Cuter Than a Speckled Pup!

That was something my Dad used to say when his John Wayne sensibilities wouldn’t let him coo or fuss over a cute baby.   Appreciative, yet understated.  It was the 1960’s version of the “Cuteness Overload” comments we now see about cat videos…  Watching the arrivals of John Churchman’s spring lambs over the past few weeks in Vermont (please see, I must say it’s quite accurate about the appeal of speckled babies of any kind!

sketch of speckled lamb

“Cuter Than a Speckled Pup”, mixed media by Kerry McFall based on photo by John Churchman

Eyes are always a challenge when doing “portraits”, but sheep eyes simply take the cake – their pupils are horizontal, and rectangular.  The area around the eyeball is much like other mammals, lovely fringed lashes, a bit of an eyelid (I think, although I’ve never been close enough or paid enough attention to actually see one blink come to think of it…), a smidgeon of eyeliner from all appearances.  BUT – that rectangle in the middle is quite unique.

Another challenge on this little fella was that the speckles were spattered all over his nose, making nostrils a bit awkward.  But the fun part about the various babies arriving in close order is noticing that each one really has a funky little face all its own, thus the Quilt Block Border.  Some have ears the size of Michigan, some have freckles, some actually smile!  I can’t remember if my “model” was Atticus, Speckles, or Freckles, but I suspect there are about 2,000 other people on Facebook who are sharing John’s farm adventures and can probably tell exactly which lamb he is!

Tulip Tree


drawing/painting of tulip tree

“Tulip Tree”, copyright 2015 by Kerry McFall, Prints $25

This tree portrait represents an experiment with “focus”.  Inside the enlargement, I used both opaque watercolor and transparent watercolor initially, then highlighted using a brush pen.  I blurred the background branch by scribbling over it with white china marker, and I drew over the outline of the foreground branch and blooms with the marker also.  Then I added a blue transparent wash over the entire background, which fuzzed things up quite nicely. A few touchups with transparent watercolor and .03 Pitt Artist’s Pen, then I added the quick sketch of the entire tree as it appears outside my kitchen window.  The final touch was to spatter pink paint from a toothbrush on the blossoms – next time I think I’ll use thicker, brighter spatters.


Sunday was a blustery day so the petals are now scattered all over the neighborhood.  In another few days, they’ll be soggy, brown memories of their former pink glory.  Time marches on.


Happy Pi Day – with Pie!

painting of pies

“Pie Social”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I just finished this a few weeks ago, painted from a photo by Charlyn Ellis of her Pie Social last November (2014).  You’d have to live under a rock to not know that today is “3/14/15″, (the beginning of the number PI), and after seeing all the bad pie/pi puns on social media, I just couldn’t resist posting a painting of PIES on PI DAY!  The big one up front must be Boston Cream Pie… looks tempting.

Spring Comes Early to the Willamette Valley

painting of apple blossoms

“Apple Blossoms,” mixed media by Kerry McFall, 12 x 12 framed, $200

This is another piece from the Call and Response show, perhaps my favorite this year, painted last spring (2014).  I saw this broken but still beautiful branch on an ancient tree behind the homestead at Finley Wildlife Refuge, hanging on by a thread of bark and a bit of wood.  The blossoms and bee are cutouts, made from watercolor, ink, and gel pen.  The background is a collage of various papers and paints.  The “float” frame makes it possible to position the cutouts into a 3-D setting.

I am amazed at how quickly spring is barreling in to the Willamette Valley right now… the honeybees seem to be having a hard time keeping up.  So many flowers, so few bees.  I noticed this morning that strawberries, blueberries, and pears are blooming in my front garden – WAY early!

"Ouch!" Mixed media copyright Kerry McFall

“Ouch!” Mixed media copyright Kerry McFall

The little Fuji apple tree is a bit behind because some butthead college kid tore off the best fruiting branch one night in the wee hours in January … grrr…   I scrounged around in the garage and found an old can of pruning tar to seal the wound.  (Tip: wet coffee grounds are very useful for scrubbing pruning tar off your hands and arms.  Also nail polish remover.) Apparently they had a go at uprooting it as well, but with a little luck and a few bungee cords… I hope the tree lives.  And, I hope he/they (yep, pretty sure it was males) woke up with MAJOR headaches.


