selfies in san francisco

SF Boat and Selfie Stick
A couple of weeks ago or so we took advantage of a special offer on the Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains where if you buy a ticket, your family or friends can come too for only $5 each way. Since it costs $60 to get to San Francisco these days, which is a lot of money actually, a day out in the city would usually cost me $180 in train tickets alone, but as it was it cost only $80. “Only” $80; I could buy a lot of Lego with that. Well, maybe not a lot, but some. One or two decent sets anyway. The Avengers Tower plus the Ant Man set perhaps. I don’t know, let me think about this actually, I am making my list. Anyway, my wife, my son and I all jumped on the train at 8:25 in the morning and travelled down to San Francisco for a day of just wandering in the city, seeing stuff. It’s such a nice train journey across the Delta and along the Bay, and my son had never been on that journey before. He liked it I think, but he did his best to put on his I’m Bored face everywhere we went in San Francisco. I thought the change of scenery (and cooler weather) would us all some good, but he really wanted to get back to his Lego (tsk, we’re so different). I took him to the Musee Mecanique however, and that was a hit, It’s on Fisherman’s Wharf and is full of old arcade games from the past century, and we had a great time; he particularly liked the skee ball game, while I battled it out as Magneto and Cyclops on “X-Men vs Street Fighter”. Stupid Dhalsim and his long arms, no match for the might of the Master of Magnetism! (Actually I lost). Anyway afterwards we walked down to the water’s edge, to the little sandy beach area at Aquatic Park. While my son paddled his feet in the water with my wife, I sketched the scene, with the boat SS Balclutha moored on the jetty. I have sketched that ship before. As I sketched, a young woman on the beach was taking selfies, and lots of them. hundreds perhaps. Selfies from above, below, standing, crouched, lying down, facing the boat, facing the bridge, facing the sand, facing the sky, facing the city, every possible iteration of selfie there is (ok not every possible iteration). With the dreaded “Selfie-Stick” of course, bane of everyone’s lives, and if you believe the press, on the verge of being universally banned from existing anywhere ever. She was very happy, and why not, in the sunshine, next to an amazing city backdrop, Golden Gate Bridge free of fog, why not. Passers-by called her the “Selfie Queen”, probably fair, but it made me think of the actual Queen, whose face as we know is on all the money in England, I had visions of Elizabeth II holding up a twenty pound note and looking at it pulling a duck face (can I just point out I don’t know what that is but I hear the term a lot, I don’t care what it is either), and saying “One is taking a Selfie of One’s self,” while Prince Philip is looking at a Selfie-Stick and saying “What the bloody ‘ell is this?” while making some racist comment about tourists. Oh, the Royals. So, I added Selfie Queen (not my term) to the sketch. My wife joked that I should have drawn a selfie of myself with everything in the background, but it would have been hard holding the pen with the book stretched out in front of me, and then the painting, I couldn’t do it.

I only did one sketch that day, but I did come back down by myself a week later for the worldwide sketchcrawl (more train money spent). We got ice cream (not Ghirardelli, the lines were too long), and decided against queuing up for more than an hour for the cable car (Saturday afternoon isn’t the best time for that), so headed home.

at the edge of the ocean

Santa Monica Beach

I do like to be beside the seaside. One of my favourite places to be beside the sea is Santa Monica. I arrived on a Saturday afternoon and checked into my motel before walking down to the ocean front. I didn’t actually go onto the beach this time, but I stood up on the bluffs and sketched a panorama of the view looking toward the famous Santa Monica pier. It sure was windy. The sun was shining bright, so I stood beneath a palm tree and did my best. People walked by snapping pictures of them self (if only there was a word for that sort of thing), speaking in all sorts of languages. Behind me, the city of Santa Monica bustled. It was a busy Saturday.

santa monica cannon

I drew a cannon, as you can see. This big cannon sits up on the cliffs, it actually reminded me of Mr. Nosey, of Mr. Men fame. He was green of course but had the same general shape (in the old version, not in the newer upturned nose version, I really hate that version, it’s my Jar-Jar). As I sketched, people climbed on to have photos taken of themselves with a big cannon between their legs, if only there was a word for that sort of thing. After this, I had to go and watch Avengers Age of Ultron at probably the most comfortable movie theatre I’ve ever been to, the AMC in downtown Santa Monica. Massive reclining seats!!! I want to see every movie there.

