Category Archives: Works

Wild Swans and Dragons

Posted December 12, 2018 by Kerry McFall

2018 has not been a banner year for me.  But Mother Nature has gifted me with a bit of natural magic: wild swans in what is essentially my back yard!  I’ve never seen them at Finley National Wildlife Reserve before, although I have heard rumors that if you are lucky you will be there during the few hours or days each year during migration that they grace us with their presence.  

We go to Finley every autumn to hear the choirs of geese (the Canadian goose is my spirit animal, and I’ve got the tattoo to prove it), to watch their flights, to hear ducks cackle and joke, to see the occasional bald eagle soaring over the flocks to take inventory.  But this year – swans!  They are huge and there are lots of them, startling white on the shallow water.  Seeing one land is like watching Baryshnikov dance: appearing suddenly out of the heavens, silent smooth approach, perfect touchdown, elegant plume of spray, gentle stop – breathtaking.  Literally. 

I drew three different dragons earlier this fall for my grandsons, and had great fun with their spiraling bodies, sharp skulls, and scaly skins.  As I painted the swan arching his neck and showing off his glistening feathers, it occurred to me that swans could be dragons reincarnated.  They have feathers instead of scales, but the underlying structure is pretty similar.  Okay, it’s a stretch, but it’s a fun stretch! 



Pandora’s Recipe Box

Posted by Kerry McFall December 3, 2018

Christmas is upon us, time to make fudge and cutout cookies, so out comes the old recipe box.  ‘Dusty’ doesn’t do justice to the accumulation of oily residue and fingerprints and smudges on it as I wrestle it out of its position as honorary bookend on the cookbook shelf, resulting in the usual cascade of books and 3-ring binders off the shelf and onto the floor.  Dang.

sketch of wooden box and recipes

“Pandora’s Recipe Box,” mixed media by Kerry McFall

I pry up the lid of the box, and there is “Kerry from Dad 87” etched into the inside top with a woodburning tool.  He made it for me during his Woodworker Phase, one of many oak-and-walnut projects, including my pepper mill.  Utilitarian and one-of-a-kind, both my Dad and the box.

The box is packed so full that opening it makes me wonder what keeps all those cards and papers from literally jumping out.  The dividers, printed in my hand-writing on blue cardboard, are frayed and stained.  Given the accessibility of recipes via the Internet, this collection doesn’t get as much use as it did back in the day, so it’s been several years since I really paid any attention to it, but I’m on a mission: the fudge recipe on the back of the marshmallow crème jar just doesn’t look right.  Didn’t the marshmallow jar used to be way bigger?  Wasn’t it the large can of evaporated milk, not this itty bitty thing?  I need to find my old “original” recipe, THE recipe that actually results in creamy, delectable fudge.  As opposed to gooey chocolate sauce with walnuts sunk to the bottom…

As my fingers “walk” through the categories (two of my favorites are “Front Burner” and “Tea Treats”), I am remembering when I discovered the hard way that just because my mother gave me A recipe didn’t mean she had given me THE recipe.  I had tried for years to make Parker House Rolls during the holidays, but they were never as light and fluffy as hers, which I couldn’t understand because she had copied the recipe for me.  And then one day, she said smugly, “Well, I see you still can’t make them melt in your mouth like mine!” The light dawned.  I compared the two handwritten 3 x 5 cards.  She had written “1 package yeast” on my card, hers said “2 pkgs yeast.”  She had written “let rise” on mine, hers said “let rise, punch down, knead lightly, let rise again.”  Oh for crying out loud!

