This weekend marks my eighth anniversary of living—and sketching—in Washington. I’ve covered a lot of ground in that time, but I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of all I want to see, do, and draw here. All I can do is roll up my sleeves, put that pen in my hand, and keep filling pages.
The Summer Olympics are starting this weekend, though I must confess I’m more of a winter sports gal. So I’m not sure how much attention I’ll end up paying to the spectacle—still, if anyone is looking for a trophy to hand out, I think I know where there’s a really big one…
Speaking of pescetarian signage, nothing beats this little beauty, tucked away in the back end of the Pike Place Market. The Market is chock full of fabulous and fishy neon, which I’ve sketched multiple times, but I just keep coming back to this one, hanging out by itself and telling you all you really need to know about a fish market.
We got stuck in some serious traffic on our way to the game yesterday, which had me wishing we had taken the Viaduct into town instead. That made me remember this sketch I did a couple of summers ago—one of several I’ve done over the years, knowing full well that the Viaduct’s days are numbered.
The Viaduct is an elevated section of Highway 99 that flows into downtown Seattle along the waterfront. It’s been the focus of controversy for years (crumbling infrastructure, real estate and tax feuds, voter indecision, construction fiascos, indefinite timelines, etc.), but whatever your opinion of it might be, it’s unquestionably a city icon. Personally, I’ll miss the experience of coming into the city by the Viaduct, with its spectacular views of the skyline and the Sound. And I already miss my trusty network of shortcuts, now blocked by the construction zone and the already partially-demolished highway. But whatever is coming, and whenever it does, I plan to have plenty of sketches under my belt by which to remember it.
Today the Tailor and I had the chance to go to a Mariners game with friends, and spend the afternoon in the cushy comfort of one of the box suites. In terms of watching the game, it was the best seat in the house. We were in the front row of the box, with a breathtaking view of home plate—we could practically call the strikes. But when it came to sketching the game, it made me downright twitchy. It seemed like every time I took my eyes off the game to look down at my drawing, a batter would whack a foul ball in our direction. At least four or five came within spitting distance, and there was one that almost startled me into dropping my sketchbook over the balcony railing. By the fifth inning, though, I had the routine down: scribble quickly between pitches, and every time you hear a crack, look up and find that ball fast!
Note: I think this might be a first on this blog—showing you a drawing I did only in (gasp!) pencil. But the night I did this sketch, I only had a regular notebook with me, and I needed to work fast—there wasn’t time to dig around in my bag for a pen, so I reached for the stubby sushi-menu pencil. Hey, whatever works, right?
I did this sketch more than a year before I moved to the Northwest. I was in town for a vacation, and a friend took me for omakase (a chef’s choice meal) at Seattle’s famous sushi restaurant, Shiro’s. Shiro Kashiba emigrated from Japan in the middle of the 20th century, and spent decades honing his craft in Seattle as a chef. When he opened Shiro’s in 1994, he was a pioneer: long before the sustainable food movement swept the country, he built his business around specializing in local, responsibly-harvested fish. The notion made him famous, and made his restaurant a Seattle icon.
I had been told Shiro rarely came in anymore, but I was just excited to be there, and to have local Northwest fish prepared in a hyper-traditional Japanese method. But I got lucky on that first visit: the man himself prepared and served our meal. That night was so special: my first visit to Seattle, a lovely evening with a friend, and an unforgettable meal made by a master chef—who was in point-blank sketching range. It was my version of a scrapbook moment.
Now that I live here, I still pop into Shiro’s on occasion—usually when a guest is visiting from out of town. I’ve been lucky a few more times since that first night, and have caught a glimpse of Shiro on several occasions (though never in the same way as I did eight years ago). One time I even took a moment to do a follow-up sketch while he was working behind the counter. It was as fun to observe the folks at the sushi bar as it was to watch the chef—I imagined they felt like I did on my first visit.
After 20 years, Shiro “retired” from his namesake in 2014, but rumor has it he’ll be back this summer with a new eatery in the Pike Place Market. I think it’s a safe bet I’ll be there—chopsticks in one hand, sketchbook in another.
When I’m on the hunt for tasty sketch compositions, I tend to be attracted to repeating elements. Usually this happens with architectural details like identical rowhouses or gothic archways. Sometimes, though, it comes in the form of breakfast—with humble slices of bacon arranged in a pretty patterned row.
Hope your weekend is full of quiet, sketch-worthy moments!
These days, Seattle is a city that’s far too cool for school. It’s a place where rents are skyrocketing, LEED-platinum buildings are popping up like daisies, restaurants are whipping up the latest prix-fixe sustainable fusion menu du jour, and if you aren’t bearded and coiffed (or at least sporting a pair of hornrims and a couple of ironic tattoos), you’re probably in violation of some city ordinance.
Which is precisely why I love Ye Olde Curiosity Shop: it is the polar opposite of all of that. It is as old-school, down-home, un-PC and tacky-touristy as you can possibly get. It’s the kind of place that is so uncool that to the average hipster, it blows right past “ironic” and lodges itself firmly in the fanny-pack-and-socks-with-sandals camp.
I love it because it’s the Northwest’s answer to Wall Drug—on a much smaller scale, of course. (If we really wanted to compete with Wall Drug, we’d need a few giant fiberglass orcas outside, to begin with—not to mention about 300 billboards.)
I also love it because it has a real history. The shop began in 1899 as a sort of dime museum and cabinet of curiosities, designed to draw boom-town dollars during the Klondike Gold Rush. It has always been a mix of cheap souvenirs, film-flam curiosities, specimens of questionable origin, and real, valuable goods (including Northwest Native art; Princess Angeline, Chief Seattle’s daughter, was a regular shop supplier).
This mix of genuine and fraudulent permeates both the shop itself and its place in Seattle’s history. Ye Olde Curiosity Shop has had a large hand in how outsiders view the city—the best example being the tendency to associate Seattle with totem poles, even though there are no totem tribes in Washington. I find this sort of thing completely fascinating. From my point of view as a sketch artist, that’s where the real story is. I’m most interested in capturing where truth and legend intersect—where museum curator meets carney barker, where worthless meets priceless, where kitsch meets art. And I can’t think of a place in Seattle where those lines are more wonderfully blurred.
One of my favorite walking routes in Seattle takes me across the Ballard Locks. There’s a lot to see there, particularly if you’re interested in watching all the fishing boats head in and out of the locks. But the best part, for me, is the fish ladder at the far end of the complex, which allows spawning salmon to make the transition (both in elevation and salinity) from saltwater to freshwater. There’s an underwater viewing platform down there, and if you go at the right time of year you’ll see a veritable boatload of salmon behind the glass.
I like to go in August or September, when you can find a mix of salmon species (coho, chinook, sockeye, etc.), but I’m told that now is the time of year to see steelhead trout making the same trek. So if you’re local, grab your sketchbook (and your umbrella!) and see what you might find.
The Olympic Athletic Club diving girl isn’t vintage, but she sure looks like a throwback to me. Every time I find myself in Ballard—or even that general end of the city—I make sure my route takes me past her. I can definitely see her being a Seattle icon fifty years from now—our own Little Mermaid.