Monthly Archives: August 2014

A Few Minutes’ Peace

white roses on rose arbor

“A Few Minutes’ Peace”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The world has been at “Sixes and Sevens” lately (I first heard that phrase years ago in the play THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH by Thornton Wilder, my one and so far only venture into acting.)  The total insanity of national and international news sometimes just washes over me and makes me feel … can I even describe it?  Middle-aged and cynical?  Sad and wrung out?  If you’re old enough to remember the 60’s and you’re not frustrated, you’re not paying attention.

This is when gardens and open spaces are critical – close to home and easy to get to.  Earlier this week I was able to spend a few quiet moments in the rose garden at Avery Park.  The sweet scent was soothing, and in spite of the park designers’ best efforts to install all benches facing tree trunks instead of roses, I found a shaded spot where I could see  to draw just this little snippet of the garden.

At first I was annoyed that pretty much all I could see were white roses.  My grandmother used to say that white flowers were pointless – if you can’t have color, why bother?

Drawing the curliques of the little run of Victorian fencing forced me to slow down mentally and concentrate: up, down, and around, over and over.  The breeze in the trees was reassuring.  As I began to paint, I decided I was glad of the white roses, they were not clamoring for attention, not insisting that I mix just the right shades to achieve their colors.  They were like cold clear water on a scorching day.  My intention was to finish by writing something profound in the bottom right corner, but my mind went to mush, so I used the space for a palette square “quilt” (which had a surprising lot of colors even with the white roses!).  And I felt so much better afterward: a final drawing to finish off this sketchbook, and a few minutes’ peace to carry with me into the fray.  Life’s Rich Pageant Marches On.


Drawing Game!

One of my Sketchbook Skool friends Kate Merriman is looking for an activity to do with folks at a community festival, so I wanted to share this with her – and you!  This little game is one that my friend SueAnn Belknap taught me years ago – it’s great for all ages, and be prepared for giggles!

All you need is a piece of paper and something to draw with.  Fold the paper in half, then unfold it and draw a “neck” in the middle – just two little lines, about a half inch apart.


Person 1 decides whether they want to draw the body or the head.  Fold it in half so you see the bottom of the neck if you want to do the body, or the top of the neck if you want to do the head.  Start at the neck and draw half a body.  It can be animal, vegetable (think Veggie Tales), or human – it just has to have a body and a head.  HIDE THE PAPER as you draw your half!   The more details you draw, the funnier it is in the end.  You could even draw some background!


Fold it, turn it over to the blank side, and give it to Person 2, who doesn’t know what’s on there!  AND NO PEEKING:


Person 2 now draws the other half, also HIDING THE PAPER.  Start at the neck.  When finished, open up and be amazed at how silly it is!



Be sure to autograph your half.  It’s fun to color them also, and they look great on the fridge!


Sunflower Showstopper

"Showstopper", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Showstopper”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

When you put a sunflower into a bouquet, all the other flowers just have to take a backseat.  The bright yellow outshines anything and everything, and this one appeared to be holding a leaf out to cover up its closest rival, a white dahlia.  Speaking from experience, if you’re not paying attention, sunflowers are so heavy that they’ll tip over the entire vase!

I was playing with Photoshop techniques after I photographed the painting, and I liked this one almost as much as the original:

"Showstopper 2", mixed media and digital techniques, by Kerry McFall

“Showstopper 2”, mixed media and digital techniques, by Kerry McFall

Drawing Stuff

sketch of mugs and spoon

“Mugs” mixed media sketch by Kerry McFall

I’m almost finished with my Sketchbook Skool online course, “Seeing.”  It has been such fun, and I have learned a lot – and it has encouraged me to give myself permission to just draw stuff.  Drawing stuff, as opposed to creating a masterpiece for exhibition, is completely absorbing and relaxing.  Drawing stuff makes the world with all its insanity, both near and far, just fade into the background, like thin watercolor pigment drying on a hot summer day.

This assignment was to look at the patterns in objects (like teacups) and architecture, and to use a thumbnail to sort out the details in your head.  The instructor, Liz Steele, is Australian, and tea and teacups are two of her passions.  She understands a proper Devonshire tea much in the way that Americans do not.  Loved her attitude!

Unfortunately my teacups were victims of downsizing, and they are now packed carefully away in boxes in the garage (or is it the attic?), waiting for the next Christmas Tea.  But I do still have my favorite mugs handy, and drawing them was a trip down memory lane.  Each one evokes the face of a particular person or event at a time past, and the aroma of a cup of coffee, or the taste of tea with milk and sugar.  Sweet reminiscences.

A Question of Color


painting of bridge

“Golden Gate Bridge”,mixed media by Kerry McFall

As I stood beneath the bridge, I wondered why it looked so red.  It isn’t a bit golden!  So when I returned home and Google was at my fingertips, I typed, “Why is the Golden Gate Bridge red?”  Brilliant, incisive question.  As it turns out, not particularly original, since if popped up as an FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) on several entries.  Turns out it isn’t red either, it’s International Orange to be precise.  But I only had a red pen, so my color scheme can be chalked up to artistic license.

“Consulting Architect Irving Morrow selected the distinctive orange color because it blends well with the span’s natural setting as it is a warm color consistent with the warm colors of the land masses in the setting as distinct from the cool colors of the sky and sea. It also provides enhanced visibility for passing ships. If the U.S. Navy had its way, the Bridge might have been painted black and yellow stripes to assure even greater visibility for passing ships.”  Ooh, that would have been fun – then it could have been called the BumbleBee Bridge.

