Tag Archives: art

Elusive Portraiture

"Smile from the Past", pencil on gray paper by Kerry McFall

“Smile from the Past”, pencil on gray paper by Kerry McFall

One of the suggestions from Sketchbook Skool was to experiment with tinted paper.  I’d done a few drawings before using white and dark pencil on colored backgrounds, and I like them, but hadn’t really understood the full potential.  I bought a new gray sketchbook, pulled up a photo from an acquaintance, and spent a delightful couple of hours playing and smudging and learning.  Just one little smick of white in the wrong place turns a sparkling eye into a zombie eye socket… but apart from that minor frustration, I’m still having way too much fun with my online class.  The more I learn, the more there is ahead still to learn… funny how that works.


Life’s Rich Pageant Marches On!

sketch of tulips with handwritten notes

“Flaming Tulips” mixed media by Kerry McFall

In spite of everything – in spite of earthquakes, mudslides, lost airplanes, insane political hijinx, everything – the life force of spring asserts itself.  Thankfully, the earth still seems to turn at the same speed, and winter lets go.  Hallelujah!

I am currently enthralled with my first online art class, Sketchbook Skool.  It is all-consuming, leaving my dining room “studio” looking like the aftermath of a major windstorm.  I sit here for hours, sketching, painting, then giggling and gasping at the creative outpouring from 1,000 students all over the planet as they post their artwork and share their insights and fears.  Just Wow.  It’s the same feeling I had when I first encountered the Urban Sketchers in New York City – these people are so wonderful.  And I am so lucky to be a part of this Rich Pageant!

Here are a few more sketches from this first weeks’ assignments:


sketch of daffodil

Daffodil, mixed media copyright Kerry McFall

Time flies… I would have said I made this sketch a few days ago.  Nope, more than two weeks ago – a quick colored pencil sketch, a touch of watercolor, a photoshopped border.  And now the daffodils are nearly finished blooming.  Every year when their bright faces appear – and how can you not think of them as faces? – I remember bits of a nursery rhyme about daffy down dilly.  No clue what it meant, but it’s fun to say!


Essence of a Kitten: Stealth and Raisin Pockets

"Stealth", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Be vewy, vewy cawefoh…” lisped Elmer Fudd as he snuck up on his victim.  I always hear that ridiculous phrase in my head when I see kittens preparing to pounce. This kitty was rescued recently beside a highway near the Oregon coast – she is so young (maybe 3 weeks?) that her eyes don’t really seem to focus, and yet she instinctively creeps up on potential prey.  She currently resides in a house slipper at Wendy’s friend Lisa’s home.  Thank you to Lisa for the photo that this was based on.  Ooh, dangling participle… sorry, but doesn’t it just sound friendlier than “upon which this was based?”

Wait, you say, What’s a Raisin Pocket?  I grew up hearing that phrase in my friend Ellen’s house.  A raisin pocket is the tiny flap at the outside edge of a cat’s ear… in this sketch, you can just see a little pink area – and obviously it’s sized for one possible purpose: to carry a raisin in. ( In which to carry a raisin, if you prefer.)  All cats have them.  Not all cats understand the true intended function, however.  I suppose you might also be able to squeeze in one kitty kibble.  Kids – don’t try this at home!


Living In the Moment

sketch of salad ingredients

"Chickpea & Cucumber Salad", mixed media by Kerry McFall

Ever have those times when there are so many ideas bubbling in your head, that you simply can’t begin?  So you lay in bed and fret, wishing you had the energy to do the six things on your to-sketch-today list, PLUS go downtown and help with the photo survey of your dying neighborhood, PLUS run errands and buy groceries and clip the cat’s nails, PLUS spread the barkmulch before the weeds take over, PLUS edit the video from the Muddy Creek School Quilt project, PLUS change the sheets on your now-sweaty bed…  I have those days a lot.  The worst part is the things-to-sketch list… I absolutely ache to start them.  But this weekend I reached a compromise with myself: I gave myself permission to stop fretting, and to simply live in the moment.  If the sheets need changing, don’t rush through it just to get to the next thing on the list.  Just take my time, do it right, maybe stop for a snuggle with the kitty or a cup of tea.   No multi-tasking.  And so I moved through the weekend at a slow and steady pace, not feeling guilty about what I couldn’t get to, took a stroll around Bald Hill Farm (yes, the sun WAS shining!), and wound up my Sunday afternoon leafing through “Real Simple” magazine and making a salad.  Naturally, the luminescent cucumber, the blazing backlit basil, the little heart- shaped garbanzo beans, seduced me into starting another sketch.  But that’s okay.  It trumped everything else on the list, because it WAS the moment.  And I was totally in it, that moment when the scent of sliced cucumber and fresh-picked basil wafted through the kitchen.  It had to be done, right then.  And here it is.

The list in my head is just as long as it was Saturday morning, actually longer if you count that I added doing a sketch from Corey’s photo of her “commute” in Peru framed by a design incorporating her photo of an antique textile with dragons on it.  But that’s okay.  Its moment will come, eventually, and I’ll be in it, more relaxed if this whole approach works like it’s supposed to!

