When Does Enough Become Too Much?

One of my favorite quotes from Mary Poppins is, “Enough is as good as a feast.”  When I’m working on an art piece, I am constantly debating about when to stop: is that enough emphasis? is that line strong enough? does it need more rosy pink colored pencil?  The above blossoms are a case in point, and I honestly can’t decide…

I think the one on the left is best because it’s more crisp.  But it’s also predictable…

Then again, I think that I like the one on the right best.  Because it had the rosy pink pencil treatment for breakfast, followed by a bit of Photoshop fuss and bother, so its “frame” and perspective are nicely warped…  Or not.  Too fussy?  You never know until you try.  Don’t overanalyze, Dearie, I tell myself… because it was enjoyable.  And it took my mind off the infernal mess of national politics.  And it made me realize that the true wonder is that I have my magic telephone camera and my magic computer with Photoshop, so I don’t need to decide, I can have both results on the same page!  Maybe I should change the title from Halloween Hibiscus to Gratitude for Magic.

And I must not forget to thank my daughter’s cat, aka The Goat, for not eating the tiny cable that allows my phone to send my pix to my computer, because without that tiny cable, none of this magic could happen.  And he has tried to chew it to bits a time or two…

cartoon of cat in a goat costume

“Luc the Goat”, by Kerry McFall

Ooh, what if I added a goat’s horn just poking in to the hibiscus piece…?!

Posted November 1, 2020  …and yes, I did say RABBIT for luck this morning!

Practice Makes “Perfect”

August rolls past Pacific Beach with an unexpected combination of Oregon-gray skies and Atlanta-salty sweat.  September lurks in the smoky distance.  I feel more than slightly lost in a Pandemic fog.

However, for perhaps the first time in my life, I just successfully hard-boiled two eggs to perfection!  The shells slipped off easily.  The yolks are firm, bright yellow, no green edges. The whites are pristine.  There is only one standard for perfect hard-boiled eggs, i.e. my Mother’s, and these have achieved that standard.  At last.  But who can I tell?  Mom, and Aunt Muriel who is perhaps the only other person who would understand, are dead.

photo of hardboiled eggs

Now that the eggs have been properly ensconced in the potato salad for dinner, I’m sitting here at my desk staring fondly at my recently-painted portrait of a San Diego artist named Alice Klauber (below).  She died in 1951, born 1871.  Working from a poor reproduction of a black and white photo, I got to choose what color to make her hair, her eyes, her skin!  I wish she could see it.  I wonder if she would appreciate my choices.  I wonder if she would recognize herself, or maybe would she see her grandmother?  Her cousin?  It’s not perfect.  Her smile was crooked, but not quite THAT crooked.  And as always for one of my portraits, the eyes are a bit wonky.  But I love it.

Alice Klauber Portrait, mixed media by Kerry McFall

And yes, paragraphs 2 and 3 are related:  the old saying goes Practice Makes Perfect.  But really, living life is about practice, not perfection.  Many artists refer to their “art practice”.  I begin to understand.  The practice, the act of doing the art, the movement of the brushes, the grabbing of a cloth to blot the accidental puddle, the complete presence in the moment as the paint dries, is an end in itself.  It is enough.

The practice does lead inevitably to the product: the eggs nestled for the moment amongst the chopped onions on the cutting board, or the sketchbook propped up so I can see the latest sketch each morning.  The real eggs will be gone with the potato salad – when I look at them, I don’t re-live the process.  Cooking is not my “thing”.  But looking with a critical eye at the paintings, I am there again, in that moment, making it, suggesting the next move to myself, wondering what impact one more highlight would have made.  I may never be able to refer to my art results as perfection, because there is never just one standard of perfection in art.  But I will always be able to enjoy my latest art, both during its making and long after as I flip through the sketchbooks.  I know “forever after” is a myth from a fairyland where there were no floods or wildfires, so for me “after” means at least until the next Tsunami or riot or whatever the rest of 2020 has in store for us!

Community Nest – Courtesy of Tracy’s Chickens, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The Arc of My Life

Painting of arched stained glass window

Gothic Stained Glass, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I was listening to Michelle Obama’s first podcast – was it only two weeks ago? – when the phrase “the arc of my life” caught my attention.  I’m still not entirely sure I understand the meaning, even after a tour down Google’s Rabbit Hole, but I love the sound of it.  It seems to imply a vast existential rainbow, arching between …. what?  The fabled pot of gold and the glistening sea?  The majestic mountains and the undulating prairies?  Or perhaps, the arc of stones carefully pieced into a literal arch, each individual stone bearing its share of the weight of a magnificent structure?

