Category Archives: Works

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…

 

Too Many Variables

Oriole drawing/painting

Mr. CheetoHead, Oriole

My daughter recently reported seeing a bird on the patio that looked as if he had stuck his head in a Cheetos bag.  I thought maybe a goldfinch had dropped by to tease the cats.  But then, a few days ago I saw a photo by Christine Paige on FB of a bird she labeled as an Oriole, did a bit of research, and was amazed to learn that Yes!  Orioles do show up in San Diego!

#DrawBirds2020

It seemed like serendipity had a hand in all this because I’ve been taking an online class from John Muir Law via Audubon about drawing birds.  Christine was kind enough to give her permission for me to use her photo as a model, et voila:  Mr. Cheetohead.  A bird this colorful sends my brain into overdrive, I must admit – too many variables to capture without getting fussy.  His hairdo looks a bit like a Victorian dandy, parted in the middle, with that silly little Van Dyke beard beneath his beak, which clearly was not a beak intended for drinking nectar from a hummingbird feeder but apparently that happens a lot.  And in this picture, I couldn’t figure out what to do to suggest a tree in the background, and the feeder is a completely different drawing style than the bird and/or the background.  But, variables be damned, here he is in all his orangey yellowy glory.

Meanwhile…

…speaking of orangey yellowy: It sounds a bit like I’m fiddling while Rome burns, focusing on avian beauty while the country and much of the world writhes in agony… But au contraire.  Painting and drawing helps me focus.  I give a lot of thought to the issues with each mark I make.  And I conclude that too many variables confuse and overwhelm us all.  COVID19 is the Big Invisible Variable, but so far we have no way to remove it.  However here is my suggestion for shrinking the number of remaining variables: remove the current US president from office.  He is the Big Visible Variable.  Predicting what he will do next is like predicting the trajectory of a squirrel.  A squirrel on meth.  A squirrel on meth dragging an AK-47.  Unlike the virus, there is a way to remove him.  So in between paintings and webinars, I contact my representatives and senators, and express my views and values, over and over.  I encourage everyone to do the same – we’ve only got a few short months before November.  And above all else that you do in the next few weeks and months, be sure you vote in this election.

Sketches and Links

I’ve also done these drawings for the class:

Click on the thumbnails to enlarge.

https://bobloewenc76e.myportfolio.com/work

https://richardsonbay.audubon.org/prog…/bird-drawing-classes

Back in the Saddle Again (figuratively speaking)

It’s been a little over a year since I posted here.  I’ve been painting and drawing this whole time, but life got complicated.  After the end of cancer treatments, a major relocation to California, and a couple of surprises including pandemic pandemonium, I’m going to try to pick back up here with my art and stories.

Photo of neighborhood fence   

  1.  Photo of fence                        2. First watercolor pass

3.  Mixed media final version – “Morning Plunge”

Down the street a ways, there is a tall fence where the morning glory pours over the top like a waterfall.  I love the riot of color, and I recently noticed (because what else is there to do when your favorite beach boardwalk is closed?) that the vine has two completely different types of leaf.  Pretty sure that’s not possible I told myself, so off I went down Uncle Google’s Rabbit Hole and sure enough, there is such a thing and it’s called Ivy Leaf Morning Glory.  It has the expected valentine-shaped leaves, plus 3-pronged ivy-ish leaves.

Techniques

I enjoy reading how other artists achieve their special effects with different media, so I’ll try to remember to include these notes.  For this painting I used some of the leftovers from our move: two types of plastic shelf liners, one with parallel grooves and one with a lot of little holes in a pretty random pattern.  I painted the areas where I wanted the texture, placed the plastic over it, covered it with a book to weight it down, and left it to dry.  Once it’s dry, I sometimes paint over it, draw over it with ink, or shade it with the side of a colored pencil.  The pencil technique seems to bring out the edges of the textures.

Turns out the holey one wasn’t the best choice for a sky area, but I think it could be nice for shady forest backgrounds, and I like the parallel effect for wood grain.

 

Effervescence & Jubilation

Posted April 26, 2019 by Kerry McFall

painting of lilacs

“Jubilation”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

I borrowed a stem of lilacs this morning from my neighbor to the south.  Much like daphne, lilacs beg to be picked and brought indoors, inhaled and celebrated, and I am not one to deny them.

I also snapped off a few stems of salal from my neighbor to the north.  They won’t mind.  They probably won’t notice.  The ajuga is my own, a hardy little vine that refuses to succumb to being trampled by our front entry.  Into my favorite simple round vase they all went, plunked on the dining table to be properly adored.  And painted and petted and stared at and re-arranged.

I used the term Jubilation when I titled my painting.  Because that’s what lilacs smell like – unabashed joy at being in bloom.  Joy at being lavender with rosy edges and tiny golden middles.  Joy at dripping big fluffy blossoms over the sidewalks and lawns of the latitudes lucky enough to host their beauty.

