A Visual Journal of San Francisco
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
It's been over a year now since I moved to San Francisco, and in that time I've become transfixed by the city's unique beauty. As soon as I moved to Lower Haight, my first home in the city, I began catching glimpses of urban scenes on my daily walks that compelled me to paint. Although very difficult at first, over time I have begun to learn how to capture onto canvas the character of San Francisco as seen through my eyes, creating a visual journal of my experiences here.
"Last Light on Haight St." (left), "Looking Towards the Bay" (center), "Dawn on Haight St." (right)
I did not expect to fall so deeply in love with painting the city. Cities can be full of straight edges, sharp angles, and large, imposing forms. In this way they can feel alienating. Their gridded streets create lines of skyscrapers that march resolutely towards a vanishing point. But San Francisco is different. Here, the buildings climb gently over the hills, gradually appearing and disappearing from view as one walks the streets. The landscape curves gently upwards, the hills of the city reflecting the presence of nature undulating beneath concrete structures. It is a calmer, gentler urban landscape that invites rather than intimidates.
The rolling hills that support San Francisco provide a balance to the city's angular buildings. I love this mixing of the organic and the constructed. It reminds me of old European cities, defined not by grids but instead by meandering streets that twist and turn according to no clear plan. This juxtaposition of the natural and the man-made fascinates me and encourages me to take a closer look.
"Sunny Day on Laussat St." (left), Cloud on Haight St." (center), "Afternoon on Broadway St." (right)
While I found the beauty of the city easy to appreciate, painting it was not so simple. Anyone who tries to paint a cityscape is immediately confronted with the challenge of simplifying its stunning detail. Windows, power lines, rooftops, and cars jumble together into an incomprehensible mass, and it's the painter's job to make sense of it all. In this effort I've found inspiration in the works of Bay Area painters Mitchell Johnson and Dmitri Cavender. Johnson finds simple, abstract shapes in the cityscape, focusing on light and color rather than getting lost in detail. Through Johnson's work, I've learned to see a complex cityscape as a manageable collection of color shapes, focusing on how they are arranged to create a truly compelling image. I love how his work teeters on the edge of representation and abstraction, encouraging the viewer to move past subject and into a realm of light and color. Cavender, meanwhile, captures the unmistakable character of San Francisco through his beautiful renderings of its neighborhoods. His paintings often show city houses late in the day, when strong, warm sunlight creates a spectacular effect on the sloping streets. The colors and scenes he depicts are both playful and perfectly reminiscent of the city. These painters opened my eyes to the exciting possibilities in cityscape painting.
"Marseille #1" by Mitchell Johnson (left) and "Last Light over Duncan" by Dmitri Cavender (right)
Through painting San Francisco, I am creating a visual journal. My work chronicles my movements through the city, the places that resonate with me, and the moments I want to remember. For this reason I often avoid painting icons of the city like the Golden Gate Bridge, which are so grand and symbolic that they become impersonal. Instead, I paint the simple, everyday scenes that are significant to my life: the curved tree in front of my neighbor's house, the colorful houses I pass on the way to the grocery store, the view driving home after a long day. This helps me maintain a close connection with the work and allows me to more easily find my unique voice.
Recently, I moved to Potrero Hill, a neighborhood on the south side of the city. I already feel nostalgic for Lower Haight and the houses and streets I studied day after day. At the same time, I'm excited to build a relationship to this new place through my paintings, finding the views that will become dear to me. I hope this personal connection comes through, and that my paintings resonate with you as well.
"Coming Home" (top left), "Urban Constellations" (top right), "Last Light over Coit Tower" (bottom left), "Sunset in the City" (bottom right)
If you liked this blog, consider sharing it with a friend using the links below.