Tag Archives: Oregon

Tulip Tree


drawing/painting of tulip tree

“Tulip Tree”, copyright 2015 by Kerry McFall, Prints $25

This tree portrait represents an experiment with “focus”.  Inside the enlargement, I used both opaque watercolor and transparent watercolor initially, then highlighted using a brush pen.  I blurred the background branch by scribbling over it with white china marker, and I drew over the outline of the foreground branch and blooms with the marker also.  Then I added a blue transparent wash over the entire background, which fuzzed things up quite nicely. A few touchups with transparent watercolor and .03 Pitt Artist’s Pen, then I added the quick sketch of the entire tree as it appears outside my kitchen window.  The final touch was to spatter pink paint from a toothbrush on the blossoms – next time I think I’ll use thicker, brighter spatters.


Sunday was a blustery day so the petals are now scattered all over the neighborhood.  In another few days, they’ll be soggy, brown memories of their former pink glory.  Time marches on.


Spring Comes Early to the Willamette Valley

painting of apple blossoms

“Apple Blossoms,” mixed media by Kerry McFall, 12 x 12 framed, $200

This is another piece from the Call and Response show, perhaps my favorite this year, painted last spring (2014).  I saw this broken but still beautiful branch on an ancient tree behind the homestead at Finley Wildlife Refuge, hanging on by a thread of bark and a bit of wood.  The blossoms and bee are cutouts, made from watercolor, ink, and gel pen.  The background is a collage of various papers and paints.  The “float” frame makes it possible to position the cutouts into a 3-D setting.

I am amazed at how quickly spring is barreling in to the Willamette Valley right now… the honeybees seem to be having a hard time keeping up.  So many flowers, so few bees.  I noticed this morning that strawberries, blueberries, and pears are blooming in my front garden – WAY early!

"Ouch!" Mixed media copyright Kerry McFall

“Ouch!” Mixed media copyright Kerry McFall

The little Fuji apple tree is a bit behind because some butthead college kid tore off the best fruiting branch one night in the wee hours in January … grrr…   I scrounged around in the garage and found an old can of pruning tar to seal the wound.  (Tip: wet coffee grounds are very useful for scrubbing pruning tar off your hands and arms.  Also nail polish remover.) Apparently they had a go at uprooting it as well, but with a little luck and a few bungee cords… I hope the tree lives.  And, I hope he/they (yep, pretty sure it was males) woke up with MAJOR headaches.


Crocus Gone Wild

sketch of crocus growing wild in lawn

“Crocus Gone Wild” mixed media by Kerry McFall

I’m glad to be back home in Corvallis after several months in Tennessee.  It was a weird homecoming, which involved some unexpected surgery, but I’ve catalogued my sketchbooks from my last year on the road, and am preparing for a sketchbook exhibition titled “Road Trip!” next month.  Watch for details soon!

There is an older home in my neighborhood that has “naturalized” crocus carpeting the whole front of the property, even spreading on the south side to part of the neighbor’s lawn.  I don’t know whether they hired a crew of squirrels to do the planting, or if it just happened all by itself.  For two or three days each spring, we all walk past gasping at the sheer numbers,  then – poof! – they’re gone, and we can barely remember which house it was.  Fleeting glory!  Early spring here in Oregon seems like a good idea at the moment… but I’m pretty sure we might change our minds come about July when it gets much drier.

I was purposely trying for a “loose” approach here, with plenty of spatters and splashes and not many lines.  It seems to fit the general wilderness effect of this “lawn”, which only a few days from now will be adrift in dandelions.

Call and Response: Raptor

To say I was not immediately struck by inspiration would be an understatement.  

My prompt for this year’s Call and Response* exhibit was “Quiet, Noisy.”  How in the world could I put the sense of hearing on a flat surface with paint?  How to translate audio into visual?  But soon enough, I was assaulted by the answer: I happened to be driving near the Portland Airport when a military plane took off from PDX and the afterburner kicked in… it was deafening.  I decided to contrast that with the silent flight of a hawk, often seen soaring over the fields as we drive up and down the Willamette valley.

Sketch, copyright K McFall2015

Sketch, copyright K McFall2015

My first sketch was for a triptych, made to look as if the observer is in a cathedral, the ultimate quiet sanctuary, looking out.  The backdrop was quintessential Willamette Valley, a lone “seed tree” fir silhouetted on a clearcut hillside above a field of grass stubble.  Next came some detail studies of the hawk:

study for hawk

Hawk Sketch, copyright 2015 K McFall

Once I started getting ready to paint, the reality of a triptych dawned: I have no place to paint big enough to allow me to work on three canvases at once, which I would have to do to keep the colors consistent.  So, down to one canvas, which would be simpler anyway, but sticking with the window arch idea… maybe making the entire piece a “window” done as if it were leaded glass?


