Monthly Archives: July 2013

Symphony on the Land

sketch of musician

“Bald Hill Symphony”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Bald Hill is to me what Notre Dame is to the French.  I go there to rejoice, to grieve, to heal, to find peace, to think, to stop thinking, to draw, to walk, to laugh, or to be silent and still.  It’s a five minute drive from home.  The trails meander through meadows and oaks, beside streams, up hill and down dale.  Cows, or coyotes, or geese, take the place of Notre Dame’s gargoyles, glaring or ignoring me.  And now, thanks to the Green Belt Land Trust and their recent acquisition of the farm, I can put to rest that whiny little voice that has always been with me when I’m there, that voice that always said, “When will the subdivisions begin to sprout…?”

Last night was a celebration, out in the middle of the pasture where sheep often graze.  The Willamette Symphony braved a sassy summer wind and performed a lovely symphony, accompanied by crickets and tree frogs.  They anchored their instruments and sheet music with feed sacks and clothes pins – like the emcee said, it’s amazing what you can rustle up on a moments notice from a working farm.  The musician on the northwest end of the stage absolutely glowed as the setting sun turned his hair to silver.  Local wine, beer, and crepes were available – I love Tyee wine!  People walked, biked, or took a shuttle from the fairgrounds – so very Corvallis.  I hope that the entire community can experience the Bald Hill that I know and love, and I look forward to seeing how stewardship of the land can work in our lifetime.  Thank you, Green Belt folks.  So much.


Thursday’s plein air painting was at Donna Beverly’s  home.  Donna’s home is as colorful as her acrylic paintings, perched on a hilltop surrounded by firs, with a high-fenced garden.

Mark’s critique pointed out that once again, I have managed to cram two paintings into one: the top could be about the firs, the bottom could be about the bachelor buttons.  But both parts are about edges – the edge of the field was luminous gold, the edges of the trees were sharply defined, the edges of the flowers were translucent and difficult to capture.  I used my Pitt brush ben to pick out my favorite edges, and a bit of colored pencil to texture the watercolor washes.  Back at home, using a bit of Photoshop magic, I tried his suggestion and split out the flowers, then added the “poster edges” effect.  Better composition, that’s for sure.

As one participant put it, “It’s summer now.  You can smell the dry earth.  The damp is gone.”  Shortly after we arrived, a doe and her two spotted fawns raced across the field and into the welcoming darkness under the firs.  At that point it was too hot to sit in the sun to paint.  Within an hour, we needed a sweatshirt to be comfortable in the shade.  But even after dark, no bugs – no mosquitoes, no gnats, no ants.  Ah, Oregon… golden summer days, cool nights.

The Watching of the Water

Accessible Deck

Yukwah Big Leaf Maple, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Summer in Oregon starts at 6:00 a.m. and lingers until after 9:30 p.m.  It’s easy to convince yourself that it will last forever.  But I am old enough to know better.  It’s here one minute, gone the next, so we’ve been doing our best to seize the season and enjoy the bounty.  The sketch above was made on the 4th of July weekend at the end of our Iron Mountain trek, a day trip from Corvallis.  Iron Mountain (33 miles east of Sweet Home on Highway 20 in the Willamette National Forest) is renowned for wildflowers (sketches in the next post I hope,) but to me, the picnic/wading stop at Yukwah afterwards is even more beautiful than the blooming meadows at their peak. 

Yukwah Campground – the name sounds weird, yeah? – is on the South Santiam River, 20 miles east of Sweet Home, and it is Awesome in the old-school sense of the word.  The community of Sweet Home, veterans,  and several volunteer groups built a wheelchair-accessible fishing deck on the banks of one of the most beautiful spots in the world (and I’ve seen some of the world).  If you can’t see the fairies in the ferns, then you are beyond hope.  When we arrived, the campground actaully had space available (gasp! on the 4th of July weekend?!!) and there was no one on the deck.  We sat there, just the two of us, with our picnic for several hours and simply watched the chartreuse waters slip past the rounded lavender boulders and fluffy clumps of grass across the river.  The old Big Leaf Maples are festooned with moss, and the sun illuminates emerald greens, lime greens, fir greens, deep greens, sparkling greens…  If I were a fisherman I would be there often – I have no idea what the fishing there is actually like, but my father taught me that it is the Watching of the Water that truly matters.  And if I were a trout or a salmon, I would be there often, in one of those dark eddies, enjoying the vivid greens and the crystal waters.  Zen, ferns, fairies, fish… name your fantasy.  It’s there, you just need to watch long enough.  Go.

