the fanny ann’s monologues

Old Town Sacramento on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Click to see bigger (move further away to see smaller)

Old Town Sacramento on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Click to see bigger (or move further away to see smaller)

Having sketched one panorama in Sacramento already that day I decided to sketch another in nearby Old Sacramento. This is the Gold Rush era town, established in 1849 according to their handy brochure. Now see the building with the red and wfanny ann's saloon, old town sachite striped awnings, that is Fanny Ann’s Saloon, I have sketched it before back on a rainy day in 2009 (click on the little square to the right to see it, and then come right back here to finish reading). It’s a really interesting place with lots of old stuff all over the walls (including for some reason old British railway station signs, among all the Old West stylings). I’ve only ever been in there in the afternoons for a quick pint post-sketching or post-shopping, I imagine it is a fun place to hang out in the evenings, I don’t know but it’s always very friendly. They have a website, http://www.fannyannsaloon.com/, but if you click on there you have to promise you’ll come right back because I’m not done). They also have arcade games upstairs. IP1040434 remember about five years ago my friend Simon came over from England and played some of the classic shoot-em-up games, which seemed appropriate given the location we were in, I don’t mean in an old town from the Cowboy era, but just America in general. There he is on the left there, you can click on that image to get an idea of the decor (and you’ll have to come back to this page after that because there’s nowhere else to go). So that is Fanny Ann’s, which reminds me of the expression “Sweet F.A.”, which my Mum used to say meant “Sweet Fanny Ann’s”, which of course means “nothing”. Or was it “Sweet Fanny Adams”? Actually it was “Sweet Fanny Adams”. Yes, I’m pretty sure it was. Ah, so I’ve been telling people for years it was, well never mind. Words change as they get across the Atlantic.

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Me in France, 2002, giggling at a shop called “Fanny Fanny Fanny”

Take “Fanny”. I had no idea. Now for those of you who don’t know, well, go and look it up on Google (open a new tab so you can come back here though, be really careful how you phrase the search). Yeah, see? I had no idea. The expression is probably ruder in England than in America. We don’t go around saying “Fanny this” or “Fanny that” (unless it’s a name in a costume drama, it’s always a name in a costume drama) and we all giggle at the mention of the word. In America it means ‘backside’, as you all know. People wear “fanny-packs”, that which we in England call “bum-bags”, of course in America “bum” means something else, often a homeless person, or in the often used expression “to be bummed”, again an alarming and graphic choice of words to a British ear but I actually heard a newsreader here in California say it three times in as many minutes when describing some local news item, basketball or something. “Bummer” is common on both sides of the pond of course, but here I’ve even heard the President himself referred to as “A Bummer” (thanks folks, I’m here all week). But “Fanny”, I had no idea. Years ago in France, when I first met my wife (who is American) I remember gasping in shock as she told me about when she had fallen over on rollerblades once and gotten a “bruised fanny”. I wasn’t even sure how it was physically possible, and I asked if she’d landed on a bollard or something, and after some confusion she laughed and explained that she was referring to the posterior. It was my first step into a larger world, a world of transatlantic vocabulary differences and easily avoided faux-pas. I still won’t say “fanny”. That old fashioned embarrassed Britishness is just too deeply ingrained in me, stiff upper lip old chap, put that light out, there’s a war on.

So anyway next time I’m in old Sacramento, I’ll pop back into Fanny Ann’s for a pint and a bit more sketching. If you see me, do say “Cheers”, or perhaps the rather more British expression “Bottoms Up”, which of course translates over here as, well…

crocker round the clock

The Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento. Click to see it all big and stuff.

The Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento. Click to see it all big and stuff.

I like to think of myself as an art lover, an appreciator of fine paintings, a sage head-nodder in the gallery. I sometimes stand for ages looking at small details on masterpieces with a well-practiced face that says “knower of his shit”. In truth I’m always a bit overwhelmed by great epic works of art, in awe of them though I am, and they don’t always inspire me as much as turn me into a scratcher of head. Actually I must confess I do love modern art, and visit the Tate Modern almost every time I go back to London. I did do art for my GCSE back in school and got an A, but when I did it at A-Level I got a D, largely because (I felt afterwards) I spent a lot of time in galleries and not enough time drawing. And in those galleries, my favourite parts were always the gift shop, where you could see all the famous paintings in small postcard size. It’s probably why I draw so small. When it comes to art history, once I get past Picasso, Van Gogh and Mondrian, I always feel like a bit of a beginner. Though I did enjoy learning about the Futurists and their Manifesto when I was at university. So despite doing art every day of my life, I don’t often make enough time to go to galleries.

