Tag Archives: gardening

Arting in the Garden, SAGE style

"Multiple Crops". mixed media by Kerry McFall, 18 x 22, $125

“Multiple Crops”. mixed media by Kerry McFall, 18 x 22, $125

“Arting” with friends for a good cause (the Corvallis Environmental Center) plus a complementary gourmet dinner in the midst of a gorgeous late summer garden… life just doesn’t get much better!  I spent last Saturday afternoon happily absorbed painting bee boxes, pumpkins, and scarlet runner beans winding up stalks of ripening corn in the SAGE (Starker Arts Garden for Education) garden.

Painting “en plein air” adds several increments of excitement to what is normally a quiet and solitary process:  weather (in this case, sunny and warm, making the paint dry very quickly and making the light change every 15 minutes), bugs (bees and yellow jackets buzzing literally at my feet), and fascinating people.

"Bee Box", mixed media by Kerry McFall, 10 x10", Sold $100

“Bee Box”, mixed media by Kerry McFall, 10 x10″, Sold $100

I was thrilled when a man walked up and bought the first piece I finished (Bee Box)!  It was almost a cartoon, but I just HAD to draw something that colorful!  While I drew and painted at what was breakneck speed for me, I chatted with folks about community food webs, coping with stings and mean yellow jackets this time of year, and how to know when to stop painting.  Knowing when to stop is my biggest challenge right now, as you can see below in this series I did in the same garden as  a “warm up” for the event the week before:

If I had stopped at phase 2, without all the white highlights and blue tints I added, I would have been happier than I am with the “finished” piece.  Live and learn!

The pumpkin below was a “post event” piece, created from my photo taken on the day of the event.  This pumpkin was almost completely obscured by the leaves, which were ghostly with their coatings of powdery mildew.  I had my doubts about when to call it “finished” as well, but in this case I’m glad I added the dark outlines and took the background all the way to black (click the thumbnail to enlarge).

The “Multiple Crops” piece, “Cabbage Rose” and “Pumpkin with Ghost Leaves” are all for sale, contact me if you’re interested and half the proceeds will go to the SAGE project!  (Prints are available also)

Spring Comes Early to the Willamette Valley

painting of apple blossoms

“Apple Blossoms,” mixed media by Kerry McFall, 12 x 12 framed, $200

This is another piece from the Call and Response show, perhaps my favorite this year, painted last spring (2014).  I saw this broken but still beautiful branch on an ancient tree behind the homestead at Finley Wildlife Refuge, hanging on by a thread of bark and a bit of wood.  The blossoms and bee are cutouts, made from watercolor, ink, and gel pen.  The background is a collage of various papers and paints.  The “float” frame makes it possible to position the cutouts into a 3-D setting.

I am amazed at how quickly spring is barreling in to the Willamette Valley right now… the honeybees seem to be having a hard time keeping up.  So many flowers, so few bees.  I noticed this morning that strawberries, blueberries, and pears are blooming in my front garden – WAY early!

"Ouch!" Mixed media copyright Kerry McFall

“Ouch!” Mixed media copyright Kerry McFall

The little Fuji apple tree is a bit behind because some butthead college kid tore off the best fruiting branch one night in the wee hours in January … grrr…   I scrounged around in the garage and found an old can of pruning tar to seal the wound.  (Tip: wet coffee grounds are very useful for scrubbing pruning tar off your hands and arms.  Also nail polish remover.) Apparently they had a go at uprooting it as well, but with a little luck and a few bungee cords… I hope the tree lives.  And, I hope he/they (yep, pretty sure it was males) woke up with MAJOR headaches.


If I Were a Beer Brewer…

…I would be in Seventh Heaven here, watching my hops vine climb merrily over the fence, across the neighbor’s deck, and up onto their garage roof.  I may not be able to keep a sunflower plant from being chewed to bits by unknown cooties, but my hops are phenomenal!


We’ve reached the point in the Willamette Valley spring where if you don’t like the weather, just wait an hour… anything goes!  The sky was gorgeous one warm afternoon last week, here seen from under the bridge just south of Corvallis: 

"Willamette Spring", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Willamette Spring”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The week before that, a mean little hailstorm attacked my baby lettuces, but they survived with bruises and spots.  

