Tag Archives: sketch journal

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.

Happy Birthday Oregon!

Oregon became a state on Valentine’s Day, a particularly inspired piece of “branding” way back in 1859.  Although it wasn’t intentionally planned to celebrate either Valentine’s Day or Oregon statehood, I had a chance to spend the whole Valentine weekend “arting” at Odell Lake Lodge, one of the prettiest places in the state in my opinion.

painting of white mountain reflected in lake

“Sunny Morning, Diamond Peak”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, $30 print

This is an example of what Sketchbook Skool (my online art educators) would call Art B4 Breakfast, but in reality it was before, during, and after breakfast… and I was glad I started so early, because the sunshine only lasted a couple of hours.  The next morning was very gray, so it was a very different art opportunity.

I spent the entire weekend either in the dining room at the lodge, or in the big fireplace room, sketching and painting whatever struck my fancy, indoors and out.  The dining room is complete with binoculars on the windowsills so you can watch the eagles and mergansers above the lake or on the creek.  If you’re a skier, which I no longer am, that first day was terrific.  If you’re an artist, every day is terrific, rain, snow, or shine!  And my thanks to the Lodge staff for putting up with me and my paints, pencils, and pens being underfoot all weekend!

IHeartOR

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…

Sketch Crawl October 24, 2015

—That’s the joy of “crawling” for me – seeing what variety comes out of people’s hearts and minds as we all experience the same spots on the map in the same time frame. —

sketch of artist

“Oceanside Artist”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I was invited to lead a “Sketch Crawl” last weekend (Oct. 24) in the village of Oceanside, Oregon.  The term Sketch Crawl I think is an adaptation of Pub Crawl, the difference being that you’re not limited to pubs, but you do progress as a loosely-connected group as the day plays out, plying your art, eating, drinking and being merry.  It’s simply great fun!  And how does one lead a Sketch Crawl?  For this one, I shared a few of my sketchbooks, I showed a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up (mostly from Sketchbook Skool), I briefly demonstrated two of my favorite tools (china marker and waterbrush), and then we headed out to let the art happen.  Leading is less like an art lesson and more like a pep talk: “Afraid of that blank sketchbook page?  Try drawing a border first in pencil – and voila, you’ve started!  Or just splash on some watercolor in the basic shape of what you see…”

Tiny Oceanside (which is near Tillamook of Tillamook Cheese fame) offered a one-block strip of sketching opportunities, which included the Three Arch Inn (our launching point), the community center deck overlooking the surf, the Post Office, a fire station, and two restaurants. A few sandy steps down, and you were on the beach.  The “crawlers” included around two dozen folks, literally from ages 9 to 90, beginners to accomplished professionals, who came to enjoy the glorious weather (! yes!  in Oregon in October at the coast!!) and the company of other artists, even if they all weren’t quite sure what a Crawl is…

We spent the morning choosing a likely spot in the village, pitching our folding chairs and stools, and “arting”.   It was fun to spot the crawlers on the sidewalks and decks and beaches, and to look over their shoulders as they worked.  We re-grouped for lunch, most of us at the Blue Agate Café, then carpooled up the cliffs to Cape Meares.  It was breezy there, but we all found another couple of magnificent views to fall in love with.  Close to four o’clock, we returned to our starting point in the lobby of the Inn.  The Art Accelerated group who organized the event provided snacks and wine and tea and coffee, and I encouraged everyone to share the results of their efforts.

What accumulated on the floor of the Inn as we laid out our sketchbooks was exactly what I had hoped for: a wide range of styles, subjects, and media.  That’s the joy of “crawling” for me – seeing what variety comes out of people’s hearts and minds as we all experience the same spots on the map in the same time frame.  From houses on the hillside to morning glory blossoms, from the geologic marvels of the coastline to the ever-changing waves that sculpted them, each page was unique.  Each choice of color or tool reflected something about the artist and the day.  Judging from the glow on the faces of the participants, even the shy ones who protested they weren’t artists, it was clear that they were pleased to say they had been on a “sketch crawl”.

We Need to Talk

 

sketch of antique gun

“The Old Pistol”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I made this painting last year in Tennessee, showing one of the keepsakes from my husband’s family which surfaced after his brother’s funeral.  In the excitement of my daughter’s Christmas wedding, I don’t think I ever got around to posting it here on my blog.  But today, the day after another slaughter of innocents here in my home state of Oregon, it seems appropriate.

We Americans need to talk to each other.  To communicate.  To think together.  We’ve got to figure this out. Not scream at each other, not shake our fists and our heads, not fall back on the old “tried and true” battle cries about gun control vs. constitutional rights, but really put our heads together and figure something out.  Nobody has to be right, nobody has to be wrong, but we are broken.  Here’s what I wrote to my U.S. Senators and Representatives this morning:

“Let’s talk about freedom and security, the concepts that anchor the Second Amendment.  Are we free?  Are we secure?  Security is really all about fear, so we also need to ask ourselves: what are we afraid of?

Do I feel secure because the old guy down the block has a couple of deer rifles in his closet, just in case some college frat boy gets so drunk he tries to go in to the wrong house?

