Bufano, the California Coast, and Colma

Peace Obelisk

On the way north to Anchor Bay I passed the tall totem at Timber Cove, just north of Jenner on Highway 1. In the past, when I had seen this sculpture, I thought of it as an odd bit of eccentric art, but now, because I had sketched many of his pieces around the Bay Area, I knew it to be the Italian-American sculptor Benny Bufano’s final masterpiece.

On my return trip south, I knew that I needed to stop and sketch the 93 foot tall obelisk that commands a prominent perch at the Timber Cove Inn in Sonoma County. This missile- like structure was started around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the following seven years it took to finish, saw the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. It seems most fitting that this work is known as the “Peace Obelisk” and “Madonna of Peace”.  An exclamation mark to the end a violent and unsettling decade.
Peace is a continuous theme in Bufano’s work. This is perhaps best illustrated by his piece that is at San Francisco City College, St. Francis of the Guns (1968). The sculpture was created using the metal collected from 2,000 handguns and the mosaic depicts four assassinated leaders: the Kennedy brothers, King, and Lincoln. A true transformation of a weapon of violence to a symbol of peace.



The final sketch is from Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma. This is Bufano’s final resting place and it is one of my favorite pieces. He designed his own headstone and the mosaic representing a tree covered in birds, crowned with a sleeping blue cat is the ultimate vision of peace.



Mendocino Coast

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On this MLK three day weekend I headed north with no other agenda than a location: the Mendocino coast, and a place to lay my head (and put up my feet): Mar Vista Cottage Number 7 and my sketchbook and paints.

The Mar Vista cottages are located in Anchor Bay, just north of the Sonoma-Mendocino border. The cast of characters at Mar Vista include the welcoming Renata and Tom, a car chasing black dog named Rascal, two goats, four feral cats named Sally, Farrell, Romeo and Juliette, and about 40 chickens. The organic garden outside my front door was open for the pickings and the feathered ladies of Mar Vista provided four fresh eggs every evening. I was in one of the cottages with a wood burning fireplace. So I had to sketch and paint it. What else is a sketcher supposed to do?


One of the free range chickens of Mar Vista.

When I left San Francisco, I left one of those mild, sunny winter’s days that somehow is repayment for the long cold summer and traded it for a drizzly, grey and wet Mendocino day, very reminiscent of a cold San Franciscan summer. This was not going to stop me from sketching so I headed north to Bowling Ball Beach, just south of Point Arena. I hiked a mile south from Highway 1 into an alien landscape, shrouded in a dense drizzle. I had timed my visit so the “bowling balls” would be visible, which requires a low tide below 1.5 feet. These round boulders are called concretions and are formed by minerals in the sedimentary rock as the softer sediments erode away. Sketching and painting in the drizzle was like someone standing behind my left shoulder with a huge spray bottle, constantly misting my pages. The mist gave the rocks a diffused and mottled look. It is now a record of the conditions I worked in and a drizzle was never going to stop me from sketching outdoors.

Bowling Ball Beach

Bowling Ball Beach, Mendocino County.




Sea Elephants Part 2

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

-T.S. Elliot

In the New Year I return to its namesake, Ano Nuevo State Park, to see the return of the male elephant seals. In fact there were 235 bull seals hauled up on the beaches and dunes and 53 pups. During this time of year all tours are led by docents and we joined a group of about 15.

At the staging area, a juvenile peregrine falcon spiraled overhead to the complete obliviousness of our group. Some of these people looked like they were on Disneyland’s Safari ride and wanted to be entertained immediately! And some of the ensuing questions like, “can we pet them?”, “are they bored?” and “do they drink water?” show a complete lack of natural literacy. Talk about nature deficit disorder!

Our docent led us over and through the dunes where the sounds of the massive males reached us before we saw them. As we made our way through, the members of our group photographed everything in front of them without really seeing them. As a recovering professional photographer I truly knew the distinction.

While they shot away on their cellphones, I calmly sketched the elephant seals, noticing the details and taking them in with my senses. Sketching is such a simple, unhurried way to translate the outside world into a memory or an observation. In that moment of sketching I could have been a scientist on Drakes’ voyage, seeing an elephant seal for the first time.

When sketching, you are always really seeing something for the first time.


We were within twenty feet of one male who was covering himself with sand to help cool him down.


Year’s Ending-Begining

“The best way to find out if something needs to be in the picture is to leave it out.”

-Tom Hoffmann

I end the year 2014 with a sketch and I begin the year with a sketch. And what exactly else is a sketcher supposed to do?

I am currently reading Tom Hoffmann’s excellent book Watercolor Painting (2012). While the title seems pedestrian and predictable, this book is anything but. So many of my watercolor books are about technique, if you want to paint this way do A, B and maybe C. Hoffmann offers few techniques or tricks. Instead his book is more about what not to paint. The secret to sketching and painting is seeing. Seeing your sketch and knowing what to include and what to leave out, how much detail one should add, and when to stop and put your pens and paints away and close your sketchbook. In other words: simplify.

To this end I followed one of Hoffmann’s suggestions and headed to Sunset Reservoir, turned towards Big Blue and created a five-value monochrome sketch. I chose sepia and painted the scene before me on this crisp and clear day, the final day of 2014. It seemed a fitting, zen-like way to end the year. By only using one color, I was forced to assess the values in front of me. I took the complex scene before me and translated it into a simple sketch.



For my first sketch of the 2015 I chose a subject that I have seen many times as a child and a subject that I wanted to sketch for some time: Benny Bufano’s sculpture: Peace. For four decades this 30 foot sculpture greeted visitors to the San Francisco International Airport and now has been downgraded to the side of the road on Brotherhood Way. It seems ironic that a sculpture that is dedicated to “the Ideal of Peace Among All the Peoples of the World” should be marooned amid all the new construction where motorists rarely stop and look at the statute and it is increasingly hemmed in by the jumble of boxy homes that surrounds it.

It is a fitting subject to begin the New Year with, for sketching brings me much peace in a world that can be cluttered and confusing. Perhaps this is an apt metaphor for the stature itself as she peacefully gazes above and beyond the constant stream of traffic and the cookie cutter homes that run rampant, up the hillside behind her.

Happy New Year. May 2015 bring you much joy and peace.

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Peace by Beniamino Bufano (1958)