What is the Sketchy Traveler’s philosophy?

The other day after work I went for a swim. Then while walking home I stopped at the local food cart lot and bar to have a beer and a soft pretzel. As I sat in the bar, I felt a sense of contentment and easy come over me. I took some tasting notes on the beer (Love Potion #15 by Block 15), journaled on my week, and outlined some ideas for the future. Meanwhile jazz played on the speakers while someone read “The Fifth Season” behind me. Amazingly the lot and bar closed at 8pm, so I had to wrap things up and finish the walk home where I topped things off with a cup of tomato soup before going to bed.

This is quintessence of the flaneur experience; a pastiche of experiences and performances that involve a variety of people and activities mediated by the urban setting. It is a building of knowledge and intelligence by people in community. A slow meander that is not aiming to achieve a specific analysis, but fully experiencing life and people as they are. There is also an element of performance and engagement as the flaneurs express themselves to the community through their dress, body language and dialogue.

I kept trying to catch the eye of the person reading “The Fifth Season” as I had not seen someone reading this book before and was interested to hear their opinion on it. I was not very successful as we never talked, but this is exactly the kind of opportunity to interact directly with someone that is so exciting about direct experience. When sitting in a room with someone there is a physically imposed boundary to your interaction. The person can signal their intent through dress, body language and speech. This results in a richer experience and allows for a more nuanced exploration of individuals than a passing summary online. As innumerable writing books have observed, it is better to show than to tell.

The reader might laugh at my hypocrisy for praising an analog experience on the digital medium of a blog. Surely, I disprove my own praise through my medium of choice, but this article is an extension of that evening. It is one more dimension to my walk and allows me to relieve this experience in a new way, cementing it in my somatic body. For the gift of the digital is to give us new ways of viewing the world and directing our awareness and intelligence on the physical. All too often we think of the new as better than and replacing the old instead of seeing it as an expansion of possibility. While our ability to experience is limited, our awareness and intellect is infinite.

Flaneurs are limited physical beings and must rely on the physical senses gifted to them to experience and influence the world. Yet they are also vessels with infinite awareness and intellect that shines upon these experiences, giving them continually iterating, intersecting, and expanding meaning. Paradoxically, living within this slow, finite world with boundaries and limitations invites us into the infinite universe. Before we can fly through this infinite cosmos we must slow down and connect with the physical world in all its many imperfect forms and mediums whether that is a blog post, a drawing or trying to catch the eye of someone reading an interesting book at a bar.

Sketch Review: Seattle’s Best Dive Bars

The other day I took my car in for its usual maintenance and wandered into downtown Corvallis. I went into the local used bookstore to browse when I found the most out of place book – “Seattle’s Best Dive Bars” by Mike Seeley. I am sure the story of how this book came to be in Corvallis (212 miles from Seattle) would be interesting, but unfortunately, I lack the superpower to read an object’s past. This book did have the power to transport me back to the Seattle of my young adulthood though and give me a new appreciation for this post’s title drawing.

The 2000s were an odd time in Seattle. Microsoft and Starbucks (plus an emerging Amazon) had brought newfound wealth to the area and a flood of young professionals eager to get a cut of the pie. Yet the city was just coming out of the grunge music scene, headlined by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, that had been inspired by the rough, working class Seattle that had stumbled out of the near collapse of Boeing in the 1970s. Coming out in 2009, Seeley’s book captures this odd mixture of grunge and wealth saying, “But at times, the Comet unwittingly serves as a clubhouse for the worst Capitol Hill has to offer. I’m not talking about hardened criminals or people looking to start shit…I’m talking about the guy with the pierced eyebrows, manscara, pageboy hat and v-neck t-shirt who pretends to not know which friend’s couch he was going to crash on that night.” This is how I remember the zeitgeist of Seattle at the time. Everyone had the grunge look, even if they were hipster trust fund kids.

What makes this book an interesting read was that it goes beyond hipster stereotypes to document the full spectrum of Seattle’s dive bars that made up this dichotomy, and Seeley really put in the leg work to find a bar for as many communities as he could. There are bars were, “It’s ominous to approach a bar and there’s a paddy wagon parked across the street. It’s even more ominous sign when such an occurrence isn’t all that rare at said bar.” and bars that are “…the rarest of creatures: a white-collar dive…Here, doctors, lawyers, brokers, writers, professors, and students commiserate before Huskie home games or during class reunions.” Then there are bars that are gathering hubs for the LGBTQ and BIPOC communities. Finally there are bars for miscellaneous affinity groups like sports fans, frat bros and neighborhood hubs.

