Detail of Playland Diarama, ink & watercolor

Detail of Playland Diarama, ink & watercolor

Playland Not At The Beach Museum of Fun is an amazing place created by a group of volunteers and artists who are passionate about the circus, history, carnivals, and a San Francisco amusement park (now long gone) called Playland at the Beach.

Laughing Sal, ink, gouache & watercolor

Laughing Sal, ink, gouache & watercolor

Hidden away behind a nondescript storefront in El Cerrito, Playland Not At The Beach is both a museum  and a place to play carnival, penny arcade and pinball games (including historic and 3-D pinball machines), watch movies, see magic shows, have parties, explore the world of the circus and the world of Charles Dickens in miniature and much more, with room after room of visual delights, each surpassing the next.

Circus Diorama Detail, ink & watercolor

Circus Diorama Detail, ink & watercolor (the actual scene had about 3 times as many characters, but with so much to capture in 2 hours, I picked my favorites for this sketch)

The circus dioramas contain 300,000 hand-carved and hand-painted realistic figures of every kind of person, animal and behind-the-scenes activity (even including the cooks carving up big fish for dinner and the separate men’s and women’s dressing tents with performers washing up or changing clothes) and all the acts under the big top, all created by a man who joined the circus at 14 and his father, who were both lifelong circus lovers. It took a month just to create one elephant, which were each carved from a separate block of wood and are about an inch tall.

The creativity and dedication to follow one’s passion that went into making the circus dioramas brought tears to my eyes and left me intensely inspired.

You can see the wonderful sketches made by my buddies on our Urban Sketchers blog here. We plan to return to Playland Not At The Beach as soon as we can!

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Animals, Ink and watercolor wash, Places, Urban Sketchers
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Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. What an interesting place!! Sounds like a sketcher’s dream, and your sketches are wonderful!

  2. I am delighted by your sketches!

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