The corner of 4th and G Streets, Davis. “Scuse me mate, you’re in the way. Scuse me! Mate! Oi, Mate! Can you move a sec, I’m drawing? Mate do you have to stand right there? Mate you’ve been there for ages, just move along a little? Are you listening? Mate can you move?” I said over and over, but he didn’t move, he just stood there, like a statue. Well he wasn’t a statue, he was a sculpture. I didn’t really say any of that, not aloud anyway. This is one of the many pieces of urban art you can find dotted around downtown Davis, and since I was drawing this corner, with that funky looking wooden building next to where Little Prague used to be, I decided it would be more interesting to add him in. I think it’s a him. He’s lovely, covered in colourful mosaic-y bits. I’m all into that. He’s located next to Jack in the Box, which may possibly be the worst fast food chain restaurant in Davis. By the way if it were a real person standing there I wouldn’t be yelling at them to move. I would just move slightly myself, or draw them (but I’d prefer to move, as you know I don’t like drawing real people). The thing about drawing on location is that people and vehicles tend to move around, and if you’re drawing the permanent things then it’s not really a big deal. You can always look around them, fill in the gaps. This isn’t possible when drawing from a photo. In this sketch, the sculpture allowed me a sense of depth, a sense largely absent from my own thought processes (which mostly consisted of me pretending to yell “oi mate, can you move?” to an unmoveable piece of public art I have chosen to stand behind). Sunday afternoon in Davis, it doesn’t get better than this.
This is Tercero Dining Commons at UC Davis. At least I think it is, I’ve never been in there. Actually that isn’t true, I’ve been in the shop. I don’t know what the building with the funny protrusion from the roof is, I always thought it was a chapel or a giant periscope. This description is going well so far. I used to be a tour guide in London, and I tell you I was much smoother than this. “That is Buckingham House PALACE, Palace, where the King QUEEN lives, on your right LEFT is St. James’s Park GREEN PARK, Green Park, the only Royal Park with no grass FLOWERS, no flowers, Charles the First SECOND, I mean Second, got rid of them all, actually no it was his wife, there’s a funny story about that, no wait was it, hang on, here’s our stop. Oh hang on no, its the next one.” It was something like that. No, I was actually pretty good at it, except when being knocked down the stairs by branches of trees. It was an open top bus in central London, and those trees are vicious. I did have to know my stuff though, and spent hours researching the histories of buildings I might get in stuck in traffic next to. Sometimes here in Davis despite my many years here and my many observations, I do feel like I don’t really know what a lot of stuff actually is. Fire hydrants as you know are a fascination to me, but I have no idea how they work, not really. I’m sure they are more complicated than I think they are, but they’re so mysterious. The Varsity Theatre shows movies, but I have no idea how that works, or even what a movie is, it’s like magic. When I sketch a bar, I have no idea what anything is all about, I see people having conversations and it’s just like, what is that they are doing, one person says a thing, the other person says another thing, it’s just so otherworldly. Anyway, I was sketching this one lunchtime, listening to Football Weekly. I had neglected my urban sketching for a few weeks and felt great after I’d done it. Sketching helps brighten your day, even if it doesn’t make it make any more sense…
“I’ve not been drawing as much lately” is my oft-repeated excuse for laziness in posting, and while I do have a small backlog of recent sketches yet to scan, it is kinda true, and you can blame THESE GUYS. Well, that and other things (like football coaching, and all the art projects that go with it), but yes, an unusual amount of time has been spent making these little characters fly, blast, pow, and zap. And build, they do lots of building. These are figures for the Disney Infinity video game, the 2.0 Marvel Super Heroes version. These are my son’s (except for the Captain America, he’s mine!), and last week I lined some of them up to sketch in his “book of things” as I have imaginatively called the Stillman and Birn Alpha book where I record his toys and other bits as a memory for when he is older. There’s Hulk, Thor, Cap, Falcon, Nova, Loki, Black Widow and Iron Man. I’m a particular fan of Nova (but I also love the comic, the newer ones with Sam Alexander, who this version is based upon – or rather the one in the Ultimate Spider-man cartoon series). Infinity 2.0 is a fun game, which has various playsets such as Avengers of Spider-man in which you can do missions, strategies, skill challenges and beat up bad guys while playing as whichever super-hero – even Loki – you have on the little base. You build up each character’s skill set over time so that they can fly faster, hit harder, do special moves, and it’s generally a lot of fantasy fun. This isn’t one of those “Call of Duty Death Zombie Stabby-Stabby Car Thief Gang” games, thankfully (though you can be the Hulk and get a medal for smashing up cars). The real fun though is in the “Toy-Box”. There, players have the ability to create whole worlds, or complicated games, using their imagination and the various tools and toys on offer. My son has been busy building worlds he calls things like “Tree Tunnel Doom” and “Danger World”, and I have been building intricate yet huge castles brick by single brick, full of secret passageways and monsters. With Secret Wars going on in the comics right now I’m inspired to make Battleworlds, making me feel a bit like the Beyonder – “To infinity and The Beyonder” I would say, yeah you had to be there (and, like, care). We have more fun building our worlds than playing them, but we’re novices. Going online to the community toy-boxes, you can see and play in worlds built by others using the same tools, many the results of challenges set by the Disney Infinity team. One of my favourites is where someone built a copy of the Disneyland park. So if you ever wonder where all the sketches are, rest assured I am still creating, I’m just making huge space canyons filled with lava and frost giants and towers up to the sky. It’s incredible fun.
