Monthly Archives: August 2013

Speak Truth to Power

"MLK Sketch" mixed media

“MLK Sketch” mixed media

Fifty years ago, I was a skinny-legged kid, living in Oregon, catching toads and tearing around on my Schwinn Miss Teen bike.  I was dimly aware that a black person couldn’t sit at just any seat at a lunch counter.  I had no clue that the world was about to once again unleash the dogs of war.  There was incredible turmoil every night on our flickering television screens.  Activists stood up and marched in suit and tie or skirts and high heels, and there was one particularly inspiring speech now known as the “I Have A Dream” speech.  I remember the images as blurs, but I can still feel those knots in my gut and smell my parents’ fear every time Mr. Cronkite related the latest assassinations, the latest body counts.  We’ve seen several remarkable films recently that have reminded me of all that, (Sapphires, The Butler, and not so recently The Help,) and left me with a pocket full of wet kleenexes and an odd mix of hope and despair.  This all came together in my mind this morning as I sat in Sharon’s Cafe in south Corvallis at the counter (best bacon in town).  At the opposite counter sat a young black man, flanked by two young white men.  They were laughing, joking, wolfing down their breakfast, enjoying life.  I’m pretty sure no one else in the place even gave it a second thought, which in itself is quite remarkable.  I concluded that Dr. King would probably have wanted them to take off their baseball caps, but he would be so pleased.

I know that we still have far to go in this world before we come closer to the vision of justice and freedom that he shared with so many other thoughtful men and women over the centuries.  And I know that each passing week reveals another injustice, another tragedy, or a specter of a new threat – radioactive oceans? war again (or should that be still)  in Korea or the middle East?  Melting ice caps?  But still, this kind of progress is good.  We should celebrate it where we find it.  I sat there for a long time, watching the young men, sipping my coffee, quietly celebrating.

We’re gonna be okay, as long as we don’t just sit around on our “laurels” after we celebrate.  Joan Baez quotes a Quaker expression, “Speak Truth to Power,” in the Time Magazine August 26, 2013 edition.  Right on (that expression, by the way, originated back then in case you’re so young that you think I’m just trying to appropriate the vernacular of youth.)  My truth may sound different than your truth, but we both must speak.

Sketch based on a photo by Dan Budnik as seen on Time Magazine’s cover, NFS.

Sitting Ducks

paintng of boat ramp

“Sitting Ducks”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The urgent cry of a young osprey is immediately recognizable, “Mom!  Mom! Wait for me!!”  As my Plein Air class painted from the small dock at the Crystal Lake Drive boat landing in Corvallis, we heard it several times from across the river or from above us.  I kept anticipating that they would make a dive into the swift river and fly up with a fish, but eventually I decided they must be waiting for just the right moment to snatch a meal from the gravel bars mid-river.  A small flock of ducks there was barely visible from my vantage point – I was glad the ospreys didn’t make their move while we were there!   A slow parade of boaters came and went on the ramp, yanking on starter cords of old outboard motors, one carrying a bow with arrows tied with fishing line for hunting carp.  An otter was sighted briefly – or maybe it was a nutria, hard to tell.

When we arrived at 5:30 p.m., the sky was overcast, the light was flat, the river was a dull brownish green, and I was thinking to myself that it wasn’t the most dazzling spot for painting.  But as the evening progressed, the mood changed dramatically.  The cottonwood trees began to quiver, it rained a bit off and on for a few minutes.  The clouds above us gradually parted, emerald trees glistened in front of black thunderclouds to the east, the river shifted between blues and greens and silver.  It was impossible to figure out where to look, what to paint.  Was it Buddha who said, “Change is inevitable.  Get over it.”?  As we propped up our work for a critique session at 8:00 p.m., a rainbow shone above us in the gathering dusk.  Just another glorious August evening on the Willamette River!


"Bridge a Takena" final composite, mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Bridge a Takena” final composite, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Picture sitting under one bridge on an August evening, drawing another bridge, and listening to a rock concert drifting in from the other bank.  Great way to spend an evening.

The practice of creating a thumbnail sketch helps the artist decide what to paint… or that’s the intent.  For those of us with the attention span of a gnat, however, it expands the dilemma… “ooh, look, isn’t this nice?  And so it this… and what about this?”  So rather than decide which way to crop, I took the overlapping thumbnails that I started out with and created a piece that shows the entire vista and the progression from pencil to paint to wax to paint to…  you get my drift.   Only the center space was taken all the way to the final stage.  Here also are the first thumbnail, and a “halfway” version:

