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

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


Posted April 1, 2017 by Kerry McFall

carton of mixed eggs

“Diversity”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, prints $25

There’s something almost magical about fresh eggs, delivered to your doorstep by a dear friend.  Her hens are happy and healthy, and pampered, of course, which is how I felt yesterday morning at breakfast time.  But the true magic is in the Green Egg, which towers over the other little caramel-colored or soft pink eggs, filling its cardboard cup to overflowing.  It was almost a perfect sphere, not the usual elliptical egg shape, and when I cracked it on the edge of my black skillet, it split almost exactly in half.  I gently slid its contents into the center of the sizzling puddle of butter, and the yolk stood up round and proud and orange in the center of the quickly-thickening egg white.  Store bought eggs don’t do that – their yolks flatten themselves, lemony yellow, pale and tired.  “Over medium”, it was delicious.  A crisp slice of sour dough toast, coffee brewed by my husband (who has finally learned to make a pot of coffee after 30+ years of marriage!), a glass of V8 juice – doesn’t get much better!

Diversity.  New life.  Strength.  This collection of sizes and shapes and colors reminds me of how important immigrants are.  How important diversity is.  How important different viewpoints are.  Building walls on borders is simply insane counterproductive.  As I was writing this, I began to think maybe I’m taking my analogy too far, but, read this definition from Google:

Analogy, noun:   a comparison between two things, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification.
  • “an analogy between the workings of nature and those of human societies”
  • a thing that is comparable to something else in significant respects.
    “works of art were seen as an analogy for works of nature”


    Thanks, Tracy!

Life’s Rich Pageant

Posted March 27, 2017 by Kerry McFall

flower bouquet with text about Alzheimers

“Alzheimer’s Flowers”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

My Mom was recently diagnosed with “Alzheimer’s pathology”.  That means her Rich Pageant is heading into a fog bank.  It’s complicated, this haze that comes and goes.  She is stubbornly refusing to acknowledge it, falling back on the mythology of her generation, that “I survived the Depression and WWII and I can survive anything” brand of immortality.

As part of recent developments, my sweet sister-in-law and brother sent me this bouquet.  Sketching and painting have become an integral part of my days, an exercise in finding the good and praising it.  So I took this opportunity to include words describing the emotions that wash over us all.  The words are hazy to match the feelings.  The little strips of flowers are like that funky paper tape (Washi?) you see in crafts stores, not there for any particular purpose, not really holding anything together, but kind of like a bandaid that might make a kid feel a little bit better about the latest booboo.

And the pageant still marches on, slowing a little on this curve…


Life Drawing

Posted by Kerry McFall, March 18, 2017

All drawing is really life drawing, right?  Landscapes are geography and biography and every kind of life.  Cityscapes are filled with the architecture that has resulted from someone’s life.  Funny how the nude human body is what most artists think of, though, when someone uses the term “life drawing”.

I’ve been doing some life drawing, or as I prefer to call it figure drawing, at our local Arts Center‘s Open Studio evenings.  It’s daunting, but I’m determined to keep at it.  Human flesh tones seem unforgiving.  Human shapes require accurate representation, at least if you’re going to satisfy the Resident Critic at my house.  There is no formal instruction, just a bit of informal critiquing among a handful of folks.  The models so far have been very cooperative, even fascinating, posing in a not-very-warm basement, bringing their own props, costumes, and sound tracks.  One even brought her very own live turkey!

I’m not very confident about posting nudes online, so I choose the ones that are mostly covered.  I suppose that’s a holdover from my mother’s prudish condemnation of anyone older than 6 months appearing anywhere anytime in their “birthday suit”.  I confess that I still feel just a bit naughty when I’m in a room with naked people.  Or it could just be a creeping suspicion that some mysterious censor somewhere is going to see my drawing of a nude and ban me forever from the Internet.  We’ll see, won’t we?

Sweet Violets

Posted March 15, 2017 by Kerry McFall

painting of dog violets

“Sweet Violets”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, prints available

My Sunday stroll took me to the Covered Bridge Path on the OSU campus.  It was the first mostly-sunny day in an eternity, and the community was out in force, mostly biking and running.  Even with the sun shining, everything was still saturated, and the violets I discovered peeking out of the old oak leaves at the edge of the asphalt were pretty soggy.   The true miracle of violets, however, is that no matter how drippy, they still send up their sweetly scented promise of spring.  Maybe we won’t all be washed away after all!

Every sketch or painting provides lessons to learn.  For this one I was fiddling with contrast, trying to push the values so the sunny bits would really pop out of the dark, wet background.

I started with just watercolors, blocking in some pale grass color and bright purples, then added black ink lines and a lot of green.  After that, I fussed and bothered over every little detail, using a white Signo Uni-ball pigment paint pen, lifting color with a damp brush, adding textured emphasis with the side of a colored pencil… until finally I decided that I needed A) stronger paper, and B) to stop fussing and bothering!

When I convert my jpg photos to gif format for web viewing, PhotoShop always provides a little palette created from the painting in a corner of the preview pane.  Being a quilter, I find these irresistible.  Wouldn’t it be fun to make a tiny quilt for every painting… ?  to hang alongside?  Maybe someday, when life is slower… HA!  Dream on.

The “42 Degrees and Raining” Blues

Posted March 7, 2017 by Kerry McFall

This is almost the worst weather Oregon has to offer.  It’s not just that it’s cold and wet and gray and miserable, the real issue is that it’s been like this for an eternity.  Since February 1st.  Seriously.  Oh, sure, there are a few soggy crocus here and there, but it’s too ugly and windy and wet to even go for a walk to see what’s sprouted lately.

Sketch of Audubon's warbler on suet feeder

“Suet Wars”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

When we returned from San Diego, I dug out the old suet cage and popped in a block of whatever Schmidt’s Garden Center had to offer last time I was there.  It didn’t get much attention for a month or so, but given the non-stop gross weather, it’s been a real hot spot this week!  When this fellow showed up a few days ago (Audubon’s warbler, aka yellow-rumped warbler according to Google), I was thrilled: color outside the dining room window!  Warm, golden – COLOR!  Then, lo and behold, a pair of bluebirds.  More COLOR, cheeky, sleek, and fairly exotic for this intown neighborhood!  Then some sassy juncos started a bit of a turf war with the warblers this morning, and it was hysterical to watch the strutting and bullying and yes, twittering… almost as much fun as watching an SNL skit about Trump… but I digress.

I begin to understand why people enjoy bird watching.  But just when you’ve found something relaxing and blood-pressure-lowering, some flea-bitten random cat slinks through the back yard and you come unglued, yelling and pounding on the window…    Ah, Spring!