Monthly Archives: June 2020

Floofy Red Flowers Instead of Fireworks This Year?

Posted June 25, 2020 by Kerry McFall

Red Gum Tree aka Beaker, mixed media by Kerry McFall

San Diego’s climate is often described as Mediterranean… but I’ve been to the Mediterranean, and this ain’t it.  Basil is Mediterranean.  Grapes are Mediterranean.  June Gloom (and May Gray) are not – I mean, for crying out loud, has it been this gray all month in Italy?!  I think not.

I’ve been trying not to whine about this for 8 weeks, but I’m an Oregonian, born and bred.  Sunshine is a major reason why I’m down here, but right now the surf and the sky are just all one big expanse of No Color, enough to make me think I’m back in Newport, Oregon, only not as wet.  Or cold.  Sigh.  Even so, San Diego does have saving graces: Red Flowering Gum Trees (a type of Eucalyptus) provide the earthbound equivalent of fireworks!  And that may be as close as we come in these Pandemic times to the old “bombs bursting in air” July traditions.  Bees and hummingbirds seem to drown happily in their fluffy blossoms, and I’m pretty sure that Jim Henson drew the Muppet character of Beaker based on the shape and coloration of red gum blossoms – see his head up there, second flower from left?  Just add googly eyes!

Once the blossoms are done, they transform into little goblet-shaped woody seed pods, shown below the vase.  I’m convinced that those goblets are used by the local Faerie folk, who carefully empty the last drops from all the beer cans and whiskey bottles left on the beach into their goblets, and then they enjoy some quite rowdy post-party parties!

Powder Puff Tree, mixed media by Kerry McFall

There are also Powder Puff bushes here, with even fuzzier round blossoms.  The seeds of the powder puff flowers are more like little hard holly berries that cluster into a raspberry shape, leaving berry decor on the plant for a long time past the blooming season, which was last March.  The Gum trees apparently never stop blooming – now is prime blossom time evidently, but there always seem to be a few branches on each tree heavy with red blooms, and seed pods in various stages of party-readiness.  Pretty magical all in all, even if the sky doesn’t cooperate!

Prickly Cliffs and Jewelled Surf

La Jolla Cliff Cacti, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The elegant homes on the cliffs at La Jolla near Bird Rock are teetering – literally – on the sandy edge of foaming, crashing waves.  To say that anyone with an ounce of common sense would never have built any kind of structure there is an understatement.  But I love the tiny “pocket parks” that have somehow managed to survive, wedged in between the mansions every few blocks, each one unique.  This painting shows the park that is at the top of a steep stairway down to the surf, a small wreath of jade-colored cacti with golden blooms, and waves of purple statice flowers, crowning the crumbling cliff.  Plenty of traffic even during pandemic, but on the edge of the sea the salt air is fresh and clean.  There is exactly one bench, but surfers apparently never sit on anything but a floating surfboard, which leaves that bench available for itinerant artists like me!

Surfers tote their boards up and down the steps with ease and grace, now skimming the foam, now plunging in and out of the waves.  As I watch, the color of the water transitions from chalcedony to turquoise to diamond, over and over, never the same…  Not coincidentally, those jewel colors are street names nearby!

Technique

I painted from my photo.  9 x 12″ Canson Mix Media sketchbook.  Watercolor first, nothing fancy, just trying to capture those jewel colors.  Then a sponge  (just a slice of an old kitchen sponge) on damp paint for some textures, followed by black ballpoint pen, more watercolor, a few white ink highlights.  Finally picked out the edges of the cliff and the “frame” with a blue 05 felt tip pen, and rubbed the edge of a colored pencil over that tuscan red plant on the right edge – no clue what the name of that plant is, but I’m pretty sure it’s a succulent…  Dr. Seuss would have loved it!