pencil sketch of bridge

“Bridge from Takena” thumbnail sketch


"Bridge at Takena" intermediate phase, by Kerry McFall

“Bridge at Takena” intermediate phase, by Kerry McFall


Being In the Moment

sketch of bikes and flowerbaskets

“Waterfront Flowerbaskets” mixed media by Kerry McFall

Last Friday afternoon – as in Friday before last – I sketched as I waited for my friends Martha and Sue Ann to join me at Flat Tail Brewery.   Sue Ann arrived first, saw I was sketching, returned to her car, and came back with her sketchbook.  But we got so instantlly involved in conversation that I didn’t draw another line, and she never opened her sketchbook.  Then Martha arrived moments later, and we were immersed in “catching up” – on our kids, our lives, our dreams (Yes, Virginia, middle-aged women still have dreams).  We laughed, we nearly cried, we had a good time.   The sketch only had a few flowers showing a bit of color, but I decided not to take it any further,  that it captured pefectlly that transition when you drop what you’re doing and plunge into the Moment and Be There.  No multi-tasking.  No drifting off, no loss of focus.  That’s what friends are for.  That’s what Summer is for.  That’s what Friday’s are for!   So I signed it with my little “chop” symbol, and here it is, Photoshopped just a tad so you can see the pencil lines.

Secret Garden

sketch of classical garden

“Secret Garden” mixed media by Kerry McFall

Mini-vacations are such a good idea.  We slipped away last weekend up Highway 126 to Belknap Hot Springs Lodge on the McKenzie River, where we soaked in the spring-fed pool, and I spent a morning in the “Secret Garden”.  It’s almost a secret, across a footbridge from the lodge, past the steaming source of the hot spring, along a path that doesn’t seem to have any destination, turn a corner, and there you are in Greece.  Or fairyland.  Or… somewhere with an elaborate multi-part fountain, tinkly waterfalls, and lots of bamboo.  Most of the time I was the only person there, happily painting away, my gear spread all over a classic faux-stone table and benches, but with a vague sense of unreality.

I took a lot of photos of the Real McKenzie, the place with the crystal clear roiling river, the place with the blue-green firs and droopy cedars, the place with the steep hazy ridges in the distance.  I want to paint them later.  But I didn’t photograph the places with the clearcuts that haven’t been replanted, scarring the hillsides.  Nor the haphazard “resort” developments being dug out of the sides of the river.  I don’t know which is worse, the abandoned clearcuts or the careless plantings of invasive bamboo.   Progress?  Growth?  Change for sure.

As so often happens, I didn’t have time to finish my painting on the spot, so I worked on it some more at home.  I put it through the Photoshop poster edge filter to see what it would look like if I added inked lines, decided it could use a good cropping, checked out the palette, then got bored with it.  I put all the bits back together on top of the first “raw” photo, and decided it was a good example of possibilties and lessons learned.  Time to get serious about studying perspective, or give up trying to get it “right” and just go more abstract, can’t decide which…  But mini-vacations definitely get a Thumbs Up!


Vignette- Dinner for Two

sketch of birdfeeders with gold finches

“Dinner for Two” mixed media digitally enhanced, by Kerry McFall

Last Thursday was grey and cool, (a distant memory as I sit in front of my hard-working little green fan and “glow” in the heat…) – but it was so cool that after two hours of my Plein Air class, my fingers got tingly and numb!   Oddly enough, what struck me, near Philomath in the midst of misty mountains and bamboo groves and struggling orchards, was a cluster of clear acrylic birdfeeders.  A couple of gluttonous brown sparrows munched at the seeds at first, but eventually I was rewarded by the arrival of two bright yellow goldfinches.  They stayed just long enough for me to get a quick impression of them.  The background was a tangle of dark green shrubs and berries which I thought I might add later… but later I was at McMenamin’s pub warming my hands on a hot mug of cheese and potato soup.  The weekend took me off on another tangent, so this afternoon I twiddled a bit with it in  Photoshop to enhance the edges, and here it is, a cool grey memory.

Idyllic. Almost.

painting of red hammock

“Red Hammock”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

My Plein Air class set up in Tangent, Oregon at a lovely old farmstead, where our hostess had made big jars of iced tea for us.  Christine (another student) and I claimed the shade in the orchard, where she painted a gorgeous portrayal of a duet of pears (if you look closely above the hammock you can see a few), and I chose the bright red hammock for my subject.  I had a new toy to try, a Sharpie white water-based paint marker.  It worked like a charm for drawing the white ropes, and for toning down the “nouveau style” heavy lines after I got carried away.  The center of interest is perhaps a bit too close to “front and center”, but I was pleased with the bright colors of the hammock.  I never did reach the relaxation level implied in the painting… nothing like the constant roar of traffic on the highway to drown out birdsong on the summer breeze.  But I’m not complaining – it was such a treat to be able to paint outdoors for three hours, and then enjoy the resulting art show as the class displayed their work for critique.

One other sketch accomplished this week, this one during a business meeting held at the Oregon Aquarium.  The meeting room is about the best I’ve ever been in, with a view of the marsh surrounding the bay in Newport on one side, and a floor to ceiling window into the shark tank on the other end – AND coffee and delicious maple bars!  Clearly I need to put the Aquarium on my sketch destination list.

“Conference Concentration”, mixed media by Kerry McFall