At LeucadiART Walk, artists and art hunters enjoyed authentic encounters

A visitor to LeucadiART Walk on North Coast Highway, walked away with a watercolor painting of a VW micro bus Sunday morning.
A visitor to LeucadiART Walk on North Coast Highway walked away with a watercolor painting of a VW micro bus Sunday morning. Artists working in various media displayed their work to visitors and residents who came by bike, car and walked to enjoy the event.
(John Gastaldo/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

A variety of media and moods gave this annual arts walk a something-for-everyone vibe. Music, demonstrations, an area for children and a beer garden completed this year’s ensemble.


One thing visitors to Sunday’s LeucadiART Walk didn’t encounter: corporate vendors selling pre-fab decor shipped from who knows where.

Instead, the festival directly connected art lovers with artists working in ceramics, photography, pressed plants, T-shirts and more. Some were working on pieces at the festival — painting or drawing — and others were on hand to answer questions and sell their art.

The 17th annual festival, held in the Leucadia neighborhood of Encinitas along Highway 101, showcased art in clusters, tucked between cafes, shops and restaurants. People could sip lemonade, chomp on tacos, learn about ceramics and photography, get portraits sketched, and take home original watercolors or distinctive jewelry — all within a mile-long stretch.

Three artists shared why they make art and what this festival means to them.

Sophy Samonte watches Patrick Doherty, owner of Film47, as he shows film loading in a camera at LeucadiART Walk.
Sophy Samonte, of Leucadia, left, watches Patrick Doherty, owner of Film47 in Oceanside as he shows film loading in an older model camera next to his booth at LeucadiART Walk.
(John Gastaldo/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The festival veteran

Frank Wessels, a woodcut and linocut artist, travels to art fairs up and down the coast of California to show and sell his work. He’s been coming the LeucadiART Walk for years. What does he love about it? The people.

“It’s just a really positive community. Like, every time I come here, there’s thousands of people that seem to be in a good mood and enjoying themselves. And it’s a fun place to be,” he said. (One more plus: he likes to jump in the ocean when he’s down here, because the water is a lot warmer here than in Santa Cruz, where he’s based.)

His work is influenced by Japanese woodblock prints — one famous example of which is Hokusai’s “Under the Wave off Kanagawa,” with its churning, foaming crest dwarfing Mt. Fuji in the background. But he identifies more with Hiroshige, a friend and artist peer of Hokusai.

“Hiroshige has a real sense of humor with his work,” Wessels said.

Some of Wessels’ prints, too, seem to wink at the viewer. There’s a purple octopus named Miss Ube. And a skateboard paired with a $100 bill.

Wessels noted that the saturated paper he uses for his block prints is commonly known as rice paper, but that’s a mislabel. In fact it is mulberry paper, made from mulberry trees, he said.

Another thing he’s learned about art, through making it: “Patience. Enjoy things.”

The surfboard alchemist

If you ever have an old surfboard you’re looking to get rid of, Nicole Miller will gladly take it.

Not to surf on. To transform it.

Miller, 28, upcycles surfboards into backdrops for beachy scenes.

Nicole Miller turns surfboards into art. She was one of the artists at the 2023 LeucadiART Walk.
(San Diego Union-Tribune / Roxana Popescu)

Some she’s bought secondhand. Some were gifts. Sometimes she rescues them from the side of the road.

“People will leave them on the curb, and that’s going into landfills,” she said. Her reaction: “Scoop that up before it something like that happens.”

Miller moved to Pacific Beach about a year ago, and she grew up on the Jersey Shore. From one coast to the other, she said she has painted more than 100 boards. (She also paints on paper and other media.)

Her inspirations are nature, water and waves — common themes for painters working from nature in San Diego — but there’s something else going on in her art that might only be noticed if someone stops to look more closely or talks with her.

“I’ve taken surf art and made it a little more of a fine art, with a feminine touch,” she said.

On one piece, butterflies frame a woman with long flowing hair. In another, a work in progress, an emerald green June bug is hovering near a white flower. Miller used to teach art to elementary school students, and about two years ago she started making art full time. She used to tell the kids to never stop.

“I think everybody should create art,” she said. “I think it’s really healing.”

The giddy newcomer

“I’ve only been doing pottery for two years, but I’m obsessed with it,” said Courtney Harmeling, a ceramic artist selling online through her shop, Coco Pots.

Harmeling, 48, who does strategy and project management for a web development company, has loved ceramics forever, but only as an onlooker. Then she got sick several years ago — cancer — and has since recovered.

“I turned into ‘Say yes to everything.’ So I went from, ‘I love pottery’ to, ‘I’m going to learn how to make it,’ ” she said. “I bought a wheel at home, and then I had a studio made in the backyard. And then I got a kiln. So I’m fully obsessed. I probably spend 20 hours a week doing this and I love it. Love it. Love it.”

Her pieces — useful and aesthetic objects like mugs, plates and vases — come in a variety of styles and finishes. What’s behind them all is her doggedness.

“Pottery is like so humbling and makes you learn patience, because nothing is done until it’s done,” Harmeling said. “Everything can break, chip, explode, every step of the way.

“And then chemistry is involved. So you think you’re making this blue piece and it comes out brown, and then you just have to start all over. Or you have to walk away and come back and be like, I do like brown after all.”