Tag Archives: buildings

it is like a finger, pointing away to the moon

Rue Merciere and Strasbourg Cathedral
It might be my favourite building in the world. And this year, 2015, La Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Strasbourg is 1000 years old.

The day I got back to London last month, I was looking for some drawing pins at my mum’s house when I happened upon an old badge that was mixed in with them. It was a small metal badge of Strasbourg Cathedral, which I must have bought on my first trip there, and has been sitting in a drawer at my mum’s for years and years. What a coincidence, as I was shortly going to go back there. Strasbourg might have a European parliament building, and lots of pretty timber-framed buildings, but it is a city dominated by its massive cathedral. It sits in the centre of the Grand-Ile with its single solitary spire pointing high into the heavens. It can be seen for miles around. Locals told me that if ever I were lost, I should just look up and find the cathedral. Of course that only really helped if I were going toward the cathedral, so on this trip I booked a hotel right next to the thing (the Hotel Cathedrale, I recommend it). It was the scene above, the view down the tourist-trail of Rue Merciere, that I longed to sketch. I was stood almost in Place Gutenberg, where stands the statue of Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the printing press right here in Strasbourg. I stood there mid-afternoon, and because my hotel was just around the corner I took a break halfway through, and went back to do the rest. I had promised myself that I would sketch the cathedral at least three times, from three different angles, and so I did. I love this building.
Strasbourg Cathedral
In 1997 I came to Strasbourg with my oldest friend Terry. We came on an overnight Eurolines coach (remember taking those, in the days before budget airlines? Yeah those days are thankfully gone). I remember that it was the day after Princess Diana died (it was funny, French people kept asking us how we were doing, all concerned like, and we were both like, um, we’re fine, thanks, not realizing all the national weeping nonsense going on back in England). As we approached Strasbourg, I could see the huge spire in the yellow dawn mist towering over the city, and it was an image that stuck with me, like an illustration from a fantasy novel. Its shape is so distinct. It looks like it is missing a spire, and in fact it is – the second steeple was supposed to be built, but was never constructed. I was told many stories about this cathedral, how for several centuries it was the tallest building in the world, how during the French Revolution the cathedral was covered up with a giant cap to save it from those revolutionaries who wished to tear it down. In the sketch above, you can see how the rear is also covered over, but this is just renovation, not revolution. I had a nice time sketching this one. Several of the Belgian sketching group were there too; Gerard Michel (the cathedral expert, my inspiration) was gathering a crowd of onlookers. As I sketched, a group of young schoolchildren were gathered in the plaza (which was not as nice and open as this the last time I was here), and several times they sang La Marseillaise, which echoed off the grand building beautifully. As well it should – for as much as Strasbourg has been swapped between the French and German realms, that national anthem of France was actually composed not in Marseille, not in Paris, but right here in Strasbourg.
Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Strasbourg, and Maison Kammerzell
The sketch above is the pre-breakfast early-morning drawing. My hotel being where it was, I just had to roll out of bed, grab the large sketchbook, and stand out in the Place de la Cathedrale before all the tourist shops opened. I said ‘bonjour’ to a few people holding machine guns, as you do. The cathedral is being well guarded by soldiers, walking about the building at all hours. It’s not a scene that I’m used to, but I’m not unfamiliar with in France (I remember years ago walking past a large cadre of soldiers on the Paris Metro, their fingers on the triggers of their automatic weapons), and it’s a reminder of the terrorist dangers that France has had to deal with this year. I stood next to the 15th century Maison Kammerzell, which I drew in the foreground in black ink, and drew the cathedral in brown-black ink. This is a famous shot. I started this at about 7:30am, but by 9:00am I was getting hungry so I stopped there, and went for a pain au chocolat at a boulangerie  around the corner. It was such a delicious pain au chocolat that five minutes later I was back there asking for another. The woman in the bakery gave me such a dirty look when I came back and for a second one, as if to say “why didn’t you just buy two the first time?”. At least I got that much. On two other occasions that day (in FNAC and in Librairie Kleber), the shop assistant serving me barely acknowledged my existence other than holding out a hand for my money, looking away in another direction. But then I also had many occasions where I was helped by super friendly (and above all patient) people in shops and cafes.
Strasbourg Cathedral & Maison KammerzellAnd so, the Cathedral celebrates its millennium this year. I didn’t realize this before I came to Strasbourg, so it was very good timing. Later this year they are having lots of celebrations and events. The picture below, taken from a display outside the cathedral, shows the history of its construction. As with most massive building projects in the middle ages, this took several centuries to complete. It stands at 142 metres tall (that’s 466 feet). It doesn’t sound like much when you put it like that. The first stone was laid by Bishop Werner von Habsburg in 1015. One of the most prominent architects involved was Erwin von Steinbach, who died in 1318, and the cathedral is one of the best examples of high Gothic architecture.  DSC04824