Here is a snapshot of the beginnings of the “fast/slow” process taught by Danny Gregory – a quick splash of color to get things going, then slowly add details as you really look closely at what you’re drawing.

watercolor beginning

“Golden Gate in Progress”, by Kerry McFall

Guardian of the Grapes

gnarled grape vine

“Guardian of the Grapes,” mixed media by Kerry McFall

The best image from our California Wine Country tour was not in a vineyard, not in a tasting room, but in a vacant lot in St. Helena, beside the city library and the Robert Louis Stevenson museum.  I was sad to see the abandoned, gnarly old vines, looking more like tortured tree trunks or driftwood than anything I would recognize as a grape vine.  This one took the shape of a skull, maybe a horse’s skull, with what appeared to be an eye glaring up at me.  This year’s new growth sprouted from its forehead like horns, thick as my wrist.  The vines were heavy with grapes – blue, amethyst, amber, green – although some were raisins already, some mashed by unseen forces.  The message was clear:  try a grape at your own peril.  I fear for the future of whoever drives the backhoe that uproots this Guardian, this Demonic Troll… beware the uprooted ghost!

Mother Nature’s Math: Death = Renewal

I went to Bald Hill this morning for a quiet walk before the temperature passes 90 degrees.  It’s been a tough couple of weeks, dealing with my aging mother, worrying about world events, and I always find spiritual repair there, always see or hear some natural phenomenon I’ve never witnessed before, and come away uplifted.

Oak Leaf Gall, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Oak Leaf Gall, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Today was different, leaving me with more questions than answers.  The pasture seemed quiet and golden as I rounded the first bend and gazed out to Mary’s Peak.  The blackberries tumbling over each other beside the trail promised the first fruit of the season, but it was a tease.  The few dark berries among the red and green didn’t budge when I pulled on them,  Drat.

Then I saw the vultures.  Three very big and very busy black bodies flapping and fussing around something small and brown.  I was too far away to see what it was, probably a blessing.  Maybe a calf, maybe a dog or a fawn.  I’m not squeamish, but I just didn’t expect to be faced with death so graphically, not there, not in my cathedral of nature.

I walked on, thinking about National Geographic TV specials where the lions took down the reeboks, hearing that man’s soothing voice talk about the circle of life, using my hiking pole to keep from slipping on the loose gravel here and there.  Just a few steps away, as I planted my pole, there was a bit of fur.  I bent closer.  No, there was half a mouse, the tail half.   Death had visited the pasture twice in recent hours.  I know it is never far away in any natural setting, yet I have never seen it there before.  I resented its intrusion.

I started up the little hill by the farm house and saw a bluebird pair swooping in and out of one of the nest boxes on a fence post.  I stopped to listen and was rewarded with the reassuring sounds of baby birds inside.  Life goes on.  Life is good.  Up ahead, the pear tree in the ditch was heavy with small green fruit, and a distant cow called out repeatedly.  I continued to the west end of the pasture where the cattle had congregated in the shade – there were several calves in the herd, small and clean and perfect, that hadn’t been there three weeks ago when I came by.  A lone black and white and brown dog wandered casually at the edges of the herd.  Was he working?  Was he lost?  I decided today was not my day to fix that, or as a recently-heard quote sums it up so well:  not my circus, not my monkey.  Throughout the day there would be many people passing by who might be better prepared mentally to deal with him.  The cow continued to call for her lost calf.  Such a sad sound.  The odd thought occurred to me – how long before she realized the calf wasn’t coming back?  How long before her milk dried up?  Would her udders become infected?  How was it that I have lived 62 years and don’t know the answer to that kind of basic agrarian question?

Up at the barn, I sat for awhile and stared at the hazy silhouettes on the eastern horizon, glad I had brought a water bottle, savoring the sweet cool water.  Smoke must be drifting in from the fires in Eastern Oregon.  Mother Nature’s math: Summer heat + Lightning = Fire.  Fire = renewal.  Fire = death.  Ergo Death = Renewal?

I finished the loop trail, stopping now and then to breathe in the warm sweet scent of grasses and forest, picking up an oak leaf with a puff ball on its back – something to sketch in the afternoon.  Just before I reached the parking lot, my cell phone rang.  Dang, I meant to turn it off.  I almost didn’t answer, but it might be Mom so I fished it out of my pack… it was my son, and I don’t hear from him very often.  So I did what I criticize others for doing, I finished the last few yards of my walk with a phone pressed to my head.  My calf was calling me.  Life is complicated, but life is good… and the Rich Pageant Marches On.

Technique notes

Sharpie fine point pen on NatureSketch 130lb 8.5 x 11

Obviously the leaf needs another couple of layers of green colored pencil at this stage in the photo, and it turned out well, but I’m too hot to take another photo and repost it…I’m pleased with the puffball (gall).  The highlight on the ball was preserved by rubbing a white wax pastel over the area early in the process, after just a light yellow wash and preserving some blank white – it resists transparent watercolor.  I recently learned from experience though that opaque watercolor just paints right over wax, like acrylic.  There’s always something new to learn.  I think the lettering is too heavy for the sketch, but oh well, different pen next time.