Tag Archives: daily sketch

Proper Winter

Even though we know that climate change is upon us, even though we know we can’t pretend it’s gone away even for just a month or two, even though half of our continent is having haywire weather this season… still, it just feels so right to have a bit of proper winter weather here in Oregon.

"Willamette Pass Summit", NFS, mixed media by Kerry McFall, photo by Ben Jay

“Willamette Pass Summit”, NFS, mixed media by Kerry McFall, photo by Ben JayT

The painting above was made (with permission) from a photo taken by Ben Jay the Sunday after Christmas at the top of a Willamette Pass ski lift.  Last year there was zero snow.  So far this winter, there is plenty – Hallelujah!  But there’s nothing like a mountain top view to remind us that we are indeed on a very round planet hurtling through space.  The clouds began to whirl around the sun about lunchtime, when this photo was taken, leaving little doubt that more snow was coming, and soon.  From my perspective as an artist, following that very pronounced “whirl” with my brushes was an epiphany about painting skies: no more flat horizons for me, if I can just remind myself often enough how effective this circular movement is!

"Out of Control", mixed media by Kerry McFall, NFS

“Out of Control”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, NFS

Meanwhile, as Ben was up top, I was down in the lodge, sketching and warming my hands around a hot toddy or two. My title  “Out of Control” refers to the central skier, a figure who reminded me too much of myself and my characteristic skiing style.  I was very content to be rubbing elbows with the ski bunnies in the lodge, rather than providing the comic relief  out on the slopes.

It wasn’t really much warmer inside than outside. I was wearing full winter gear (except mittens) the whole time as I sketched and painted.  One man watched me draw for awhile as he ate his lunch.  When I got out my paints, he said, “It should be easy to paint snow – just leave it blank!”  I told him I was about to conclude the exact opposite as skiers and snowboarders slashed down the no-longer-smooth white slopes.  How to portray those tracks and cuts and popcorn mounds – so many subtle shades of … what? purple? blue? grey? green?  Fun to experiment!

"SnowyFir", mixed media by Kerry McFall, NFS

“Snowy Fir”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, NFS

Grandma’s Fudge Recipe – A Christmas Miracle of Sorts

recipe and sketch of ingredients

“Grandma’s Fudge Recipe”

For most of my life, I have screwed up making the Christmas fudge.  Either it was grainy, or it was syrupy and wouldn’t set.

It’s no wonder, really, because I am an inconsistent and easily distracted cook (stirring for six minutes?  Seriously?!)  Not to mention that many if not most of my mother’s recipe cards weren’t the REAL recipe.  She always kept at least one thing to herself, like the extra package of yeast in the Parker House Rolls.  Or left a major ingredient open to interpretation… on her original recipe card for this fudge, it says “1 large can Carnation milk”, which could be simply evaporated, or it could be sweetened condensed, or it could be skim, and who knows how many ounces equaled “large” in 1950 when she copied this recipe initially.

My niece must have had Grandma’s Cookbook out recently, which includes the photocopied version of most of her original recipe cards, because she posted that “who knew what a difference evaporated vs. condensed could make?”  Sorry, kiddo, I should have written a warning on Page 1!

Over the years I’ve figured these things out, by trial and error, and by harrassing Mom for the true facts.  And more’s the miracle, my fudge turned out creamy, rich, and delectable this year – WOOHOO!  Above is the REAL recipe – good luck, and be sure to let that boil roll for a full SIX minutes!

 

Giving Thanks for Can Openers and Alley Fairies

sketch of coastline San Diego

“Pacific Beach Pier”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

We spent Thanksgiving in San Diego at Pacific Beach, where our children now live.  Pacific Beach is a small marvel, a colorful, vibrant place on a human scale that is a great place to sketch when it isn’t raining and windy.  You can almost afford to live there.  Just down the boardwalk a ways is La Jolla, also beautiful and vibrant but way upscale for members of the 99% like us.

We enjoyed our traditional Thanksgiving foods (does anyone else call marshmallows, whipped cream, pineapple, and cherries a “salad”?) and traditional pastimes (watching and singing along to Muppet Christmas Carol while digesting turkey and salad), and I got traditionally teary-eyed when saying what I’m thankful for.   I’m still adding to my gratitude list, looking back on the day.

When it was time to make the “salad”, my daughter dug through a couple of kitchen drawers and came up with what was supposed to be a can opener for the pineapple cans…can mangler would have been a more accurate name for that particular implement.  It occurs to me now that I take my can opener for granted – I’ve had it for probably 40 years, still works like a charm.  It’s easy to forget that everybody doesn’t have one, at least not one that works, nor do they have any cans to open.

