Monthly Archives: September 2011

Trafalgar Square:Who Is Watching Whom?

sketch of Trafalgar Square
“Trafalgar Square: Who Is Watching Whom?” by Kerry McFall

It has been too sunny to stay inside museums for a whole day, so on Wednesday I took a break from the National Gallery and wandered out to Trafalgar Square, which is basically just down the steps.  Which, incidentally, are clearly posted, “Do Not Sit on Steps.”  So of course, hundreds of students and tourists of every nationality were doing exactly that.  They were watching the antics of several mimes, acrobats, and “statue people”, obliviously gathered in perfect little packs for pickpockets to ply their trade… tsk.  But not to worry, because at every public facility there are large signs saying, “CCTV in use for your protection.”  There was an even a photo in the free subway newspaper the other day showing a pickpocket at work in case you didn’t already know how dangerous it is to leave your purse hanging on the back of your chair.  And at every pub and cafe, there are smaller signs saying, “Pickpockets in the area, watch your belongings.”  So no matter what you do, someone is watching you, you may be assured!  Thus, the eye in the middle of the sketch, which really bothers Griff but I quite like it.  And if the Queen will pardon me saying so, I think it is definitely time to stop adding new monuments and fountains and whatnot in that particular location, Olympics or not – they are seriously over limit, and none of them “jive” with each other the way the art of different eras seemed to do in the Koln Cathedral.  The Olympic statue is some kind of countdown clock, and it just looks plain silly.  The pigeons won’t even have anything to do with it!  I’m sure that Admiral Nelson up there on his pillar would agree.

All that aside, it is such fun to do this kind of sketch!

National Gallery: Little Bo Peep Finds Her Ewok Camels

sketch of painting

"Rebecca at the Well", by Kerry McFall, colored pencil

 About 300 years ago, an Italian named Giovanni Pellegrini made a lovely painting, meaning it to be about the Biblical story of Rebecca.  What he evidently didn’t know then was that there were probably very few blonde Hebrew women who dressed in the latest Italian fashions… or   that his camels looked like Ewoks, his Rebecca looked like Little Bo Peep, and the man Eliezer is a dead ringer for our friend Rob Robinson… So, out of all of the vast mesmerizing collection in the British National Gallery (not to be confused with the Briitish Museum, mind you), this was the painting that spoke to me.  As Griff is quick to point out, I haven’t figured out how to do female human faces yet, but I had a lot of fun with Rob and the camels!

Kew Gardens Mystery

sketch of calabash

"Green, hard, and big as your head", by Kerry McFall, colored pencil & ink

We set off to Kew Gardens on Saturday morning on the bus, where an elderly lady told Griff that the palace was a “rip off” but the gardens were worth the price of admission.  Which is saying something, because it wasn’t cheap – 27 pounts, or $42.   We’ve gotten spoiled because all of the museums are free, so paying admission seemed somehow unfair.  Luckily, Griff had found a half off coupon online.  But she was right – the Victorian “glass houses” were gorgeous, filled with exotic plants, and the grounds go on and on forever, lush grasses, ancient trees, the occasional golden pheasant or peacock.  The Palm House was full of – you guessed it, palms – and the Mystery of the Day.  I sat to sketch this mysterious plant mostly because there was a bench nearby, but also because it was intriguing.  As I worked, literally dozens of people came by to touch it, to hold it, (to hang on it in the case of several little boys…), to marvel and wonder.  At the base of the tree in question, there were several tags saying “ananas”, which means pineapple, referring to the little spiky plants that filled in around the tree trunk.  The tiny tag for the Mystery Plant was tucked away behind one of the ananas spikes, two inches by two inches at most…. Calabash.  Doesn’t that just reek of Ali Baba and the Arabian Nights? 

The only flies (pun intended) in the Kew ointment were the noisy planes.  Evidently it is directly in the flight path to Heathrow, and a jumbo “fly” buzzed us at very low altitude every minute.  Griff timed it.  Which kind of took away a bit from the elegant setting of the Temperate House:

sketch of glass house

"Temperate House, Kew", by Kerry McFall, mixed media

 Apologies to the architects in the audience – I didn’t quite get the perspective right, but hey – it was threatening to rain, so I had to hurry!