"Hailstorm Sketch", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“Hailstorm Sketch”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Now the question becomes, did I jump the gun this morning and plant my tomatoes too soon?  Time will tell.  In the meantime, I’m just sketching away every day, finishing up assignments for my online Sketchbook Skool, and preparing for the next class.  Here are a few of my recent sketches:

Taming My Inner Squirrel

Was it just a week ago that I picked a branch of tumbleweed out of a fence at a New Mexico rest stop on the highway, humming to myself that Sons of the Pioneers song about tumbleweed?


Has it been just a week since I left colorless winter behind and came home to a muddy garden lush with weeds (and slugs… and sowbugs…)?

sketch of tumbleweed

“BitterCress”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Driving through so much flat, brown land back in the heartland had calmed my Squirrel Brain a bit, but as soon as I touched down here at home, it was back with a vengeance.  Gotta finish the Call and Response piece!  Gotta make a painting from all of those photos!  Gotta fertilize, gotta weed, gotta take care of a mountain of mail!  But then it slowly dawned on me Sunday evening that I was NOT getting up to go to work the next morning, so I didn’t have to get that all done in one fell swoop.  What a luxury!  I really can draw every day.  I don’t have to give up anything else to make that happen.   Happy sigh.  My Inner Squirrel is now seated quietly in a yoga position, softly humming the tumbleweed song… which is stuck in my head…

I’ve always wondered what the name of that little weed was.  Yesterday a neighbor clued me in to Bittercress – it grows incredibly fast, matures quickly, and once it starts to shoot seeds like a machine gun (thus the nickname shotweed), your garden beds are doomed!  On the plus side, it is edible… supposedly tastes like radishes.

Technique Notes – The Bittercress painting was sketched lightly in pencil, then outlined with a Pitt artist pen.  I painted the plant with a thin watercolor brush, let that dry, then outlined around the ink lines with white china marker.  I then quickly flooded the page (outside of the circle and inside the border) with blue (spring sky blue!) using a fluffy fat brush.  I like the “resist” effect so much!  Once dry, I added a few tiny shadows, etc. with colored pencil.

The Fate of Tomatoes


"It's Been A Good Summer", mixed media by Kerry McFall

“It’s Been A Good Summer”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Long, hot summers make for fat, red tomatoes!  Not something we experience in the Willamette Valley very often, so it’s much appreciated when it happens.  Right now, mid-September, I have more tomatoes than I know what to do with.  My friend Tracy said, “Roast ’em – they make great pasta sauce!”  So I picked a bunch, washed them, and three jumped out of the colander and onto the pages of my sketchbook…  The rest of them went into a 275 degree oven, after rolling around briefly in olive oil, basil, oregano, and sea salt, and there they basked for two hours or so.  Here are the phases of their fate:

It’s too hot to cook, so tomorrow they will reach their ultimate fate: the key ingredient of spaghetti – or if tomorrow is too hot, into the freezer they go.


Promises of Peppers

sketch of pepper plant

“Promises of Peppers”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

Short on ambition today, I decided to bring in the Sweet Pepper plant I bought yesterday and do a sketch session on my dining room table.  If I was smart,  I would have started my next painting for the Call & Response show, which is due in June – oh, dear, it IS June now! – but after a Saturday flurry of activity, Sunday just needs to be slower.   If you know Photoshop, you recognize that I applied the Poster Edges filter, which is my favorite for sketches.  I also tried using my 1/4 inch quilter’s tape again to set off the left side detail blocks, but for some reason (temperature, maybe? it’s low 70’s today) it really didn’t want to let go when I was ready to pull it off, so I had to Photoshop/Rescue a couple of torn spots.