Gerard and Belgian sketchers

Gerard Michel and other sketchers from Liege, sketching Strasbourg cathedral with an audience

DSC04836

The massive rose window, photographed from the inside

DSC04594

The view of the cathedral when I arrived in Strasbourg in the early hours of the morning

IMG_4488

Here’s that metal badge I bought twenty years ago (and found again last month), along with the USk France 2015 badge.

building the pitzer, part one

music recital hall (under construction)
music recital hall (under construction)
More construction on the UC Davis campus, while I slowly scan (and finish in some cases) my French sketches. Long-memoried observers of my UC Davis sketch adventures (really, that sentence) will recall that I spent a lot of time a couple of years ago or so sketching the demise of the old Boiler Building. You can see those posts at petescully.com/tag/boiler-building. The space was assigned as the location of the brand new Music Recital Hall, which (thanks to a generous donation by the late alumna Ann Pitzer) will officially be called the Ann E. Pitzer Center. When complete, it will be a 399 seat concert venue (why 399? Definitely no room for 400? Bet there’s a bureaucracy reason, oh I love the bureaucracy. No, I actually do). It will also be a classroom space, which will have course schedulers gleefully rubbing their hands with their 400-capacity classes (ah, I see why it’s 399 seats now…). Anyway, I got back from Europe and saw that construction had finally begun, with the first concrete panels going up (top sketch). A week later (yesterday) the large concrete box was already sealed. I don’ know what the vertical lines around the edges signify, but they add a touch of interest into what currently looks like some sort of military installation. It won’t always look like that. Once the shiny glass and steel are added this will be one of the most attractive buildings on campus, and one of the first you see when you enter on Shields Avenue, in what will be known as the campus ‘Arts District’. Old Boiler Building

On the right, you can see how this spot used to look, in 2011. I miss the old Boiler Building, with its rusty pipes and sun-burnt tiles. You can find out more about the Pitzer Center here at arts.ucdavis.edu/pitzercenter. Here is how it will eventually look (pictures from the Davis Enterprise). I’ll be sketching its progress, so watch this space…

burgers and brew

burgers & brew sm

Phew, today was a day in the World Cup, huh. Belgium-Russia, meh. Algeria-Korea, whoah! And then the drama of USA-Portugal, well this has been a tournament to remember. I can’t even remember what life was like before this World Cup began. Thankfully my sketchbook offers a glimpse into the pre-Brazil days of almost two weeks ago. On a hot, hot day in early June, I stood on 3rd St one lunchtime and sketched as quickly as I could. It was pushing a hundred degrees so I needed to finish up before I melted. This is Burgers and Brew on the corner of C St, a restaurant with a name that is designed to excite people in an ‘ooh-Burgers-Beer-I-love-those-things-gotta eat there-then’ type way (though in fact almost every restaurant in America specializes in burgers and brews these days it seems). I’ve only been here a couple of times, the last being about three or four years ago, and while I don’t do burgers (at least not the red-meaty kind) I had some nice Belgian Kwak beer once. Not on this day however, this lunch hour was for sketching.This is in the landscape-format Stillman and Birn ‘Alpha’ book, sketched with brown uni-ball signo um-151 pen, with a watercolour wash added later.

