Run Find Out

sketch of horse and cat

“Run Find Out Meets BackOff Bozo”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

We visited a friend’s pasture in South Carolina over the Thanksgiving Holiday, and I spent a chilly afternoon observing and photographing while the guys messed around with fences.  When we pulled up in the truck, it was thrilling as twelve horses thundered up to us.  ”Be careful,” Jim warned us, “They won’t kick you but they will kick each other and you might be in the way.”  Hmm.  They dropped me off and headed down the road.

A sorrel came trotting right up to me.  I learned later from Jim that his name is “Run Find Out!” for obvious reasons.  He nuzzled my shoulder.  Then my coat pockets – got any apples?  We began a little waltz around the trunk of an oak tree as the rest of the herd drifted away to the barn.  I know enough about horses to know that it takes the average horse 30 seconds to recognize a Horse Averse Human (H.A.H.!), and then they begin to plot their mischief.  I am not so much averse as I am… shall we say, cautious.  I’ve wound up in too many ditches and puddles and hedges to be enthusiastic.

A very vocal grey and white tomcat appeared from behind a pile of fenceposts to join our waltz. To my relief, the horse was more interested in the cat than in me, so I left our dance floor and stood back with my camera.  The horse was getting a bit too familiar for the cat’s liking, so the thought bubble here would be, “Back off, Bozo!”  What a brave little cat to challenge such a huge beast! Eventually Run Find Out trotted off to find out how the fence was coming along, and the cat and I both retired to the protection of the pile of fenceposts, where he snooped for mice and I continued to enjoy the sunset and the unhurried pace of the pasture.

Process:  The cat happened by itself pretty much – a couple of lucky strokes with pale blue watercolor and bingo – grey cat!  I proved to myself once again with the horse that Nature Sketch 130 lb. sketchbooks can’t handle all the layers of paint and pencil that I want.  The background, representing leaves on winter grass, was a few blotches of pale brown watercolor , let dry, china marker blades of grass in random patterns, then green watercolor blades made with the nearly-dry bristles of a square brush.  Kinda looks snowy!

Puppy!

sketch of white puppy

“White Puppy” mixed media by Kerry McFall , from a photo by Stella Rose Wyatt, copyright 2014

A friend’s little white dog had puppies about a month ago, three of the floppiest, sleepiest little chubbies imaginable.  Up until this week, the photos could have been of fluffy stuffed toys, but this last batch showed mischief and curiosity and plenty of motion.   I asked her to please make them stop growing until we get home in a few weeks for a nice little cuddle… she said she would, but I’m pretty sure they’ll ignore her, as puppies do.

Sometimes I look at my grandsons and wish for the same thing – they grow too fast, they grow UP too fast.  We’ve seen so many changes since we’ve been here in Knoxville, every week there’s a new skill, a new attitude, a new posture, a new maturity… but inside those sparkling eyes there is always that familiar little spirit.  Even if we could slow it down a bit, we wouldn’t.  It is a blessing to be able to watch these little personalities emerge.

Technique

Sketched from Stella Rose Wyatt’s photo.  White charcoal and pencil on a gray ground, with just a hint of blue colored pencil in the eyes.

Christmas Bride

Santa mug flower arrangement

“Gift for the Giver”, based on a Random Acts of Flowers arrangement, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I lit a cinnamon-roll scented candle and put a CD into the player the other day as I was about to start this painting, and was transported back to 1964.  At the first “DooWaaaaah” from the Ray Conniff Singers (yes, DooWaa’s are a major feature of their version of “White Christmas”), I was surrounded by a sea of Harvest Gold shag carpet, and I could feel the pressure of knowing that I should be doing my homework or folding the laundry instead of daydreaming about Christmas weddings.

Our stereo was a huge colonial-style maple edifice that occupied one entire end of the living room.  I cursed it every Saturday morning as I dusted the half acre lid, but when I opened it, I always felt like I was getting away with something slightly naughty. You had to be about 14 years old before you were allowed to actually play a 33 rpm record (play a record – doesn’t that sound archaic?), so it was kind of a Big Deal.

