Tuesday, December 10, 2019

California Road Trip - Part 2

In my last post (California Road Trip - Part I), I gave some insights into how I create a "flow sketch", a page design loosely based on a flowchart. What's a flowchart? It's defined as "a diagram of the sequence of movements or actions of people or things involved in a complex system or activity." In other words, it visually breaks down a complex process into smaller steps.

My California Road Trip flow sketch takes the complexity of a ten-day vacation and condenses it into four small pages filled with 20 little sketches. Pretty efficient, right? :)

Ink & watercolor in a Khadi 6-1/2" x 5" hardcover sketchbook with 140 lb. watercolor paper


So, let's see what Days 6-8 held for our intrepid travelers (me, my mother Saundra, and friend Candy)....

Click for a larger view of the sketch

Day 6 dawned clear and sunny, perfect for a visit to the Hearst Castle in San Simeon.


We took the shuttle bus from the visitor's center and drove up a windy road to where the estate sits perched high atop a hill. In fact, the formal name of the castle is La Cuesta Encantada, The Enchanted Hill.

Can you see the castle way off in the distance?

The house was impressive, and it was fun hearing about its history and the famous visitors who came as guests of William Randolph Hearst during the 1920s and '30s.


Can't you just imagine big-name stars like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Errol Flynn, and Jean Harlow lounging around the Neptune pool?


The architectural detailing was incredible!


After the tour, we continued north on Route 1, stopping to see the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas.


We were marveling at the size of the seals - they looked like giant slugs piled up on the beach! - when we overheard a tour guide telling a group of children that what we were seeing were elephant seal PUPS. These were just babies. The adults can grow to 20 feet long and weigh as much as 8800 pounds. Just imagine!


I was so excited about the next part of our journey. After waiting for decades to see Big Sur, today was the day! We were about to embark on that classic drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to Carmel and Monterey. We expected to see spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, crashing waves, soaring mountains, and a deep blue sky overhead.

Instead, we got this...


We occasionally caught a glimpse of the water, but most of the time the sea fog was so thick and impenetrable that we couldn't see anything but a drifting mass of white, and all we heard was the muffled swooshing of the waves far below.

Our lovely view of one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world!

Ninety miles of driving in the fog wasn't exactly what I had expected. We were disappointed, but it actually started to seem like a bad joke that the universe was playing on us. Every few miles we would pull off at a scenic overlook, thinking, "Maybe this time we'll be able to see something!" We'd hurry to the edge of the cliff, only to see....a big wet white cloud. Laughing, we'd return to the car and drive some more, hoping the fog would clear somewhere up ahead. We consoled ourselves with the fact that at least we didn't encounter any rock slides, wildfires, mud slides, or earthquakes along the way. (Although we did experience three small quakes when we were in Santa Barbara earlier in the trip!)

We took a much-needed lunch break along the way at the Ragged Point Inn.


This was the extent of our view from the cliffs...


It was warm and cozy in the solarium of the restaurant, and I enjoyed having a break from driving in the fog. Lunch was yummy, but the coffee was so memorably awful that I felt it deserved a spot in my sketch.


I debated about how to portray our Big Sur experience in my flow sketch. I should have just left a big white patch of fog in the middle of the page! But I decided to show the cloud of sea fog with the water below and the mountains above...


The three of us were somewhere in there in the cloud. (Because the Khadi sketchbook has cream-colored paper, I used white gouache to paint the fog, even brushing it over the lettering, so it would be hazy and less distinct.)

As we neared Carmel, we finally drove out of the fog. The mountains were lit up by the setting sun.


We checked into our hotel, then went out to find some dinner. We were tired and hungry and couldn't settle on where to eat, when we suddenly spied a Trader Joe's. We popped in to pick up dinner, snacks, and wine then went back to the Hampton to settle in for the night. It had been a long day.

A well-balanced meal: summer rolls, kettle corn, wine, and dark chocolate sea salt caramels. Yummm!

