Monthly Archives: April 2010

Happy Tail Syndrome

I was wandering around on Sunday morning and found my way to the gray side of Ballard, that strip of road below Market St. that leads down to shipping industry, winds under the bridge, and was really only designed to get trucks from somewhere to somewhere else. Lately it’s been shared by cyclists and runners who find the safe and secluded Burke Gillman trail suddenly comes to an end and spits them out under the Ballard bridge to fend for themselves against Manic Semis, Hungry Trader Joes Shoppers, and highly coiffed Mars Hill Church goers emerging from morning services. I always like this section because The pretty stuff is up a couple of blocks and not nearly as interesting even if it is encroaching fast. I saw this truck, a sewage pump truck, and next to it a late model RV. Behind all of this was a business closed off with barbed wire, housing dozens more plumbing and sewage vehicles, a couple of warehouse, a shipping crate with a mobile home on top, thousands of piled up tools and parts and a vicious sounding dog that would let anybody who passed know to stand clear. It was like a beacon. It was Jim Dandy’s Plumbing and Sewage.

When you are drawing a place for a sustained period of time, you’ll get to overhear plenty of conversations of passerby’s. Most people (myself included) will just fly past a place like this getting to their destination, but today I noticed a few people who would stop and look at the elevated mobile home, or they would attempt to talk to the dog (who for all his barking still wagged his tail), or they would make a second glance and wrinkle their noses at the sewage equipment. It’s all pretty entertaining to watch.

After I had finished, I had the opportunity to talk with Mel who works here. The short history is that this is the oldest plumbing and sewage business in the city. Mel moved out a few years ago from Michigan and we talked about life in Detroit, his family, plumbing, motorcycles, and art. The dog Tucker, turned out to be a friendly chap once you got to know him and apparently has Happy Tail Syndrome, which means he can’t stop wagging his tail ever. Look it up.

You can view the Google Maps location for Jim Dandy’s here.

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Bent up Benz

I was at the 15th and Dravus 76 station and this tanker was filling up the reservoir. I must say top 10 coolest machines are gas trucks.
The driver had about 10 minutes left on this site before he left so I sketched as quickly as I could to capture the general scene. This was one of those scenes where I wanted to spend about an hour capturing the color and graphic quality of the orange hoses as they snaked on the ground up towards the truck. There is a natural flow to most scenes and I’m always curious what individuals see. When a sketch is finished it almost has the effect of looking back on someone else’s perception because the memory is different than what’s before you, but unlike a photograph choices are made as to what to include, where to place objects and how the scene will flow on paper. The driver turned out to be a really cool guy and we chatted for a bit about art, drawing, and gasoline. What more could you ask?

This next sketch was done outside of my office space on Queen Anne. I think that I was intially just planning on doing a quick sketch of the Mercedes. This model (Mercedes CLS) has always confounded me. It has this arching line that moves through the car which I don’t think is very flattering. It looks kind of like it’s bending up in the middle, and not appropriate for a car of this heritage. Of course since I don’t really care for it, I become even more interested in it and need to sketch it. Well the Cafe Fiori sign was blocking the wheel and then the planters were blocking the sign, and then I needed human for scale. Before I knew it, the street came together with all it’s regular linear perspective framing the quirky warped luxury machine. Now I want to drive it.

Those Giant Cranes

The gantry cranes are just about the coolest thing on the planet. This sketch is from Harbor Island Sunday morning. The weather was perfect and there was none of the weekday truck traffic. A perfect spot for a study. I would have really enjoyed having a blue pigment to work with because the sun faded orange of the cranes against the blue sky makes for such an epic image.

I got up this morning and the sunrise to the East was one of those irresistible forces that I had to pursue. Normally I think my calling is to head West, but morning is different and reverses impulses. I drove to Lake Washington and found myself at Sandpoint Naval Station since this was the closest I can get to the Eastern sky without actually crossing the bridge to eastside of Seattle (which is not the same thing as the lingering Eastern border of the city). I’ve been to Sandpoint many times, but never this early. The water was different this morning and looked a lot like a large alpine lake rather than the settled and populated terminus of Seattlelites freshwater summertime leisure pursuits. It felt clean and empty. Sandpoint Naval station itself is a series of decaying hangers and warehouses that hold untold possibility. I drove around the parking lots looking for a viewpoint that included the sunrise, lake views, and collapsing corrugated walls and blown out window panes filtering the light and nature with a sooty patina. This search led me to a new road I had never been on with very promising industrial/natural mystery potential. It’s always my goal to drive down a new road – even today when it turned out to be a driveway into a government research facility. So this is what I did, and then I was promptly turned around by the friendly guard at the gate, even when I tried to play the “Hey I’m just a wandering artist looking to sketch government buildings” card. (Note to readers, this does work from time to time).
Now with my ideal view fading from me, I was tempted to drive West again, but decided to drive a little bit further North around the Lake and found a strip of dirt on the side of the road with a small open gate with an inviting Seattle Parks sign. I stopped and hiked down a little hill to a dock that was apparently fair game and then sketched this scene of sailboat rental dock. It was quite cold and as this is my second attempt at an ink wash; I think it may have been a little overworked, but not a bad way to spend the am hours.

Moored ships in morning

I’ve been spending more time down in Interbay between Magnolia and Ballard (though technically I think it would be considered Magnolia, I’ve never heard a proper definition.) There is so much great industry surrounding between the train yards and the fishing terminal. The amount of detail to choose from down there is really fun and I recommend anyone with an interest in ships to wake up early some morning and take a weekend day to check out the variety of boats and equipment.
I decided to use an ink wash instead of rendering in with a marker. I think I’ll keep doing this; it’s nice to work with the brush.