I put that memory behind me with a low growl, and finally coax out the recipe in Mom’s handwriting that says fudge.  And sure enough, the label on the jar is different in several places from this old yellow chunk of legal pad where she copied the recipe, so I’m going to have to call my sister-in-law.  She’s got Mom’s old originals now… but then I realize that squeezing the recipes back into the box is not going to happen unless I get rid of some of the never-used bulk.  In my head I hear the words to “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…” echoing: “…he’s probably going to want a glass of milk…”

But it can’t be helped, they just refuse to be jammed back into the box.  I start at the back.  There is the 3-hole-punch version – with hand-drawn X-rated illustrations – of “Fricasseed Boar Balls” from a once-young man who shall not be named… I’ve always thought this could be used to great advantage in a blackmail effort given his affinity for public office, so clearly that has to go back in the box!  There is a page of graph paper with a recipe for a potato casserole, in French, from someone named Devismes – nope, recycle.  But I wonder who that was?  Is that the family I stayed with on my first trip to France?  A double-folded card spells out a complex process for a casserole from the mother of the husband of my husband’s ex-girlfriend, with a sweet note at the end: “When you take the first bite, think of Ursula and Christmas 1993 in Corvallis”.  Aww, what a sweetheart.

And so it goes.  I find my long lost recipe for Hot Buttered Rum squirreled away under Vegetables.   There are pages and pages of typed gourmet entries (which means the main ingredient was cream of mushroom soup) from my Aunt Muriel, who loved to entertain – I never tried most of them so they go into the recycling, but a few are now family classics.  Most of the recipes are on 3 x 5 cards in the handwriting of the cooks who shared them with me, with unintentional samples of most of the ingredients spattered here and there – those are very hard to part with.  Ultimately I was able to recycle just enough so that I can close the box – but this little exercise was thought provoking.  When I google a recipe, it comes with no memories, fond or otherwise.  It comes with no evidence of little helpers in the kitchen with peanut butter on their fingers, no notes from friends, no reminders of co-workers who organized recipe exchanges, no clippings from ancient newspapers with ads on the back for honey at $.59.  It’s faster, yes, but it is SO not personal.

I wipe down the recipe box, and try not to think about how much shelf space I could regain if I took the time to sort through the cookbooks before I smash the books back into a row and wedge the box back on the shelf.  The fudge ingredients are calling my name…  I’ll save the cookbook shelf “weeding” for another Mouse and another cookie on another day.  Besides, I had to write about this while it was fresh in my head, and after I make the fudge I want to do a watercolor of all the ingredients and the recipe box… Time Flies!

(No surprise, finished the painting, still haven’t gotten around to the fudge or the cookies or the cookbook shelf.  What the hey – Christmas is still WEEKS away, right?)

Natural Wonders

Posted August 15, 2018 by Kerry McFall

The term “Natural Wonders” may bring to mind the Tetons, Victoria Falls, orchids, rhinos.  But think smaller, think about your own little piece of paradise.  The wonders are right beside you, you just have to look a little closer, a little longer, maybe get out of your car and put down your phone.  And maybe grab a sketchbook or a paintbrush and make the full impact of that wonder last for hours, even years!

oaks on a hill plus a turkey feather

“Bald Hill Iconic Oaks”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Sunday morning I got up early – well, not fishing trip early, but early enough that the cat wasn’t clamoring for breakfast yet.  As soon as I could get my sketching gear into the car (and feed Sparky) I was off up the road toward Bald Hill Farm, aka my “church”.  The staff at Greenbelt Land Trust (which owns the farm) had organized a “Paint Out”, so I got to go beyond my usual trails and the closed gates, past the house and barns, all the way around the next long curve in the gravel road to the shop.

Rebecca, who works for the Trust, explained a bit about the Trust and how the land belongs to the Calapuya people, which we are holding in trust for the future.   The farm is being managed as a working farm with a goal of returning the landscape to the native oak savannah of Calapuya times and to bring back many endangered or at risk local species.  I find it comforting to know there are so many people in this area with priorities focused on the future rather than profit.

The critical first part of a paint-out involves choosing your subject.  For me, that was right where I stood beside the shop, looking west toward a cluster of oaks outlined against the crest of a golden hayfield.  The bottom edges of those oak branches looked like they had been drawn with a ruler, a product of hungry cattle or deer reaching up as high as possible for tender new growth.  A gobbling noise drifted down to me, and voila, a flock of wild turkeys suddenly found themselves in my painting!