My major critique of Seeley’s book is that he clearly shows his north Seattle bias as north Seattle contains 45% of the bars while south Seattle contains 35% of the bars. I am leaving Downtown (21% of bars in the book) as neutral ground as it sits between north and south Seattle and is a mixture of both. Yet Seeley clearly has a love for north Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood and its population of sailors, opening this book there saying, “If you want to distill Seattle’s drinkers into an extremely pure weight class system, you might say there are two types: sailors and everyone else.” As I continued reading Seeley’s entry on the hard drinking sailors of Ballard I was struck by a sense of déjà vu.

Last December, I was visiting family in Seattle and decided to go to Ballard as I had not been there in a while. I parked on Shilshole Avenue and began my walk along the businesses on Ballard Avenue, which includes another dive bar on Seeley’s list (Hatties Hat). Not finding anything I particularly wanted to draw I decided to walk down Market Street to the Ballard Locks. These locks allow passage for watercraft between the freshwater canals and lakes in Seattle to the salty Puget Sound. Besides the interest of watching boats pass through the locks they are surrounded by botanical gardens built by the lock’s first superintendent. They are also one of the first places I went drawing with the Seattle Urban Sketchers.

While I did a few quick sketches of the boats passing through the locks, the view that ultimately drew my attention was the sign for the Lock Spot right outside the entrance to the locks. On reading the opening entry to Seattle’s Best Dive bars, I realized I had just drawn the scene that the book opens with saying, “The sailors of Shilshole Bay Marine, many of whom live aboard their vessels year-round, have it pretty good. About a mile from where they are moored, near Ballard Locks, is a remodeled government-run liquor store that, tellingly, is the state’s most lucrative, as well as two sit-down drinking establishments, the Lock Spot [sic] and the Sloop Tavern. Both serve good fish and chips and both are occasionally graced by the presence of a Deadliest Catch member, but that’s where the similarities end. And given that the Lockspot serves hard booze and the Sloop only beer and wine…they compliment one another nicely.”

While the walk from the Shilshole Bay Marine is from the other side of the locks from the way I came, this passage describes my walk surprisingly well, minus the alcohol. Indeed plenty of marines and shipyards exist on the Seattle side of the Locks too. My most startling realization though is that I captured both of these spots in this single drawing. The Lockspot is the most obvious with its giant fish sign, but this view also includes the Sloop Tavern in the background of this painting with the green and orange paint job on its side.

Yet as I looked at this view, I realized that it includes many other wonderful Seattle time capsules. The most obvious is the rock-climbing wall behind the Lock Spot. This is actually one of the first rock climbing gyms in Seattle. While it is known today as Edge Works it was founded in 1995 as Stone Garden. It has an extensive indoor space, but its most distinctive feature is the massive outdoor wall featured in this painting. As I looked deeper into this paining, I realized that the green and orange blur on the Sloop is my attempt to capture a Henry mural on the side of the Sloop Tavern, which is a major cultural touchstone for Seattle. And a final spot that may not seem significant is the Taco Time across from Edge Works. While a Taco Time may not seem significant this one has existed on this sport for as long as I can remember, and it has a surprising amount of character after many years of addons and additions.

While this painting seemed special to me while I was creating it I had not realized how significant it was until so much later and it may not have happened without the spark of Seeley’s book written almost 14 years ago. It is easy to get dishearten in a world where we can often feel insignificant. Yet we can never truly know the impact we have on the world as our gifts to the world resonate through time and reveal a far greater depth of meaning crammed into a single street view than we could ever imagine. Our lives and the places we lead them are far larger and intersecting than we know and there are as many stories about them as there are people to tell them.

So who is the sketchy traveler?

For a while now I have been getting to know a character called the Sketchy Traveler. This began before the pandemic, but during the isolation of lock down he took on new dimensions in doodles and ramblings in my journal. I often find it difficult to share this creative side of me, but as I have gotten to know the Sketchy Traveler, I realized that I find it easier to express my playfulness and joy through this character. Drawing is only one part of my creative practice and the Sketchy Traveler more fully represents this practice.

