We Won’t Be the Only Ones Watching

Posted July 23, 2017 by Kerry McFall

#makingALivingAsAnArtist #totality #eclipse #fishArt

trout watching totality

“Oregon Eclipse 2017”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The media is abuzz about the potential crowds showing up for the coming total eclipse of the sun.  Neighbors are wondering how much food to stock up on before the hordes descend.  The library is full of cool books about eclipses – I checked out one called “Mask of the Sun” about the history and forgotten lore of eclipses.   I recently wrote about my concerns that eclipse fans need to stay on trails when they’re tramping around here in the woods.  And the OSU art gallery, the LaSells Stewart Center, is planning an exhibit in August focused on all things celestial.

I was going to submit my painting (above) for that exhibit, in fact I painted it expressly for that show, painted it on the day before the submission deadline.  I wasn’t procrastinating, I just managed to come up with the concept and squeeze in the two hours to create it in the proverbial nick of time.   I was wondering how the darkness would affect all of the creatures who would experience it.  And what about fish?  Would they be aware?  What would it look like from their watery viewpoint?  What do fish see anyway?

I actually have quite a long history with fish.  One of my middle school science projects involved getting up in the middle of the night for a week to see if my goldfish were sleeping.  Another project asked the burning question, “Do fish see colors?”.  Both projects led me to the conclusion that I was in way over my head for middle school research technology in the 60’s.  My kids were curious about fish, too -there was one memorable moment, waiting to attempt a left turn from 9th street onto Circle Blvd. at what passes for Rush Hour in Corvallis, when a small voice from the back seat inquired, “Do fish throw up?”  Still don’t have an answer for that one…

And over the years, I’ve made and sold quite a bunch of fish art.  Fiber art, digital art, sketches, oil paintings, birdhouses… fish are so very elegant and graceful.

“BirdhouseView7″by Kerry McFall, Acrylic and mixed media on roughcut cedar

So, I finished my Totality painting after some inconclusive internet research about fish that involved the potential for neon and infrared paint and light.  But then…  then I saw that it cost $20 to enter a piece (up to 5 pieces actually) to be juried in.  And then I realized that I didn’t have a mat and frame to fit the size of my painting, I would have to buy new.  So there’s another $40 to $60 for just a basic prep.  And then I thought about the gallery commission – it’s usually 40%.  And then I reminded myself that I’ve exhibited there many times, and nothing has sold.  I’m not being pessimistic, mind you, this is simply experience speaking.  Artists often pay – a lot – for the privilege of attempting to sell their work.  Just like corporations and governments rarely offer “real” jobs anymore, (they contract out to headhunters and middlemen who take 40 to 65% of what would otherwise be a decent salary), the majority of artists can expect to earn just about enough to buy their next batch of art supplies, if they’re lucky.

So now what?  I know ways to market my art.  I’ve studied it.  I’ve done it before, with some success.  But I’m so weary of all that.  This is not my year for that much effort.  Now I have another unique original to add to my “body of work”.  I like it.  I had fun doing it.  I learned something.  It makes me smile.  Those are the real reasons I make art.  And that’s enough.

“Outside of a dog…”

Posted July 19, 2017 by Kerry McFall

garden sketch

“Garden At Sylvia Beach”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

If you walk through that door (bottom left), the edge of the Nye Beach cliff is just on the other side of the lobby.  If you walk up the stairs, you’ll see a framed quote by Groucho Marx:  “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”  And that’s what relaxation is all about: watching dogs run on the beach, laughing, and reading good books.  Well, and eating, and drinking good wine!  Oh, yes, and sketching!!

We spent a lovely couple of days last week at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon.  The sketch above was made in the little garden at the entry.  The sketch below is a detail of those red flowers right by the door, and I call them that because I cannot for the life of me remember what they’re named.

