Bookstores are a big part of our annual holiday shopping rounds, and my two most sketch-able favorites are Powell’s in Portland—
—and Elliott Bay in Seattle. Of course I’m probably going to love any indie bookstore, but both of these places have such inviting spaces that I could stay and sketch for a year. If I weren’t so distracted by all those zillions of books, that is…
Every year the Tailor and I go to the mountains with our friends to pick out and cut our own Christmas trees. Some people, when I tell them this, look at me like I have three heads and ask, “Why don’t you just go to a tree farm?”
Well, sure, it’s more work (and a much longer trip), and wild trees are not nearly so “perfect” or full as farmed ones. But by doing things this way, our Christmas tree comes with a story every year—as well as a favorite tradition with our good friends. And there’s something wonderful about searching for a wild Northwest tree in the most beautiful and wild part of the Northwest. Somehow it feels like a quest to catch Christmas and carry it home.
When we head to the mountains on Sunday to get our tree, the holiday decorating will officially begin. At our old house, most of our decorating focused on the mantel—since we don’t tend to go overboard with that sort of thing anyway, sometimes it was the only place that hinted at anything festive. At our new house, the fireplace is even more central to our lives and the rhythm of our home. I’m excited to see what the season brings, and how the mantel will rise to the occasion.
Life seems to be going at a thousand miles an hour these days—between work and the season, it’s hard to find any sort of break. So when I came upon this sketch today, it reminded me to take a deep breath, looking forward to the next quiet moment.
The Tailor and I took a little overnight trip to southern Oregon this weekend, blaring Christmas music the whole way down and back. It might seem odd when I tell you that the music fit in perfectly with the scenery in this sketch—but in this part of the world, the holidays mean brilliant greens, rather than bright whites.
Just like the neighboring town of Manitou Springs, Colorado Springs is filled with midcentury neon signs and fabulous Googie lettering. This sign is one of my very favorites. It’s been altered a bit over the years, but the fact that a relic like this still exists in a town that’s changing and expanding at a rapid pace—well, it feels like a bit of a miracle to me.
Speaking of indigo, I think I go through more blue paint when I’m in the San Juans than I do anywhere else. I don’t think I’ve been anywhere that has so many different shades and hues of blue in one place. Capturing anything that comes remotely close to what I see there is a big challenge.
Good thing there are plenty of rainy days up there—which makes the landscape flatten out a little, and give my brain a break.
It’s on my list today to refill the pans in my paintbox—starting with indigo, which is most in need of it. Before I moved to Washington, I didn’t use indigo—it just wasn’t a color I needed often, and if I did, I could mix a reasonable facsimile. But now that I live here, and the hillsides in the distance look like the above sketch for so much of the year… Well, indigo might just be the color I use most often.
(When I travel in the desert, though, I stock up on my reds and ochres…)
A lot of people are going to be up early today to participate in holiday craziness—but for me, this time of year has a completely different incentive to be out before the sun. Because if you live in the South Sound area and you’re very, very lucky, you might catch that rare phenomenon where the sun rises behind Mt. Rainier and casts a massive shadow on the clouds above.
The moment doesn’t last long—about the same amount of seconds as alpenglow does. And the conditions have to be absolutely perfect for it to happen: clear enough for the mountain and sun to be visible (which almost never happens in winter), but with just enough mid-level cloud cover to give the shadow a reflecting surface. And you can only see it from certain areas where the sunrise is perfectly aligned behind the mountain (like the solstice sunrises with which places like Stonehenge and Mission San Juan Bautista are intentionally aligned). All of this makes it so uncommon that we’re lucky if conditions are right once a year.
In my six-plus years here, I’ve only seen it in person twice—and on Monday, I was finally lying in wait with my sketchbook. It felt like winning the lottery.
For the first time in many years, we’re not hosting Thanksgiving this time. But we are continuing our tradition of spending the holiday with friends. So when the turkey’s been eaten and all the plates cleared, I’m sure the scene won’t be so different than this one—just in a different location. To me, that sounds just about perfect.
Wishing a wonderful Thanksgiving tomorrow to all my U.S. readers!