I have a piece currently on display at the Pence Gallery as part of their “Tiny” show. Each artist submitted a piece no bigger than 5″x7″ (about my usual drawing size!) and were given a piece of canvas board on which to create their masterpiece. I usually draw on paper, but wanted to give it a go on this different material, and it was fun. As you can see below in the step-by-step I actually put the paint on first, and then added the ink details. Normally I draw ink first (colouring-in is an afterthought) but the ink stayed wet on this canvas board so that wasn’t possible, but this way worked really nicely. The ink didn’t get glazed over by the wash, and really popped. Because of the rough nature of this canvas board, scanning was a bit difficult, so hopefully you can get a good idea from these photos.
Pennywise…that is – or was, I am now told – a shop in Burnt Oak (where I was born and grew up) that was there my entire life, unchanged. I didn’t exactly need to go there often (great place for plastic buckets and sponges) but it was just one of those shops, always there, with that funny little orange symbol. I’d always intended to draw it. I didn’t have time while in London so took a photo. I am glad I did – shortly after drawing this I learnt that Pennywise has now closed and become something else. “The curse strikes again” I thought. Several things I have drawn have subsequently closed down. I’m not going to list them now but this is why it is important for the urban sketcher to record the world while it is here. This of course is not an on-location urban sketch, being drawn from a photo, but it’s for the same purpose. I wish I could go back and draw all the other landmark Burnt Oak places from my past.
This was sketched on Burnt Oak Broadway, at the top of Watling Avenue, on the corner of Stag Lane. This is another from the part of London where I am from, and this is the iconic building with the clock tower that was originally the Co-Op’s ‘finest grocery store’. That was long gone by the time I came into the world, and it was several things while I was growing up (I recall buying a stylus for my record player in there when it was a department store), I think it’s Peacocks now. Either way, that big clock tower sits at the top of Burnt Oak looking over us all, and it always reminds me of my Nan, who we called Nam, who lived in the flats across the road and spent many days in the Stag pub, directly opposite. Looking at it makes me feel very sad, and very happy.
On the other corner of Stag Lane there is the Nat West bank. This is the branch where I had my first ever bank account. Kids form the 1980s in Britain will remember the Nat West piggies, and I had the whole set of piggy banks, awarded when you saved to a certain level. My dad still has them, though one of them broke falling from a shelf when I was a teenager (yes, I had old piggy banks on my shelf as a teenager, and I used them too).
It was a cloudy day when I sketched this, the first day of June. We were coming to the end of our trip, and I was feeling pretty exhausted. Travelling back home takes it out of you, so it’s nice to unwind and just draw stuff. I haven’t done much drawing since I got back to Davis, hardly any in fact, and stress is getting the better of me, so I think it’s time I took my own advice and made time for it.
After flying in an antique tumble-dryer across the Atlantic, I’m back from London full of jetlag. United Airlines really know how to show you an awful time! Fortunately, London knows how to show you a fantastic time, and I had a really nice trip back there. Family, friends, festivities, and a couple of days in Paris as well. I also opened up a new Watercolour Moleskine, #10, and christened it with a skyline from the start of the world.
Watling Avenue is the main thoroughfare of Burnt Oak, the area of London where I was born and grew up. Like the neighbourhood, it has changed a lot over the years, except for the odd stores which seem frozen endlessly in time – Vipins, Hassan, Pennywise. One thing that never changes is the skyline, a weather-worn row of chimneys snaking up the hill towards Burnt Oak Broadway (part of Edgware Road, the London section of the historic straight Roman road called Watling Street – hence Watling Avenue). It’s always hard to find a good spot to sketch on Watling Avenue – sure it’s a busy street, but that hasn’t put me off anywhere else in the world. Probably because I know this area as I do, I feel very self-conscious about standing out (having spent my youth trying to be invisible), so I chose a quiet spot, outside the Ming takeaway next to the Co-Op funeral place. It was a sunny Tuesday morning. As I sketched, the occasional passer-by stopped and smiled, or passed a comment on how different Burnt Oak is from when they were younger. Everyone there seems to have an opinion on the matter. Looking up at those chimneys, it’s hard to be sure that it is, really.
I always get up early on my first morning back in Burnt Oak. Often I will go and sketch in the kitchen, listen to the news, have a cup of tea. It was pretty gloomy out, so I looked out the window and sketched the back garden. Later on, it would rain, and rain hard, and we would be out in central London getting drenched, but at this point it was just overcast, a typical changeable English summer.
I drew these the next day, in the rain. This gnome has slept in that garden since I was a kid, and though his paint has peeled away, he hasn’t woken up yet. These were drawn onto a postcard which I sent to my son. I sent him postcards nearly every day, each with a drawing on them. I must say, this is very much the English palette. While Lisbon has a lot of yellow and blue, London has its greeny grey and brown.
