Monthly Archives: April 2014

Elusive Portraiture

"Smile from the Past", pencil on gray paper by Kerry McFall

“Smile from the Past”, pencil on gray paper by Kerry McFall

One of the suggestions from Sketchbook Skool was to experiment with tinted paper.  I’d done a few drawings before using white and dark pencil on colored backgrounds, and I like them, but hadn’t really understood the full potential.  I bought a new gray sketchbook, pulled up a photo from an acquaintance, and spent a delightful couple of hours playing and smudging and learning.  Just one little smick of white in the wrong place turns a sparkling eye into a zombie eye socket… but apart from that minor frustration, I’m still having way too much fun with my online class.  The more I learn, the more there is ahead still to learn… funny how that works.


The Three ‘P’s (and a recipe)

Passion.  Perseverance.  Practice.  Those are at the heart of this week’s Sketchbook Skool online lessons.  So this spring weekend I’ve been passionately persevering and practicing:

"Sunflower Starts", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Sunflower Starts”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

This year I decided to get a jump on the cutworms and slugs and plant sunflowers in cardboard egg cartons.  I put the cartons out in the driveway, where the cement reflects sunshine and collects warmth and, I thought optimistically, deters bugs.  The seeds sprouted, and are thriving, although some of the leaves are still struggling to shed the shells.  I decided that today was the day to plant them, so drawing them first would be a good exercise in perspective, shading, and recording daily life.  I brought them inside, and when I lifted them up to check for roots poking through the bottom of the carton, discovered colonies of “curly bugs” (sow bugs?) had come along for the ride, all snugged up in the dividers underneath.  Eew.  But one person’s grossout moment is a chicken’s delight, so the neighbor’s hens had a lovely Easter morning treat.

Yesterday was the first Saturday Farmer’s Market of the year, so we walked to the Riverfront (one of the true delights of living close to downtown) in a light drizzle and made the rounds of the booths for a “Farm to Table” supper.  Fresh cheddar bratwurst, cabbage raab ( new veggie for me), and BumbleBerry Pie.  Raab, it turns out, is the blossom spike (with tiny leaves) of the cabbage if you leave the plant in the ground to overwinter – it looks a lot like broccoli.  Recipes are below this sketch:

Corvallis Farmers Market 2014, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Corvallis Farmers Market 2014, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Slice Sweet Briar Farm cheddar bratwurst into bite size pieces – it’s really good, and really fresh.  Chop one onion into quarters.

Stir fry onions and bratwurst until brown in cast iron skillet in olive oil.

Add enough sauerkraut plus juice to almost cover sausage, cover and simmer for 15 minutes or longer… If you happen to have a bottle of beer open, pour some of it in, too.

At end of the 15 minutes, leave the brats simmering, and chop the raab into 3 inch sections.  Stir-fry in olive oil with one clove of chopped garlic and a little sea salt just until tender-crisp, which only takes a few minutes.  Serve with the bratwurst.  And if you’re not on a diet, some fried potatoes would be perfect to go with this.

Something Is Not Quite Right

Portrait of a Young Woman, acrylic and ink, by Kerry McFall

Portrait of a Young Woman, acrylic and ink, by Kerry McFall

I finished this portrait today, and I really like it – but dang, it looks nothing like the lovely young woman it is intended to represent!  Also, as John Singer Sargent said, there is something wrong about the mouth… And I’ve reached that point with the painting that I’m afraid to put on even one more stroke.  But I learned so much just in the doing, and I spent hours in my Happy Place, completely absorbed in a tiny shadow, or a subtle color shift, listening to the voices in my head squeal, “Ooh!  That worked!” or mumble “Meh.  Try again.”  Simple pleasures.

Also I finished an assignment for Sketchbook Skool, another exercise in Not Quite What I Had in Mind, but then again, I learned that colored pencils alone just aren’t enough anymore!  Apparently once you’ve opened the Pandora’s box of mixed media, there’s no going back.