The mangling tool in question came from “the Alley Fairy” as they call her, who has designated a place by the dumpsters in the alley where vacationers and landlords toss the stuff they know is too good to throw away but they’re too busy/lazy to take it to GoodWill.  My kids are grateful to have a working microwave, four chairs, a desk, a spatula, and an a couple of fans courtesy of said fairy.  The fairy even left wine glasses the night before our feast (also what appeared to be a large cement cutting tool, which we left for someone else to figure out).

Now you might think that can openers are old-fashioned… nope.  Cans of sugar-baked beans and tuna and peaches make up the bulk of my Earthquake Emergency Food Supplies, because they’re edible without further intervention and will last a good long time.  Without a sturdy can opener, we couldn’t get to all that nutrition.  So I am grateful for my sturdy can opener, for my shelves of cans out in the garage, for my optimistic and loving kids and their creative acquisition methods, and for San Diego beaches where fairies dwell and the clouds part nearly every day making for gorgeous sunsets.

The gratitude list goes on, but I think I’m ready to focus on the next holidays now.

PelicanSketchX

Pelicans rarely fret about the holidays…

Too Hot – Vamanos to the Libraries!

When it’s NOT hot, which is pretty rare lately, this is how I spend my afternoons.  Working from my photos or a still life like this bowl of fruit from my neighbor, I sit at my dining room table and draw and paint, getting up at regular intervals to let my demented old cat in/out/in/out/in because she’s pretty sure I haven’t fed her lately, the full kibble dish in the kitchen notwithstanding…

But most days this summer, it’s just too hot.  So rather than fry, I put the kitty and her bowls out back under the fir tree, and pack up my Art Bag and go someplace cool.  This last week I went to three libraries and a wine bar:  OSU Valley Library is the largest and seems to be the one with the oldest art books; Corvallis downtown, by far the most populous; and LBCC, which was small but has an interesting assortment of art books.  I didn’t want to drag my heavy old computer along, so I grabbed a random book from whatever was on the shelves, flipped to an interesting page, and pulled out my paints.  Since school’s out and there weren’t any students around, nobody seemed to mind or even notice.

The portrait of the long-necked lady was inspired by a painting in a book (I wrote the credits on the page).  My sketching friends (mostly from Sketchbook Skool – it’s a great online community) and I have been discussing online the relative merits and various approaches to learning from the masters – this painting was shown in a black and white photograph, so it left lots of room for color interpretation.  The Ansel Adams portrait was from a black and white photo taken by one of his friends – another opportunity for interpretation.

After the LBCC library, we stopped to see the birdhouse I painted last spring for them – it really is a nice concept, with a little book inside where people passing by have written poems or drawn pictures.  It was shady there in the quad, but not cool, so on to Albany.  The wine bar was in a historic brick building that was lovely and air-conditioned to the “just right” mark on the thermometer.  We chose a table that had a good angle on a mirror.  Since I had my gear spread all over the table, it was difficult to finish unnoticed.  Our server put the word out, so I had several admirers, and the owner wanted a photo when I finished – very kind and flattering folks.

Maybe it will cool off and I’ll be able to focus this next week and finish the travel journal sketches from New England, but if it doesn’t, at least I know that I can always hole up in the libraries to beat the heat… I knew there was a good reason for all those taxes we pay!

Herring from Heaven… in Maine

Our recent New England trip took us to Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Schenectady NY, and for one afternoon to Massachusetts. We drove like we were playing hopscotch on the blue highways to the Back of Beyond.  Good thing I had picked up a map from our local AAA office before we left because GPS coverage was spotty, and T-Moible coverage was non-existent.  So there we were a couple of weeks ago, strolling along the trail around Mac Worth Island, just off the coast of Portland, Maine… when a live fish fell out of the sky.  Whoa.  Not sure who was the most surprised, us or the fish.

 

"Herring from Heaven", mixed media by Kerry McFall, copyright 2015

“Herring from Heaven”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, copyright 2015

Moments earlier, a shadow had skimmed through the maples and pines above us.  Griff wondered aloud what kind of bird would make such a big shadow.  Three steps further, and there was a 12-inch fish gasping in the middle of the trail, a brilliant red puncture just behind its gills.  The trail was on a cliff, at least 20 feet above the ocean, and we were at least 10 yards from the edge of the cliff, so no way did it jump out of the ocean.  If we had been a few seconds earlier, we could have been conked on the head!

Another hiker appeared with his dog, and we all stood there puzzling over the wet, silvery creature.  No fish hook or injured mouth.  Beautiful blue and silver scales.  (I learned several days later that it was an Atlantic Herring.)  “An eagle must have dropped it,” the hiker suggested.  That would explain the shrieking we heard after the shadow passed, maybe an adolescent Osprey cursing his bad luck.  We left the fish there, thinking the bird might double back to retrieve its lunch.  A little later, past the fairy houses (read on, that’s in the next paragraph!) and at the end of the island, sure enough there was an osprey repeatedly diving into the ocean, but coming up with empty talons.  Glorious to see those dives, though!

