The TurningNear Castle Rock, WA

Fall foliage sketch by Chandler O'Leary

There’s been a crispness in the air here all week—the first sign that my favorite season is well on its way. Autumn in the Northwest isn’t quite the spectacular show of reds and golds that you might find in New England or, say, Wisconsin, but I love it for its own qualities. Instead of huge swaths of gold, you get foggy watercolor washes of indigo conifers (they really should call them everblues around here…)—which are the perfect compliment to the pops of orange that appear in pockets along the hillsides.

Before I moved to Washington, my travel watercolor set had fifteen colors in it. I’d already been doing the travel sketching thing for years by that point, so I figured I had my system down. (And besides, fifteen seemed like an incredible luxury, when I could potentially have made do with five or six.) Well, within two weeks of moving here, indigo became my sixteenth color—and I’m pretty sure I’ve used it in every single landscape sketch I’ve made here.

It’s a good reminder that no matter how much I think I know from experience, and art school, and all of that, I need to keep observing what’s actually in front of me—because nature knows a heckuva lot more about color theory than I ever will.

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Animal, Vegetable, PolymerGreen Gables Heritage Place, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Green Gables Heritage Place sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Continuing on the whole fake farm theme, the ones that make me giggle the most are those that don’t try very hard in the ambience department. When my friend Elizabeth and I went to PEI together, our whole trip was centered around our childhood (and adult!) love of Anne of Green Gables. But even we were hesitant to visit Green Gables Heritage Place, because what could it actually offer? There’s no real Green Gables farm—Anne is a fictional character, the 1980s miniseries that everybody knows so well were mostly filmed in Ontario, and even the author’s home is now only a ruined foundation, located on a different site nearby.

Well, I’m sorry to tell you our fears were well-founded. The “Green Gables” house is just a replica farmhouse, filled with random period furniture and staffed with somewhat bored university students in Edwardian garb—all with the aim to give the busloads of cruise ship tourists a misplaced feeling of nostalgia, rather than information about the author or a detailed recreation of anything tangible. If it had been irredeemably hokey (you should have seen our reaction to the Green Gables post office in Cavendish!), we probably would have loved it—instead, we found it vaguely depressing.

Until we got to the barn, that is. The shiny fiberglass Jersey cow gave us a bit of much-needed comic relief—while Rachel Lynde’s imagined voice echoed in our heads.

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Faux farmVashon Island, WA

Vashon Island barn sketch by Chandler O'Leary

You know I have a real thing for farms—as evidenced by all the sketches that have cropped up here (no pun intended) so far. But I also have a fascination with fake farms—you know, the odd sort of agricultural replica that you sometimes see at museums, tourist traps, or—as in the case above—private property.

I love them because just like any roadside attraction, they range from the hokey to the poetic, with every variation in between. Just like the sort of thing you might find at Wall Drug, you get a scrubbed, glorified, romantic version of farm life—without having to muck out any stalls, fight brush fires or take out crop insurance. Yet both the places themselves and their visitors (including little ol’ me) are remarkably earnest in their enthusiasm.

This replica barn, with its replica mural and (probably) eBay-acquired vintage feed plaques, is much more than lawn decor—it’s a careful homage to the agricultural history of the entire island. While most of Vashon is still rural and dotted with farmland, you’re more likely to find beach homes than egg cooperatives these days. So while I’d still rather have the real thing, I’m glad, at least, that somebody wants us to remember how things used to be.

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Corn-fedMinnesota State Fair

Minnesota State Fair sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Here’s what you do: you go to the Minnesota State Fair with at least four or five people in your party. Then everybody chooses one or two things to eat and shares with the group—that way, you get a small sample of a lot of different things. (Added bonus of sharing small bites: not suffering a coronary by the end of the day.)

Don’t worry if you don’t have enough butter for your roasted corn on the cob—

Minnesota State Fair sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I know where you can find more.


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A Bushel and a PeckMinnesota State Fair

Minnesota State Fair sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Every year that I lived in Minneapolis I told myself I’d do a piece of crop art someday and enter it into the State Fair. Well, I never got around to the real thing, but I did draft an idea in my sketchbook!

It really doesn’t matter, though—I’m just glad I got to spend so much time perusing the ag displays every year. Growing up, I was too much of a city kid to do anything like 4-H, so I guess the fair is my chance to live vicariously through a bunch of farm kids and their charges.

Minnesota State Fair sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Oh, that—and die and go to heaven every time I saw the vintage seed sacks.

Minnesota State Fair sketch by Chandler O'Leary

By the time I’d get to the other end of the ag pavilion, I’d have forgotten all about the rides and cheese curds—I guess I was mesmerized by all those blue ribbons.

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Fair weatherMinnesota State Fair

Minnesota State Fair sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Even though it’s been years since I lived in the Twin Cities, and the Great Minnesota Get-Together was a part of my summer tradition, I can’t bring myself to switch allegiance. No matter how much time goes by, to me there is no other state fair than the Minnesota State Fair.

Minnesota State Fair sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This year’s Fair is already in full swing. I can’t be there in person, so instead I’ll be devoting this week’s posts to my favorite Fair traditions and highlights. Let’s just say…there will be butter.

Minnesota State Fair sketch by Chandler O'Leary

To all my Minnesota friends: have fun this year, and eat some cheese curds for me!

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Island havenCoupeville, Whidbey Island, WA

Whidbey Island sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I did this sketch on a Friday afternoon last year, having escaped after an insane week of deadlines and project-juggling. Here I am on a similar Friday, and the thought of spending the afternoon in the sun, on an island, staring out over pristine blue water with just the breeze and the sparrows for company—well, it sounds pretty darn perfect to me.

Now where’s that ferry schedule…

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Travel companionSummerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada

Portrait sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Usually when I travel, I’m hurrying around everywhere, frantically sketching as many things as humanly possible (since I often travel alone, I can get away with this!). But when I travel with a friend, sometimes it’s nice to just sit for a spell and capture the moment. Because for me, that’s the best thing about having a travel companion: having the experience together.

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