"Wash Up!' colored pencil sketch by Kerry McFall

“Wash Up!’ colored pencil sketch by Kerry McFall

Pink Snow

"Pink Snow", watercolor and ink by Kerry McFall

“Pink Snow”, watercolor and ink by Kerry McFall

Oh, Yeah – that was really fun!  After a week of being dazzled by the Danny Gregory Sketchbook Skool online course, I tried to clear my head with a glass of bubbly Proseco and a painting where I just did what I know how to do.  No new media or techniques.  Nothin’ fancy.  But lots of fun!

How I Spent my Sunday Afternoon

How I Spent my Sunday Afternoon

The streets in our old neighborhood were lined with these double-cherry trees (prunus Kanzan? Japanese flowering cherry?)..  I walked there yesterday to see if they had begun to bloom.  They were at full throttle, bursting and waving in the breeze.  Another two or three days, and drifts of pink petals will fill the streets… Pink Snow Week!

Life’s Rich Pageant Marches On!

sketch of tulips with handwritten notes

“Flaming Tulips” mixed media by Kerry McFall

In spite of everything – in spite of earthquakes, mudslides, lost airplanes, insane political hijinx, everything – the life force of spring asserts itself.  Thankfully, the earth still seems to turn at the same speed, and winter lets go.  Hallelujah!

I am currently enthralled with my first online art class, Sketchbook Skool.  It is all-consuming, leaving my dining room “studio” looking like the aftermath of a major windstorm.  I sit here for hours, sketching, painting, then giggling and gasping at the creative outpouring from 1,000 students all over the planet as they post their artwork and share their insights and fears.  Just Wow.  It’s the same feeling I had when I first encountered the Urban Sketchers in New York City – these people are so wonderful.  And I am so lucky to be a part of this Rich Pageant!

Here are a few more sketches from this first weeks’ assignments:

Sketchbook Skool

sketch of blue mocassins

“Moccasins”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I am taking an online course by Danny Gregory called Sketchbook Skool, and the above piece was the first assignment.  The idea was to use NO pencils for a first quick outline, but to draw directly with ink.  Then to write on the sketch, and to draw something that I feel strongly about –  it was fun!  It’s also just a bit overwhelming because at last count there were over 600 students taking the course.  This means that there are over 600 very talented and fascinating folks all over the world posting their sketches and sharing their lives and commenting back and forth, and it also means that I am not going to get the housework done this weekend like I had planned.  Oh dear… hee-hee!

Technique Notes:  Danny suggested doing a watercolor background wash (actually doing a bunch of pages in advance with random colors just so you don’t have to spend as much time waiting for paint to dry), then doing a filled shape of your subject (still no pencils!) in Gouache.  Of which I have none, so I improvised with a bit of acrylic thinned with water.  It worked nicely, but I would do it a bit lighter shade of blue next time.  Then do just the edge of the shape in ink, then off you go with whatever detail you want to add.

A Multi-Cat Day

This morning when I sat down to begin my “sketching warm-up exercises” (which I have to say are far less painful than the Yoga Plank thing I tried recently), I noticed my old cat Baby catching the sunrays in the front window.  Given the lack of other nearby inspiration, she had her portrait done.  In pencil.  Then I added watercolor.

Next came a flip through the pages of a design book about Art Deco, and the Mean Keelah was born.  “Mean Keelah” was what our little neighbor used to call one of our cats when he was learning to talk… Skyley, aka Mean Keelah, was the original Grumpy Cat.  Only meaner, and with bigger teeth.  As I worked, following the style of G. Darcy from 1920, Mean Keelah was reincarnated.  Reincarnated several times, as I experimented with this and that, including a digitally-enhanced version.

Then I got to wondering how that mean kitty could become a cute kitty – what is it about those lines that implies such evil?  So I messed around for a little longer, using the same approach and style.  Meh… the technique works for “cute kitties” as well as mean, but the cats are just more in a long line of simpering felines – nothing is new under sun.  I like the Mean Cat #2 best, the rest got a bit too dark with additional paint layers.  Although, that digital version does have some distinct Halloween possibilities…