Tag Archives: colored pencil

Lovely Day for a Quick Plein Air Sketch

sketch of lupine

“Lupine”, watercolor and ink, by Kerry McFall

sketch of fields and mountains

“Midge Cramer Trail”, ink and watercolor by Kerry McFall

Half a mile from the parking lot at the fairgrounds, there is a bench on the Midge Cramer trail, the perfect spot for sketching.  By the time you’ve reached it, you can’t help but feel your batteries re-charging.  It smells good (wild roses and sweet meadow grass), it sounds good (crickets and birdsong), it’s gorgeous and green.  People jog and pedal along smiling, dogs can barely walk for wagging, the occasional horses even seem glad to see you.  There are lots of wildflowers this time of year, and unfortunately also lots of poison oak so stay on the trail.  The lupine I sketched above are undoubtedly transplants from someone’s garden via a blue jay or squirrel, they’ve sprouted up just behind the bench.

Technique Notes

I sketched these in my Grey toned Strathmore book, which just happened to be the right size to fit in a small pack, and discovered that a toned paper is really great when you’re sitting out in the direct sunlight.  Instead of being blinded by the reflection on bright white paper, you can actually see what you’re doing.  And as a bonus, just a white charcoal pencil makes for easy highlights.  I wondered if the watercolor and colored pencil would still be as bright after photographing, and I think they look good!

Something Is Not Quite Right

Portrait of a Young Woman, acrylic and ink, by Kerry McFall

Portrait of a Young Woman, acrylic and ink, by Kerry McFall

I finished this portrait today, and I really like it – but dang, it looks nothing like the lovely young woman it is intended to represent!  Also, as John Singer Sargent said, there is something wrong about the mouth… And I’ve reached that point with the painting that I’m afraid to put on even one more stroke.  But I learned so much just in the doing, and I spent hours in my Happy Place, completely absorbed in a tiny shadow, or a subtle color shift, listening to the voices in my head squeal, “Ooh!  That worked!” or mumble “Meh.  Try again.”  Simple pleasures.

Also I finished an assignment for Sketchbook Skool, another exercise in Not Quite What I Had in Mind, but then again, I learned that colored pencils alone just aren’t enough anymore!  Apparently once you’ve opened the Pandora’s box of mixed media, there’s no going back.

"Wash Up!' colored pencil sketch by Kerry McFall

“Wash Up!’ colored pencil sketch by Kerry McFall

Sketchbook to Brooklyn Art Library: Check!

The Sketchbook Project at the Brooklyn Art Library is a marvelous concept – check it out http://www.sketchbookproject.com/.  My finished sketchbook is definitely the rough product of a fun learning process – I used it to explore one of my favorite techniques, which is bordering my sketches.  Some of the books I saw last spring at the Brooklyn Art Library were anything but rough, but when I started this book I didn’t have the bandwidth or the studio space to do what so many artists did, which was to completely reconstruct the book using fancy papers, fabric, etc.  So I decided to treat it like a “real” sketchbook, where I doodle and think and write.  And the best part is – it’s done!  And mailed!  Feels like quite an accomplishment!  Watch for it when the Sketchbook Project comes to a town near you!

Small Town, U.S.A.

market sketch

“Corvallis Farmer’s Market”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

From the lovely little white courthouse to the old telephone poles lining the clean (!) brick alleys, Corvallis is the penultimate “small town”.  Saturday mornings in summer find about half the populace (and their dogs) strolling through the farmer’s market down by the river on First Street.  It is a mouthwatering collection of homemade pies and local cheeses and fresh eggs, and potato bread so soft you can’t even slice it.  It is a visual candy dish of glistening strawberries and rotund radishes and potted tomato vines that already have blossoms.  And every half block you can hear a different band or singer or fiddler, some terrific, some off key, but all enthusiastic and filled with the joy of just bein’ alive and kickin’.

