Smoky Autumn

Posted September 17, 2017 by Kerry McFall

Finley National Wildlife Refuge, especially in these quiet few days at the end of a long, hot summer, provides a calm not quite like any other.

Yesterday we saw where Invisible elk have left their hoofprints in the newly plowed soil at the edge of the dike, seeming to appear out of nowhere and slip back in to impossibly narrow tunnels in the brush.

“Finley Barn: Still Standing”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The old barn is still standing against all odds.  I sat for several hours, completely focused on counting window panes and trying to get that red just right. The roof, once a tidy expanse of wooden shingles, is a living surface, moss upon moss upon lichen, thick and undulating, brightly colored orange and gold molds topping off green and copper and deep chocolate layers.  Owl poop – or is that swallows? – drips down the red siding of the sheltered roof peak.  I could justify the wonky perspective in my sketch by maintaining that it’s a saggy old building, but that would be cheating… the wonkiness is primarily my failure to understand some architectural basics!  Lessons learned!

Beside Cabell Marsh, Chickadees call softly to each other.  Great Blue Herons stare into their lonely reflections on the surface of the pond… and just as you feel yourself relaxing into a nice little Zen stupor, one of them bellows hoarsely at the world for no apparent reason and makes you jump and squeal.   What is that noise they make?

Lazy carp seem to wave from the middle of the pond, big fins sticking up from the shallow muddy water.  Swallows flit and twist above the surface, sometimes scooping up lunch with small sprays dripping back.

The geese have not arrived.  Unlike the rowdy OSU students due back to town this weekend, I so look forward to the arrival of the geese every year as they sing their way back from the far north.  Four ducks apparently stayed the summer.  Many more will join them soon.  Our day of wandering and relaxing ended earlier than planned as smoke drifted in from wildfires up north and out east… I hope the geese aren’t delayed or harmed by the smoke, but how can they not be affected?  The rains arrived this afternoon, perhaps that will put things right in the Pacific Northwest, perhaps nature can restore herself yet again.  Here’s hoping.

Seussical Inspiration: Cornus Kousa

Posted September 13, 2017 by Kerry McFall

When I read Dr. Seuss as a kid, I used to think the guy was crazy.  Fresh off the Bookmobile shelf, I flipped through a couple of his easy readers and quickly concluded that most of his books were filled with drawings of impossible plants and animals.  None of them looked like anything that grew in Klamath Falls, Oregon, (or even Eugene which was the cosmopolitan center of my small universe), and were therefore unworthy of being taken seriously.  Even his words were silly.  Fine for little brothers, maybe, but far too childish for my 3rd grade level of sophistication.  Besides, my mother disapproved of the Cat in the Hat… duh, he was naughty.

A few decades later, I have decided that my 3rd grade self was a conceited little snot, and my mother was an uptight troll.  And Seuss was a genius.  And his art was Inspired, and inspiring.

Painting of berries

“Kousa Dogwood Berries”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Every now and then in my wanderings around the world, I believe I have discovered some of his inspiration for those crazy plants.  The critters still mystify me, but the plants aren’t silly at all – they are REAL!  Take the above drawing for example – doesn’t this plant just take you back to  some of the illustrations in Seuss’ landscapes?  I’m not sure which book this reminds me of… but I saw this tree on my Sunday neighborhood stroll and fell in love with these crazy berries.

Kousa Dogwood Berries, photo by Kerry McFall

I consulted Google and decided that these must be Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa), native to China and Korea.  It took me several days to work up the nerve to start this painting/drawing because I needed to figure out how to get the berry details right… which I didn’t quite manage because the final doesn’t do justice to those bluish berries, but I almost got the green and pink ones.  For my art geek friends, here are some of the stages as a work in progress:

Pencil and watercolor layout, then yellow highlighter for leaf veins – an unfortunate choice as it turns out, because it kind of overshadows the green watercolor of the leaves.  Lesson learned. Then more watercolor under crumpled plastic wrap for background texture.  Finally brown, black, and white ink, and a bit more colored pencil.  If I need an illustration for a fantastical story about soccer balls on a stick, I’m halfway there!

And for the record, I like to eat cake in the tub!

Cake In the Tub, by Dr. Seuss

Summer’s End: Waste Not, Want Not

Posted August 29, 2017 by Kerry McFall

painting of Asian Pears

“Monday Windfall”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The Eclipse seems to have worked some kind of dark magic on the Pacific Northwest, dark in the sense that our skies are smudged with the smoke of many acres of forests burning.  The smoke has actually mediated the heat a bit, shielding us slightly at the height of the afternoon’s scorching temps.

Smoke in the Willamette Valley is not a new thing.  Native Americans used fire long ago to keep the meadows free of pers istentfir tree invaders, leaving forage and open access for game animals.

I am old enough to remember the Field Burning Years, those final hazy days of summer, breathing grass smoke and picking blackberries in a sweating frenzy to earn money for back-to-school: Pendleton wool pleated skirts and knit kneesocks.  The smoke and heat lasted well into September.  Makes my legs itch just thinking about those hot woolly walks home from school.  I can’t imagine today’s young women putting up with those outfits for a minute!

