CA Sketchcation, Big Sur: "Fire to the Left, Hundred Foot Drop to the Right. What could go wrong?"

August 31, 2016

Some of you might be aware that Big Sur is on fire right now, and has been for weeks. Luckily, Route 1 was only briefly closed and that didn't overlap with my trip. However, it means that the hills were a little smokier than usual (though with the clouds and fog that was also in the region while I was driving, it was a little tough to differentiate what was weather and what was smoke), and also that the national parks in that area are all closed. The only real bummer for me was that Hearst Castle was also shut down, and that was one of the few non-landscape attractions I was interested in seeing. Ah well though, I guess I'll have to go back!

 

My drive started in Aptos. It was to be my biggest driving day on the way down, with about four and a half hours of driving down the windy coast. I had decided to start early to try to give myself plenty of time to sketch on the way down. What I didn't realize: California this time of year is very cloudy and foggy in the morning! So I stopped off very soon into my drive at the Moss Landing Estuary to do a sketch from my car. Too chilly to sit outside! I also stuck around after sketching to wander a bit and watch the pelicans, otters, and other wildlife that resides at Moss Landing. I took a ton of photos (though much of the wildlife was too far to sketch, perhaps I need to add binoculars to my sketch kit!) so I'm hoping to add some pelican watercolors to my repertoire at some point!

 

 

 

Continuing my drive south after I killed an hour in Moss Landing, I stopped again when the ocean dropped off and dramatic cliffs started materializing to my right. I found a good spot, took my kit out, and started painting. Not too long after, a tourist asked if he could take my photo. When I said "sure," everyone else started taking my photo too! So somewhere, in a handful of people's vacation photos, they have photos of me sketching! This wasn't the only time people took interest in my sketching, though I will say I was overall less bothered and had fewer people stop to look than in other locations I've sketched, but it was definitely the only time I felt like part of the scenery. 

 

 

 

After about five minutes of driving I saw a bridge in the distance and pulled over so fast I can still hear the tires screeching. (Parents: This is hyperbole. I very carefully pulled over at a safe speed.)  Bridges are one of my favorite things to paint, and I had planned before the trip even began to stop and paint at least one of the bridges along the Big Sur coastline, surrounded by cliffs and hills. I waded through the shrubs using thin, barely-there paths, wondering where I might be able to set up to sketch. Soon enough, a clearing opens up ahead and I hear music. I see the back of a man, sitting on a camping chair, playing a banjo and singing along. We get to talking, and it turns out he's the caretaker of an adjacent property. He shows me what he believes to be the best view (I agreed) and he played the banjo and we chatted while I sketched! Shout-out to Collin the Banjo-playing Caretaker in Big Sur!

 

 

 

As I continued the increasingly windy drive, I was ditracted not only by gorgeous scenery but also by the distinct lack of guardrails on some of the scarier parts of the drive. There were times that there wasn't even so much as a curb between me and the possibility of accidentally driving off a cliff. It made me wish I had a personal driver to worry about staying on dry land so all I had to worry about was enjoying the pretty scenery! Sadly, some of the most beautiful sites had no turn-offs on the roadside so I couldn't take photos. Leaving San Francisco, there was a moment where there was a beautiful valley, bathed in rare (rare, at least for my trip) sunlight that actually took my breath away. (Full disclosure, I said "Holy fuuuuuuuu......" and ran off as it took my breath away.)

 

My last stop of the day before making my way to my airBNB in San Luis Obispo, was a beach to try and capture the look of the light from the setting sun hitting the back of the rocks. 

 

 

 

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