This is the Blue Posts pub in Soho. No, not that one, that’s on Berwick Street. No, not that other one, that’s down on Rupert Street. This is the one near Carnaby Street, on the corner of Kingly Street and Ganton Street. I sketched it a couple of days before Christmas, as the sky got dark early, and people rushed around getting last-minute Christmas presents. “Where is Hamleys?” they would ask me. I would tell them, and they would just run in the opposite direction without looking back. Here’s a pro tip – don’t go to Hamleys on a Saturday afternoon before Christmas and be on the top floor when all the escalators break down. Yes, we did that. Well on this particular Wednesday I had an afternoon to spend sketching (and shopping), so I came up to the craziness of the Regents Street end of Soho and found the Blue Posts pub. This particualr Blue Posts pub anyway. I’ve sketched the one on Berwick Street, and the one on Rupert Street is on my must-sketch list, but this is a nice pub, and I’d had the pleasure of coming in here the Saturday evening prior. That night I had been out with a few friends at a pub on Beak Street called the Old Coffee House, which I did not sketch. Two of them had not yet seen The Force Awakens, while me and my other friend Roshan had been to see it the day before. When you see The Force Awakens, you want to talk about it, but we couldn’t, for the whole evening. Oh we had a great time talking about comics, but the Star-Wars-talk was just busting to come out. So when the other two had left, Roshan and I went to the Blue Posts, as it was open later, to finally talk theories and spoilers. It was packed, so we stood by the bar, where we met a man who was in a similar predicament. However he had promised to keep his mouth zipped, because unfortunately the barman at the Blue Posts, a lovely chap, had not seen it, and any Force-based chat was again off-limits. Dammit! Respecting the fact that the universe was still inhabited by people who did not know that [SPOILERS EDITED OUT!] and that [SPOILERS!] is in fact [SPOILERS!] who [SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!], we kept quiet and talked comics (we had no problem spoiling those). So when I came back to sketch the pub a few days later, I popped in to see if the barman had seen Force Awakens yet, but alas I couldn’t find him. Now it is January, there really is no excuse, so next time I go back it will be in the full Kylo Ren costume, exclaiming loudly that [SPOIIIILLLLLERRRRSSSSSS-LALALA-NOTLISTENINGGGGG]. I won’t discuss the film here, not right now anyway, except to say that it was awesome, amazing, beautiful, and that I am totally on Team Rey, but that I do miss George Lucas’s storytelling. Anyway, the Blue Posts. I think I have mentioned before the fact that in centuries past Soho was a hunting ground? Well, it was, before all the buildings, before all the clubs and bars and strip joins and hang on they are hunting grounds too, of a sort. Well, those royal hunting grounds were bordered with blue posts, which is (we think) why several pubs take their names from them. There is another Blue Posts pub in Mayfair, not too far from here. You can make out the bright pink lights strung above Ganton Street on the right, as well as the large metal banner marking the entrance to the Carnaby Street shopping zone, which I photographed below I would love to sketch a panorama of Carnaby Street some day, but only if that day is actually about twenty or thirty years ago, when it was still interesting. It doesn’t even have Soccerscene any more, the once great football shirt shop that I spent too many hours in in my youth, where I fell in love with the Sampdoria shirt, the Fluminense shirt, the 1991 CIS shirt (the red one with the little squares and lines on it), and all the metal badges. Back then the shops were all punk t-shirts and Bowie and leather and loud music. These days it’s all Muji and Puma and mobile phone shops. But it does have beautiful Christmas lights.
Well, it’s now 2016, January 10th, and I’m writing an hour or so since I learned that David Bowie, that cosmic super-being, has died aged 69. I’m stunned. He was a hero of mine since I was a kid, there’s never been a part of my life when I didn’t hear his music, and now he’s gone. I just want to say rest in peace, Mr. Bowie. Give our regards to the cosmos.
Last year at around this time I Amtrakked it down to San Francisco to sketch North Beach, and as I mentioned in my last post that’s what I did again a couple of weeks ago. Now last year I spent some time sketching the bars and cafes of the area, so that’s exactly what I did again this time. Above is Mr. Bing’s, a little cocktail dive that I’ve always wanted to go and have a drink in but have never plucked up the courage. Well, I’m not here very often. I have always wanted to sketch it though, so it was the first thing I sketched that day, while eating an early-lunch panini at the cafe across the street. North Beach has those little green white and red bands on the lamp-posts to signify that this is the Italian neighbourhood, but just on that corner there you can catch a glimpse of a Chinese-themed lamp-post, as that is the border with Chinatown.
