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Hello! My name is Candace, and I’m a sketch artist with a passion for helping you connect with the world through art. Pull out your sketchbook and watercolors and find your favorite view — I’m glad you’re here!

An illustrated love letter to Vashon Island.

Posted on Aug 6, 2014 | 20 Comments

“Every day, every act, is an island, washed by time and space, and has an island’s completion.”

– Anne Morrow Lindbergh

They appear soon after the Washington State ferry pulls away from the mainland – the magnificent, blue and white slopes of Mount Rainier.

For the next fifteen minutes, as the ferry churns a slow straight line across the Puget Sound, you stand motionless on the sundeck, hands curled around the teal green railing, mesmerized by the mountain’s magnetic presence on the eastern horizon. There is also the wind stinging your eyes and whipping your hair in a thousand ferocious directions, but it’s a small price to pay for the momentary sensation of being out on the open sea.

And then, just as suddenly as it appeared, Mount Rainer is eclipsed by the densely forested slopes of Vashon Island. It’s just about thirteen miles long by eight miles wide, and is one of several islands situated not far off the coast from Seattle.

You can feel the engine easing up as the ferry prepares to dock at the terminal, and you can feel an easing up of your soul as well. All these little ties that held you down to earth are released. Without even trying, you find your breaths are deeper; your steps lighter; your mind a little clearer.

From now on, for as long as you are here, you’re on island time.

Vashon Island sketches

Vashon Island sketches

Vashon Island sketches

* * *

For the last five weeks, I’ve been on Vashon Island time – my abode for the month the beautiful waterfront home owned by my dear late friend, Vera Campbell. Her house sits right on the edge of Quartermaster Harbor; at high tide, the water becomes a natural compost bin, with food scraps and egg shells tossed over her back porch into the sound.

My mornings have begun with the calls of crew coaches, shadowing their rowing recruits in boats with loudspeakers in hand. My evenings have ended with the cries of geese and seagulls. And it didn’t take long for all the sun-soaked hours in between to settle into their own rhythm.

There were the almost-daily kayak rides on the Puget Sound. On the weekends, the harbor filled with sailboats – sleek wooden vessels with names like “The Odyssey” and “No Doubt,” and sails that rippled noisily in the wind – but on weekdays, I’d often have the sound to myself. I’d slip a bright blue kayak into the water (and by slip I mean awkwardly struggle to maneuver sixty pounds of blue plastic down the bulkhead’s stairs), pass over schools of translucent moon jellyfish, and pause whenever a shy harbor seal peered his head above the surface like a periscope.

There were the twilight walks to pick blackberries. This was a favorite activity for my friend Erin and I last summer, when we were on Vashon for a few nights to visit her grandmother Vera. We’d walk up and down the road outside Vera’s house, both sides of the way lined with rambling wild bushes. I continued our tradition this summer, plucking only the ripest of the ripe from the vine, lingering to chat with neighbors out watering their plants, feeling the bowl grow ever heavier in my hands.

And there was the nightly respite at just about 8.30pm, as I stopped whatever I was doing at the time to take a photo of the sunset. It never ceased to amaze me how the same parts – same sea, same sky, same sun – could come together and create such vastly different wholes every night; from crystalline skies turned to gold and sapphire, to spectacular sunbeams-bursting-through-clouds affairs, to one night when the sky was suddenly suffused with the richest shades of lavender and electric pink.

Every little routine on Vashon felt like a ritual, giving my days an almost sacred sense of order.

Vashon Island sketches

Vashon Island sketches

Vashon Island sketches

* * *

Last Thursday, I began driving home from the north end ferry terminal. I had hopped over to the mainland for the afternoon to meet up with my friends Carmel and Shawn, who have just returned from a yearlong trip around the world.

Back in my borrowed meter maid scooter, I started the slow chug up Vashon’s hills. The snail-like pace at which I was going gave me a few seconds to look in one of the scooter’s mirrors and realize it was the last time I would see the Puget Sound in my rear-view reflection. The mirror held everything I have come to love about this region over the last month – the open skies and cobalt-colored sea, the brushstroke branches of evergreen trees, and Vashon’s winding roads, which are often abuzz with ferry traffic, but when the coast is clear they’re as calm as country lanes.

All at once it hit me that I would be leaving in five days for good, and the quiet rituals I’d formed on the island would be exchanged for several months of steady movement. I’d formed friendships here as well, most especially with Vera’s son Richard and his wife Claudia, and they had made me feel incredibly welcome and at home on the island. It suddenly hit me that saying goodbye to Vashon was going to be much harder than I’d expected.

And as I studied the scene in my little rectangular rear-view mirror (all the while hoping no other cars would appear and force me to continue on my way), I realized that the greatest gift that Vashon gave me this summer was reflection – the gift of looking back.

I’m always a fan of full-circle moments, of thinking over where you were this time last year and about where you are now, but it seemed even more significant given that I have now been on Vashon two summers in a row. For the first time, a full-circle moment had the same physical place holding the two halves together. I thought about the projects I’ve been working on and the relationships in my life, and how this one small island in the Puget Sound has been the site of so much transformation.

