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!
I thought Scotland’s rampant red lion could use a break from all that rampaging and chill instead in a field of thistles on St. Andrew’s Day. This is a companion piece, by the way, to the equally chillaxed red dragon doodle I did for St. David’s Day in Wales earlier this year.
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 stopped us by during a family road trip. 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.