Shadow Cat


"Shadow Cat", mixed media by Kerry McFall

This is a cat who is no longer a kitten, a cat of unexpected consequences.  I set out to sketch from a photo I stumbled into online of a fluffy yellow kitten, all wide-eyed innocence.  (I would credit the photographer, but I can’t find it again on the Internet and I vaguely remember it was by someone using a pseudonym that had the word flowers in it.  Sorry!)  I saw the photo and immediately thought – hey, cool shadows.  Very exaggerated.  Wonder if I could make that work?  Without even making so much as a pencil guideline for placing the eyes, I grabbed my Pentel brush pen, drew a border, and slapped on a couple of whiskers.  Footdang – too bold to capture the kittenish fluff.  But I was already committed, so I kept going.  Not bad, but with each stroke the cat got older, further and further away from generic cute kitty.  Closer and closer to a real personality.  Interesting.

I switched to colored pencil, then watercolor.  The watercolor wash wasn’t dark enough, and the paper wouldn’t take another wet layer, so I let it dry and switched back to dark colored pencil.  Still too pale.  Back to the brush pen – bingo!  I don’t think I’ve ever felt as good about contrast in one of my sketches as I do about this one.

As usual in a portrait, there’s something not quite right about the mouth, or rather the chin.  But what a sense of accomplishment.  And next time, I will draw those few pencil lines just to get my bearings before I bring out the ink.


One Among Many

"Horsetail Fern", mixed media by Kerry McFall

Funny how a meadow filled with horsetail fern looks like a mountain covered with Douglas Fir, especially through the camera lense.  I found these Saturday at Snag Boat Bend, in the area near the parking lot – which was as far as I ventured because it was a spur of the moment stop and I didn’t have my mud boots with me.  The negative space between plants is exactly a vertically flipped mirror image of the plant itself.  I find that I am always looking for patterns now, ways to abstract the plants and animals I’m focused on and turn them into patterns… this one may take me to some 1960’s sci-fi “Jetsons” kind of shapes.

"Nearly Normal's Outdoor Dining", mixed media by Kerry McFall

And in a completely unrelated sketch, here’s one for Alice, who misses Nearly Normals in Corvallis, but apparently not enough to come back here after she graduates!  The patio this summer features one plastic owl statue lurking among the pink flamingos near the water feature… to frighten away the sparrows and other crumb-seekers I assume, with limited success.   Let us know the next time you’re home, dearie, and we’ll treat you to something “normal”!


"Desdemona, Bride of Othello", colored pencil by Kerry McFalll, costume by Corey Jay

I should be doing laundry, paying attention to an upcoming exhibit, any number of other necessary things – but ultimately, this is the most necessary thing at the moment.  To draw.  Every drawing is one step closer to where I want to be, which is where I don’t have to erase holes through the page to get the mouth right.  But the hair flames, the gown floats, the coat feels like velvet and satin, so I’m getting closer.  I salute the actress, Allison Ocha Lawrence, who smiled the smile of confusion and arched her eyebrows with, “Oh, really?!” so well, who clenched her lovely fist with subtlety and conviction, who played the Beauty to the Beast without the happy ending.  I can only imagine what life would be like with that glorious head of hair.  And I salute the costume designer, and her vision, and I am so proud of her.  SO proud.

Othello the Moor

Othello the Moor, mixed media by Kerry McFall

One of the drawing schools in London (called London Drawing aptly enough) specializes in life drawing using actors and actresses in costume, live and in the theatre.  This was the group who orchestrated the Tower Lock-In at the Tower of London, which I absolutely loved.  I thought it would be fun to try that approach with the production of Othello that my daughter Corey Jay costumed at Pomona College.  I saw the play last week and met the actors, now working from photos courtesy of Corey and the other cast members, my plan is to sketch the main characters.  I wish I could have sketched “live” during rehearsal, I’ll have to figure out how to make that happen someday…

So here is Othello the Moor, as portrayed by Marshall Anderson.  A bit of self-critique now, thinking out loud so to speak.  Portraits… tricky.  He is angry, hurt, frustrated, sad, confused.  But he is inescapablly so very Large and In Charge that he leaves himself no options… nothing like some simple body language to catch in a few angles, but I’m liking it.  Skin tones… pretty good, although amazing how many individual colors went into producing something akin to brown skin.  Face… aargh.  The actor is far more classically handsome than I was able to convey here – obviously, I opted for a deep shadow to make up for not being able to really puzzle out how to get the left side of his face properly, especially his eye.  Plenty of room for progress here.  Fur collar… really fun to see that silvery gray (presumably fox?) fur can be drawn effectively using pink and lavender.  And the icing on the proverbial cake: talons on the epaulettes.  If all else fails, simply squeeze the life out of your prey.  The essence of a tragic character conveyed right there on his massive shoulders.  Way to go, Corey Jay, Costume Designer!  Up next: Desdemona

Thunder in Paradise

Just when you think you’re going to get away for a sunny weekend – BAM! Thunder and Lightning… and cold wind, and gray cloudy skies.  Dang. It was as if we had brought along our own personal storm clouds… Birds of Paradise plants were everywhere, and they all seemed to be looking skyward as if to say, “Dude!  Is that rain!?”  But all was not lost – we had a fabulous time with Corey and her friends, and I got in lots of sketching time:

The main purpose for the trip of course was to marvel at Corey’s costuming of Othello.  This was her Senior Thesis Project.  The Moor was intimidating in his fur-collared cloak, featuring epaulettes of eagle claws and green leather scales, Desdemona was luminous in burgundy silk and velvet, Iago oozed just the right amount of slime in his Nazi Youth-colored military garb – breathtaking all the way around.  Unfortunately, even the lovely costumes didn’t keep everyone from getting killed in the end – those tragedies always leave me wondering if we couldn’t just once have a Do Over for the plot of the final chapter.  Hopefully I’ll be able to capture some more of the costumes and characters soon.