CLAYTON ON ART: Sean Alexander draws the South Sound

By Alec Clayton on December 19, 2012


By all appearances Sean Alexander is obsessed with drawing. He was a Foundation of Art Award nominee in 2008 and again in 2011. He is the former owner of the Helm Gallery. His work has been shown in many venues from galleries to books. One of his drawings can be seen in the current Foundation of Art exhibition at B2 Gallery, and lots of them can be seen in the new South Sound User's Guide, edited by Ken Miller and illustrated and designed by Alexander.

The cover illustration for the book is the South Sound's most visible icon - Mount Rainier. Most visible when it's out, that is. But on the South Sound User's Guide it is always out. It's a strong image. The mountain appears to be surrounded by low-lying clouds. Or it could be interpreted as rising out of water, which is, of course, inaccurate; but it makes for a nice image. Countless tiny vertical lines in the foreground could be seen as evergreen trees seen from a great distance or as fields of grass. Similar lines radiating from all directions indicate the rays of a glorious sun. The lines also look like swarms of sperm swimming toward an egg.  A similar radiating sun can be seen in many of his drawings.

The back cover features a drawing of an old style train in solid black with white lines. The background images and the wheels reverse that image with black on white. It's a cropped section of a larger drawing that appears in the section on Old Town Tacoma. Here again we see the ever-present mountain and the same sky.

The drawings throughout are playful and delightful, very much like children's book illustrations, with strong black and white contrasts and fine line work. His drawings illustrate scenes from all around the South Sound and nicely capture the flavor of the area.

Among my favorite drawings are:

The Elliot Air airplane on page ii of the introduction, executed with the same white-on-black line work as the Old Town train drawing.

The Bob's Java Jive drawing on page 8.

The Kiera's Kitchen duck on page 17 - love the flat duckbill.

The silly musical note illustrating Vicci Martinez' favorite live music spots in Tacoma on page 57.

The elegant little rat with his bow tie sitting on a slice of cheese on page 61.

The State Capitol drawing on page 139. Here the radiating lines from the sun are bolder, as is the heavy outline around the top part of the building. These stronger lines convey the largeness and importance of the Capitol.

Batdorf & Bronson's dancing goats in the Port of Olympia section on page 151.

The South Sound User's Guide is unique to the area and nicely different than any other travel guide. It is available at Kings Books and Orca Books and other venues throughout the area.

Full disclosure: I am one of many contributing writers, as are other Weekly Volcano scribes, and our publisher/editor, Ron Swarner, wrote the introduction.