Monthly Archives: July 2016

Gold Country

Posted July 29 2016 by Kerry McFall

The golden fields of this small ranch look as velvety soft as a yellow lab’s ear, but the grass is so dry and brittle that it crunches with every step.  When the wind comes up it feels like somebody left the oven door open.  We’re in Clements, CA for a few days.

oaks, swallows sketch

“Oak Meadows at Dawn,” mixed media by Kerry McFall

Speaking of soft ears, there does happen to be a yellow lab here, and a golden retriever, but since this is an AirBnB, somebody else worries about taking care of them.  We get to play with them and they keep us company, along with two rowdy white kittens, dozens of wild bunnies, a billion toads and lizards, and five clever roosters who masqueraded as hens until puberty caught up with them earlier this week…  the crowing is still pretty rough around the edges, but there can no longer be any doubt, fellas.

painting of two adolescent cats

“Top Cat”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

We’ve done a bit of exploring in “old towns” in NorCal, which all look so familiar:  I expect some cowboy film star from the 1960’s to come jangling down the street in boots and spurs.  Point Richmond, Sacramento, Folsom, Sutter Creek; they all have a bunch of the original 1800’s era buildings.  Old buildings don’t seem so miraculous in Europe, where most were made of stone or brick and clay tiles.  But many of these are wood, and it amazes me that they have survived fires, bugs, earthquakes, and vandals to stand another decade at least.  Many of the buildings have been re-purposed with varying degrees of success into tacky Christmas outlets, candy stores, visitor centers, wine shops, art galleries etc.   But a few, like the Monte Verde General Merchant store in Sutter Creek, survive nearly intact and can be toured by appointment… which we didn’t learn about until it was time for us to leave, but if you’re ever in the neighborhood, contact for more info.  Or drop by the visitor center early in your visit, where you might get to meet Ginger the Doorbell Dog and her lovely owner.

"Corner of Main and Eureka", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Corner of Main and Eureka”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Perspective continues to elude me, but drawing these old streets is a fun exercise in puzzling which roofline ends where.  I spent two hours on the balcony of the Sutter Hotel with my Happy Hour Chardonnay, where fans whirred and misters spritzed, to do this painting.  It was 107 degrees down in the street, but probably a cool 99 upstairs.  It’s hard to stop once I get going – kind of a zen thing.

And on the topic of Chardonnay, it’s not really news that grapes are the new gold.  We have been amazed at the lush greens here in the vineyards, in high contrast to the dry grasses and dusty oaks on the hills above.  Vintners irrigate here from wells – I wonder how the water tables are doing…?  I realize how little I know about such things.  Look out Google, here I come!

Idiots, Kimonos, and Hoop Skirts

Posted Monday, July 25, 2016 by Kerry McFall

Sketching in a cool museum on a hot day.  Does it get any better?  The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California holds “Sketch-It” events once a month, and I was able to attend one yesterday.  A young art educator (as she called herself) offered a folding chair, paper, pencils, and encouragement as a couple dozen folks sketched in the glass exhibit.

I had hardly walked into the first big room when I knew what I wanted to sketch – a life size translucent glass kimono, lit from everywhere and nowhere, bowing slightly.  The aqua glow that emanated from every edge and fold made it seem ghostly, effervescent.  Somehow she had created this work in three large chunks, lighter at the top and the bottom part darker.  And as a bonus, there was a young girl sketching on the opposite side of the sculpture, so I had a brief opportunity to include another sketcher on my page.

I haven’t done much with pencil for a long time, and although I like the flexibility of being able to erase, all the smudges make me crazy.  Shiny grey patches on my hands, my clothes, my pages… but apparently this museum has experienced idiots actually drawing on the paintings and other exhibits with ink, and paints, etc.  Grr-r-r-.  So they limited us to pencil.  I wanted to paint that aqua light so badly…  Even so, what a privilege to be in the presence of such creative force.  I fiddled around with some color in Photoshop after I took a photo of my sketch, not the same as watercolor but it does give you an idea of the color.

