Tag Archives: Washington

Cabbage field sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Cabbage patch kid

Farmland in the Puyallup Valley is becoming a precious commodity, as suburban and industrial development threaten the small vegetable farms that still cling to the valley floor. Yet for now, at least, I can still count on finding a view like this just a few minutes’ drive from my house. May it ever be so.

Palouse (autumn) sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Green to gold

Earlier this year I received a grant to travel to the Palouse region of southeastern Washington and sketch the changing seasons there. I’m sure I’ll be posting more about this in future, as there’s a lot to say and one post can’t possibly hold it all. But just as my sketching trips were my introduction to the region, this post will act as a gateway, with more to come later.

Palouse wheat field (spring) sketch by Chandler O'Leary

What first attracted me to the Palouse was learning about its vast, treeless, otherworldly hills—not your average rolling hills of wheat, but enormous 300-foot-tall landmasses, each carpeted in endless grain, with thin ribbons of road snaking between and around them. You already know that I have a thing for treeless landscapes, and lots of experience sketching them—but despite weeks of research and poring over very detailed maps in my gazzetteer, I just wasn’t prepared for what I’d see in person.

Palouse wheat field (autumn) sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And I figured out pretty quickly that no matter what drawings I managed to make, I was pretty much destined to fail from the outset. It’s just not possible to do this place justice, to get it down on paper with any measure of accuracy or truth. The scale alone is utterly mind-boggling—and then there’s the fact that around every curve is another perfect composition, just taunting me and my puny, weak, human artistic limitations.

Palouse barn (spring) sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Still, it was thrilling to take a stab at it—over and over again, with the luxury of plenty of time to keep trying. In the end I spent two weeks there (one week in May, when the crops were young and green, and another at harvest time in late August) and logged a total of over 4000 miles of road.

Palouse barn (autumn) sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And best of all, I can’t wait to go back—heck, I can’t wait to polish off this big pile of unfinished sketches I have waiting for me in my studio. The Palouse is a place that gets under your skin and lodges there forever. The only cure is to keep revisiting it again and again, both in the flesh and in memory. So don’t be surprised if you see a lot more wheat sketches in future: I’m just getting started.

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Mt. Rainier National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Our best idea

Mt. Rainier National Park, WA

Tomorrow is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. All of America seems to be celebrating right now, and rightly so. In my opinion, our wildest pockets are our true national treasures, and our national parks, as Wallace Stegner said, our best idea.

Olympic National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Olympic National Park, WA

So since I’ve spent a good chunk of my sketching life in national parks both close to home…

Arches National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Arches National Park, UT

…and far afield…

Crater Lake National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Crater Lake National Park, OR

I figured I’d add my voice to the celebratory din, in the form of a little sketchbook retrospective.

Badlands National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Badlands National Park, SD

Beyond the centennial itself, I’m always up for toasting the parks. Not only do I think park rangers are the best people on earth,

Redwood National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Redwood National Park, CA

but I also sometimes think they’re the only thing standing between wildness and destruction.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM

And anyway, I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m a total park nut myself. It’s my goal to visit every NPS property before I die, including national parks, historic sites, national monuments, everything. (Actually, I’ve crossed a goodly chunk of them off the list already—

Guadalupe Mountains National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX

—and I even have the stamps to prove it.)

Olympic National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Olympic National Park, WA

I know I have a long path ahead of me before I reach that goal,

Grand Canyon National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

and getting there won’t be easy.

Big Bend National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Big Bend National Park, TX

Yet I can’t tell you how grateful I am that the opportunity exists in the first place—

Rocky Mountain National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

that so many people have fought to preserve these wild places, and won.

Saguaro National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Saguaro National Park, AZ

Best of all is the feeling that no matter how long it might take me to get to each park with my sketchbook,

Glacier National Park sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Glacier National Park, MT

I know it’ll be there waiting for me, as close to unchanged as humanly possible. Thanks to the National Park Service, the window of opportunity remains open.

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Pelindaba Lavender Farm sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Purple haze

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.

Seattle tunnel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Portal to the Pacific

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.

Seattle giant trophy sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Big winner

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…

Humpback whale sketch by Chandler O'Leary

A flash of fin

After all this talk of dinosaurs, I had a hankering to show you a sketch of a real, living, breathing giant. When I witnessed this gal diving off the coast of Vancouver, all I was able to see was, well, the tip of the iceberg. But that’s okay—it was easy to picture the rest of her, swimming just below the surface of my imagination.

Gingko Gem Shop dinosaurs sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Prehistoric pit stop

Remember when I posted that sketch of the Ginkgo sign in central Washington a couple of years ago? Well, I was so excited about the typography on that sign that I neglected to talk about what the sign advertised: the Ginkgo Gem Shop. On our way to Spokane that year, Mary-Alice and I stopped in to buy souvenirs: you know, petrified wood, agates with googly eyes glued to them (you think I’m kidding!), your basic roadside staples.

Anyway, the best part about the Ginkgo Gem Shop are the incongruous concrete dinosaurs that stand outside the entrance. (Note: the velociraptor below is cast from the same mold as was one I spotted along Route 66 in Arizona!)

Gingko Gem Shop dinosaurs sketch by Chandler O'Leary

I say “incongruous” because thanks to the Columbia Flood Basalts that covered much of Washington under miles and miles of black volcanic rock, you’re unlikely ever to find a dinosaur fossil in these here parts. But that’s okay—after decades of roadtripping through desert landscapes, this is exactly the sort of place I’d expect to see a concrete dinosaur.

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Fish sign sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Fish out of water

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.

Highway 99 butterfly sign sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Neon butterfly

Speaking of the Chinese new year, I’m reminded of this beauty along old Highway 99. The restaurant is still very much alive, and its current owners are doing a great job of stewardship when it comes to their vintage neon. So this week I’m wishing them a happy and prosperous new year, too.