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Anyway, after living here for almost a decade I finally went to Sacramento’s amazing Crocker Art Museum a couple of weeks ago. It was actually on the recommendation of my seven-year old son (who was still six at the time), who had been there before and wanted to show me the statue of the man with the really small head. The Crocker is great! The older part, housed inside the large mansion you see in my panorama on the left, has amazing interiors, as well as a thoroughly impressive collection of art. The Crocker Art Museum was actually the first of its kind in the Western United States, being established in 1885 by Judge E.B. Crocker and his wife Margaret. The Crockers were one of those  wealthy families that helped shape California in the post-Gold-Rush era; Judge Crocker’s brother Charles was one of the big railroad barons in the late nineteenth century, and going by their portraits these people like to shave their cheeks, but had enormous beards on their chins, predating the 1990s turning-thirty-goatee look by well over a century. The European collection is astonishing, with some oil paintings by Dutch masters such as, um, er (you see? Beginner) depicting canals and light, and one depicting a bishop standing being all holy while a woman calmly squirts milk from her breast directly into his face. Yes, this centuries old painting had me giggling like my fifteen year old GCSE art self would have done. There was some amazing work by Californian artists, as well as ceramics by UC Davis’s own art legend Robert Arneson, plus historical artifacts from across the globe, some of which were thousands of years old. There was some breathtaking modern art, and an exhibition of Mexican art, and indeed we did find the hilarious statue of the man with the tiny head that had delighted my son. It was very funny, but not as funny as the bishop with the milky face.

The large white modern wing, in the right of my panorama sketch, was opened in 2010 and is called the Teel Family Pavilion. My son was excited to tell me that they have tables where you can eat your snacks. His previous visit you see had been as a group with his daycare, and I’m so glad his first visit was, well, with his mates rather than with his parents, because you get a better appreciation for such places with your friends and peers, who can laugh at small heads, than with your boring folks who seem to find amusement in bishops and breasts. We did find the other area downstairs which is dedicated to kids, a whole room full of interactive art activities like a touchscreen to create digital abstract art, tables full of coloured paper and shiny tape where we made some fancy paper airplanes, oh and a large board with shaped colourful magnets where I had the most fun ever, as you can see.

"Do not dare defy me you insolent whelps, for I am Magneto, Master of Magnetism!"

“Do not dare defy me you insolent whelps, for I am none other than Magneto, Master of Magnetism!”

So impressed was I with our afternoon at the Crocker that I came back the next day to sketch the outside. I was inspired, not by the Flemish landscapes, nor by lactose-tolerant priests, nor even by unusually miniscule faces, but by a pencil drawing, an urban sketch of that very mansion. It was dated from the 1880s, I think, and apart from the 21st century appendage it looked pretty much as it does today. After seeing that sketch, I just HAD to draw it myself. It was on a Monday, which was a holiday, the museum was closed so there weren’t a lot of cars parked blocking my view across the street, so I stood listening to the Football Weekly podcast and added to my own burgeoning collection of panoramas.

Visit the Crocker’s website at: http://crockerartmuseum.org/

so the days float through my eyes

MU jan2015 sm

The ‘MU’ at UC Davis. Click on it for a bigger version.

There are changes afoot on the UC Davis campus. Oh, there are always changes afoot, things coming down, things going up, it’s been change change change since I’ve been here. Very soon however there will be a major remodeling of the Memorial Union, which is kind of their Student Union buidling and a big hub on campus (including the UC Davis bookstore where I buy a lot of my art supplies). Freeborn Hall on the right has been closed for a while, ready for its remodeling.

