Every time I visit San Juan Island, my collection of fox sketches grows. They’re inescapable there, as much a part of the landscape now as the treeless prairies they prowl at Cattle Point.
They’re not native to the island, though. In the 1890s, settlers introduced rabbits here for game, and apparently failed to foresee the obvious consequences. Of course, the rabbits did what rabbits do, and in the following decades island residents introduced red foxes to try to make a dent in the rabbit hordes. What has followed ever since is a population tug-of-war: some years the rabbits get out of control again, and the foxes have plenty to feast upon. Then the rabbits decline and the foxes get overpopulated and start dying off…the cycle repeats every few years or so.
For the past five years or so, I’m guessing the island’s been in a fox cycle, because I have yet to see a rabbit on my visits there (though Orcas and Whidbey Islands are both overrun). And unfortunately, tourists tend to feed the foxes, which doesn’t help matters. But whenever I feel like studying fox anatomy, all I have to do is head down to Cattle Point, pull over at a certain overlook, and wait. It never takes long for someone to show up to have their portrait painted.
You already know that San Juan Island is perhaps my favorite place on earth, and the California poppies that grow wild at Cattle Point are just one of the many reasons why. I actually started this sketch on an earlier trip, and came back to this spot exactly one year later to finish it. And it’s a good thing I did, because after the super-wet winter we had on the West Coast, I’ve never seen quite this many poppies in bloom before. After I finished the sketch, I just sat there on the hillside for another half hour or so, not wanting to break the spell of such a perfect moment.
Here in the Northwest, we’re in the thick of my favorite season right now. I don’t mean summer, per se, but lavender season. Our climate is pretty much perfectly suited to growing lavender, so other than maybe the south of France, there’s no better place to stand on a purple hillside, awash in scent.
Lime Kiln Point is one of Washington’s best state parks. For one thing, it’s on my favorite island (and since I love all of Washington’s islands with a mad passion, that’s saying something). For another, it’s got a great lighthouse—which is something for which I’ll always come running. Best of all, if you happen to be there at the right time of year, or are just insanely lucky, you’ll be treated to an extra surprise. Don’t see what I mean? Look again, closely, at the sketch, and you’ll get what I’m angling at…
Like I said the other day, point-of-view is everything. And while flying isn’t my favorite way to travel, I absolutely love it when the weather is clear enough that I can see the landscape below. I love being able to draw the scene below like a map, and—especially in places I know well—follow along with the changing scenery, like reading a living atlas.
Sometimes one’s point of view can make or break a picture. The jury is still out on this one, as far as I’m concerned. This was such a weird vantage point for sketching—between the location high up on a hill, the wide-angle view of the rest of the porch, the water and ferry landing below, and the islands off in the distance, everything was just…odd. Unsettling. I spent a long time on this one, using every art-school trick I knew to check and re-check that my perspective was correct. It was…for the most part. But the drawing still feels like something M.C. Escher would have come up with.
Since I was thinking about examples of American ruins at the time, my plan was to head across town to sketch the remains of the old sand and gravel quarry at the site of the Chambers Bay golf course. But when I got there, the trail that leads to the ruins was closed while they set up for this year’s U.S. Open golf tournament.
I’m no expert on golf, but it’s been fun to learn more about the Chambers Bay course in the run-up to the event. The course is both public and brand new—just eight years old—which makes it an unusual choice for the U.S. Open. But it’s an absolute marvel of design and difficulty. Chambers Bay is many times larger than a traditional Scottish links-style course; the combination of sheer size, rugged terrain, tricky fescue-and-heather landscaping, and the strong winds that sweep through the Tacoma Narrows make this course one of the most challenging and unpredictable in the entire world. Add to that the stunning panoramic views of Puget Sound and the islands, and it’s no wonder the USGA thought the world would want to feast their eyes on Chambers Bay.
The tournament opens on Monday, and thanks to the expensive tickets and the maelstrom of golfers, spectators, media and security descending upon my town, the likes of me won’t be able to get anywhere near Chambers Bay. But that’s okay—I got to have a front row seat for the transformation. When it’s all over, there won’t be any ruins left behind to commemorate the event—there won’t be any trace left at all. All the more reason to have the evidence recorded in my sketchbook.
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.
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.
Now this is a house in its own little world. This tidy little cottage was part of a pair of villages located at the northernmost tip of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia—which for all intents and purposes made it almost the last little house on the whole continent.
Somehow, though, it didn’t feel lonely. It felt like a refuge—especially considering how many hours of driving it took me to get there that day. You have no idea how badly I wanted to just knock on the door and come in out of the salt air.