So about the fairies… this island was clearly enchanted.  All along the eastern edge, there were tiny dwellings tucked into every nook in the forest.  Paths paved with snail shells, walls built from bark strips, elaborate woven twig roofs, each one unique and built of only natural materials.  You had to be sharp-eyed to spot them, but once we started really looking, we discovered dozens!  These were works of arts in themselves:

We met that hiker and his dog again as we finished the loop – he said he’d returned to where the fish was, but it had vanished…  herring for lunch after all?

Wine and Watercolor

We recently drove with my mother to King Estate Vineyards, where I told them that what they really, really need is an Artist in Residence… what could be better than spending your afternoons painting and drinking wonderful wines?  And I nominated myself, of course – now to persuade them!

"King Estate Patio" mixed media by Kerry McFall

“King Estate Patio” mixed media by Kerry McFall

We enjoyed a gourmet dinner on the patio, looking over the flowers and hummingbirds out to the Willamette Valley and it’s ever-so-green-and-gold meadows and hillsides.  I sketched and painted between bites and courses, concluding that hummingbirds are going to take some more practice.

Lavender blossoms send up their sweet scent all around the restaurant and winery, planted in every possible spot and at the ends of the grape rows.  As we left, I snapped a few photos of the shadows creeping from the big firs on the hill crest over the rows, undulating across the curved hillsides… you don’t see shadows this shape in most vineyard paintings!

"Lavender Shadows at King Estate Vineyard", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Lavender Shadows at King Estate Vineyard”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Angeles National Forest Artist in Residence 2015: Sketchbook Journal Project

Update 8/12/2015 0- here’s a link to an article about the program from the Pasadena news: 

“What’s an artist in residence?”  No one quite knew what to make of an art program in a Forest Service campground, until I pulled out what came to be known as my “arting gear”, including small personal sketchbooks, colored pencils, rubber snakes and toy bears, and invited them to join me at the shady picnic tables.

The campground families and kids hopped right in, choosing their favorite “model” and colored pencils, and about an hour later there were drawings of dragons and condors and landscapes and flowers, and lots of happy campers, including me!  The program gave all of us a way to simply be together in the woods, quietly sharing our insights about nature, looking more closely than we usually do, making drawings that will take us back to those woods for years to come.  The art sessions also gave families a way to keep the kids busy without having to organize a big expedition.  My two favorite participants were A.J. and Zack, the sons of the cafe manager and his wife.  Their parents were very hospitable, and their excellent food kept me from having to do much camp cooking and being able to just make art!

photo of instructor and children making art at picnic table

“Arting at the Campground”, Kerry McFall

Before I began this Artist Residency adventure a few weeks ago in mid-June 2015, I didn’t know there WAS a national forest anywhere near Los Angeles!  But there is, and it’s beautiful by any forest standards.   Mountains, vistas, forest, flowers, fresh air… but no water this year.  The drought is So Very Real…  However, the Crystal Lake Campground has an infrastructure of historic facilities built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the Depression era that give it an aura all its own – who needs water when you’ve got ghosts?  

"A Look Back", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“A Look Back”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

There are remains of the stone walls, fireplace, bandstand, and dance floor of a fabulous ballroom (or maybe a tent with a stone foundation?)  which was legend for big band events in the 1930’s – 1950’s, hidden in plain sight.  If you can’t hear the music and see the dancers at night, you aren’t paying attention…  but oddly, photos of that era are hard to come by.  I would love to do more research, but being off the grid up there at 5,500 feet, there weren’t many opportunities.  There are also plenty of ghost stories involving attacks by phantom bears back when the facilities were being built… gave me the shivers…

When I wasn’t “arting” with other campers or exploring the trails, I had full use of the welcome coolness of the Studio, an old building re-vamped for use by artists, to work on my own art.  Over the course of a week, I completed 20 mixed-media sketches in the journal that now belongs to their program – the sketchbook gallery below includes my favorites.  My husband and I hiked and wandered until it got too hot by Oregon standards, then I sketched and he wrote.  I worried about bears and mountain lions, and there was plenty of evidence of the critters, but all we encountered were lizards and blue jays and one horrendous spidery bug… I didn’t know whether to be relieved or just the tiniest bit disappointed about the bears…

The Angeles Forest has just been augmented by the newly-designated San Gabriel National Monument, and I got the first calendar slot for the new-this-year artist residency program.  The rest of the summer will bring nine other artists working there at different times in different media – it should be a terrific season!