Chicken Duty

sketch of chickens

“Chicken Duty”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I’ve been taking care of chickens for the last couple of weeks, and I’ve learned several things:

  • Chickens are smarter than you think.  How hard can it be to get three chickens into their coop in a tiny, fenced backyard?  Plenty hard.  It’s like getting two-year-old triplets to bed – you just get two into bed and the third one bolts (I babysat for triplets once).  By the time you catch that one, the other two have disappeared…  The only solution seems to be luring them with dried mealworms — for hens that is, not kids.  Just give up with the kids, turn on a Disney video, and eventually their parents come home and it’s their problem!
  • Chickens enjoy hide and seek in the dark.  However, you always have to be It, and the concepts of the woodpile being “out of bounds” or the game being over escapes them.  They also do not function well in the presence of flashlights.  Flashlights shut down their brains and cause their bones to completely dissolve, which admittedly does make them easier to catch.  Thus did Colonel Sanders discover Boneless Chicken?
  • It’s not a good idea to walk around in Chicken Territory wearing flipflops.  Especially in the dark.  This is because chickens are related to dinosaurs, and chicken poop is roughly the same size as T. Rex poop.  Eeww.
  • Fresh eggs are magical.  They are luminescent, warm, perfectly shaped.  I almost feel guilty about eating them, but not quite.
  • Chickens purr.  Seriously.  If you just sit in a lawnchair and listen while they prowl and poke around in the grass, they make this low throaty purring sound.  They do!  However, chickens are way more trouble than cats, and you probably wouldn’t want one sitting in your lap for very long.  It’s those dinosaur genetics again.
  • Chickens are fun to draw.  Feathers are miracles of engineering and pattern and color.  Combs and wattles are hysterical – just touch one and try not to laugh!

I love backyard chickens.  I love the way they brag when they lay an egg.  However, I’m pretty sure I am over wanting to raise my own backyard chickens.  I’ll just be content to take care of my neighbor’s chickens.  My husband heartily endorses this conclusion!



Five O Clock Shadow

view from under awning of riverfront

“Flat Tail Brewery”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Five o’clock on the Willamette Riverfront on a summer afternoon,  and under the awning at Flat Tail Brewery is the primo place to be.  The bronze kingfishers on the sculpture twirl lazily in the breeze as people stroll past modelling Oregon’s worst hats and baggy plaid shorts, or drag their kayaks and innertubes up from the river bank, and come in for a brew.

Deep shadow is a challenge.   Purple seemed the easiest solution, and after a lovely pale ale, it didn’t look too bad.  Flat Tail’s food offerings have improved over time, to the point that it is one of our very favorite Corvallis eateries.  Really crispy fish, great cross-cut fries, and good tartar sauce.  Yum.

Plein Air at Carter’s Pond


sketch of cattail and trees

“Carter’s Pond”, watercolor and ink by Kerry McFall

I started taking a Plein Air class last Thursday from Mark Allison,  a popular Corvallis fine artist.  I learned a lot from him years ago about watercolors, so for my upcoming birthday I treated myself to the tuition.  Looking at the itinerary of locations where we will paint each week, it will be worth the price of admission simply to gain access to all of the locations, and know that there is a bathroom available!

I spent the first part of the session re-learning what he tried to teach me before about making a thumbnail sketch.  Most of the time when I sketch, I don’t have the patience to do several value thumbnails – hey, it’s just a sketch, right?  But he insists that a good pencil sketch with up to five distinct values will improve your art, so my resolution for this class is to follow that suggestion.  Here was my thumbnail for the above painting:

CarterPondThumbnail Just the size of a credit card , it only takes a few minutes, and it was fun to try his “sketch with only straight lines” approach.  Once I got the painting started, I realized too late I had strayed a bit from my thumbnail’s layout.  His critique suggested that I actually had enough going on in there for two paintings, one of the foreground in the pond, the other of the background in the trees.  I finished it up at home on a hot Sunday afteroon, and tried using Photoshop to crop it into several smaller pieces.  Didn’t like ’em.  Then I decided to try using an inked outline to emphasize what  became a kind of a herringbone pattern in several places.  I like that, and I hope I remember to use it next time to see if it tranfers well from cattails and trees to other subjects.

As the sun lowered, the pond noises amped up, finally reaching a crescendo when a bullfrog joined the chorus of wet pops and gurgles and plops.  There is a special zen to just sitting and listening and watching as the day closes.  We don’t allow ourselves that privilege often enough.  The Willamette Valley is relatively bug free, so it is actually possible to sit quietly… until the red ants figure out that you wore sandals.  Next time, no sandals, and maybe a nice bottle of Pinot Gris!