Stirring the Soup and Watching the Whales

Posted June 23, 2016 by Kerry McFall

“Oh, sure,” I told our friend Brett carelessly out on the deck the day before, “I’ve seen whales before.”  To be honest, off the Oregon coast, I’ve seen what might have been whale spouts a time or two, in between rain squalls that would choke a frog.  I’ve never really been able to just stand and watch because it was always freezing and/or windy.  But this!  The spouts came one after another, playful sprays, now here, now there, now two at once!  I squealed with delight and wonder, over and over, even seeing the glistening of huge bodies breaking the surface!   We all watched from the deck the first night we were here, marveling as the sea breeze calmed and the warm scent of eucalyptus trees floated up to us.  I stirred a thin spot in the bottom of the soup pan last night because, again, I just couldn’t stop watching.  Whales. Real whales! Close!  Whoa.

"Whales in Bolinas Bay", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Whales in Bolinas Bay”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

"View from Mt. Tamalpais", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“View from Mt. Tamalpais”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

This place, this peninsula off the California coast, is magical.  Any time I’ve been here, it has revealed enchantments like nowhere else I have ever been, with the possible exception of Botswana.  I feel so fortunate to be here.  Brett chuckles at my painting, saying that the scale of the spout might be a little off… as if a 200 foot redwood had sprung suddenly from the sea.  No, that was exactly how big it was in my mind!

The Old Stomping Grounds

Posted June 18, 2016 by Kerry McFall

The origin of phrases is just one of the sources of my “squirrel brain”, i.e. a short attention span.  As I typed the above title for this post, the squirrel zipped off to and was gone for quite awhile.  During the interlude, I learned about stomping, stamping, and congregating.  This same syndrome used to happen any time I picked up a dictionary back in the day, an old-school time sink.  But I digress…

"Willamette River from the Footbridge", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Willamette River from the Footbridge”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I made this watercolor sketch in a “hurry up it’s going to rain” interlude after a stroll in the Rose Garden across the Willamette River from Valley River Mall on the footbridge.  I went to highschool and university in Eugene, so this is part of my old stomping grounds.  In the days when shopping malls were the bees knees and downtowns were dying.  Eugene downtown tried to “revitalize” before it even died.  They weren’t just early adapters, they were pro-active, but to their detriment.  By making a  pedestrian mall, and an “Overpark” (multi-story parking garage)  and park blocks to attract shoppers, they managed to shut down the  downtown for months with the construction projects.  Aside from the fact that the finished Overpark terrified women – who was lurking there in the dark? – you couldn’t drive your Chevy or your Olds and park right in front of the store like you always had.  So, you braved the freeway overpass, drove further to the mall, parked in the mall lot (way far away from the shops in a cookie-sheet-hot parking lot in summer, or drenching wet in winter), and considered yourself quite modern.

"Red Tail Hawk over Laurelwood Golf Course", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Red Tail Hawk over Laurelwood Golf Course”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Sometimes going “back home” reveals things you hadn’t noticed way back when, or just never got around to.  The hills south of the University, for instance, offer much more than dead end roads where couples with amourous intentions can park… but that’s a story for another time.


“Spencer Butte”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Case in point, this week we found Laurelwood golf course, a public course with a terrific view of Spencer Butte, Eugene’s iconic mountain.  Bonus: they have a pub, serving really excellent food, and they are happy to let you sit for several hours out of the rain or hot sun while your spouse plays golf!

