Monthly Archives: June 2013

Pie Fixes Everything

sketch of pie and box

“Pie Fixes Everything”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Oh, the Restraint!  I have still – after three hours – not eaten my Farmer’s Market prize yet… but after staring at it for all that time as I painted, I can tell you that my resolve is weakening.

The “RD” in the crust stands for Razzle Dazzle flavor, which is raspberries, blueberries, and Marionberries.  Our local pie maker’s booth features the “Pie Fixes Everything” logo and stacks of brown boxes filled with pies that rival even my Mother’s (it’s okay, she doesn’t do Internet!).  I wholeheartedly agree that a pie can fix everything, although I think that biscuits may actually provide a better fix because you can put butter on them, but that’s just me.

It’s been a glorious summer beginning today: a sunny walk to the market, breakfast with SueAnn, some on-site sketching, great people watching, fun painting, shared a turkey sandwich for lunch with my cat, and now PIE!

Organic Dandelions… Really

sketch of baskets of vegetables

“Organic Dandelions”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

At the Corvallis Farmer’s Market a couple of Saturdays ago, I snapped a few photos in the Gathering Together Farm booth.  Their veggie basket displays are visual feasts, but it’s difficult to sketch “live” because hungry people have shopping to get done.  I didn’t realize until I got home and began sketching that the main “veggie” in the center of this display was your common ordinary run-of-the-mill dandelion leaves!  Who knew that you can get $3.00 per bundle for a handful of “weeds”?!

But I’m not that much of a dingbat.  I have read that dandelions are one of the healthiest, most vitamin-packed greens.  Ironic that we spend so much time and money and herbicides trying to eliminate them.  Refreshing to see them being recognized for their potential!

This painting/sketch uses my evolving technique of mixing china marker with watercolors and colored pencil.  The challenge is that the waxy china marker not only resists watercolor, it also resists my final phase, which is ink.  It’s wrecking all of my best pens!  The wax eventually builds up on the tip of the pen and it’s almost impossible to get off.  Looks like I need to come up with a “work around”…


sketch of branch with cherries

“Cherry-Go-Round”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

At Mom’s suggestion, I clipped off this little low-hanging branch in her back yard and brought it inside to paint.  I was surprised to find that the cherries, all but one, were clustered around one part of it like horses on a carousel.  Leaves were all at the very end of the branch, fanned out and drooping.  Another thing about the world that I’d never noticed until I examined it with the intensity necessary to sketch!

As I was preparing to post this, motion caught my eye outside the window, and I looked up to see a squirrel.  Not in the cherry tree, as I would have expected, but hanging upside down from a wire, doing a paw-over-paw on his way to the birdfeeder.  For years, my father tried to “squirrel-proof” his birdfeeders.


At one point he had big squares of sheet metal surrounding homemade feeders that were perched on posts in the middle of the lawn.  Those came down the year the grandchildren’s heads reached sheet metal height and running in the yard meant risking being beheaded by the sharp edges…  He finally hit upon the wire approach, stretching a wire for a hundred feet between trees about six feet above the ground, and hanging the feeder in the middle of the wire.  I wonder what he would have thought watching that squirrel as he flipped and twirled and used his tail to spin himself upright!  His next stunt involved a tight-rope walker’s concentration as he took a few steps along the wire, lost his balance, and was hanging only by his hind legs.  Quivering with intensity, he was able to grab the wire with his front paws again, and he repeated the sequence.  By this point there were three humans standing at the window, laughing so hard we couldn’t speak.  He finally gave up, made it back to the fence, staggered to the deck and collapsed in the shade.  He sprawled on his belly, legs splayed out… just for a few minutes.  Then he was off and gone, I’m sure to raid another day at the birdfeeder!

Clematis – A Study in Purple

sketch of purple clematis

“Clematis”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

My mother’s clematis has climbed above deer-head-level and is blooming hysterically.  It climbs up the side of the front entrance and spills over onto the roof, a cascade of purple and magenta – but only above the 7 foot level.  At 6’11” and below, there are only a few leaves and a lot of snipped stems.   Apparently deer enjoy purple salads.

Mom watched as I began the painting, frowning slightly.  In past years, she would have been busy with potato salad or pie or laundry or pruning, but at 80+ she’s finally slowing down, so she’s at my elbow.  We talked about the fact that some blossoms have four petals, some five, some six – rare in the plant world, and you don’t notice it until you begin sketching.  She asked why don’t I just say drawing instead of sketching.  I don’t really know – I guess “sketcher” sounds better than “drawer”, which is hard to pronounce.  She asked about how did I meet those people in Brooklyn and London, how did I manage to find these total strangers in strange towns.  Magic I tell her.  The magic of art and the Internet.  The frown deepens, the disapproving side of her mouth curves down with it.