Market Saturday is a ritual, a celebration, a feast.  I have always loved it, but never was brave enough to sketch it until now.  Funny how I don’t mind drawing where I’m a stranger, but in Corvallis, no one is a stranger… I planted myself on a shady bench between the ‘Health Care is a Human Right’ booth and the guy who will consult with you on how to fix your bike.  I had a good angle on the courthouse and the food tents, and used the perspective of the street to funnel the parade of humanity.  But shade turned out to not be such a good idea, so I picked up my gear and moved off down toward the bread van, Oven & Earth, always my favorite vendor.  I passed a singer, two young jugglers, a couple of bands, and then I stopped in my tracks to listen and watch as the “Grange Hall Drifters” performed.  The songs they sang are as old as the hills, I’m sure my Grandfather called Square Dances to them back in the day, but these guys were young.  “Philomath boys,” one bystander said, and they were certainly dressed the part.  Jeans as jeans were meant to be, cowboy boots (real ones, not fancy Texas pointy-toed ones, but the kind you work in), plaid shirts.  Coulda been cowboys, coulda been loggers, one mighta been a hippie, but definitely Musicians with a capital M.  I didn’t realize I was grinning like a fool until a friend came up and asked me who I knew in the band.

sketch of musicians

“Grange Hall Drifters”, mixed media by Kerry McFall


There were too many enchanted listeners drifting in and out of my line of sight to be able to sketch live, so I snuck up close, snapped a photo, and went back to listening and grinning.  If Corvallis wasn’t so uptight and self-conscious, we all would have been dancing in the street, not just the three-year-olds.  I miscalculated when I got home and started sketching because I couldn’t fit the fourth musician onto the page – definitely a cowboy, banjo, white straw hat and all – and if he sees this I apologize.  Next time I’ll slow down and do a better job of composing before I jump in with the watercolors.

I also decided that sketching the produce booths was not a good idea – people were there to shop, and visit, and there was no place to sit, stand, or lean.  The longer I stayed, the more crowded it got, and the more people wandered over to chat.  More photos await my next opportunity to sit still long enough to sketch.

Penultimate is too close to the truth in describing Corvallis, I am afraid.  The definition is “next to the last”.  This year saw the advent of a WalMart and a bunch more national franchises, and the demise of our local grocer.  The university is busily erecting industrial barns and paving their lovely agricultural meadows, doubling the student head count to vastly outnumber the resident population, while Florida developers bulldoze through my neighborhood to build 5-bedroom “luxury townhomes” for college kids not even old enough to drink legally.  I know – Change is a constant, but we are destroying what we came here for in the first place.  I’m going to miss it when it’s gone.  Shoot, I miss it already.

Peppermint Poinsettias

"Peppermint Poinsettia", mixed media by Kerry McFall

I took a tag from the “Giving Tree” at work, which said “10 year old boy” on the front, and “HexBug Robotic Ant” on the back.  The resulting shopping event was such fun – turns out there really is such a thing as a robotic ant, about the size of a healthy Georgia “Palmetto Bug”, only purple… just about the coolest toy since Slinkies!  Then I found a book at GoodWill titled, “Is That a Dead Dog in Your Locker?” – perfect for the small unknown male if he’s anything like most of the males I have known, although perhaps not an enduring classic.  Throw in a box of 10 Crayola markers just in case he’s a budding artist, a couple packs of Pop Rocks, and I think I will have covered all the bases… Have fun, Little Man!

It’s going to be a quiet Christmas for us this year, assuming of course that the planet is still spinning after the End of the World As We Know It event on 12/21/12.  We’re staying home, the kids are scattering.  Life’s Rich Pageant marches on, and sometimes what you need is a nice cup of peppermint tea and plenty of time to stare at a candle flame and/or sketch a wildly RED poinsettia.  This piece started out using my Pentel brush pen, the one that says to me, “You can’t possibly do every petal so don’t try.”  A few layers of watercolor and colored pencil, and voila – Christmas Card is done!  Maybe I’ll get some printed and mailed, or maybe I’ll just light another candle!  Happy Holidays!

