Tag Archives: London Drawing

Heart’s Desire

Beach sketch

"Heart's Desire Beach, Pt. Reyes", mixed media by Kerry McFall

What a lovely name for a beach: Heart’s Desire.  This one is tucked into a bay near the Point Reyes National Seashore, within spitting distance of millions of people but so little known that we were almost the only people there on a summer Sunday morning.   I sketched to the odd rhythm of a gopher chewing roots beneath the leg of the picnic table – just like Gopher in Winnie the Pooh’s cast of characters, this buck-toothed fellow was all business, scattering dirt to the four winds as he carried out his responsibilities.  Which I guess were to excavate tunnels, spew up mounds of dirt, blink, frown in disapproval at human activity, and make a lot of chewing noises.

The first people to join us slid up to the beach on their paddle boards, standing upright on what looked like a surf board and paddling with a kayak paddle.  It looked so smooth, that easy motion.  But you can’t fool me – I once attempted to wind-surf, which also looked very easy and smooth; I’ve never been more exhausted.

The next folks to show up were a large and very loud bunch, most of whom were speaking Russian.  There were a few children who spoke perfect English, but the rest never stopped talking at top volume and maximum speed in their native tongue, puncutated by prolonged laughter when hilarious things happened, like … the bowl of chips tipped over.

A shy Latino family followed about 20 minutes later, quietly lugging coolers and blankets and boxes to the table beside the one where I had set up to sketch.  I told them I would be leaving soon so they could use my table too.  The children understood and translated for the parents, and asked to see my sketches.  I enjoy sharing my work, especially with children, who are such honest critics.

From the beach you can hike up an informational trail about the native Miwok tribe of long ago.  (I keep thinking about what a funny word Miwok is, which rhymes with Ewok (from Star Wars), which kind of look like bears and gophers mixed, and wondering if that was the origin of Ewok…)  Signs are posted every few hundred yards, sometimes near the things they describe, and sometimes, nowhere in the vicinity.  I personally think they should move the Poison Oak description right to the beginning of the trail, because if you don’t recognize it by the time you get to the sign on the trail, you’re already going to be itching!  And among other things, I learned that what we call myrtle in Oregon is known as bay laurel down there, and the name of the bay is Tomales, which I read is the Spanish pronunciation of the Miwok word for bay, so technically the name of the bay is Bay Bay.  Hee-hee!

The sketch was an exercise in learning about Bishop Pine, also known as knob cone pine according to our friend Brett.  At this beach, and from the windows of the house we stayed in, they look like Japanese Bonsai trees, sculpted by wind, leaning out from the slope.  I got a little frustrated because my hand knows exactly how to draw a fir tree after living in Oregon so long, but not these big pines… I could picture those Japanese watercolors with layers of spiky branches, but I never quite got it right.  And the “knob cones” are called that because the cones are actually growing right on the tree trunk, embedded in the bark.  They will only open to release their seeds after the extreme heat caused by fire… so there aren’t many baby Bishop Pines any more, not since white men decided that this peninsula would be such a great place for dairy cattle.  Once that got started, they put out any fire that happened to ignite.  A biological dilemma, another among many in our world.

Meeting Notes…aka Doodles

Trying out a new WordPress theme today, working toward getting the pages as simple as possible.  I like this.

Today’s challenge at my “real job” was a nearly-full-day meeting, and as always I found myself doodling.  I’ve read that doodling helps you concentrate and/or remember.  For me it has the added benefit of acting like a blood pressure medication.  I used to feel guilty because I would get so relaxed and absorbed in my drawing that I would fail to look up at the speaker.  The recent practice of bringing laptops, i-phones, etc to meetings, at least in my corporate environment, removes all guilt in that area.  NOBODY looks up.  Unless someone breaks out the bacon maple bars, of course.