A few summers ago, I took a trip up to Portland to draw the International Rose Garden and stayed in Nob Hill at a hotel a short walk from the garden. I arrived the day before to check-in and explore the neighborhood. Nob Hill is filled with stores and restaurants that are a pleasure to peruse and experience. The Ram Head Pub by McMenamins on 23rd Ave sits in the bottom of a beautiful apartment building and the Yokai Musubi makes great onigiri and musubi to take for a lunch break.

The next morning I took off early to the rose garden to beat the crowds and explored the garden. It was a cool summer morning that smelled of drew and had that quite before the day really begins. I spent about an hour walking the gardens and remembering their layout and sights. Finally, I sat down at a spot I had enjoyed the view from and spent the rest of the morning drawing.

I enjoyed my time so much that when I got home I decide to immediately go to the Owen Rose Garden in Eugene. The Owen Rose Garden is indeed beautiful if not as large as the International Rose Garden. The day I was there a church was having a service in one section of the garden while I shared a lawn with an AA group. Yet despite the beauty around me the painting I produced felt rushed and plain because I was drawing with a purpose instead of the sense of play I had at the International Rose Garden.

A psychologist would say I had entered a state of flow while in Portland that was missing when I went to Eugene, but I find it more meaningful to say I was missing a sense of play. In Portland I was having an experience where I followed the things I enjoyed through the city and that happened to include drawing. Then ironically I wanted to reproduce this sense of play and latched on to the activity of drawing, but this was forcing an action instead of acting from a place of joy. The result was a drawing that was lacking the energy I had in Portland and an experience that did not engender the same feeling of happiness.

Drawing is never the single activity of my travel. Instead it is one part of an experience rooted in a feeling of happiness. The Sketchy Traveler is the expression of this feeling and is the voice I want to write about this way of experiencing yourself through the urban. Writing as the Sketchy Traveler, I want to share this sense of joy not only through my drawings, but also writing about the happiness to be found in embodying places and communities. My deepest wish being that this will inspire other people to find their own play space.

Looking Back on Life in the 2022 Urban Landscape

I am a bit late getting out this post, but I wanted to take some time to consider the trends in urban life over the past year and where we might be heading. The theme of 2022 in urban life was housing. Major cities face a crisis with their homeless population and not enough homes. Meanwhile, homeowners and landlords found themselves saddled with an unpredictable housing market that is either boom or bust depending on where you live.

In my home state of Oregon the main topic of the governor’s race was how to address homelessness in the state. While each candidate how their own strategy, the ultimate victor in the race (Tina Kotek) was a major figure behind the legislation passed in 2019 to allow the construction of duplexes on most house lots in Oregon. So Oregon will probably remain committed to addressing homelessness through increasing housing supply and support programs.

I was able to attend a design charette for one of these efforts to increase the affordable housing supply in November. In 2019, Corvallis’ housing coalition (Corvallis Housing First) was able to purchase an old motel in South Corvallis to use as housing. They were approached shortly after by the State of Oregon to receive state and federal funding to build low-cost housing on the site. The design charette was the first opportunity for the architects to share their initial ideas and gather feedback. It will be exciting to see where these efforts lead.

Meanwhile, Portland rolled out a controversial plan to require those camping in the city to use designated camping sites and banning camping in the city outside of these sites. While creating designated camping sites within Portland seems like a good idea to provide temporary housing in a way that can connect people to resources the harsh rules that come with them seem like a major detractor. In addition, tents are a poor substitute for permanent structures that are not damaged or fail to provide adequate shelter every time we have a major weather event like a windstorm or cold snap.

Elsewhere, Seattle and Los Angeles are investing their homelessness efforts in converting old hotels, like Corvallis Housing First, and focusing on policy to create more low-cost housing or market rate housing. My guess is that policies that give people agency to choose their housing will ultimately be more successful than policies that force people into a choice. It will be interesting to see how these attempts to address homelessness play out over the next 2-3 years.

At the same time home buyers and renters faced an increasing expensive market driven by increasing experiments in home ownership like iBuyers and speculators buying up rental properties. As a result homes and rentals have begun to behave more like an asset rather than a commodity, making it difficult for people to find stable housing. Yet many market experts are now predicting a major housing market crash as these various experiments fail and the large amounts of money that came with them are withdrawn from the market.

