a terrifying list of fears engendered by the electoral college “victory” of Donald Trump.

Somehow those cute little pink hats just seem to play right into the scripts of the male power brokers – “Here ya go gals, wear these, they make ya look like pussies (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).  Ain’t that kewt? And maybe you’d like a Hello Kitty or My Little Pony sticker, too? “ So wear ‘em if ya got ‘em, Ladies, but if ya made one for me, go ahead and send it to The Donald.  I would love to see him snug it down on his little… no, I’m not gonna reduce myself to his level.  Pretend you didn’t just read that sentence and I’ll pretend I didn’t almost write it.

One Foot In Front of the Other: Footprints in the Sand

Posted January 15, 2017 by Kerry McFall

The sand gets plowed every night here in Pacific Beach, San Diego, no kidding.  A big old tractor chugs along down the foamy edge of the tide, removing any evidence of yesterday’s barefoot surfers, strolling lovers, and sand castles.  The tractor leaves the beach looking like legions of tiny leprechauns raked it in preparation for planting magic clover seeds.  This strikes me as Odd, capital O.  To a girl from Oregon, it just doesn’t get much weirder.

Back home, you walk down the beach, one foot in front of the other, and leave a trail of bootprints.  You look back and you see where you stopped to look at that decaying crab, or picked up a smooth stone, or vectored off to sit on a big piece of driftwood for a minute.  The next morning, the tide has washed away any trace of your stroll, and dropped off new crabs, stones, and driftwood seating.  Similar results, although not quite as tidy, so why plow?  I mean, it’s not like there aren’t good waves in San Diego (which I posted a sketch of last week at http://www.gallerynouveau.biz/index.php/2017/01/wisdom-from-the-waves/).  Google isn’t offering much insight – seriously, plow to remove piles of seaweed? – so I guess I’ll just have to start asking around at the lifeguard stations.

I guess that’s just what we do here in the US of A, we mess with nature, in oh-so-many ways.   We drain swamps (or make hollow election promises to that effect), we fill in wetlands, we frack for oil, we pave riverbeds with concrete, or re-route the rivers through underground pipes.  Being in this part of the world provides daily reminders that we have come to believe that we are entitled to mess with nature, and we have come to believe that we CAN with impunity.  I’m old enough to understand that we are NOT in charge (I witnessed what Mt. St. Helens did), so I just hope that Mother Nature is in a jovial mood when she lashes back.   Rest assured, she will.

Meantime, I marvel at the footprints and tractor tire impressions in the sand, and continue to draw and paint the world around me in all its human-engineered glory.  This week, we visited the Junipero Serra museum building, which stands up above Old Town San Diego flaunting a big California bear on its weather vane; and we sun-bathed on the sand on Mission Bay at the Catamaran resort, whose management actually posted a sign saying “Public Welcome, feel free to use our beach chairs”!  What a treat!

sketch of bell tower and succulent trees

“Junipero Serra Museum”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

rental sailboats

“Mission Bay Sails”, mixed media by Kerry McFall