I recently took a little road trip to do some sketching along Highways 1 to 101. I've traveled various parts of this drive in the past, but never at my own pace and never alone. Between an exhausting weekend in Burbank attending an art conference and an even more exhausting past few months of life, I knew this trip would be just the thing I needed to reflect and refresh. Despite a lack of itinerary or map (my phone's gps was not working), I managed to see quite a bit, met some lovely people along the way and, just as I thought I couldn't be more isolated, had a magical moment at the end of my trip.
But first, here's Malibu.
Most of the time I was painting this, a photo shoot of a bikini-clad model was happening on the beach below. I was working in the sandy parts when the photographer seemed to suggest that one should go topless while modeling large necklaces for a catalog, and I had to focus on painting the moutains in the background to avoid looking like a peeper.... I think this kinda shows through in the final painting. They had a tiny pink Christmas tree planted right in the middle of the sand, which you can see in one of the following sketches. There was the hustle-bustle of that, mingled with people who sat silently staring out to sea. When the beach finally cleared, a mother and her young boy took a seat near the water and, just like that, from the onset of my journey I was already feeling homesick.
After Malibu and the greater Los Angeles county (and getting lost in Port Hueneme, which I'd never heard of), it got dark and I found myself hungry and sleepy. This is the drawback of taking a trip in November when the sun is gone by 5. I pushed on through Ventura until I could take it no longer and exited into Buellton. Admittedly, a bowl of split pea soup – Buellton's claim to fame – also seemed alluring. But as soon as I got into town I noticed signs for Solvang. I hadn't been there in nearly twenty years, when my parents would drive through on family road trips. For those not familiar, Solvang is known as the "Danish Capital of America" and has the windmills and lederhosen to prove it. Obviously, it was going to feel slightly touristy, and not have the "run-down glam" look of diners and taco joints from the 70s that I was hoping to capture in my sketchbook, but it was sure to be well lit at night, giving me more drawing options. So I skipped past Buellton, found a motel in Solvang and set up in the brü haus (to be fair, they just call it a brewhouse) across the street for the evening.
Of course, any hint of snark is really a cover up from simply admitting I loved Solvang.
It's a family destination, sure, and by contrast, me being there alone must have made me stick out more to the locals... though it may have had something to do with the odd combination of a headlamp and tiny lawn chair as I sketched along the sidewalk. Or perhaps it was when I became more interested in them versus the architecture. I wondered, do they hate it here? Do they have Scandinavian codenames for each other? Sitting outside, I overheard some of the younger kids talking about their various DUIs and arrests, which answered my next question, how bored are they? Back inside, the bartender noticed me drawing and asked to show my sketches around. The "Heartbreak over dinner" couple were long gone, thank god, but I was still hesitant, being a bottle of wine into the evening and feeling like the drawings reflected that. But chances were they were drunk too, so I shared, and the locals opened right up. I have no excuses for those of you looking now. Sorry.
I met the Picasso man. And his amazing felt hat. The town drunk, Rich. Another man, originally from Belgium and named Michael, whose near-perfect coat and scarf ensemble was ruined by the fact that, when unbuttoned, the coat revealed that his scarf was also his shirt... a discovery that made me all the more embarrassed I originally mistook him for the bouncer. The girls above, Jill and Greta (and yes, these are Scandinavian codenames), were hanging out with someone I mistook to be an older relative of theirs.
As it turned out, Barbara also met these two girls earlier, informing me one of them lost a family member that day (thus the codenames). The news wasn't a total shocker – but still sad, so when Barbara heard what happened she took them for a night out. As evidenced in the sketch above, Barbara was doing a good job of cheering them up. In fact, I quite like what they wrote on one of the following pages. "Take a deep breath and love it." It's kind of profound if you can imagine it not taking up an entire page surrounded by hearts.
In the same room, it may seem kinda tricky stringing the connection between a couple of expats, a drunk, a woman with her very first cell phone, and two grieving friends, except that it seems like everyone is running from something, and that even though my trip was a short one, I fit right in... though I suppose taking away all pretexts of poetic insight it's easier just to say, Well, it's a bar for Piet's sake.
I woke up the next day in the same exact state the weekend conference left me – dumb and dumber. Everything was an effort and eating my breakfast got as far as the pancakes looking like Pac-Man before I gave up and realized it was time to hit the road.
Still, it's so easy to forgive wine, when you see its origins spread out before you so spectacularly.
And it's just as easy to feel lonesome on a beach when you know the sun is ready to set and you ache knowing that at some point tonight, you'll have to cover an ugly stretch of highway, this very same highway, that is part of your work commute.
So yes, the magic moment. It was by pure chance and joy that I met my stranger. Initially, I thought my last sketch on this trip was going to be from that wooden walkway, but it was getting a bit too much foot traffic and also felt somewhat confining in terms of drawing options. Looking over, I loved the way these gathered sand dunes took on an abstract quality, each speckled with different kinds of vegetation while flowing together rhythmically, like – to borrow a coworker's intructor's description of Rodin's sculptures – the heavily barnacled backs of whales breaking the surface of the ocean. Inspired, I hopped over the walkway and carefully made my way through the sea of dunes, sitting myself in the middle of what I thought was a completely isolated location.
...she came barrelling up, kicking sand over everything. We greeted, took a deep breath and loved it.