Pendleton Skirt ad

For many years, growers would burn the stubble in their grass and hay and wheat fields, eventually resulting in freeway pileups and a legislative ban on field burning.   Ironically, they thought the burning was necessary to clear the way for the next year’s crop, I vaguely remember something about mildew spores, but turns out it’s better for the soil to just turn the stubble under… Not that I would wish to go back, but for what it’s worth I have concluded that within reasonable limits, the smell of sweet grass smoke was better than the acrid forest smoke we’re putting up with now.  But we can’t legislate away the wildfires.

Under these golden smoky skies, our tiny fruit trees are dropping fruit on the sidewalk left and right.  The Asian pear is having a particularly rough time, with leaves looking scorched and sad.  “Windfall” usually describes fruit dropping conveniently so you don’t have to figure out how to reach it to pick it. Our windfalls seem premature, but maybe this is just Mother Nature eliminating the wormiest runts.  My husband salvages them all, laboriously cutting out the yucky bits, peeling off the tough bumpy skin.  He collects the resulting sweet tiny bites on a saucer and serves them for breakfast.  Waste not, want not!

This painting was made on grey toned paper, using watercolor, gouache, brown ink, colored pencil, ceramic marker, and white ink.

Harvest Time: an Ugly Duckling Tale

Posted August 24, 2017 by Kerry McFall

The heat has not been nice to my cucumber vines.  My tomato vines are not happy either.  Even though Ricardo my young garden assistant watered faithfully and thoroughly while we traveled a couple of weeks ago, now my backyard is full of crispy sunburnt leaves, and wilted stems.  I got my old re-purposed lawn chairs/vine supports out late this year, so nothing wanted to grow as I envisioned, leaving a garden full of ground-hugging ugly veggies.  Not good.  No matter how Not Beautiful my produce is, though, there is NOTHING that can compare to that first burst of real home-grown tomato flavor each summer!

final version of watercolor of veggies

“Tuesday Harvest”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The sketch/painting above was spur of the moment, made a couple of days ago in my standard white sketchbook while slurping the bounty of the first harvest.  The lemon cukes are seedy, yes.  The tomato skins are tough, and there’s a bit of blossom-end-rot, but nothing a good paring knife can’t take care of.  I admit I got a little carried away with the splatter technique here, but the idea was to convey how juicy it all was. Possible alternative title: Ugly Duckling Harvest!

Painting of cucumbers and tomato

“Thursday Harvest”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Now this is more like it!  Whatever that means in terms of art…  more like what I had in mind, I suppose.  A more careful composition, more thoughtful execution, more attention to detail. The grey toned paper in this sketchbook makes the highlights really pop! The veggies are just as scrawny and misshapen, but they are just as much fun to paint, and just as tasty as if they were blue ribbon winners at the county fair!

Eclipse: The Real Deal

Posted by Kerry McFall, August 21, 2017

“Totality 2”, mixed media by Kerry McFall


“Totality, The Real Deal”, mixed media by Kerry McFallA few weeks back I imagined what the eclipse might look like, and posted my painting here.  Today, I saw the Real Deal.  Totality at 45 degrees latitude.  Magic.  Wonder.  Awesome in the truest sense of the word.  But I’ll never know what the fish did during the eclipse…

One second I was fiddling with my eclipse “shades” trying to figure out where the sun had gone.  The next second the park filled with gasps and sighs.  I pulled off the shades, and was speechless.  Right up there above our redwoods, above our playground, above us tiny mortals, there were three huge spikes in the glistening corona.  The sun had hidden her face and donned her crown.  If I had been a primitive woman, I might have recognized an ancient symbol, maybe a celtic triskele foretelling my reincarnation as a goose, or a Norse symbol for Odin’s Triple Horn.  But being the creature of my own experience that I am, the first thing that popped into my head was a car logo… Cadillac?  Packard?  Oh for crying out loud.  I scolded myself.  Then I thought that maybe had I been Native American a few centuries back, would I have seen a wolf or a coyote?  Or, scary as it was, as an early Christian would I have seen the devil…  Then boom some idiot set off a few fireworks, which pulled me away from going down that mental path.

And then I got caught up in the chill of the moment — it really did get chilly.  And caught up in the thrill of the moment: Oh My God it’s really happening!  It was dark, “adult dark” as we called it in our family – time for the kids to come inside, but the kids always protested it was still light enough to play outside.  Street lamps flickered.  Elderly neighbors across the park turned on the lamps in their living room.

I was thinking about how I would paint this scene.  This was a dark that wasn’t the right thickness somehow…  There’s a star!  And another!  Moments later the three spikes were out-sparkled by a new pearly bead on the bottom right of the crown…

Everyone sighed.  There was a general kerfluffle as we had to put those pesky shades back on to see what was happening to the spikes.  Poof.  They were gone.  There were calls for instant replays, complaints that no way was that two minutes.  More sighs, sighs of satisfaction.  Sighs of gladness.

Some experiences live up to expectations and go beyond.  Like the color of the water on Hawaiian beaches, the totality of a solar eclipse goes beyond what we were led to believe.  I don’t want it to be over.

Editing a bit at 6:30 p.m., still Eclipse Day:  after seeing some photos by photographers in my area, specifically Christine Paige  , I edited the original (below) to widen the spikes a bit, also the corona.  Even so, I was pleased to have gotten as close as I did from memory to the general layout of the corona!

Corona of solar eclipse at totality



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.


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.