And at the end of the year, they’re bringing out Infinity 3.0, Star Wars? I have a bad feeling about this…
And here are the last sketches from my trip to LA last month. These were done on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, a very interesting stretch of street in Venice away from the main madness of the beach. This street was named after Abbot Kinney, the man who developed Venice, California, a neigbourhood of canals and amusements. There are still several lovely canals lined with expensive houses, and in fact many of the big streets in this neighbourhood were once canals themselves. Anyway, Abbot Kinney Boulevard has lots of eclectic stores and cafes, and I stopped outside ‘Tumbleweed and Dandelion’, who I believe sell beach-themed furnishings and stuff. I liked the picket fence and the yellow flowers. I was wearing my France football shirt, and while sketching a man from Senegal stopped and chatted with me for a while, even about the Senegal team of 2002 beating France in the World Cup, I was living in France at the time and knew several Senegalese so that brought back a fun memory. When I was done, I had enough time for one more sketch, so I drew the scene below. This is a pretty typical view on Abbot Kinney, and hip trendsters sidled by being all hip and trendy. Unfortunately I didn’t give myself a lot of time to look through many shops (such is the life decision of the urban sketcher! Sketch, or actually do stuff!), and soon I caught a bus back to Santa Monica for more sketching by the ocean, where I met fellow urban sketcher Shiho (see my previous post), before dashing to the bus for the airport. And I only just made my plane…
Here is the map included in my sketchbook. Yes, there is an Electric Avenue.
More sketches from Santa Monica. Above is a sketch of the bar area at The Galley, a nautical themed restaurant on historic Main Street which dates from the 1930s. Back in 2007, I went to Santa Monica after going to the UCAAC and stayed down here in the Ocean Park area. I really liked the area, so on my trip last month I came back. I had sketched The Galley that first time, but only from the street – the interior is another matter entirely. It is themed like a boat, of course, but also lit up by hundreds of Christmas lights of all colours, a sight which I cannot recreate in pen and ink. But I gave it a good go! I kept thinking of the lyrics to Yellow Submarine, and as I sketched I played a game in my head, whereby for every song that came on I would replace its lyrics with those of Yellow Submarine. After a while it was becoming uncanny – try it, is really works! No, it does. If it doesn’t, you’re not doing it properly. Anyway I sat at the corner of the bar, it was pretty busy, and sketched as best I could on the last page of my Seawhite book. The atmosphere was friendly; one fellow told me that on this night there was a party going on for a staff member to celebrate her last night of work there, and so I did my best to include as many faces as I could in my sketch. This is definitely a place for locals, and I chatted to some very cool people over the course of the evening. This really is a city I love visiting.
The next day I made sure to come back down Main Street in the sunshine, and so I couldn’t resist sketching The Galley again from the outside, just as I’d done those years ago. This time I climbed the stairs of the Edgemar center across the street for an elevated view. I also bought a t-shirt at the tourist center downstairs.
After eating an amazing chicken pie with mash and gravy at a place called Aussie Pie Kitchen, I remembered that there is a great Farmer’s Market on Main Street, and I caught the tail end of it. I sketched a band with the California Heritage Museum in the background. Here is a handy map from my sketchbook to show you where everything is.
Hey, remember that I sketched a fire hydrant in the wee hours of the morning in Westwood? Not to be outdone, I did the same thing while walking back through the quiet streets of Ocean Park. There was this really interesting hydrant which had been sprayed lime green. I couldn’t let this one go!
Oh, and here is the sketch of The Galley from May 2007, sketched in a WH Smith sketchbook.