“Those Red Flowers”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Each room at the hotel is decorated around an outstanding author’s “body of work”.  We stayed in the Jane Austen room, which featured feminine Victorian details like doilies (a current theme in my life, what a coincidence!) and floral-patterned textiles, and of course a shelf full of her work.  I must confess that we really wanted the J.K. Rowling room, but it wasn’t available… just as well, the Hogwart’s decor was a bit unsettling.  Jane was much more relaxing, no need to worry about house elves showing up uninvited.
The dining experience at the hotel is both unique (family style seating, which encourages conversation) and gourmet (I have never had a souffle that really counted as a SOUFFLE before, which I didn’t even realize until I took my first bite of this one, and that was just the appetizer!)  The seating arrangement allows you to meet and talk with a fascinating array of amiable folks who know nothing about you, aren’t related, didn’t go to school with you or your kids, and have sense enough not to bring up politics.  Which makes it possible to play games like Two Truths and a Lie…  heehee!  Our table never got to game-playing, there was an instant chemistry which managed to get lively conversations going without any icebreakers.
I highly recommend a few days here when you need to unplug and calm the squirrels in your head – there are no TVs anywhere, no phones, no wifi.  There is a big library upstairs, overlooking the surf, filled with books, puzzles, games, books, and more books.  And a monstrous table of real dictionaries, which will remind you that dictionaries were leading us down the primrose paths of 30 minutes of random distractions long before the Internet was conceived of.  Heavenly.

Chiffon

Posted July 2, 2017 by Kerry McFall

sketch of 1940s gown with lace detail

“Peach Chiffon”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Floaty, delicate, demure, the peach confection unfolded itself across my mother’s bed like a weary dancer.  Just liberated from nearly 70 years in an airless cedar chest, it seemed to have a mind of its own.  Yards and yards of chiffon cascaded over the edge of the bed in a sudden gust of gravity to reveal — Ooh!  A black satin bodice!  I take back the adjective “demure”.  It’s sassy!  It’s just this side of ooh-la-la…  And that sheer yoke… Wait, is that possible?

This belonged to my mother?  At least, it was in her cedar chest, snuggled up next to her Very Virginal white satin wedding gown.  It looks like it is her size, quite petite except in the bustline, which can only be described as generous.  I don’t know what was the occasion when she wore it.  Prom?  Bridesmaid?  Had to have been a Momentous Occasion, because she was a poor farm girl in a tiny logging town.  Sometime around mid-1940’s I’m guessing.   But look at that sheer yoke and neckline! This was back in the day when one simply did not have visible bra straps… so, no bra?? I’ve always suspected she was a tease, but this takes that probability to new heights!  Hmm.

Now my curiosity is piqued.  But do I dare risk asking her about it?  Her dementia seems to come and go, sometimes allowing her to reminisce about her early years with confidence, but other times bumping up against blank spaces.  When the blanks present themselves, without hesitation she manages to create a believable patchwork of unrelated but slightly similar events and characters, reconstructed into a new fictional past.  The only way you can differentiate between the real  history and the fictional patchwork is if you lived it yourself.  Usually, it doesn’t matter.  The greater risk, though, is opening Pandora’s Box.  It hasn’t happened often, but talking about anything but what’s right in front of her can trigger her anger at the inevitable changes that have come with dementia.  Will thinking about parties lead to thinking about getting to parties in vintage cars, which leads to thinking about driving…  No, Mom. you can’t drive anymore.  You can’t live alone.  We can’t let you.

To ask or not to ask, that is the question.  I’ve brought the dress home for my daughter, who has been a costume designer and a model.  Although she doesn’t really want it (see my previous post about how nobody wants your “stuff“, and besides , she is too tall and broad-shouldered to be able to wear it,) I know she would be interested in the construction and design of the dress, and the story of the dress,  Now that I’ve had my enjoyment by drawing it, and letting the fabric drift through my hands, ultimately it may be donated to the local theater.   Maybe, reincarnated and re-purposed, it can once again dance and float!

Endless Doilies…and Antimacassars…and Teacups…and Velvet Boxes…

Posted June 23, 2017 by Kerry McFall

News flash, Baby Boomers: nobody wants your stuff.  Or your parents stuff.  Nobody, we are told by an estate sales agent, wants solid maple Colonial-reproduction furniture produced in the 1960s.  It’s too big, it’s too heavy, and it’s ugly as spit.

sweet peas on doily background

“Endless Doily”, mixed media and digital by Kerry McFall

I know I certainly don’t want it.  I spent years dusting it every Saturday morning, Shaking out the doilies.  Washing and starching and ironing the doilies.  Polishing the gleaming table  tops and curlique carved legs once a month, being scolded for setting anything on it without benefit of a doily or coaster.  The last thing I want to do is pay to have it moved only to pay to store it somewhere until my kids decide they need it, even if it’s ugly, because they can’t afford to go to Ikea…