Shortly after finishing the sketch, I tucked the plant safely into the east end of my raised garden bed, next to the Cucumber Skate Ramp and Tomato Chairs, surrounded by bits of chicken wire to discourage kitty litterbox activity.  My gardening assistant/resident sketpic wondered aloud if there was really a possibility of getting any peppers to harvest.  Of course!  Schmidt’s Garden Center promises a “yield in 70 days”, which by my calculations means on about August 12th I should be sketching a bowl of plump, ripe peppers.  Check back then!


sketch of a purple onion

"Onion", mixed media by Kerry McFall

This semi-dried onion presented itself the other day when I was moving the compost bin.  Somehow it escaped the cleanup of last weekend, and basked in the hot sun for a few days.  I started to toss it into the bin, but several layers fell away to reveal a GORGEOUS shiny purple heart.  Underneath the papery exterior glistened a firm globe, full of promise for either a really big purple onion next year, or a nice addition to tomorrow’s omelet.  Either way, it was destiny.  The challenge recently has been that my scanner has given up the proverbial ghost, so I’m resorting to closeup photos for posts.  Mostly it works, this one I had a little trouble with the edges so I just filled them in with Photoshop.  What this needs is a recipe up in the left corner I think, but not today… just going to head to the local taqueria for supper and call it a day.

Tomato Chairs Revisited

sketch of chair with tomatos

"Tomato Chair in August", mixed media by Kerry McFall


Back in May, I planted broccoli and  lettuce in my little raised bed, and carefully positioned tomatoes under my newly-painted pink “tomato chairs“.  Finally, I have been able to harvest half a dozen marble-sized tomatoes from a jungle of long-leggity vines.  Even if I don’t get another single tomato, the burst of warm flavor from those few was worth every moment of weeding and watering and tying twine and  fussing!  In the intervening four months, a fence went up, the pot of basil was cut back several times, an eventually I pulled down all the broccoli and lettuce trees to give the tomatoes a bit more precious sunlight (I say trees because I let them go to seed just out of curiousity, and they were taller than my head when I finally tired of the experiment!)

Now August wanes, and our allotment of a few hot days (99 degrees!) is behind us apparently.  Crickets are beginning to make themselves known (odd that they don’t sing until summer is nearly done here in Oregon…), nights are cooling to 58 the minute the sun sinks, dawn is slower to arrive with each passing morning.  Such a short summer.


August Sunset

sketch of sunflower

"August Sunset", mixed media sketch by Kerry McFall

Once Oregon finally gets up to speed with summer weather, it is so lovely to walk just before sunset.  Even on the hottest evenings, usually the cool breeze drifts over from the coast, and it’s the perfect time to stroll through the neighborhood admiring gardens.  I snapped a quick photo a few days ago of a backlit sunflower, one of the new breeds with rusty orange petals and tiny seeds (which I have tried to grow but the sow bugs defeat me every time).  The Resident Art Critic pointed out, “There’s a petal missing,” – his usual short and to the point critique.  To which I reply – “Duh!  Of course there is.  The flower is just slightly beyond it’s peak, the sun is setting, day is done, summer will be coming to a close before we are ready… it’s a metaphor for another birthday, Sillly!”

Here is the progression from pencil sketch to watercolor washes, with a last minute decision to paint over the smaller blooms and just focus on the big one, followed quickly by the addition of the stripes in the background, which I really like as a technique.  I did a similar background on the dahlia piece last week, sort of looked like wallpaper there.  It’s a nod to my textile background, I suppose, and my love for pattern and texture.  The seeds at the bottom are a way to focus on not just the whole but all its many parts, symbolic of the future being part of the fading bloom, and I think they make a unique but simple border also.


Tomato Chairs

chairs serve as tomato cages

"Tomato Chairs", mixed media by Kerry McFall

Done!  Not only did I get the basil and tomatoes planted, I spray-painted the old metal chairs I’ve been using for tomato cages… I now pronounce the garden ready for a visit from the Queen.  The chairs were part of a patio set left on the curb by a neighbor years back, with metal crossbars in the place where the seats used to be.  They are perfect to use as substitutes for tomato cages, but far more elegant – a nice bit of re-purposing.  Here is a birds’ eye view photo if the sketch doesn’t quite make sense:
chair as tomato cage

Tomato Cage Chair - Bird's Eye View