The painting above was based on a photo I came across as I winnowed my way through several boxes of old photos (the Project That Never Ends or so it seems).  I think I took the snapshot on my first trip to Europe, probably in London in 1978, but I have no way of being sure where or when.  The stained glass, the shadows, the textures, the shapes, the patterns, the odd perspective – somehow that seems to better represent the arc of my life than a rainbow.  There is an unmistakable rainbow glow from the glass, but the real story of this arc is about the contribution of each stone, each phase of an individual life, no single stone more important than another, with the exception of the keystone, the one that holds it all together…

Like many people, my response to the Pandemic has involved much casting backward into a sea of memory, much probing forward into the fog of the future.  An Arc of a Life – what a lovely phrase to capture the ups and downs of the decades.  I think I’ll explore this symbolism a little more.  Maybe I can figure out what has been my keystone.  Maybe I’ll design a stained glass pattern… hmm.

 

Are We There Yet?

posted August 4, 2020 by Kerry McFall, who is very tired of this 2020 ride…

Remember when you were a kid in the back seat of the car and the trip was taking an eternity?  That’s what this year feels like, and this month (which is now known as Faugust because it’s weirdly foggy and gloomy here in San Diego), and this week, and this afternoon, and – yeah.  The answer to “Are we there yet?” from my Dad generally sounded a lot like this hawk looks:

Swainson's Hawk painting

Swainson’s Hawk, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The answer from my Mom, the first time one of us asked, was usually something like, “Almost…” or “Pretty soon…”  The second time we asked her, the answer was essentially the same as Dad’s.  Only with less profanity.

This beautiful feisty bird was photographed originally by Christine Paige, Idaho wildlife biologist, who says that it will soon be flying off to Argentina… I wish it well, and I hope there’s no kids in the backseat.  I am fascinated by that blue beak!

Meanwhile, something that helped take my mind off the news/journey/insanity last week was a video about Urban Sketching by Sketchbook Skool.  Since I didn’t much want to go out into the Urban insanity here (“Life’s  A Beach, Bro!  Grab a Brew!  Who needs a mask?!”), I just paused the video and sketched the instructor, Jason Das.  Best hat I’ve ever done!

sketch of man in hat

Jason Das Urban Sketcher, mixed media by Kerry McFall

So Hang in There, folks.  But no, I don’t think we’re there yet.

#SketchbookSkool  #JasonDas #ChristinePaige  #Swainson’sHawk #AreWeThereYet #UrbanSketching

 

 

 

Break One Rule

I used to do Artist in Residence programs in schools, and one of my favorite projects was “Break One Rule”.  I would hand out fabric and scissors or paper and glue or whatever the materials of the day would be, then give the students a list of rules (the number of rules depended on the age and sophistication of the students).  The last rule in the list was always, “Break one rule.”  After the initial grumbling and eye-rolling at the rule list, a few kids would start whispering excitedly.  “What if we break rule 3?”  or “Let’s break rule one!”  And occasionally there was a gasp, “What if we break the LAST rule?”  Oh Lordy, I loved that moment!  I could feel the creativity zooming around the room: we can ignore all of the rules!  Or we can ignore any one or more of the rules!  Or we can follow them ALL but the last one!  So “rules” in art are definitely more like “guidelines”…

So, yeah, I’m no good at rules.  The current challenge in the Facebook quilting/art community seems to require rules, so guess what?  I’m not following them.  I don’t do quilting or fiber art anymore, but quilting and its geometry and textures will always influence my art.  So here are 10 examples of “quilty” art.  And if anyone in Loosely Bound is interested, I nominate you – just post some pix of your quilting journey!

Pandemic, Pandemonium, & Trash Pandas

Posted 7/14/2020 by Kerry McFall

Three young raccoons

Three Musketeers, mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Hi.  Whatcha doin’? Can I play too?  And my brother and sister – can we all play?”  It would be such fun to see what these three could get up to on my desk with my paints and brushes and the paint water and my wine glass and the rest of the mess that I play with all the time now… if you’ve ever seen young raccoons “at work”, you probably have a good idea of what I’m hinting at: pandemonium.  Not to be confused with pandemic… then again, maybe the two words are not that far off: totally unpredictable, potentially dangerous, unrelenting…

This painting was based on a terrific photo featured on the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescuescwildliferescue.org site, with their permission.  They have a facebook page as well, which always includes great photography and fascinating details about their various guests and patients.  While I play with my art, the volunteers at humane societies and wildlife rescue facilities all over the world work round the clock to help keep other creatures healthy.  We all have so many people to thank.  I hope they know we think fondly of them and their work every day.