santa monica pier

I did come back down to the Santa Monica pier again the next day for some last minute sketching, and I met up with my fellow Urban Sketcher and Santa Monica local Shiho Nakaza. I first met Shiho at the 1st Urban Sketching Symposium in Portland back in 2010, and she introduced me to that amazing brown-black uni-ball signo UM-151 pen that I now use all the time. You can follow her sketches at shihonakaza.blogspot.com. We didn’t have long to sketch, so we went out onto the pier and sketched the view. The waves were wild in the Pacific, and the sun was bright and strong. I had to finish up quickly though because I had to catch a bus back to the motel, and then to the airport (I only just made my plane!). I still have more sketches to post though, from (spoiler alert) Santa Monica’s historic Main Street, and from Venice’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard.

the full monterey

Monterey Fishermans Wharf Pier sm

One last one from Monterey. Click picture to make grow in size.

I’ve wanted to sketch the Old Fisherman’s Wharf at Monterey for a long time, it is very sketchable. When I first heard of it I imagined an old Klingon in a dinghy, but it’s a weather-beaten pier with garish candy stores, whale-watching tours, non-kid-friendly seafood restaurants and tacky souvenir shops. Apart from all that it’s great. They have a few sealions hanging out at the end for people to look at (the first time I came there were hundreds, but they must have had enough and left) and occasionally massive pelicans perch on the railings because they just don’t care; you wouldn’t if you were a bird with a mouth that big. It’s very pretty from here though, and so on our last day I finally got a chance to sketch it. It was a beautiful sunny day and very pretty beside the beach. Boats moored in the harbour swayed gently, seagulls squawked, people strolled hand in hand on the sand. I was going to colour the whole thing in, but I left it just with the Wharf coloured, but imagine it all blue and pretty. Yeah, I love Monterey.

lovers gonna love

monterey peninsula coastline
I love the sea. I love the land even more, because I tend not to sink when I stand on it, but the ocean is definitely nice to look at. The Monterey Peninsula has some dramatic coastline, and on our recent trip we were blessed with fog-free weather. The fog would hang out in the distance and occasionally wander in, but mostly it was very sunny. Above is a sketch I did while we were hanging out and hopping around rock pools at one of the beaches just west of Monterey itself.
lovers point, pacific grove
Later that day, we spent a few hours at our favourite little beach, Lover’s Point. Lovers gonna love. We really do love this spot, a very short walk from where we stay in Pacific Grove. We’ve been coming here since our son was about two, making sandcastles, paddling in the water, getting sandwiches stolen by seagulls (out of my hand! My actual hand!). This time we saw a whale! It was pretty majestic, what looked like a humpback whale, its tale coming out of the waters of the bay. There were a couple of them but I only saw the one. I’ve never seen a whale before.
Monterey Bay Aquarium

If you want sea-life though, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the place. It’s a brilliant aquarium (the large red octopus is my favourite, and it spread its tentacles across the glass) and I took the opportunity to sketch some of the fish and other creatures. Sketching fish, you need to be fast.

in the warm california sun

santa cruz beach boardwalk sm
More from our Labor Day weekend away: the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a hive of happy holidaymakers on a Saturday afternoon. It was warm and sunny, right by the Pacific Ocean, and we had spent the morning up on the cliffs watching surfers and out on the pier (or wharf) enjoying some very yummy ice cream and very tasty clam chowder. I do like to be beside the seaside. After the rest of the family headed back for a nap, I pottered down to the funfair on the Boardwalk and found (after some searching) a place in the shade to sketch. It was pretty busy, and that famous old rollercoaster rattled and screamed. It’s funny, staying in Santa Cruz you regularly hear the sound of girls screaming ringing through the night but in a wierdly normal (and clockwork) way, knowing it’s probably the rolloercoaster of that big thing that shoots people into the air and then drops them suddenly (why anyone would go on such an unholy contraption is beyond me). Perhaps it’s all the vampires. Below is a nice (and quickly sketched while waiting for pizza) view of the Boardwalk from the end of the street where we stayed. I liked this motel sign (that’s not where we stayed, we rented a small house).
Santa Cruz Motel Sign

a door on the beach

Pacific Grove Beach Door
On our trip to Santa Cruz, we drove down to the other end of Monterey Bay to Monterey itself, where we go every year. We spent a foggy morning at the playground, before spending a foggy morning at our little beach in Pacific Grove. Yes, the morning was foggy, but it burned off eventually. It wasn’t the only thing that burned. My feet, for one. The sunscreen went on them later than the rest of me, and it was too late. That stung later. Lesson learned. It was while I sat sketching this door, which is a sea-kayaking place. This was in the Moleskine with the uni-ball signo pen which of course runs a little when you add watercolor (I knew this and wanted it to add a bit of rough darkness to the stones), but which has amazing accuracy and control when sketching, more than any other pen I have used.

