sketch of saloon building

Knoxville’s Old City

This building is about a two block walk from our apartment under the bridge on Jackson Ave, in what is now known as the Old City.  It was built in the railroad district, an Irish neighborhood.  Diagonally across the street, is a Scottish pub featuring “Tatties and Neeps”, whatever that is… I think I’ll be having that for lunch at some point soon!

The posters in the window say it is available, but I’ve heard that it’s being remodeled.  I hope they hurry so we get a chance to enjoy it!  This was drawn from the patio of the restaurant across the street, shaded by dogwood trees – a great site for plein air.


flower arrangement

Random Acts of Sunflowers


We hit the ground running when we arrived in Knoxville and were invited to attend an award ceremony honoring our son Larsen Jay.  He founded a charity called Random Acts of Flowers about six years ago, dedicated to recycling and repurposing flowers and delivering them to people in hospitals and care facilities who might not otherwise ever get flowers.  Or visitors.  Or know that someone cares.  (Back Story: he broke every bone in his body falling off a roof.  He got a lot of flowers while in the hospital.  He took them around to other patients, and was amazed at the response. He wanted to pay it forward.)   He received the Innovation award from the Healthcare Heroes organization at the luncheon.  Kind of a Big Deal. 

Later that evening, I was lucky to be able to attend one of RAF’s special flower arranging events (photos below), where you learn from a pro PLUS you get take home an armload of flowers.  The RAF staff were so welcoming, the snacks and wine were terrific, and for a newcomer to town, it was a great way to meet like-minded people.  The arrangements I made are not going to change the face of floral design (it’s way more complex than I ever imagined!) BUT they made great fodder for a couple of paintings/sketches!  I’m hoping to volunteer to do some arranging and delivering for RAF while we’re here – it’s like Arts in Healthcare that I did in Corvallis:  you experience firsthand the fulfillment of giving.  No thank you cards, no fancy plaque, but giggles and smiles and handshakes and hugs.  And the occasional tears. 

Technique Notes:  The big bouquet is apparently known as “hand tied”… it was a huge handful of flowers, and my tying was fairly arthritic, but the good news was there was a big vase to hold them all, so tying was kind of a moot point.  For me, the whole point was the camaraderie, and the painting to come.  I began the painting with some big sloppy shapes painted with opaque watercolor, which makes a nice bright base.  Then I used brown ink, and added transparent watercolor washes.  Oh, yes, and spatters of opaque.

The smaller bouquet was made in a 4″ glass cube.  A bit of chicken wire was folded over the top, then a big square of burlap was tied around that.  Flowers and a small cabbage were stuffed into the holes in the wire – okay, that’s the short version of what happened.  But it didn’t have to be the same on all sides, it didn’t have to be symmetrical, and it was still “hip.”  Worked for me!  This one was done just with transparent watercolor, no opaque.


Community Poetry Birdhouse – If Wishes Were Fishes

Linn Benton Community College sponsored a call for artist’s this spring asking for artist proposals to decorate “birdhouses” that will be mounted in their Albany campus parking lot.  But there’s a catch – they aren’t for birds!  They’re for interactive poetry… watch for more information from LBCC about how that will work, but in the meantime, here are some photos of my birdhouse, titled “If Wishes Were Fishes”.

When I heard the title for this project, words began to pop into my head: birdhouses > feathers > flight > community > a sense of place > icons >iconic fish > flying fish… and finally a snippet of a poem, “If wishes were fishes, then horses would ride.” I have never really understood that phrase, but I’ve always loved the mental images it inspires! So instead of birds being the focus, my sketches took shape as fish flew inand out of water waves and air waves, progressing through a day and a night in our part of the Willamette Valley, represented by Mary’s Peak and satellite imagery of the rivers.  My background as a fiber artist means that I just had to find a way to include some fabric, so the interior became a silky, glimmering stage to receive the poetry notebook.  A very fun project!

Grandma Kerry Is GLAD That Eloise and Edgar Are Not Hamsters

"Eloise Elphant", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Eloise Elphant”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I want to go on record as being completely humbled by those young parents, and aunts and uncles, and grandparents, who have been doing the online art course in Sketchbook Skool with Very Small People at their elbows.  And into their art supplies.  And crawling all over their studios… or dancing on the kitchen tables…  as they try to draw and paint.