The More Things Change…

Posted June 12, 2016 by Kerry McFall

"Pelargonium," mixed media by Kerry McFall, 8 x 10 prints $25

“Pelargonium,” mixed media by Kerry McFall, 8 x 10 prints $25

Crystal vases send sparks of color and light in every direction, confounding all I’ve learned and observed about figuring out which direction the light source comes from…  which is an apt metaphor for this phase of my life.  Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, the rules change.  Or, it turns out that there are no rules after all.  Suddenly instead of painting the simple vase of flowers before you, you’re dealing with refraction issues from sunbeams originating from a skylight that you had forgotten was up there…

As a young woman, I never gave a moment’s thought to what my life might be like when I was beyond 60.  Life whizzed past, and I grew older, but I didn’t waste any energy on planning for actually BEING OLD.  I planned for the next family meal, the next quilt, the next grand travel adventure, the Big Earthquake (no heavy framed art above the bed, keep the gas tank full, and a garage full of bottled water and granola bars!).  When friends began dealing with cleaning out the homes of their deceased parents, I decided I didn’t want my children to be faced with file cabinets and cupboards and bookshelves full of my past – so I planned for my actual demise by downsizing and simplifying.

But who can plan for a future that only existed as science fiction?  I’m sitting here at my mother’s dining table, in front of a tiny computer that even George Jetson didn’t anticipate.  The universe has expanded a billion times since Carl Sagan introduced us to black holes decades ago.  A woman has just won the Democratic presidential nomination.  It’s all amazing.

That being said, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  The rich still get richer.  Babies still need to be held and cuddled and sung to sleep. Geraniums are still beautiful and complex.  My mother still reloads the dishwasher after I put the dishes in, and she still refuses to consider using a cane, removing her throw rugs, or leaving her home and moving to Assisted Living.

Planned for or not, if you manage to stay alive, you’re going to get OLD.  And sitting there feeling old, you’re going to be surprised by a skylight somewhere that sends sunbeams through crystal. and there you are, completely unprepared for the result.  I hope that I will always be able to adapt, to learn, and to revel in the challenge presented by rogue rainbows.


I wandered through Mom’s garden in search of a subject.  The geranium begged to be chosen.  I picked a sprig, chose a small vase out of the china cabinet, and found a lovely pale linen tea napkin to set it on.  I began this piece using watercolor, and a little gouache for the linen; no pencil first.  Next a .01 ink marker for details, a bit of colored pencil, and a bold outline using a .03 ink marker.   Enter the rogue sunbeam… an AHA moment!  Use the Force, Kerry – the Photoshop Gradient Tool force.  With a few other little tweaks and warps.


Ice Pink

painting of pink poppies

“Ice Pink”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, prints $25

June is a riot of color in our neighborhood, underscored by green that makes your eyes pop right out of your head.  Even artists become almost immune to it.  What caught my eye a couple of days ago, though, was a subtle icy pale pink.  I know, we don’t usually think about pink being a cool color, but the poppies down the street stood out just because of their cold, frosty aloofness, nestled calmly in the fuzzy jungle of their own leaves.

My husband moved slowly behind me as I began this piece at the dining room table.  I could tell that he was doing his “risk assessment”, trying to decide if he had enough bonus points built up from making my coffee that morning to offset the potential trouble from commenting on a painting-in-progress.  He evidently decided he was on the plus side of the scale, so he said quietlly, “Aren’t poppies supposed to be orange?”   My reaction clearly conveyed that the coffee had not been that good, and the next morning was going to require cinnamon rolls to make up for his gaffe.  He quietly backed away.  Smart man.


The background texture was a fun experiment.  I had dripped laundry detergent onto the shelf liner in the laundry room cupboard, and as I was cleaning up the mess, I thought that maybe this chunk of plastic textured liner could be used as a sort of stamp.  I spread watercolor over it, then laid it carefully onto the paper, pressed it down, and pulled it off – cool!  It looked kinda like faint text from an old book.  I was afraid that painting over it might smear it, but that didn’t become much of an issue.

My textile art often used a “page layout” approach, incorporating vignettes or geometric components separated by borders of varying widths.  That happened here also, as if I was pasting graphic pieces into a page of text.  The little patchwork in the corner is something I do sometimes as I prepare an image for posting online, a way to emphasize the palette used in the piece.  Once a quilter, always a quilter!

