My 50th Post: Maps

Maps, a way to find yourself or a way to document a passage.

Sketching has always been a journey, sometimes a physical one and other times an internal one. The byproduct of the journey results in a journal page, something that is left behind. That’s really what the sketcher tries to do: leave a record of an experience, a cityscape, a natural encounter, or a hike. In some of these leavings I have used a map to record the experience.

On my recent trip to The Sea Ranch I hiked along the coast from the Sea Ranch Lodge to the Olson Rec Center. There was nothing physically left of the journey but afterwards I memorialized the passage in a journal spread that noted the path and places names of the hike, as well as  the birds I encountered along the way. One being the Official Sea Ranch Bird (proclaimed by the sketcher): the northern flicker.

Bolinas Lagoon

This spread records a birding trip out to western Marin and  Bolinas Lagoon. This sketch was again done after the trip but it records the birds seen: great blue heron, bald eagle, Caspian tern, and Clark’s grebe. I also noted the mammalian life: harbor seal and coyote. When I look back at this page and the insert map, I am brought back to that May day in 2012.


An extremely rare bird sighting is always a subject for a spread, in this case the uncommon, common cuckoo seen at Watsonville Slough, south of San Francisco on September 29, 2012. This cuckoo was only the second record in the lower 48, a bird that brought people from all over the country to add this rarity to their North American life list. Luckily I didn’t have to go far to see this bird. I was able to get a quick sketch in the field (on the right side above my hanko) and I then added the cuckoo, both clock and bird at a later time. The map shows where the bird was first seen and where I (and many other birders) found the bird on the following day.


Another lifer and another sketch with a map. This time a pectoral sandpiper in western Marin.

RSHA Highlands

And finally a sketch that is not about a wayward rarity, lost on the west coast but a rather common raptor in the Bay Area: the red-shouldered hawk. This sketch records a series of  sightings of the resident pair of hawks that hunt my school’s playing field in the early morning before students arrive. I included a map to document the bird’s movements from hunting perch to the ground, to the soccer goal post (the “woodwork”), back across the field to the baseball backstop. On some wet mornings I have observed a red-shouldered eating worms like an American robin.

I have used this spread to teach my students how to take notes. It includes a lot of note taking strategies: writing, images and diagram, and of course a map. Ultimately it teaches students to pay attention to their environment, where the mundane is often extraordinary. But the first step is to look around you and see the wonder.






The Sea Ranch

I recently spent a few days at The Sea Ranch on the Sonoma Coast. This is a place to recharge your batteries, write, sketch, hike, and do report cards. The Sea Ranch is about two and a half hours (100 miles) north of San Francisco and runs ten miles south from the Mendocino County border at the Gualala River in a narrow strip in between the rocky-coved coastline and the San Andreas Fault.

It was developed in the 1960’s and it is renowned around the world for its innovative and influential architecture. The original concept was to create buildings that worked with and not against the rugged Sonoma coast landscape. The design and style was influenced from it’s setting and the existing farm buildings on the former sheep ranch. As founding landscape architect Lawerence Halprin expressed it:

I was convinced that Sea Ranch could become a place where nature and human habitation could intersect in a kind of intense symbiosis that would allow people to become part of the ecosystem

I stayed in the iconic Sea Ranch Lodge ( featured sketch) which was among the first four buildings erected on the site to be a place where the community meets, picks up their mail and has a cocktail and a meal. This building is bookended by the iconic stylized rams heads that is Sea Ranch’s logo, designed by Barabara Stauffacher.

Room #2

I stayed in room number 2. The room had the feeling of being in an elegant coastal barn but with an expansive view out to the west of Big Blue and the lines of pelican and cormorant that passed over Bihler Point.

Sea Ranch Chapel

I headed north on Highway One to sketch one of the touchstones of my sketching universe, the Sea Ranch Chapel. I sat on a stone bench in front of the chapel, which was created without a blueprint. I started to sketch, using a Micron “Brown” pen. A visitor wandered out of her way to see what I was doing. She asked knowingly, ‘Doing a sketch?” Then she looked toward the uneven, shingled lines of this odd aquatic sea slug and offered, “Good luck.” But I thought, finally I get to sketch a building, without using a single straight line.

My father once paid me a compliment as he looked over the architectural sketches in one of my journals. He said, “You draw really good straight lines.” This coming from my father who was an engineer and always thought in straight lines. This has always been the best compliment I have every had about my sketching.

So I went into the chapel  and said a few words to close and holy golden light, a message to my departed dad.