Steeple chaseNear Jupiter, NC

North Carolina steeples sketch by Chandler O'Leary

You probably know by now that when I draw in my sketchbook, I’m usually looking to fill a whole page spread with a finished scene. Sometimes, though, that’s just not possible. On the day I made this sketch, I was riding in the back seat of a rideshare van, craning my neck to catch any details I could of the landscape. The other passengers must have thought I was nuts as I jotted down any interesting snippet we passed—but at least I can remember something (if not much) of that afternoon.

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Lurking in doorwaysHalifax Citadel National Historic Site, Halifax, NS, Canada

Halifax Citadel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

You already know that I have a thing for doors, but I also love sketching through doorways. It’s one thing to compose a scene within the rectangle of a page spread—but it feels like an extra challenge to use the doorway itself to frame a scene within a scene. I find myself doing this sort of thing all the time (scroll down to the second sketch at that link), to the point where I’m always peering through things to see if I can line up an interesting sketch. So if you ever want to come across me sketching somewhere, a good place to start would be to check the nearest doorway.

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On the thresholdOld Town, Albuquerque, NM

Albuquerque door sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Whenever I travel, I know I’m only seeing a small fraction of wherever I am—usually streets and exteriors. I’m always wondering what lies on the inside of the buildings I pass, and when I’m lucky enough to happen upon an open courtyard, I feel like I’m getting a glimpse of a city’s hidden, inner life. So naturally I’m attracted to doorways and porticoes (seriously, I could dedicate a whole website just to sketches of doors)—even if they remain closed to me. Each time I draw a door, it’s like my hands are asking the question: what’s on the other side?

Sometimes I’m frustrated by my lack of an answer, by the reminder that I’ll never have enough time or access to see everything I want to see. Sometimes, though—like on this day—just admiring the door itself was enough.

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Edible elementsSeattle, WA

Sunday breakfast sketch by Chandler O'Leary

When I’m on the hunt for tasty sketch compositions, I tend to be attracted to repeating elements. Usually this happens with architectural details like identical rowhouses or gothic archways. Sometimes, though, it comes in the form of breakfast—with humble slices of bacon arranged in a pretty patterned row.

Hope your weekend is full of quiet, sketch-worthy moments!

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Four-legged harbormasterFriday Harbor, San Juan Island, WA

San Juan Island corgi sketch by Chandler O'Leary

When I sat on the pier to do this sketch, I only meant to draw the boats—I’m a sucker for bunches of masts and linear elements like tielines. To make sure I could fit the whole mast in the picture plane, I started at the top and worked my way down. It wasn’t until I got to the mass of windows and decks that I noticed the corgi sitting quietly and staring back at me!

This is the perfect example of why I prefer to sketch my surroundings, rather than photograph them. If all I had done was snap a photo of the scene, I never would have noticed that pup in a million years. Instead, I got to have a private little thrill of discovery, like I had just found out a small secret.

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Bungalow bluesLaguna Beach, CA

Laguna Beach bungalow sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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.

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Gallery of wondersRoyal BC Museum, Victoria, BC, Canada

Royal British Columbia Museum First Peoples gallery sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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.

Royal British Columbia Museum First Peoples gallery sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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.

Royal British Columbia Museum First Peoples gallery sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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.

Royal British Columbia Museum First Peoples gallery sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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.

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Seattle schlockYe Olde Curiosity Shop, Seattle, WA

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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.

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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).

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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.

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