"Boy Sketching at Crocker", pencil by Kerry McFall

“Boy Sketching at Crocker”, pencil by Kerry McFall

This is a free program, and anyone over the age of 5 is encouraged to draw!  During the two hours I stayed in that exhibit, there were about thirty people brave enough to give it a go, folks of all ages.  The educator came through now and then to see if we needed anything. I have found in my own work  as art educator that it is usually the kids who are eager and absorbed, and the adults who tend to be fussy.  She fielded admirably the question from the whiner next to me who demanded, “What did I do wrong?!  This is awful!  I just can’t get this sleeve to work!!”  I was glad it was my day to simply keep drawing.

sketch of ballroom, Crocker Museum

“Hoop Skirt Settee”, pencil drawing by Kerry McFall

I moved to the historic ballroom of the museum after a bite of lunch in the cafe, and began to draw a Victorian settee designed to accommodate women like those of the Crocker family who wore hoop skirts or bustles.  Oddly enough, the public were actually allowed to sit on this one — go figure!  Another benefit of staying in one place so long: I got to hear several historical tidbits about the family and chuckle at people’s reactions as docent tours come through.

I would gladly go back to this museum on a weekly basis, but our stint as pet-sitters here in Hot North Central California is about up.  Cue Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride music!







That Awkward Phase

Posted by Kerry McFall on July 22, 2016

"That Awkward Phase", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“That Awkward Phase”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Pet sitting for cats is very different from pet sitting for a mini-parrot.  Parrots are way easier.  They don’t leave half-dead lizards right outside the patio door.  They flap and squawk if you’re not behaving just as they wish, but they do not bare their fangs and hiss.  But this too shall pass, I’m sure, having been around many cats.  Cats are contrary.  That’s what they do.  And eventually, even Drama Queen Cats warm up to me.  That’s why kitty treats were invented.

Today, just after I finished these not-quite-flattering portraits, Stinker Pot decided to let me pet her.  Not just three times, but not five either.  Not anywhere but behind her elegant ears. And just so I don’t get too confident, she let me know that social time was over with a no-nonsense hiss.  Little by little… we’ll be friends soon.  Rosco is a little more mellow, having already donated the tip of one ear earlier in his long life – he just wants his food on time and in the proper quantities.  It’s up to you if you want to pet him, he doesn’t mind, but you’re going to probably get stuck by some of the burrs under the fur on his belly.  Hopefully I’ll be able to do more flattering  portraits in a day or two!

National Treasures – “Democracy is an Ongoing Project”

sketch of Betty Reid Siskin

“National Treasure”, ink sketch by Kerry McFall

National Treasures: name three.  Are they parks or forests?  Works of art or architecture?  Constitution?  I think I would have answered with names of places, until last week.  That’s when I heard Ranger Betty Reid Soskin speak at the Rosie the Riveter park in Richmond, California.  Now she’s at the top of my list of National Treasures.  And two of my aunts are numbers two and three.

A friend recommended that we make a special effort to go to her presentation.  It was so worth it.  She spoke calmly and confidently about tumultuous times she’s experienced during her 95 years.  (I would have guessed she was 70.)  She described the years of WWII in detail, with an assist from some film clips that somehow got left out of my Baby Boomer education.  I hadn’t really understood before what the “Rosies” did and what they were up against, or that two of my aunts had worked in the shipyards, one an electrician she now explains proudly, and I need to research more about the other aunt.  Just like the men in our family who went to war, I never heard them describe their experience in any detail.  They would say they just did what they had to do.

Betty is a park ranger now, and active in Richmond and California state government.  But as a young woman she was turned down to work as a “Rosie the Riveter” or a “Wendy the Welder”.  Young women like my aunts were grudgingly hired back then to work in the shipyards, and fought hard to prove themselves capable, but as she so graciously phrased it, that was “not my experience.”  She was put to work as a low paid accounting clerk for the war effort.  She spoke for over an hour to a spellbound audience on many topics, without notes or prompts, about opportunity and involvement and learning to communicate and prejudice.  And leaving anger behind.