Brought To You by the Letter “B”

Posted May 16, 2016 by Kerry McFall

B is for Bachelor’s Buttons, Butterflies, Bark, the color Blue, and Borders!

sketch of small border designs

“Borders”, mixed media by Kerry McFall NFS

Borders are my new thing.  They’re small and compact, they’re useful for so many things (digital quilt edges, sketchbook pages, illustration frames), and they’re non-threatening from an artist’s viewpoint.  Doing an entire page every day in my sketchbook can be daunting, but doing one little rough border design can be quick and simple and still makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.  I’ve started playing around with these as a way of warming up before I commit to drawing a full page.  For example, the Bachelor Button border was a way to test several shades of blue watercolor paints, and it worked out well enough that I got brave and made an entire painting:

painting of blue flower

“Bachelor Button”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, prints $25

If I can keep this up, I’ll have an entire library of borders at my disposal for making digital quilt borders and greeting cards.  If I get excited about something new, which given my squirrelly attention span is not unlikely, I’ll still have a few in my hip pocket and several nice sketchbook pages – the trick is to index and file the images so I can find them again.  Someplace obvious, like under “Borders”, duh.  Digital housekeeping, and sketchbook housekeeping, is as critical as physical housekeeping, and just about as much fun – ugh.  But thanks to Roz Stendahl I have developed the discipline to index my sketchbooks, and it’s been worth the effort.  Maybe I’ll do a blog post on that soon…

Speaking of attention span, it occurs to me that this could also be a way to develop graphics that could work well for fabric designs… which the painting below isn’t but fabric was used to help with the background texture, and the title starts with B.  And squirrels do bark, in a chattery kind of way.  Okay, enough with the B’s…  I need to go and paint today’s border.  Maybe something with squirrels…and or tree bark.

painting of squirrel clinging to tree bark

,  “Bark”, by Kerry McFall, acrylic on canvas, sold


On Being a Mother of Artists

Posted May 8, Mother’s Day, 2016 by Kerry McFall    I am a fiber artist, a painter, a sketcher, a teacher of “arting”, and a mother.  My son Ben is a mural artist/film afficionado whose Instagram handle is @blankspaceremoval, and my daughter Corey is a designer and costumer whose surf coverup business is  I’m indulging myself by musing on Mother’s Day about what it’s like to be the artist mother of two artists… and the stepmother of two more artists – Aaron a photographer/web designer in Ireland, and Larsen a film director in Tennessee.

For one thing, while Ben and Corey were growing up, I could never put my hands on a pair of scissors.  Corey and I are left-handed, husband Griff and Ben are right-handed, which further complicated the scissor issue.  Griff got so tired of hearing, “WHERE are the scissors!?”  that for Christmas one year he ordered for each of us a pair of scissors with our name engraved on the blades.  Once Corey began to sew in earnest, she really understood the desperation, and she squirreled away her precious left-handed fabric scissors so that even I had to beg to use them. Some things never change; the only scissors readily available at the moment are Griff’s, and I’m pretty sure they’re in the silverware drawer…

painting of scissors and thread spools

“Look Sharp”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, prints $25

Finding a decent paint brush or a marker was equally challenging.  Sharpies vanished as quickly as dust bunnies piled up in the corners.

The Art Gallery on the refrigerator door was always a riot of color and craziness.  Still is, only now the crayon masterpieces are from an assortment of grandchildren and honorary grandchildren, most of whom are at the age of joyful scribbling with wild abandon.

When we down-sized several years ago, one of the hardest decisions was what “kid art” to keep, and what to recycle.  As they grew older, their art got bigger, and so did mine, and now we have U-Haul storage boxes in the attic filled with gowns and coats and costume bits, and palettes and plywood and canvases in the shed, and shelves spilling over with sketchbooks and quilts and fabric cuts…  such a jumble, but impossible to part with so far.  (We keep fooling ourselves that someday they’ll come and retrieve their stuff!)