This is Caffe Trieste, a little further uphill and around the corner from here. Caffe Trieste is an old San Francisco favourite, in business since the 1950s and popular with the artists, musicians and poets of the area. As a passing Big-Bus tour-guide (not on the bus with walking with a group) mentioned, this was a regular haunt for the famous Beat poets, such as Kerouac, Ginsberg, all the Beat poets. The tour guide (who I sketchd quickly, right) felt obliged to read some Beat poetry outside, I couldn’t understand what it was about though. It’s not just the Beat poets who sipped espresso here, apparently Francis Ford Coppola wrote much of the screenplay of The Godfather here. I never went into the Caffe (I don’t drink coffee, nor write poetry) but I would love to sketch the interior some day, soak in the beat-lit atmos. Did you know, Caffe Trieste was probably the first Espresso house on the West Coast? Its founder, Giovanni Giotta (Papa Gianni) came from Istria (near the city of Trieste; I’ve been there, nice place) in the 50s bringing a little piece of home with him.
I was feeling pretty Beat myself after all this sketching (do you see what I did there? Did you see that? Read it again) so as the Sun was quickly dashing westwards I chose to do my next sketch from the comfort of a pub table. One of my favourite haunts in the City is just around the corner from here, Specs, an interesting North Beach bar with walls and ceilings full of memorabilia and stuff to look at. I do love this place. Last time I was here I sketched a panorama of the busy bar area and was one of several artists dotted around the pub, unconnected but just doing what we do. I sketched over a couple of pints, listening to conversation, people watching, dreaming of anything. That might have been a Beat poet in front of me, perhaps a young Beat poet, I wasn’t sure. A young lady shared a laugh with a silver-haired man at the bar (I sketched them too, below), while a group of British fellows unseen to the left enjoyed a weekend pint while reminiscing about San Francisco in decades gone by. Or they might have been talking about something else, rugby or something, but I hear what my ears choose to hear. I like Specs. Years ago I came here with my friend from England and played chess and got drunk and laughed and did impressions of Brick Top. I like Specs.
I have another post of sketches from that day – stay tuned. So, do you remember when I posted my North Beach sketches last year, over two posts? One of the posts (“Leave the Pen, Take the Cannoli“) got a ridiculous number of comments, 223, possibly my record. The second post (“A Bright Centre to the Universe“) got a very respectable 11 comments, which is pretty good, but clearly not quite as good as the first. I actually prefer the drawings in the second, but according to everyone else the first post is more than 20 times better, but that’s fine. Anyway on that note I will leave you with the chronologically-out-of-place first sketch of the day, which I did on the Amtrak at around 9 in the morning. The train from Davis was crossing the Delta, with the golden brown landscape dashing by in the chilly morning sunlight. It was even colder when I got back to Davis, cycling my bike home in the near-freezing dark. It’s a long day out, sketching in the City.
It was time for another bar sketch. After a Saturday of AYSO soccer, pirates versus knights battles, Disney Infinity super-hero smash-downs and the occasional lightsabre duel, I headed out in the evening to do some drawing, read some comics and have a few beers. I love being a grown-up. Since I have a new book out (available right now!) in which I talk extensively about drawing bars in low light, I felt I should add to the sketchbook a little more, so I popped into the City Hall Tavern, which I last sketched two years ago, to again attempt their bar area with the bicycle wheels on the ceiling. Ice Hockey was on the TV (they just call it ‘Hockey’ here; similarly they say ‘cubes’ instead of ‘ice cubes’, ‘cream’ instead of ‘ice cream’, and ‘stares’ instead of ‘icy stares’ whenever I make this joke). They get so aggressive and fighty in Ice Hockey. For a game in which you are essentially just skating around trying to hit a small disc that won’t stop moving, players seem to get unusually angry, angrier than in most sports. Perhaps it’s because they dress head to toe in armour and carry huge sticks, it brings out the medieval warrior in people. Maybe the sport needs to change its image a little, and rename itself ‘Nice Hockey’. Ok, from now on I am calling it ‘Nice Hockey’ in the hope that it catches on. And those stares I get when I do will be called ‘Nice Stares’. So, back to the sketch. I sat on the opposite side of the bar to when I last sketched this bar, for a slightly different angle. I follow City Hall Tavern on Twitter, and I notice that they are using one of my sketches of their bar as their header image (I think I said ok to that), but they have removed whatever was on the screen and replaced it with an actual shot from a real basketball game. Hmm, no, not really a fan of that. Replace it with a shot of Harry Kane scoring for Tottenham, maybe, or of Jose Mourinho huffing as Chelsea lose again, perhaps. Anyway, I tried a couple of different beers, one was a Gose Wheat beer (tasted like Strongbow), the other was a Sudwerk Aggie Cruiser, which was nice too. Lots of people were coming in drinking cocktails as part of some local bar crawl event that was happening. By the time I was done with my sketch, all the City Hall bar patrons were standing and chatting and dancing, and so I popped down to De Vere’s for a comfy seat and one more wheat beer to read a couple of comics (“the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” if you’re interested, and it’s great) before walking home.