Do I feel secure because the woman at the desk next to mine has a concealed carry permit and a small handgun in her handbag?

Do I feel free when I’m not allowed to take my wine corkscrew on a plane?

Do I feel secure when I go to the movie theatre here in little Corvallis, Leave It To Beaverville, and the teenage ticket taker asks to look in my handbag?  And what is she, all 110 pounds of her, earning minimum wage and with no relevant training, supposed to do if she does find a gun?

Do I feel free OR secure because I know that any bat shit crazy yahoo can go down to the gun store on the Highway and buy a semi-automatic weapon?  And walk into a community college classroom with it?  And murder – wait, how many innocent people is the count up to now?

You and I grew up with duck and cover drills, afraid of “The Russians” (who are still kinda scary).  My grandchildren are growing up with Lockdown Drills, afraid of … who?  Us.  Any of us,  all of us,  “Bad Guys with Guns.”  Not bad guys with knives, or corkscrews, or chainsaws.  With guns.  When we are this scared and angry and confused, none of us are free, and none of us are secure.

Let’s work on this.  Thank you.”

Looking at that old gun is instructive, especially today.  I think it’s probably one of a pair of dueling pistols.  I don’t know how old it is, several hundred years I imagine, but it was clearly intended to fire one shot.  If you couldn’t hit your mark in one, you were done. Pure and simple.  It is a work of art in its own right – silver, mahogany perhaps, polished to perfection, mounted on velvet.  It was revered by generations, passed along, cared for, exhibited with pride.   It was probably around when the 2nd amendment was written, when one of the worst fears of our forefathers was not being allowed to defend themselves against foreign armies.  Its one-shot original owners couldn’t have begun to imagine the destructive technology that holds us all hostage today.  We owe it to ourselves, and to them, to figure out how to cope with this monster we have created.

My Dad and my uncles were all soldiers and hunters.  I grew up around guns.  Old guns.  Buckshot was about as high tech as it got.  I’m realizing as the day goes on that the questions I asked in my letter, except the last one, are questions that on any given day I could answer either way.  At 4:00 a.m. with a big jerk in my back yard trying to pry open my emergency food supply, I might be pleased to see that old guy with his deer rifle, assuming the cops were busy dealing with the 9.2 earthquake damage down the street…  There are no easy answers.    We all need to be a part of this conversation.  Write to your legislators.  Talk to your neighbors.  Think.  Listen.

 

Arting in the Garden, SAGE style

"Multiple Crops". mixed media by Kerry McFall, 18 x 22, $125

“Multiple Crops”. mixed media by Kerry McFall, 18 x 22, $125

“Arting” with friends for a good cause (the Corvallis Environmental Center) plus a complementary gourmet dinner in the midst of a gorgeous late summer garden… life just doesn’t get much better!  I spent last Saturday afternoon happily absorbed painting bee boxes, pumpkins, and scarlet runner beans winding up stalks of ripening corn in the SAGE (Starker Arts Garden for Education) garden.

Painting “en plein air” adds several increments of excitement to what is normally a quiet and solitary process:  weather (in this case, sunny and warm, making the paint dry very quickly and making the light change every 15 minutes), bugs (bees and yellow jackets buzzing literally at my feet), and fascinating people.

"Bee Box", mixed media by Kerry McFall, 10 x10", Sold $100

“Bee Box”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, 10 x10″, Sold $100

I was thrilled when a man walked up and bought the first piece I finished (Bee Box)!  It was almost a cartoon, but I just HAD to draw something that colorful!  While I drew and painted at what was breakneck speed for me, I chatted with folks about community food webs, coping with stings and mean yellow jackets this time of year, and how to know when to stop painting.  Knowing when to stop is my biggest challenge right now, as you can see below in this series I did in the same garden as  a “warm up” for the event the week before:

If I had stopped at phase 2, without all the white highlights and blue tints I added, I would have been happier than I am with the “finished” piece.  Live and learn!

The pumpkin below was a “post event” piece, created from my photo taken on the day of the event.  This pumpkin was almost completely obscured by the leaves, which were ghostly with their coatings of powdery mildew.  I had my doubts about when to call it “finished” as well, but in this case I’m glad I added the dark outlines and took the background all the way to black (click the thumbnail to enlarge).

The “Multiple Crops” piece, “Cabbage Rose” and “Pumpkin with Ghost Leaves” are all for sale, contact me if you’re interested and half the proceeds will go to the SAGE project!  (Prints are available also)

Change: Mixed Use, Mixed Feelings

"Bucolic Barn OSU Campus Way Bike Path", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Bucolic Barn OSU Campus Way Bike Path”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The bike path from Oregon State University (Campus Way path) to Bald Hill runs through fields where the OSU Agriculture Department used to run sheep and cattle.  It’s still quite bucolic, but it’s changing rapidly, some good, some not so good.  Several of the old barns have given way to fancy new high-tech barns, and all but a few ragged old sheep have disappeared.  I miss them.  The barn I painted above is still standing, but I doubt for long, given it’s air of abandonment and open gates.  This time of year, I always pick blackberries along the edges of the path, but no, not this year.  The vines were scorched and thirsty, the few berries looked more like peppercorns.