She totters off for a while, then returns.  “That’s nice!”  She sounds more than a little surprised.

Phase One

Phase One

Phase 2
Phase 2

“It’s hard to know when to stop,” I tell her, laughing.  I take a digital photo, add a bit more paint, take another photo, explain that it helps me decide if I’m “done”.  I show her my china marker and how you have to “preserve” the white of the paper if you work in water color.  I pick up my colored pencils and add another layer of color, dig out my Pitt Artist Pen and show her about cross-hatching.  As I add the “chop” symbol in the corner I share what little I know about Asian traditions in recording who creates and owns art.

“That’s really nice.”  She nods her head approvingly.  I do one more photograph, then open Photoshop and show her a few of my favorite effects.  I open the Internet browser and show her the sketching sites that I go to often, how one thing leads to another.  She shakes her head and sighs.

She doesn’t really understand my passion for art.  But she likes pretty things.  She totters off to the garage and brings me back the garden clippers.  “You can cut off that branch of the wild cherry and sketch it if you want.”  It’s nap time for her.  I think I’ll go clip that branch and get started.


A Little Chaos in the Sandbox

“Sandbox Shakers”, mixed media by Kerry McFall


"Hint of Chaos", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Hint of Chaos”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Abstract!  By George, I think I’ve got it… as close as I’m going to come in this lifetime I suspect.  After scribbling for three weeks in a row as the Sandbox crew drummed and played for a couple of hours each session, I finally let my pen just dance around on the paper.  I left the sketchbook to sit and mellow on the music stand of our piano in the living room for a few days, then picked it up again this afternoon and let the fun begin with Photoshop.  Above is the result of just messing around – sort of a squirrelly portrait of Rob Birdwell the more I look at it…

Below are a couple of others I did the same night.  Once again, a young musician stole the show in my book, this one very young – middle school maybe? – but just drawing his hands as they flew over the drum, it looks to me like he’s got a future in musicland.

"Young Drummer", ink sketch by Kerry McFall

“Young Drummer”, ink sketch by Kerry McFall


sketch of carved marimbas

“Sandbox Shakers”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Small Town, U.S.A.

market sketch

“Corvallis Farmer’s Market”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

From the lovely little white courthouse to the old telephone poles lining the clean (!) brick alleys, Corvallis is the penultimate “small town”.  Saturday mornings in summer find about half the populace (and their dogs) strolling through the farmer’s market down by the river on First Street.  It is a mouthwatering collection of homemade pies and local cheeses and fresh eggs, and potato bread so soft you can’t even slice it.  It is a visual candy dish of glistening strawberries and rotund radishes and potted tomato vines that already have blossoms.  And every half block you can hear a different band or singer or fiddler, some terrific, some off key, but all enthusiastic and filled with the joy of just bein’ alive and kickin’.

Market Saturday is a ritual, a celebration, a feast.  I have always loved it, but never was brave enough to sketch it until now.  Funny how I don’t mind drawing where I’m a stranger, but in Corvallis, no one is a stranger… I planted myself on a shady bench between the ‘Health Care is a Human Right’ booth and the guy who will consult with you on how to fix your bike.  I had a good angle on the courthouse and the food tents, and used the perspective of the street to funnel the parade of humanity.  But shade turned out to not be such a good idea, so I picked up my gear and moved off down toward the bread van, Oven & Earth, always my favorite vendor.  I passed a singer, two young jugglers, a couple of bands, and then I stopped in my tracks to listen and watch as the “Grange Hall Drifters” performed.  The songs they sang are as old as the hills, I’m sure my Grandfather called Square Dances to them back in the day, but these guys were young.  “Philomath boys,” one bystander said, and they were certainly dressed the part.  Jeans as jeans were meant to be, cowboy boots (real ones, not fancy Texas pointy-toed ones, but the kind you work in), plaid shirts.  Coulda been cowboys, coulda been loggers, one mighta been a hippie, but definitely Musicians with a capital M.  I didn’t realize I was grinning like a fool until a friend came up and asked me who I knew in the band.

sketch of musicians

“Grange Hall Drifters”, mixed media by Kerry McFall


There were too many enchanted listeners drifting in and out of my line of sight to be able to sketch live, so I snuck up close, snapped a photo, and went back to listening and grinning.  If Corvallis wasn’t so uptight and self-conscious, we all would have been dancing in the street, not just the three-year-olds.  I miscalculated when I got home and started sketching because I couldn’t fit the fourth musician onto the page – definitely a cowboy, banjo, white straw hat and all – and if he sees this I apologize.  Next time I’ll slow down and do a better job of composing before I jump in with the watercolors.