2022 seems to have been the year where housing became a critical issue for cities. Faced with growing populations of unhoused people, a glut of unaffordable housing and failing real estate experiments, many cities and states are starting to take the housing crisis seriously. As these various experiments in building stable and livable communities play out over the next years, and potentially decade, we will have to see what new ideas they bring as well as their potential pitfalls.

A Walk in New York City

Of my time in New York City, my favorite experiences were all to be had with in a half mile to mile walk of my hotel. Indeed, it is the pleasure of a large city like New York that interesting sights and experiences can be found no matter where you are. The key is to get out there and see what finds you.

Staying in Queens

I stayed in Long Island City on the eastern bank of the Hudson River within the Queens Borough. The hotel sat amid an old industrial area filled with repair shops for every conceivable thing: cars, taxis, food trucks, ATMs and so on. I had a peak of the Manhattan skyline, including the tip of Empire State Building, but most of my view was the grey exterior of the local power plant.

Image of repair shop

Yet I found the area rather charming. It reminded me of the small industrial area near where I grew up that was also filled with mechanics, food truck depots and other repair shops. Such an area may not seem like much to look at, but it brims with the life of the city as everyone goes there for something.

While looking at Google Maps on how to get to the hotel, I had happened to see that there was a museum to Noguchi nearby. This caught my attention as Noguchi was from Seattle even if he had settled in New York later in life. His sculptures still fill several prominent spaces in Seattle, including the massive sculpture Black Sun across from the Seattle Asian Art Museum. This gave my choice of hotels a sense of destiny, so I decided to head towards the Noguchi Museum.

Niforos Corner

The Noguchi Museum was north of my hotel on Vernon Avenue, which ran in-front of the power plant parallel with the Hudson River. Heading north on Vernon Avenue, I soon came to 36th Avenue. Towards Manhattan, the Roosevelt Bridge ran over the Hudson River to the island of the same name and away from Manhattan was a small business district. Turning down 36th to see the sights I found many New York classics like pizza parlors, Italian restaurants, and my favorite spot in the neighborhood Niforos Corner.

Niforos Corner was filled with people coming for their morning coffee, a snack for school and dropping off orders. Despite the hustle it was also a friendly, welcoming space. People held the door and said good morning while the cook behind the counter would take orders if the cashier was too busy. It had the feel of a well-loved community spot that helped to enliven everyone’s day.

I watched all of this unfold while standing in line and sitting at one of the small tables lined up down the middle of the cramped store space. The coffee came in a cup with a pull tab that forced you to slurp down your coffee with hasty gulps that threatened to scaled lips and throat. While the eggs and hashbrowns came in a single serving size they were reasonably priced and provided ample food for a morning on the go in the city.

Image of decoration on window

Then with a hurried wave to the attendants behind the counter, I headed out the door and turned down the  cramped residential street that Niforos Corner side turned down. As I walked down the street the garbage man was working his way up the street picking up the trash bags that had been put out. One of the odder features of New York to me is the heavy use the city makes of its sidewalks. The most distinctive of these is people putting out their trash for pick up, but the sidewalk also serves as overflow parking, patio and storage. All of this an excessive use for a sidewalk in my native Seattle that would have been heavily frowned on as bad manners.

Noguchi Museum

I popped out onto the second business area two blocks north on 34th Avenue. Here was Flor de Azalea Cafe, which offered coffee and cold drinks. I did not stop here, but kept on towards the museum, saving it for latter. Down one more residential block and I came to the Noguchi Museum.

The building was immediately recognizable as its concrete exterior contrasted sharply with the brick construction around it. A modest entrance was easily lost in the eclectic city landscape, but also spoke to a calm to be found inside. The low ceiling in the lobby continued this modest trend until you stepped out into the covered section of the museum housing Noguchi’s granite sculptures.

The two-store covered exhibit space released you from the narrow entrance and lobby to draw you into this profane space of sculpture. Intervening walls gave an enlarged sense of scale and invited you peak around them. As I explored the sculptures numerous pathways out of the covered section presented themselves, but I was immediately drawn to the garden.