But then I decided that I didn’t like the arch or the curving “glass” pieces, so I painted them out… or tried to…  So now we’re down to the simple sanctuary of nature, no cathedral in sight…

Next came the jet, which interestingly enough was called a “raptor” according to my Google research.  Hmm… possible title?  The underlying glass bits, which I had outlined in ink markers, bled through, even through several layers of thick gesso.  This “pentimento” became echoes of the jet con trail.  The jet and the bird are also going in opposite directions, both facing off the canvas, but the con trail(s) and furrows in the field below curve back to the center of the painting, the conflict of the quiet and the noisy.  Coincidence?  Works for me!

Carolyn Kindell, my neighbor, is an avid birder, and she shared several bird books to ponder for reference.  I learned that hawks glide over fields listening intently for mice and voles moving underground… as a “hidden Mickey” kind of a joke, I had already added a tiny field mouse in the grass beneath the hawk.  When she saw the work in progress, (she’s my neighbor and a frequent visitor, impossible to keep  it secret), Carolyn said “The mouse lives another day, but the hawk goes hungry.”  And possibly the hawk goes profoundly deaf,  after the afterburner event.  I decided that the mouse needed a bigger role, so I detailed in his little home entry and made him more obvious.

"Raptor," acrylic on canvas, 11" x 14", copyright 2015 by Kerry McFall, $300

“Raptor,” acrylic on canvas, 11″ x 14″, copyright 2015 by Kerry McFall, $300

Finished 2/12/2014.  The painting is now hanging in La Sells Stewart gallery on the OSU campus, surrounded by the responses of our seven Call & Response member artists, plus three guest artists.  I am thrilled with their responses.  If you’re in Corvallis, please take the opportunity to see how these artists chose to respond to my call.  It’s free!

*Call and Response is a community art exhibit created by eight Willamette Valley artists.  This is our fifth exhibit.  The C&R theme for 2014/15, was “Opposites”.  We each pulled a “prompt” slip of paper out of a hat, which contained two words that were the opposite of each other.   The painting that resulted from this prompt would be my “call” to seven other artists, one at a time, who would respond with a work of their own based on mine.  They would not know the words of my prompt, and they would not see the other artists’ responses; they all just knew that we were working with opposites.

Summer Gallery

OSU Tree-Lined Promenade, Mixed Media by Kerry McFall

OSU Tree-Lined Promenade, Mixed Media by Kerry McFall

The summer is flying by, and I realize I haven’t posted very often here.  It’s not because I’ve been slacking, I’ve just been very focused on the Sketchbook Skool courses I’ve been taking, which in turn has led to being immersed in the new community of artists I’m meeting there.  I’ve also been working away diligently at my eight Call & Responses pieces, which of course have to stay secret until October.  I just finished the above piece as part of a “16 Trees” challenge that evolved from the course, and there are two more from that series below.

Lovely Day for a Quick Plein Air Sketch

sketch of lupine

“Lupine”, watercolor and ink, by Kerry McFall

sketch of fields and mountains

“Midge Cramer Trail”, ink and watercolor by Kerry McFall

Half a mile from the parking lot at the fairgrounds, there is a bench on the Midge Cramer trail, the perfect spot for sketching.  By the time you’ve reached it, you can’t help but feel your batteries re-charging.  It smells good (wild roses and sweet meadow grass), it sounds good (crickets and birdsong), it’s gorgeous and green.  People jog and pedal along smiling, dogs can barely walk for wagging, the occasional horses even seem glad to see you.  There are lots of wildflowers this time of year, and unfortunately also lots of poison oak so stay on the trail.  The lupine I sketched above are undoubtedly transplants from someone’s garden via a blue jay or squirrel, they’ve sprouted up just behind the bench.

Technique Notes

I sketched these in my Grey toned Strathmore book, which just happened to be the right size to fit in a small pack, and discovered that a toned paper is really great when you’re sitting out in the direct sunlight.  Instead of being blinded by the reflection on bright white paper, you can actually see what you’re doing.  And as a bonus, just a white charcoal pencil makes for easy highlights.  I wondered if the watercolor and colored pencil would still be as bright after photographing, and I think they look good!

Flaming Rainbow

"Flaming Rainbow", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Flaming Rainbow”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Rainbows are so simple, and yet so magical.  And so difficult to capture on paper, especially when they are flaming in the sky for 20 minutes!  The science is apparently wrapped around words like parhelion, or sun dog, or irridescent cloud – I like my term better, a Flaming Rainbow.

Seeing it was also an interesting social/cultural experience – I was sitting at a sidewalk table on campus when it appeared.  The folks who weren’t staring at their cell phones were staring at the sidewalk as they trudged past.  Feeling a bit like the Village Idiot, I kept pointing at the sky and saying, “Look Up!”  Almost to a person, they would look at me as if I had sprouted antlers, carefully and quickly look up like I might try to take their cell phone away, then gasp.  Then take a picture of it with their cell phones, of course.   But at least they got to see it, and most of them thanked me and were quite excited to have seen it.  Apparitions like this are so magical, and just a little unsettling for those of us who thought there was nothing new under the sun!