Sliding the Christmas with Conniff record out of the well worn jacket took coordination and hands big enough to span from the center label to the outer edge.  Heaven help you if you actually touched the grooves, and trust me, such things did not go unnoticed.  There was a special velvety brush and a tiny bottle of liquid for removing fingerprints and dust, always applied by my father with a stern lecture to the offender.  About the only thing worse you could do was to not put a screwdriver back in the proper hanger on his workbench…

I don’t know much about music, my own musical education consisting of about 4 piano lessons at age 8 from Mr. Fox, an old man with a huge nose that he actually powdered.  But “Christmas with Conniff” was a beloved family Christmas tradition, and without intending to commit it to memory, I know every note, anticipate every cheesy call of “Hey, kids, wanna build a snowman?”  Only from Conniff have I ever heard calypso guitar, drum brushes, harp, tambourine, Irish tenor, and cowbell all in the same song: “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” never had so many minor falls and major lifts…

I remember listening over and over one year to the song about being a Christmas bride… “Santa, make me his bride for Christmas…” But that never happened, the jerk didn’t propose.  My little brothers put their allowances together that year and bought me a tiny diamond pendant necklace for Christmas.  Very uncharacteristic of boys who usually showed their affection for me by feeding my date’s hat to Heather the Disappearing Airedale.

My own kids have endured the album (…and the tape, and now the CD…and me singing along!) with relative good humor for their entire growing up years.  My daughter is about to become a bride for Christmas, and I’m lobbying hard for “Christmas Bride” to be on the wedding dance tape my son has promised to produce.  My grandson, who is considerably cuter than me, is lobbying just as hard for, “Who Let the Dogs Out”, so we’ll see how much clout me and Mr. Conniff can still wield!

Flatland Touristers (& Other Tennessee Road Hazards)

autumn colors in Cades Cove

“Unimproved Road”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Ever heard the expression, “She looked like 10 miles of bad road”?  If there was ever any doubt in my mind about what that might look like, it was swept away last week when I looked at myself in the rear view mirror of our little Fiat.  Only it was 12 miles of bad road, to be exact.

If you go to Cade’s Cove, Tennessee, in the Smoky Mountains during the riot of autumnal glory known as “The Colors”, you will find a lovely valley, equipped with a one-way loop of perfectly good paved road, featuring fabulous landscapes and a few historic primitive buildings.  If you go with my husband, you will then find yourself taking the “Cherokee Graves Trail” shortcut, also known as Rich Mountain Road, out of the valley for the allegedly even-more-fabulous view from the top of the ridge. The entrance to the road is clearly marked with a sign reading “unimproved road“.  If you catch “The Colors” toward the end of autumn, the “road” itself will be all but invisible beneath a thick, lovely blanket of colorful leaves.

In Tennessee, apparently “unimproved road” is shorthand for a series of stone formations eroded into 12 miles of washboard switchbacks, pocked by deep pools of runoff, with steep dropoffs down one side and tangled tree trunks up the other.  Don’t even think of turning around, not even to save your marriage.   Until you hit the first rock formation at 30 mph, you might be convinced that it could at one time have been called a “road”.  However, it was clearly intended to be used as a footpath for bears and wild pigs.  The nickname about the graves begins to make sense about 6 miles in — we didn’t see any actual graves, but those guys were obviously murdered by their wives once they finally got to the top, because they still had to get the rest of the way down in the dark.

After this adventure, my husband is no longer allowed to call himself, “a Tennessee Boy” (or ‘Boah’ as the locals pronounce it).  For Christmas he will receive a custom-made T-shirt proclaiming him to be what his mother used to condemn, the dreaded and despised “Flatland Tourister”.

And in point of fact, gorgeous colors in the dark are simply… dark.

 

 

Celebrate the Arts!

painting of Old City Knoxville TN

“Celebrate the Arts!”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

This is the third in my Old City Knoxville series.  Last week at sunset I was looking up at the Commerce Building on Gay Street, wishing that modern architects understood the appeal of arched windows, and loving the way brick ages.  I had hardly even noticed what the text on the banner said — I was thinking that between the brick and the banner I could get a very “University of Tennessee Orange” color scheme.  Serendipity – it was about celebrating art!