For me, the most important thing she shared was her conclusion that democracy is an ongoing project, and we can take nothing for granted.  Nothing.  Not our jobs, not our safety, not our privilege, not our freedom.  She urged us to learn all we can, to vote, to stay engaged and involved, and to remain optimistic in spite of all the current insanity. And she had just had a big dose of that insanity – she was mugged and beaten in her own apartment the week before.  “I’m a survivor,” she said calmly, “not a victim.”  Her voice never quavered.  The bruises didn’t show until she walked out of the small auditorium into the daylight.

I had been feeling sorry for myself of late.  Overwhelmed by sadness about all the bloodshed every time I turned on a screen, wondering what to do about my aging mother, the frustrations of dealing with insurance companies, feeling helpless as fire gobbles up the California landscape, trying to keep up with the realities of life in our times — when all I really wanted to do was draw or read cozy mystery novels… and then this tiny woman stepped onstage, and I felt like such a Wuss (whoa — now there’s an interesting comment on how women are perceived in our society – look that up in the urban dictionary for an interesting read, and think about the history of our language!).

Pass it on –  Listen.  Think.  Learn more history.  VOTE.

The Vagabond Lifestyle

Posted July 13, 2016 by Kerry McFall

"Bay View from Mira Vista", mixed media by Kerry McFall, $25 print

“Bay View from Mira Vista”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, $25 print

We’re in our second week of house/pet-sitting in Richmond, California.  We’ve been on the road for five weeks now.  Here are some thoughts on being a vagabond:

  • It’s not really vacation, although everyone thinks it is. True, there are “vacation opportunities”, amazing views to paint (like the one above, seen from the field at the end of the street we’re on), places to visit and things to do that we can’t do at home.  But just like home, the trash has to be taken to the curb, the dishes need washing, that third tomato plant needs a bigger support… the list goes on.  And Griff is still working away at his “real” job via Internet, and I’m still working at being an artist.
  • It’s not really a job either, because there’s no “pay”. We do get to stay for free, but there is a heightened sense of responsibility for every little thing.  What is routine at home is kind of a big deal here where we don’t know the ropes.  Trash, for instance, in this warmer climate, cannot be forgotten or post-poned until next week… besides, what will the neighbors say?  And wait – before you pull that up, is that yellow-flowered plant a weed or a perennial herb?   (Turns out it was Bristly Oxtongue – it’s nasty stuff!)
  • "Princess Cleo Lost and Found," mixed media by Kerry McFall, pet portraits start at $100

    “Princess Cleo Lost and Found,” mixed media by Kerry McFall, pet portraits start at $100

  • Speaking of neighbors – Why does everyone keep their blinds drawn all the time?  Where did this adorable little Chihuahua (above) come from?  And what do we do with her now?  (Turns out she is an Escape Artist from just up the street.  She only speaks Spanish, but sandwiches and balls appear to be part of the Universal Language!) Where do you park during street sweeping hours?  Hey, you with the sprinklers running – don’t you know there’s a drought?

The Vagabond Lifestyle is a trade-off.  For instance, we’ve traded a trip to the San Francisco Exploratorium for warm summer evenings chatting with friends and neighbors in our own front yard.  The Exploratorium event was of course wonderful – we had dinner on the waterfront, then I met up with Urban Sketchers and enjoyed making art with them about the StrandBeests exhibit there.  On the BART ride back to Richmond, though, we were a bit nervous about the two vagrant-looking young men with bikes in our compartment.  We were all very quiet and watchful, until the train lurched and their bikes broke loose and nearly landed in our laps.  As we untangled legs and pedals and chains, we wound up exchanging funny stories about our travel adventures!  Another reinforcement of the “Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover” rule, for all four of us.  We got over their dreadlocks and tattoos, they got over our middle-aged whiteness, and a good time was had by all.

That being said, we still miss our friends and our little front yard.  And this is all possible because we know we have home and friends to go back to.  We are so fortunate.


Posted July 10, 2016 by Kerry McFall

The simplicity of caring for a caged bird has a definite appeal in recent days.  There are no “breaking news” posts in the bottom of the cage, just tidy little poops and empty seed hulls on the plain white paper.  The biggest event in the 8 days we’ve been here as “pet sitters” was when one of the perches somehow got dislodged and it fell across the other perch.  No one was injured, although some rather strong “language” was heard from Mojo.