As I write this, I’m in the lovely city of Portland, Oregon, on my way back to the Bay Area on Friday, and then very soon to South America.

For now, though, I can tell my soul is still lingering on Vashon, and on Vashon I shall let it remain.

Vashon Island sketches

* * *


  • It’s always hard to leave, especially when it’s such a beautiful place. But as long as you have something to look forward to, you can always take your good memories with, you everywhere you go.
    Right now all I can think about is how much fun it must be to drive around the island on this little scooter! I would love to have one like this 😀
    Lovely sketches, Candace! Can’t wait to see what you will show us from South America!

  • Roberta Charles

    Candace, you have such a wonderful, beautiful way of living and capturing each moment. That’s another gift you have, in addition to your warm ability to make friends, as well as your sketching and painting talent. You have the ability to create memories wherever you are and, at practically the same time, can look forward to a new adventure just around the corner. Happy trails. 🙂

  • Margi

    There are so many gifts in looking back and reflecting, in acknowledging the forward progress we make, the times when we stood still, and the repeated traversing of familiar territory. There’s such a gift in serendipity and in learning new people, new places, new things. This is such a gorgeous post, well said. As usual. I loved every minute I got to spend on Vashon and hope I didn’t talk too much! 🙂 Big hugs!!

  • Kim

    This is beautiful (like always) and I love it (like always) but I’ve got to say that the best part is that you were driving a METER MAID vehicle!!!! Candace, it doesn’t get any better than that. What a life you have 🙂

  • Nancy Bardos

    how lovely for you to be able to stay at Vera’s house again. thank you for your very thoughtful and poignant post and all of those wonderful sketches. it would seem you are doing exactly what you were meant to do. looking forward to your next journey, even if it’s just around the corner because you would make it very special, indeed.

  • JourneyCount

    That last sketch is beautiful! As always, a delightful read to make me think about life in all its forms- past, present, future and even imagined.

  • I love living by the water, like you – being able to pop out across the water in a kayak observing the underwater world popping up for breaths of air before disappearing back into their other realm –
    How wonderful to be able to come full circle and stay in this magical place again, while reflecting on what’s gone on between the ‘two halves’!
    Looking forward to your next adventure 🙂

  • budgetjan

    I love lavender pink sunsets, we don’t see them very often in North Queensland. Ours are all about gold and if they do change to pink it is over so quickly. Vera would be very happy to have you back in her home. I am looking forward to your South American trip as we aren’t able to travel at the moment. South America is a big unknown for us so bring it on. 🙂

  • Pauline Susanto

    How fitting that I’m eating a bowl of freshly picked blackberries with vanilla yogurt as I read this… Anyways, beautiful sketches, as always! Over time I find myself more attracted to small towns than big cities. I always thought that I’d never be able to live in a small town, but I guess things change. Vashon sounds so quaint and beautiful and you are so blessed to be able to spend some quiet time there! I’m looking forward to your South American updates though! Have fun and please pet a llama for me!

  • These are beautiful – I especially like the last one. So sad I missed you there…

  • Your posts are little picture book stories. In 73 years when I eventually have children these are the kinds of stories I am going to tell them. x

  • Carmel & Shawn

    Your love for this part of the world is so evident in this post. It’s hard to articulate the simple, natural beauty and the calmness one feels when peering into the endless spectrum of blues, capped by mountains and surrounded by trees, but you’ve done such a lovely job. I hope your journeys continue to bring you back to our area in the coming summers!

    • Carmel & Shawn

      Oops, also, so very happy we had a chance to meet up with you again!

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  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    So, so beautiful, Candace! I’ve never visited this part of the globe, although I’ve made it much farther from home, but I feel like through your posts, I’ve managed to visit it in spirit at least! And in a meter maid no less! 😀

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  • Esther Jantzen

    I came across your site and this post about Vashon because I’m writing a children’s book where a 12-year-old character sketches as she travels AND I’m on Vashon, housesitting, this very moment. Your work is wonderful. I wanna do what you do! Thanks for sharing it.

  • RubyB

    One night, not long after the jigsaw puzzles started showing up on the South end run, I asked crew member about it. The South end run was not on the usual ferry. Because the usual ferry had broken down, it had been replaced by a ferry that normally ran across the sound further north, where the ferry rides are much longer. The crew member told me that the puzzles had been on the replacement ferry when the ferry had arrived to engage in replacement duties. I told the crew member how much I liked the jigsaw puzzle and he replied that the crew liked it as well.

    When the regular ferry returned to the South end run and the replacement ferry migrated back to the north Sound runs, the jig saw puzzles did not disappear. Much to my delight, the visiting ferry spawned offspring and those offspring populate the cafe-booth style table on the south end of the south end ferry today.

    I never manage to place more than a small number of pieces in the puzzle, but I always enjoy it. I might get more pieces in their proper place, but the mountains and trees, as well as the water and birds, always provide a delightful distraction.