Author Archives: Kerry McFall

About Kerry McFall

Kerry McFall is an award winning artist active in the arts community in Corvallis, exhibiting, creating and teaching arts throughout the Willamette Valley and Oregon. She has been a member of the roster of Artists in Education, Arts in Healthcare, and has completed artist residencies in many venues. She is currently a member of the Oregon Arts Alliance, Loosely Bound, and Call & Response. Kerry specializes in mixed media paintings and drawings, often using satellite imagery and focusing on wildlife and environmental issues.

Find the Good and Praise It

Posted October 1, 2021 by Kerry McFall

Painting of La Jolla Cove

Sea Lions at La Jolla Cove

 One of my new passions is watching the sea lions here in La Jolla.  According to the locals and some docents at La Jolla Cove, this particular bunch took up residence here sometime in about 2016.  The females come here to give birth, and then they spend several months teaching the pups to swim, fish, and generally be denizens of the deep.   A few males show up now and then to bark and complain and get on everyone’s nerves, occasionally staging sumo wrestling matches on the rocks with younger males.  Those guys are humongous, up to 800 pounds.

I can spend so long standing there watching that my feet go to sleep.  Sea lions make terrific “life drawing” artist’s models, posing in the sun like furry mermaids, the young ones turning somersaults and playing tag in the surf.  But we all know that no passion is without a dark side, and this is no exception – I hereby nominate the idiots (mostly tourists) who harass the sea lions for The Darwin Award.  And the Queen’s Dog Whisperer agrees, as quoted from

“That’s stupid, that,” Mugford said, motioning toward a group of young people about five feet from a group of sea lions and inching closer with their cell phones out. “It endangers the mother-pup bond and it endangers those people.

“Sea lions are wildlife, just like grizzly bears or bison,” he continued. “Obviously, having those signs warning people not to get close does no good if people ignore them. What we need is a few well-documented cases of sea lions biting people and then perhaps people would keep their distance more.” 

To sum up, people who pester wildlife don’t have the sense that God gave a Goose.  For most of the summer, there were yellow tapes blocking the steps carved or worn into the rocks where the pups and their mothers were resting.  Most people stayed back, but every time I was on that Cove walkway, there were the selfie seekers, down there with the sea lions.  The tapes came down in mid-September, I guess because the local ordinance was only effective during “active pupping season”.  But damnation (as my sainted father would have said), those pups are now  teenagers in sea lion development terms.  Being the Momma of a teen makes ANY woman cranky!  If you mess with the rookery residents, you make ALL those Mommas mad… and 300 pounds of angry Momma coming at you on slippery wet rocks is a recipe for disaster.

Alex Haley said, “Find the good and praise it,” quoting his grandmother I believe.    I’ve always thought that was a good philosophy to guide our lives – otherwise we wind up like those noisy male sea lions, complaining and getting on everyone’s nerves.  And so I offer my drawing of a little boy, sitting on the wall to watch the sea lions in quiet fascination, wearing his bicycle helmet, his scooter pulled up politely alongside.  Occasionally he and his big sister, who stood beside him, giggled at the antics going on down by the surf line.  Their Momma and Daddy did a good job of helping them be caring humans in a changing climate – good job.  Maybe their examples will rub off on rowdy, thoughtless tourists.

Boy Watching Sea Lion

Find the Good and Praise It: Good Boy!

#LaJollaCove #SeaLions #SelfieSeekers #FindTheGoodAndPraiseIt  #ResponsibleCitizens

Hibiscus – Experiments in Tropical Color Schemes!

Posted June 2, 2021 by Kerry McFall

“Quilt”Montage of 4 hibiscus multi-media images

Since moving to San Diego, I find myself not only stopping to smell the proverbial roses but also stopping to admire the tropical wonders that thrive here, like hibiscus.  I’ve posted a few hibiscus sketches and paintings here before on this site (you can use the Search box up at top right of this page to see them).

My quilting background shows up regularly as I find myself turning many of my floral sketches into digital quilt blocks.  And once that happens, each hibiscus blossom seems to insist on flicking their pleated petals outside of the border, like flamenco dancers flirting with their skirts.