A few more quick strokes, and I went in search of another subject.  As I walked through the oak forest, avoiding poison oak, and mysterious holes in the ground (snakes? bunnies? moles?) I gathered several turkey feathers. Those turkeys are big, and so are their feathers, 10.5” x 2.5”.  If you pull the “vanes” of the feather apart, (vanes are those little skinny threads coming out of the quill, the stuff that clumps together and makes it, well, a feather,) you can see what might have been the inspiration for Velcro – talk about a wonder of nature!  And then you can smooth the vanes back together again and the feather is good as new!  Did you ever do that when you were a kid?

I was about to wander past the logging truck parked up the hill, then decided it might make a challenging subject, a contrast to all the surrounding organic shapes.  Apparently it’s used when needed to clear out the invasive fir trees in the oak savannah areas.  The background was splashy and quick, just took a few minutes.  But then I began detailing the truck, carefully sussing out those little holes in that chrome muffler pipe thingy that runs up the back of the cab, or counting how many lugnuts on each wheel…

logging truck in oak forest

“Working Farm,” mixed media by Kerry McFall

The end of the Paint-Out came much too soon.  As I packed my art supplies and feathers, one feather drifted down across the first piece I had done – and “Oh!”  That was just what it needed, so once back at home, I painted in a feather right in that spot where it had landed.  Since I was painting with watercolor over some of the original landscape, the feather seems a bit ghostly, perfect for the feeling that this place belongs both to the future and the past.  Perfect for a natural wonder.

The allure for me of Bald Hill Farm is not so much that this place is particularly unique or full of hidden treasure,  The appeal is simply that I know it is there, with its natural wonders quietly existing as they have in the past and will in the future.  Thanks for reading!

Click on a thumbnail to see a larger image of other recent paintings:

 

Where Else But the Benton County Fair and Rodeo?

Posted Friday, August 3, 2018 by Kerry McFall

brahma bull lying down

“Spotted Bull #44”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Where else can you find out if you’re going to Heaven, uncover your true psychic aura, pet a sting ray, marvel at bull bollocks, interact with robots, eat fried Twinkies, and see the results of a table-setting competition?  In this part of the world, nowhere but at the Benton County Fair and Rodeo.  The fair has changed very little over my lifetime, which is good in many ways, although I’m sure my Uncle Paul would tsk at the pitiful size of the squash in the produce area.

The most treasured and enduring tradition for me is cowboys in well-fitting bluejeans.  Praise Be that they never fell victim to the style of droopy drawers or drag-ass cargo pants.  Add that walk they do in those boots… melts my butter as Dolly would sigh.  True, there may be fewer exhibits in general as we fall prey to the changes in our world.  Women don’t sew much any more, so there aren’t many quilts or prom dresses.  Not many folks put up preserves apparently, or bake pies either.  Maybe I just didn’t run into the old-school wood-working and fly tying exhibits.

But what will never change is the awkwardness of the young people as they strut their stuff through the carnival, pairing off or ganging up, smirking, giggling, whispering, enacting the same dramas that have been played out since tribes had potlatch and clans gathered to throw tree trunks around.  And wonder of wonders, very few people of any age were staring at their cell phones!

If you take the time to wander through the animal areas, you’ll find that country kids still learn and practice manners.  Several 4H teens made a point of greeting me, and even cheerfully put up with my questions and comments.

In the Improvements Noted department, the good news is you can drink beer pretty much anywhere on the grounds except the Carnival and inside the buildings, no more being corralled into a dusty little beer garden.  However based on the old college-era acquaintances I ran into in the concert area, the guys who couldn’t dance back then still haven’t learned how.  Oh well, at least they’re still enthusiastic about the music!

The county fair is a rarefied atmosphere, and that’s what makes it all the more endearing.  Don’t miss it!

 

Oh!

Posted July 24, 2018 by Kerry McFall

butterfly in field

“Oh! Swallowtail on Teasel”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

There is a moment as I wander along the trail when something enters my field of vision so quickly, so softly, that I doubt it’s really there.  It stops me in my tracks, alert to every smell, every variation in light, every tiny buzz… then, “Oh!”  A tiny bunny!  There at the edge of the trail, ears shyly pressed to its little head.  Can I get my camera out before…. no.  Off it goes, noiselessly into the grasses.  I smile for a long time as I continue down the trail to the bench beside the meadow that is my favorite pew.