Taking Bar-Hopping to New Heights

sketch of rabibit jumping over brick buildings

“Taking Bar-Hopping to New Heights”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

McMenamins Edgefield resort is simply one of the coolest places in Oregon if you enjoy art, history, music, food, and drink … which ought to just about cover most of the human population.  It has more pubs (of various shapes and descriptions) per square acre than anywhere else I can think of, and art where nurses climb out of TV screens or pipes float mystically above matchbook flowers.  Black rabbits peer out at you from everywhere, much like the “hidden Mickeys” in Disneyland.

We suggested it as a meeting point for a business colleague, which gave us a great excuse to spend a night.  Just outside of the mythical Portlandia, its vintage buildings and gardens are gorgeous, and every building has at least one elegant restaurant or kitschy bar.  There is also a brewery, a winery, and a distillery.  The sketch above is the view from the Black Rabbit Bar in the main lodge, looking down into a courtyard-  even when it’s pouring rain, there’s plenty to sketch.  We had a gourmet dinner, (included in the “Hammerhead Package” price), followed by a free bluegrass concert in the Blackberry Lodge next door featuring “the Howlin’ Brothers”.

Another reason to go there: McMenamin’s Restaurants have a “passport” promotion going on, (the kind of marketing hype we usually avoid , but this is really fun), where you get a stamp in your passport book every time you visit a different location.  After ducking in to every bar on the property (and you don’t have to buy anything to get a stamp), we got a $20 gift certificate!  Many locations also have an art treasure hunt, so we shed our thin veneer of sophistication, wrote down the clues, and our inner 10-year-olds went skipping off to find Seamus McDuff hiding in a painting… and when we found him, we got a prize: a really nice corkscrew and a bag of freshly-ground coffee.


“McMenamin’s Edgfield Library”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The sketch above was made in the Library of the main lodge.  I was practicing interior perspective, and trying to convey just how rich in color and pattern the whole place is.  While I sat at a table there, a parade of interesting people buzzed around me, including the very damp staff of Oregon Brides Magazine as they set up a wedding photo shoot outside in the rain…

"Edgefield Bride", pencil sketch by Kerry McFall

“Edgefield Bride”, pencil sketch by Kerry McFall

WHAT were they thinking when they scheduled that?!  Poor girl was shivering even before they cranked up the dry-ice “fog machine”-  it looked like a Pagan Sacrifice more than a wedding… Rain or shine, though, Edgefield is a fun place to spend a couple of days.

March Moon

sketch of moon behind tree branch

“March Moon”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Last night I looked up from my book and was startled to see the full moon gazing back at me.  The moon is even more of a stranger in March in Oregon than the sun!  Rising like a pearly balloon over the park, it floated among the tree branches, silhouetting the swelling buds.  Over the phone lines, beyond the tops of the distant redwoods, shrinking as it rose, I watched it climb until it disappeared above my window.  I found myself thinking how I would paint it as I gazed… so, I painted it!  Now it just needs a poem, or a haiku…

3,500 Miles & Seven States

In three weeks we’ve traveled over prairies, plains, and plateaus in a big loop starting and ending at Denver.  We stayed 24 hours ahead of the Arctic Vortex at every stop.  Another title for this adventure might be “50 Shades of Brown on the Blue Highways” … this time of year, 90% of everything in America’s Heartland is either brown, or brown covered by snow.  This is a trip we would probably have never thought of if a business project hadn’t made it possible – you’ll never see a glossy tourist brochure for, say, McAllen, Texas in early March… It reached a point where we almost looked forward to roadkill just to break the brown monotony.  (There was actually very little roadkill – apparently only skunks venture out in winter…) But even so, It was fascinating, enlightening, I’m very glad we did it and I would do it again.   Just not right away… my buns are tired of sitting.

It’s good to be back in our lush Willamette Valley.  I wish everyone in Oregon could see all of that brown back there, up close and personal; I wish everyone could read all the notices about drought and crop failures, could drive past all the dried up little towns – we would never ever pave another square foot of this paradise if they had taken this trip.  This is the best farmland and forest land in the world, bar none – we need to remind ourselves and our land use planners and legislators of this constantly.

sketch of adobe buildings

“Canyon Road, Santa Fe”, mixed media sketch by Kerry McFall

Okay, I’ll come down off my soapbox now.  My favorite state on this tour was New Mexico, favorite city was Santa Fe, aka Disneyland for Artists.  Definitely on my list of places for a return trip, and hopefully to spend several days.  There was no one around much, this being the “off season”, so I had 100+ art galleries and museums all to myself.  That provided a great opportunity to talk with gallery owners, and to learn what kind of art and artists they are interested in representing.  I made the above sketch of a group of sculpture galleries from across the street at an outdoor cafe – it was out of the wind, and that was as close to “plein air arting” as I got, munching on a panini and sipping a nice Chilean chardonnay.

One of the best art venues in Santa Fe was the New Mexico state capitol building, which was filled with art in every nook and cranny.  Bonus: it was free!  In the 90’s some visionary legislators put into place an art acquisition program for works by NM artists.  Reading the well-written artists statements about each piece was an education about New Mexico history, culture, technology, economy and vision for the future.  If you find yourself in Santa Fe, check it out!