Then I thought better of that title as I added the final touch:  a few spatters of paint, just because!  Because it’s spring!  Because the sun is shining!  Because I have paint and I have an old toothbrush and I can see bubbles in the vase water as if it were champagne!!  Effervescence would have been a better choice, but too late…

Jubilation will do in a pinch, however.  May Day is only a few days away – go forth and jubilate!

 

 

Everything & Nothing

Or: Why Make Art?

Posted March 26, 2019 by Kerry McFall

After I finish a painting like this, I set it on the piano music rack, and go across the small room to sit on the couch, and just look.  And look away.  And look back.

pink rhododendron blooms

“OSU Rhododendron”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

It makes me happy to see a finished painting or drawing.  That is enough, to smile and be happy as I look.  Yes, I learn something with each one.  Perhaps that leaf should have been angled a bit more.  The border needs work.  Or not.  I walk past it the next morning, and smile again.

But there is more to the looking than fleeting happiness.  There is Everything.  And there is Nothing.

I look at the background, the greens and yellows, the darkness and light and shapes and lines that fade into each other, the suggestions of leaves behind the shining blooms, of other stems and plants behind the rhododendron, of the building behind the plants, of the university behind the building, the town, the mountain range, the ocean, the universe.  I know all of that is back there, in the background.  Everything.

I look at the blossom, the pinks and purples and reflected light, the stamens and anthers, the net of veins and arteries and chlorophyll, the life juices, the splashes, the water, the waves, flowing to the endless sea.  It is there in the foreground, all of that.  Everything.  It is right to be on the music stand, this painting, my painting.  It represents to me the music of this day, the tunes behind all those brush strokes and drips and washes.

And yet I know it is merely pigment on paper, paper made of chewed remnants of dead trees, pigments extracted from rocks and soils and brushed on with bits of fur from dead animals, a crude compilation of marks shaped by my hand as I endeavor to make sense out of the world around me.  The world behind and beneath and around my marks is filled with voices that shout about physics I cannot grasp and politics I cannot stomach, wounds I cannot heal and pain I cannot divert, and how can I deceive myself that my simple marks begin to touch the harshness of that reality?  I know the painting will become as nothing the moment I turn to the next page of the sketchbook, forgotten, out of sight and out of mind… Nothing.  Until.  Until in a few weeks or months or years I go through the book again, page by page, remembering.  Looking.  Touching.  And once again there is happiness.  There is Everything.  And the page turns yet again, and there it is again, memory, happiness.  Everything.

And that, I think, is why we humans make art.  Mostly Everything.

Shadows of Spring

shadows of oak tree on path

“Bald Hill Shadows”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Oregon doesn’t have a lot of bright sunshiny days when the trees are bare, so it took me a while to realize why I was so fascinated by these shadows: the old oak trees produce some rather startling shapes, shapes we rarely see on the ground because it’s usually cloudy for months as soon as the leaves fall!  When the sun does make its rare presence known, it looks as if the tree and its ‘shadow roots’ are mirror images of each other.  With any wind at all, it becomes a giant undulating octopus-like creature, or a winking many-eyed presence reminding us that we are not alone in this meadow.

Vernal equinox, here at last.  It’s been a long, difficult winter, a winter of slow healing.  Now every day brings another small flower, another reason to be glad, another promise of strawberries.  Right now I’m celebrating small victories, like no more daily hyperbaric oxygen therapy, no more awkward vacuum bandages on the surgical wound, maybe just one more surgery will finally close the radiation-damaged chest wall.  Onward and upward!

The Evolution of Cabana Man

man walking out of waves with fancy drinks

“Cabana Man”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Cabana Man is a Cabana Boy all grown up.  He has been very helpful in my healing process, serving up healthy blood pressure readings for the past several months.  When I was stressed before an HBOT “dive”, the nurses and technicians would invoke his presence in my head, and lo and behold, I could hear the waves gently lapping on the sunny beach, and the readings would respond!

The first time he showed up, one nurse said, “Just imagine you’re on a sunny beach…”.  And being the smart-ass that I am, I added, “…and here comes the cabana boy!”  She was a quick study, and in just moments he was conjured up carrying a tray with a lovely fruity drink garnished with flowers and a tiny paper umbrella, striding out of the surf, strong and smiling.

HBOT is the abbreviation for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which is now used to help repair the damage done to previously-radiated tissue.  It’s science fiction to my mind, but it seems to have worked to heal my chest wall, so whatever works.  Someday maybe I’ll post my record of the whole bumpy road of my cancer journey, but for now I just want to express how grateful I am for access to such good care by such caring people.

As for the “man” himself, portraits are not my strength and his eyes are kinda wonky… he is not a real person (duh!), but he was a lot of fun to put together, drawing from various photos on the Internet.  Incidentally, searching for “cabana boy” on Google Images will suddenly result in any number of ads on your Facebook feed for T-shirts referring to cabanas and … well, you get the picture.