Monthly Archives: February 2018

Behind the Scene(s)

Posted February 28, 2018 by Kerry McFall

I can’t decide if I would like to be a fly on the wall in the Whitehouse these days, or if that would just make me want to hand someone the fly swatter and put me out of my misery…  The imagination boggles at what must have been said and done “backstage” in those hallowed halls over time, the ultimate “behind the scenes” locale.  But now?  Can it get any weirder?!

sketch of fluffy flowers on shrub

“Mystery Shrub”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, 7 x 10″

As I worked on this painting of a mysterious Seussical flowering shrub, I was thinking a lot about what goes on behind a scene, any scene.  Backstage in a play, literally behind the scenes, is a beehive of activity: actors rehearsing lines, politicians making up excuses…  Backstage in an artwork, i.e. in the artist’s head, is a circus of squirrels (which is pretty much what I’m thinking is going on in DC as well… ) At least that’s what it feels like in this artist’s head as I wrestle with how to manage the background of a watercolor floral.

A background can’t be too detailed or it will take over the composition entirely – I still want those crazy flowers to be the focus of attention.  But it can’t be boring either, or it will overlay the whole work with a big “Ho Hum”.  Then again, too much fuss in the background also takes a lot of time to get on paper or canvas, time that could otherwise be spent getting started on the next work of art, and life is getting shorter by the day.

So what to do?  My latest solution is plastic wrap.  I’m about to get the hang of it: do a quick watercolor wash suggesting colors in your major shapes, and major areas of dark and light, then lay plastic wrap over it while it’s still juicy and wet.  Push and pull the plastic around until it looks interesting, then go empty the dishwasher or water the houseplants.  After it’s dry, pull off the plastic and let the Squirrel Circus begin!  If it needs to be darker, get out your colored pencils and drag the side of the leads over the paint.  This will darken the “veins” formed by the plastic-channeled paint, and pick out any texture that was laid down as well.  Pen and ink, more watercolor, maybe some markers, et Voila!  Well, not quite voila at that point – I also did a few manipulations in Photoshop, trying to reach the same brightness and contrast as the original.

Here’s another example of the plastic wrap approach, although a bit less fussy than the one above:

sketch of Bengal Tiger

“Tiger Camouflage”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, 7 x 10″

This tiger was so complex, and yet he blended so nicely into the surroundings in his enclosure at the San Diego Safari Park.   Clearly all the emphasis needed to be on him, yet he couldn’t just be floating in white space.  I didn’t really want to ink in all those stripes though… so I didn’t.  I focused my efforts on his expressive face, and simply suggested the rest of his body and some strips with a few lines of ink.  He just kind of goes invisible as your eye moves off the page to the right.  If I had it to do over, I’d make that green blob up top not as bright – it must have dried before I got the plastic on.

An earlier (and less effective) example of the plastic wrap technique is in an earlier post on



Shirking Winter Realities

Posted February 19, 2018 by Kerry McFall

“Bird of Paradise”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Winter cannot truly be avoided, but I used to believe that its impact could be minimized by escaping to a milder climate.  Nope – experience teaches that when you return to your home base, you’ll find that winter has been laying in wait for you, and the fruit trees will not prune themselves.  I just spent almost 6 weeks in San Diego – not so much vacation as family necessity – and I’m back in Oregon feeling quite disoriented as snowflakes filter down through the fir branches.  The good news is I got the pruning done before the snow flurries began, and I was able to spend a little time art-making while I was there.  Now with a mug of hot buttered rum beside me, it’s pleasant to flip through my summery sketches, even as the faint tan line on my ankles fades back to my usual standard fishbelly white…

“San Diego Hibiscus”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

At first glance, San Diego was a riot of bright florals, but look closer and it’s clear that the greens have a thick underlayer of dying rusty browns, and many gardeners have switched to succulents from tropicals.  I loved encountering lush blooms on my daily walks to the boardwalk at Pacific Beach, but everything comes at a price. It was actually too hot down there, 80+ degrees, with the threat of wildfires constantly in the forecasts, and only one piddly rain event.  After a bit of flash puddling, the thirsty soils went quickly back to being bone dry, and the glorious blossoms went back to parched once again.

sketch of helicopter and waves

“Crystal Pier Search”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Painting the endless variety of the waves is another rewarding pastime at the beach, and it usually brings me a sense of calm and “this too shall pass” for whatever is the challenge of the day.  But twice I felt a “disturbance in the Force”, if you will.  The first time was the day that a helicopter and several boats kept buzzing the pier where I was working, to the point that I couldn’t stand the fuss.  I packed up my art supplies and wandered until I found someone official, who said it was a search for a young man who had fallen from the pier the night before.  Suddenly the waves seemed sinister, not soothing…  The next disturbance did not materialize: the Tsunami watch after the Alaska earthquake.  Whew.  I have to believe that the whole of Pacific Beach will join the remains of that young man far out to sea should a Tsunami hit… climate change, anyone?