A few weeks ago we took an anniversary weekend out of Davis and down to Monterey. While the bigger fires closer to us had been contained or started to recede, other big fires in different parts of the state had created an even bigger smoke emergency, so this was probably the worst of all the poor air times in the 2020 fire season for us. San Francisco had the unforgettable Martian ‘orange sky’ day; further up the West Coast Portland and other cities were experiencing hazardous air conditions like we’ve never heard of. Probably a good time not to go anywhere. Or maybe, if we are just going to be stuck indoors, best to go and be stuck indoors at a nice hotel so it at least feels like a vacation. So we drove across the Valley and the Delta, and around the East Bay to the South Bay and everywhere was just dull toxic grey, like an apocalyptic waste, everything familiar hidden. We made it down to Monterey, and the thick smoke became mixed with thick fog. The AQI levels were still high, but slightly lower and damper now. Monterey will always have fog in September but we could barely see anything at all. We were staying in Pacific Grove, one of our real favourite places. As you can see from the sketch at the top, the fog was thick. I sat on the rocks along the coastline to draw. We even ate outside at actual restaurants, for the first time in six months, and that felt great. Pacific Grove is a charming town, on the top corner of the Monterey Peninsula. The houses all beg to be drawn, and I’m sure they get painted a lot. The air quality was good enough for me to go and walk about town and sketch, something I’ve been really missing in 2020. The sketch above is a hotel on Lighthouse. In the new social-distance pandemic reality I stood masked up out of the line of foot traffic or cars parking, the mask-steam on my glasses adding to the sea-fog and fire-smoke. I usually get over mask-steam on my glasses quickly, when I get a new mask it’ll happen the first or second time and then magically it stops as I adjust, but I find when I’m sketching that it happens more, because I look down a lot and it shifts things around. Still you need to wear the mask in Monterey or you get fined a hundred bucks. Nobody can use cash nowadays so I use that hundred bucks I am saving as an extra filter in my mask. I don’t really, but if I did it would might me not forget where I leave my mask when I’m at home. Actually one place here did take cash only, this lovely delicious bakery called Pavel’s Backerei. We came here to pick up breakfast, and there was a line outside. The pastries were huge and delicious. They didn’t take cards though, so it was lucky I had some actual cash on me – I don’t normally carry any, but it had been in my wallet since before the pandemic, maybe as a souvenir of the past. The bakery was on the same street as this impressive town hall, so later that day I came back and drew it. It was an awkward one to draw though, the sort that seems like a good idea but is less fun to actually execute. I enjoyed drawing the hotel on Lighthouse a lot more. This fence was right outside our hotel window. We had a nice room, just a block away from the sea (which was invisible) and the lighthouse (which was now closed to the public). A lot of golfers around here, loads of golf being played. I suppose people really like golf, it’s never appealed much to me, but that might be all the stuff that surrounds it rather than the actual hitting a ball and walking over fields bit, which sounds alright I suppose. I’m not allowed to watch golf in our house (my wife actually enjoys watching a bit of golf) because I make too many golf based jokes or puns on the golfers’ names. I can’t think of any now, I actually have to have the golf on to activate that particular box, so I’m just not allowed to watch it, which is a fair way. So, I draw rocks instead. There are so many rocks, it was like a rock festival. Sat there with my sketchbook I might have felt like a rock god. But I didn’t; rock gods don’t have to fend off seagulls who are looking to make off with your paintbox.
the full monterey
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
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.
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.
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.
nice times in pacific grove
Pacific Grove is lovely. We stayed in a beautiful little house not far from the beach, just a few houses up from the place we stayed back in 2010. This isn’t it; this is the view from the window, which I sketched early on the first morning, while my son played on the Wii. All of the buildings around there are so lovely, and I was going to do a panorama, but we had to go to the Aquarium. I could sketch Pacific Grove for ever. The house we rented really was lovely, but I never sketched it from the outside; next time. I did sketch the living room on the second morning, while we all sat around (my son’s on his Wii U again, my wife is on her iPad).
Here’s another beauty of an old building, around the corner on Lighthouse Avenue. I sketched it from across the street (right after sketching that fire hydrant; see last post). Imagine living in a building like this, old and full of places to explore. Maybe hidden passageways and secret doorways behind bookshelves, and paintings with eyes that follow you around the room. I was going to finish this off with some colour, but we had ordered pizza, so back home I went.
It’s been a couple of years since I last drew a fire hydrant, no kidding. That is, a sketch of a hydrant that is not a smaller detail of a bigger picture. Oh and not counting the underground one I drew in London last summer. So on our recent weekend away to Pacific Grove, on the Monterey Peninsula, I took the opportunity to sketch at least one that I’ve not captured before. Felt great to sketch a new one after all this time. I’ve not sketched any because I haven’t seen any I haven’t already sketched. Yeah, I’ve sketched ‘Jones’ ones this shape before I’m sure, but not this colour, this weird weather-worn slightly oxidized metal. It looks like an ancient junked-up Dalek. This one is up at Lighthouse Avenue, in Pacific Grove, and I giggled away listening to the Football Weekly podcast while sketching it. Oh fire hydrants, it is good to be back.