Here are my previous City Hall Tavern sketches (inside only; I’ve sketched the outside building since way before it was a bar):
I am back! I have been busy. I have more busy to be busy about but that is coming. In the meantime here is a sketch I did a couple of weeks ago at the University of Beer on 3rd Street in Davis. I had just sold a couple of sketches at the Pence Gallery’s annual Art Auction (hooray! Thanks for buying them!) and was in the middle of a very busy period of history, so an evening at the pub trying a few new different beers was in order. Not my greatest bar sketch but I enjoyed drawing it. It was a strange night in downtown Davis though. The evening before a man was tragically killed in an altercation at another bar about a block away, which has since prompted the City Council to impose a 45-day moratorium on all new bar and restaurant development / expansion. The downtown Davis area has been becoming a lot busier at night in recent years, but Davis as a city is growing, and becoming more of a destination. Being before the UC Davis school year officially began, it wasn’t particularly busy on this Saturday night so was quite a pleasant evening, which I followed by the long walk home. I’m not a fan of the walk through the too-dark streets of Old North Davis, which are poorly lit because ‘residential’ but I always think a better lit street is a lot safer than one where you can’t see the person about to jump you. They say, “well we want to be able to see the stars” but forgive me if I’m wrong, the streets between fifth and eighth aren’t full of budding astronomers every night. Oak Street is the worst, the road I cycle up after work, in the winter months when it’s dark early it is complete pitch darkness. Ah well, at least on this night as I strolled back to my bed I had the internal glow of four and a half craft beers to light my way. This was the first spread of a new sketchbook, another Seawhite of Brighton one, which I’m hoping to fill quickly…
This is the midtown Sacramento pub called ‘Streets’. Click on the image to see it in closer detail. This pub was formerly known as the ‘Streets of London’, but they decided to drop the ‘of London’ part presumably in an effort to appear more inclusive to the other metropolitan centers of the UK and indeed the more rural counties. They could have gone further and called it ‘Lanes’ or ‘Highways and Byways’. They have an actual National Express Coach-stop sign outside the pub, and still have a number of British-themed (specifically London-themed) objects in the pub, but not as much as they used to. When I first came here back in 2006 or whenever it was, they had football shirts and scarves hanging from the ceiling. Those are sadly long gone (and you know how much I love football shirts). Otherwise though the pub really hasn’t changed a lot. One TV ahead of me was showing the Giants baseball, another was showing French football (which these days just means ‘PSG and someone else’, you know how much I don’t like seeing PSG). It’s been a long time since I was in here last, but I have wanted to do a panorama sketch of its brick walls and cozy layout for ages. I hadn’t planned on it; we spent the morning in Arden Fair mall, mostly at the Lego store (and you know how much we love Lego). I then took the opportunity to go to midtown Sacramento, to look at all the goodies in the University Art store on J Street. I picked up a ‘Cathedrals of the World’ colouring-in book (and you know how much I love drawings of the Cathedrals of the World). I then wandered about looking for something new to sketch, but by now it was hot, very hot. Very very hot. I considered sketching the historic Governor’s Mansion (which I last drew in, um, 2007) but could not find the right angle, what with all the big trees in the way (stupid trees, providing shade from the oppressively hot sun and the air we breathe). Maybe I will come back in winter.
By this point, the searing heat was giving me a headache, and I had to cool off urgently. So I went back over to Big Brother Comics on J Street, bought the latest issue of ‘Thors’ (one of the very fun and inventive books from Marvel’s ongoing ‘Secret Wars’ event; the ‘Thors’ are like the cops of Battleworld, and this plays like a classic cop drama, but, you know, with more hammers and lightning), and popped into the Streets of London pub to cool off and read. Sorry, ‘Streets’. No more humming Ralph McTell. After finishing ‘Thors’, I thought, ah what the hell (sorry, what the ‘hel’, Thor joke) and started to sketch a panorama. I sketched quickly and drank my two beers slowly (one after the other, not slowly at the same time). It wasn’t particularly busy, but the staff were friendly and the atmosphere nice. At one point a large party of Sunday pubcrawlers came in, had a pint, and left. I remember this being a thing the last few times I have been at this pub. There are a bevvy of boozers in midtown now, and I imagine an afternoon pub-crawl with all your friends on a hot Sunday in mid-August would be quite a lot of fun, but you don’t get to spend long enough in any place to enjoy it before the fastest drinker in your crowd claps his hand loudly and orders you to move on (that’s what happened here). They do have these pedal-powered contraptions now that groups of people ride on, all pedaling, drinking water, being directed from pub to pub, while yelling ‘wooh’ and ‘yeah’. The pub returned to quiet Sunday afternoon peace very quickly, but I had to get the bus home to Davis. I finished off adding all the paint the next day. Another pub sketch checked off the list!
