Tag Archives: San Francisco

San Francisco sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Little Giant

Just a couple of blocks from Mission Dolores is a tiny, inanimate hero—one that saved the Mission District from ruin over a century ago. The story of San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake is a famous one, but not everyone knows that it’s actually the fire which immediately followed that did most of the damage. With the water mains broken by the quake, most of the city’s hydrants ran dry, allowing the fire to take out whole neighborhoods. In the end 80 percent of the city was destroyed.

In the Mission District, just one hydrant was miraculously still working: the one at 20th and Church Streets. The problem was that the hydrant was perched near the top of the hill, high above the horse-drawn fire wagons stationed along Market Street. The exhausted horses couldn’t pull the wagons up to the hydrant—so the hundreds of refugees gathered across the street in Dolores Park pitched in to help, pulling and pushing the wagons uphill by hand. The entire neighborhood fought the flames when they reached 20th Street, and after a seven hour battle, the Mission District declared victory. And to this day, every April 18 at 5:12 am (the date and time of the 1906 quake), the descendants of those who were there meet to give the “Little Giant” a fresh coat of gold paint.

It’s a great story, full of swashbuckling detail—much of which I’ve had to leave out for the sake of brevity. So I’ll just leave you with my favorite part of the tale: with the water mains and every neighboring hydrant broken, nobody could ever explain where the water came from that kept the Little Giant up and running.

Mission San Francisco de Asís sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Pillar of the community

This is the nineteenth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

Mission San Francisco de Asís (or Mission Dolores, if you prefer the nickname) is the centerpiece and namesake of San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. Yet the mission itself, tucked away on a residential block, behind towering palms and ficus trees, seems to get lost amid all the trendy restaurants and busy hipsters flooding the rest of the neighborhood. It’s even overshadowed by the tall spires of the basilica next door—many people don’t even know that the squat adobe building is the actual mission, not the towering cathedral.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

As an aside, I did this one out of order… as I happened to be in the Bay Area at the beginning of my trip, rather than the end, I did the last three missions first, in reverse order.

Mission San Francisco de Asís sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This is one mission I knew well—at least from the outside. Every time I’m in San Francisco, I end up with errands to run, or people to see, or at least a route that takes me through this neighborhood. So Mission Dolores has gone from familiar landmark to old friend. The interior was a mystery to me, though, and it took all of three seconds to know I’d found a hidden gem. I stepped one foot inside—

Mission San Francisco de Asís sketch by Chandler O'Leary

—and that ceiling just took my breath away.

Mission San Francisco de Asís sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The mission chapel is no longer a consecrated church, but it still deserves plenty of reverence. After all, Mission Dolores is the oldest intact building in San Francisco—which, considering the devastation of the 1906 earthquake (not to mention all those other destroyed missions), is really saying something.

Mission San Francisco de Asís sketch by Chandler O'Leary

So if you find yourself in San Francisco, on your way to Tartine (come on, I know I’m not the only one), stop here first. I promise it’ll be worth the detour—and I can’t think of a better place to pay homage to the City by the Bay.

San Francisco Bay area sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The long view

On the morning I did this sketch, I was supposed to be sitting in a darkened lecture hall, listening to a bunch of scholars talk about art. But I just couldn’t do it. On a day like that, it seemed criminal to pass up such a beautiful place. So I jumped in the car and drove in the opposite direction—in the same time it would have taken me to get to the auditorium, I had reached the top of the world.

Posting this sketch has me remembering that I do this a lot. I have a long history of throwing the itinerary out the window and going off on my own to explore instead. And I gotta say: every single time, without fail, it’s been precisely the right choice to make.

San Francisco sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Study in blue-grey

Today is the last day of CODEX, after which I’ll be hitting the road again for points south. This evening, though, I’m looking forward to a few hours of downtime in the city with friends. It’s easy to forget in a bustling place like San Francisco, but there are plenty of quiet pockets to sit and let the world around you slow down for a moment.