I’m cleaning out my mother’s house.  My brother and his wife want to buy the house, but like us, they don’t want the Stuff.  Not the Big Furniture Stuff, and not the Little Fussy Stuff.  Not the 60’s maple and not the 80’s hideous overstuffed couches and chairs.  In the (maple) Hope Chest, there are bushels of Pendleton skirts and slacks, chiffon bridesmaid dresses, embroidered hankies, baby booties, and the ubiquitous crocheted doilies.  My mother and aunts spent endless hours fussing with crochet hooks and miles of thread, creating acres of intricate lace, until their arthritic fingers finally rebelled and froze into painful claws.  They were just following the family crafting tradition, but took it to new production levels.  Where Grandma and her Cousin Edna created a small box of doll clothes for my bride doll, Mom and her generation created Victorian doilies by the hundreds, enough to cover an acre of table tops.  And therein lies the rub: the Greatest Generation created and bought and collected stuff in a way that no humans have ever collected before.

They came out of the deprivations of the 1920’s and 30’s with a hunger and thirst for “stuff” unrivaled in history.  And they hung on to all of it, for their entire lives.  My mother hasn’t worn regular bras for 30 years, since she had a mastectomy.  But there were a dozen regular bras, elastic brittle to the crackling point, carefully tucked into a drawer in the guest bedroom.  She kept every velvet jewelry box from every pair of earrings my Dad bought for her when he was in the Dog House, and he was in the Dog House a lot.  She kept every post card, every Christmas card, every bank statement, every hotel note pad that ever crossed her desktop.  For 70 years.

She came by it naturally.  “Waste not, want not, ” my Grandma would say as she carefully wrapped her new Christmas nightie in tissue paper and forced it into the bottom dresser drawer.  Every year, my uncle would send her one from New Jersey, cherry-colored satin or golden butterscotch ruffled nylon confections.  When she died, there were at least 30 never-worn nighties in that drawer.  Her raggedy old flannel was all she needed, she said… “Use it up, wear it out, or do without.”  A mantra, although she wouldn’t have known that word.

I inherited some of my Grandma’s stuff when I was in my teens.  It was amazing because it was So Old, and there wasn’t much of it.  Letters from young men at war in Europe to their mothers.  Some photo negatives, taken by a talented  uncle. A few quilts, still usable and works of art in their own right.  My husband inherited his Grandma’s stuff.  Love letters between Scotland and Tennessee in the 1800’s.  But their stuff was limited to one small box.  One steamer trunk with lots of empty space.  Because that’s all there was back then.  A bit of paper, a bit of film, scraps of fabric, a couple of tiny boxes.

Fast forward 50 years.  The photos tucked in to Mom’s window seat fill literally dozens of albums.  Kodak made a LOT of money developing images of big-eared skinny kids with crewcuts running through sprinklers.

Almost everyone I know has been saddled with cleaning out a lifetime of stuff for their elders. Most of them are not hoarders in the current definition of that word, but they kept everything.  Every.  Thing.  Stuff that you can’t even give away at garage sales or to  St. Vinnie’s or Good Will.

We have concluded that my Mom has been disguising dementia for years, by carefully keeping and documenting all of the stuff that she has acquired, stuff that might someday be needed, or inquired about, or referenced.  She had a rubber band, sticky with age, neatly wrapped around a stack of Hallmark Pocket Calendars dating back at least 40 years, her tiny crabbed handwriting detailing every conceivable event, appointment, visit, storm, purchase…  It wasn’t so much a journal as it was a reference ledger.  No thoughts or emotions recorded, just times and places and names.

History is important beyond our understanding.  But this much stuff is not history, it’s a fire hazard.  Doilies have been amply documented.  Each stitch was looped with love,  but doilies “protected” stuff that didn’t need protecting.  Solid maple would last for decades on its own, centuries perhaps.  Doilies are just fuss and bother for no apparent reason.  Although doilies did leave interesting patterns in the dust atop the maple tables when they were picked up…

The point of this rant is to encourage you, no matter how old you are, to weed through your stuff now, and jettison most of it.  If you’re young, don’t buy the stuff and don’t keep the stuff to begin with!  Recycle if you can.  Repurpose if there’s any good stuff.  But don’t saddle your friends and relations with days and months of sorting through it.  Just get over it and get rid of it and get on with your life!