Image of garden at Noguchi Museum

The covered area made up a third of the museum and contained many of Noguchi’s large works in granite. A second third is an interior space in a historic brick building original to the site that contains Noguchi’s smaller works and installations. And the final third of the museum is a garden filled with granite sculptures as well as a fine example of the landscape design work that Noguchi was also famous for.

I wandered through the museum’s many spaces, but the garden was the space I kept returning to. It was filled with small groups of people relaxing, talking and drawing. It was a space that felt perfectly suited for where it was, and I could have sat there for a long time in the peace of the late summer sun and deep blue shadows from the bamboo grove. I sat there for a long time doing quick ink drawings of the space, but mostly soaking in the profound tranquility.

Socrates Sculpture Park

Yet my capacity to sit in tranquility began to wain and a desire to move that seemed out of place with the space filled me. I wrapped up a drawing and moved back through the gardens and sculptures to the exit. Antsy with a newfound energy, I crossed the road to the small Socrates Sculpture Park. The park is a small neighborhood park run by volunteers on the Hudson.

After the Noguchi Museum it was nice to see a small community project that was not featured in every art history book. It was also nice to be in a space where such a wide variety of people came to enjoy themselves: parents with children, people meditating, or others out for a walk. It made you feel comfortable, welcomes and safe. While the Noguchi Museum was a space of deep contemplation this was a space of deep living.

The Socrates Sculpture Park also had great views of Manhattan, so I wrapped up my day with a drawing of the Manhattan Skyline. In the warmth of the sun and the friendly atmosphere I got out my watercolor sketchbook. I sat absorbed in drawing and painting I had to appreciate how red New York is with brick. While other cities I have been to make extensive use of brick, New York City seems to have true love for the material. It gave me a new appreciation for the city’s nick name.

Concluding with a Stranger and a Boat

As I put on some finishing touches to the sketch a massive private yacht drifts by, seemingly unmoored in the river. A woman stoped to laugh that it is not her boat and shake her head. I smile and observe that it is not my boat either as I would not spend that kind of money on a boat or let it float away down a river. We ramble on a bit about the boats we have seen on the river, before heading our separate ways to walk in New York City.

Sketch Review: Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

“You take delight not in the city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answers it gives to a question of yours.” – Invisible Cites by Italo CalvinoPrint

Recently I have been reading more books about cities to inform my art and writing on this blog. On my reading list was “Invisible Cities” by Italo Calvino. As an exercise after finishing Invisible Cities I wanted to try writing about some cities in the style of Calvino. This seemed like an excellent opportunity to consider the many Portlands in the world and how they have influenced each other.

Portland, Oregon

A city of roses and conifers nestled on the banks of a tributary of a grand river running out to the sea. A flash in the pan, a mirage, a facsimile that one cannot be sure. That sits as the furthest tip of the ancient hegemony from who’s shore it hop scotched across time until it can hardly be recognized. As one sits in its shops, cafes, and stores, one has to wonder where one is in time, the here-and-now or that distant imperial shore.

Yet as one walks Portland its shape emerges as from the haze of faerie’s phase to take on life from ancient ways and put new mutations as may be. The languid coffeeshop on an overcast green, postmodern edifices from architect’s dream, the many theaters with flashing marquees, calling to the illusion of this world. People laughing, smiling, gay, treading the slabs of asphalt grand. A distortion of the historical past, now lost to most, but known to the last.

Portland, Maine

A city unvisited and unknow, on the furthest shores of the ancient land. What is there I do not know. In my mind’s eye I see a city of low blocks and colonial cottages wreathed in dark forests of conifers in gentle waves to the ocean’s shore. Where ships from a far ply their trade and wander lost upon the waves.

One could visit, but what would you see, but the briefest glimpse of fantasy. For other edifices of stone and wood call with siren’s songs of glory and home and lost chances of yore. Here is the steppingstone lost in time, that passes as in a dream of yesterday’s meal. For its importance is as progenitor, but now faded to a footnote in time.

Portland, England

Ancient faerie clothed in myth, were ships of high masts once past. Now tattered illusions as they always were, replaced by the diesel furnaces of steel trading bergs. Its tattered stones now hung with moss, its nation bent with age and dross. Never was faerie as grand as it seemed, but merely a poor start to a copy without end. A faded original now worn and dim, haunted by golems spread across the lands.

