I was up and working in the studio well before the sun this morning, since I have a big deadline looming—so today doesn’t much resemble the day I did this sketch at my friends’ beach bungalow. But I tell you what, right now there’s nothing I’d like better than to put on some PJs, put my feet up, and just gaze out to sea.
Of course, there’s the kind of “museum” founded by snake-oil salesmen…and then there’s the real thing. If you really want to get a taste of Northwest art and anthropology, there’s no better place to start than the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria.
The museum is huge, with natural history dioramas, city artifacts, an IMAX theater, the works—but I always head straight for the First Peoples Gallery and spend hours and hours there.
Like most museums, the RBCM doesn’t allow you to bust out a paintbox in the gallery, so when I’m there, I stick to my museum routine: do the line drawing on-site, make a few pale pencil notes about color details, and fill in with a bit of watercolor later.
I’m sure my sketches aren’t entirely faithful to their subjects, since I have to simplify and fill in details from memory later… but it’s still the best way I know how to get in a good art history lesson.
These days, Seattle is a city that’s far too cool for school. It’s a place where rents are skyrocketing, LEED-platinum buildings are popping up like daisies, restaurants are whipping up the latest prix-fixe sustainable fusion menu du jour, and if you aren’t bearded and coiffed (or at least sporting a pair of hornrims and a couple of ironic tattoos), you’re probably in violation of some city ordinance.
Which is precisely why I love Ye Olde Curiosity Shop: it is the polar opposite of all of that. It is as old-school, down-home, un-PC and tacky-touristy as you can possibly get. It’s the kind of place that is so uncool that to the average hipster, it blows right past “ironic” and lodges itself firmly in the fanny-pack-and-socks-with-sandals camp.
I love it because it’s the Northwest’s answer to Wall Drug—on a much smaller scale, of course. (If we really wanted to compete with Wall Drug, we’d need a few giant fiberglass orcas outside, to begin with—not to mention about 300 billboards.)
I also love it because it has a real history. The shop began in 1899 as a sort of dime museum and cabinet of curiosities, designed to draw boom-town dollars during the Klondike Gold Rush. It has always been a mix of cheap souvenirs, film-flam curiosities, specimens of questionable origin, and real, valuable goods (including Northwest Native art; Princess Angeline, Chief Seattle’s daughter, was a regular shop supplier).
This mix of genuine and fraudulent permeates both the shop itself and its place in Seattle’s history. Ye Olde Curiosity Shop has had a large hand in how outsiders view the city—the best example being the tendency to associate Seattle with totem poles, even though there are no totem tribes in Washington. I find this sort of thing completely fascinating. From my point of view as a sketch artist, that’s where the real story is. I’m most interested in capturing where truth and legend intersect—where museum curator meets carney barker, where worthless meets priceless, where kitsch meets art. And I can’t think of a place in Seattle where those lines are more wonderfully blurred.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in my sketchbooks of more exotic places, but walking around my own neighborhood reminds me that there’s plenty to see and sketch, right here at home.
Today it seems only fitting to hop from one French city to another. Other than the obvious connotation of the French Quarter, the multi-colored houses also made New Orleans remind me of Montreal. The thing that set NOLA apart, though, was all that stunning wrought iron.
Since they call it the French Quarter, it’s easy to forget that New Orleans is just as influenced by Spain—that Creole culture is just as Spanish as it is French. The city’s wrought-iron balconies brought the lesson home for me. As I rounded every corner, all I could see were houses draped in lacy Spanish mantillas.
Sketching the striped tulip fields last week reminded me of one of my other favorite colorful places: the Plateau neighborhood of Montreal. The rows of colorful balconies and porches might not be quite as vivid as the rainbow houses of San Francisco… but any city that breaks up endless blocks of brick with pops of bright color is going to get an A+ in my book.
By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be headed up north for this year’s Tulip Festival. The last time I was there, the day I made this sketch, the weather was iffy at best. At this time of year, forecasts aren’t worth all that much, so I’m just crossing my fingers and hoping for decent sketching weather. I guess we’ll see what Monday’s post will hold…hopefully something flowery and colorful.
Hope we all have a sunny weekend!
A big part of any tourist experience (for me, at least) is catching a glimpse of local wildlife. People go to Yellowstone to see bears and bison. They come to my neck of the woods to spy orcas. When I was in Big Bend, it was all about the javelinas. So you can bet I wasn’t going to take my first trip to Florida without seeing some manatees.
The odd thing is that at this time of year, one of the best places to glimpse a sea cow is not a pristine nature park—but an industrial canal. The Tampa power plant uses the waterway as part of its cooling system, and as a result, cycles heated water back into the canal. The water is up to 20 degrees warmer than the winter temperatures of the adjacent Gulf of Mexico, so it attracts manatees in droves.
The courtesy of a wooden platform perched over the manatee area was lovely—and I was incredibly excited to see so many manatees at once—but I found myself sorely wishing for the kind of underwater windows they have for watching salmon in Seattle. That way, I could see for myself whether sea cows really resemble sea lasses, as the sailors of old thought they did…
Speaking of underwater sights, if only the Ballard fish ladder had mermaids in it. Good thing I got to visit Weeki Wachee Springs a few weeks ago! Now I’m spoiled—I fear Weeki Wachee may have ruined roadside attractions for me forever. I mean really—no matter how seedy and pathetic a tourist trap might be (and I’m sorry to say there were aspects of this place that were), anything with mermaid performers is an instant winner in my book.
There were two little girls sitting next to me, and when I looked over to add them to my sketch, I had to smile. When I was their age, I was totally into mermaids (I was eight when Disney released its famous fishy juggernaut of a feature)—if I had been to Weeki Wachee at that age, I probably would have thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Even at the ripe old age of 33, it wasn’t hard for me to look past the shabbiness and ho-made production values and find a little mermaid magic to love.