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Back to the Cabrillo

I was lucky enough to enjoy another painting trip along the Pacific Coast Highway after my recent adventure just a few weeks ago. I made my way south this time, en route to meet up with my family in Disneyland for Christmas.

This adventure was perhaps not as colorful as the tale I decribed heading north back in November, but I was glad to have the extra time alone to sort out the noisy bits that have accumulated in my head these past few months. Kinda like freeing up mental RAM.

My biggest ah-ha moment of the year was recognizing the need for personal art/travel time, as I've spent most of the year focused on being in either work or family mode. For that reason, I like that Highway 1 is also known as the Cabrillo Highway... if you look at it a while, Cabrillo begins to look like the word, calibrate.

Like most painting crawls, this one was not without its share of false starts. I painted the above sketch in a darkly lit cafe in San Luis Obispo, where I settled in after the first night's drive. Though I consider it a failure on many levels – mainly, colors – I like that it reminds me of that cafe. There were portraits of every one of my favorite authors on the wall, the tables were shaky, and the three people sitting next to me talked about their music careers. In that sense, this sketch perfectly describes a completely different setting.

Rather than play the blame game, however, I made sure to get an early start the next day. My first stop was Avila Beach, just a few miles south of SLO. 

At about midway into my painting, a woman stopped to ask a few questions. We painters are an easily distracted bunch, some of us even get annoyed by curious onlookers. I happen to enjoy the company, even if I get the same questions over and over.

"How long did that take you?"

"Are you a student?"


"Why would you paint that and not her?"

Creating art outside is a kind of dialogue between you and your surroundings. If you're working where other people tend to be, then they might become part of the conversation, on or off the canvas. I feel these interactions can inform your work, like a living scrapbook, rich with little bits of context, minus the need for wiggly scissors and rubber stamps.  In this case, the woman was a local, and informed me a storm might be on its way. This forced me to speed things up, a friendly push I can always use. 

Of course, the rain never showed, but the conversation created a sense of urgency in parts of this and other sketches that I like. 

Next up was my return to Pismo Beach. I had seen this spot on my prior trip, just as I began my frantic dash home up the 101. I immediately regretted not exiting to at least get a photo of it. Without the same time constraints this time around, I was able to stop and find a hikeable ridgeline with a better view. 

As mentioned, I didn't meet too many people this time around, but there was this moment...

After I wrapped up my painting, I saw a teenager perched on a ledge on the other side of the ridgeline, looking down at the cars speeding up and down the 101. He had all of the Pacific at his disposal, viewable from any spot on the hill, but he chose the East and stared at traffic. 

He had earbuds on and I imagined the ebb and flow of the coastal rush hour served as a kind of automotive equalizer to whatever song he was listening to. In the end, he made the whole teen angst thing look pretty good. 

note: For anyone even remotely curious as to what a decidedly uncool non-teen might be listening to, Heirloom by Sufjan Stevens emerged victorious as the most-played, slightly thematic track to this here road trip. 

I had just enough time for one more painting before dinner and the drive to Disneyland. I chose to return to the sand dunes at Pismo State Beach. The first is the result, the last two are abstractions based on my previous trip. There's something very soothing about painting these, whether in person or from memory. Like catching up with old friends. The stories and shapes shift somewhat, are sometimes iffy, yet always familiar.

Sadly, my trip was once again quite short, clocking in at just a day and a half and maybe three or four solid hours of painting. Still, I feel – recalibrated. Or Recabrillolated.

I'll work on that. Hope you enjoyed these in the meantime.

Happy New Year!

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    duttonart - Blog - Back to the Cabrillo

Reader Comments (3)

Absolutely lovely!!

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie

These are incredible, Mike!

January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJez

Brilliant stuff! Love your work/blog and I enjoy reading what you wrote as well.

March 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermike yamada

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