It isn’t easy to let go.  But do it.  You’ll be glad.  And your family and friends will be grateful.

 

The Cattle Are Back! (On Bald Hill)

Posted on June 14, 2017 by Kerry McFall

painting of curious calf

“Who Are You?”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I was delighted to see last week that the Bald Hill Farm cattle have returned to their pastures.  It just hadn’t been right without them.  They take the experience of walking the meadow trails back into a pastoral tradition somehow, giving us and our children yet another living layer of our natural and rural history.  Nothing says contentment like the sound of a calf suckling sweet warm milk, or the munch-munch-munch as cattle graze in the sun.

When the Symphony on the Land began with a cello quartet (last Sunday, see what you missed at GreenBelt Land Trust) a large group of calves and their mama’s crowded up to the fence to check it out!  Ears forward, eyes curious, it was a magical moment!

I so appreciate having the Bald Hill area to wander.  It soothes my soul, it quiets the squirrels in my head.  Thank you, GreenBelt Land Trust and all who put so much of themselves into that organization.

Beware of Eclipse Rash

Posted by Kerry McFall, June 6, 2017

painting of wild iris, moss, and poison oak

“Leaves of Three”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, prints available

The Willamette Valley is gearing up for hordes of ecllipse watchers, due August 21, 2017.  We’ve put our house up for an AirBnB gig that weekend, planning to stay with friends and share the proceeds.  It’s all very exciting, unless you’re a worry wart like me.  Why worry?  Human nature, of course!

Everybody knows by now that you mustn’t look directly at the sun as it slowly darkens.  Use your special eclipse glasses.  Duh.  But what are the chances that any of these out-of-towners will have sense enough to stay on the trail when they go tromping up Bald Hill or Mary’s Peak or Fitton Green to get the Very Best View on the planet of this total solar eclipse?  Slim.  What are the chances that they have a clue what poison oak looks like?  Or that they have an inkling what the potential is for a very Itchy Weekend?  Oh, dear.  So in the spirit of civic-mindedness and being a good hostess, I’m posting my warnings early:

  • Even if you know the old rhyme, “Leaves of three, beware of me!”, stay on the trail!  Poison Oak is difficult to identify, and it’s everywhere – climbing up trees, hiding in the blackberry vines, crawling on the ground, slinking along under the grass, pretending to be a shrub.  It has an eerie ability to blend in to whatever it’s near, so you’ll see it in various shades of greens with leaves sized and shaped to match its neighbors.  Even the bare stems can cause the rash – sorry, kids, don’t pick up sticks.
  • Keep your dog on a leash, and give him a bath as soon as you get home.  The oils from the leaves will get on his fur, and transfer to you the minute you touch him.  Don’t be hugging him in the car on the way home!
  • If you’re silly enough to wear shorts, take a bath the minute you can get to a tub.  Use strong, old-fashioned soap and lots of it.  And put your socks in the laundry right away.
  • Don’t even think about a Commemorative Eclipse Roll in the Hay!  Keep your clothes on and stay upright – there will be too  many spectators for hijinks anyway.  I know of one young lady who spent nearly a week swollen and itching ALL OVER after such a fling up at Bald Hill…

So have a good eclipse, and behave yourself!

PS – if you start to feel itchy, go talk to a pharmacist, ASAP!

Take A Hike

Posted May 26, 2017 by Kerry McFall

Some of the best advice ever: Take a Hike.  Get outside.  Move, Breathe deeply.  Listen.  Really look at your world.

painting of cow parsnip

“Take a Hike”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I wandered up to Bald Hill on Monday, taking my own advice and also wanting to postpone another round of phone calls to insurance company robots.  It was lovely, and I was delighted at the varieties of wildflowers in bloom.  Cow parsnips get the prize for biggest, flashiest blossoms and they are EVERYWHERE.  Their big lacy umbrellas are really tall this year, over my head.  Looking up from beneath them gives them a glow against the bright sky, which I tried to portray in this painting by using a dark background.  The batik effect of that background is thanks to a post by Elsbeth McLeod of Sketchbook Skool, where she described using plastic wrap on wet paint to create random shapes  – I’m pleased with it, although my resident critic says the light spot is a bit too light and draws attention away from the blossom.  Hmm.  After it dried, I added a few light layers of colored pencil using the side of the lead, which highlighted the paint edges and also gave nice overall texture.