I also decided that sketching the produce booths was not a good idea – people were there to shop, and visit, and there was no place to sit, stand, or lean.  The longer I stayed, the more crowded it got, and the more people wandered over to chat.  More photos await my next opportunity to sit still long enough to sketch.

Penultimate is too close to the truth in describing Corvallis, I am afraid.  The definition is “next to the last”.  This year saw the advent of a WalMart and a bunch more national franchises, and the demise of our local grocer.  The university is busily erecting industrial barns and paving their lovely agricultural meadows, doubling the student head count to vastly outnumber the resident population, while Florida developers bulldoze through my neighborhood to build 5-bedroom “luxury townhomes” for college kids not even old enough to drink legally.  I know – Change is a constant, but we are destroying what we came here for in the first place.  I’m going to miss it when it’s gone.  Shoot, I miss it already.

Drink ‘n’ Draw – What a Concept!

women drawing

Drink N Draw, by Kerry McFall

I like things that are properly titled.  The Drink n Draw events at the Majestic Theatre here in Corvallis are what they say they are: you drink, you draw.  Mostly you draw.  If you don’t know what to draw, Michael from the Drawing Board provides prompts in the form of a deck of cards from games that feature words.  Or, if you’re in a drawing people phase at the moment, your fellow sketchers become unknowing subjects. Wine and beer and soft drinks are available, and folks even bring cupcakes and crackers… sweet!

I was surprised and pleased at the turnout, particularly at the mix of ages.  And it sounds like Michael has been trying out some interesting approaches — I’m sorry I missed the event in May which I hear featured someone in costume posing.  I hope he tries that approach again, it was really fun when I did something similar in London.  So I’ll be going back, first Wednesdays of the month.  Cheers!

Another Sandbox Session

collection of sketches

Sandbox Montage

I miss the Urban Sketchers in New York, but Monday night turns out to be a really good night for sketching in Corvallis! The Sandbox Session gives me something to look forward to all day, and Mondays are not my favorite… So here is a sampler of the results I like best, cobbled together in Photoshop because they make a rather nice composition… and because I have such fun with Photoshop!

There was a good turnout again upstairs at the Laughing Planet, with the addition of a young fiddler to the Sandbox Musicians, and a nice little breeze through the open French Doors.  I think the trick to sketching musicians involves several basic steps:  1) get there early for the best seat and get your glass of wine before you go upstairs; and  2) start fast, move your hands with the beat, be prepared to flip to a new page when they put down one instrument and pick up another, then flip back when/if they go back to the first instrument.  I constantly remind myself that the main point of a sketching session is to see, listen, experiment, learn, and enjoy, and that it doesn’t matter how much paper I use – learning is never a waste.

Oh yes, and 3) fill your water brush before you go, because you won’t want to take time to mess with it after things get going.  Once I quit mentally fussing every time they moved – which evidently happens nonstop with jazz musicians – I relaxed, and realized that my pulse was literally keeping the beat.  Slow beat, slow pulse; pick it up,  my heart is rockin’ out!  I hope the fiddler comes back again, my notes about needing more study are about me, not him – he’s a master already, but I definitely need to practice because I did not do justice to the lovely scrolls carved into the wood and the movements of the fiddle.

Promises of Peppers

sketch of pepper plant

“Promises of Peppers”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Short on ambition today, I decided to bring in the Sweet Pepper plant I bought yesterday and do a sketch session on my dining room table.  If I was smart,  I would have started my next painting for the Call & Response show, which is due in June – oh, dear, it IS June now! – but after a Saturday flurry of activity, Sunday just needs to be slower.   If you know Photoshop, you recognize that I applied the Poster Edges filter, which is my favorite for sketches.  I also tried using my 1/4 inch quilter’s tape again to set off the left side detail blocks, but for some reason (temperature, maybe? it’s low 70’s today) it really didn’t want to let go when I was ready to pull it off, so I had to Photoshop/Rescue a couple of torn spots.

Shortly after finishing the sketch, I tucked the plant safely into the east end of my raised garden bed, next to the Cucumber Skate Ramp and Tomato Chairs, surrounded by bits of chicken wire to discourage kitty litterbox activity.  My gardening assistant/resident sketpic wondered aloud if there was really a possibility of getting any peppers to harvest.  Of course!  Schmidt’s Garden Center promises a “yield in 70 days”, which by my calculations means on about August 12th I should be sketching a bowl of plump, ripe peppers.  Check back then!