As Corey and Ben move deeper into this millenium and adulthood, I marvel at their positive energy and ideas, at what comes out of their hearts and minds.  My own energy waxes and wanes, and I scale back my own projects or work in new media to adjust to the Big Momma of Us All, Mother Nature.  Big heavy wall hangings can no longer be my thing.  Lovely lightweight paintings or collages are more the ticket, as I condense my “studio” into one big shoulder bag.


A lot has changed in the world since I became a mother and an artist, but the phrase “starving artist” is still tossed around casually, as if being poor is to be expected if you take the path of an artist.  The older two sons have morphed the artistic piece of who they are into businesses where they can make a living, which is gratifying.  As for me and Ben and Corey, we’re still working on that, which means that we spend a lot of time and energy on projects that give us “great exposure” but not much money.  We’re stubborn, though, and persistent, and our love of a creative life keeps us going and makes us happy.  We’ll just keep arting along until we finally make it to Rich and Famous.  Hey – It could happen!  Okay – well, what about prosperous and fairly well known?  Works for me!

sketch of creek bank

Cue “Summertime…”

Posted May 2, 2016, by Kerry McFall (bonus – includes recipe!)

“…and the livin’ is eeeeasy…”

Battle Creek slid quietly past the dining room of our AirBnB accommodations, a welcome green respite after the festivities of the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg, TN.  A muskrat paddled a slow V through the thick waters every now and then, and dragonflies the size of hummingbirds buzzed past.  Family, friends, and a glass of wine… Eeeeasy.

“Sow Pibbur” as the natives (slowly) pronounce it is the home of Lodge Manufacturing, where genuine cast iron skillets have been made since about forever.  And more’s the miracle, they’re still being made there!  Twenty years ago they began hosting the cornbread fest down the main street of this 3-Stoplight-Town (wait, now there’s four I think), and it has grown into quite the event.

Sitting on the bench outside the Quilt exhibit (which was in the American Legion hall), I sketched City Hall, which used to be known as “Pappy’s Bank” by my husband’s family.  Pappy let his grandkids play with the coins in the vault… innocent times.  The music events were really authentic country, this tent was full of traditional music including a washboard player.  At the Princess Theatre we even got to see the National Champion Buck Dancer both dance and play the fiddle – seriously, what a talent, but it was too dark to sketch or photograph in there!  The black and white painting I did from a vintage photo in the house – to be honest, there were actually three girls in the photo, but artistic license and a short window of opportunity meant that she got “cut”… sorry, dearie, but I assume she’ll never know!

I hope to do more sketches from my photos of the Vintage Car Drive Thru at the Dixie Freeze diner (yay, it’s still there, it’s still wonderful!) and I’m still trying to get caught up.

But how was the Cornbread, you ask?  We missed getting to sample the contest entries in Cornbread Alley (the line was long, and the pavement was hot…), but we enjoyed the hospitality of several local friends and acquaintances, and here’s my favorite recipe, courtesy of the generous fellow making the omelettes at the Kellerman’s brunch:

National Cornbread Festival Cornbread Omelet Recipe (which had the Western Sizzlin logo on the paper, so maybe it’s theirs)

2 Cups self-rising cornmeal
3/4 Cup self-rising flour
4 Tblsp sugar
1 Tblsp salt

Blend first 4 ingredients.  Add 1 egg, plus buttermilk to consistency slightly runnier than pancake batter.  Heat 8 inch skillet over medium heat, melt butter to coat, add cornbread batter.  When the edges start to brown, loosen and flip.  When done to your liking, put on a plate, add sauteed toppings on one side, fold over and top with shredded cheese.

Toppings can be… whatever you like!  I’m remembering bacon bits, peppers, onion, mushrooms, tomato… mmm.

