Monthly Archives: November 2013

Remember Hand Turkeys?

"Remember Hand Turkeys?", journal page by Kerry McFall

“Remember Hand Turkeys?”, journal page by Kerry McFall

I saw a Hand Turkey created by a grownup as I was browsing through the website “Illustration Friday” – it was marvelous, and considerably different from the gradeschool efforts of my children, and yes, back in The Day, I even made them myself.  It was the ideal fun topic for the sketchbook I’m working in for the Sketchbook Project, and since I didn’t have to cook anything (we dined out – such luxury!) I actually had time to finish it.  I filled my “turkey” with memories of Thanksgiving food, mostly the traditional McFall fare from my childhood.  Probably the most unusual dish was the “marshmallow salad”, made the day before the feast from marshamallows (of course), canned pineapple tidbits, canned Queen Anne cherries, and a magical mixture of heavy cream and lemon that was boiled and poured over everything, rendering the marshmallows into a gooey foam surrounding the sweet fruit.   Green bean casserole was a 60’s classic, involving of course Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup because what casserole didn’t?  Only in recent years have I realized that a turkey does NOT have to go into the oven at the crack of dawn for a 4:00 p.m. dinner.  In fact, if you avoid such historically-dictated behavior, you will have a juicy turkey at dinner, not the dessicated remains of unrecognizable poultry.  You will also have a breach in the family harmony because your mother will not speak to you for several years, but some things require drastic measures…

Keeping It Simple

sketch of leafless oak

“November Sky”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Sunday was another clear, frigid, rare November weekend day, so off I went to my Default Trail: Bald Hill.  I made the circle around the pastures, through the wetland, up to the barn, camera in hand.  From the hilltop at the barn, this was the view.  The ancient oak was naked, black against the waning daylight – at 4:00 p.m., mind you… I could just make out the slight swelling at the ends of the bare branches, next season’s leaves waiting their opportunity.  I decided that in spite of all the closeups I had taken of hoarfrost on fallen oakleaves, of rosehips and snowberries gleaming in Christmas color schemes, of teazels and tangles of blackberry vines, I wanted to convey that cold simplicity: past, present, and future stark against the heavens.

A quick pencil sketch, a few strokes of my brush pen, a watercolor wash in a limited palette, and all I needed was a bit of texture.  Rubbing the side of colored pencil leads over the watercolor, mostly black, a little purple, I found not only the contrast I wanted, but the texture, and it was still very simple.  Some days, that’s what this journey is all about – enjoying the basics, relishing the walking and the looking, simplifying the process.  Other days – let me at those fussy details!

Listening to the “Choir” at Finley

sketch of bridge across ash swale

“Wetlands Bridge”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The geese are in full voice at Finley Wildlife Refuge.  As graceful necklaces of birds stack up overhead apparently wating for clearance to land, the choir on the edges of the reservoir perform the Hallelujah Chorus.  Their songs make my heart sing.  And for comic relief, every now and then some duck cracks a joke and all his duck buddies join in with their coarse wack-wach-wack laughter.

Each autumn we make a pilgrimage to hear their wild songs. A 20 minute drive and we’re there.  We usually go before October 31st, which is when the nesting areas and the dam path above the reservoir are closed for the season.  But now that there is a boardwalk across the ash swale, you can get fairly close to the reservoir any time of year, and there are several trails open in the oak savannahs up the hills also.  Down in the swale, the world seems to be almost entirely covered in drippy lichens and moss, primarily a soft grey green but occasionally an eye-popping chartreuse.

Every visit reveals new wonders: this time, it was swans (or maybe white geese?) visible through the telescope from the gazebo, and lovely white moths who seemed to have collapsed in the damp weather all along the boardwalk.  It was too wet and windy to want to sketch on site, so we hiked around with our hands in our pockets and our hats pulled over our ears, and I took a few photos.  I came home and worked from the photos in the warmth of my “studio” (aka dining room), cat in lap, wine glass at the ready (always being on the alert not to dip my brushes in the wine), candle flickering just for the cinnamon-roll scent.  November can be quite cozy – the trick is to get out and get a little chilly exercise first.

Still Life with Recipe

"Still Life with Recipe," mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Still Life with Recipe,” mixed media by Kerry McFall

Tracy and I have been enjoying afternoon tea together for many years.  Since she no longer eats anything containing wheat (gluten), finding a suitable treat to go with the tea has become a challenge for me – mostly because I think that gluten-free translates to “tastes like bark mulch.”  However,  this week I had an inspiration – bananas!  I looked up Bananas Foster, but that requires rum, which meant a trip to the liquor store, and I didn’t have time.  So I did a little classic McFall Improvisation, which generally means eliminate all ingredients not already in the cupboard.  So the result is not quite “bananas flambe”, but it is warm and suitably gooey.  It’s also quick, it’s easy, and because it’s served warm it feels elegant.  Bonus – the ingredients gave me an opportunity to do a quick “still life” sketch – a win-win situation!