"Mojito", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Mojito”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Every day I clean and refill his dishes, replace the papers, and sit and talk quietly to him.  It’s a bit like babysitting an infant, he even seems to enjoy my singing!  I’ve been bringing my morning coffee into his room, which has the best view in the house.  Together we watch the steam rising from the oil refinery across the bay, or the fog beasts roll over the hills and into the water.  In the evening, the sun flashes silver off the waves, and I enjoy my wine while Mojo crunches his seeds companionably.  Simple pleasures.

Sometimes I wish he could fly out the window to join the purple finch who sits on the neighbor’s lemon tree, but Mojo is not mine to set free.  So I spend these quiet times with him, admiring the tiny miracles of the brilliant lime green feathers on his head, and marvel at the perfection of wing construction.  And I wish more people in this troubled world could do the same.  Escapism?  Definitely.

Nowhere in Particular

Posted by Kerry McFall July 6, 2016

When we set out on our Vagabond Summer Adventure, I mentioned on Facebook that I felt like we should be playing the theme song to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.  I just listened to that little ditty on YouTube, and I’m pleased with the analogy.  We are definitely in ”Merrily, Merrily on our way to Nowhere At All!“ mode.  (The back story: we were surprised by a generous offer for renting our house via AirBnB for the entire summer.  That inspired us to try house-and-pet-sitting via and gradually work our way down to San Diego to visit our kids.)

After visiting my Mom long enough to drive each other crazy (Stomping Grounds), we hit the road and began winding our way through the Redwoods, stopping at places like Confusion Hill (seriously, it’s a place!) where we purchased ‘Elusive Chipalope’ postcards.

chipmunk with antlers

“Elusive Chipalope”,by Kerry McFall, ink and colored pencil

My mother pointed out when I called a few days later that she’s pretty sure chipmunks don’t grow antlers, although the postcard photo did look very real, and how DO they do that?

Continuing south, we visited a dear friend in a small town which shall not be named on the Pt. Reyes’ Peninsula, where residents took down all the road signs so no one could figure out how to get there.  Really, they did – we saw one hanging proudly over the bar in the (only) restaurant.  It’s a great little town, and I see why they don’t want to be overrun by all those tacky tourists.   Plus, they have whales!

"View from Mt. Tamalpais Summit", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“View from Mt. Tamalpais Summit”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Next we spent a few days in Sonoma with my Aunt Hazel, who calls me by both my first and middle names at all times, making me feel like I’m eight years old again and wondering what I did this time to be in trouble…  At age 91, she is still the Supreme Commander of her Domain, and gets around quite well with her walker.   It was hot in Sonoma, much to the locals’ dismay, but I found a shady bench and managed to sketch the Old Barracks, circa 1830’s, during a re-enactment event about the “Bear Flag Revolt”.  My concept of California history at that stage is based mostly on Zorro movies featuring Antonio (sigh) Banderas, but I’m guessing the fiesta flags weren’t flying when the soldiers were in residence.

"Sonoma Barracks", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Sonoma Barracks”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Now beginning Week Four, we have embarked on our house-sitting/pet-sitting gigs, and we find ourselves in Richmond, California.  Richmond is a major contender for the Nowhere in Particular designation.   You can’t really tell when you’ve arrived, although you do notice that you’ve come to the end of a very Big Bridge.  The fact that the festive banners beside San Pablo Avenue (the main drag) begin to mostly say “El Cerrito” is a clue that perhaps you’re out of Richmond already.  We keep winding up in Berkeley, because Berkeley happens when the El Cerrito banners end, so right now I mostly have Berkeley sketches…

"View of Tilden Park", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“View of Tilden Park”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

We originally signed up to care for two chickens at our current spot, but they partied with a raccoon a couple of nights before we arrived…  Turns out that a dog named Sculley and a parrot also live here, but Sculley already had plans for Doggie Summer Camp with friends.  The parrot decided to take pity on us to keep us from being lonely, so we’re getting acquainted with Manilo the Mini-Parrot (I call him Mojito for short, and also because I can never remember his real name), whose best (and apparently only) trick is bobbing up and down on a stick while doing can-can style kicks with one foot.  Think Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing… no, make that the Scarecrow in Wizard of Oz!