Monthly Archives: February 2014

Meeska Mooska Mouska

Last time I watched the New Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (about 6 months ago), that was still the “magic word” to make special things happen.  It makes about as much sense as the Latin biographical name for mouse, which seems to be Mus Musculus.  I picked up this bit of Latin quite unexpectedly in the Springfield Art Museum of Missouri, where I stumbled upon an Audubon print of mice.  There is a large exhibit of “Audubon’s Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America” in this nice regional art center, displaying furry critters like badgers and wolverines instead of the birds usually associated with Mr. Audubon.  They all looked rather menacing and exotic, made back in the day when humans thought that natural resources could never run out, before cameras could capture every nuance of an animal’s posture, before the buffalo had been slaughtered…  This one was the one simple domestic exception – the bright orange cheese pulled me in like a magnet:

sketch of 4 mice on cheese

“Audubon’s Mice,” mixed media sketch by Kerry McFall

The tiny mice have such personalities, seeming to be listening for trouble approaching from the left, and they reminded me very much of Beatrix Potter illustrations.  It was interesting to learn that Audubon didn’t do all of his own work, but had his sons and apprentices doing the drawing and hand painting from his original watercolors, and his entourage even included a taxidermist.  It must have been difficult to preserve those tiny mice.

Local museums and studios and art centers never disappoint.  There is always something that makes me gasp, something that makes me sigh, something new to discover and then go research.  What surprises me and comforts me is that in areas where I feel like the natural environment has been so neglected and abused, I can still find those local gems where people are still people, not automatons in metal and plastic shells hurtling through soul-sucking strip malls twice daily at ridiculous speeds.

So the next time you’re road-tripping through the Land of How Fast Can We Pave our Farmland (i.e. every state in the union), jump out of your train or bus (or car) and shout, “Meeska Mooska Mouska”.  Then Google the nearest art museum, take a detour, and be re-assured.  Not all is lost.  There is still the magic of art.

Then, as soon as you get home, write to your Congressman about sustainability.  We are so far from it.


Getting Acquainted

sketch of little boys and huskie puups

“Getting Acquainted”, pencil sketch by Kerry McFall copyright 2014

Getting out in the world can be so Life Confirming!  Sometimes it’s not the spectacular landscapes, or the fabulous architecture, or the breath-taking performances that mean the most, although those are richly rewarding.  Sometimes it’s just being on the path, at the moment when two Husky puppies encounter two little boys, that warms your heart and makes the memory.

Last week I was walking along the path at Garden of the Gods (Colorado Springs, Colorado), camera in hand, having one of my “Overdose on Awesome” moments.  I had been gaping at rock spires the colors of fire, almost dizzy as I turned from one overwhelming vista to another, when I saw these little ones.  Whew, I thought, something on a human scale.  The grownups who were with them were hanging on to leashes and waistbands to be sure nobody got rambunctious, but I’m pretty sure they would have done fine on their own.  I suspect that both the puppies and the boys had encountered members of these species before, because they all approached the opportunity with cautious optimism and wagging tails.  I had a brief opportunity to snap a quick shot and then fade back into the background, and I was lucky enough to catch this rich moment, so full of possibilities!  And of course, after awhile, I got to pet the puppies too!

Oddly enough, this got me started thinking about my mother, and the topic that she keeps pushing away, which is that she should no longer be living alone.  She refuses to live with “all those old people” (she is 84) in retirement facilities.  I won’t bore you with the details, but here’s my conclusion: senior residences, or nursing homes, or whatever you call them, should ALL include a day care center, and be across the street from a park with a playground and/or open spaces.  Even if you were not able to stroll across the park to meet the new toddler or play frisbee with the puppy, you could at least see the fun and chuckle. You could watch the sky change and see the birds fly overhead.  You could get acquainted with people of all ages, maybe read to the kids in daycare, and not be restricted to just conversations with those “old people” about which of the residents went into the hospital this week.  Let’s hurry up and get this going! It is absolutely worth a fortune to see or participate in encounters like the one above.

Technique Notes: I grabbed my journal this morning and started scribbling.   I added just a touch of pale pink and light blue colored pencil, and then thought, Dang, I wish I hadn’t done this on lined paper!  But as always, sketching in my journal, instead of on “nice” sketchbook paper, takes away the pressure to be so careful… and as often as not, the results are better than on “nice” paper!

“…So Good It’ll Make You Slap Your Neighbor!”

Colorado was 200 miles of Awesome.  Kansas was miles and miles of Flat and Tidy.  As we traversed the state of Kansas (West to East, mostly on Highway 400), I slowly understood why the first part of the movie “Wizard of Oz” was black and white: the wind sucked out all the colors.

sketch of winmills on prairie with quilt pattern border

“Kansas Landscape”, mixed media copyright 2014 Kerry McFall

Approaching Kansas from an artist’s perspective, the Kansas horizon must be drawn with a ruler, precisely perpendicular to the power poles and windmills of various vintages.  Below the horizon there is grass – in February, it’s dead, drained of color by the vampire wind.  Above, there is silvery bluish sky.  Okay, that was easy.  Next, a little contrast maybe, some shadows, some texture?  Nope, not in the winter.  No trees.  No blackberry vines.  No ivy.  No scraggly jumbles of overgrown anything anywhere.  Not even a sly dandelion lurking just under the surface.  You would never need a weed whacker in Kansas.  The grass is all precisely 1.5” tall, even in the back corners of trashy trailer parks.  Which aren’t very trashy because the trash all blew away.  (Apparently to Missouri or Colorado, where plastic bags make eerie ornaments on trees and barbed wire.)  Even though the simplicity is somehow soothing, if I was an artist living in Kansas, I’m pretty sure I would start doing abstracts.

