Tag Archives: Washington

Seattle sketch by Chandler O'Leary

SODO stumper

One of my favorite things about Seattle (at least, while they’re still around to love) are the old wooden wharf buildings that still define the SODO neighborhood, among other places. There’s something about all that wooden clapboard and all those clerestory windows that just speak to my soul. This building is particularly intriguing because it has a layer of intrigue to it. Look more closely…

Seattle sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…and you’ll see what adorns the façade. This is definitely a modern neon sign, and not a relic like the rest of the structure, but it’s a real beauty. And it’s a complete mystery—nobody seems to know what Sailor’s Rest is. It’s not a restaurant or bar, not a shop, not a tattoo parlor, not anything that might seem to go with this sign. (My guess would be design firm or something similar, but this is just wild speculation.) I did a little digging, but all I could find was a generic business listing for an LLC. Still, I’m not arguing, because whoever they are, they’ve fixed up an old building beautifully, and they’ve added a real gem to Seattle’s neon collection.

Thumbs up, sailors!

San Juan Island sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Fox tales

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.

San Juan Island sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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.

San Juan Island sketch by Chandler O'Leary

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.

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San Juan Island sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Seaside splendor

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.

World's Largest Rubber Ducky sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Just ducky

Speaking of nautical things that are here today, gone tomorrow, this big gal was just a brief visitor to my town, but she certainly brightened up an otherwise grey day.

World's Largest Rubber Ducky sketch by Chandler O'Leary

It seems that all of Tacoma shared my feelings on this—it was all anyone could talk about that weekend. It wasn’t just her sheer size (sixty feet tall!)…

World's Largest Rubber Ducky sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…but her cheerful incongruity.

World's Largest Rubber Ducky sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Yet once she was towed out into the bay, suddenly she became the right scale again: a little duck in a really, really big bathtub.

Seattle sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Sleeping with the fishes

When it comes to Seattle, it seems like an increasing number of my sketches and posts are about things that are going away…or already gone. I already can’t keep up with my “wishlist” of sketch destinations—but in the fastest-growing city in the country, my race to draw disappearing things is a constant losing battle. By the time I got around to Linc’s Tackle, I knew it was on its way out. Sure enough, if you drive by there now you’ll find an empty storefront. In a year, you might find a shiny nondescript condo building.

Linc’s was far more than something that made me smile whenever I passed it (“Let’s get ready for squid fishing!”). It was an institution: a multi-generation, family-owned business begun by immigrants—that classic American-dream story. Originally called Togo’s Tackle, its owner, Linc Beppu, was imprisoned with his family at the Camp Minidoka internment camp during World War II. The Beppus were among the few Japanese-American families to return to xenophobic Seattle after the war. They reopened their tackle shop with a new name: Linc’s. Jerry Beppu, Linc’s son, has run the shop since his dad’s retirement—he himself retired at the end of last year and sold the building.

I’ll never fault anyone for retiring after a lifetime of hard work. Yet the city I love seems to be retiring, as well. Linc’s was one of the countless tiny touchstones that make Seattle…Seattle. Those little cultural clues, the last remnants of Old Seattle, are disappearing one-by-one.

This, perhaps more than anything else, is why I keep sketching—why I keep telling these stories. And maybe on some subconscious level, this is why I make all my drawings in ink and watercolor. After all, pen and paint aren’t so easy to erase.

Sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Four-wheeled farewell

If you’ve been reading here for awhile, you’ve seen this picture before—and others like it. My car, Wild Blue, has made many appearances here over the years, because she’s as much a character in my stories as any place I’ve visited.

Sketch by Chandler O'Leary

In fact, she’s sometimes the star—though even when she isn’t, she’s never far from my mind.

Mt. Rainier letterpress print by Chandler O'Leary

She’s even made some cameos in my studio work.

Map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

She was the first and only car I’ve ever owned (thanks to years of living in dense cities, I didn’t need to buy one until my mid-twenties), and she took me nearly everywhere. I always thought I’d drive her to the moon, but it doesn’t matter that we fell a little short. She was the beating heart of my adventures, each highway another artery feeding our little love story.

Yet all stories have to end. Back in February I was gearing up for another big solo trip—a doozy this time, with 6500 miles of mostly remote mountain and desert roads. Blue already had many costly age-related repairs coming due, and I didn’t think she had another trip like that in her. So we took one last winding local drive together, and then I put her out to pasture.

Goodbye, Blue. Hello, Silver.

Car sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This new gal and I have had plenty of time to get acquainted—after all, she got well and truly broken in this spring with that big trip (more on that next time). And she’s the first car the Tailor and I have bought together, as we want to remain a one-car household. We had to make little compromises over what we each wanted, of course, but the biggest one was the compromise I had to make with the auto industry: I had to give up my stick shift. We really wanted this model, and a manual transmission simply isn’t an option anymore for this one.

For all I had to give up, and for all the frills and furbelows that seem to accompany all new cars (though I’ll admit I love having USB ports at last)—this car has plenty of qualities that fit my personality. No GPS, for one thing—you all know how I feel about that (the Tailor and I agreed that if that had come standard, we would have paid to have it removed!). And plenty of nooks and crannies for holding all my paints and things while I sketch.

Yet while Silver is pretty and sleek and reliable and powerful, she’s not my Blue. I’ve already put close to 10,000 miles on her, but I’m still finding it hard to make the transition. Driving an automatic feels so different to me, so less engaged. And I have a lot of trouble finding her in crowded parking lots—I’m usually great at remembering where the heck I parked, but finding a silver Subaru in a sea of other silver Subarus (welcome to the Northwest) is hilariously difficult. Still, I’m sure we’ll grow to know and trust each other over time. It’s just hard to give up your first love.

Astoria sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Thank you, Wild Blue, for taking me here, there and back again—and for always keeping me safe along the way.

Astoria sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Here’s to the next quarter of a million miles, and my shiny new steed. Hi ho, Silver.

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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.