Mimosa, Anyone?

sketch of mimosa blossom

"Mimosa, Anyone?" mixed media sketch by Kerry McFall

The scent of a mimosa tree is unmistakable, and so is everything else about it.  The leaves make wonderful fairy fans (you pull one off, hold it by the stem end, then strip the individual leaves into a little packet between your thumb and fingers; carefully unfold the “fan”), and if you get too close to the blossoms for a sniff, you get a nose full of fluff.   They are in full bloom in Corvallis, making me think I should buy some champagne and cranberry juice (allergic to oranges – dang) and indulge!

The floaty effect here was painting the blossom shape with plain water, dropping in a bit of yellow, letting it dry – which happened pretty fast at 98 degrees.  Then brushed in the pink edges, pink and red colored pencil for a few outward strokes, then a red Pigma .05 flicked outward, followed by dots, and eventually more colored pencil for the corals and darker pinks.  The leaves suggested a herringbone pattern, so I penciled in a few more lines in the background.  In photoshop I did a partial poster edge on some of it to help define the strokes.  Voila!  A fun way to spend a hot afternoon.

Oregon Country Fair

The Oregon Country Fair has earned its reputation for the best summer people watching in Oregon (or anywhere) , and continues to earn its Thumbs Up rating…

We finally got around to trying it once our kids were almost grown.  We were sorry we waited so long, because now too many people have discovered it – as in, “who invited all these tacky people?”  I mean seriously, guys in white baseball caps and white nylon baggy shorts and white Nikes at the OCF?  Ew.  But we know why they’re there, and it isn’t the jugglers.

If you don’t count Burning Man, which has nearly out-hippied this Ultimate Hippie Festival, this is as good as it gets on the Left Coast.  And Burning Man is … well, Burning.  Really hot desert.  (And I don’t like the “Man” bit – what?  Women aren’t hot?)  From all reports, it’s too hot.  It’s too Too as near as one can tell from the Facebook posts of one’s neices and the verbal reports of one’s aging hippie neighbors.

OCF, on the other hand, is partially shaded.  You could easily be in Sherwood Forest, a part of the cast of Robin Hood On Medical Marijuana (just wait, the musical can’t be far behind).  Just sunny enough for a slight sunburn to brag about back at work on Monday.  A bit of nudity (the euphism is body painting), some good entertainment, parades every few hours, happy parking lot attendants wearing fairy wings and/or fishnet tights  (where else in the world does that happen?), the occasional dirty old man selling photos from years past, it’s all good fun.  The Down Side is that they don’t sell alcohol.  Footdang.  Well, not to the public.  Not during “business hours”.  I have it on good authority that alcohol is the least of what happens after hours, but hey – it’s private property, a private party, what happens at OCF stays at OCF… in a strange multi-generational kind of way.    Family Values re-defined.  I’m sure Ken Kesey would turn over in his grave if he knew they were checking backpacks at the gate for guns, drugs, alchohol, and snakes.  Yep, snakes.

Sketching at such a venue is the ultimate challenge.  You have to bring a folding chair – there aren’t enough hay bales to sit on.  This was the virgin voyage of my walking stick/three-legged chair – it’s a chair when you want to sketch, it’s a cane when you want to play the Cranky Middle-Aged card and get a better view.  Or trip one of those guys in the white baseball caps.  No one stands still for more than 30 seconds, so all of your cast of characters are made up of multiple people.  Probably a good thing.  Some very-tattooed guy came up and asked to borrow a pencil – when I said I only had colored pencils, he said, “That’s cool,” and without further ado he slipped my best magenta Prismacolor out of my pencil case and off he went.  I mentally put it on my shopping list, but in a few minutes, he brought it back with many thanks.  Nice.  OCF is fun, it’s silly, it’s just a little bit over the top.  I’m hoping that lots of people will stay away next year so I can sketch without being bumped constantly.


