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.
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.
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?
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.
Drawn at eight in the morning, while sitting on the porch of the cute little house in Pacific Grove; from the east, golden sunlight peeped through the fog that ghosted in from the west. This old house was right opposite and I was determined not to leave without sketching it, and I’m well pleased with it. I wish, I wish, I wish I could fill an entire sketchbook just with drawings of Pacific Grove houses. Now there’s a thought! How much fun would that be?
While people who nap take naps, the people who sketch go out and sketch. It’s my way of napping, and for someone who likes drawing big old houses, Pacific Grove is like a dream. There were so many to choose from, and such little time, that I settled on this big green hotel, the Centrela. The ocean fog was descending a little and making the world feel damp, but that’s partly what I came there for, from the hot dry Sacramento Valley. When I was finished sketching this, I spoke to a man who was from South Harrow. Small world, huh. Not that I’m from Harrow of course, no no I’m from Burnt Oak, but you know, London/Middlesex connection.
I have a thing about fire hydrants, as you know. So I took the time to sketch some. I like the little one with the red top. I understand that the colours on top of the fire hydrants have something to do with water pressure? That’s what I heard, and I’m not going to let the ability to just look it up quickly on Google distract me from finding out if it’s true or not. I think of them as little characters, with little Smurf hats, guarding the street corners like gargoyles.
And here is a mermaid. You didn’t know mermaids existed, did you. Well, this is proof, isn’t it (not that it would stand up in court). She was lolling outside a boutique on Lighthouse Avenue, covered in seashells and beads. I wanted to ask if there existed types of mermaids with the fish bit on top and the legs on the bottom (I think I saw that in Red Dwarf once).
We took a few days family time away in a cute little house in Monterey – Pacific Grove, to be precise, down on the California coast. After the non-stop sketchathon of Portland it was just what I needed – not that I stopped sketching, of course.
It really was a cute little house, but just right for us. the beach was a shortish walk away, and playing on the sand was so relaxing. Having spent so much time around architects, I took a slightly more technical apprach to building sandcastles, and constructed irrigation channels beside them so that the incoming tide would just wash around them like a moat. Yeah, that didn’t last long; King Canute I am not. I hadn’t built sandcastles in years.
This cute little house did have a strict ‘no sand’ policy, though – even though they charge quite hefty cleaning fees per stay, they still wanted to see no evidence of beach activity whatsoever. Perhaps it clogs up their vacuum cleaners. Yet I couldn’t exactly strip off outside. I was quite paranoid having to tiptoe to the bathroom with sand in the toes and sand on my clothes. I can never clean it off at the beach itself. I always make the same mistake of using the sea to wash off the sand. That never works, folks.