bizarro world

Bizarro World, Davis
Bizarro World, Davis. A comic shop that used to reside on 5th St, before moving into its present location on E St when Bogey’s Books closed down. I prefer this location, and I’ve been there many times over the past four years, as opposed to the one time I went to the 5th St location in the preceding five years. Then again, I read a lot more comics now. I mean a LOT. Not all of them physical, mind, but I do buy a fair few paper comics from here (and also from Big Brother Comics in midtown Sacramento and Mission Comics in San Francisco, whenever I am there). See now I have an iPad and a subscription to Marvel Unlimited, so I can read all the Marvel backlog (I have read hundreds since signing up in January). I like this place’s location though because it is right next to the pub. After a long day, it makes a lot of sense to buy a comic or graphic novel and pop inside De Vere’s for a cold brew. Or University of Beer a block away. So on a very hot hundred-esque Saturday afternoon I stood outside and sketched my local comic shop, the sweat dripping off of me. While sketching, a bearded man on a bike stopped in the street and asked me a series of questions (“are you a painter, did you draw that, what building are you drawing, do you have an email”). I had to say, sorry I can’t really chat, I am up against the time a little here, because it really was hot and I wanted to get finished and get inside. But then about fifteen minutes later another guy on a bike, this time with a moustache, stopped and asked exactly the same questions. It was, as they say, bizarre (if not quite bizarro, which as we all know means something else entirely) I’m starting to wonder whether they were in fact the same person in different disguises. I’ve had odd people come up and say odd things on E St before while sketching so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. Perhaps I read too many comics? Nah, if that were true I’d believe it was Loki, out to trick me. I finished up all the penwork, the only colour added on site being the red pen, before cooling off with a beer in De Vere’s and finishing the paint at home. I did get a comic too, the Thanos annual, by Jim Starlin. Pretty good it is too.

Incidentally this framed drawing is currently for sale at Art-Is-Davis (222 D St, Davis) until July 6th…

the red victorian

SF Red Victorian sm
The rain came down in San Francisco, but I took a bus up to the Haight. It has been years since I was in this part of San Francisco, and I had forgotten how many amazing old colourful buildings there are to sketch around here. And hippies too, can’t forget the hippies, there are still lots of hippies. I walked about looking for a good dry spot to sketch from, and settled on a spot across the street from the historic Red Victorian, an old hotel and arts cafe, and a mainstay of “Peace, Man” San Francisco. I’ve always liked this building. There is the Peaceful World Cafe, they hold Peaceful World Conversations, and there’s also a Living Peace Museum. I must say, stood sheltered form the rain as I was, I felt pretty peaceful sketching it too (apart from one odd ‘crunchy’ guy making incomprehensible comments every time he shuffled past, but you get that when you’re out and about). You can find out more about the Red Vic and its owner, founder and artist in residence Sami Sunchild here: http://www.redvic.com/. Oh and here’s the map from my sketchbook.
SF Haight map sm

mrak

mrak hall, uc davis
This is Mrak Hall. That’s “MRAK”, my dear autocorrect, not “Mark”. It is a big solid looking building on the UC Davis campus, the place where the administration sit, and make all the rules and policies we have to follow. I have sketched it before but not in a long while. I come here often to drop off paperwork and turn up a day early for meetings (doh!). In front there, on those two little hillocks (“HILLOCKS”, dear auto-correct…) are two of Robert Arneson’s Eggheads. This is called “See No Evil, Hear No Evil”, which was obviously named after a hilarious movie with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. The last time I drew them, they were located in a slightly different place, in fact they were pretty much where I sat to draw this picture. I sat on the steps of King Hall, whose extension forced the eggheads to move to the middle of the roundabout in 2009. In fact my last sketch is below, from 2007. That long ago?
see no evil

barn again

the barn, UC Davis
“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).