Hey, if you want to see the rest of them, why not go and my ‘hydrants and pipes‘ set on Flickr?
a door on the beach
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.
cannery row in monterey in california
Cannery Row in Monterey is an interesting place to sketch, and I’ve had my eye on this building above for a few years now. This ramshackle former gallery sits right on the waterfront, grizzling in the Ocean fog, timbers presumably shivering. I got out one afternoon while other family members tried to take an afternoon nap (not an easy task given the noise of seagulls and traffic), and sketched down Cannery Row.
This end is closer to the Aquarium, and is a tourist-trap mecca. Signs everywhere offer quotes from Steinbeck to people who go, ah yeah, must read that book some day, get an idea of what it was like, and then never read it, because they don’t really need to know what it was like beyond what the signs in the street tell them (that would be me, then). I can imagine the smell and the noise and the seagulls following trawlers because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea, and I can say it probably isn’t too different from today, except the smell is more likely to be chipotle grilled popcorn or something. Still it’s fun, and not quite as trashy as Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf pier (popular with pelicans and parolees on the day I went there). I’ll keep going back.
Finally, of course, a fire hydrant. While sketching this, a group of young men stopped to look at my sketchbook, and one of them, a black lad decked out in hip-hop gear, was so impressed he said, “Man, you got a motherf*#*#r’s details, man!” I cracked up; that was hands down the best compliment I’ve ever received. Especially for drawing a fire hydrant! And so, I went and met the family for a cold ice cream and a hot brownie. I do love Monterey. We go there every year.
under the sea
A few weeks ago we spent the weekend in Monterey, staying near Cannery Row. We like it down there – it’s a nice cool place to escape frm the central valley heat. The place we stayed at was a little noisy though, not just from traffic, but from seagulls, bloody seagulls all hours of the day and night. I love the sea, really really love it, I feel at home beside the big blue, but for the seagulls. Always folloiwng the trawler, thinking that sardines will be thrown into the sea, zut alors. Give me the things that swim below the waves. To see them, we went to Monterey Bay Aquarium.
This was the third time we’ve been. The first time was nice and relaxing, while the second time was less so (it was the addition of a constantly-running one-year-old, you see). This time was nicer; the one-year-old is now three, and a little more interested (but not as interested as he was in the trolley buses outside). I did what sketching I could (fish move pretty fast), and it was not easy in those large rooms with the deep sea tanks, it was dark and like drawing blind (and my green and blue microns were near invisible). That Ocean Sun Fish was an odd fish – absolutely huge, it was shaped more like an enormous chicken nugget than a fish.
The remnants of the old sardine canning industry can be seen here still, and there were lots of cool pipes and industrial features to draw. I love these sorts of things, they remind me of the game Mouse Trap. Thankfully, no little cage rattling down a pole, just a lot of people crowding in the gift shop.
to the shouting sea
It gets pretty foggy down at the Pacific Ocean’s edge. On our last morning in Monterey we took advantage of the cry of the sea one last time before we’d head inland to the hot Valley again. I painted the above pretty quickly; I was out of clean water for my paints so I used water from the Pacific Ocean itself to paint with. Seemed appropriate. This was still Pacific Grove, but further out, on the way to 17-Mile Drive.
My two-year-old son decided he’d like to help me with a bit of painting, so I gave him my paints and my brush, and even my nearly-complete brown sketchbook, and he painted the above. I think it’s just brilliant! He has a much better eye for colour than me. I can see us doing joint sketchbook projects in the future!
This last one is from the day before, when we had lunch at an interesting little place called Hula’s, where there was a lot to draw. And that was our short trip to Monterey. At some point soon I might start posting all the drawings I’ve done in Davis since the Symposium…
with water praying and call of seagull and rook
More of Monterey, California. I could spend weeks there just drawing boats, but these quick sketches were all I managed in the time I was there. We were at Fisherman’s Wharf, having seen the sea-lions lying about the rocks, and I was trying my ‘see how fast you can sketch’ style of rapid two-minute sketching while my son chased pigeons and seagulls.
If you ever go to Monterey and you have kids, I’d recommend the Dennis the Menace playground. It’s probably the best playground I ever went to. It was founded by the creator of Dennis the Menace (no, not that Dennis the Menace, but the ones we Brits simply call ‘Dennis‘, because let’s face it he’s nowhere near as menacing as our Dennis the Menace) One of the many highlights is the large old authentic steam engine they have, which kids can climb upon. Unless you’re a menace, of course.