Frozen & festiveSaint Paul, MN

Saint Paul Winter Carnival sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I had to go back quite a few years to dig up this sketch—it’s been some time since I lived in a place where the new year meant a real, no-kidding winter. But no matter—I love changing the calendar no matter where I am. Whether you’re starting 2015 in an ice palace or a tropical beach house, happy new year!

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StaycationlandCannon Beach and Columbia River Gorge, OR

Columbia River Gorge sketch by Chandler O'Leary

What with moving into a new house and juggling a bunch of new studio projects this year, most of my sketching in 2014 was done pretty close to home. I have a feeling 2015 is going to be very different—several road trips are already on the calendar, and I’m making plans for others. Still, I’m glad I had this year to remind me that there’s so much to see in my own back yard.

So I’m raising a virtual toast this New Year’s Eve, to the distant road ahead—and to the garden path leading right back to my own door. There’ll always be room for both.

Cannon Beach sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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Curtain callSeattle, WA

Pacific Northwest Ballet Nutcracker (with sets by Maurice Sendak) performance sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I’m sad to report that one of my favorite holiday traditions came to an end this weekend. For the past thirty-plus years, the Pacific Northwest Ballet has staged a unique version of The Nutcracker—complete with unusual choreography, nontraditional storytelling, and incredible kinetic theatre sets by one of my illustration heroes, Maurice Sendak. I’ve seen the performance several times since I’ve lived here, and have even sketched from the audience before—but when I found out this would be the last season, I had to go one more time, pencil in hand.

Pacific Northwest Ballet Nutcracker (with sets by Maurice Sendak) performance sketch by Chandler O'Leary

As you can imagine, it’s pretty dim in there during the performance, so I sat there doing blind contour pencil drawings in the dark (hey! All those art school exercises had a purpose!). Then, as soon as the house lights came up for intermission, I looked at the (often hilarious) results and cleaned up the drawing in ink, from memory. Then when I got home, I filled in the color as best I could.

Sketching this way is never exactly ideal, but I have a feeling it’s going to help me remember that last performance for many years. And it’ll remind me of how grateful I am that the PNB has given Seattle such a wonderful Christmas gift for so long.

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Mountain trimmingsManitou Springs, CO

Rockledge Inn sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Posting here has been a little light lately, while I help make Christmas happen at home. But while there’s nothing quite like basking in the glow of your own tree, I also love traveling at the holidays—if only because I get to see how other places deck the halls, or experience different regional traditions.

Rockledge Inn sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Best of all (for me) is when everything is festive … inside—

Pikes Peak sketch by Chandler O'Leary

—and out.

Rockledge Inn sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Wherever you are spending your holidays this year, I hope they find you cozy and warm—and wreathed in light.

Merry Christmas!

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Book bonanzaPortland, OR and Seattle, WA

Powell's City of Books sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Bookstores are a big part of our annual holiday shopping rounds, and my two most sketch-able favorites are Powell’s in Portland—

Elliott Bay Book Co. sketch by Chandler O'Leary

—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…

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Lumberjacks for a dayOlympic National Forest, WA

Christmas tree cutting sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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.

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Decking the hallsTacoma, WA

Mantel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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.

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Tea and cakesPortland, OR

St. Jack bakery sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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.

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WintergreenNear Eugene, OR

Willamette Valley sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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.

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