Last summer the Tailor and I spent a couple of weeks traveling every inch of old Route 66. And then I kept pretty quiet about it, because I just had no idea how to organize and share the sheer number of sketches and stories I came away with afterward. There really is no “long story short” way to do this—like the Mother Road itself, there are too many branches and tangents for a single linear tale. So like I did for my Mission Mondays series, I’m going to break this down into 66 Fridays, starting today and running through spring of next year. (You can follow along by using the 66 Fridays tag.)
So each week for the next 66 weeks, I’m going to share a piece of Route 66—and like everything else on this blog (except the Mission series), those pieces will be in no particular order. There are a zillion books out there already that tell the Route 66 story from beginning to end (both in time and space), so that frees me to, er, paint a slightly different picture. I’ll be jumping around from state to state, highlighting my favorite landmarks and historical tidbits. With any luck, it’ll give you a good enough taste of the Mother Road that it’ll inspire you to explore it for yourself.
A few notes:
• There’s a common perception that Route 66 is long gone, and that modern travelers can only drive bits of the route. That’s actually not true. While modern Interstate highways have replaced long chunks of the Mother Road in certain spots, it’s actually possible to drive over 80 percent of the original route—including the original road bed and even 90-year-old pavement in several places. Route 66 was officially decommissioned as a U.S. highway decades ago, but the old thread is still there, still nearly intact, just waiting for an adventurous traveler with a sharp eye to find it.
• We didn’t see everything there is to see on Route 66. Not even close. We spent nearly two weeks on the Mother Road, and by my estimate we would have needed a good month, at least, to really take it all in. Considering how much more there would have been to see years ago, before so many places closed down or fell into ruin, it all boggles my mind a bit. Nevertheless, this trip was a good first taste of the whole thing. I made the Tailor promise me that someday we’d do it all again, and take however much time we wanted.
• Even though we didn’t see everything along the way, we did our darndest to drive every inch of the route that remains—and that’s no small feat, considering how many tributaries, diversions, parallel routes, rerouted sections, poorly-marked bits and dead ends there are. I’d driven bits of 66 before, but never the whole stretch in one go. It feels like a real accomplishment that we did that.
• I hope you don’t hate vintage signs, because you can expect a lot of them in the coming months. I’ll try to keep the posts balanced between various subject matters, but I’m not gonna lie: there’s a metric ton of incredible vintage signage along Route 66, and I did my level best to draw all of it. I have whole sketchbooks just devoted to neon. I probably won’t show you everything, but you will see an awful lot of it.
So buckle your seatbelts and pull out your paper maps—let’s get this show on the road, and embark upon the serious business of getting our kicks.
Since the year is about to end, I figured it was the perfect time to look back and see how far I’ve come this year. I did all my traveling in the first two-thirds of the year (the last third saw me stuck in the studio and chained to big projects and their deadlines, hence the light posting around here lately), but 2015 still smashed most of my travel records. I spent 65 days on the road this year, and I don’t think I’ve ever visited so many states in such a short time period. The best part of all: I’d do it all again tomorrow, if I could.
I don’t think 2016 is going to include quite so many travel plans, but keeping closer to home for now is fine by me: I have big plans for this blog, and they’ll keep me plenty busy. In the meantime, wishing you a happy new year, and safe journeys to wherever the road might take you.
June is the month of roses in the Pacific Northwest, and there’s no better place to see roses than the City of Roses. And there’s no better rose garden in the City of Roses than the diamond gardens in Ladd’s Addition. So in honor of my favorite Portland neighborhood, here are two midsummer sketches, done exactly three years apart.
Ladd’s Addition was the first planned residential development in the state of Oregon. Conceived in 1891 and mostly built between 1905 and 1930, the area is now a national historic district. In deliberate contravention of the city grid, the neighborhood is laid out in an “X” pattern with a circle park and rotary in the center. Where each diagonal street intersects one other at points north, south, east and west of the circle, there’s a small diamond-shaped garden that’s home to one of Portland’s many rose test gardens. And along every tree-lined and tree-named (though some have been rechristened in modern times; the map above shows their original names) street are many dozens of historic homes—many of which are unique or unusual examples of Craftsman-, Tudor- and Mission-style architecture.
