Jersey Shore Sketchbook – Dunes & Tunes

Here’s another photo-and-sketch collage, put together from a trip to Lavallete, NJ last weekend. Nothing goes with dunes like tunes and no tunes go with the beach like the Beach Boys. 

This is the first song Brian Wilson ever wrote. In his own words: “Back in 1961, I’d never written a song in my life. I was nineteen years old. And I put myself to the test in my car one day. I was actually driving to a hot dog stand, and I actually created a melody in my head without being able to hear it on a piano. I sang it to myself; I didn’t even sing it out loud in the car. When I got home that day, I finished the song, wrote the bridge, put the harmonies together and called it ‘Surfer Girl’.”

Little surfer little one
Made my heart come all undone
Do you love me?

Do you surfer girl?

I have watched you on the shore
Standing by the ocean’s roar
Do you love me?

Do you surfer girl?

We could ride the surf together
While our love would grow

In my Woody I would take you 
Everywhere I go

So I say from me to you
I will make your dreams come true
Do you love me?

Do you surfer girl?

Catskills Sketchbook #3

There’s a lot of magic left in this world. There’s magic in love of course, and in religion if that’s your kind of thing. There is magic in the first words and steps of an infant, and in an old man’s dying breath. There are magic people (I’m looking at you), magic words, and magic places. For me, one of the most magical places is the Catskill Park in New York.

The banks of Mongaup Pond

Floating By A Tree

The beginnings of the park were more mundane than magical. The land that was called “Esopus” by Dutch settlers became the County of Ulster in 1683 under control of the Duke of York. In 1708, Johannes Hardenbergh was granted most of the land that was to become Catskill Park. By 1885 the County of Ulster was up to its ears in delinquent property taxes owed to New York State. One of the county’s assembleymen, Cornelius Hardenbergh (great-great-great-grandson of Johannes) was elected in part because of his opposition to payment of the taxes, even though the County had lost its lawsuit against the state. At the Constitutional Convention of 1894 a deal was struck to forgive the taxes and establish New York’s Forest Preserve including all public lands in the Catskill and Adirondack Parks with Article 14 specifying that they were to be kept “forever wild.” These lands have a higher degree of protection than wild lands in any other state. The 287,000 acres of wild land in the Catskills (and 2.6 million acres in the Adirondacks) cannot be transferred without an amendment to the state constitution.

Paddle Your Own Canoe

In the southwest corner of Catskill Park is a 120 acre lake called Mongaup Pond. It’s the largest body of water in the Catskills other than the three New York City reservoirs. Surrounding the lake are 154 campsites that are available May-October for $22 per night. Try to get a site on the outside of the loops to have direct access to the water and can you dock your boat on the site for the night. The campground rents kayaks, rowboats and canoes.

Is there a better way to begin a day than by paddling a canoe across the rippling surface of a misty pond, or a better way to end one than by sharing libations and conversations around a crackling campfire? Only one, in both instances.

Crackling Campfire

Shenandoah Sketchbook

One hundred years ago today, August 25, 1916, Woodrow Wilson signed The Organic Act which created the US National Park Service within the Department of the Interior. There were 35 National Parks at that time, beginning with Yellowstone National Park, which was established on March 1, 1872 by Ulysses S. Grant “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Stone and log fence

The National Park Service now includes 59 parks among more than 400 public areas that cover 84 million acres. The largest, Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska, has over 8 million acres. The smallest, Hot Springs, Arkansas has 6 thousand. California has the most National Parks, with nine. Virginia has just one.

Shenandoah Valley through the blinds

Watching the Olympics

On May 22, 1926, the 18th National Park was authorized and on the day after Christmas in 1935, FDR fully established Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Last week my soulmate, my sketchbook, and I paid a visit. 

The Appalachian Trail runs the entire length of the park, part of the 500 miles of hiking trails in the park. We hiked to the peaks overlooking Compton Gap and to one of the highest peak at Stony Man Point. We also tubed down the Shenandoah River. But my sketchbook only came out in two places: in our room at the Skyland Resort where we  viewed the Shenandoah Valley through our blinds and watched the Olympics, and in the bar where we drank and watched the US women’s water polo team defeat Hungary.

Most of the sketches are supplemented with photographs taken during our time in the park.

Exotic wildlife in its natural habitat

Bleecker Street Sketchbook

 The first place I ever lived in Manhattan was 4 St. Mark’s Place, above Trash & Vaudeville. One day we came home and the locks had been changed. Maybe we should have paid the rent. It was a good place to get a foothold. The second place I lived on the island was 203 Bleecker Street.