Last month I decided to get out one evening to downtown Davis and sketch. I haven’t sketched in the G St Wunderbar for a few years so I wanted to give it another go. It wasn’t very busy (because it was early), and I sipped a beer at the back of the bar and ran down the black Pitt pen I’d bought in Aix (I don’t use them very often, the nibs wear down too much after like one or two drawings), but I wanted to do some crosshatching, and play with sketching light in dark interiors. I’d thought about sketching the room at the other side of the bar, full of pool tables, but there’s never a good vantage point for an urban bar sketcher, so I stuck to the main bar which had plenty of table space. “G St Wunderbar”… I first sketched this view when it was the plain old G St Pub. There it is on the right, a sketch from six years ago; I even sat in the same seat.
As I drew, it got later (funny how that happens) and more people started coming in. The music started getting louder and more dancier, and the people younger (funny how that happens), and so rather than stretch this to a panorama, I called it an evening and went home for a cup of tea. Another one for the ‘then-and-now’ section of the bar sketch series.
Here is the final post with my sketches from Strasbourg, though there will be one epilogue with a map. This might end up being quite a long post, so if you like long posts with a few sketches and a lot of talk about things from previous trips that I can barely really remember properly, then this is for you. Or if you prefer just looking at the pictures, you can do that by scrolling past the text, looking at the sketch without all of the barely related context, and you get the same effect. I do like to offer an insight into what might have been going through my mind when I sketch though, which is basically the side of the drawing that I see when I look at it, but you as the non-Pete can’t see. To be sure, you have the undoubted advantage of seeing a sketch just for what it is, while if I post a sketch of, for example, a bike shop in Davis, I can say that it reminds me of a podcast about the Peasant’s Revolt that I was listening to at the time, or the music that was playing in the bar down the street, or the smell of the food someone was eating as they walked past, or it reminded me of the time when my bike broke down and I had it fixed, or the time when and so on and so on.
Take the sketch above, which is of a winstub/bierstub (it’s what they call cute little places where you can drink beer or wine in Alsace), “Au Vieux Strasbourg“. This is just down the street from the Cathedral on what is very much one of the main tourist runs. I stood against a wall and sketched as all nationalities walked by. To my right was a man selling little paper puppets in the street. These puppets would dance, all by themselves, making people (mostly kids) laugh and give money to buy one. At one point, the vendor sat at a table and had a drink at Au Vieux Strasbourg, and another man came long, and tried his best to figure out how the puppet was dancing. He looked at me, a glint of excitement in his eye and said “it’s on a line! I can see it, it’s on a line!” Obviously this was in French. “No,” I replied, “it’s magic. See?” “No, no, no,” he said, “it’s on a line. It’s hard to see, but it’s there.” “It’s hard to see because it’s magic,” I insisted. I don’t know how I became the spokesperson for dancing paper puppets but if there’s a cause I’m willing to stand up for, then well. He scratched his head as if he had made some revolutionary discovery but still didn’t quite believe it. ‘Sacre bleu’ I thought, and just carried on drawing, while the puppet master, still sitting with his cold drink, just shrugged. I actually couldn’t see the line, so it might have been magic. Further down the street, two musicians who had been playing an accordion and, I don’t know, something else, were joined by a middle aged American who decided it would be brilliant if he whistled loudly and in great tune along to their music. It reminded me of the guy Walter from the Muppets movie a few years ago. More puppets. When I was done, I had a cold beer at Au Vieux Strasbourg, and watched the world go by, and the little puppets kept on dancing.
This is the interior of “Les Aviateurs“, an American-themed bar I had heard of years ago but I don’t think I ever visited. There are model airplanes on the ceiling. As I was walking back to my hotel from the Cafe Atlantico on the Sunday evening, thinking about dinner, I happened across it. So after dinner I made a point of coming here to do a sketch. I was pretty exhausted, so I just had one drink and sketched furiously until my purple pen expired. There was only one other person in there for the most part, other than the barman, who chatted to me in English because, as he said, one needs to practice a foreign language otherwise you really do lose it, it”s not like riding a bike. Amen to that my friend, that’s exactly how I felt with my French on that trip. This bar is cool, and has been here since 1984, so I am glad I was able to find it and sketch it (here is their website). The music was all British indie music from the mid 1990s which was very appropriate.