We are currently in Knoxville, Tennessee to spend about four months with our grandsons, aged Almost 3 and Already 6.  It has been such fun, and we’ve only been here a week.  Right now we are sharing Kid Wrangling duty with a young friend/babysitter/nanny (Bless you Alex!) until their Mom and Dad get back from a business trip.  There is simply nothing like the excitement of a train – a “longlonglonglonglong TWAIN!!”, or of a Krispy Kreme donut assembly line – “a Piwate donut!!” (yes, they now make donuts decorated like pirates), when you are holding the hand of someone with red hair and boundless energy.  Think Gerald McBoingBoing.

Over the last 30 years, I had forgotten the energy  and manual dexterity and back muscles it takes to just get a squirming 30 pounds into a car seat.  Or to remember to cut up the onions and Green Stuff into invisible minced bits for spaghetti sauce.  Or to not actually say, “Don’t point the slingshot at the window!” (say, “Point it at the dirt,”, no need to be planting ideas) – or more to the point, “WTF was their father thinking to leave a slingshot within reach?!!”

So we’re all fine here, but some of us aren’t getting very much art done until Mom and Dad get back to town in a couple of days.  I hope to be able to do a trip map with sketches about our 12 day, 3,000+ mile drive to get here.  But in the meantime, kudos to those of you who find the time and energy to paint with and in spite of the Very Small People in your lives.  And enjoy every minute of it, it slips away in a heartbeat.

"Patrick Strikes Again", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Patrick Strikes Again”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I wish I had taken a picture of the homework page that Henry did with his sketch of Eloise, but it went back to school with him on Monday and it’s now probably in the Library of Congress.  That’s okay though, I’m guessing there will be more art to share in a day or two!

Easy As Pie

"Summer Pie Social", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Summer Pie Social”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Pie fixes everything, even summer coming to an end.  Our friend Charlyn Ellis hosts a Pie Social several times a year, where lucky guests bring a “pie”, then enjoy samples of anything and everything from the loaded table, along with easy-going conversation.  This summer’s social was in her shady back garden, where cats and bunnies and chickens sat with us hoping for a dropped berry or some flaky crust.  Calories be damned, we got to eat as many desserts as we wanted, right in the middle of the day!  Such decadence!

I faced this truth years ago: pie crust is not that easy.  I’m pretty sure my mother originated the expression “easy as pie” just to make the rest of  us feel inadequate.  If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can wind up with something closer to Naugahyde than the fabled tender golden crust.  It’s also messy to do from scratch…  and since I’m not the only one to reach theses conclusions down through time, the definition of pie has always been flexible.  For example, think of all the variations, like crisps, buckles, cobblers, etc.  The definition continues to evolve as folks revise their recipes to suit their gluten-free or low-fat or vegan or “I don’t actually cook” needs, resulting in a very colorful and diverse table.  The most recent social’s table included, in addition to some truly delicious fruit pies, chocolate cheesecake, and a bonus peach upside down cake.  My husband even made his special chocolate banana pudding with vanilla wafers (that’s the easiest kind of pie of all, the ones I don’t have to make!)  Yum!

Thanks, Charlyn, for a great summer memory and sketch opportunity.


A Few Minutes’ Peace

white roses on rose arbor

“A Few Minutes’ Peace”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The world has been at “Sixes and Sevens” lately (I first heard that phrase years ago in the play THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH by Thornton Wilder, my one and so far only venture into acting.)  The total insanity of national and international news sometimes just washes over me and makes me feel … can I even describe it?  Middle-aged and cynical?  Sad and wrung out?  If you’re old enough to remember the 60′s and you’re not frustrated, you’re not paying attention.

This is when gardens and open spaces are critical – close to home and easy to get to.  Earlier this week I was able to spend a few quiet moments in the rose garden at Avery Park.  The sweet scent was soothing, and in spite of the park designers’ best efforts to install all benches facing tree trunks instead of roses, I found a shaded spot where I could see  to draw just this little snippet of the garden.

At first I was annoyed that pretty much all I could see were white roses.  My grandmother used to say that white flowers were pointless – if you can’t have color, why bother?

Drawing the curliques of the little run of Victorian fencing forced me to slow down mentally and concentrate: up, down, and around, over and over.  The breeze in the trees was reassuring.  As I began to paint, I decided I was glad of the white roses, they were not clamoring for attention, not insisting that I mix just the right shades to achieve their colors.  They were like cold clear water on a scorching day.  My intention was to finish by writing something profound in the bottom right corner, but my mind went to mush, so I used the space for a palette square “quilt” (which had a surprising lot of colors even with the white roses!).  And I felt so much better afterward: a final drawing to finish off this sketchbook, and a few minutes’ peace to carry with me into the fray.  Life’s Rich Pageant Marches On.