sketching lover's point beach

recently-burned feet just out of view

beneath a palm tree

on the beach at santa monica

We relaxed beneath a palm tree on the beach at Santa Monica, with an ice cream an a mango smoothie. I love it down there, by the Ocean. I’m a big fan of the Ocean Park area. I could live there.

ease your feet off in the sea

Pacific Grove, Lover's Point Beach

Though I do love to be beside the seaside, though I do love to be beside the sea, I’m not  a typical beach-loving person. I don’t do well in the Sun. Fortunately, it’s usually pretty foggy in Monterey, so I can enjoy the sandy-toed experience without frying to a crisp. And, as I rediscovered, making sandcastles is great fun.

This is Lover’s Point, in Pacific Grove. While waves may lash elsewhere, the rocks and kelp mean that the tide here is gentle, relaxing. The sand is a little stony around the edges of the beach, but in the centre it is soft and mellow. Get it wet, perfect for sandcastles.

When I was a kid, there was always a bucket and spade (they call it ‘shovel and pail’ here, which sounds like an unfunny comedy duo) (like Hale and Pace, though nobody could be that unfunny), sticks of rock, amusement arcades, bingo, deck chairs, maybe donkeys. None of that here. Except for the bucket and spade, obviously.  

i know what you're thinking, those are rubbish sandcastles, but i don't care

toe truck lover's point

sand between the toes

goat rock beach

The Sonoma coastline of California is utterly spectactular. Today was a lovely warm sunny March day. This naturally equals going to the beach for a fun family day out, and it was fun. We went to Goat Rock Beach, at the mouth of the Russian River, where harbor seal pups were enjoying the balmy weather. We had sand in the hair and sand between the toes; soft, warm sand, a gentle breeze, perfect sun. The waves were loud and dangerous. We skimmed flat stones on the river. I sat on a log and drew some of the rocky coastline, before turning about on the same log to draw the Russian River snaking towards the Pacific Ocean. I thought how so very different this is to the seasides I grew up with, the windy English seasides with pebbles and candy floss and buckets-and-spades, and those amusement arcades with the bingo machines (“maggie’s den, number ten”). Not that there’s anything wrong with that (far from it, I love those places!), it’s just that this spot is so spectacular, so incredibly breathtaking that I can’t believe it’s real.  

the mouth of the russian river

all along the rocky shore

monterey coastlineThe Monterey Peninsula is some of the most incredible coastline I’ve ever been to, and it’s teeming with wildlife. And massive expensive houses. We drove the 17-Mile Drive, getting out every so often to take pictures, paddle in the rockpools, spot whales (and we did! out in the distance), and I even managed to scribble a few quickies before hopping back into the car. There’s me sketching quickly by the rocks. The last time I’d been, the fog rolled in and out like an army of ghosts, but this time it was warm and sunny.pete sketches monterey

We visited the Point Pinos lighthouse, which was very interesting. It dates back to the 19th century, and is pretty well preserved. point pinos lighthouseYou’re not even allowed to use the toilet, it’s so well preserved. When I was a kid I used to want to live in a lighthouse (so many of them in north London). I think it was because of that show Round the Twist, where they all lived in a lighthouse, or it might have been because of Fraggle Rock. Let’s face it, it was the latter. My son enjoyed ringing the huge bell downstairs, but we weren’t allowed to go up to the lamp. During World War II, in fact only days after Pearl Harbor was bombed, Japanese planes flew by Monterey Bay, and this lighthouse was used as part of the coastal defences.

After 17-Mile Drive we lunched in Carmel-by-the-Sea, where Clint Eastwood was once mayor. I popped into a little candy store that sold British chocolates, at a price. $2.95 for a Curly-Wurly!!! Can you believe it? They used to be 15p. There was a Lamborghini parked outside. Curly-Wurlies are surely not luxury items. I imagine this rich movie star now, supermodel girlfriend, Lamborghini zooming down the coast, chomping on a Curly-Wurly. Didn’t stop there. $3.95 for a Fruit-n-Nut! Four bucks for a Walnut Whip, sod that mate, I’ll go without. I didn’t even check how much the box of Maynards Wine Gums were. We drove on to Carmel Mission, which is an absolutely gorgeous building on the edge of Big Sur, which looks like a trip back into the Mexican West. Another quick study, this time in wine red copic, and then off again.  
carmel mission