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Bahia Asuncion Watercolors

We spent the bulk of our Baja trip in a fishing town called Bahia Asuncion about halfway down the peninsula on the Pacific Coast. The town itself is somewhat drab and utilitarian rather than charming, but the landscape around it is fascinating. It’s incredibly austere — none of the plants are over waist high, they’re widely spaced, and none of them had foliage while we were there — and I was at first a little unsure about the place as a vacation destination. But it grew on me, as desert landscapes tend to do, and the beaches are fantastic, endless and empty of other people. I made about a dozen watercolors while I was there, doing the sketch on site during the day and then adding color during the evening.


I also made two watercolors of the central desert we drove through to get there, Ocotillos, Cardons, and Boojums in the boulder gardens.



And I did three watercolors of the missions. One of an Elephant Tree at Mission Mulege.


And two at Mission San Ignacio.


Rock Creek Watercolors


Last week we went out to Bishop for a wedding and then afterwards spent the rest of the week camping in the area. We went a few different places, including three days at Rock Creek, where I made several watercolors along the creek heading up from our campground to the lake, my first watercolors of the year.


Though it’s called Rock Creek, the prominent feature in that section is a beautiful riparian grass. I’m not sure the species.


Up top, Rock Creek Lake is a beautiful alpine lake surrounded by pines and aspens. It seemed like peak time for the coloring of the aspens, a great time to be there.

Cycling Tahoe

I recently rode my bicycle around Lake Tahoe. I’ve been wanting to do that ride for years and figured I should do it now, while my legs are fit from my Portland-to-SF ride. It was great. You don’t see the lake quite as much as I thought, a fair bit goes through what I would characterize as alpine suburbia, and the best views are from the same vista points that I’ve known for years, but it’s a beautiful ride and a beautiful lake, one of California’s best. I made some quick sketches similar to my Portland-SF sketches.

Coast Cycling Thumbnails

These are my sketches from the coast. They were all done very quickly at the end of the day, sitting at a picnic table at camp or sometimes in my tent with a headlamp, recording some of the images that stayed in my head. A few show specific places such as the view of the bridge across Coos Bay or the sand dunes at Honeyman Memorial State Park, but most of them represent the kind of half-remembered amalgam views that make up the bike-touring experience.

— Update — I turned a few thumbnails into watercolors. Views of the road, rather than from the road, below.

Jessie Square Watercolors

I recently made a series of postcard-sized watercolors of Daniel Libeskind’s addition to the Contemporary Jewish Museum in Jessie Square, an exciting bit of architecture with nothing else like it in San Francisco. The original brick building is gorgeous in its own right, a PG&E substation dating from 1881, designed by Willis Polk, listed on the National Register in 1974, and taken over by the museum in 1984. A few years ago the museum renovated the interior and expanded the building by adding the skewed metal cube shown in my watercolors. The design is wonderfully executed, and though there’s a part of me that dislikes seeing a skewed metal Borg cube perched upon a beautiful historic building, a much larger part loves the way this particular metal cube perches on this particular historic building.

It’s probably the most effective addition I’ve seen for a building like this. As a treatment of a historic structure, it follows a template laid out by IM Pei’s addition to the Louvre, executing the addition with forms and materials that completely contrast with the original structure. There are a few motives for this. One is that there have been so many failed attempts at matching historic construction techniques that there is a reluctance to try again. It’s often too hard or expensive to find the right materials or builders to match the existing work. The second is that modern concerns such as earthquake and fire safety often require new building techniques that will create an underlying mismatch even if the look of the old structure is maintained. It’s dishonest to copy the look of the old building if the underlying structure does not also match. The third is that by offering a contrast to the old structure, people will be able to interpret which are the historic elements and perhaps maintain an appreciation or understanding of them. We don’t build brick buildings like this any more; preserving the building allows people a chance to connect with the era when we did. A fourth reason, perhaps less admirable but undeniably a factor, is that donors, boards, architects, and the public all like to see flashy new designs. You advance quicker in the design world if your works stands out and attracts attention instead of sensitively blending with its context.

These are all valid reasons, but they are sometimes a little shortsighted. These steel and glass additions don’t always respect the past, often they overpower it. I thought the glass pyramid in front of the Louvre was an eyesore when I first saw it years ago, and I stand by that judgement, even if the current consensus is that the pyramid was a success. But even if Libeskind’s addition shares some of its lineage with the Louvre, it’s so much more beautifully executed, with a complex presence that energizes the site. From some vantage points it dominates the scene, but from others it’s barely visible, peaking around the corner with its intriguing angles. And underlying everything, the structure wonderfully matches its use; it’s form really does match with its function as the home for the Contemporary Jewish Museum. There’s something perfect about joining the old and the new on a building that houses a modern museum for an ancient culture.

Click to Enlarge

Cerritos Beach, Baja

Happy New Year. I took a bit of a blogging break there. I’ve been busy with projects and a vacation down to Baja. I should probably comment on this crazy drought we’re having or this evenings blessed rain, but my head is still in vacation mode.

These watercolors are all from Cerritos Beach on the Pacific coast north of Cabo San Lucas. I was staying in a palapa on the beach, but there’s an upscale hotel, Hacienda Cerritos, on the bluff overlooking it. I’m not usually interested in resort architecture, but this one is done really well, with beautiful detailing, including hand-carved doors, carved stonework, colorful tiles, custom wrought-ironwork, a diaper pattern in the brick dome, and lots of other grand touches. I would describe it as tastefully ostentatious, if that makes sense. There’s a video tour if you click thru to their website, though I recommend first hitting mute because there’s an audio track that cheapens it. While I was painting in the courtyard I heard a few different groups of people go through, and everyone gave out some form of ‘wow’ as they first saw the space.

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