For more info on the festival and some photos and maybe even recipes, check out

Feline Portraiture

Posted May 1, 2016 by Kerry McFall

cat portrait

“This wasn’t my idea!”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

As a rule, when I try to sketch a cat, they wait one minute so I can begin to draw their face, then they decide to take care of a little personal hygiene.  Predictably, most of my cat portraits have involved one hind leg in the air or a tail flag hoisted above a retreating patoot.  But I think this may be my solution: give her a starfish toy and get my husband to take a photo, then work from the photo!

This is Sparky, arguably the laziest cat in Corvallis.  She might be part Coon Cat.  Or not.  She is definitely asymmetrical.  Her chubby friend is Patrick, of SpongeBob SquarePants fame, whose one talent is that he sticks out his tongue if you push the button on his back.


The process, apart from the sneaky photo, was the fun part.  I started with light pencil, then some watercolor washes, using a sponge for background texture.  Black ink marker followed by dry brush watercolor and gouache for fur, followed by white ink for whiskers, more watercolor, and a few touches of colored pencil.  My resident critic/pet photographer says I need to do more stripes and detail on her body, but hey – the sun is shining, and when the sun shines in Oregon in May, I feel compelled to get outdoors!

Dibs on This Blossom, Too!

Posted April 28, 2016 by Kerry McFall   #blueberrybees  #oldbluerawhoney

A couple of weeks ago, I started to stroll past my blueberry bushes but stopped in my tracks.  It was barely mid-April, but- already they were in full bloom and COVERED with bees.  Inspiration struck and I had no choice but to pull out my paints and get busy.

painted sketch of bee on blueberry blossoms

“Dibs on This One, Too!”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, 8 x 10 prints $25

There’s nothing like the process of making art to make you pay attention: the tops of the pantaloon-leg blossoms are skyblue-pink-green-burgundy.  Gorgeous.  The blossoms are creamy and frilly, and filled with stamens and pistils and pollen, oh my!  The bees seemed drunk, the pollen sacks on their legs heavy with golden powder.  I snapped a few photos, and my favorite was this busy fella, head buried in one blossom and apparently calling dibs on the neighboring blossom by hanging on to it with one back leg.

Bees have had a hard time lately, but there are people paying attention and trying to help them survive and thrive, and making delicious honey, too.  For instance, in one of those serendipitous coincidences, just this morning I received an e-mail from a fellow artist endorsing a local honey producer, the folks at  I was not aware of them before, but their web pages are beautiful and quite amazing.  Talk about knowing where your food comes from:  they can tell you where, as in which meadow or mountainside, your honey came from, and whether your honey comes from primarily blackberry blossoms or poison oak (who knew that poison oak could be a great source of butter-scotchy-tasting honey?!)  They do Honey Tastings!  It must be like the “terroir” of  fine wine, with each geographic and botanical source lending its own special flavors…mmm.

On a smaller scale, a neighbor recently posted about her backyard hives in an article titled Bee Mysteries.

If you’re a bee or blossom fan, you might also like to take a look at another painting I did last year, “Apple Blossoms“.  The original is still available, email if you’d like to buy “Dibs” or “Apple Blossoms”!


The background was created using tulle netting for the small honeycomb textured areas, and sponges.  I used watercolor paint, black and white ink, and gouache paint.

Pig Latin

chicken wth quilt border

“Chicken What?!”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, based on photo from Schmidt’s Garden Center, with permission

My favorite garden center (Schmidt’s of course) published a photo of a chicken  that simply begged to be painted.  I chuckled the whole time I was playing with it.  My resident critic/husband walked past and said, “That really cries out for a caption.”  High praise from Mr. Symmetry!

How about: “I speak Pig Latin, ya know!  And someone clearly just said Icken-Chay Umplings-Day”!!  Then again, a face like that pretty much just speaks volumes on its own.

It also seemed to cry out for a quilty border, so this is a fun way to keep my quilting traditions alive but not have to get out the sewing machine!

I’ve done some chicken sketches before (Chicken Duty, Chickens Do Not Like Firecrackers, Technicolor Betty) but I think this is going to be one of my all-time favorites.