Let the Cherries Take You Away

Posted June 11, 2020 by Kerry McFall

Dark Cherries, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I recently saw a post (from Michelle Collier on Facebook’s Sketchbook Skool group) about “negative painting techniques”.  I was fascinated, so down the Google rabbit hole I dove, and began experimenting with what I have now come to think of as painting inside out.  It makes perfect sense currently, where everyone on the planet is at Sixes and Sevens (a British idiom for a state of total confusion).  We are re-thinking everything on every level: breathing, touching, going to work, cultural norms, racial stereotypes, rules of encounter, all of it.  We are re-learning lessons from the past, trying to understand how we got to this, hoping to re-build and build it better.  And yes, it is overwhelming.

So, be good to yourself every chance you get.  Case in point: I saw a big bag of fresh cherries at the Farmer’s Market down the street – it’s been re-worked for Pandemic Suitability, of course, but the cherries are still cherries, plump, colorful, enticing.  I ignored the sky high price, and bought the whole bag, knowing that although the cherries themselves would be gone very soon, I could paint them, and come winter I’ll be able to go back through the pages of my sketchbook and enjoy them over and over!

New (for me) Technique : Negative Painting

I usually start a painting with a sketch that roughs in all of the details, then I paint the focal points, and finish with the background.  Negative painting technique says ‘no’, do it inside out…  Start with the colors of what you want to paint, like cherries or leaves, just the colors, not the shapes, not the shadows.  Leave that pencil alone, pick up a big fat brush and get it juicy with color.  Slap it down, let it do its thing, trickle and run and meld.  Now go do the dishes (you know you need to anyway).

Work in Progress, Cherries Layer 1

(The small dark cherry up at the beginning of this post is what developed from the middle blob on the right side of this first layer.)  Once you’ve finished the dishes and your paint is now dry, maybe pour a glass of wine, and begin to pick out the edges of where your main shapes aren’t, aka ‘negative space’.  Go loosely, lightly, with a colored pencil maybe, drawing the shapes between the cherries or the leaves or whatever.  Soon the positive shapes come together from the outline of the negative shapes… then dip your brush in a darker color for the background, or dig out a big fat marker, or use the side of a colored pencil, and fill in that negative space.  Magic happens, and your cherries pop off the page!

Cherries Take Me Away, mixed media by Kerry McFall

This is when I struggle with knowing when to stop… I tend to overwork things, adding a shadow here and a highlight there, and fuss and bother about this and that, but it’s all part of the process, the process of learning, the art of relaxing and letting the cherries take you away from the 6’s and 7’s… Hmm, I just had a mental flash from an old Calgon bubblebath ad, “Calgon, take me away!”

 

Purple Rain

Posted June 4, 2020 in San Diego, CA

Mixed Media by Kerry McFall

Jacaranda – Purple Rain

I’m accustomed to Oregon’s “pink snow” week, when ornamental cherry trees drop pale pink petals by the thousands onto the streets and sidewalks.  It usually happened in May.  This in no way prepared me for the absolute saturation of deep purple blossoms of San Diego’s many Jacaranda trees.  These trees start out slowly in mid-May, with a few blooms tantalizing passersby from way up in the bare branches.  But now, early June, it is breathtaking to see the trees in rows, draped in the deepest of royal velvet cloaks, blue from one angle, purple from another, but never ever pale, no subtle lavenders or lilacs.  Just PURPLE!!  And once in full bloom, it rains purple for days!

The trees, according to my Google sources, are a type of Mimosa, Jacaranda mimosifoila, with tiny rows of leaves similar to the Mimosas I have seen in other places in the world.  But instead of the Seuss-like fuzzy pinkish blooms of those mimosas, these have big bell-like blossoms that could swallow a hummingbird alive!

I think I saw my first Jacaranda in Botswana, but there were so many other amazing new things for me to absorb that they took a back seat.  The Shelter In Place happening now in Southern California has given me many opportunities to walk through the neighborhoods, so now I know where to find the prime Purple Rain.  In the painting above, I tried to capture the special leaning-toward-indigo color of the shadows, and the sheer volume of petals, with limited success.  I think this may be another example of me being overwhelmed by color…  But I may take another stab at it using a more botanical style.  Unless I get distracted by some other Seussical wonder… or a hummingbird…