We agreed that our favorite part of Kew Gardens, though, was the gallery of Marianne North, a woman who painted and sketched around the world in the late 1800’s.  She hung literally hundreds of her paintings one inch apart all over the walls of a small building built just for that purpose.  She went to basically every continent and captured the landscape in vivid color before photography was available, so her works have been valuable references now for decades.  A new heroine for me! 


Equinox at Zero Degrees Longitude

We took a boat ride along the Thames River to Greenwich (say “Grin-Itch”) last Wednesday.  Before we left the Westminster Wharf, I did a quick brush-pen version from the boat of what I saw across the river:  the “London Eye”, which is a big ferris wheel that is one of the new London icons, the Millenium Bridge, the aquarium, a Very Big Lion Statue… and given all the impossible details, it felt like it should follow the technique I developed for the Koln Cathedral piece:

Abstract sketch of London Eye

"London Eye" by Kerry McFall, ink and colored pencil

 The jaunt upriver lasted about an hour, and the weather for Autumnal Equinox was, just as the BBC predicted, “Dark gray, then light gray, then white, then blue.”  What a great way to phrase the weather forecast – the color of the sky!  None of this Pacific Northwest double-talk like, “partly cloudy with a chance of drizzly misty light intermittent probably pretty wet rain”;  just what color the sky will be, and if you have an ounce of sense you can figure out what to wear from there!  We explored the village of Greenwich, which like the entire rest of London is currently covered in scaffolding because it’s being re-built or re-painted or fluffed up or whatever for the Olympics.  After a nice pub lunch, we ducked in to the Royal Maritime museum briefly, but the highlight was of course the Royal Observatory, where Longitude 0 degrees 0 minutes and 0 seconds is located, along with a remarkable number of very old clocks that actually tick (remember that scene in the movie Hook with all the old clocks ticking ominously?).  If you’re not obsessed with maps like Griff is, you may not realize that standing there on that imaginary global line is one of those really cool geography things that you simply MUST do if you’re in the neighborhood.  The view from up there – which is seriously the closest thing to a hill we’ve seen since we landed on this flat little island – is fabulous, and by the time we got to the top, we were at the white to blue sky transition, so it was really memorable.  Equinox at Zero, once in a lifetime.


Artists Full Employment Act of 1650

sketch of kitchen with monster

"Godzilla Chooses His Weapon", by Kerry McFall

 Silver tea service, hot pepper plant, wooden spoons, Godzilla – just your basic British kitchen setup on the kitchen counter.  Of course, I’ve only ever actually been in one British kitchen, but this was what I saw… this afternoon I’ll be in my second British kitchen, we’ll see how they compare!

On Monday of this week I stumbled into a couple of free sketching classes that were part of a design symposium happening at the Victoria and Albert.  The first one, led by a young artist/animator who has her Master of Fine Arts degree from St. Martin’s, focused on the ceramics collection.  This was particulalry good for me, because it gave me a completely different “take” on the same collection I had sketched in on the Friday before.  She asked us to find two very different pieces, sketch them, then pretend that they had “mated”, and to draw what would be the resulting offspring.  I chose a carved chess piece showing a knight on horseback, and a blue cream jug:

sketch of pot design with knight

Coffe Pot Design by Kerry McFall

I’m not sure how appealing it would be to pour coffee out of a knight’s nostril, but, oh well.  It was fun, especially seeing what other students came up with.The second class was led by another animator from the same school, a young man whose current job is drawing ScoobyDoo for a new version of the cartoon series.  He led us to the sculpture gallery, and essentially had us do life drawing from really old naked marble statues, then imagine how they would look if different characters took that same pose.  Very satisfying, and another reinforcement of what I learned last week in the life drawing class I took. 

"Victoria & Albert Tea Room

While I was sketching, Griff prowled around in the Natural History and Science museums across the way.  Afterwards, he and I retired to the elegance of the Victoria and Albert on-site tea room, where he worked on his book and I attempted a couple of quick cartoonish sketches, and one architectural exercise in sorting out the bric-a-brac to find the underlying structures.  When you really LOOK at some of these rooms, where there are paintings on the carvings on the carvings (not a typo!) of the tiles that decorate the tiles, it’s quite amazing.  My theory is that the churches and royal families used to actually employ artists (what a concept!) and pay them by the hour, so what we are seeing is the result of the Artists Full Employment Act of 1650… “Victoria and Albert Tea Room”



Drawing Classes

sketch of pot

Victoria and Albert Pot 1, by Kerry McFall

My second sketch class turned out to be just as marvelous as the first!  I met Marcia Teusink, a lovely young American artist, and the several members of her sketching class on Friday morning at the Victoria and Albert museum.  Outside, the stone walls proudly bear the pock marks from World War II bombing raids, a reminder of what insanity we humans perpetrate.  Inside, the vast treasures of many cultures glisten at every turn and twist of the many hallways and palatial rooms, reminders of what we humans can achieve given the proper focus and understanding of what is truly important.  Wow.  And that was just getting in the doors.