Here is the original pencil sketch and watercolor base of my most recent hibiscus, which I discovered last week growing at the San Diego Zoo.  I added leaves in each corner, and one ladybug to cover up a boo-boo.First Pass at Multi-color Hibiscus

Next, I added more watercolor, ink highlights (both white & black), some marker lines, and some colored pencil rubbings for texture.  Oh, and digitally, I added a pink “binding”.Somehow, I felt like I hadn’t captured the burst of flame that first attracted me.  So, another layer of dark blue-green watercolor was applied to make it “pop”… but lesson learned.  Don’t overdo!  I also used the Photoshop “poster edge” filter on some of it.hibiscus paintingMulticolor Hibiscus with darkened background,

And once I was that deep into Photoshop, I got wild and crazy!  I tried an inverted color scheme, and it all went  sort of ultraviolet… then started messing with the color balance and it burst into flame…  The only remaining task was to put the “quilt blocks” together in one image.  I’m not sure what my grandmothers the quilters would say, but it was fun!

Montage of 4 hibiscus multi-media images

Both Sides Now: Butterflies, Science, and Mother Nature

Posted May 6, 2021 by Kerry McFall

Blue Morpho Butterflies

Both Sides Now?

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park opens a special butterfly aviary each spring.  We were able to get a reservation in late March, and thus began my 2-month journey (so far) down a major Rabbit Hole.

The stars of the show were the butterflies, of course, fluttering by in breathtaking irridescent flashes.  But to begin with, there was a certain amount of red tape to get through, masking up, and waiting our turn to get through the curtained and carefully monitored entrance.  The first guide we met told us to be sure to watch where we stepped because the tropical blue butterflies were prone to sitting on the ground… only they were brown when they sat with folded wings, and very hard to see!  Huh?  We learned that the Blue Morphos weren’t really blue at all – their color comes from reflective scales on the top surface of their wings, which to our eyes are a mind-numbing sparkling blue!Blue!BLUE!  And the lower surface of the wings, which is mostly what one sees, look like something out of a guidebook on How to Look Like A Scary Multi-Eyed Owl or a Monster Brown Man-Eating Moth.  As we wandered along, guides were eager to answer our questions and point out where various flyers were likely to be seen.  Small tables had been set up along the path as “nectar bases”, which meant we could stand nearby and marvel.  My favorite photo from the day was what inspired the sketch above: one large blue beauty, exhausted, tattered and torn, lying open and flat out beside a smaller version of the same creature, but with wings primly folded shut, which if it was on the floor of a jungle would probably be invisible.

Once we got beyond the surprise of the Blue Morphs (native to Central and South America), there were other treasures to find amidst the foliage.  I was hoping to see Monarchs by the dozens, because we have seen precious few this year, but… there weren’t many.  I remember as a child lying under a maple tree in Klamath Falls, Oregon, watching Monarchs drink the sticky drips of maple juice off the hot sidewalks.  If I was very stealthy, I could smear some of the sticky stuff on my finger and they would crawl aboard until their tickly feet made me giggle and they fluttered away.  They were magical, but we all took them for granted… if living in the climate where Monarchs are native but seeing hardly any doesn’t bring home the reality that we are really messing up our Mother Earth, then what does?


Monarchs 2016

As we left the aviary, we were essentially “frisked” twice by volunteers making sure no butterflies were trying to hide on our persons to escape the enclosure… I can safely say I have never been frisked for butterflies before!  And then began the excursion down the Rabbit Hole…  I started researching blue butterflies, and butterfly life cycles.  Talk about magic!  At about the same time as the visit to the butterfly aviary, I came across a photo of M.C. Escher’s “circular design with butterflies” in a book.  My textile design fascination kicked in, and I started fooling around with my blue butterfly sketch in Photoshop.  Then came another sketch, more disciplined and scientific, and more fooling around with the imagery.  And then I started looking back through my sketches over time for other butterflies – fritillaries from last summer, a brilliant red cardinal from a trip to Ireland.  I’m still pondering what will be the next step with the art.  Just to be able to enjoy the process of painting and drawing, and to have access to Online Rabbit Holes, is enjoyable.  But I know there is so much more to be done to help the magic stay alive and flying in this crazy world.  Head for the Rabbit Holes, everyone, and maybe begin with “Native Plants for Butterflies”…

When Does Enough Become Too Much?

One of my favorite quotes from Mary Poppins is, “Enough is as good as a feast.”  When I’m working on an art piece, I am constantly debating about when to stop: is that enough emphasis? is that line strong enough? does it need more rosy pink colored pencil?  The above blossoms are a case in point, and I honestly can’t decide…

I think the one on the left is best because it’s more crisp.  But it’s also predictable…

Then again, I think that I like the one on the right best.  Because it had the rosy pink pencil treatment for breakfast, followed by a bit of Photoshop fuss and bother, so its “frame” and perspective are nicely warped…  Or not.  Too fussy?  You never know until you try.  Don’t overanalyze, Dearie, I tell myself… because it was enjoyable.  And it took my mind off the infernal mess of national politics.  And it made me realize that the true wonder is that I have my magic telephone camera and my magic computer with Photoshop, so I don’t need to decide, I can have both results on the same page!  Maybe I should change the title from Halloween Hibiscus to Gratitude for Magic.