After hours of flat, straight, dry pavement with absolutely no traffic, and that colorless landscape, an emerald castle on a hill above a misty field of poppies seemed like a really good idea.  Hell, Flying Monkeys were beginning to sound like fun!  Until the speeding ticket.  But I digress. To be fair, it is February, and apart from the wind, we had marvelous weather – a tiny bit of gropple, according to the weather guy, but it just looked like snow to me.  So Kansas is appealing in its own symmetrical way.  I’ve gotta believe that spring on the Kansas prairie would be fabulous.  And it was worth the whole drive just to see signs like “Aunt Toadies Diner,” and discover this field full of “political sculpture” outside of Mullinville, Kansas.  It stretched for acres, and although this photo doesn’t reflect the R-rating, you can see more details at this website

Political Sculpture

Political Sculpture

Now we’re in Missouri, where BBQ joints advertise that their “burnt end sandwich” is so good it’ll make you slap your neighbor.  (Don’t worry, Caroline, the last thing I want to do is slap you since you take such good care of the kitties while we’re out gallivanting all over the country!)  McDonald’s and KFC may be as ubiquitous as ants, but I simply cannot imagine them coming up with marketing phraseology as original as that… and it WAS good barbeque!  And guess what beer was on tap?  Deschutes Brewery.  ‘Nuff said.

Technique Notes:  The border I added to the Kansas landscape above is a pieced quilt pattern called Rocky Road to Kansas, among other names.  Tradition has it that this was popular as emigrants headed west, which according to my map analysis means that the rocky road to Kansas is actually… yep, in Missouri.


No Flying Monkeys… Yet

sketch of geese grazing

“Wintering in Wichita” mixed media by Kerry McFall

When we arrived in Wichita last night at our hotel, I would have said that someone’s chihuahua had a tummy ache after eating too many “greenie” dog treats, and they didn’t bother to scoop up the evidence on the sidewalk.  This morning, looking at both the sidewalk and the car windshields, I decided that there were two other possibilities: a) the front desk manager had summoned the famous Kansas Flying Monkeys because we had slightly messed up our reservation, and b) pterodactyls are not extinct after all.  But I discovered a bit later that it was a small flock of geese, who seem to be overwintering in the parking strip.  They waddled around outside our room, keeping me company as I coughed and wheezed my way through the day (yukky cold, hazard of traveling).  And based on the ruckus they kicked up when a huskie-type dog walked past, I wouldn’t want to mess with them.

Today would have been my Dad’s birthday, so I made this sketch for him.  He and I share a love of geese.   The wild goose is my spirit animal – not because I’ve ever done any exploration of the spiritual basis of such things, but just because I know it.  Another interesting coincidence of this trip and his birthday is that yesterday in Dodge City, I stumbled across the handprints in cement of Dennis Weaver (if you’re old enough to remember Gunsmoke, you know him as Chester) who graduated highschool with my Dad –  class size was five students!

I’ll post a new coloring page with these geese soon, but right now, time to put my cold to bed!

Vistas Taken for Granted

sketch of mountains

Front Range of the Rockies as seen from the Waffle House, mixed media by Kerry McFall

We all take our own stomping grounds for granted.  There have been many times when people confess to us that they’ve never been to the places we “tourists” are so excited about –  places like the Brixton Windmill in London,  or the museum down the street in many cities, even a surprising number of Peruvians who have never been able to make it to Machu Picchu.  We ourselves are guilty of not going to lovely local places like Alsea Falls for years at a time.  But I swear that if the Front Range of the Rockies was in MY back yard, I would build my buildings FACING them (or at least put some windows in the back of the building.)  It’s not like there’s anything else to look at in the other directions…

I have been amazed at how many buildings face some tacky stretch of strip malls, with no view at all of the mountains or even any windows on the mountain side.  The view I sketched above was from the glamorous locale of the Waffle House parking lot off Highway 287 near Longmont – it’s the ONLY place where I would have been able to sketch from inside (at the back table in the corner) but given the sticky syrupy table I thought better of it and went outside for a photo.  And of course what you don’t see are the gas stations and quicky marts and utility poles just outside the margins of the sketch… or the miles and miles of “Mc-Ticky-Tacky” developments.  Our hotel here in Colorado Springs has another terrific view – from the back parking lot.  NO views at all from inside the building.  So silly.  As a culture, we need to tell our architects and designers to readjust their priorities!

So now that I’ve finished whining, I do have to say the front range of the Rockies is a spectacular sight!

Technique Notes

The peaks and snow fields were outlined first in white china marker – gives it a nice icy feel!