Drawing Game!

One of my Sketchbook Skool friends Kate Merriman is looking for an activity to do with folks at a community festival, so I wanted to share this with her – and you!  This little game is one that my friend SueAnn Belknap taught me years ago – it’s great for all ages, and be prepared for giggles!

All you need is a piece of paper and something to draw with.  Fold the paper in half, then unfold it and draw a “neck” in the middle – just two little lines, about a half inch apart.


Person 1 decides whether they want to draw the body or the head.  Fold it in half so you see the bottom of the neck if you want to do the body, or the top of the neck if you want to do the head.  Start at the neck and draw half a body.  It can be animal, vegetable (think Veggie Tales), or human – it just has to have a body and a head.  HIDE THE PAPER as you draw your half!   The more details you draw, the funnier it is in the end.  You could even draw some background!


Fold it, turn it over to the blank side, and give it to Person 2, who doesn’t know what’s on there!  AND NO PEEKING:


Person 2 now draws the other half, also HIDING THE PAPER.  Start at the neck.  When finished, open up and be amazed at how silly it is!



Be sure to autograph your half.  It’s fun to color them also, and they look great on the fridge!


Sunflower Showstopper

"Showstopper", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Showstopper”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

When you put a sunflower into a bouquet, all the other flowers just have to take a backseat.  The bright yellow outshines anything and everything, and this one appeared to be holding a leaf out to cover up its closest rival, a white dahlia.  Speaking from experience, if you’re not paying attention, sunflowers are so heavy that they’ll tip over the entire vase!

I was playing with Photoshop techniques after I photographed the painting, and I liked this one almost as much as the original:

"Showstopper 2", mixed media and digital techniques, by Kerry McFall

“Showstopper 2″, mixed media and digital techniques, by Kerry McFall

Drawing Stuff

sketch of mugs and spoon

“Mugs” mixed media sketch by Kerry McFall

I’m almost finished with my Sketchbook Skool online course, “Seeing.”  It has been such fun, and I have learned a lot – and it has encouraged me to give myself permission to just draw stuff.  Drawing stuff, as opposed to creating a masterpiece for exhibition, is completely absorbing and relaxing.  Drawing stuff makes the world with all its insanity, both near and far, just fade into the background, like thin watercolor pigment drying on a hot summer day.

This assignment was to look at the patterns in objects (like teacups) and architecture, and to use a thumbnail to sort out the details in your head.  The instructor, Liz Steele, is Australian, and tea and teacups are two of her passions.  She understands a proper Devonshire tea much in the way that Americans do not.  Loved her attitude!

Unfortunately my teacups were victims of downsizing, and they are now packed carefully away in boxes in the garage (or is it the attic?), waiting for the next Christmas Tea.  But I do still have my favorite mugs handy, and drawing them was a trip down memory lane.  Each one evokes the face of a particular person or event at a time past, and the aroma of a cup of coffee, or the taste of tea with milk and sugar.  Sweet reminiscences.

A Question of Color


painting of bridge

“Golden Gate Bridge”,mixed media by Kerry McFall

As I stood beneath the bridge, I wondered why it looked so red.  It isn’t a bit golden!  So when I returned home and Google was at my fingertips, I typed, “Why is the Golden Gate Bridge red?”  Brilliant, incisive question.  As it turns out, not particularly original, since if popped up as an FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) on several entries.  Turns out it isn’t red either, it’s International Orange to be precise.  But I only had a red pen, so my color scheme can be chalked up to artistic license.

“Consulting Architect Irving Morrow selected the distinctive orange color because it blends well with the span’s natural setting as it is a warm color consistent with the warm colors of the land masses in the setting as distinct from the cool colors of the sky and sea. It also provides enhanced visibility for passing ships. If the U.S. Navy had its way, the Bridge might have been painted black and yellow stripes to assure even greater visibility for passing ships.”  Ooh, that would have been fun – then it could have been called the BumbleBee Bridge.

Here is a snapshot of the beginnings of the “fast/slow” process taught by Danny Gregory – a quick splash of color to get things going, then slowly add details as you really look closely at what you’re drawing.

watercolor beginning

“Golden Gate in Progress”, by Kerry McFall