The next morning the sun was shining, and we headed out to cruise the famous 17-Mile Drive that skirts around the Monterey peninsula and Pebble Beach golf course. I could only squeeze in one narrow drawing of the drive on my flow sketch...


and that certainly didn't convey how beautiful the coastline was, so I started another page in my sketchbook that would feature my favorite stops along the scenic route. (I'll share that sketch in another post.)


The sunshine didn't last long that morning. See the bank of fog on the horizon in the photo above? Soon, the blue sky had turned gloomy and gray, but that didn't stop us from enjoying the expansive vistas, crashing waves, wind-blown trees, and thousands (millions?) of birds. I tried to appreciate the fact that we were getting the total Monterey experience, fog and all!

The pot of gold at the end of 17-Mile Drive was the storybook village of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Its tree-lined streets and fairytale cottages were a delight.


We spent a few hours meandering around town, browsing in the shops and just soaking up the ambience. I'd love to return there sometime to spend a few days sketching - it was so cute!

Candy shop in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Our last day in California was a leisurely affair.


In the morning we drove south to Point Lobos natural area to see what we could see.

China Cove

We ended up hiking to Bird Island where we saw masses of pelicans, gulls, cormorants, and even a heron or two.

Bird Island

One thing that shocked me about California was the amount of unspoiled public land there is along the coast. From Santa Barbara to Monterey, we visited one park after another (most of them free) and had opportunities to see an amazing array of wildlife everywhere we went. It's simply not that way on the east coast. It must be wonderful to live where it's so easy to access wild places.

Pacific Grove coast

We spent the afternoon in Pacific Grove where we cruised along Ocean View Boulevard, stopped for a walk along the water, warmed up in a cozy coffee shop with a hot mocha, then moseyed around Lovers Point. We watched a wedding from afar, and my mom shared a rocky waterfront perch with some of the local wildlife.


We really enjoyed the laid-back feel of the town, where the main street is lined with pretty Victorian-style buildings, and colorful neighborhoods lead down to the sea.

 

I wish I had had more room on my sketchbook page to add a drawing of Pacific Grove, but the page was full, so I concluded by simply listing what we did that day. 


We saw a lot during our whirlwind tour of the central coast of California, and my sketches will help me remember some of my favorite places. I just hope I make it back some day when I can actually see Big Sur!


Sunday, December 8, 2019

California Road Trip - Part 1 + Creating a Flow Sketch

My workshop in Santa Barbara last month was a huge success, and the road trip that followed, although not quite what I had expected, was a lot of fun, too, and showed me a part of California that I had always wanted to see. I took hundreds of pictures along the way, so I have plenty of digital memories safely stored on my computer, but I think the moments that will really stay with me are the ones I captured in my sketchbook. 

Ink & watercolor in a Khadi 6-1/2" x 5" hardcover sketchbook with 140 lb. watercolor paper

I did a few larger sketches during the workshop in Santa Barbara and I'll post those eventually, but the page I want to share with you today is this "flow sketch" that shows some of the highlights of our first few days in California.

Click to enlarge

On a fast-paced trip like this one, I don't always draw the sketches on location. Rather, at the end of each day, I pencil in the image after looking back through photos I took that day. I think of a flow sketch like this as a sort of  "Table of Contents" for the trip, an overview of where we went and what we did. I block everything in during the time we're traveling, then finalize the page with ink and paint when I get home.

When creating a page like this, I have to distill down all that I experience in a day and choose only a few elements to sketch. I ask myself:

  • What really stands out about the day? 
  • What did I enjoy the most? 
  • What was the most beautiful, unusual, or interesting thing I did or saw? 
  • What was funny or disappointing or surprising?

These are the things that I tend to draw. There's no right or wrong choice, but what I choose to sketch does end up being important. It's what I'll remember most about that time, years in the future.