Two of the old pastures are now  huge solar arrays, squatty faceless gray grids stretching on and on.  I took photos, but never have drawn from them – bo-o-ring.  U-u-gly.  But ecologically good, right?  Then again, I wonder what will happen when the thistles and ash tree seedlings grow so high that they shade the panels?  That much weedkiller would be horrific.  I read that the arrays are under scrutiny for alleged funny business with tax credits.  Tsk.  If I had known about them in advance, I might have asked about at least putting the panels up high enough for sheep to graze underneath them.  But OSU doesn’t ask for community input.  If you believe the banners hanging from light posts all over campus, it’s because Oregon belongs to the University.  As opposed to the other way ’round.  Tsk.

The pastures closest to the fairgrounds hold llamas and some intimidating windowless barn-ish structures.  There are bluebird nest boxes on many fence posts, and some good educational signage about wetlands down by the covered bridge.  A couple more pastures are being restored as wetlands or oak savannah, which is the least they can do given the adjoining acreage south of this area that was wetlands last year and is apartment buildings this year.  Not modest university housing, mind you, but luxury student condos… sorry, this is beginning to sound like a rant.

sketch of barn

“Not the usual bucolic stroll”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

After I photographed the barn, I stumbled upon the yellow jackets busily transforming half a mouse into a feast.  I took a quick photo and hurried to the other side of the path – yellow jackets are always cranky in the early fall.  (I wondered if the mouse fell out of the sky like a certain Herring…)  Around the next corner, a wasp’s nest hung ominously from a seedling tree, looking for all the world like a mummy’s wrapped skull.  I hurried across the covered bridge to try to beat the coming rains (for which we are all very grateful!) only to find turkey vultures hunched in the snag, watching me closely. Spooky.

Change is always unsettling.  The bike path is still a nice place for a stroll, and always provides glimpses of nature and food for thought.  This one was not the usual bucolic experience, but I enjoyed the challenge of painting the scary critters and the barn after I got back to my dry dining room table.  Once painted, it was interesting to examine the color palette that popped up when I saved the scary critters page – I would describe it as cranky.

Whoopie Pies & Other Maine Things

You can plan and plan, but sometimes you stumble on to a place by accident that simply demands that you stop and “be there”.  Fryeburg, Maine, was just a dot on a blue highway map, on the way to Somewhere Else, until we actually got there.  It was nearly lunchtime, and the driver was getting sleepy, so we pulled over at the farm stand and parked in the shade of an enormous old maple.  There was a convenient picnic area on the lawn in front of the store, so I sketched the barn and store, while my husband went sound asleep in the car.

sketch of farm stand

“Whoopie Pie”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I left the foreground blank, thinking I would find a peach or something inside to add later.  Nope, no peaches in Maine in early August, BUT they did have baskets of intriguing little homemade treats called Whoopie Pies.  The young clerk explained that they were made from, “… like, um, cupcake tops, with, um, you know, stuff in the middle…”  Icing?  Frosting?  “Well, yeah, kinda but different.  They’re a Maine Thing.”  I have always thought that the whole point of a cupcake was the icing – in fact, when my kids were in school, I maintained that I could have re-used the same set of cupcakes for 10 years because kids only ever licked off the icing and threw away the actual cake.  Maybe these Mainers were on to something!  Taking off the saran wrap took some doing, but eventually we succeeded.  Whoopie!  It was like having a giant soft Oreo only with triple cream cheese filling, so you twisted it open, licked off the filling, and tossed the cake bits, which were stale anyway.  I never did figure out the “pie” reference, sorta like Eskimo Pie I guess… but it was the perfect pre-lunch post-nap snack.

The store had a lot of “Maine things” on the shelves; the ubiquitous maple syrup in little jugs that wouldn’t be allowed on the plane home in a carry-on bag, adorable knit baby socks and thick mittens that I have absolutely no need for, and much, much more.  I finally opted to photograph some of the unique produce and paint it later – who ever heard of yellow-eyed peas, or canned fiddle-head ferns?

sketch of canned goods and dry beans

“Maine Things”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The pickled cauliflower sounded yucky, to be honest, but whoever prepared it had the good sense to stick a red pepper in the jar for visual appeal, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been…  It took me three weeks to get around to it, but here are my slightly-wonky-perspective sketches from my photos.

On the checkout counter at the farm stand I had seen a donation box labeled, “Save Our Spire”.  A good idea, because we had noticed far too many little villages like this where the famous New England church spires were missing, leaving squatty little churches decaying by the roadside.  We left the store and looped back to the main street, where I had spotted the 302 Smokehouse Tavern.  It was a lively place, and a good lunch, and I was pleased to discover that the spire repairs were indeed underway across the parking lot!

FryeburgMaineSpireRepairSketch

“Fryeburg’s Steeple Repair”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I read in a newspaper article that the community and church had raised $33,000 so far of the $186,000 necessary for the job – ouch.  I wish them luck – maybe Donald Trump will stop by in a generous mood…