Bald Hill trail is my church. The 40 swallows on the power lines are the choir, with just one bird on an opposite wire apparently directing, although they are an unruly bunch.  The cows are the congregation, munching reverently.  Every once in awhile someone passes by with an ecstatic wet smiling dog, testament to the joys of this church, especially the rolling in the creek part.

Last Sunday there were two “Oh!” moments.  The second was at the edge of the big field beside the bike path, where teasels and young ash shoots have taken over from the scraggly hay.  A brief silent flash of bright yellow disappeared behind the purple tutu of a large teasel head.  I tiptoed into the grasses, knowing the folks passing on their bicycles thought I was perhaps just a bit eccentric.  “Oh!”  I was rewarded with the flutter of swallowtail wings.  They slowly spread to full sail, remaining just long enough for me to get out my camera and capture a few shots.  I imagine that the nectar tastes… well, purple!

A couple of days later, I spend hours staring at the photos, sketching, painting, meditating on the intricacy of those wings, remembering that rich grassy smell, the heat of the sun on my shoulders, the clop of horse hooves on the trail.  It takes me back to a moment when I was six years old, sprawled under the maple in my back yard, mesmerized by the tickle of a butterfly proboscis tasting the sticky drops of sap on my hands. ” Oh!”  Church can be in many unexpected places.

6 x 6

Nothing says summer like a rose in full bloom, bending down to greet you as stroll through the neighborhood…

peach colored rose on dark background

Peach Rose, 6 x 6″ watercolor by Kerry McFall

…Or maybe a basket full of berries delivered by the children down the street…

“Strawberry Diangle”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, 6 x 6″

Several years ago I participated in an exhibit of 6 x 6″ art, and it’s a terrific way to take advantage of the simple format of a grid on the walls.  Lots of art in a small space!  It’s my new size of choice in my sketchbooks, gives me a sort of theme without having to think very hard about layout, etc.

And then when you siimply cut a 6×6″ square into two triangles, you’ve got a Diangle.  I’ve also been experimenting again with “diangles” (huh? see http://www.gallerynouveau.biz/index.php/gallery-of-works/diangles/ for an explanation!).  They are a fun way to take quilt patterns and the geometry of triangles to a new level.  For example, here’s one way to make something new out of the strawberry “diangle”:

“Strawberry Diangle Square”, digital image by Kerry McFall

Making these sketches, paintings, and digital images, and some of the thumbnails below, are keeping me relatively sane as I navigate the pot holes and twists in Life’s Rich Pageant this season.  Between Alzheimer’s (my mom), epilepsy (my son), the ever-insane national news (Trump’s circus), and recurring breast cancer (me), there is never a dull moment.  When a waitress or barista asks, “How is your day going?” I always think to myself, “You don’t want to know.”  But I say, “Oh, can’t complain!”, or maybe fall back on the weather or the world cup soccer news…  Then I open my sketchbook and set out to draw or paint, which takes me out of my self and into the world.  So far so good.  Like I shared on Facebook recently, being able to make and share my art, and to see what other creative folks are up to, is the joyful center of my world right now.  Thanks for looking!

Sun Setting Forever on Liberty?

 

sun setting on Statue of Liberty, sialboats in foreground

“Sunset on Liberty?” by Kerry McFall

Are we watching the sun set forever on the principles behind the Statue of Liberty, the “New Colossus” who encouraged the world to give her their “tired, their poor…”? Or was that all just another American myth, something that we believed because most of us hadn’t ever seen very much to contradict it?

We who call ourselves American, with the possible exception of the Native Americans, have ALL benefited from the melting pot.  Sometimes it took  a lot of heat for that pot to bubble, but bubble it did.  My own ancestors have been quiet about where we came from, who we were before we were “American”.  I have always wondered who among them were escaping more than famine or oppression.  Some admitted to being Irish – hard to deny with all those Mc’s in the mix.  One grandfather used to say we were Railroad Irish and Black Dutch – but he couldn’t tell me what that actually meant.  Looking at bone structure from the perspective of an artist, I would say that somewhere along the way there were encounters with Cherokee or Chinese, but maybe that’s just what Black Dutch meant, Dutch Indonesian perhaps?