(What’s a “diagonal oval”?  It’s when you slice the banana not in rounds, but slant your knife diagonally against the long side of the banana… it’s the same cut used in Chinese cooking to get the celery in fried rice to look like it isn’t really celery at all but some exotic ingredient…)

Tobacco and the Art of Manliness

I have spent several days making this painting, and several additional hours this afternoon learning about the tobacco plant, and how it is raised and cured and hung and chopped and rolled and marketed… all so I can  understand why this barn is the way it is.  And I must admit, it is fascinating.  Did you know that there are actually several web pages devoted to “How to Smoke a Pipe”?  No, really, and the Art of Manliness has really good pix from the 50’s…

sketch of black tobacco barn

“Kentucky Tobacco Barn”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I photographed this barn as we wound our way through the backroads of Kentucky.  I SO wanted to creep inside, just to see what it smelled like in that rich darkness… I imagined it would be like the cherry flavored tobacco my Dad smoked… but I could also imagine a big bad hound dog exploding off a nearby porch, or a cranky old tobacco farmer taking exception to my curiousity, so I chickened out.  Several questions came to mind about Kentucky barns – why black?  To absorb the heat from the sun and aid in the curing process.  Why the slats on the sides?  To open as needed to let the air circulate.  How do they hang the leaves?  Lots of answers to this one, mostly either by slitting the stem and poking a stick through, or tying bundles of leaves to the stick.  To be honest, the “curing” process sounds almost as voodoo as the brewing process for beer – they make it up as they go along, with a general recipe in mind maybe, but mostly it’s just dumb luck.  I mean in the end, you just burn it up anyway, so it all seems a bit silly.  Sir Walter Raleigh made monkeys out of the “Conquerors” when he sent tobacco back home to Europe, although it took several centuries for anyone to figure that out.

And thus it is that I am fascinated by tobacco at the moment, but I am also repulsed.  Everyone in my world, with the possible exception of my mother, thought smoking was sexy as I was growing up.  Think “Mad Men.”  My Aunt Muriel’s cigarette filters always had bright red ends from her lipstick.  My father smoked a pipe for years, but then in the 60’s we all figured out that it was bad for his health.  My brothers and I harrassed him unmercifully until he finally gave it up.  At about the same time, I realized that those pruny lines raying out from my grandmothers lips were no doubt from her habit of “hands free” cigarett smoking… Ew.  So there went sexy.  And to the young people of my acquaintance who might read this – keep those pruny lines in mind the next time you light up.  Not to mention your lovely cough in the mornings.  Just sayin’.

Paris, Athens, London… and Possum Hollow

Day before yesterday, we were in Paris, Athens, London, and Possum Hollow… all in one day, and all in the Great State of Kentucky!  Paris even had a cute little Eiffel tower replica in front of the feed store.

Driving through horse country was a visual treat, with “The Colors” at their full luminous peak.  If you can stay off the freeways and on what we used to call the “Blue Highways”, you can see old black tobacco barns, farms with “hex symbols” on the outbuildings, foxes, mules, intricate stone walls… I’d love to go back and do a sketching tour.

"Ohio View," mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Ohio View,” mixed media by Kerry McFall

We took an unexpected side trip to Rockbridge, Ohio, in the Hocking Hills to stay as guests of a new friend in his country house, which was filled with art created by various members of his family.  This was the view of essentially uninterrupted woods, illuminated by the last rays of sun.  The deck was thick with dead lady bugs, which was sad, and we encountered them in several places in Tennessee also.  Evidently they swarm this time of year, trying to find shelter before the first freezes.  From this spot, our rental car “Never Lost” gps  (perhaps a slight misnomer) led us a merry chase through the countryside, up ridges and down hollows – luckily, we even found a few remaining country diners.

And now we’re back in Knoxville, about to head West… I just need about three more days to finish my sketches!



Skunked, watercolor by Kerry McFall

Skunked, watercolor by Kerry McFall

My generation grew up very familiar with the iconic Davy Crockett from Tennessee and Dan’l Boone from Kentucky wearing coonskin caps.  Or was that skunk?  And remember Pepe le Pew, the lovelorn skunk whose amour was never returned by the lovely little black and white pussycat?  Eau de skunk was always the family joke as we quickly rolled up our car windows past dead skunks on the highway.  But this week, it isn’t funny.  Our Tennessee adventure hit a major snag a couple of nights ago, when Tay, the resident black lab, had the misfortune to run into a skunk.  Literally.

The nerve of a skunk invading this posh North Knoxville community!  Tay immediately made a beeline for the back door, which I think must have been almost ground zero.  I smelled it from the kitchen, panicked, and like an idiot ran and opened the door- WHAT was I thinking?!   Damage was done, and before you could say “Bob’s your uncle,” poor Tay was slobbering and rubbing her head all over the back of the couch…. ewwww.  It has taken several days, many baths, and a lot of baking soda and tomato juice and febreze spray, to get the household back into some semblance of livability.  Tay still has skunk breath.  Double ewww…  and I certainly have new respect for skunks.  What an incredibly effective defense mechanism.