As for those phone robots, I have to shake my head at how we as consumers put up with such horrendous customer service.  How did we ever let them get away with this?  Why is there never an option that says, “Press 3 with your middle finger to flip a bird at the corporate MBAs who thought this was a good idea…”  After 15 minutes of pressing this, that, and the other, I get the privilege of listening to music on hold for half an hour before a human being answers.  And for this I pay over $450 a month?!  Grr.  I need another hike.

For an interesting comparison between this plant and Queen Anne’s Lace, here’s a web page ink http://www.nwplants.com/information/white_flowers/white_comparison.html.

magenta rhodies

“May Rhododendron,” mixed media by Kerry McFall

I often paint or sketch things that are setting on my dining table, which is a warm maple wood.  The window behind the table has venetian blinds of the same warm hue, and the strong vertical and horizontal lines have always intimidated me before this.  I decided to try just a suggestion of those influences today, and I think it almost worked.  What worked even better was the process of making the piece, losing myself in the colors and shapes, taking my mind off the challenges that await this next week: getting my mother into memory care, waiting while my son begins his epilepsy diagnostic sessions at UC San Diego Epilepsy Research.  So many milestones to absorb at once.  But like making sense of how to capture the ruffly flower petals and veined leaves, we’ll be taking it one step at a time, one line at a time, one day at a time.

Mother’s Day and Strawberry Jam

Omelette and Croissant

Mother’s Day Breakfast, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Somehow Mother’s Day always makes me think of that elusive vision of breakfast in bed, which has never quite panned out according to the Hallmark Card fantasy.  You know, the one where smiling children deliver champagne, bacon, chocolates, flowers… to a well-rested Mom in a nice velour bathrobe… My husband’s twisted sense of humor led him to help the kids provide cold coffee and green jello in bed one Mother’s Day… as the Queen might say, “We were not amused.”

My solution this year was to go to The Patissier French Bakery this morning and buy my own breakfast a day early.  A buttery omelette filled with tender potatoes, topped with tomatoes, and a croissant on the side.  I ate half, and saved half and brought it home, so although I will not try to eat it in bed (always messy, especially with a cat lurking around the edges), I will be sure to have my menu of choice  tomorrow morning — and the coffee will be hot!

But even so, this year Mother’s Day feels quite strange for me.  My own mother has slipped away quite suddenly as Alzheimer’s has made its presence known.  Our relationship has for years been not easy, so I don’t really have a rosy haze of memories to mourn.  But it was difficult last weekend, looking into her freezer and realizing that I was seeing the last jar of Strawberry Freezer Jam she will ever make.  I brought it home and made a painting of it.  Funny how food, a simple glass jar of fruit and sugar, can come to symbolize something as complex as a human being, something as multi-faceted as the relationship between a parent and child.

I am a mother, and a daughter.  I have a daughter, and many near-daughters.  I have a goddaughter.  I am also a Wicked Stepmother, and a step-grandmother, and a Mother-in-Law.  Even with all those matriarchal titles, the kids are all scattered this year.  So after my breakfast, I will drive to the “Skilled Nursing Facility” and visit my own mother, wondering what to try to talk with her about.  Maybe we’ll talk about jam.  Or more likely, she’ll just sleep.

sketch of jam jar

The Last Jar, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Word of the Day: Binkying (verb!)

Posted 4/5/2017 by Kerry McFall

After two straight days of struggling through robotic telephone “response” systems, for literally HOURS, I got supremely frustrated.  It’s very clear that our healthcare insurance and auto insurance industries are broken.  So I did the only thing any rational adult would do: picked some forget-me-nots, jammed them into a little vase, made a cup of tea, and drew bunnies binkying:

The resulting sketchbook page will not hold a place in art history, but once I stopped fuming and cursing I enjoyed the process.  The verb Binky is a new one, very fun – like the Irish verb “fooster,” it comes with its own giggle.  I learned it from a bunny enthusiast who brought her rabbits to our park across the street on Sunday.  Some unusual motion patterns caught my eye, and lo and behold, there were bunnies frolicking with great abandon!  The humans had quite a time capturing the rapturous rabbits when it was time for them to go home, but we enjoyed the performance.  Like baby goats gamboling – life at its woohooiest!

“Binkying Bunnies”, mixed media by Kerry McFall