The first thing I did for this two-page spread was to pencil in the title. I knew that my ten-day trip would take up more than these two pages, but I didn't have any kind of preconceived page design in mind. I only knew that I wanted to do a flow sketch, where one image flows into the next, showing a timeline of images. I decided to make the title fairly bold and prominent. I used two contrasting lettering styles, and when I painted it later at home, I used an ombré treatment on the block letters.


Our first day in Santa Barbara was spent doing touristy things like visiting the beach, the Santa Barbara pier, the Mission, the downtown area, and the county courthouse, a beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival style masterpiece built in the early 20th century.


I had two reference photos for the courthouse, and I decided to draw a modified front view since it was easier to draw and showed more of the actual look of the building. I use photos as a tool, but I don't feel obligated to make my drawing match a photo. And remember, these sketches are tiny, so it's not necessary to include all the details.


My workshop began the next day in the expansive upper story of a cute barn on the coast in Carpinteria, about 20 minutes south of Santa Barbara. In the morning we sketched in and around the barn then moved to Rincon Point Beach in the afternoon for some plein air sketching.


Rincon Point State Beach

I had good reference photos for both Day 2 images, but I felt a little silly trying to reduce a 1/2 mile long beach into a sketch just an inch and a half wide. Oh, well, all I needed was an impression, not a faithful rendering of all the details. The curved line of the lettering helped to separate the two sketches.

The next day we took a field trip to Mission Santa Barbara where we spent a few hours painting on location.

Mission Santa Barbara

The rose gardens in front of the mission were my favorite part of our visit, so I included them in my sketch.


I used a plastic ellipse template to make all the "Day --" shapes on the page. Adding a shadow to the lower left side of each pale Phthalo Blue ellipse helped to make the dates more prominent. The arrows that direct the viewer's eye from one day to the next were all painted with a deeper value of the same color. Painting them a rich, bold color was a good choice to keep this busy page from becoming completely unreadable.

We spent the final day of the workshop back at the barn. In the afternoon, the students designed a composite sketch filled with items they had picked up at Rincon Point...


and I demonstrated techniques for adding texture to beach pebbles.


After hugs and goodbyes for all my new-found friends, my mom, my friend, Candy, and I packed up and headed up the coast the next day. We stopped for breakfast in Buellton, "The Split-Pea Soup Capital of the World".


Reference photos for this sketch were everywhere - on billboards, buildings, souvenirs, and menus. I thought the whole idea of being the "Split-Pea Soup Capital of the World" was really funny, so I felt compelled to include it in my flow sketch.


It was sunny all day as we traveled up Route 1, so we had beautiful views of Morro Bay, where we stopped for an hour or so. We visited the nature center to learn about all the wildlife that flocks to this area, so I included some birds on my sketch as a reminder.



We watched sea otters lolling on their backs, munching on oysters near Morro Rock...


but my reference photo left a lot to be desired...

Add caption

so I simply drew a circle frame to be filled in later after consulting my good friend, Google images, and finding some good reference photos of adorable sea otters.

We arrived at our hotel in Cambria in the afternoon, just in time for a walk to Moonstone Beach.


It was late in the day and and a ferocious wind was blowing.

Moonstone Beach in Cambria, CA

My mom and I layered on all the warm clothes we had and were still cold - not at all what I was expecting for California!
My cute mother and favorite traveling companion, Saundra

We covered a lot of territory on Day 5 as we traveled north from Santa Barbara to Cambria, so instead of including just one or two sketches that day, I drew five. More sites + more time for sketching = more vignettes on my flow sketch.


Drawing the rough sketches for a flow sketch in pencil gives me a lot of flexibility when it comes time to ink everything back at home. I can change the size or position of a sketch, move the lettering, change the size or style of it, fine-tune shapes, and add elements that might help to round out the page design.

Sure, this all takes time, but while I'm working on the sketch, I'm reliving each one of those experiences and remembering the people, the laughter, the weather, the animals, the gorgeous scenery, and the feeling of joy that I felt to be exploring a place that I've always longed to see. Sketching for me is a journey, not a race to the finish. I love the whole process, so why hurry?

Up next: California Road Trip - Part 2
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