Tag Archives: San Diego sketches

Prickly Cliffs and Jewelled Surf

La Jolla Cliff Cacti, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The elegant homes on the cliffs at La Jolla near Bird Rock are teetering – literally – on the sandy edge of foaming, crashing waves.  To say that anyone with an ounce of common sense would never have built any kind of structure there is an understatement.  But I love the tiny “pocket parks” that have somehow managed to survive, wedged in between the mansions every few blocks, each one unique.  This painting shows the park that is at the top of a steep stairway down to the surf, a small wreath of jade-colored cacti with golden blooms, and waves of purple statice flowers, crowning the crumbling cliff.  Plenty of traffic even during pandemic, but on the edge of the sea the salt air is fresh and clean.  There is exactly one bench, but surfers apparently never sit on anything but a floating surfboard, which leaves that bench available for itinerant artists like me!

Surfers tote their boards up and down the steps with ease and grace, now skimming the foam, now plunging in and out of the waves.  As I watch, the color of the water transitions from chalcedony to turquoise to diamond, over and over, never the same…  Not coincidentally, those jewel colors are street names nearby!


I painted from my photo.  9 x 12″ Canson Mix Media sketchbook.  Watercolor first, nothing fancy, just trying to capture those jewel colors.  Then a sponge  (just a slice of an old kitchen sponge) on damp paint for some textures, followed by black ballpoint pen, more watercolor, a few white ink highlights.  Finally picked out the edges of the cliff and the “frame” with a blue 05 felt tip pen, and rubbed the edge of a colored pencil over that tuscan red plant on the right edge – no clue what the name of that plant is, but I’m pretty sure it’s a succulent…  Dr. Seuss would have loved it!

One Foot In Front of the Other: Footprints in the Sand

Posted January 15, 2017 by Kerry McFall

The sand gets plowed every night here in Pacific Beach, San Diego, no kidding.  A big old tractor chugs along down the foamy edge of the tide, removing any evidence of yesterday’s barefoot surfers, strolling lovers, and sand castles.  The tractor leaves the beach looking like legions of tiny leprechauns raked it in preparation for planting magic clover seeds.  This strikes me as Odd, capital O.  To a girl from Oregon, it just doesn’t get much weirder.

Back home, you walk down the beach, one foot in front of the other, and leave a trail of bootprints.  You look back and you see where you stopped to look at that decaying crab, or picked up a smooth stone, or vectored off to sit on a big piece of driftwood for a minute.  The next morning, the tide has washed away any trace of your stroll, and dropped off new crabs, stones, and driftwood seating.  Similar results, although not quite as tidy, so why plow?  I mean, it’s not like there aren’t good waves in San Diego (which I posted a sketch of last week at https://www.gallerynouveau.biz/index.php/2017/01/wisdom-from-the-waves/).  Google isn’t offering much insight – seriously, plow to remove piles of seaweed? – so I guess I’ll just have to start asking around at the lifeguard stations.

I guess that’s just what we do here in the US of A, we mess with nature, in oh-so-many ways.   We drain swamps (or make hollow election promises to that effect), we fill in wetlands, we frack for oil, we pave riverbeds with concrete, or re-route the rivers through underground pipes.  Being in this part of the world provides daily reminders that we have come to believe that we are entitled to mess with nature, and we have come to believe that we CAN with impunity.  I’m old enough to understand that we are NOT in charge (I witnessed what Mt. St. Helens did), so I just hope that Mother Nature is in a jovial mood when she lashes back.   Rest assured, she will.

Meantime, I marvel at the footprints and tractor tire impressions in the sand, and continue to draw and paint the world around me in all its human-engineered glory.  This week, we visited the Junipero Serra museum building, which stands up above Old Town San Diego flaunting a big California bear on its weather vane; and we sun-bathed on the sand on Mission Bay at the Catamaran resort, whose management actually posted a sign saying “Public Welcome, feel free to use our beach chairs”!  What a treat!

sketch of bell tower and succulent trees

“Junipero Serra Museum”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

rental sailboats

“Mission Bay Sails”, mixed media by Kerry McFall




Giving Thanks for Can Openers and Alley Fairies

sketch of coastline San Diego

“Pacific Beach Pier”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

We spent Thanksgiving in San Diego at Pacific Beach, where our children now live.  Pacific Beach is a small marvel, a colorful, vibrant place on a human scale that is a great place to sketch when it isn’t raining and windy.  You can almost afford to live there.  Just down the boardwalk a ways is La Jolla, also beautiful and vibrant but way upscale for members of the 99% like us.

We enjoyed our traditional Thanksgiving foods (does anyone else call marshmallows, whipped cream, pineapple, and cherries a “salad”?) and traditional pastimes (watching and singing along to Muppet Christmas Carol while digesting turkey and salad), and I got traditionally teary-eyed when saying what I’m thankful for.   I’m still adding to my gratitude list, looking back on the day.

When it was time to make the “salad”, my daughter dug through a couple of kitchen drawers and came up with what was supposed to be a can opener for the pineapple cans…can mangler would have been a more accurate name for that particular implement.  It occurs to me now that I take my can opener for granted – I’ve had it for probably 40 years, still works like a charm.  It’s easy to forget that everybody doesn’t have one, at least not one that works, nor do they have any cans to open.

The mangling tool in question came from “the Alley Fairy” as they call her, who has designated a place by the dumpsters in the alley where vacationers and landlords toss the stuff they know is too good to throw away but they’re too busy/lazy to take it to GoodWill.  My kids are grateful to have a working microwave, four chairs, a desk, a spatula, and an a couple of fans courtesy of said fairy.  The fairy even left wine glasses the night before our feast (also what appeared to be a large cement cutting tool, which we left for someone else to figure out).

Now you might think that can openers are old-fashioned… nope.  Cans of sugar-baked beans and tuna and peaches make up the bulk of my Earthquake Emergency Food Supplies, because they’re edible without further intervention and will last a good long time.  Without a sturdy can opener, we couldn’t get to all that nutrition.  So I am grateful for my sturdy can opener, for my shelves of cans out in the garage, for my optimistic and loving kids and their creative acquisition methods, and for San Diego beaches where fairies dwell and the clouds part nearly every day making for gorgeous sunsets.

The gratitude list goes on, but I think I’m ready to focus on the next holidays now.


Pelicans rarely fret about the holidays…