Tag Archives: visual journal

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”.

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?

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!

Vicarious Road Trip, Anyone?

Come on along!  The Wine Vault in Philomath is now showing my first-ever Sketchbook Exhibit!

montage of sketches and maps

Road Trip and Wine Tasting!

My sketchbooks/journals and my “art bag” have become my traveling studio as my husband and I have converted to a minimalist lifestyle.  We downsized in a big way, and have visited far-flung friends and family on several continents.  Now you can flip through four of my most recent sketchbooks at your leisure as you taste fine wines and relax at the Wine Vault.  The exhibit includes wine-related and travel-related wall art, and individual sketches illustrating some of our adventures.  Archival prints and greeting cards of my sketches are also available.  My work will be on display through June, 2015.

PLUS:  The Wine Vault has announced the release of a very special new vintage – check it out at http://www.gallerynouveau.biz/index.php/2015/05/bff-more-than-just-an-abbreviation/.

Wine Vault  www.winevault.biz/
hours: Saturdays and Sundays only 12:00 noon to 5:00 p.m.
1301 Main Street, Philomath, OR 97370

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.

Arranging Flowers: Not-So-Random Acts of Volunteers

sketch of coral roses

“RAF Coral Roses”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Tuesday morning the Random Acts of Flowers office was a sea of roses and leafy branches, bordered by dozens of vases and rolls of ribbons – a flower lover’s Disneyland!  After my flower arranging class a couple of weeks ago, I had worked up the nerve to volunteer.  The other volunteers were cinching up aprons and diving in to the blooms as my new friend Lorraine showed me the ropes (and scissors, and wires, and even how to de-thorn roses using a little flexible plastic soap dish!)  Many of the volunteers were seasoned regulars, and by working with them, I learned all kinds of interesting tips and tricks.  The most important thing: shop the entire room, plus the cold room, plus the vase warehouse, because you just never know what treasures lurk beneath the tubs of blossoms.  Treasures like dried cattails, bunches of those little red or pink berry thingies,  a clear coral-colored lucite vase, probably vintage 50’s ( I managed to snag that one!)  Or three velvety deep burgundy callas, ever so gorgeous and elegant, plus a metallic 80’s-style vase which coordinated perfectly with them, which became the inspiration for this arrangement by another volunteer:

sketch of metallic vase and flowers

“RAF Gorgeous”, mixed media with digital manipulation by Kerry McFall

Time flew past as we all chatted and clipped and consulted.  I was in my “arting happy place,” that same place I find myself when I draw or paint: completely oblivious to anything but what is before my eyes and in my hands.  Noon already!  And I was thrilled to look up and now see wave after wave of carefully arranged flowers, each one unique to the arranger’s designs and whims, each one including a Random Acts of Flowers card with the name of a sponsor or donor.  The flowers had come from weddings, events, florists, families; some arrived in perfect conditions, others needed serious de-constructing and trimming and rehabilitation in a fresh water bath.  Another set of volunteers had accomplished all that earlier on Monday.  Still other sets of volunteers spent hours washing and counting vases (recycled or donated), cleaning up after everyone else, and finally delivering the arrangements, delivering the smiles.

It occurred to me only as I was too tired to really do anything about it, that I should photograph some of the arrangements and paint them.  Another volunteer was talking about making prints of photos or paintings and doing cards or a calendar, thus giving the arrangements an even fuller life.  Hmmm… great idea!   So as a possible proof of concept, here are two paintings, the first one based on my favorite arrangement that I put together, the second one based on one of the volunteers’ favorites that hadn’t already been put on the delivery van by the time this inspiration struck.

What could be better inspiration?  All the flowers and arrangements and creative arrangers that I could possibly imagine, a fun group of volunteers to work with, and smiles all around.  I’m liking Knoxville!

Technique Notes:  I photographed the arrangements in the workshop – not the best lighting, but a good tool for remembering details.

Back in my “studio” (aka the dining room table,) the first painting was lightly outlined with transparent watercolor, spattered with a toothbrush all over, then lines were drawn with ink.  Several more layers were then painted using both opaque and transparent watercolor, and highlights were emphasized with wax pencil and white Sharpie marker.

The second painting was done using the same sequence, only more wax pencil to make the batik-type white edges.  BUT after all that fuss and bother, it wasn’t as colorful as the original, and I didn’t like the proportions – wonky vase, flowers not big enough, etc….  So I fired up my Photoshop and messed around until I had it closer to what I originally intended – ain’t technology grand?

sketch of saloon building

Knoxville’s Old City

This building is about a two block walk from our apartment under the bridge on Jackson Ave, in what is now known as the Old City.  It was built in the railroad district, an Irish neighborhood.  Diagonally across the street, is a Scottish pub featuring “Tatties and Neeps”, whatever that is… I think I’ll be having that for lunch at some point soon!

The posters in the window say it is available, but I’ve heard that it’s being remodeled.  I hope they hurry so we get a chance to enjoy it!  This was drawn from the patio of the restaurant across the street, shaded by dogwood trees – a great site for plein air.