Family Lore: The Doodle Bug

A couple of cousins created a family facebook page awhile ago.  It’s the virtual front porch we don’t have anymore, a place to take your coffee mug (or wine glass) and “sit a spell”.  It’s still new to us, we don’t really have any structured way to keep track of what’s being discussed, but that’s authentic – it’s how front porch chats used to go anyway.  If there were more than two people, there was always more than one conversation – which daughter had a new fiance, the merits of Studebaker vs. Chevy, and did anybody remember the name of that guy who used to live up north of Uncle Paul’s place… I’m glad that it’s not just us Boomers participating, it’s good to know that the younger generations are interested, too.  And the big plus about facebook, as opposed to the old front porch, is that you can roll your eyes and no one has to know!

I recently came across something that my mother wrote about her father’s “Doodle Bug”.  She can’t remember when she wrote it, probably in the late 1980’s based on my children’s crayon drawings on the back of the typed pages.  Here’s what inspired me to do a little research, just as she worded it:

“My earliest memories of the Doodle Bug are my dad’s games that he played with it.  The Doodle Bug was a piece of wire coiled like a spring with a loop of wire for the handle.  The tip of it, about one inch long was wrapped with copper wire.  When I was very young he would give one of us kids a penny and tell us to hide it anywhere in the room.  He would take another penny and hold it, clasped in his left hand and hold the Doodle Bug in his right hand.  He would then start searching the room and as he got near the hidden penny the Doodle Bug would start going up and down as though it were alive.  When he got directly over the hidden penny, the end of it would start going in a circle very quickly almost as though it were alive.  It never failed that the hidden penny was right below the mad, whirling wire called a Doodle Bug.

He also used this as an entertainment for people, when he and my older brothers and sisters went to the hop yards in the fall to pick hops.  At one time I was taken down there to see what the hop picking was like.  In the evening the people would all gather around a big camp fire for a little relaxation and social activity.  My dad would then give several hop sacks (like a gunny sack only bigger,) he would then ask several mothers to put one of their children in these sacks and line them up.  He would not know whose child was in which sack.  He would then choose a mother and take her right hand in his left hand and clasp all her fingers with his fingers.  He would then take the Doodle Bug in his right hand and start down the line of children in the individual hop sacks and when that mother’s child was directly in front of him the Doodle Bug would just go wild, just like it did when it found the hidden penny.

I’ve seen him spend many evenings entertaining people with these little performances. I was always very skeptical about this but now I really believe that he really had a unique way of magic with his little piece of wire that he called a Doodle Bug.

In all his years of mining he used this little gadget to find where the veins of gold were.  And the oil in our property was also detected by him with his little magic wire.  He also said that many years ago he found uranium on our property.  Who knows, maybe some day that will prove to be true.

Another thing that comes to my mind is the story of the drowned child in a lake in or near El Paso, Texas.  As my memory goes, there was a child drowned in a lake.  They had searched for a long time for the body and had not found it.  Somehow my father found out about this and contacted someone who took him out in a boat with the child’s mother.  He used the method of holding the mother’s hand with his finger, clasping hers and they went all over the lake in the boat.  If I remember correctly he told them where the child’s body was and also how deep in the water it was.  I don’t know if the body was recovered or not.

He also could detect an airplane in the air and tell you how far away it was by how many times the Doodle Bug moved up and down.  This was never clear to me so I can’t say much more about it.

My brother Creston, was the only one in the family who this little gadget called a Doodle Bug would react for except my father.  The only other person it would work for was the little old man who lived up the hill behind Fir Point .

The theory of the Doodle Bug was about the same as water witching and the little wire acted just about like the limb does that a water witcher uses.  Whether or not this is black magic or whatever it is, all I know is that my father, had something that we never understood and probably never will understand.”

Further Research

Being a very visual learner, I wanted to see a picture.  Beginning with Google Images, I tried “Doodle bug” and wound up with lots of pictures of some fairly grisly insects.  Case in point, ant lions… ewww.

Apparently Ant Lions and/or their larvae are known as doodle bugs.  Some of them make little pits in the sand where they hide to capture ants and other prey.  This may not necessarily be a dead end – plants and insects growing in mineral-rich soils may have provided clues to what lay beneath the surface, and he may have been “reading” those clues as he used the doodlebug…

But, still scrolling down in Google Images, I also stumbled onto a photo that led me to Dowsing in Wikipedia.  This led to a citation of,_Doodlebugging,_and_Water_Witching

Which was very informative and I suggest visiting that site, and I wondered if Grandpa’s Doodle Bug  wasn’t a homemade version of a pendulum… but turns out it wasn’t a pendulum at all, as the sketch above shows.