Click here for a link to the Map view of the scene.

Drawings of people from TAG

TAG is Tuesday Art Group. It’s an event split into two parts, the first part a bunch of game artists from Seattle get together on the first Tuesday of the month at Popcap studios and draw great stuff. The second part of the event is going home totally certain that you were the worst artist in the room. That’s not to say that people in the group are anything other than very kind, friendly and helpful. Everyone is incredibly supportive, but get a group of artists together and man-o-man, talent and comparing yourself to the next guy go hand in hand. For my part, I’m definitely the worst artist in the group. You should check out the site here with posts from some of the other folk, http://tagnorth.blogspot.com/. A sincere thank you to Popcap for hosting the event and to Rick Schmitz for setting this up. I’ve met some great people here and will keep going and posting.

Prehistoric Plastic

Lenny and George

Certainly one of the highlights of my childhood was dinosaurs. In this regard I have nothing on the next kid, but what sets apart my youth was my access to the real thing, at least the full size replicas of the real thing. Smithsonian you ask? Field Museum? Archeologically inclined parents? No, but something even better. Prehistoric Gardens. If you will recall there was a time in America when people made things, big things to be seen by others. Things like Disneyland, and Freeways, and the Grand Canyon. Those days are long gone of course, but some of the artifacts still remain and Prehistoric Gardens is as good as it gets. Located somewhere between Port Orford Oregon and Gold Beach (my hometown) on the side of 101 is Jurassic Park before Jurassic Park. Guarded over by a 30 foot tall T-Rex and 60 foot tall Brontosaurus is the entrance to an old growth forest populated by 20 or so life size dinosaur recreations. I used to come up from Gold Beach once or twice a year and walk through the paths with giant ferns and ancient trees and at every turn discover a diorama of a dinosaur doing something. Sort of. They all sit rather stiffly staring into space, a shiny rain proof lacquer preserving them like fleshed out fossils. Struthiomimus, Dimetrodon, Diatryma, Archelon, Seymouria. These are some of the names of the creatures that will greet you. My favorite by far is Ichthyosaur. A 10 foot long razor nosed dolphin with giant crystal shaped eyes lying on it’s side in the middle of this forest. There is no doubt that there a comical element to this fish, but it’s still so cool. The thing is, when you walk through the park, they feel real, they come up on you unexpectedly. Surely there can’t be more, and then, bam, there’s a 12 foot tall Trachodon staring at you.

Dino Blueprints


All of this is the brain child of David Nelson. On this trip I was VERY privileged to hear the history of the place. Nelson’s granddaughter Kiki now runs things. When she found out that I was an artist she told me she would bring out some of the old blueprints for the place. I don’t know what I was expecting. I don’t think I had ever thought of how these were created, they simply always existed in my mind. What I saw was (and I do not exaggerate) some of the finest draftsmanship and singularly focused creativity I’ve ever come across. Nelson hand designed every dinosaur in the park. From the presentable outside skin to the carefully engineered sub frames that kept them from actually falling over and attacking every kid who jumped over a fence to actually touch one. There is some heavy duty steel underneath all of the fiberglass, plastic, and mud. Every eyeball, claw, tooth, scale, and tail has been drawn perfectly. His work rivals anything out of Hollywood or Disney.
I got a little of Nelson’s back story. He made his living as an engineer, designing manufacturing equipment, before running a successful gravel business. Sometime in his early 50’s he decided to take his earnings and invest them in this dream. He and his wife moved from Eugene ignoring protests and criticisms that he was crazy, down to the middle of and Oregon coastal rain forest to start building this dream. Kiki says his brother’s laughed, but not for long. Nelson was driven and within a few years it started to come together. In it’s heyday during the mid 70’s (when I was living down there), cars would line up along the road during the summer. There were extra parking lots that filled up to capacity and people experienced the size, scale, and variety of creatures viewed through a 100 million year lens.
My first book on drawing was purchased from Prehistoric Gardens. A blue book on how to draw dinosaurs (it involved a lot of circles). Every time we visited I would get a souvenir, usually a small plaster dinosaur. I have 10 or so of these sculptures somewhere and they were among my favorite childhood possessions. Second only to Legos.
Prehistoric Gardens is still majestic, but unfortunately traffic is not at all what it used to be. This might be in part due to the fact that Nelson died in 99′ (months after completing his last dinosaur the Bradysaurus). His unique vision drove this place and although it can be preserved, it can’t be repeated, and people these days don’t tend to think in terms of roadside attractions. The more pressing reason is that traffic is literally down. Kiki said that highway 101 vacation traffic is significantly reduced in recent years. We can speculate on reasons for this, but the fact is without that immediate impact of seeing a T-Rex as you round a bend on the highway, there’s not much reason to trek down there just to see dinosaurs after a long week of downloading mobile apps and clicking links. I was there on a Thursday morning and there were a few cars parked in the lot, but hardly a crowd.
I don’t know what it takes to run an establishment like this, but I imagine that it’s challenging. It takes a lot to feed a Stegosaurus. I can only recommend that if you are traveling down south, try and make an hour for a little detour. Time does stand still sometimes.

Prehistoric Gardens does not have a website, but they can be found at

Prehistoric Gardens
36848 Highway 101, Port Orford, OR
10-12 miles south of town on US 101.
541-332-4463