Every part of this neighborhood is appealing to me—I’m a sucker for a good map, a Craftsman house and a pale peach rose. Put them all together, with a shady spot for me to sit and sketch, and I’m instantly in heaven.
Remember earlier this year when I took my big California trip? Well, a work event made it possible to get down there, but my real goal for the trip was to visit all 21 Spanish missions along historic El Camino Real. Ever since my first mission visit two years ago, I had been dying to see them all in one fell swoop. It took me a little over a week to get to them all (which was actually very difficult—especially when you’re trying to allow enough time for even unfinished sketching; I’d have loved to take two weeks instead), and it felt like a real accomplishment to travel every inch of the old King’s Highway. Each mission is so different—unlike the National Parks system, these properties are affiliated with each other only in the historical sense (more on that later). So rather than try to choose a representive few sketches to show you, I thought I’d recreate my journey here. Since Memorial Day typically marks the unofficial start of summer, today seemed like a good day to start a series of Mission Mondays for the season ahead.
Before I begin in earnest, though: a couple of disclaimers. I’m not Catholic, so on my mission trip I was merely a secular tourist, not a religious pilgrim. However, to this day almost every mission is still an active, functioning church; so I did my best to be respectful of the sacred spaces I was visiting. Sometimes that meant refraining from going inside while a mass or other event was taking place—so I didn’t end up seeing the interiors of every single mission. Still, you’ll get the idea.
Here’s the other thing: I am well aware that as an area of interest, the Spanish missions are problematic. After all, these are the places where an encroaching culture subjugated and indoctrinated the Indigenous peoples of California. Thankfully, most of the missions now have updated interpretive exhibits that address this part of their history; if you’re interested in learning more about these places, I highly recommend seeking out that information. But since that story exists elsewhere, and is only one narrative of many, it’s not the one I’ll be telling here. As an artist, I’m most interested in the architecture and setting of these places—so that’s the story I’ll be telling through my sketches.
Okay! Here we go. When visiting the 21 California missions, you’ll be tempted to go chronologically, in the order in which they were built. However, that’ll have you doubling back all over the state—most people just start at the bottom and work their way up. So let’s start in San Diego, at the southernmost mission in modern-day California. In fact, the adventure begins just a few miles from the Mexican border.
Mission San Diego de Alcalá also happens to be the oldest of the missions in “Alta California” (Upper California; the name dates back to when Spain controlled the southwest. Alta California was the northern half of the territory; Baja California is still intact as a state in Mexico, with 30 more missions of its own.). It’s also the one I was most looking forward to, since I’d never been that far south in California before.
It turns out I picked the right season to see it. It was mid-February, so it wasn’t hot yet (though still a pleasant 80 degrees), and the courtyard was ringed with blooming hot-pink bougainvillea.
The place had all the hallmarks I had come to recognize in most of the missions: high, white adobe walls, a pitched, wooden-and-tile roof, and at least one interior courtyard.
This one had a surprise extra, though: a modern chapel built with much older elements. This choir stall was originally built in Spain, seven hundred years ago—somehow it made the whole place feel like a slice of old Mexico City instead of San Diego.
I wandered through the complex as thoroughly as I could, but in the end I just kept coming back to the bells. Not every mission has a campanario (or campanile), but it’s the bells that I think of when I picture any mission. The bells are what inspired me to take this trip in the first place—and it felt good to have the image transformed from one in my head to one on paper.
If you happen to follow along on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll know I’ve just returned from a 4000+ mile road trip across the south and west of the county. One of the things I like to do at the end of a trip (and the end of my sketchbook) is a map and recap of the journey. Of course, there are lots and lots of sketches of the details along the way (I expect you’ll see lots of those in the coming weeks), but sometimes it’s nice to step back and look at the big picture.
Well, okay, my visit missed the actual Celtic Colours music festival by a couple of days (sad but true). But even a short two days on Cape Breton gave me a nice taste of the Celtic heritage of the island—
—as well as a panorama of stunning autumn color, absolutely everywhere I looked.
If that’s not a good consolation prize, I don’t know what is.