January ploughs on. I’m doing some sketching but not much (actually none in more than a week, but I still have a couple of panoramas from Sacramento to finish colouring and then scan in). The first month of the year is always a busy one, and I have been building new Lego sets (my son’s birthday was last weekend) and making birthday banners and what not. The weather’s alright, been kinda warm this week, was a bit chilly on the first day I did this (it was done over a couple of different days). No rain though, a very dry January, which isn’t good for our droughts. Otherwise, a little morning fog but lots of nothing really. Out east they’re having really big blizzards. I hear out east that they have fifty different words for snow, or rather fifty different ways to describe any sort of snowstorm, “Snowmageddon”, “Snowpocalypse”, “Snowgnarok”, “Apocalypse Snow”, “The Towering InferSnow”, “World War Snow”, “Age of Snowtron”, “The Snow Awakens”, “Gone With The Snow”, “The Snowfather” and of course “Snowzen”. Yeah, it’s bad out there. Here in Davis, typically bland winter weather continues. The “Blandocalypse”, weathermen are calling it. “Blandmageddon”. “Blandgarok”. “Apocalypse Bland”, “The Towering InferBland”, “World War Bland”, “Age of Blandtron”, “The Bland Awakens”, “Gone With The Bland”, “The Blandfather” and of course “Blandzen”. Yeah, it’s bad out here.

there is a season, turn turn turn

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Panoramas carry on. This is a scene that I used to sketch twice a year, once in January and once in June or July. Then I stopped, because it wasn’t really changing and I was getting bored. I never did a two-page spread, though, so over a lunchtime and a half (the inkwork) and adding colour later on I checked it off the list.

Out of interest, here are some previous versions of the same scene, sketched from roughly the same spot:

bikebarn from bainer (yet again)bike barn from bainersmoky and the bikebarnno leaves for yousouth silo uc davisview from bainer uc davisheitman center, uc davisuc davis trees encorelunchtime sketch by the hog barnrainy rainy daythe view from bainer, againstanding stones near the silo

i’ll settle down with some old story

F Street Davis. Sunday afternoon. Click to see bigger.

F Street Davis. Sunday afternoon. Click to see bigger.

My son was having friends over for a playdate, so that was my cue to get a few hours of quiet sketch-time downtown last Sunday afternoon. After filling my stomach with a large burrito, I stood out on F St to draw a panorama which includes the Old City Hall (now City Hall Tavern) and the little package delivery shop. I stood next to the bins near the Paint Chip art shop. I listened to podcasts about (a) History and (b) the X-Men. After two hours of drawing all the ink (I coloured it in at home)  I stopped, and went for a pint at de Vere’s, where I read (a) a magazine about history and (b) an X-Men comic. They both make perfect sense now.

what more in the name of love

The chemistry buildings from bainer hall. Click to make big.

The chemistry buildings from bainer hall. Click to make big.

Why do I like sketching panoramas in January? Perhaps it is because I am so busy and it is a way of concentrating on something else for a while, more complicated than a smaller one-page drawing, with a bit of meat that I need to come back to and maybe colour in at home (or next day on site in this case). Or maybe it’s because sketching in January in Davis is usually sunny, not that cold, and with leafless trees giving a better overall view (I don’t really like drawing foliage). Maybe because I liked last year’s panoramas so much (I made lots of mugs of them, you can buy them here) that I’m just trying to recapture past glories, trying to one-up myself from what I’ve done before. Maybe it’s because panoramic sketches, filling the whole spread as they do, eliminate that white space that nags at me in my books (I like to draw maps or maybe write pointless barely legible notes on the unused pages). Perhaps it is vanity, I like how they look when I am showing them to people, in person or in shows when they are laid out on a table, even though on my sketchblog they look much so smaller, and you have to click on them to see more detail. Or maybe it’s because of that, knowing that to see it you have to make that extra effort of clicking once with your finger, maybe it makes it worth more? I think it’s a mixture of all of these things. I draw more in January than in December, like despite being busy in my day job I am trying to fill some sort of post-Christmas void, the decorations are down so I’d better draw stuff. In truth it is the counter-balance; January is traditionally my busiest work month (working with graduate program admissions) and being busy gets my creative juices flowing, so it’s a kind of release.

This sounds very much like I am trying to justify my constant need to be drawing stuff. “What is it for?” is the most common question you get when out sketching. It’s a natural question, but one which often makes us the sketcher feel nervous and uncomfortable, as if we’re being put on the spot (which we usually are not, except in rare cases, and I’m not going to go into those here). There is always this nagging feeling that the world at large expects us to be doing something for a clear purpose, that we have to prove that this drawing outside thing we do is of actual value (I have actually had someone recently actually say to me while complimenting me on my work that the world doesn’t see art as having any actual importance. Thanks a lot, those paper snowflakes didn’t just make themselves you know). This is almost always not the case and people are almost always genuinely interested and even inspired by seeing you out there drawing, and if they are artists themselves they will let you know and maybe that evening they will go home and draw something amazing. If you are someone who is intimidated by drawing outside, as I once was (and occasionally still am), for fear of interaction with people who may witness your work in its raw unrefined state, just remember that your very presence out there creating and observing is making the world a better place, and most people really do see it that way. “What is it for?” When asked this question, the answer is always, always that it’s because you love to draw. Regardless of what it is really for, commissions, learning about architecture, spying etc, that is always the best (and truest) answer.

