San Juan Bautista, again 

Last Saturday morning I drove the 40 minutes from my cabin in Santa Cruz to the mission town of San Jusn Bautista.

For the past three years and beyond we have made a field trip to the underwhelming Mission San Jose and at the beginning of this year we floated around the idea of visiting a new mission. Our top choice was Mission Dolores in San Francisco, but parking is always an issue.

I have always believed that the best mission within 60 minutes is San Juan Bautista. The journey will take an hour and ten but who would not want to take 60 fourth graders to the mission featured in the best movie of all time (according to the British Film Institution), Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I do remember a fourth graders review of the masterpiece: “Driving and talking and driving and talking and trees!”

Well then they might enjoy the massive three aisled church, the arched colonnade, a part of the original El Camino Real, and of course the local cannabals (the Breens of the Donner Party were early residents).

I arrived early, before the mission opened, and was surprised to learn that a foot race was in progress, the finish line being right on the plaza. The loud pop music blared from the portable speakers, somehow didn’t jive with the California history which surrounded me.

I sat on a picnic bench across the square from the mission and I started to sketch until the mission opened. The sketch that resulted is this post’s featured image.

I then entered the mission and took notes to create a new scavenger hunt for our fourth graders.



On a recent Saturday, I went with a friend to the newly renovated San Francisco Modern Art Museum (SFMOMA).I checked my bag but brought in my Aquajournal and pencil case.

We headed up to the 6th floor, which we were informed was not very crowded because it contained German art since 1960. I turned to my friend and challenged him to exclaim, “That isn’t art!!” when a piece was a fine example of a white painted canvas  masquerading as “fine art” or a similar example of an artist extracting large sums of money  from a wealthy patron with a minimal amount of talent (or effort).

We  headed down to the fifth floor and the impressive and massive canvases of Chuck Close. Here too were a few Ruschas and Rauschenbergs. We entered a gallery and a tall, thin  pyramid of white florescent lights elicited a “That isn’t art!!” from my companion. Wow, that didn’t take long!

I wandered into a gallery called “British Sculptors” and a Gordsworthyesque circle of stones caught my attention. I took out my journal and started to sketch. I started with a light pencil sketch to capture the form and then I chose that black weapon of death, the Ultra Fine Point Sharpie, from my holster. I had been spotted! The blue-suited gallery guard stood in front of me and asked the mystifying question, “Is that a ball point?” This question was so odd that I asked the guard to repeat the question. Is that a ball point? No, I thought, can’t you see that it’s an Ultra Fine Point Sharpie?! Any pillock can see that! The guard informed me that only pencils and not Ultra Fine Point Sharpies were allowed in the museum. And so my sketch was left half finished, halted by the pen police.


Busted with a  ball point (the weapon was really an Ultra Fine Point Sharpie). And Richards Serra’s amazing work, Sequence (2006).

A highlight of the MOMA was an amazing sculpture by the San Francico born Richard Serra. The sculpture was titled Sequence and was remanisant of Serra’s pieces I have sketched last spring at the Guggenheim Bilbao. Walking in between the twisted rusted steel plates gives the viewer a 360 degree experience and the feeling of passing through a narrow Utah canyon.

I ended my visit with  two sketches, a sketch of one of my favorite pieces, Robert Arneson’s California Artist and another of the exterior from Yerba Buena Gardens. This museum was a little easier to sketch than Gehry’s Spanish Silver-flying-fish!


The Oregon Coast

I started my journey from Portland to the Oregon coast by first driving north on Highway 5 into the state of Washington. I doubted my GPS so much that I pulled off the highway to make sure I was going to arrive in Astoria instead of Seattle! I eventually exited 5 and headed west, toward the coast and then south and into Astoria, Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River.

My first destination near Astoria was Ft. Stevens State Park  and the wreck of the Peter Iredale. The four masted barque ran aground on October 25, 1906 and its rusted, skeletal hull remains. I did a sketch from my camp chair.

On my way back to the parking lot, in fact as I was loading my camp chair into my trunk, I sensed a large raptor behind me. I turned around to see a bulky bird perched on top of a tall wooden post. I quickly rummaged through my recently pack daypack for my pencil bag and journal. I got off a sketch before the bird flew off to the west over the Pacific.


I wish I could have identified this raptor before it flew off!

After watching a humpback feeding in the mouth of the Columbia, I headed south toward a piece of Lewis and Clark history: Ft. Clatsop. This fort is a replica of the fort that the Corps of Discovery built and over wintered in during 1805-06. Historians think the replica is close to where the first fort was located but we will really never know. The design is based on a sketch of the fort done by members of the expedition.

The Corps of Discovery spent a very wet and cold winter at Ft. Clatsop before heading back up the Columbia on their return voyage to the United States. What is most remarkable is that in the entire journey, they did not lose a single soul.

After sketching the Ft. Clatsop replica I headed to my night quarters in Seaside. After checking in I headed south to the most famous beach in the Oregon coast: Cannon Beach. The beach was full of people but I found a relatively quiet patch to set up my camp chair and start a sketch of the iconic Haystack Rock. I only attracted the attention of a few dogs and children (that has to be some sort of metaphor) as I was able to finish two sketches: one in color with ink and the other a monochromatic painting in pencil.


The monochromatic monolith, Haystack Rock.


A little behind the sketch footage!