None of those groups were welcomed with open arms from what I can gather in the history books, but they struggled and mostly succeeded.  My family, and my husband’s, worked their way from migrant laborers, to farmers, to blue collars, to white collars, to professionals. They served as soldiers and sailors, and as Rosy the Riveters. They realized the American Dream because they worked hard, but they couldn’t have done any of that if they had been imprisoned, or walled out, or if their children had been separated from them when they tried to enter.

And that is the ultimate inhumanity, to take children away.  WHAT ARE WE ALLOWING?  And all for the almighty dollar?  The danger is not at our borders, the danger is in our board rooms, and in our executive offices.  I’m sure there are and have always been desperate criminals seeking asylum here – is this new immigration insanity an admission by Homeland Security that they can’t tell the difference between a drug lord and a farmworker?  I believe that most potential immigrants just want to work and be safe, and the criminals we should truly fear are those already in this country whose conceit is such that they don’t fear anything or anyone, and the only God they worship is money.  I refuse to believe that the melting pot can no longer be effective in creating a livable society.

It was coincidence last month that I happened to be in Brooklyn at the waterfront on the very night that was predicted to be the “perfect sunset” behind Staten Island.  It was coincidence that there were flotillas of elegant sailboats backlit by the fading light.  It took my breath away, and made me very, very sad.

We are better than this, America – it’s way past time to throw the true Rascals out.  Let them go live where they launder their money.

 

Archaeological Dilemma

Posted April 28, 2018 by Kerry McFall

Mabel gazes steadily out of the sepia haze of 100 years ago, eyebrows arched.  Her dog leans against her, intense, suspicious, ready to defend.  There she is in her Sunday Best, standing in what seems to be a patch of thistles, almost grinning, and yet her eyes are somehow sad.  She looks cold to me, like the wind is blowing and she’d rather be indoors.

painting circa 1920 woman and dog

“Mabel”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

What shall I do with you, Mabel?  You and all the other intriguing ancestors, recently emerged from your cocoons in my mother’s house?  And what shall I do with your story, Mabel, not just your image?  I only know a bit about you, that you were the darling of my grandfather’s family, and that you died young, shortly after you were married (shortly after this photo in all probability,) poisoned accidentally by your mother-in-law’s potato salad.

Mabel original Photo and beginning of sketch

Mabel’s generation’s portraits, in their embossed and gilded leather or cardboard folders, don’t take up much space.  And there aren’t very many of them.  But they are just the tip of the iceberg in my bedroom.  The next layer in the huge box of photos is a couple of albums with black and white glossy photos glued in with tiny black corner holders.  Then come the albums with plasticene pockets holding “color” prints in various stages of fading and warping.  Next up are several manilla envelopes filled with streaky prints from my grandmother’s ubiquitous Polaroid, followed by a dozen huge fancy albums bulging with color prints of faces I recognize.  As I finallly dig down to the bottom of the box, I realize how glad I am that my mother did not succumb to the scrapbooking craze.

“Ancestors”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

But Wait – There’s More!  Digital Icebergs

That’s just my piece of the family photo iceberg.  Somewhere in a garbage dump nearby, there are my Dad’s jerky video tapes, which no one can watch anymore because who has a VCR?  My daughter-in-law occasionally publishes a glitzy hard back book preserving their digital photos – she must have dozens by now.  Cameras that aren’t mounted on drones or squirrel collars are So Last Century, but everyone has a cell phone, and as a result all of us have multiple hard drives and/or “thumb drives” tucked away in our sock drawers, filled with digital images we will likely never look at again.   I haven’t even touched on the current phase of rampant technological contagion, where social media stored in the “cloud” adds another dimension to the imagery and the stories behind them.  What on earth shall we do with it all?

So there you have it, a brief archaeology of amateur photography, a frozen layered history of unintended volume, now stuffed into in our collective closets. I don’t know yet what I’ll do with my personal historical iceberg.  Draw and paint from some of the more intriguing portraits for starters.  Ship some off to unsuspecting friends and relations.  Start a bonfire with the rest?  I’m open to suggestions – got any?