Our task was to find something in the ceramics galleries to sketch, using the very basic technique of imagining the ellipses that could be drawn on the surface and using them to form the shapes, and doing a bit of measuring to be sure the shapes don’t go all wonky… basic, but I hadn’t really quite “gotten it” before.  Now you should see me sitting on my little museum folding chair, holding up my pencil (with a very straight arm), squinting through one eye, and counting off units like a pro!

Pottery Sketch 3, by Kerry McFall

After a couple of hours focusing on different pots, we did a grand finale of one sketch including a bunch of pots, aka “a composition”.  Since the actual arrangement of the pots had already been made by very talented curators, it was pretty much a slam dunk to get a decent composition.  Eventually I hope to do a bit of painting on the original, but for posting here I just fiddled with it a bit in Photoshop.  What fun!

After sketching all morning, Griff and I hiked over to the Kensington park, where we had a glass of wine and a brownie with Peter Pan on the Serpentine canal… Tinkerbell, apparently, resides in California this time of year, and declined to attend.


montage sketch
“London, Day 1” by Kerry McFall, colored pencil sketch montage

So much to see, and – gasp – almost enough time to feel like we can see it all!  The train trip beneath the Channel was underwhelming – just like being in the subway, then you find yourself at St. Pancras station wondering where platform 9 3/4 might be hidden… of course, it’s in some other station, but still, it felt like we were about to begin a semester at Hogwart’s.  Chocolate frogs, anyone?

We met our new host family, friends of Markus’, and were welcomed into their Victorian row house with a hot supper and cold wine.  Helen is a whirlwind of energy, a chemistry professor who does a terrific imitation of British upper crust voices, and Gary is quiet with a wry sense of humor.  They provided us with insights on getting around and a tiny guidebook (keeps you from looking so “touristy” when you pull out your map), then off we went to find my first art class.
Finding it took some serious bus navigating, which is always a bit scary in a new city, but Griff is a jewel, so we found the Battersea Art Centre, got set up for the evening class, then set off for the Tate Modern, which was in an entirely different part of town.  The Tate seems to be a big favorite locally, but for me, it was quite stark.  It has a fabulous view of the River Thames and all the famous landmarks, but perhaps I was influenced by my feet hurting at that point… then again, it is an excellent example of “industrial culture”, it being a power plant originally with one of the generator areas now devoted to being an “art space”… which had big blank walls at the time.  Ben – it was made for you and a few cans of spray paint! 
I sketched little scenes all day in the new “Moleskine” sketchbook that Larsen sent me (bravo, Larsen!), a sort of random series of impressions from vintage props in the Battersea center to a man in an inner city basketball court quietly drinking himself to oblivion.
I was exhausted by the time evening rolled around for the “drop in life drawing” class, and was on the verge of just going home instead, but fortunately Griff persuaded me to try it anyway.  Wow – just what I had hoped for, but sorry, not going to share these sketches on the web!  Well, not yet, anyway.  I will just say that the model, unlike Corey’s description of her first life drawing class, did not resemble Shrek.  More like the young greek hero in Mama Mia… All that and good art instruction, too!