I do like to be beside the seaside. One of my favourite places to be beside the sea is Santa Monica. I arrived on a Saturday afternoon and checked into my motel before walking down to the ocean front. I didn’t actually go onto the beach this time, but I stood up on the bluffs and sketched a panorama of the view looking toward the famous Santa Monica pier. It sure was windy. The sun was shining bright, so I stood beneath a palm tree and did my best. People walked by snapping pictures of them self (if only there was a word for that sort of thing), speaking in all sorts of languages. Behind me, the city of Santa Monica bustled. It was a busy Saturday.
I drew a cannon, as you can see. This big cannon sits up on the cliffs, it actually reminded me of Mr. Nosey, of Mr. Men fame. He was green of course but had the same general shape (in the old version, not in the newer upturned nose version, I really hate that version, it’s my Jar-Jar). As I sketched, people climbed on to have photos taken of themselves with a big cannon between their legs, if only there was a word for that sort of thing. After this, I had to go and watch Avengers Age of Ultron at probably the most comfortable movie theatre I’ve ever been to, the AMC in downtown Santa Monica. Massive reclining seats!!! I want to see every movie there.
I did come back down to the Santa Monica pier again the next day for some last minute sketching, and I met up with my fellow Urban Sketcher and Santa Monica local Shiho Nakaza. I first met Shiho at the 1st Urban Sketching Symposium in Portland back in 2010, and she introduced me to that amazing brown-black uni-ball signo UM-151 pen that I now use all the time. You can follow her sketches at shihonakaza.blogspot.com. We didn’t have long to sketch, so we went out onto the pier and sketched the view. The waves were wild in the Pacific, and the sun was bright and strong. I had to finish up quickly though because I had to catch a bus back to the motel, and then to the airport (I only just made my plane!). I still have more sketches to post though, from (spoiler alert) Santa Monica’s historic Main Street, and from Venice’s Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
Short break in posting…but here are some more sketches from my recent trip to southern California. I was staying in Westwood Village, Los Angeles, which is a pretty nice neighbourhood around the slopes of UCLA. Apart from the rumour of a Sasquatch wandering about the place. A Sasquatch? In LA? I don’t know about that. I had gotten off the bus from Hollywood, and a middle-aged woman at the bus stop said to me, all concerned, “I’ve just seen something really weird, something I can’t explain.” Ok, that’s nice, bye. “No honestly, it was a large creature walking about, tall, really hairy, I think it was a Sasquatch.” I mean, this was LA, so I’m not saying it was impossible, but Sasquatches, well you think more of like the Rocky Mountains or Canada. Perhaps it was a Wookiee, I thought, but I didn’t say that, because I have a feeling she may have really thought that. I had just come from Hollywood Boulevard after all, where I’d seen Darth Vader, Spider-man, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and even bloody Deadpool, so Chewbacca isn’t out of the question. “Thanks, I’ll keep my eyes open,” I said and walked off really fast. The next day however I did actually see a tall hairy man, but he wasn’t a Sasquatch, as far as I can tell.
Hairy abominable myths aside, Westwood Village is a lovely place. The scene I sketched above was not far from the Fox Village Theater, a gorgeous old cinema built in 1931. Loads of people had lined up the night I first got there to see Age of Ultron, many in costume. On this morning though, I stood on the street corner sketching while hairy Sasquatch man passed by me yet again. I did start to wonder whether I was really seeing him or if he was imaginary, but I don’t like to think too existentially while I am drawing. I liked wandering about Westwood Village. There was a really interesting candy store, with sweets from all over the world. On my second evening there, I went for a drink after dinner at Barney’s Beanery, which I chose because it was an enormously sketchable bar. Click on the image below to see what I was able to do while I was there. People were friendly, and I chatted to some folks at the bar once my sketch was done. There were some Indian dentists out having a drink, talking to me about the upcoming boxing match between Pacquiao and Mayweather, you know the one which was about a million pounds to watch but was ultimately – gasp gasp – not all that. I said I’d not seen boxing in years so didn’t really care about it. They asked what the last boxing fight I had seen was. “Rocky III” I said, which is true.
And of course, a fire hydrant. This one however was sketched at 2 in the morning. After getting back to the hotel from the pub, I was feeling peckish, so popped down to the Denny’s on the corner of the street for a nice milkshake. I noticed this hydrant, with a very slightly different design to any I had sketched before (it has a slightly different top) so I just had to draw it. I’m officially a 24-hour-hydrant-sketcher. I sketched another one in the wee hours the next night too, but you’ll see that in another post…