This series has become an adventure in painting with the color palettes of old brick.  I am becoming more and more enamored of the brick “pentimento,” those vintage painted signs that can still be seen on many buildings, advertising “shoes and rubbers” or “the best part of the meal”, some in layers over each other.  Here in the Old City, it’s like searching for ghosts from Knoxville’s Industrial past, peeking between old factories and new skyscrapers to find clues of who used to work and live here.

Knoxville local developers have made a good faith effort to revitalize the neighborhoods yet keep the architectural “old city” feel.  We have been staying here downtown now for going on three months, and loving that art is indeed celebrated, and so is fine dining, not to mention we can walk everywhere, or take a free trolley.  That being said, I can also see the unintended consequences: every time one of these grand old buildings gets renovated into condos or upscale retail or office space, another artist has to find a different and affordable studio or gallery space, because yeah, most artists can’t afford the upscaled rent.  That means moving ever further into the abandoned industrial (and sketchy, in the personal safety meaning of the term) areas, or out into the vast strip mall wastelands of Kingston Pike. Ouch.

Here’s a glance at all three in the Old City series together – please remember that you can click Buy Now to get your own prints for just $18 each!

Making Do: Tussie Mussies

watercolor fo two RAF bouquest

“Double Fun”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I’m still working on Random Acts of Flowers paintings and sketches – there’s a steady stream of lovely bouquets to work with, and I’d love to be able to do them all!  Some recipient locations call for small bouquets (not a lot of room on a bedside table), and some days call for being able to stretch the limited number of donated flowers to reach all of the potential recipients.  (Interesting to note that brides try not to schedule weddings in Knoxville on football game weekends, so after a game, there aren’t as many flowers!)  Those are the days when volunteers rise to the occasion and come up with extra-creativity to use simple things like baby’s breath and a bit of ribbon, or maybe just two roses, to make delightful little “tussie mussies” or “nosegays”.

“Double Fun” above is an experiment in “loosening up”, not doing the usual detail I do over the watercolor base.  I kinda like it!  (I was tempted to paint in a couple of goldfish in the vases!)

“A Breath of Fresh Air” below, shows again how a vase can totally make the bouquet; this one looks like a tiny 1940′s vintage pitcher (maybe 4″ high?), possibly hand thrown but I didn’t get to check the bottom of it for details before it disappeared into the delivery van.  A few branches of some kind of shrubbery, a couple stems of baby’s breath, and voila – instant bouquet!

watercolor of baby's breath in pitcher

“A Breath of Fresh Air”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

 

Step by Step: The Next Wave of Bouquets

It looks like it’s a “GO!” to put together a series of Random Acts of Flowers Bouquet Paintings for greeting cards!  With that in mind, here are a couple of insights into the current process for creating the paintings.

The bouquet-creation process is described in detail in my previous post at http://www.gallerynouveau.biz/index.php/2014/09/arranging-flowers-not-so-random-acts-of-volunteers/.   That is the social part of the process for me, and being there as the bouquets are created gives me a powerful motivation for painting.  I don’t just get to play with flowers and chat with the other volunteers as they work their magic.  I witness the inspiration and inner workings of the organization,  like I did this morning: the door opened and a dripping woman appeared out of the driving rain, pushing one box through the door and going back for another.  ”These are from my daughter’s wedding this weekend,” she said, “and since your kindness touched me so deeply two years ago when I was ill, we wanted to be sure these came to you.”  She had already made most of the flowers into small arrangements, the ideal size for an RAF delivery.  The few loose ones were scooped up almost immediately by delighted volunteers who needed just those two daisies or that one piece of greenery to finish off their bouquet.  Recycling flowers and smiles at its best!

So here are the steps to a painting:

Step 1.  Show up.  (Woody Allen maintains that this is the key to success no matter what you’re doing.)

Step 2.  Photograph some of the Fabulous RAF Bouquets – not fancy photos, I’d say they are more like utility photos to use as memory aids.  There are WAY too many  bouquets to choose from and they show up on the back shelves at a fast and furious pace, so this requires mostly good timing to snap the shot before they get loaded into the delivery van.