Yet there too people live lives, dream dreams, and laugh away the night. They sing songs from a Portland unknown, unaware that they dance to their far flung memetic. For what empire can escape its own forgetfulness. The copy is now a rose blooming by a snow swelled bank, while the progenitor fades into the happiness of long sought contented dreams.

The cities in Invisible Cities are invisible as they do not exist. Instead they are in the imagination of the narrator, Marco Polo. This illustrates how even real cities are more in the minds of their inhabitants and visitors than in any objective reality. Cities are built in layers of imagination and physical substance to serve human needs.

The Last COVID Walking View

Last October, I shared a trip back to one of the last places I had drawn before the pandemic began. At the time things seemed to be tentatively moving on from the pandemic, but much seemed still uncertain. A year later I have returned from a trip to New York City, a COVID booster is available along side the flu shot and communities seem to be embracing the challenges revealed by the pandemic.

So I wanted to take a moment to write a final COVID walking view. These posts began as reflections on drawing during a pandemic and the ways the urban landscape was being transformed by the pandemic. Now it only seems right to take a moment to reflect on where we have been and what the future might hold.

The Best Laid Plans

At the end of March 2020, I was all set to visit family stationed in Japan. I was going to spend a week with them, see the base they were stationed at and visit Tokyo. All of these plans were dashed when the State Department issued travel advisories for any place outside of the United States in early March 2020 and warned Americans they might not be able to return to the country if they left.

After this crushing defeat to my plans to return to travel outside of the Pacific Northwest, it was with trepidation that I heard that a family member would be married in September 2022 on the east coast. Despite my misgivings, I made plans to join them though, along with a three day stop in New York City before hand. Yet these plans did not quite feel real or possible.

Time seemed to crawl towards the hypothetical date of my departure, but then it suddenly was here. A friend drove me to the Portland airport, I got on a plane and by the afternoon I was on the New York subway heading to my hotel. My day finished with me in the Queens neighborhood of Long Island City, eating Jamaican food and drawing the view of the Manhattan skyline from my window.

Awakening in New York City

To suddenly be in a completely different city truly shifted me as I experienced a place that I did not bodily know. In the Northwest it is rare for me to find myself in a corner of a major city that I have no context for. While I may be momentarily lost or disoriented, I inevitably find a landmark I recognize, a street corner with a memory or a tree that I connect to a feeling. Without this mental model, I found myself able to freely association and able to truly consider what the pandemic had meant and done to me.

Perhaps the biggest thing I could see was the fear that pandemic had left me with. As I initially traversed the city I avoid eye contact, felt a tension in my belly and generally wanted to get through the experience as quickly as possible.

All around me people were polite, friendly and helpful though. When I was on the wrong side of the turnstile someone let me know. When I went to the corner cafe for breakfast the cook called me aside to take my order since the cashier was busy. When I accidentally showed up after hours at a restaurant they served me any ways. All of this led me to gradually relax and appreciate this unique place.

This also started to give me something I had not appreciated the absence of, confidence. While the failure of my previous travel plans was outside of my control, I realized I had internalized it as a personal failure. Yet as I navigated this big unknown, and found that I could indeed succeed, I began to see this past let down with new eyes.

I had not gone to Japan due to a lack of ability. Indeed, I had not gone because of my ability to see that at the time the risk was not worth the scant and unpleasant memories and connections I might have made. I should let that go and appreciate that my skill had allowed me to be in this particular place and moment.

Integrating the COVID Walking Views

The COVID walking views started as a way to process everything happening in the world. Then it became a sign of the new world we found ourselves in. Now this trip to New York City seems like a fitting close. Travel that was delayed has been completed. Confidence lost has been renewed  and a sense of opportunity has come back to my life.

This blog will continue to be a collection of drawings and stories from the urban and Anthropocene landscape. Yet this experience showed me the importance of these drawings as a medium for exploring self as well as place. I have begun to bring a more personal note to these posts and write them as if giving advice to a friend instead of writing an entry for Lonely Planet. I hope to continue with this new style into the future and make more great discoveries about the places we all live as well as myself.

Sketching Expedition: Newport, Oregon

This summer I have been going surfing out at Newport. As a result, I have been doing a lot of sketching in Newport and on the Oregon coast. An aspect of surfing that I have been enjoying is that while you are out in nature you are also close to cities and towns too. And most surfing spots have an active area near to them with a surf and coffee shop and other seaside businesses.