And I must not forget to thank my daughter’s cat, aka The Goat, for not eating the tiny cable that allows my phone to send my pix to my computer, because without that tiny cable, none of this magic could happen.  And he has tried to chew it to bits a time or two…

cartoon of cat in a goat costume

“Luc the Goat”, by Kerry McFall

Ooh, what if I added a goat’s horn just poking in to the hibiscus piece…?!

Posted November 1, 2020  …and yes, I did say RABBIT for luck this morning!

Practice Makes “Perfect”

August rolls past Pacific Beach with an unexpected combination of Oregon-gray skies and Atlanta-salty sweat.  September lurks in the smoky distance.  I feel more than slightly lost in a Pandemic fog.

However, for perhaps the first time in my life, I just successfully hard-boiled two eggs to perfection!  The shells slipped off easily.  The yolks are firm, bright yellow, no green edges. The whites are pristine.  There is only one standard for perfect hard-boiled eggs, i.e. my Mother’s, and these have achieved that standard.  At last.  But who can I tell?  Mom, and Aunt Muriel who is perhaps the only other person who would understand, are dead.

photo of hardboiled eggs

Now that the eggs have been properly ensconced in the potato salad for dinner, I’m sitting here at my desk staring fondly at my recently-painted portrait of a San Diego artist named Alice Klauber (below).  She died in 1951, born 1871.  Working from a poor reproduction of a black and white photo, I got to choose what color to make her hair, her eyes, her skin!  I wish she could see it.  I wonder if she would appreciate my choices.  I wonder if she would recognize herself, or maybe would she see her grandmother?  Her cousin?  It’s not perfect.  Her smile was crooked, but not quite THAT crooked.  And as always for one of my portraits, the eyes are a bit wonky.  But I love it.

Alice Klauber Portrait, mixed media by Kerry McFall

And yes, paragraphs 2 and 3 are related:  the old saying goes Practice Makes Perfect.  But really, living life is about practice, not perfection.  Many artists refer to their “art practice”.  I begin to understand.  The practice, the act of doing the art, the movement of the brushes, the grabbing of a cloth to blot the accidental puddle, the complete presence in the moment as the paint dries, is an end in itself.  It is enough.

The practice does lead inevitably to the product: the eggs nestled for the moment amongst the chopped onions on the cutting board, or the sketchbook propped up so I can see the latest sketch each morning.  The real eggs will be gone with the potato salad – when I look at them, I don’t re-live the process.  Cooking is not my “thing”.  But looking with a critical eye at the paintings, I am there again, in that moment, making it, suggesting the next move to myself, wondering what impact one more highlight would have made.  I may never be able to refer to my art results as perfection, because there is never just one standard of perfection in art.  But I will always be able to enjoy my latest art, both during its making and long after as I flip through the sketchbooks.  I know “forever after” is a myth from a fairyland where there were no floods or wildfires, so for me “after” means at least until the next Tsunami or riot or whatever the rest of 2020 has in store for us!

Community Nest – Courtesy of Tracy’s Chickens, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The Arc of My Life

Painting of arched stained glass window

Gothic Stained Glass, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I was listening to Michelle Obama’s first podcast – was it only two weeks ago? – when the phrase “the arc of my life” caught my attention.  I’m still not entirely sure I understand the meaning, even after a tour down Google’s Rabbit Hole, but I love the sound of it.  It seems to imply a vast existential rainbow, arching between …. what?  The fabled pot of gold and the glistening sea?  The majestic mountains and the undulating prairies?  Or perhaps, the arc of stones carefully pieced into a literal arch, each individual stone bearing its share of the weight of a magnificent structure?

The painting above was based on a photo I came across as I winnowed my way through several boxes of old photos (the Project That Never Ends or so it seems).  I think I took the snapshot on my first trip to Europe, probably in London in 1978, but I have no way of being sure where or when.  The stained glass, the shadows, the textures, the shapes, the patterns, the odd perspective – somehow that seems to better represent the arc of my life than a rainbow.  There is an unmistakable rainbow glow from the glass, but the real story of this arc is about the contribution of each stone, each phase of an individual life, no single stone more important than another, with the exception of the keystone, the one that holds it all together…

Like many people, my response to the Pandemic has involved much casting backward into a sea of memory, much probing forward into the fog of the future.  An Arc of a Life – what a lovely phrase to capture the ups and downs of the decades.  I think I’ll explore this symbolism a little more.  Maybe I can figure out what has been my keystone.  Maybe I’ll design a stained glass pattern… hmm.


