Monthly Archives: July 2012

Heart’s Desire

Beach sketch

"Heart's Desire Beach, Pt. Reyes", mixed media by Kerry McFall

What a lovely name for a beach: Heart’s Desire.  This one is tucked into a bay near the Point Reyes National Seashore, within spitting distance of millions of people but so little known that we were almost the only people there on a summer Sunday morning.   I sketched to the odd rhythm of a gopher chewing roots beneath the leg of the picnic table – just like Gopher in Winnie the Pooh’s cast of characters, this buck-toothed fellow was all business, scattering dirt to the four winds as he carried out his responsibilities.  Which I guess were to excavate tunnels, spew up mounds of dirt, blink, frown in disapproval at human activity, and make a lot of chewing noises.

The first people to join us slid up to the beach on their paddle boards, standing upright on what looked like a surf board and paddling with a kayak paddle.  It looked so smooth, that easy motion.  But you can’t fool me – I once attempted to wind-surf, which also looked very easy and smooth; I’ve never been more exhausted.

The next folks to show up were a large and very loud bunch, most of whom were speaking Russian.  There were a few children who spoke perfect English, but the rest never stopped talking at top volume and maximum speed in their native tongue, puncutated by prolonged laughter when hilarious things happened, like … the bowl of chips tipped over.

A shy Latino family followed about 20 minutes later, quietly lugging coolers and blankets and boxes to the table beside the one where I had set up to sketch.  I told them I would be leaving soon so they could use my table too.  The children understood and translated for the parents, and asked to see my sketches.  I enjoy sharing my work, especially with children, who are such honest critics.

From the beach you can hike up an informational trail about the native Miwok tribe of long ago.  (I keep thinking about what a funny word Miwok is, which rhymes with Ewok (from Star Wars), which kind of look like bears and gophers mixed, and wondering if that was the origin of Ewok…)  Signs are posted every few hundred yards, sometimes near the things they describe, and sometimes, nowhere in the vicinity.  I personally think they should move the Poison Oak description right to the beginning of the trail, because if you don’t recognize it by the time you get to the sign on the trail, you’re already going to be itching!  And among other things, I learned that what we call myrtle in Oregon is known as bay laurel down there, and the name of the bay is Tomales, which I read is the Spanish pronunciation of the Miwok word for bay, so technically the name of the bay is Bay Bay.  Hee-hee!

The sketch was an exercise in learning about Bishop Pine, also known as knob cone pine according to our friend Brett.  At this beach, and from the windows of the house we stayed in, they look like Japanese Bonsai trees, sculpted by wind, leaning out from the slope.  I got a little frustrated because my hand knows exactly how to draw a fir tree after living in Oregon so long, but not these big pines… I could picture those Japanese watercolors with layers of spiky branches, but I never quite got it right.  And the “knob cones” are called that because the cones are actually growing right on the tree trunk, embedded in the bark.  They will only open to release their seeds after the extreme heat caused by fire… so there aren’t many baby Bishop Pines any more, not since white men decided that this peninsula would be such a great place for dairy cattle.  Once that got started, they put out any fire that happened to ignite.  A biological dilemma, another among many in our world.


"Fowler Creek Road", mixed media by Kerry McFall

Years ago (I’m not telling exactly how many, but think pre-Beatles) I spent a few weeks in Sonoma on Fowler Creek Road.  Just me, and the little lizards doing their morning push-ups on the warm stone walls, and the French exchange student who was staying with my Aunt and Uncle… sigh.  He was completely oblivious to me and the lizards, but we were very aware of his sweater thrown over his shoulders a la Europe, his dark tan… yeah.  Anyway, sometimes it takes a trip back to realize why you have always been so willing to welcome people from other worlds, so willing to travel.

Back then, Sonoma had one winery I believe, Buena Vista.  Without even being allowed to taste the wine, I fell in love with the wondrous musty caverns, the oak barrels, the smell, the light.  Now, Sonoma has a winery at least every two miles, and thank Goodness – because without the wineries and the vineyards, it would be L.A.  The road where my aunt lives used to be a country dirt access route, bordered by dairy cows and gnarly oaks, golden meadows and soft brown hills.  Now it’s a bumpy asphalt route, bordered by vineyards, old dairy buildings, the same gnarly oaks, and soft brown hills.  Judging by the cackling as I sketched where the road takes a 90 degree turn, I’m guessing someone has a bunch of chickens now, but I didn’t see any cows.  The light is still unique, so very Not Willamette Valley Oregon.  The wineries are filled with the Nectar of the Gods, the barrels, those dark smells, fascinating people, and best of all, now I get to taste it all!

Being an artist, I know that when you sketch something, it belongs to you.  You belong to it.  Being a writer, I know that to name something, is to own it, and it owns you.  Along those lines, here is an interesting discussion about what Sonoma means

My Aunt Hazel said she thought her husband Uncle Tom, who died very recently, would have liked this sketch.  I think Uncle Gene, her first husband who died long ago, would have liked it also.  They’re gone now, but I know they will be delighted that the essence of Sonoma remains, and I hope it persists.  And the whole “famn damily” persists, with all their quirks and traditions and complexities and revelries.  And reveries.  And rivalries.  Allelujah.  Rest in Peace.

Oregon Country Fair

The Oregon Country Fair has earned its reputation for the best summer people watching in Oregon (or anywhere) , and continues to earn its Thumbs Up rating…

We finally got around to trying it once our kids were almost grown.  We were sorry we waited so long, because now too many people have discovered it – as in, “who invited all these tacky people?”  I mean seriously, guys in white baseball caps and white nylon baggy shorts and white Nikes at the OCF?  Ew.  But we know why they’re there, and it isn’t the jugglers.

If you don’t count Burning Man, which has nearly out-hippied this Ultimate Hippie Festival, this is as good as it gets on the Left Coast.  And Burning Man is … well, Burning.  Really hot desert.  (And I don’t like the “Man” bit – what?  Women aren’t hot?)  From all reports, it’s too hot.  It’s too Too as near as one can tell from the Facebook posts of one’s neices and the verbal reports of one’s aging hippie neighbors.

OCF, on the other hand, is partially shaded.  You could easily be in Sherwood Forest, a part of the cast of Robin Hood On Medical Marijuana (just wait, the musical can’t be far behind).  Just sunny enough for a slight sunburn to brag about back at work on Monday.  A bit of nudity (the euphism is body painting), some good entertainment, parades every few hours, happy parking lot attendants wearing fairy wings and/or fishnet tights  (where else in the world does that happen?), the occasional dirty old man selling photos from years past, it’s all good fun.  The Down Side is that they don’t sell alcohol.  Footdang.  Well, not to the public.  Not during “business hours”.  I have it on good authority that alcohol is the least of what happens after hours, but hey – it’s private property, a private party, what happens at OCF stays at OCF… in a strange multi-generational kind of way.    Family Values re-defined.  I’m sure Ken Kesey would turn over in his grave if he knew they were checking backpacks at the gate for guns, drugs, alchohol, and snakes.  Yep, snakes.

Sketching at such a venue is the ultimate challenge.  You have to bring a folding chair – there aren’t enough hay bales to sit on.  This was the virgin voyage of my walking stick/three-legged chair – it’s a chair when you want to sketch, it’s a cane when you want to play the Cranky Middle-Aged card and get a better view.  Or trip one of those guys in the white baseball caps.  No one stands still for more than 30 seconds, so all of your cast of characters are made up of multiple people.  Probably a good thing.  Some very-tattooed guy came up and asked to borrow a pencil – when I said I only had colored pencils, he said, “That’s cool,” and without further ado he slipped my best magenta Prismacolor out of my pencil case and off he went.  I mentally put it on my shopping list, but in a few minutes, he brought it back with many thanks.  Nice.  OCF is fun, it’s silly, it’s just a little bit over the top.  I’m hoping that lots of people will stay away next year so I can sketch without being bumped constantly.


River Rhythms

"River Rhythms", mixed media by Kerry McFall

People who live in Corvallis tend to look down their noses at Albany, the slightly smaller “used-to-be mill town” just a few miles south (oops, north – my husband the geographer has pointed out that my total lack of compass has once again triumphed) on the Willamette River.  This conceit is completely unjustified, particularly if you compare the summer music events:  pretty much just one concert in Corvallis, something they like to call Red, White & Blues over the Fourth of July, where admission is charged, and porta-potties and bouncy carnival thingies obscure what little riverfront is left after they lock you out of most of the lawn with their ugly temporary fences.   There are plenty of good restaurants along First Street, but you can’t see them, and frankly, who wants to stroll along beside the potties on the way to dine.  There’s simply no There there.

Albany, by contrast, has one or two free concerts weekly known as River Rhythms, set in a gorgeous little amphitheater overlooking the Willamette.  Yes, there are potties, but they don’t obscure the views.  Take last night for example – The Loving Spoonful entertained us, old rockers having a lot of fun singing for “old farts” as they put it.  But there were also people of all ages and walks of life, and the people-watching was terrific given the warmish weather.  Kids and families can splash in the water, dogs can dig in the sandy riverbank.   Albany also has many good restaurants nearby, plus soon they will have what promises to be a knockout carousel museum.  Come on, Corvallis – get over yourselves and do something to make summer a reason to be downtown!

Whoops – almost forgot to mention Da Vinci Days.  There is usually some good music in the midst of this nice little July weekend festival, and I just heard that our native boys YoYa will be playing – go Alex and Noah!  But it’s not on the river… and it’s not free.  So, yeah.  Why live on a river if you don’t play on it?

This sketch was made from a deck just downstream from the River Rhythms concert area in Monteith Park.  I’ve always wanted to sketch the bridge, so we went a few hours before the concert started.  I had just about figured out a composition when that sly crow flew down and teased me with the promise of posing.  He was very still just long enough for me to get him started, then he did a 180 for another 30 second pose, and flew off with a derisive Caw.  I was hoping that I could use the direction of his eye glancing back into the center of the piece to keep all of the lines from dropping off to the east, but his beady little eye just isn’t quite enough… oh, well, better luck next time.

And while I’m ragging on Corvallis – while we’re slapping together townhouses in our quiet little village for 20,000 more hard-drinking OSU students, let’s just go ahead and stick a WalMart on 9th street…  Nuff said.


Meeting Notes…aka Doodles

Trying out a new WordPress theme today, working toward getting the pages as simple as possible.  I like this.

Today’s challenge at my “real job” was a nearly-full-day meeting, and as always I found myself doodling.  I’ve read that doodling helps you concentrate and/or remember.  For me it has the added benefit of acting like a blood pressure medication.  I used to feel guilty because I would get so relaxed and absorbed in my drawing that I would fail to look up at the speaker.  The recent practice of bringing laptops, i-phones, etc to meetings, at least in my corporate environment, removes all guilt in that area.  NOBODY looks up.  Unless someone breaks out the bacon maple bars, of course.

The last few meetings, I have snagged the flowers from a co-workers desk, or picked up the nearest seedpod in the parking lot, and worked in a sort of still life setup.  With all those laptops and electronics on the table, no one really notices.  You can see that I got really bold a month ago and actually brought in my Moleskine sketchbook, but it attracted too much attention.  Besides, there’s something liberating about scribbling away in a notebook, no worries about the high cost of a “real” sketchbook.  I use whatever writing implement is handy, make color notes, and then spend a few minutes with crayon or colored pencil once I get home.   If you look really closely, you can also see a hint of “pentimento”, the notes on the back of the page or on the previous page.  I highly recommend doodling over staring at a laptop, and it’s a good way to sneak in a daily sketch and still have a job!


Mary’s Peak Butterfly

painting of butterfly

"Peak Butterfly 2012" mixed media by Kerry McFall

The flowers were not quite what I had expected up on Mary’s Peak on the Fourth of July, but the orange butterflies made up for that shortcoming.  They were everywhere, especially near the parking lot.  Dandelions seemed to be the flower of choice, at least in that vicinity, no doubt sprouted from invader seeds stuck to shoes and tires.  I need to research the butterfly name – Hey, Ralph, does this look familiar?

This sketch/painting wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I started, but it’s colorful and I think I’ll use the background patterning approach in another attempt, maybe not of this particular butterfly but in something soon.  The first glitch was a new “sepia brown” brush pen – the brush never did limber up, and the ink was essentially dried up from the get-go, so I tried to go over the dark spots first with another pen, then purple pencil, then black ink, and finally a brown pencil.  Overworked.  But I love the lacy wing edges, so I’ll use variations on those patterns again.  The triangle motifs remind me of Africa!  Hmm – I wonder if they have dandelions in Africa?

Chickens Do Not Like Firecrackers

Closeup sketch of chicken face

"Chicken Textures", mixed media copyright Kerry McFall

Over the Fourth of July weekend, we’ve been helping take care of a neighbor’s hens.  We’ve learned several things:  Chicken poop is hard to get off your shoes.  Chickens are about as easy to herd as cats.  Chickens do not like firecrackers. Chickens do not tolerate attempts to pet their glorious feathers.

So you learn something new every day!  But these chickens were quite photogenic, and before the firecrackers started exploding right outside their fence, they were quite curious about someone who was silly enough to be wandering around the yard pointing a shiny little box at them.  Not wanting to really get down on their level, what with the poop and all, I have some rather odd perspectives.  This one is my favorite, but the resident art critic merely said, “That chicken needs a mouth.”  Sigh… not everyone appreciates unique cropping and perspective.

When you begin to sketch feathers and wattles, the lizard connection is inescapable.  The feather shapes overlap, like scales, making wonderful patterns even without the addition of the colors and textures of the feathers themselves.  Even on a very plain hen like this, the colors are iridescent.  And on the red skin (combs and wattles – and yes, I always have to Google the words for those because I missed Chicken 4H as a kid) the patterns are quite pronounced – diamonds, spirals, stripes – if you just look at it long enough and try not to acknowledge that the skin on my own hands is beginning to show that same “crepey” texture.  Ew.  I also noticed that the color of her eye is exactly the color of the egg yolk of a fresh free-range egg.  Cool.


sketch of hydrangea blossoms

"Hydrangea Burst", mixed media copyright Kerry McFall

July 4th takes on a slightly different meaning when you’ve been out of the country for part of the year, and when one of your children is on the other end of the globe.  Her friends in Peru were apparently a bit puzzled by our quiet observation of the holiday, just a hike up Mary’s Peak and watching Ben paint a bus bound for Cuba, a bit of sketching, lunch at the Dairy Queen in Philomath.  Given the lavish spectacle that Corey reports from Cusco’s celebrations of various holidays, it must seem tame.  It wouldn’t be possible to watch your son paint a bus, bound for an embargoed destination, in front of the Courthouse in every country of the world.  The politics interest him, but his passion is for the art, and the communication:  “Si Se Puede”, “yes we can.” It might not always be possible here (thinking about the McCarthy era…), but for now we feel lucky for such freedoms.  And it was actually far from quiet by the time darkness fell – explosives that must have come from some nearby reservation thundered all over town.  We went outside to appreciate the full moon and the riverfront fireworks at about 10:00 p.m., joining neighbors in the street – for most Americans, that’s really what the Fourth is about when you get down to it – quiet sunny days and Street parties at night!

With the sunny day, the hydrangeas literally burst into balls of color, lavender, blue, and pink all on one confused bush.  (Usually, one plant is one color, depending on the acidity or alkilinity of the soil.)  I love the creamy pale green petticoat of the newer blossoms.  And with this sketch, I think I’m finding my “style” for sketching finally… I like doing an inky loose frame outline,  sometimes with objects sneaking over the edge.  It gives the sketchbook a kind of consistency, ties the different subjects and approaches together a bit.  I also like the “stamp” that includes the date and the weather, maybe sometimes even the temperature for outdoorsy things if at least started plein air.  Given the Oregon inclination to dampness at short notice, plein air isn’t always possible, but even when sketching inside from photos, the weather has a huge impact on the finished sketch.