Tag Archives: weeds

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.

Organic Dandelions… Really

sketch of baskets of vegetables

“Organic Dandelions”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

At the Corvallis Farmer’s Market a couple of Saturdays ago, I snapped a few photos in the Gathering Together Farm booth.  Their veggie basket displays are visual feasts, but it’s difficult to sketch “live” because hungry people have shopping to get done.  I didn’t realize until I got home and began sketching that the main “veggie” in the center of this display was your common ordinary run-of-the-mill dandelion leaves!  Who knew that you can get $3.00 per bundle for a handful of “weeds”?!

But I’m not that much of a dingbat.  I have read that dandelions are one of the healthiest, most vitamin-packed greens.  Ironic that we spend so much time and money and herbicides trying to eliminate them.  Refreshing to see them being recognized for their potential!

This painting/sketch uses my evolving technique of mixing china marker with watercolors and colored pencil.  The challenge is that the waxy china marker not only resists watercolor, it also resists my final phase, which is ink.  It’s wrecking all of my best pens!  The wax eventually builds up on the tip of the pen and it’s almost impossible to get off.  Looks like I need to come up with a “work around”…

Mary’s Peak Butterfly

painting of butterfly

"Peak Butterfly 2012" mixed media by Kerry McFall

The flowers were not quite what I had expected up on Mary’s Peak on the Fourth of July, but the orange butterflies made up for that shortcoming.  They were everywhere, especially near the parking lot.  Dandelions seemed to be the flower of choice, at least in that vicinity, no doubt sprouted from invader seeds stuck to shoes and tires.  I need to research the butterfly name – Hey, Ralph, does this look familiar?

This sketch/painting wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I started, but it’s colorful and I think I’ll use the background patterning approach in another attempt, maybe not of this particular butterfly but in something soon.  The first glitch was a new “sepia brown” brush pen – the brush never did limber up, and the ink was essentially dried up from the get-go, so I tried to go over the dark spots first with another pen, then purple pencil, then black ink, and finally a brown pencil.  Overworked.  But I love the lacy wing edges, so I’ll use variations on those patterns again.  The triangle motifs remind me of Africa!  Hmm – I wonder if they have dandelions in Africa?

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!

Views in Seattle

We made the drive up I-5 last week and spent a few days working and visiting in the Seattle area.  The hospitality was delightfully warm, but the weather was a mixed bag, mostly dry but cool, so my sketches were made mostly inside looking out at the gorgeous views.  There are more cedars up there than in the Willamette Valley, and truly an alarming number of brilliant yellow and oh-so-invasive scotch brooms all along the freeway.  I guess the Washington transportation folks didn’t get the memo about invasive plants until quite recently, because we heard that they were planted on purpose… tsk.

Tooth of the Lion

dandelion sketch

"Coming Soon to a Garden Near You", mixed media sketch by Kerry McFall

Much-maligned, nutritious, and gorgeous, the weeds are beginning to smile up from the soggy lawns in Corvallis.  Dandelions are the brightest: petals like a yellow mane, toothy points on the leaves, and I love that little cushion right in the middle of the blossom.  I spent many hours dissecting dandelions as a little girl, sitting cross-legged on my grandmother’s lawn caught up in the sweet scent, amazed by the “milk” that appeared on the stems after picking… and the minute my mother saw my sticky hands, I spent many minutes scrubbing away the dandelion goo.  Simple pleasures.

Yellow Plague

colored pencil sketch of scotch broom

Yellow Plague

One of the many invasives that dots our hillside trails and paths, the Scotch Broom is in full bloom now, and marching on the offensive.  True to its name, of course, a dead branch of the plant makes a terrific broom/rake for fallen leaves, better than any noisy old leaf blower.  Our “advanced” culture ignores that potential, however, so it is relegated to the status of invasive species, and hardly anyone appreciates the intricacy of its blossoms and pods.  Tsk.

…and the Weeding Continues

Sketch of wild geranium single blossom

Wild Geranium

I’ve always heard these called “wild geranium”, and Google seems to agree.  They are pungent when you break a stem, and the leaves turn deep magenta/red/orange in the fall.  They are fuzzy and frilly – too bad they’re weeds and can take over when you turn your back.  When I was a little girl, we would make “scissors” out of two seed pods: slit the long slender piece with a fingernail, insert the other long slender piece, and voila!

Let the Weeding Begin…!

Sketch and closeup of henbit weeds

A weed is just a plant out of place?

 I think this is “henbit” – fascinating name, especially given my current fascination with chickens!  I’ve always like this weed – it’s fuzzy, it’s purple-ish, and the tiny blossoms always light up in the sunshine.  If you pick a stem, and look VERY close, you’ll see that those blossoms are almost like orchids, with deep purple spots down inside their fuzzy throats.  Lovely!