"Water Witch" via Wikipedia

“Water Witch” via Wikipedia

 “Reading” People

I also happened on to the concept of ideomotor reflexes in Wikipedia, and this I think is the key to the finding of the pennies and the identification of  children under bags… the children who hid the penny would give it away one way or another as he got close – giggling, squirming, eyes widening, looking directly toward the hiding place or purposefully looking away from the hiding place.  Similarly, the mothers would give it away by unconcsciously, perhaps squeezing his hand or some other “tell” when they stood in front of their own children.  He would no doubt have been a helluva gambler.  But I wonder who taught him his skill?  Perhaps the old man Lon Aytch?

It is rather disturbing though to think about locating the child’s body in the Texas lake. I fiddled around with Google for a little bit, and wound up finding no real results, but  there were some pretty cool ghost stories here!  But if that mother knew where the child was, had she been party to the disappearance?  Also, if no body was found, nothing was achieved by the boat trip with the mother… so why even attempt it?  Many questions come to my mind on this one.  I wonder if maybe he was assisting the sheriff?  Maybe I read too many murder mysteries.

Prospecting for Oil

The ReadersAndRootWorkers web page (link is above) says:

“Many dowsers specialize in the types of things they will attempt to locate for clients. The most common kinds of dowsing in America are water witching preparatory to the digging of wells and doodlebugging during exploration for minerals and oil.”

Here is another reference to oil prospecting from Keystone Folklore Quarterly, Volume 12

Whether he  was truly gifted as a dowser, or astute about geology and geography, or just lucky, he was confident enough to reserve mineral rights.  He was nobody’s fool.  And we’re all in awe. Somewhere once in Grandma’s things I saw a “calling card” with his name on it, a very lovely Victorian-looking card that would not have been available to someone without money… And a reference to him attending college… there are so many questions in my mind about him as a young man.

My cousin Gary sketched the doodle bug from memory and wrote this:   “It’s about 18 inches total and the thumb hold is the first loop – when Grandpa was seeking something, he would hold it in his left hand near the loops, the doodlebug was in his right hand and it would bob up and down while seeking and then change to side to side when found – the bobs could also be counted for depth or mileage to the item being sought once it changed back from side to side – the device made these motions on its own, although many did and would continue to doubt it………”  Cousin Peggy says the sketch is how she remembers it also.  So at least now I have an image in my head of the Doodle Bug… along with more questions than answers!

Life Passages: Cruel Shoes

My newly-wed daughter is home for a week.  The To Do list includes: apply for Creditcard at friendly local bank, find your sewing machine (garage? attic?), clean your junk out of the attic (especially shoes, art supplies, theater props, and prom dresses).

Being happily married means you can chuck the extreme shoes and get comfortable, at least chuck the ones that scream, “I’m in the mood to lacerate your insteps!”   And so we say goodbye to these Cruel Shoes, black suede, metal stilettos, with little rhinestones at the edges, and silvery flaps of satin at the heel and toe, kind of like wings… anybody interested?  Size 7 and a half…  The rest have gone to GoodWill, but I just had to draw these before she parts with them!

painting of metal stiletto heels

“Farewell, Cruel Shoes”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, copyright 2015

Need a Little Blue Sky in Your Home? New Pieces Available

The Call and Response show is over, and several paintings from the exhibit are now available for purchase.  I know plenty of folks around the country who have Cabin Fever and could use some blue sky, so here’s your chance!  The first two above are actually one piece: the square is a closeup of the center canvas.  The sassy parakeet is strictly for fun, and would make a cheery addition to a child’s room.

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Crocus Gone Wild

sketch of crocus growing wild in lawn

“Crocus Gone Wild” mixed media by Kerry McFall

I’m glad to be back home in Corvallis after several months in Tennessee.  It was a weird homecoming, which involved some unexpected surgery, but I’ve catalogued my sketchbooks from my last year on the road, and am preparing for a sketchbook exhibition titled “Road Trip!” next month.  Watch for details soon!

There is an older home in my neighborhood that has “naturalized” crocus carpeting the whole front of the property, even spreading on the south side to part of the neighbor’s lawn.  I don’t know whether they hired a crew of squirrels to do the planting, or if it just happened all by itself.  For two or three days each spring, we all walk past gasping at the sheer numbers,  then – poof! – they’re gone, and we can barely remember which house it was.  Fleeting glory!  Early spring here in Oregon seems like a good idea at the moment… but I’m pretty sure we might change our minds come about July when it gets much drier.