I have been finding Newport an interesting area to draw as well because of the diversity of people. The Oregon coast is a big tourist destination, so you get people visiting from across the United States and internationally. As a result, there is no end to the people watching around Newport.

Newport Skyline from Yaquina Head

Yaquina Head is best known for its lighthouse, but ironically, I most enjoyed the view of Newport from this location. Besides the lighthouse, there is also an old quarry on the site that sits on a cove on the headland. The parking lot for the cove features a bunch of benches that have great views over Agate beach to Newport and the Yaquina Bay Bridge behind.

Surfers at Otter Rock

The most enjoyable surfing spot in Newport I have found so far is Otter Rock. This beach sits behind a small headland just north of Newport. On top of the headland is a small community made up of a business area overlooking the ocean and private homes tucked behind.

The community is surrounded by the Devil’s Punch Bowl Natural Area, which includes parking, restrooms and showers. The natural area gets its name from the sink hole at the end of the headland, which is believed to have formed when a sea cave collapsed. This makes for a fun spot that is a hub of locals out to enjoy the beach and tourists stopping to see the Devil’s Punch Bowl.

Oregon Surfing: Central Coast by Scott and Sandy Blackman

Oregon Surfing: Central Coast is a lightweight book documenting the history of surfing on the Oregon coast put out as part of the Images of Modern America Series. It was written by two prominent figures in Oregon surfing (Scott and Sandy Blackman) who collected photos and stories from the beginnings of Oregon surfing in the 1960s up to 2011. The book is a fun way to learn about the Oregon coast and some of its history. Would have liked more text and less photos though.

The Kubota Mountain Side Garden

Kubota Garden is one of Seattle’s hidden gems. It is tucked away in the far southeast corner of Seattle, so it is not a spot you will find traveling Seattle’s main thoroughfares. It is well worth the drive or bus ride to enjoy this varied garden and its winding paths though.

The garden was originally the grounds of the Kubota Nursery. The gardens are filled with a variety of styles from Kubota’s native Japanese gardening to formal European gardens. Today, the City of Seattle owns the gardens and runs them as a park. It is an excellent place to explore a variety of garden styles, relax and get lost.

As mentioned, Kubota Garden is a bit off the beaten path in Seattle. The easiest way to get there is:

  • Driving, take the Martin Luther King (MLK) Exit on I-5
    • Follow the signs to MLK
    • When MLK takes a hard left turn continue straight onto Ryan Way
    • Take Ryan Way until you reach 51st Ave S
    • At 51st Ave S turn left
    • The garden parking lot is the first right turn on 51st Ave S
    • Note: If you go down MLK by accident you can turn right at Henderson St. and then take the second right onto Renton Ave to get to 51st Ave S.
  • Public Transit, take the light rail to the Rainer Beach Station
    • Get on the 106-bus headed to Renton from the train station
    • The bus stops at Kubota Garden a couple of miles after the Rainer Beach Station

Mountain Side Garden

This drawing is of the mountain side garden at Kubota. While most Seattleites would laugh at calling this hill a mountain the garden is meant to replicate the feel of a mountain and it does that wonderfully. It also brings an experience of mystery and transportation that is often missing in North American Gardens. All of which comes with a dash of history and a little sadness too.

Creating a Mountain from a Mole Hill

Fujitaro Kubota migrated to the United States from Japan and started a nursery on the site of Kubota Gardens in the 1920s. He brought with him the techniques and traditions of Japanese gardening as well as an extensive knowledge of horticulture. As a result, his nursery thrived providing plants and design services for Japanese and European style gardens.

In both Japanese and European gardens the recreation of natural environments was a common theme. Before the advent of fast and easy travel, people could rarely, if ever, travel to see great natural wonders. Gardeners would re-create the sense of these wonders for people in nearby gardens so they could have a partial experience of what it was like in these environments.

In the late 1920s, Kubota began building gardens on the site of his nursery as part hobby and part demonstration of his knowledge. For the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, he worked to recreate the experience of hiking up a mountain using this humble hill behind the nursery. From the approach to the hill pictured here we can see that it is hardly a mountain, but with some clever design it gives the sense of a grand hike.