In the second half of the 1980s, Bleecker Street was the epicenter of my world, and there was nowhere else I wanted to live. There was a Banana Republic on the northeast corner of Bleecker & Sixth – the first one I’d ever seen, with pith helmets and mosquito netting, that was their branding then – and our apartment was next door. It was a dark, tiny, first floor apartment with a terrible floor plan. It was heaven.

We lived there for three years and I don’t think a dinner was ever cooked in that kitchen. The refrigerator mainly held pizza and beer.

The toilet had its own tiny closet of a room. The sink and shower were on a raised, tiled platform. There was another bathroom with a shower in the hall. If we were getting ready to go to the Ritz or the Cat Club we had to take advantage of all available bathrooms.


It was the place we hung our coats. In other words, it was home. There’s no place I’ve ever lived that felt more like home to me than Greenwich Village, especially Bleecker Street.

In the words of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros:

Home. Let me come home.
Home is wherever you’re with me.

Brooklyn Sketchbook

A long time ago, when the earth was green, I lived in Brooklyn, on Fifth Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets. It’s probably a nice place to live now, out of my price range, but it was neither back then. This was the view from my bedroom window.

So was this. I’d be very surprised if Joe’s Pizzeria is still there. Nope. Just checked Google Map’s street view and it’s gone but the jewelry store next door is still there. I used to buy whippets in that jewelry store.

The living room had a wall of square mirrors but since the wall wasn’t very even, neither were the mirrors. The boxes of albums on the floor made a nice hiding place for the occasional mouse.

Now that Brooklyn is hip, I live in the Bronx but still have some nice memories from that other borough. It may not have been the finest place I’ve called home but it had its charms. And a little old black-and-white TV.

Sicilian Sketchbook #2 – Taormina

From Taormina, Sicily, you can see the mainland of Italy. In the other direction you can see the smouldering volcanic giant, Mt. Etna. You can see a lot of things. It’s difficult, in a place like that, to not see something beautiful. As you might expect, the people who live in such a place are happy, and inspiring.
It’s always a good idea to have a sketchbook handy in a place like Taormina. I’m a sucker for the Moleskine 5 x 8.5″ (13 x 21 cm) plain cahier journals – 80 pages of unlined potential. Rumor has it they were used by the likes of Van Gogh, Picasso, and Hemingway. Pretty decent company. Also, they’re designed in Italy.  
The Ionian Sea is bordered by eastern Sicily, the bottom of the boot of Italy, the west coast of Greece and even part of southern Albania. It’s one of the most seismically active areas of the world. So it’s wise to keep sufficiently lubricated if find yourself in, on, or near the water. You might even see a 5-masted schooner in the waters if you keep your weather eye peeled.

There’s a beautiful island there named Isola Bella, for obvious reasons. You can walk down from Taormina, as we did once, or you can ride the trolley up and down, as we did many times. 3 Euros each way and it runs every 15 minutes.

Taormina is such a romantic place that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton spent both their honeymoons there. If you’re getting married, or divorced, or ready to consign yourself to a lifetime of solitude, you could find many worse places to go.

Sicilian Sketchbook #1 – Cefalu

The first stop on my recent trip to Siciliy was the sleepy medieval village of Cefalu. It hasn’t changed a lot in the last 500 years. It wasn’t built for cars and it’s an unpleasant place to drive one. Ever since it was founded, centuries back into BC, people have laid on the sandy place where the Tyrrhenian Sea kisses the island, soaking up the sun and going for a swim.

I compacted the view of the town from the beach to fit it into this drawing. I had to demolish five or six fine buildings so I could get the wall that reaches into the sea in my sketch. The beach is a great place to sketch because the brilliant sunlight allows the artist to see details of the subject with an unusual degree of clarity.

In 1131, the Normans began construction on the cathedral that stands at the center of Cefalu today. I sketched it at night, after a few drinks, so the clarity isn’t as pronounced as in the previous drawing but there’s a fluidity to the lines that might be more appealing to some, what with beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all.

Any artist seeking inspiration can find it by the boatload in Sicily. The natural beauty of the mountain and the seas (in two weeks I swam in three – the Tyrrhenian, Ionian, and Mediterranean) is matched by the monuments of man. Then there’s the food.

Next stop, Taormina.