Are We There Yet?

posted August 4, 2020 by Kerry McFall, who is very tired of this 2020 ride…

Remember when you were a kid in the back seat of the car and the trip was taking an eternity?  That’s what this year feels like, and this month (which is now known as Faugust because it’s weirdly foggy and gloomy here in San Diego), and this week, and this afternoon, and – yeah.  The answer to “Are we there yet?” from my Dad generally sounded a lot like this hawk looks:

Swainson's Hawk painting

Swainson’s Hawk, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The answer from my Mom, the first time one of us asked, was usually something like, “Almost…” or “Pretty soon…”  The second time we asked her, the answer was essentially the same as Dad’s.  Only with less profanity.

This beautiful feisty bird was photographed originally by Christine Paige, Idaho wildlife biologist, who says that it will soon be flying off to Argentina… I wish it well, and I hope there’s no kids in the backseat.  I am fascinated by that blue beak!

Meanwhile, something that helped take my mind off the news/journey/insanity last week was a video about Urban Sketching by Sketchbook Skool.  Since I didn’t much want to go out into the Urban insanity here (“Life’s  A Beach, Bro!  Grab a Brew!  Who needs a mask?!”), I just paused the video and sketched the instructor, Jason Das.  Best hat I’ve ever done!

sketch of man in hat

Jason Das Urban Sketcher, mixed media by Kerry McFall

So Hang in There, folks.  But no, I don’t think we’re there yet.

#SketchbookSkool  #JasonDas #ChristinePaige  #Swainson’sHawk #AreWeThereYet #UrbanSketching




Break One Rule

I used to do Artist in Residence programs in schools, and one of my favorite projects was “Break One Rule”.  I would hand out fabric and scissors or paper and glue or whatever the materials of the day would be, then give the students a list of rules (the number of rules depended on the age and sophistication of the students).  The last rule in the list was always, “Break one rule.”  After the initial grumbling and eye-rolling at the rule list, a few kids would start whispering excitedly.  “What if we break rule 3?”  or “Let’s break rule one!”  And occasionally there was a gasp, “What if we break the LAST rule?”  Oh Lordy, I loved that moment!  I could feel the creativity zooming around the room: we can ignore all of the rules!  Or we can ignore any one or more of the rules!  Or we can follow them ALL but the last one!  So “rules” in art are definitely more like “guidelines”…

So, yeah, I’m no good at rules.  The current challenge in the Facebook quilting/art community seems to require rules, so guess what?  I’m not following them.  I don’t do quilting or fiber art anymore, but quilting and its geometry and textures will always influence my art.  So here are 10 examples of “quilty” art.  And if anyone in Loosely Bound is interested, I nominate you – just post some pix of your quilting journey!

Pandemic, Pandemonium, & Trash Pandas

Posted 7/14/2020 by Kerry McFall

Three young raccoons

Three Musketeers, mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Hi.  Whatcha doin’? Can I play too?  And my brother and sister – can we all play?”  It would be such fun to see what these three could get up to on my desk with my paints and brushes and the paint water and my wine glass and the rest of the mess that I play with all the time now… if you’ve ever seen young raccoons “at work”, you probably have a good idea of what I’m hinting at: pandemonium.  Not to be confused with pandemic… then again, maybe the two words are not that far off: totally unpredictable, potentially dangerous, unrelenting…

This painting was based on a terrific photo featured on the Sonoma County Wildlife site, with their permission.  They have a facebook page as well, which always includes great photography and fascinating details about their various guests and patients.  While I play with my art, the volunteers at humane societies and wildlife rescue facilities all over the world work round the clock to help keep other creatures healthy.  We all have so many people to thank.  I hope they know we think fondly of them and their work every day.

Raccoons have such intelligent faces, and they do look so much like little bears.  Although I’m sure it’s not politically correct, the term Trash Pandas has always seemed to fit their devil-may-care approach to living life to the fullest.  One creature’s trash is another creature’s treasure.  Painting them is challenging because they are 1) furry (which takes a lot of practice and a special brush), 2) intense, and 3) they have odd-shaped little noses, even weirder than dog noses in my opinion.

Watercolor, colored pencil, brush pen on Canson Mix Media 9×12″ sketchbook

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!