Raccoons have such intelligent faces, and they do look so much like little bears.  Although I’m sure it’s not politically correct, the term Trash Pandas has always seemed to fit their devil-may-care approach to living life to the fullest.  One creature’s trash is another creature’s treasure.  Painting them is challenging because they are 1) furry (which takes a lot of practice and a special brush), 2) intense, and 3) they have odd-shaped little noses, even weirder than dog noses in my opinion.

Watercolor, colored pencil, brush pen on Canson Mix Media 9×12″ sketchbook

Floofy Red Flowers Instead of Fireworks This Year?

Posted June 25, 2020 by Kerry McFall

Red Gum Tree aka Beaker, mixed media by Kerry McFall

San Diego’s climate is often described as Mediterranean… but I’ve been to the Mediterranean, and this ain’t it.  Basil is Mediterranean.  Grapes are Mediterranean.  June Gloom (and May Gray) are not – I mean, for crying out loud, has it been this gray all month in Italy?!  I think not.

I’ve been trying not to whine about this for 8 weeks, but I’m an Oregonian, born and bred.  Sunshine is a major reason why I’m down here, but right now the surf and the sky are just all one big expanse of No Color, enough to make me think I’m back in Newport, Oregon, only not as wet.  Or cold.  Sigh.  Even so, San Diego does have saving graces: Red Flowering Gum Trees (a type of Eucalyptus) provide the earthbound equivalent of fireworks!  And that may be as close as we come in these Pandemic times to the old “bombs bursting in air” July traditions.  Bees and hummingbirds seem to drown happily in their fluffy blossoms, and I’m pretty sure that Jim Henson drew the Muppet character of Beaker based on the shape and coloration of red gum blossoms – see his head up there, second flower from left?  Just add googly eyes!

Once the blossoms are done, they transform into little goblet-shaped woody seed pods, shown below the vase.  I’m convinced that those goblets are used by the local Faerie folk, who carefully empty the last drops from all the beer cans and whiskey bottles left on the beach into their goblets, and then they enjoy some quite rowdy post-party parties!

Powder Puff Tree, mixed media by Kerry McFall

There are also Powder Puff bushes here, with even fuzzier round blossoms.  The seeds of the powder puff flowers are more like little hard holly berries that cluster into a raspberry shape, leaving berry decor on the plant for a long time past the blooming season, which was last March.  The Gum trees apparently never stop blooming – now is prime blossom time evidently, but there always seem to be a few branches on each tree heavy with red blooms, and seed pods in various stages of party-readiness.  Pretty magical all in all, even if the sky doesn’t cooperate!

Prickly Cliffs and Jewelled Surf

La Jolla Cliff Cacti, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The elegant homes on the cliffs at La Jolla near Bird Rock are teetering – literally – on the sandy edge of foaming, crashing waves.  To say that anyone with an ounce of common sense would never have built any kind of structure there is an understatement.  But I love the tiny “pocket parks” that have somehow managed to survive, wedged in between the mansions every few blocks, each one unique.  This painting shows the park that is at the top of a steep stairway down to the surf, a small wreath of jade-colored cacti with golden blooms, and waves of purple statice flowers, crowning the crumbling cliff.  Plenty of traffic even during pandemic, but on the edge of the sea the salt air is fresh and clean.  There is exactly one bench, but surfers apparently never sit on anything but a floating surfboard, which leaves that bench available for itinerant artists like me!

Surfers tote their boards up and down the steps with ease and grace, now skimming the foam, now plunging in and out of the waves.  As I watch, the color of the water transitions from chalcedony to turquoise to diamond, over and over, never the same…  Not coincidentally, those jewel colors are street names nearby!

Technique

I painted from my photo.  9 x 12″ Canson Mix Media sketchbook.  Watercolor first, nothing fancy, just trying to capture those jewel colors.  Then a sponge  (just a slice of an old kitchen sponge) on damp paint for some textures, followed by black ballpoint pen, more watercolor, a few white ink highlights.  Finally picked out the edges of the cliff and the “frame” with a blue 05 felt tip pen, and rubbed the edge of a colored pencil over that tuscan red plant on the right edge – no clue what the name of that plant is, but I’m pretty sure it’s a succulent…  Dr. Seuss would have loved it!