The last few meetings, I have snagged the flowers from a co-workers desk, or picked up the nearest seedpod in the parking lot, and worked in a sort of still life setup.  With all those laptops and electronics on the table, no one really notices.  You can see that I got really bold a month ago and actually brought in my Moleskine sketchbook, but it attracted too much attention.  Besides, there’s something liberating about scribbling away in a notebook, no worries about the high cost of a “real” sketchbook.  I use whatever writing implement is handy, make color notes, and then spend a few minutes with crayon or colored pencil once I get home.   If you look really closely, you can also see a hint of “pentimento”, the notes on the back of the page or on the previous page.  I highly recommend doodling over staring at a laptop, and it’s a good way to sneak in a daily sketch and still have a job!


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

Muggle Moments

sketch of rocking horse

"Muggle Rocking Horse" by Kerry McFall

I am only beginning to realize the depth of J.K. Rowling’s genius.  Almost every day I have at least one flashback to Harry Potter, like when I turn a corner and realize that I am surely in Diagon Alley, or what must have been the inspiration for it.  Or like last week when Griff and I rode the “Night Bus”, an articulated nightmare driven by a cockney cowboy of questionable sanity…  Rowling captured muggle London in perfect detail.

But the icing on the cake was last Friday when my sketch class visited the Pollock Toy Museum, aka Olivander’s Magic Wand Shop.  It is a narrow, sagging brick building snugged into a bustling business area.  The displays in the hazy windows are faded puppet theatres.  There is barely enough room for two people in the entry, so you begin climbing stairs almost immediately as you enter.  I hate stairs – they make my knees scream.  But there is no choice, so you creak up and around in a dizzying circle, with the walls pressing in on you on either side, and you know there is something more weird and wonderful in every box and frame and glass case so you just keep going, wondering if the staircases are moving or if it’s just you…

It’s definitely magic, but it’s dusty magic, just this side of creepy as doll eyes follow you, and toy soldiers keep you in their rifle sights.  I expected Rex Harrison/Olivander to pop out at me any second, waving just the right magic wand.  The closer you look, the more uneasy you become as you realize just how uneven the floors are, just how much the ceiling sags…

I sketched a life-sized rocking horse, using a technique that I really liked: dark pencil and white pastel chalk on a mid-range gray background.  The rocking horse was made in about 1840, according to the sign, and was literally the size of a real pony.  It was way up on a high shelf, I suppose to keep Muggle children from trying to ride it.  I needed about another hour to finish, but class was over, my knees were killing me, and I had the impression that I needed to leave before the building itself vanished back into the recesses of imagination…

Drawing Classes

sketch of pot

Victoria and Albert Pot 1, by Kerry McFall

My second sketch class turned out to be just as marvelous as the first!  I met Marcia Teusink, a lovely young American artist, and the several members of her sketching class on Friday morning at the Victoria and Albert museum.  Outside, the stone walls proudly bear the pock marks from World War II bombing raids, a reminder of what insanity we humans perpetrate.  Inside, the vast treasures of many cultures glisten at every turn and twist of the many hallways and palatial rooms, reminders of what we humans can achieve given the proper focus and understanding of what is truly important.  Wow.  And that was just getting in the doors.

Our task was to find something in the ceramics galleries to sketch, using the very basic technique of imagining the ellipses that could be drawn on the surface and using them to form the shapes, and doing a bit of measuring to be sure the shapes don’t go all wonky… basic, but I hadn’t really quite “gotten it” before.  Now you should see me sitting on my little museum folding chair, holding up my pencil (with a very straight arm), squinting through one eye, and counting off units like a pro!

Pottery Sketch 3, by Kerry McFall

After a couple of hours focusing on different pots, we did a grand finale of one sketch including a bunch of pots, aka “a composition”.  Since the actual arrangement of the pots had already been made by very talented curators, it was pretty much a slam dunk to get a decent composition.  Eventually I hope to do a bit of painting on the original, but for posting here I just fiddled with it a bit in Photoshop.  What fun!

After sketching all morning, Griff and I hiked over to the Kensington park, where we had a glass of wine and a brownie with Peter Pan on the Serpentine canal… Tinkerbell, apparently, resides in California this time of year, and declined to attend.