Well, I’m no fan of beer, but I do love me a neon sign and a good swash capital. So while I couldn’t make it to the official relighting of the Rainier “R” in Seattle (link goes to my friend Jennifer’s blog, where there are some fun videos about the R), you can bet I moved a SoDo sketch session to the top of my priority list.
For as disorienting as being awoken before dawn by owls can be, it’s nothing compared to how it feels when you suddenly find yourself on the opposite end of the country than you planned to be. When you’re expecting to land in Houston, and what you get is a hurricane in your path, a sudden 2000-mile detour, two hours in the airport ticket line, a guardian angel having two phone conversations at once, and a surprise overnight trip into the heart of the wrong city—there’s definitely an overwhelming sense of “Okay, what just happened?”
All I could do was what I always do: get out the ol’ sketchbook, and enjoy the view.
The Tailor and I bought two new pairs of binoculars for our trip to Big Bend last year, because we knew we could expect to do some serious birdwatching there. What we didn’t find out until the ungodly hours of our first morning in the tent: the birdlistening was every bit as intense.
In my studio I have a massive collection of vintage fruit crate labels from the 1930s and 40s (they’re still fairly easily obtained here on the West Coast). So it’s probably no surprise that when I found myself standing in an orange grove this winter, all I could do was imagine my sketchbook plastered on a box of citrus and transported to a bygone era.
Manitou Springs has been a tourist attraction since the 1870s—first for its “medicinal” mineral springs, and then for its wild-west remnants and mountain location. For decades it’s been chock-a-block with midcentury motels and vintage neon—and by some miracle, nearly all of them are still around.
Every time I come back here, I run around town to do a sort of frantic inventory of these places, always amazed and relieved to find things more or less as I left them. These signs have been my old friends for over twenty years. I’m hoping against hope they’ll fare better than Giuffrida’s, and that there’s still a lot of life left in them.
Oh, sure. I love a fall full of pumpkins, bright gold trees, crisp air—all the usual stuff. But thanks to a few years spent living in southern Colorado, shiny-waxy-red chili ristras are also a sure sign of autumn in my mind. They’re not something you see around my neck of the woods, but a bright slash of red would go a long way toward keeping the grey pall of a Northwestern November at bay.
I couldn’t be here in person for this, and I haven’t actually eaten here since I was a kid. But Giuffrida’s has been a familiar (and completely incongruous) landmark on countless drives north of Boston over the years, and this is the first neon sign I ever loved. So when my dad told me it was closing after over fifty years, I dug out a blurry old photograph I had, and whipped up this sketch. It’s not the same as sketching the real thing, but I’m sorry to say it’s too late for that now. Apparently even the shiny fiberglass cows have been rounded up and carted off.
I have no idea what on earth a giant neon saguaro cactus and a ranch-themed restaurant was doing just ten miles from Bunker Hill. But I’m so glad it was there to be one of the first points of interest on my mental map.
This is my favorite time of year—the air is crisp, the leaves are golden, there are pumpkins everywhere, and tomorrow is Halloween. And as the icing on the cake, today happens to be my birthday. (I can tell you, there are few things more delightful than getting to blow out candles in a Halloween costume every year…) Wishing you a day filled with fun tricks and tasty treats tomorrow—happy Halloween!
Okay, you’re going to think I’m a total weirdo for getting so excited over bunch of headstones (and I have many, many more sketches than these…), but since it’s Halloween this week, I figured I could get away with it. I have to tell you, I have a serious, major thing for colonial graveyards. My grandfather loved them, too. As a lifelong, dyed-in-the-wool New England Yankee, he knew where all the good ones were. I used to take the train up from Providence and then drive him around three states (uh, about a thirty mile radius, ’round those parts…) in his car, while he showed me all the best, oldest, and weirdest headstones he could remember, in every little town and village. If you want a whole colony’s worth of specimens in one place, though, you can’t beat Boston. My two favorite burial grounds there are like little cities, in and of themselves.
But I’m not into 300-year-old headstones for any normal reason, like colonial history or possible genealogical discoveries (though I’m not knockin’ that stuff). I love them because they’re literally monuments to early graphic design. Great typography? Check. Graphic symbolism? Heck, yeah. Amazingly inventive, refined and creepy illustration? In spades.
(Sorry. I can’t resist a grave-digging pun—not this close to Halloween.)