Let the Cherries Take You Away

Posted June 11, 2020 by Kerry McFall

Dark Cherries, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I recently saw a post (from Michelle Collier on Facebook’s Sketchbook Skool group) about “negative painting techniques”.  I was fascinated, so down the Google rabbit hole I dove, and began experimenting with what I have now come to think of as painting inside out.  It makes perfect sense currently, where everyone on the planet is at Sixes and Sevens (a British idiom for a state of total confusion).  We are re-thinking everything on every level: breathing, touching, going to work, cultural norms, racial stereotypes, rules of encounter, all of it.  We are re-learning lessons from the past, trying to understand how we got to this, hoping to re-build and build it better.  And yes, it is overwhelming.

So, be good to yourself every chance you get.  Case in point: I saw a big bag of fresh cherries at the Farmer’s Market down the street – it’s been re-worked for Pandemic Suitability, of course, but the cherries are still cherries, plump, colorful, enticing.  I ignored the sky high price, and bought the whole bag, knowing that although the cherries themselves would be gone very soon, I could paint them, and come winter I’ll be able to go back through the pages of my sketchbook and enjoy them over and over!

New (for me) Technique : Negative Painting

I usually start a painting with a sketch that roughs in all of the details, then I paint the focal points, and finish with the background.  Negative painting technique says ‘no’, do it inside out…  Start with the colors of what you want to paint, like cherries or leaves, just the colors, not the shapes, not the shadows.  Leave that pencil alone, pick up a big fat brush and get it juicy with color.  Slap it down, let it do its thing, trickle and run and meld.  Now go do the dishes (you know you need to anyway).

Work in Progress, Cherries Layer 1

(The small dark cherry up at the beginning of this post is what developed from the middle blob on the right side of this first layer.)  Once you’ve finished the dishes and your paint is now dry, maybe pour a glass of wine, and begin to pick out the edges of where your main shapes aren’t, aka ‘negative space’.  Go loosely, lightly, with a colored pencil maybe, drawing the shapes between the cherries or the leaves or whatever.  Soon the positive shapes come together from the outline of the negative shapes… then dip your brush in a darker color for the background, or dig out a big fat marker, or use the side of a colored pencil, and fill in that negative space.  Magic happens, and your cherries pop off the page!

Cherries Take Me Away, mixed media by Kerry McFall

This is when I struggle with knowing when to stop… I tend to overwork things, adding a shadow here and a highlight there, and fuss and bother about this and that, but it’s all part of the process, the process of learning, the art of relaxing and letting the cherries take you away from the 6’s and 7’s… Hmm, I just had a mental flash from an old Calgon bubblebath ad, “Calgon, take me away!”

 

Purple Rain

Posted June 4, 2020 in San Diego, CA

Mixed Media by Kerry McFall

Jacaranda – Purple Rain

I’m accustomed to Oregon’s “pink snow” week, when ornamental cherry trees drop pale pink petals by the thousands onto the streets and sidewalks.  It usually happened in May.  This in no way prepared me for the absolute saturation of deep purple blossoms of San Diego’s many Jacaranda trees.  These trees start out slowly in mid-May, with a few blooms tantalizing passersby from way up in the bare branches.  But now, early June, it is breathtaking to see the trees in rows, draped in the deepest of royal velvet cloaks, blue from one angle, purple from another, but never ever pale, no subtle lavenders or lilacs.  Just PURPLE!!  And once in full bloom, it rains purple for days!

The trees, according to my Google sources, are a type of Mimosa, Jacaranda mimosifoila, with tiny rows of leaves similar to the Mimosas I have seen in other places in the world.  But instead of the Seuss-like fuzzy pinkish blooms of those mimosas, these have big bell-like blossoms that could swallow a hummingbird alive!

I think I saw my first Jacaranda in Botswana, but there were so many other amazing new things for me to absorb that they took a back seat.  The Shelter In Place happening now in Southern California has given me many opportunities to walk through the neighborhoods, so now I know where to find the prime Purple Rain.  In the painting above, I tried to capture the special leaning-toward-indigo color of the shadows, and the sheer volume of petals, with limited success.  I think this may be another example of me being overwhelmed by color…  But I may take another stab at it using a more botanical style.  Unless I get distracted by some other Seussical wonder… or a hummingbird…