Step 3.  Go home, and start with a quick and loose “underpainting” in watercolor, based on memory and the photograph.  A glass or two of chardonnay is useful for encouraging what we artists like to call “spontaneity” at this stage.

Step 4.  Draw in some detail, usually in waterproof ink.

Step 5.  Optional:  Add more detail with whatever media works.  For a spattered, textured look, start flinging paint, or soak an old toothbrush in juicy paint and pull your thumb down over the bristles.  Or, grab the nearest three-year-old, take cover, and let him do it!

Step 6.  Scan or photograph the painting, process it in PhotoShop as needed.  I’ve begun adding a green border to the paintings to add some consistency to the format.

Et Voila!  The two bouquets in this post were created at RAF on Tuesday, September 29, 2014.

 

Arranging Flowers: Not-So-Random Acts of Volunteers

sketch of coral roses

“RAF Coral Roses”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Tuesday morning the Random Acts of Flowers office was a sea of roses and leafy branches, bordered by dozens of vases and rolls of ribbons – a flower lover’s Disneyland!  After my flower arranging class a couple of weeks ago, I had worked up the nerve to volunteer.  The other volunteers were cinching up aprons and diving in to the blooms as my new friend Lorraine showed me the ropes (and scissors, and wires, and even how to de-thorn roses using a little flexible plastic soap dish!)  Many of the volunteers were seasoned regulars, and by working with them, I learned all kinds of interesting tips and tricks.  The most important thing: shop the entire room, plus the cold room, plus the vase warehouse, because you just never know what treasures lurk beneath the tubs of blossoms.  Treasures like dried cattails, bunches of those little red or pink berry thingies,  a clear coral-colored lucite vase, probably vintage 50′s ( I managed to snag that one!)  Or three velvety deep burgundy callas, ever so gorgeous and elegant, plus a metallic 80′s-style vase which coordinated perfectly with them, which became the inspiration for this arrangement by another volunteer:

sketch of metallic vase and flowers

“RAF Gorgeous”, mixed media with digital manipulation by Kerry McFall

Time flew past as we all chatted and clipped and consulted.  I was in my “arting happy place,” that same place I find myself when I draw or paint: completely oblivious to anything but what is before my eyes and in my hands.  Noon already!  And I was thrilled to look up and now see wave after wave of carefully arranged flowers, each one unique to the arranger’s designs and whims, each one including a Random Acts of Flowers card with the name of a sponsor or donor.  The flowers had come from weddings, events, florists, families; some arrived in perfect conditions, others needed serious de-constructing and trimming and rehabilitation in a fresh water bath.  Another set of volunteers had accomplished all that earlier on Monday.  Still other sets of volunteers spent hours washing and counting vases (recycled or donated), cleaning up after everyone else, and finally delivering the arrangements, delivering the smiles.

It occurred to me only as I was too tired to really do anything about it, that I should photograph some of the arrangements and paint them.  Another volunteer was talking about making prints of photos or paintings and doing cards or a calendar, thus giving the arrangements an even fuller life.  Hmmm… great idea!   So as a possible proof of concept, here are two paintings, the first one based on my favorite arrangement that I put together, the second one based on one of the volunteers’ favorites that hadn’t already been put on the delivery van by the time this inspiration struck.

What could be better inspiration?  All the flowers and arrangements and creative arrangers that I could possibly imagine, a fun group of volunteers to work with, and smiles all around.  I’m liking Knoxville!

Technique Notes:  I photographed the arrangements in the workshop – not the best lighting, but a good tool for remembering details.

Back in my “studio” (aka the dining room table,) the first painting was lightly outlined with transparent watercolor, spattered with a toothbrush all over, then lines were drawn with ink.  Several more layers were then painted using both opaque and transparent watercolor, and highlights were emphasized with wax pencil and white Sharpie marker.

The second painting was done using the same sequence, only more wax pencil to make the batik-type white edges.  BUT after all that fuss and bother, it wasn’t as colorful as the original, and I didn’t like the proportions – wonky vase, flowers not big enough, etc….  So I fired up my Photoshop and messed around until I had it closer to what I originally intended – ain’t technology grand?

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.