I was purposely trying for a “loose” approach here, with plenty of spatters and splashes and not many lines.  It seems to fit the general wilderness effect of this “lawn”, which only a few days from now will be adrift in dandelions.

Call and Response: Raptor

To say I was not immediately struck by inspiration would be an understatement.  

My prompt for this year’s Call and Response* exhibit was “Quiet, Noisy.”  How in the world could I put the sense of hearing on a flat surface with paint?  How to translate audio into visual?  But soon enough, I was assaulted by the answer: I happened to be driving near the Portland Airport when a military plane took off from PDX and the afterburner kicked in… it was deafening.  I decided to contrast that with the silent flight of a hawk, often seen soaring over the fields as we drive up and down the Willamette valley.

Sketch, copyright K McFall2015

Sketch, copyright K McFall2015

My first sketch was for a triptych, made to look as if the observer is in a cathedral, the ultimate quiet sanctuary, looking out.  The backdrop was quintessential Willamette Valley, a lone “seed tree” fir silhouetted on a clearcut hillside above a field of grass stubble.  Next came some detail studies of the hawk:

study for hawk

Hawk Sketch, copyright 2015 K McFall

Once I started getting ready to paint, the reality of a triptych dawned: I have no place to paint big enough to allow me to work on three canvases at once, which I would have to do to keep the colors consistent.  So, down to one canvas, which would be simpler anyway, but sticking with the window arch idea… maybe making the entire piece a “window” done as if it were leaded glass?


But then I decided that I didn’t like the arch or the curving “glass” pieces, so I painted them out… or tried to…  So now we’re down to the simple sanctuary of nature, no cathedral in sight…

Next came the jet, which interestingly enough was called a “raptor” according to my Google research.  Hmm… possible title?  The underlying glass bits, which I had outlined in ink markers, bled through, even through several layers of thick gesso.  This “pentimento” became echoes of the jet con trail.  The jet and the bird are also going in opposite directions, both facing off the canvas, but the con trail(s) and furrows in the field below curve back to the center of the painting, the conflict of the quiet and the noisy.  Coincidence?  Works for me!

Carolyn Kindell, my neighbor, is an avid birder, and she shared several bird books to ponder for reference.  I learned that hawks glide over fields listening intently for mice and voles moving underground… as a “hidden Mickey” kind of a joke, I had already added a tiny field mouse in the grass beneath the hawk.  When she saw the work in progress, (she’s my neighbor and a frequent visitor, impossible to keep  it secret), Carolyn said “The mouse lives another day, but the hawk goes hungry.”  And possibly the hawk goes profoundly deaf,  after the afterburner event.  I decided that the mouse needed a bigger role, so I detailed in his little home entry and made him more obvious.

"Raptor," acrylic on canvas, 11" x 14", copyright 2015 by Kerry McFall, $300

“Raptor,” acrylic on canvas, 11″ x 14″, copyright 2015 by Kerry McFall, $300

Finished 2/12/2014.  The painting is now hanging in La Sells Stewart gallery on the OSU campus, surrounded by the responses of our seven Call & Response member artists, plus three guest artists.  I am thrilled with their responses.  If you’re in Corvallis, please take the opportunity to see how these artists chose to respond to my call.  It’s free!

*Call and Response is a community art exhibit created by eight Willamette Valley artists.  This is our fifth exhibit.  The C&R theme for 2014/15, was “Opposites”.  We each pulled a “prompt” slip of paper out of a hat, which contained two words that were the opposite of each other.   The painting that resulted from this prompt would be my “call” to seven other artists, one at a time, who would respond with a work of their own based on mine.  They would not know the words of my prompt, and they would not see the other artists’ responses; they all just knew that we were working with opposites.

Call & Response 2015 – Coming up January and February at La Sells on OSU Campus


postcard image

Reception Tuesday, January 27th

The Call and Response show has become a community tradition and something of a magical mystery tour for viewers.  This will be my 4th year responding to our seven other members, plus we’ve added a couple dozen guest artists!  As a viewer, your job is to figure out how each “response” relates to the original “call” – this year’s overall theme is Opposites.  Sometimes it takes three or four times around the gallery to see all the connections… It’s fun!  Let me know if you’d like a personal guided tour – I can give you a few hints here and there!  I’m also going to post each image here along with commentaries once the show gets going – stay tuned.

Here is your invitation: