Monthly Archives: August 2012

Life’s a Peach

watercolor sketch of peaches

"Three Peaches", mixed media by Kerry McFall

We’ve been waiting an entire year for the perfect peach… and these did not disappoint.  Juicy, firm, sweet… in a word, peachy.  I stood at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday, talking to the pie lady, and realized that I was actually petting the peaches as they sat proudly on their little tray… she laughed like she didn’t believe me when I said I was going home to paint them before I ate them.  She said there had been more than one child with peach juice dripping off the chin being dunked in the nearby fountain for a quick clean-up that morning.  Her pies were delicious, too.  For me, the perfect shopping trip: potato bread, peaches, corn, and a berry pie.  The four summer food groups!

This sketch turned out to be more watercolor than anything else.  If I had it to do over, I would leave a little more of a glowing fuzzy edge to try to capture the peach fuzz, and I would be more careful with the perpsective on the table cloth stripes… but I can’t do it over, because the peaches are history!

Bard in the Quad

sketch of OSU quad

"Taming of the Shrew", mixed media by Kerry McFall

Bard in the Quad is a Corvallis summer tradition for us.  Above you can almost make out Will Shakespeare himself, strolling down the steps of the student union to announce the beginning of this year’s production, Taming of the Shrew.  We felt a bit low-tech with our vintage webbed lawn chairs in a sea of folks reclining in what amounted to folding canvas Barcaloungers with built in ice buckets and champagne flutes…  As always with a Shakespeare play, I came away wishing I had made time to re-read the Cliff Notes before I went so I would have a better grasp on the innuendo.  It was a nice little romp even so, although chilly by any summer standards.

The students returning in a few weeks to campus are in for a slight shock as they cross the quad – two giant trees are gone without a trace.  One, a monstrous oak, just collapsed in the middle of the day two weeks ago.  That prompted a closer look at all of the trees nearby, and another one was apparently infected with the same invisible disease.  It’s gone too, not even a sliver of a stump left, just a little bare patch with grass seed marking the spot.  Can’t have rotten limbs mashing students, I know.  But I mourn for all the dying trees in this town (and there are lots, especially white bark birches), and the ones being ripped down for road repairs and new townhouses, and it takes so long to replace their quiet beneficent presence.


sketch of a purple onion

"Onion", mixed media by Kerry McFall

This semi-dried onion presented itself the other day when I was moving the compost bin.  Somehow it escaped the cleanup of last weekend, and basked in the hot sun for a few days.  I started to toss it into the bin, but several layers fell away to reveal a GORGEOUS shiny purple heart.  Underneath the papery exterior glistened a firm globe, full of promise for either a really big purple onion next year, or a nice addition to tomorrow’s omelet.  Either way, it was destiny.  The challenge recently has been that my scanner has given up the proverbial ghost, so I’m resorting to closeup photos for posts.  Mostly it works, this one I had a little trouble with the edges so I just filled them in with Photoshop.  What this needs is a recipe up in the left corner I think, but not today… just going to head to the local taqueria for supper and call it a day.

Tomato Chairs Revisited

sketch of chair with tomatos

"Tomato Chair in August", mixed media by Kerry McFall


Back in May, I planted broccoli and  lettuce in my little raised bed, and carefully positioned tomatoes under my newly-painted pink “tomato chairs“.  Finally, I have been able to harvest half a dozen marble-sized tomatoes from a jungle of long-leggity vines.  Even if I don’t get another single tomato, the burst of warm flavor from those few was worth every moment of weeding and watering and tying twine and  fussing!  In the intervening four months, a fence went up, the pot of basil was cut back several times, an eventually I pulled down all the broccoli and lettuce trees to give the tomatoes a bit more precious sunlight (I say trees because I let them go to seed just out of curiousity, and they were taller than my head when I finally tired of the experiment!)

Now August wanes, and our allotment of a few hot days (99 degrees!) is behind us apparently.  Crickets are beginning to make themselves known (odd that they don’t sing until summer is nearly done here in Oregon…), nights are cooling to 58 the minute the sun sinks, dawn is slower to arrive with each passing morning.  Such a short summer.


Mimosa, Anyone?

sketch of mimosa blossom

"Mimosa, Anyone?" mixed media sketch by Kerry McFall

The scent of a mimosa tree is unmistakable, and so is everything else about it.  The leaves make wonderful fairy fans (you pull one off, hold it by the stem end, then strip the individual leaves into a little packet between your thumb and fingers; carefully unfold the “fan”), and if you get too close to the blossoms for a sniff, you get a nose full of fluff.   They are in full bloom in Corvallis, making me think I should buy some champagne and cranberry juice (allergic to oranges – dang) and indulge!

The floaty effect here was painting the blossom shape with plain water, dropping in a bit of yellow, letting it dry – which happened pretty fast at 98 degrees.  Then brushed in the pink edges, pink and red colored pencil for a few outward strokes, then a red Pigma .05 flicked outward, followed by dots, and eventually more colored pencil for the corals and darker pinks.  The leaves suggested a herringbone pattern, so I penciled in a few more lines in the background.  In photoshop I did a partial poster edge on some of it to help define the strokes.  Voila!  A fun way to spend a hot afternoon.

August Sunset

sketch of sunflower

"August Sunset", mixed media sketch by Kerry McFall

Once Oregon finally gets up to speed with summer weather, it is so lovely to walk just before sunset.  Even on the hottest evenings, usually the cool breeze drifts over from the coast, and it’s the perfect time to stroll through the neighborhood admiring gardens.  I snapped a quick photo a few days ago of a backlit sunflower, one of the new breeds with rusty orange petals and tiny seeds (which I have tried to grow but the sow bugs defeat me every time).  The Resident Art Critic pointed out, “There’s a petal missing,” – his usual short and to the point critique.  To which I reply – “Duh!  Of course there is.  The flower is just slightly beyond it’s peak, the sun is setting, day is done, summer will be coming to a close before we are ready… it’s a metaphor for another birthday, Sillly!”

Here is the progression from pencil sketch to watercolor washes, with a last minute decision to paint over the smaller blooms and just focus on the big one, followed quickly by the addition of the stripes in the background, which I really like as a technique.  I did a similar background on the dahlia piece last week, sort of looked like wallpaper there.  It’s a nod to my textile background, I suppose, and my love for pattern and texture.  The seeds at the bottom are a way to focus on not just the whole but all its many parts, symbolic of the future being part of the fading bloom, and I think they make a unique but simple border also.



sketch of hats and hat boxes

"Vintage", mixed media by Kerry McFall

Just when I’ve convinced myself that I’m ready to downsize my studio, jettison everything I haven’t used in the last year, and stop being so sentimental about “stuff”, I get a phone call.  “Can I borrow some of your vintage hats?”  It’s Kayla, who remembers the hat collection from tea parties since she was age four.  Now, all grown up and with a degree and a “real job”, she needs one for a bridal shower tea party where everyone was asked to wear a vintage hat.  I dig them out, dust off the boxes, and she picks three: she hasn’t decided which dress to wear, and another friend needs one as well.  The lavender number has faded to a bluish-grey and is shedding a bit; some of the leaves on the green velvet one are slightly crushed; but the white one is still perfectly shaped and ever so elegant.

Netted and feathered, they are designed to fascinate, to inspire a closer look.  These were given to me by Aunt Muriel – most belonged to her friends.  They were worn in San Francisco in the 40’s and 50’s by young women who no doubt wore them with gloves and silk stockings to their jobs, or in Portland to church on Sunday, or perhaps even New York (the hat boxes are printed with references to the stores and locations where the hats were purchased, so those are my clues).  Quite a contrast to todays’ in-your-face-with-everything-I’ve-got styles, which leave absolutely nothing to the imagination, and if a young woman wears a hat, it’s probably to keep her ears from getting frostbite.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad women’s fashion took that turn for the practical in the late 70’s.  At my first “real job” as a telephone operator, I was not allowed to wear pants to work for the first few years, then we were allowed to wear “pant suits”.  But I think we stayed on that liberated freeway too long– it’s fine to strut all your stuff when your stuff is all smooth and perky, but later, it unavoidably becomes nice to have some way to downplay some of the stuff.  Even if we are successful at redefining the ideal figure to get away from emaciation,  and allowing big to be beautiful, there will always be a need for a bit of mystery in one’s wardrobe… with a well-placed dart or a bit of ruffle, a woman could make a “flaw” relatively invisible.  And I say “could” because a recent shopping trip emphasized that fashion now clearly assumes that mature women are still wearing size 8 and want to wear those same flimsy bits of nothing that young women wear, (in fact, the same styles are shown for anyone female from age 6 on up – I call it the Hooker Look).  The only alternatives are large slithery nylon tent-like garments covered with Dolly Partonesque-sequins in all the wrong places… good grief.

As Kayla leaves, so bright and young and lovely, I have a moment of feeling pretty “vintage”.  I try to console myself that at least, unlike the hats, my feathers aren’t falling off.  And thank goodness for blue jeans and running shoes!


White Horse, Red Barn

"White Horse, Red Barn", mixed media by Kerry McFall

I finished this quick sketch last night from a photo taken last month up at Bald Hill Farms.  White horses really make the flies obvious – poor thing, they were all over him.   Or her – I didn’t really notice at the time…  Still need to work on faces and hooves – is it just me, or should it be physically impossible for such a large animal to stand on such tiny hooves?



Sketch of pink dahlias

"Ann's Dahlias", mixed media by Kerry McFall

When I hear that a friend has a cancer diagnosis, it’s like a punch to my gut.  I groaned out loud as I read the email that an image taken to figure out what was wrong with a runner’s hip revealed a uterine mass.  And when I got my breath back, I kept reading:  “She has her wonderful pragmatic attitude about it all…..”

Pragmatic:  “Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.”  No sense crying over spilt milk.  Let’s just get ‘er done.

Schmidt’s Garden Center newsletter was the next email in my inbox, and it was about dahlias.  By coincidence, the textile art group we belong to had just been tossing around the idea of doing an exhibit about dahlias for the Canby Library.  Right.  Cosmic.  Went to Schmidt’s, picked out a lovely dahlia and a plain clay pot.  Brought it home and painted it.  Chopped the hell out of some unsuspecting olives and made tapenade to take to our annual summer potluck.  By the time the evening was over, a care package had been assembled by the group that included pork cutlets, carrot salad, gourmet bread, cupcakes, love, vows to help, and of course, the potted dahlia.

We’ve all done this before, organized the meals, made the quilts or the prayer flags, arranged and delivered the flowers, showed up to clean the bathtub or do the laundry, whatever it takes to get the friend and her family through.  The difficult part is that even being pragmatic, there’s not much else you can do that doesn’t involve flowers, food, housework, or spreading a cheerful optimistic attitude.  Remembering my own cancer treatment, it was hard to accept all that caring, all those offers of positive energy and prayers in my honor, all those dinners that I was too tired to chew.  It took me quite a long time to get over the anger at being betrayed by my own body.  I had just about come to terms with the reality that graciously accepting that caring (and all of those casseroles) was really more for my friends than for me, because they needed to do SOMETHING… when my husband called to say he’d just had a heart attack.

Talk about your pragmatism.  There’s nothing like someone else urgently needing you to pull you out of a funk.  And adrenalin helped a bit with fatigue, too, for a little while.  We muddled through, got a new kitten to make us laugh,  and now we’re both quite healthy and very grateful to be alive.  We have evolved a form of pragmatism which took us on our European and African tour last year, because hey – life is short, eat dessert first.

So here ya go, Ann – a version of the flowers that you don’t have to water.   Hang on to the knowledge that you’ve done a marathon, you are a very strong woman.  And you have a lot of very strong friends who are here to do whatever it takes to help.  Anything but Karaoke… well, maybe even that.  And I highly recommend a kitten.  Or at least one funny animal video every morning before breakfast!

Elkhorn’s Spotted Pony

Appaloosa pony

"Nike, Two-Year-Old Appaloosa", mixed media by Kerry McFall

The first horse I ever sat upon was Tony, my grandfather’s  cranky old pony, and none of the three of us was sorry when the “ride” was over.  The next horse, attempted on a 6th-grade dare, was an unnamed booger on a Klamath Falls ranch, who slammed on the brakes at the irrigation ditch, sending me on alone into the alfalfa field.  The third and final attempt was aboard “Smackwater Jack” somewhere near Atlanta, Georgia.   When Jack smacked the water with his hoof, it meant he was going to roll over in the creek… thus ended a short-lived career as a horsewoman.  As a result, I never did ask for a pony for my birthday.  I never drew endless sketches of horses, or went neighing and galloping around the playground like so many of my girl friends.  In college, I did develop a liking for cowboys – well, bull riders really, but I digress… cowboys aside, I have recently developed an appreciation for what graceful creatures horses are.  I’d like to start some of those horse drawings now that I skipped before, if you please!

Our trip to Elkhorn Valley last week wasn’t quite what I had hoped, given that I was sick with a rotten cold/flu, but that gave me a good excuse for just hanging around at the Elkhorn Valley Inn B&B, relaxing, coughing, and sketching.  The unexpected bonus was Nike, this two-year-old Appaloosa pony in the pasture beside the pergola.  She was a decent model, even though she didn’t hold poses for longer than it took to pull up the next thistle or whatever prickly things she kept eating.  She’s never been ridden yet, so she didn’t give me that knowing look that horses usually do… “So, Sucker, wanna have another go?”  She was just happy for company, especially since she couldn’t reach the blueberry bushes on my side of the fence.  Her destiny is to be a trail horse starting next summer, taking riders up into the glorious old growth timber of Opal Creek and neighboring forest lands – not a bad way to live, if you’re a horse.  But with a name like Nike, it does seem a bit mundane.