Chickens Do Not Like Firecrackers

Closeup sketch of chicken face

"Chicken Textures", mixed media copyright Kerry McFall

Over the Fourth of July weekend, we’ve been helping take care of a neighbor’s hens.  We’ve learned several things:  Chicken poop is hard to get off your shoes.  Chickens are about as easy to herd as cats.  Chickens do not like firecrackers. Chickens do not tolerate attempts to pet their glorious feathers.

So you learn something new every day!  But these chickens were quite photogenic, and before the firecrackers started exploding right outside their fence, they were quite curious about someone who was silly enough to be wandering around the yard pointing a shiny little box at them.  Not wanting to really get down on their level, what with the poop and all, I have some rather odd perspectives.  This one is my favorite, but the resident art critic merely said, “That chicken needs a mouth.”  Sigh… not everyone appreciates unique cropping and perspective.

When you begin to sketch feathers and wattles, the lizard connection is inescapable.  The feather shapes overlap, like scales, making wonderful patterns even without the addition of the colors and textures of the feathers themselves.  Even on a very plain hen like this, the colors are iridescent.  And on the red skin (combs and wattles – and yes, I always have to Google the words for those because I missed Chicken 4H as a kid) the patterns are quite pronounced – diamonds, spirals, stripes – if you just look at it long enough and try not to acknowledge that the skin on my own hands is beginning to show that same “crepey” texture.  Ew.  I also noticed that the color of her eye is exactly the color of the egg yolk of a fresh free-range egg.  Cool.


sketch of hydrangea blossoms

"Hydrangea Burst", mixed media copyright Kerry McFall

July 4th takes on a slightly different meaning when you’ve been out of the country for part of the year, and when one of your children is on the other end of the globe.  Her friends in Peru were apparently a bit puzzled by our quiet observation of the holiday, just a hike up Mary’s Peak and watching Ben paint a bus bound for Cuba, a bit of sketching, lunch at the Dairy Queen in Philomath.  Given the lavish spectacle that Corey reports from Cusco’s celebrations of various holidays, it must seem tame.  It wouldn’t be possible to watch your son paint a bus, bound for an embargoed destination, in front of the Courthouse in every country of the world.  The politics interest him, but his passion is for the art, and the communication:  “Si Se Puede”, “yes we can.” It might not always be possible here (thinking about the McCarthy era…), but for now we feel lucky for such freedoms.  And it was actually far from quiet by the time darkness fell – explosives that must have come from some nearby reservation thundered all over town.  We went outside to appreciate the full moon and the riverfront fireworks at about 10:00 p.m., joining neighbors in the street – for most Americans, that’s really what the Fourth is about when you get down to it – quiet sunny days and Street parties at night!

With the sunny day, the hydrangeas literally burst into balls of color, lavender, blue, and pink all on one confused bush.  (Usually, one plant is one color, depending on the acidity or alkilinity of the soil.)  I love the creamy pale green petticoat of the newer blossoms.  And with this sketch, I think I’m finding my “style” for sketching finally… I like doing an inky loose frame outline,  sometimes with objects sneaking over the edge.  It gives the sketchbook a kind of consistency, ties the different subjects and approaches together a bit.  I also like the “stamp” that includes the date and the weather, maybe sometimes even the temperature for outdoorsy things if at least started plein air.  Given the Oregon inclination to dampness at short notice, plein air isn’t always possible, but even when sketching inside from photos, the weather has a huge impact on the finished sketch.

Pecking Order

"Pecking Order" mixed media by Kerry McFall

Hens are fascinating to watch, and I’m sure that if you took your blood pressure before and after a few minutes watching them peck at bits of gravel or work their way through a patch of garden, you’d see a much lower reading afterwards.  I like the contrast between the sculpture in the pot, all smooth curves and simplified to icon form, and the real hens, resplendent in fluff and feathers and flowing lines.

The sketch inspired several “quiltie” borders that don’t really go with this piece, but I do like them so I’ll post them and let them simmer…

Chicken Borders, mixed media,copyright Kerry McFall