Related:

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

Sally Lightfoot

Posted April 10, 2018 by Kerry McFall

If you teach your children to love to travel, you’re likely to spend your “golden years” sketching from their photos of places you haven’t been and wondering if their passports are going to expire while they’re exploring exotic locales … the Galapagos in this case.

painting of crab on rocks above sea

“Sally Lightfoot, Galapagos Crab”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

My daughter was just lucky enough to try a cruise in the Galapagos – not only does she travel, she is a concierge travel agent! ( https://saexpeditions.com/our-team then scroll down to Corey Cruzado Jay)  There’s a part of me that loves what she has been able to do, and another part that kinda wishes the world was less scary…

This is another in a series of experiments with plastic wrap over watercolor for backgrounds – I’m developing ways to “push” the channels in the wrap in the direction I want the paint to flow, and I’ve learned to do one area at a time, and use a little less water and a little more paint.  Another challenge is getting seafoam to look foamy and sand to look sandy…  It’s a process.  And in this case, the subject herself (Sally) didn’t get as much attention as she should have.  I learned a lot about crabs, though – for instance, this type doesn’t even pretend to make themselves less visible to predators.  They are SO out there with their brilliant orange against the black lava rocks it’s almost like they’re daring someone or something to try to pick them off the rock!

 

Behind the Scene(s)

Posted February 28, 2018 by Kerry McFall

I can’t decide if I would like to be a fly on the wall in the Whitehouse these days, or if that would just make me want to hand someone the fly swatter and put me out of my misery…  The imagination boggles at what must have been said and done “backstage” in those hallowed halls over time, the ultimate “behind the scenes” locale.  But now?  Can it get any weirder?!

sketch of fluffy flowers on shrub

“Mystery Shrub”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, 7 x 10″

As I worked on this painting of a mysterious Seussical flowering shrub, I was thinking a lot about what goes on behind a scene, any scene.  Backstage in a play, literally behind the scenes, is a beehive of activity: actors rehearsing lines, politicians making up excuses…  Backstage in an artwork, i.e. in the artist’s head, is a circus of squirrels (which is pretty much what I’m thinking is going on in DC as well… ) At least that’s what it feels like in this artist’s head as I wrestle with how to manage the background of a watercolor floral.

A background can’t be too detailed or it will take over the composition entirely – I still want those crazy flowers to be the focus of attention.  But it can’t be boring either, or it will overlay the whole work with a big “Ho Hum”.  Then again, too much fuss in the background also takes a lot of time to get on paper or canvas, time that could otherwise be spent getting started on the next work of art, and life is getting shorter by the day.

So what to do?  My latest solution is plastic wrap.  I’m about to get the hang of it: do a quick watercolor wash suggesting colors in your major shapes, and major areas of dark and light, then lay plastic wrap over it while it’s still juicy and wet.  Push and pull the plastic around until it looks interesting, then go empty the dishwasher or water the houseplants.  After it’s dry, pull off the plastic and let the Squirrel Circus begin!  If it needs to be darker, get out your colored pencils and drag the side of the leads over the paint.  This will darken the “veins” formed by the plastic-channeled paint, and pick out any texture that was laid down as well.  Pen and ink, more watercolor, maybe some markers, et Voila!  Well, not quite voila at that point – I also did a few manipulations in Photoshop, trying to reach the same brightness and contrast as the original.

Here’s another example of the plastic wrap approach, although a bit less fussy than the one above:

sketch of Bengal Tiger

“Tiger Camouflage”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, 7 x 10″

This tiger was so complex, and yet he blended so nicely into the surroundings in his enclosure at the San Diego Safari Park.   Clearly all the emphasis needed to be on him, yet he couldn’t just be floating in white space.  I didn’t really want to ink in all those stripes though… so I didn’t.  I focused my efforts on his expressive face, and simply suggested the rest of his body and some strips with a few lines of ink.  He just kind of goes invisible as your eye moves off the page to the right.  If I had it to do over, I’d make that green blob up top not as bright – it must have dried before I got the plastic on.

An earlier (and less effective) example of the plastic wrap technique is in an earlier post on http://www.gallerynouveau.biz/index.php/2017/09/seussical-inspiration-cornus-kousa/