Koln, aka Cologne

Stained Glass Abstract

"Koln Cathedral" by Kerry McFall, ink and colored pencil

After Mannheim, we spent a few days in Zweibruicken, on the French border, with Ursula’s parents.  Supper on the back deck was the perfect end to summer, with a big moon floating above, passion flowers blooming, and Marvelous German Wines from the Mosel valley.We were invited to join Berbyl and Dieter on a hike to celebrate a friend’s 70th birthday – what an adventure that turned out to be!  It began with coffee and cakes at 4:00 (eat dessert first… we’re pretty sure it’s German law!), then a scenic drive through the German and French countryside.  Finally the hike began at 5:30ish accompanied by an earthshaking thunderstorm, so we arrived totally soaked at a French inn an hour or so later, where we were expected for a 5-course meal involving the best mushroom soup I have EVER tasted, tender steak, five different types of potatoes, and way too much food in general.  During the hike/feast, we met roughly 20 new friends, and came away feeling that THIS is definitely  the way to celebrate your 70th birthday!  Or any other birthday for that matter…
The next piece of the journey involved exploring in and around Koln (the German spelling of what we spell Cologne) with Dieter, who is an unmatched tour guide – he is a geography professor of international renown, so we learned firsthand about history, industry, culture, and all of the things that give regions thier unique identities.  One of our first stops was the Cologne Cathedral – talk about visual overload.  Ohmigod.  And I’m sure that was the very response designers had in mind when they schemed it up: Oh. My. God. From this artist’s perspective – an artist who is very easily distracted by color and detail – the stained glass rose windows were completely overwhelming.  The cathedral is immense, and my architectural nomenclature isn’t up to describing it, but suffice to say, my neck hurt terribly and my jaws ached.   There are several places where dazzling modern glass art has been added, and the proximity of a simple pixelated patchwork of squares to a medieval orgy of embellishment is something that would require several days to fully appreciate.  I loved it.When we left the cathedral, I sat across the square with a “wheat beer” (hefeweizen?) and began to scribble.  There was a tree above the restaurant so I couldn’t see the famous cathedral towers, which forced me to focus on things like the street lamps, the entrance arches, some tiny details…  I swear there were three pig heads in one spot that looked just like the muppet pig gentlemen in “Muppet Christmas Carol”, and one cat face that was clearly from something Maurice Sendak drew, and the longer I looked the more I saw odd faces… what fun!  I wonder what might have been sculpted into those elaborate tops, way up there where no one can ever really see what the artists were up to?
sketch of factory

"Duisberg - Industriel Kultur"

One of Dieter’s specilaties is “industrial culture”, which involves among other things converting old abandoned mines and manufacturing areas into useful human spaces, without forgetting what the original use was all about.  The sketch above was made at an old “blast furnace” of a coal-fired iron plant, which now is a recreational center that features wall climbing, rock concerts, huge slides, light shows – very cool.

Taking A Breather

sketch of roses
“Mannheim Roses” by Kerry McFall

Today we decided to just “stay home” here in Lambeth and try to catch up with laundry, haircuts, and postings.

We stayed several days in Mannheim with our friends Marika and Vollker.  During that time we transformed their dining table into an art studio, with Ben (6) and Karla (4) and me having a grand time doing colored pencil works in spite of the language barrier.  Karla got fairly annoyed with me and Griff now and then – I mean, really, grown up people not knowing how to speak properly!  She forgave Griff though when he demonstrated that tickling is a Universal Language.  Although the art focused a lot on lions (which required a lot of roaring to get the message across as to just how scary they should look) and mice, I did find time to do one just for me of the roses.  Everywhere you look over here there are fresh flowers for sale – and very cheap.

On our final day in Mannheim, we went to the Luisenpark, a huge open park right in the city with small boats that followed a track on the lake.  They were slow, which allowed ample time for spotting turtles sunning on the rocks at the shore, and for being grossed out by the immense carp that came to the side of the boat and opened mouths the size of dinner plates to beg for treats…eew.  And I got to see storks in action, which really was very exciting.  Their eyes are really as huge as they look in my previous sketch, which I did from a photo that I thought surely had been retouched.  Every high spot in the park had an active stork nest, and some of them were even down stalking through the tourists on the lawn.  After the boat ride, everyone else went wading while I found a spot to capture the boats and the ubiquitous TV tower.  The towers remind me of the Space Needle in Seattle, every town seems to have one, some even with a revolving restaurant.  Scenic yet intrusive…
sketch of park in Mannheim
“Luisenpark” by Kerry McFall

So that wraps up Mannheim, next post will be about our travels with Dieter in Koln.



German Hospitality

Sketch of chestnuts

Horse Chestnuts by Kerry McFall

…is amazing.  Our hosts and hostesses have taken SUCH good care of us, we are overwhelmed.  We haven’t had either time or access to post, so, will have some catching up to do.  We are also supposed to be packing to get on the train to London via Belgium UNDER the ocean, leaving in about half an hour… so here I go to try to zip the suitcase closed, and hopefully we will have good internet access again in a day or two.  Cheers!