There are a lot of municipal flags of towns from all over Alsace hung above the streets of Strasbourg. At least that is what I presume they are, and I think it’s a fairly good guess.I like that green one that looks a bit like a pair of y-fronts. This was on the rue des Orfevres, also known as Goldschmittgass, and this Foies Gras vendor that I stood next to had a golden goose as its shop sign. Strasbourg however loves its storks, they are the symbol of Alsace and the mascot of tourist shops everywhere in the city. I never sketched those.
The Place de l’Homme de Fer (above) is the central downtown hub for the Strasbourg tram. It literally translates as Iron Man Place, and the large circular structure above the tram station reminds me a bit of an arc reactor. Twenty years ago when I first saw it, I had no idea what an arc reactor was (and barely remembered anything about Iron Man) so I never made that connection then. This was however, with the exception of the cathedral, the thing I was most impressed with about Strasbourg. Coming from London which at the time had the very old rolling stock of London Underground trains (the old grimy greying trains with the ghostly front face and the partially wooden interior, not the shinier more colourful ones you get now, with their LED screens and automated “the next station with this train is Colindale” announcements), the Strasbourg trams and their futuristic downtown station were a glimpse into the space age. This is what life could be like. I enjoyed riding the tram so much, arriving at ‘Langstross’ and other exciting locations. I’m a bit less easy to impress with futuristic technology now, in this age of smartphones and holograms and teleporters, but on my last day I did take a ride on the tram again just for old time’s sake. I went down to Neuhof, which was where, in 1995, I had been on that exchange trip to the Lycee Jean Monnet. I walked about the neighbourhood for a little while, remembering all the old fun of that trip, all the people that I met. It hadn’t changed very much, though to be honest I could not remember enough to say what would have been different. There was a lot of that in Strasbourg, turning a corner and another distant memory popping up, much in the same way that you remember last night’s forgotten dream the moment you hit the pillow, and then it’s gone again. I passed by the street where my old friend Roland used to live, who I last saw when we watched the 1998 World Cup semi-final on TV, France beating Croatia. There were lots of celebrating fans on the streets that night.
I was hungry, so I didn’t sketch around Neuhof, and just jumped back onto a tram and headed to Les Halles for a Quick and some more shopping (or rather, leche-vitrine, window shopping – my backpack was too small to buy all the cool things I wanted to buy, such as big new Ninjago and Marvel Lego sets at the toystore which even now are not yet available in the US, much to my son’s annoyance).
And then it was time to go home. my flight back to London was late on a Monday evening (and very cheap too, about $15, plus it took just a few minutes to get to the airport from Strasbourg train station). The Monday was my day of exploration, so I spent time in bookshops such as Librairie Kleber (I love the smell and feel of French bookstores, even if the spines are all upside down), and of course the big store FNAC. The FNAC in Strasbourg was the first ever FNAC I had been to and it hasn’t changed much. I spent ages in their BD section – that’s Bande Dessinee, or comic books. French (and Belgian) BD is amazing, especially the artwork, and often comes in large hardbound volumes. There were a good number I would probably have bought, had I not brought such a small backpack with me (Ryanair carry-on friendly). I did buy one small-ish new piece of Ninjago Lego for my son though, so clawed back a few Daddy Points for all the other Lego and Playmobil I didn’t get (I did buy him some French ‘Pokemon’ cards in Monoprix though, his friend apparently had some German ones from his dad and he wanted to go one better). I bought biscuits in nice little Alsace tins, had a take-out curry dinner which I ate on a bench on the Rue du 22 Novembre, before finishing off with one last sketch of the large Place Kleber, Strasbourg’s big central plaza. The cathedral poked above the rooftops, looking towards Rue des Grandes Arcades. The Marks and Spencer that used to be here is gone, but the McDonald’s is still here. Why mention the McDonald’s? Back in 1997 they gave me a Big Mac instead of a Chicken Sandwich. I didn’t realize until I was already on the coach back to London, so I couldn’t change it (me not being an eater of the hamburgers). My friend Terry ate it instead, and we’ve basically joked about this ever since. We agreed that if ever I went back there, I would go to that McDonald’s, slowly walk up to the counter like a bounty hunter in an Old West saloon and say, “1997, September. You gave me a Big Mac. I asked for a McChicken sandwich. That was one long, hungry bus journey. I’m here to claim my debt.” I didn’t, but it would have made a brilliant BD.