Escaping to the Coast

sketch of children playing on shore

“Simple Pleasures”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

When the temp reaches 97 degrees in the Willamette Valley, plus a pollen count that’s off-scale even for here, it’s time to skedaddle to the coast.  Oregonians call it “the coast” because it’s not a beach… it’s a rocky stretch of sand scoured by cold wind and covered by clouds and fog.  It’s just not a place where you stretch out with your paper umbrella in your drink and your floppy hat covering your face from the sun.  Floppy hats must be anchored with elastic chin-bands, and drinks just make your hands colder.  But we love it.  You cross the center line of Highway 101 to turn onto the coast access road, and the temp plunges 40 degrees – no kidding!  The brave little souls painted above were having a marvelous adventure because they don’t know any different… I hope their hot cocoa was waiting for them when they finally were dragged away!

No trip to the coast is complete without a trip to Mo’s Chowder.  We sat out of the wind and enjoyed garlic cheese bread with our bowls of buttery chowder, and I had a perfect view of the dock and the Tsunami-bait homes out on the jetty.

sketch of dock

“View from Mo’s in Lincoln City”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

We stayed a few nights, had quite an adventure in the casino, and were ready to come home to a much more comfortable stretch of temps in the 70’s… whew!  Here comes summer!

Post-Trillium Sketches

The Trillium Project Residency left me with a camera full of images and a head full of things to ponder (click here for a look at the sketchbook journal I did during the residency, and more about the project itself.) So far those have evolved into two paintings – not Plein Air, mind you, because logging trucks (aka flying dragons) and artists sitting in the gravel at the side of the road don’t mix well!

sketch of old bike

“Spring Green”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The first one was inspired by an abandoned rusty bike on Shot Pouch road, just west of the cabin.  I suspect that the bike may have had a close encounter with something on bigger wheels, the rear tire is actually wrapped completely around the back part of the frame… but the handlebars are pointing out over the spring greenery of the meadow in such an optimistic attitude.  Bittersweet.

The second was painted from a photo I took just outside the community of Harlan, up the road a piece from Burnt Woods and Shot Pouch road.   Harlan is one of those Oregon places that has been transformed several times, much like the little valley where one branch of my family settled.  At first, men fought the trees to the ground with crosscut saws and whipsaws. Once those Monster Logs were gone, the forests were bruised from their passing, but still, there was forest.  Technology changed – enter the chainsaw and the gasoline engine.  In the boom years, logs flew by on roaring trucks, huge logs, maybe only three to a truck.

meadow view of clearcut

“Harlan Legacy”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I remember the first time I saw a logging truck in Georgia in the 1980’s, with dozens of piddly, skinny logs roped to the truck. I smirked, “You call that a log?  We have REAL logs in Oregon.” And then I flew back home, and saw the mountains from the air for the first time…  Industrial logging techniques  had morphed into clear cutting, and little was left but eroding scars.  A fringe of trees was left standing at the sides of the highways and on the ridge tops, leaving us down in the valleys with our illusions of forest.   The “real logs” were quickly becoming history, the forest had become “managed” timber lands.

That old clearcut above that little ranch in Harlan seemed so familiar, though I had never been there before.  It was beginning to green up as the red alder and blackberry moved in.  Life is returning.  But my gut tells me that every clearcut diminishes the potential for recovering the diversity of life in a forest, and the legacy of that land will never be as rich as it could have been.

Trillium Project Sketchbook Journal

sketch of trillium

“Wake Robin”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

It’s been a month since I posted because I’ve been finishing up a special journal sketchbook for the Trillium Project!  This opportunity was made possible through the Spring Creek Project at OSU’s College of Liberal Arts, which provides an artist residency program during “trillium season” at a special cabin in a private wildlife preserve.  Just Wow.  Three days and two nights of gurgling spring, perfect weather (seriously -perfect!), and so many flowers to draw that my brains fell out… except trilliums, I could only find one because spring came so early.  So here is a little tour of the major sketches and paintings:

I think that the larkspur and the columbine are my favorites because the idea of a bottom border showing life stages of the plant seemed to come together nicely.

This residency is a little different than most I’ve done: I got to work on my own pieces the whole time.  In some ways I missed interacting with others, usually children, but at the same time, it was so wonderful to be able to focus for three whole days!  Completely off the grid, no sirens at night, just the occasional logger rumbling past on a Flying Dragon:

map of Trillium Project at ShotPouch Cabin

“Treasure Map,” mixed media by Kerry McFall

We who are lucky enough to live in Oregon take so much for granted that we rarely slow down to appreciate all that surrounds us.  If you’re someone who enjoys wildflowers, go on that wildflower hike now, don’t wait til June or July.  Everything is blooming NOW as near as I can tell – get out there and glory in it!