Category Archives: Works

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!


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.


…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.…/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.


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.

It’s Gray o’ Clock in Oregon

Posted February 20, 2019 by Kerry McFall

So far this February, it’s been gray o’ clock almost all day every day.  Last weekend I laced up my hiking boots and braved the colorless cold for a little exercise, hoping for maybe a bit of early wildflower action at Bald Hill.  Nope, no flowers.  Silly woman.  But there were rewards!

sketches of pussy willow and newt

“Bald Hill Trio”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The first was the whitewater rapids just off the parking lot, where usually there is a sleepy creek — on many days the gray has included a lot of rain.  The second was a lake fed by another rapidly running creek, where last summer the beavers had thought they were engineering a modest little pond.  And the third was… could it be?  A Mud Puppy! aka Rough-skinned Newt.  Haven’t seen one of those for years.  It was obviously a very cold newt, moving at the speed of “molasses in January” as my Dad would have said.  The vibrations of my footsteps must have warned it to stop moving and blend in with the lichen, but its’ bright orange “fingers” and underbelly edges gave it away.  I stood over it protectively for a long time to discourage bicycles and strollers, until it finally crept in comic slow motion off the asphalt and into the dead grasses.  Funny how such an encounter makes the whole chilly trek worthwhile!

There were also a few brave pussywillow catkins peeking out from their reddening stems, begging to be petted, urging me to find a place to step where I wouldn’t sink to my ankles in the ditch.  It was worth the jump and the stretch to feel their kitten-soft silver fluff under my cold fingers.  I think that’s as close to spring as we’re going to get for several more weeks!

Giggles and Hats and Cuddles with Cats

The Evolution of Friendship – posted February 7, 2019 by Kerry McFall

painting of glove, moon pie, and cream pitcher

“Evolution of Friendship”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

“When would you like me to drop off the tea glove that I embroidered for Corey?” my friend Tracy texted.  “It’s your turn.”

I had no idea what she was texting about.  I called to ask my daughter.

“Remember when she sent a glove to me for the wedding?  I carried it with my bouquet – it was one of the little gloves Kayla and I used to wear to our tea parties when we were little girls!  You know, ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue?’ “ 

Pushing back through the mental fog of four tough years to the hubbub of my daughter’s wedding, I almost remember the glove.  Going back 20 years further, though, I definitely remember the tea parties – best fun ever!  Life was so much simpler.  Tea cups to sip from, sweets and savories piled into baskets, lacy table cloths, chipped pink polish on tiny fingernails hidden under soft gloves, giggles and hats and cuddles with cats, and puppies and bunnies and chickens… 

We moved on from tea parties at home to fun at the county fairgrounds.  Our girls quickly learned how to care for the bunnies and chickens. Then we taught them to quilt and sew and make costumes for the Renaissance Fair.  We showed them manners and courtesy and affection, and how to be strong and speak their minds.  We showed them many things, but especially how to be friends.

And then our little girls grew up, as little girls do.  They kindly accompanied us to Quilt Guild meetings through their Middle School years, then firmly moved on to activities that did not require the presence of their middle-aged mothers.  Sigh. 

Now they are strong women, and good friends though living far apart.  The four of us are still able to put together the occasional tea party, usually for a cup of Christmas Tea.  My daughter will be Matron of Honor soon for Kayla’s wedding.  So last week Tracy delivered a gift bag, with the little glove on top of a tissue-wrapped threesome of delectable Moon Pies (specially ordered from Indiana*,) because that’s what good friends do: they see your need, they bring you treats, they make you smile!

The little glove will soon be passed along to Kayla, with perhaps a few added embroidery stitches (in pink?), along with a copy of this essay, and my sketch.  It is my turn.

*  For hand-crafted Moon Pies go to