Recently I took a couple of days in San Francisco, the City by the Bay. I know lots of other cities are by bays as well (and this isn’t even the only city by this bay, nor the biggest), but when we talk about the City by the Bay we mean only one place. Anyway, to San Francisco I came, not to sit here resting my bones as such but to draw furiously, and draw furiously I did. After this one, anyhow, which was drawn calmly, peacefully and without any fury at all. It is lovely down there by the water’s edge, listening to the tide as it rolls away. I was blessed with a beautiful warm day (I always get weather-lucky in the city), the day before a huge storm washed away any doubters. I didn’t fancy sketching the mania of Fisherman’s Wharf much, and considered going out to sketch the Golden Gate Bridge (another time perhaps) but just wanted to sit and sketch the Balclutha, a magnificent old boat moored near Hyde Pier. There is Alcatraz, the former prison island, in the background (Clint Eastwood swimming just out of shot). I sat on a bench as joggers, tourists, cyclists, and those funny looking Segway riders bumbled by. At one point I took a photo of the scene using my iPad, at which point a Wandering Drunk stumbled by and said loudly, “I wish I could sink that thing!!” Now here is an example of the modern world taking over common vocabulary, because I actually thought he meant the iPad, as in ‘sync’, and I was most confused. “It’s not even American!” he continued, while swilling his can of cheap beer. Now I was confused; Apple is based not far from here, surely, what are you on about you nutter? It was not a conversation I was interested in having, but then when he started gesturing at the ship I realized, aaaah, you mean the boat, right I get it now, you make sense now, carry on. He perched himself at the top of the steps with a six-pack and carried on making idle threats at passing maritime vessels, which to be fair is probably a nice relaxing way to spend the day, for all I know. I did look up the sailing ship Balclutha when I got home, to see if it really wasn’t American, and apparently it is not, it was built in Glasgow in Scotland (‘Balclutha’ is Gaelic and refers to the city on the Clyde), was renamed Alaska Star and Pacific Queen for periods, and has been moored in San Francisco since the Maritime Museum purchased it in the 1950s. You can find out more about the Balclutha on the National Park Service website.
Continuing the theme of these similar looking buildings on the UC Davis campus, this is the Gunrock Pub, part of the Silo complex where I have had lunch so many times. It used to be called the Silo Cafe, or the Silo Pub, but now it takes its name from Gunrock, the equine UC Davis mascot. This, like the others, was furiously sketched over a lunchtime with the colour added in afterwards. I’m filling this S&B Alpha landscape sketchbook fast.
“The Barn”. There are a lot of buildings that look like this on the UC Davis campus, but this is the only one actually called “The Barn”. It was a rainy day (not been too many of those), but there was a brief spot of calm so I was able to sketch this at lunchtime. I added the colour when I got home. It was one of those days where I really needed to get away and sketch something (ah now there have been many of those lately); I’ve felt a bit stressed lately, feel like there’s a lot on my plate, many “to-dos” to check off my list. When I am out sketching, I’m in control of something, and everything else washes away, for a short time. I like being busy though. I have sketched this Barn once before (from the rear, almost exactly two years ago), but it looks like so many others. These old wooden campus buildings that I have drawn over and over so many times, they start to feel like my Mont St Victoire if you know what I mean, Cezanne’s main subject, covered and covered and covered again over the years. This one is actually shaped a bit like Mont St Victoire, in fact. I should know, I have climbed up the thing twice (the Mont, not the Barn).
Haven’t drawn a two-page panorama since the end of January, and now trees have leaves, which means drawing a lot more foliage. Now here is a difficult building to sketch – “Third and A”, on the corner of 3rd and, surprisingly, A. Two imaginatively titled streets equal an imaginatively titled building, yes, but an imaginatively designed building it is. I have never in all my time in Davis been able to attempt it. You can’t really see it properly; the trees block its shape, it goes in and out bringing unusual shading, and you can’t really fit it comprehensively onto a page. What’s that Pete, a challenge did you say? So I did my first two-page spread in the Stillman & Birn Alpha landscape book, sat outside on a Sunday afternoon while the rest of the family went to a kids birthday party miles away. I had all afternoon to sketch, so I took all afternoon to sketch. Over three and a half hours! Actually it may have been more than that, all said. Sure it was a LOT of observation. There was a LOT of detail. I also added the colour on site. I was hurting afterwards. Still, I am very pleased with the result, and while it’s a lot of detail, it was what I was after. And now I have finally checked this building off of my Davis must-sketch list, and keeps the brown wooden buildings theme going in my current sketchbook. Here are some close-up views for those of you who don’t have a zoom feature in your non-mechanoid eyes:
I am always busy at this time of year, from January to early April, and yet every year I find I have a burst of sketching activity, which then tails off as the trees lose their leaflessness, and we move into the Spring Sneezing Season. I have a little time left, but those leaves are a-growing, that pollen is a-coming.
Another of those wooden campus buildings; in fact this is the same building as in the last post, just seen from the other side. This is the UC Davis Bike Barn, which yes I have sketched many times. I did this on Friday lunchtime; the ink anyhow, I added the colour later on. All of those boxes in the foreground were moved away right after I sketched them, so I’m glad I drew them, they add something. Davis loves its bikes. The U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame is here in Davis, and this really is a great place to be a cyclist. I commute to work each day on my bike, and laugh at those who drive and pay loads of parking. I muts admit though I don’t like drawing bikes, especially when there are loads all parked together outside a building – quite common here in Davis. But I like drawing the Bike Barn.
The building formerly known as Outdoor Adventures. This is at the rear of the Bike Barn, and is another of those old wooden buildings I am currently sketching through on the UC Davis campus.I drew this all in a lunchtime, and added the colour later on (didn’t need little notes or photo references – I know what this building looks like, I pass it every single day). When Outdoor Adventures was based here, there would be canoes parked out the front, people walking tightropes suspended between the trees, all manner of fun happening. Now they have moved to another part of campus and the tightrope walkers are gone, but it does kind of make the building a bit easier to draw when the activity is gone.
I suppose you could call urban sketching on location a form of outdoor adventure. I don’t know if it’s actually adventurous half the time, but it is fun.
The series of these old brown campus buildings continues with North Hall. I stood opposite on lunchtime of St. Patrick’s Day, wearing my green 1994 World Cup Ireland football shirt (the one Ray Houghton wore when scoring the winner against Italy) (not the actual one, you understand, but one that looks just like it). North Hall is another century-old building, just north of South Hall funnily enough. Hey, check out this timeline of when campus buildings were constructed – it’s very informative. I may yet draw them all, those that remain anyway. That has to be the ambition though doesn’t it? To draw all the buildings on campus? Can it be done? I’ll give it a good old go, let me tell you.