Craneway Pavilion sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Books and bay views

The main event for my California trip is happening this week, as I exhibit my work at the biennial CODEX International Bookfair. If you happen to be in the Bay Area, CODEX is really worth the trip. For one thing, it’s in a venue that is absolutely out of this world, with stunning views of the Bay and San Francisco.

Codex Bookfair sketch by Chandler O'Leary

For another, being able to stand in a room with hundreds of pieces of art—art that you can touch, while you have a conversation with the artist who made it—is an incredible experience. CODEX showcases the work of some of the best book artists, printmakers, paper artists and typographers working today—the result is an astounding display of artwork and ephemera from all over the world.

So if you’re local, stop by and say hello! You’ll find me at the Anagram Press table (#84), most likely with sketchbook in hand.

Fifth CODEX International Bookfair
February 8-11, 2015
Craneway Pavilion, Richmond, CA
Open today and Tuesday 12:30 to 6; Wednesday 10 to 3
Admission: $10 per day ($5 students) or $30 for multi-day pass

Mission Dolores Basilica sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Get me to the church on time

Of course, if you really want the feeling of sketching a cathedral…you could just go sketch a cathedral. I figure that’s just as valid a way to go about it. And considering that I scored an absolutely rock star parking space on a busy thoroughfare in the middle of San Francisco to do this sketch (stopping along your way to draw is hard in a place where a car is a burden)—well, I was feeling pretty blessed that morning!

Golden Gate Bridge sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Golden Gatekeeper

Last week’s posts all revolved around a central theme—I liked how that idea worked out, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I run with it for awhile. This week? I’ve got bridges on my mind. And what American bridge is more iconic than the fabulous Golden Gate?

I must have drawn this thing from every angle by now—from up on the deck, from the air above, in rain, shine or fog, facing north-south-east-west. Heck, I even made it the star of my San Francisco print (which was inspired by this very day, this very sketch!).

Golden Gate Bridge sketch by Chandler O'Leary

But when I ran through my sketchbooks for today’s post, I kept coming back to the ones drawn from spots perpendicular to the span. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about that profile that just gets me every time.

I have whole sketchbooks devoted solely to San Francisco—maybe I should just go ahead and start one that belongs to the Golden Gate alone. It sure knows how to steal a scene, doesn’t it?

Golden Gate Bridge sketch by Chandler O'Leary


San Francisco sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Rainbow road

Judging by the news lately, and all the dire terms like “polar vortex” being bandied about, I think it’s safe to say that most of the U.S. is still in the absolute dead of winter (including my neck of the woods). But I just can’t bear to post another sketch of icicles or snow. So instead I’m thinking back to one colorful California afternoon, with a rainbow of houses on my right, the Pacific on my left, and all kinds of evidence that spring lay just ahead.

Peggys Cove sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Sea to shining sea

With all the travel and sketching this year held, it’s hard to believe it’s still 2013. This year gave me 62 days out of town (a new record!) and many dozens of drawings—and best of all, brought me to both coasts. And while it feels a little like a blur when I look back on the year as a whole, I love how sketching helps keep so many individual memories intact. That’ll come in handy, as it’ll be time to start filling 2014’s sketchbooks any time now.

I can’t wait to see what those pages will hold!

San Francisco Bay sketch by Chandler O'Leary

San Francisco print by Chandler O'Leary

S is for…

…well, yes.

But also…uh…Shameless Self-promotion. And very quietly, the Sigh of relief I’m breathing. Because at long, long last, after lots of technical difficulties and a whole bunch of back-end work, my Souvenir Shop is live!

(And I even managed not to miss the holiday season—though only just.)

In the shop you’ll find a whole bunch of original artwork and prints inspired by travel and the blog. There are brand new, original travel illustrations (like the one above!), the beginnings of a 50 States series, reproductions of my sketchbook drawings, and even made-to-order prints of any sketch on the blog. As you can probably guess, this is just the beginning. There’s a lot more to come next year, but hopefully this will whet your appetite.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll pop on over and take a look. And I’ll be back on Monday with the next regular post—see you then!