Monthly Archives: August 2016


Posted August 11, 2016 by Kerry McFall

I’m not sure I had realized until now just precisely how much trees define my world.  Look at this painting – it is at first glance about the building.  I actually painted it because of the building (a Queen Anne style “cottage”.)  But as I put on the finishing touches, it occurred to me that no, this was actually about the trees.  After all, this scene is at an arboretum…

Queen Anne cottage and Lake Baldwin

“Los Angeles Arboretum”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, 8 x 10 prints $25

The first thing that pops is the bright pink Crape Myrtle in the middle.  Yes, it really is THAT pink, even in the heat of August (102 by the car thermometer).  To my Oregon sensibilities, spoiled rotten and accustomed to peaks covered in blue evergreens and valleys lush with deep green oaks, the next pop comes from those tall, graceful palm trees,  ever so tropical.  Next, the pale willows at the edges of what little water remains in the “lake”.  There is also a magnolia lurking behind the Crape Myrtle.  And last but not least, there is a big dying deciduous tree in the background.  It was technically difficult to draw – I wanted to be accurate, but it’s ugly.  I almost left it out.  But that is perhaps the most important tree in this piece… because California trees are dying left, right, and center.  Quietly, quickly, they are dying, everywhere you look.

Looking is the key.  Apparently it’s a lost art.

Admittedly, it is difficult to see anything when you’re flying down the freeway at 90 mph hoping to hell that idiot on the Harley doesn’t splatter himself all over your windshield.  Do people here ever slow down?  Apparently not.  To me it seems that they go from offices to workouts, as fast as they can, then pull into their automatically-opened garages and disappear into their air-conditioned units.  “Units?”  Yes, units.  Ten or twelve on what used to be one suburban lot.  Where there used to be one dwelling, there are now multiples, with nearly every square foot of earth paved or otherwise impermeably covered.  (Sound familiar, Corvallis?  Beware…)  If it does rain, the water has nowhere to go but into the sewers.

California does not have a patent on not looking, or not paying attention to what should be as plain as the noses on our faces.  This whole planet is guilty of that.  But Californians do have a major issue with drought and water management, contrary to what a Certain Politician has blustered.  Reading about the drought from the 45th parallel is one thing (yep, that’s where I usually live.)  Or from Trump Tower.  But being in the middle of it down here, we see more water running down the sewer gutters from broken sprinkler systems day and night than there is in any “river” in Southern California.  We see the naked branches of dying trees stretching heavenward for help everywhere… ancient magnificent oaks, towering pines … it breaks my heart.

Back home, I’m pretty sure our tenants are looking out the front window on a patch of summer’s brown grass.  That’s a natural process that many Oregonians have finally embraced over the last few years – it greens up again as soon as fall rains come.  In the back, things are shaded by a giant fir, so it should still be green.  I’m hoping they’ve been watering the fruit trees and gardens enough to keep things alive until we get back.  Trees – they define our landscape, they matter so much for clean air, and they take so long to grow.  I’d go outside and hug that little palm tree in this back yard right now… but I am learning that certain kinds of palm trees are as prickly as pine cones, so maybe I’ll just give it a little pat on that prickly trunk, and a big drink of “grey” water.  Oh… but that means I have to actually get up and do the dishes… dang.  Onward and upward!

A Gus by Any Other Name…

Posted August 7, 2016 by Kerry McFall

Gus the First, i.e. the first Gus I painted in a portrait, was a Dog of Intention.  He knew what he wanted, which was to GO, anywhere.   We met in Marin County, CA last month, and I really enjoyed the challenge of painting his eyebrows.

dog portrait

“Gus the First,” mixed media by Kerry McFall

Gus the Second, with whom we are currently pet sitting here in Monrovia, CA, is a beast of a different color.  Chocolate color, to be exact.  And a different nature – A Dog of Disinclination.  I mean, it is 90 degrees out there in the boiling sun, and he was born in Great Britain so perhaps he just doesn’t prefer the heat.

chocolate lab with butterfly

“Face Off”, mixed media pet portrait by Kerry McFall

A butterfly teasing him fails to yield movement.  Or a duo of small yappy dogs challenging his territory.  Or even a ball being thrown!  If he could talk, I know he would be saying, in  a lovely Cockney accent, “Whatever.”  But that being said, he is well-behaved, easy to take care of, affectionate, and quiet.  He can sniff out a hidden treat blindfolded in seconds flat, which is the only clue that he is, indeed, at least part labrador.  Good boy, Gus!

Hurdy What?

Posted August 5, 2016 by Kerry McFall

dog portrait with instrument

“Hurdy Gurdy Dog”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I learned on our recent visit to Sonoma that my cousin Rob is a big fan of Hurdy Gurdys – wait, what?  A hip graphic artist guy in NorCal, into yoga and not into gluten, and his true passion is a Medieval instrument that sounds like a collision between a bagpipe and an electric keyboard and a Tennessee fiddler?  I am always fascinated by what inspires the passions that drive people’s lives.

The instrument itself is beautiful, smooth shiny wood decorated with a “simple” black and white border around the curved edges.  Simple my foot – just those little slanted lines are really a challenge to get in the proper sequence, some big, some skinny, which I learned as I tried to include a border in my portrait… you’ll notice it was cropped out because I couldn’t get it to work!  There’s also a little gnomish face carved at the top of the neck.  Rob brought it out happily at our request and tuned it up, to our delight and to his dog’s slight dismay.  It’s not called a “drone instrument” by accident (drone as in the sound, not as in the annoying flying robots), and it appeared that the sound of the wheel rubbing on those rosined strings was not Aku’s favorite.  He much prefers, oh, say, the rattle of dog kibbles into his dish.

So you’ve got curvy wood, a wheel, strings, keys, and a gnome.  Very cool.  The strap functions more like a seat belt cinched at the waist, keeping the instrument from running away with the player as the player cranks the little wheel thingy at the bottom… The player gets to be guitarist, drummer, keyboardist, violinist, and dancer, all in one.  Sure enough, once it reaches the right rhythm and synch, voila —  Music at its Basic Best! Rob even blogs about Hurdy Gurdy music on a regular basis – it’s worth a look!

Aku was a good sport about the whole Hurdy Gurdy afternoon, enjoying his spot on the patio couch beside the instrument once the conversation turned to old family stories and reminiscing about this and that.  Good times, made better by the presence of a contented animal companion.