Garden Illusions and Mysteries

An element that is sadly missing from North American gardens us a sense of mystery and wonder. North American gardens tend to be wide open and spacious, leaving little to the imagination. Kubota’s mountain side garden makes great use of illusions and mystery to take us on an experience.

The first illusion is the approach to the garden over this bridge. By giving us a full view of the garden from its base we get a sense of the hill towering over us. This gives a sense of height and scale to the experience we are about to have.

The next technique that Kubota used is to make the paths up the hill quite narrow and wind through dense hedges of Japanese holly. Two people can barely pass each other on these trails. This makes us feel that the trail is passing us by much faster than it really is and that the trail is taking much longer to complete.

This sense of the trail taking too long to walk is also accentuated by the tight switch backs up the hill. These make the path much longer than you might expect for the space. Plus the sense of a towering mountain that one gets from the approach primes you to believe that this trail will go on and on. Finally the hedges hide the paths from sight, leaving you to guess how much more trail is left.

Finally, there are regular overlooks and water features that cause one to pause as you walk up the hill. This in turn does delay one and make the walk longer. The end result is that one begins to lose sense of time on these small, winding trails buried in holly bushes and you begin to get the sense that perhaps you really have lost your way in the mountains.

A Sad Chapter for the Garden

With the outbreak of World War 2, the federal government detained Kubota and his family along with many other Japanese Americas. They had only days to close their nursery before being forced to leave by the federal government. They ended up at Camp Minidoka in Idaho and would remain there until the conclusion of the war in 1945.

Kubota was fortunate that a sympathetic family friend held his nursery in trust as he could not buy the land directly at the time as an Asian immigrant. When the federal government released the Kubotas, they could return to their nursery and rebuild. Millions of Japanese Americas were not so fortunate, losing farms and businesses that they were either forced to sell at steep discounts or the unscrupulous refused to release from their stewardship.

Kubota continued to build and maintain the gardens until his death in 1973. The City of Seattle acquired the gardens Seattle in 1987 and now maintains them as a park. Expansions and additions have been made to the garden in the years since the city acquired the gardens, but the space continues to retain the character that Kubota worked to imbue in the site.

Downtown Portland from Mt. Tabor

This month’s drawing is from the top of Mt. Tabor looking over East Portland to Downtown Portland. Mt. Tabor is pretty easy to find as it is one of the highest points in east Portland.

Mt. Tabor Park offers spectacular views and plenty of people watching. People come to the park to run and walk up its stairs and winding paths. Several colleges and a seminary are close to Mt. Tabor as well and you will find many college students on the parks’ lawns.

From I-205, take the exit for Division or Burnside. You can also get to Mt. Tabor from I-5 by taking Hawthorne Boulevard. It is easiest to find parking in the neighborhoods around Mt. Tabor and walk to the park.

Mt. Tabor Park

Mt. Tabor Park makes for a nice hike in the city. Going up the east side of the park, trails wind through Douglas Fir forests on the way to the top. On the west side elegant paths and stairs wind past reservoirs and through lawns.

This wide variety of paths attract many people. Retirees wonder up the wide paths and lawns on the east side while trail runners dodge through the forest. Meanwhile, the maintenance road on the west side of the park is a popular spot for bikers and long boarders bombing down the hill, over and over again.

The result is a lively space that feels happy and excited. You cannot help but smile at the bicycles looping down the hill and back or the family out for a Saturday afternoon walk.

Drawing the Portland Skyline

I find skylines particularly fun to draw since they have depth, but also act as an elevation. The skylines in the Pacific Northwest are particularly fun to draw since they usually incorporate dramatic mountains in the background.

The Portland Skyline fits in perfectly as it is dwarfed by the Tualatin Mountains behind downtown. Eastern Portland is also heavily forested with few buildings rising above the canopy. The rest is a very lush green view that required a lot of tonal shifts.

This view also fun to draw due to the contrast between the rectangular buildings and the organic form of the mountains. This was particularly noticeable with the brick KOIN Center building on the left and the contemporary glass towers on the right.

I was glad I could work in the stylized castle structure for the reservoir station in the foreground. This and the people standing next to it ground the picture and give a good sense of scale.

In the future this would be a good spot to do a panorama from. This drawing mostly shows the southern end of downtown Portland. It is missing about half of the skyline that continues to the right with the Nob Hill and Pearl District neighborhoods.