As I was drawing this, which is of the Chemistry buildings at UC Davis (I always see fire trucks outside, which is a bit worrying) sketched from Bainer Hall, home of Engineering, (that sculpture in front is related to something to do with engineering, how’s that for detail, I only walk it past it every day of my life), one of the janitorial staff on campus stopped to chat, as he was emptying the bins, a nice chap he was, very interested in drawing. He told me that he draws too, and also does woodwork, that was his personal creative release. I”m always well impressed by woodworkers, but I think he recognized straight away the need to create, and though he asked at first if I was studying art, when I said I was a staff member he understood right away, no need to ask “what’s it for” because it was just for the love of it. That was nice. I told him that one of the things I like to draw on campus are the bins, I never leave them out to make something look nicer, in fact I vehemently keep them in to the point of obstinacy. This brief interaction made me smile, and so having had my one allowable interaction while sketching I put my headphones back on and pulled down my hat so that nobody would bother me again (only joking) (kind of).

This was actually sketched over three lunchtimes, standing up, the first being only about twenty-five minutes (I had to eat), the second almost exactly an hour (I still had to eat, but I ate fast) and on the third day I added the paint, which took about two-thirds of my lunchtime, but I spent that sitting down. I was sitting down for almost the whole time while writing all this too and I’ve been here for a good hour already so it all evens out. There is another panorama ready to be scanned and posted, with one more on the way so stay tuned, there is more to come folks…

there are many things that i would like to say to you but i don’t know how

G Street Davis. Click on image to see it all big and stuff.

G Street Davis. Click on image to see it all big and stuff.

Another panorama. I like drawing panoramas as you can guess. This is probably coincidental but I also like a pan of Ramen noodles. This is down on G Street, Davis, down between 1st and 2nd Streets. G Street as you can tell was named after the letter “G”, probably short for “G. Whizz” who was of course a real person. Gordon Bennett was a real person too, no he actually was, no look it up. Where am I going with this? I’m not sure, but this was done on a cool Sunday afternoon early in the New Year, back in the heady days when you could still make resolutions and pretend you would stick to them. On the right there is my barbers, Razor’s Edge, formerly located on 3rd Street but now found down here after the building on 3rd and G was demolished (as you of course will remember from previous chapters. It’s ok, there won’t be a test). There is also a shaved ice shop called Vampire Penguin. I’m glad they shave the ice before they serve it, one thing I cannot stand is hairy ice. Except on an Ice Wizard? It’s ironic that you get shaved ice right next door to Razor’s Edge. Vampire Penguin though, now that’s an interesting name. Reminds me of that cartoon, Count Duckula. He of course was a duck which despite being of the bird family and rather fond of water is actually quite different from a penguin, so it’s not really the same at all. On the left, some kind of beauty place called Y2K, which of course is a reference to the year Y2K (don’t laugh, it’s an important year in the robot calendar, almost as important as the year 5J2X, which of course is like the robots equivalent of 1066). Thanks for stopping by, by the way. If you have read this far through the nonsense I just want to say thank you for coming by, for visiting my blog and looking at my drawings and reading (skim-reading) my writing. If you like panoramic sketches followed by nonsense I can assure you that there is more of this to come. I have at least two more panoramas already done, waiting in the wings. It’s actually all the rambling verbiage that follows it that takes me the longest time to come up with. On my old blog, from a million years ago on “20six”, whenever I would post a picture I would do the same but make the writing really small, in a tiny font, sometimes even in a kind of middle grey. Thanks again by the way if you have gotten this far. And this far too, and this far. If you read the first line and thought, “blah blah skip a few” and are just rejoining the text now, you’ve not missed much, I can tell you that I stood for about an hour and a half drawing this (aka “until my fingers got cold”), and then coloured it in at home. Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook, uni-ball signo and watercolour paints.