This is Vipins, a stationery and card shop in Burnt Oak, north London. It has been there all my life, and I swear it hasn’t changed a bit. they even have the same stock as when I was a kid. I used to go in there all the time for pens, notepads, card, glitter, pritt stick, rulers, cartridge pens and so on. I still pop in there whenever I’m back, and sometimes find unexpected goodies. This time I found a mini clipboard, which has the clip along the side rather than the top, and fits into my bag. It’s perfect sketchbook size, handy for when I’m trying to hold onto my often awkward watercolour moleskine. I guess it’s used for Bingo. Anyway I decided to try it out straight away (it was Christmas Eve, still snowy, I had just got my hair cut at Syd’s barbers behind Woolworths – er, behind where Woolworths used to be, I mean), and so I stood outside Vipins in the cold and sketched for fifteen minutes, standing up. The clipboard was brilliant. It really helped whne standing to sketch, and being small it was still discreet. I popped back in to show Mr and Mrs Vipin, they were pleased with the sketch. This is a very typical Burnt Oak scene I’ve known my entire life, and I need to sketch these whenever I’m back, because the area keeps changing so much.
Incidentally, today’s my birthday. I share it with Charles Dickens (I always hated our joint birthday parties). I sketched San Francisco yesterday as a birthday present to myself (though I forgot my little clipboard). I’ll show you at some point.
With this very busy January, I’d almost forgotten I still have loads of sketches from London yet to scan and post! So to warm your winter cockles (what is a cockle? is it a muscle?)* here is a sketch I did on Boxing Day at my mum’s house in Burnt Oak, north London. Boxing Day (for those who are unaware) is the day after Christmas. On the TV there is Alec Guinness playing Fagin in Oliver Twist. That’s a great version, that, and the guy who played Bill Sykes was truly villainous. Plus it has the dog from the Target adverts in it. Alec Guinness as you know went on to train Luke Skywalker in the art of picking a pocket or two.
*before you correct me, I do know what a cockle is. It’s a type of male chicken.
As soon as I had finished sketching in the snow to close out Moleskine #6, I went inside and opened Moleskine #7, got myself a cup of tea and some Quality Street, stood by an extra warm radiator and looked out of the window. I sketched the other side of the street where I grew up, from my old bedroom window. After freezing my fingers off outside, this was an excellent way to spend the rest of the afternoon, while my son napped.
This is Norwich Walk, the street where I grew up. On this very block in fact; my old bedroom window is on the third house from the right. I’ve never seen so much snow in London, as fell on my recent trip. It was on the Saturday morning a week before Christmas, and despite a little fall of snow the day before, we decided to take the short trip to Colindale to visit the RAF Museum. I wanted to draw old planes. In Burnt Oak, carol singers stood outside the station singing Christmas songs as snow fluttered down like a picturesque postcard (without the picturesque of course; it was Burnt Oak tube station, not one of London’s nicer spots). Then our bus stopped due to ice on the road, and we got out and walked across the estate. As we did, an absolutely massive amount of snow pounded down upon us. We were walking snowmen by the time we finally reached the musuem, which had just decided (wisely) to close. The buses then stopped, as did the tube, and cars were quickly becoming buried beneath feet of snow. Thankfully my dad managed to dig his car out and came to rescue us, though the roads were treacherous, and we had to crawl along. Snow was coming down in ice cubes. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see those little paper umbrellas too. We got home, and warmed up, and then I went straight back outside with my little sketching stool to fill the last page of moleskine sketchbook #6 and freeze my fingers off. The snow had just stopped falling, and I had to capture this before it all vanished (little did I know it wouldn’t vanish for another week and a half).
Passing locals must have thought I was a nutter (those that have known me all my life knew it for a fact…). I quickly sketched the pillar box I’d drawn two days before, and then drew the street panorama. I gave up halfway through, my fingers freezing off, but then decided to soldier on, finish the block, and I’m glad I did. My micron pen didn’t give up so neither would I. Thankfully snow isn’t hard to draw. I added the paint when I got home.
So this is the last page of this sketchbook, which was started on a very hot day in southern Oregon on the fourth of July, and finished in freezing cold London in December. I did a good bit of travelling in this book, and you can see the whole journey on my flickr site: Moleskine #6
And so onto my sketches from London. Not having any fire hydrants, it was obvious I would have to sketch soemthing even better – the post box (or pillar box) at the corner of the street where I grew up. I got up early (as jetlagged travellers do) and sketched it as Burnt Oak locals passed thinking, ‘nutter’. This dates from the reign of King George V (hence the GR cypher on the front) and is of the standard pillar box design. I drew this more than once – the second time it was covered in snow…
So… as you may have gathered from my non-posts this past week, I am away from rain-sodden California to lovely London, where I’ve had a week without any rain whatsoever.
Oh, but we’ve been having the worst snowy winter weather I’ve ever seen here. Many days after a sudden blizzard, the snow is still here there and everywhere, tough it hasn’t stopped me from getting out there with sketchbook. Yes, fingers freezing off and pens giving up the ghost doesn’t get in the way of this urban sketcher. Not two months ago I was sketching in hundred degree weather heat. Thing is, I grew up with snow lasting only a day or two before sodding off, and always tell people about our comparatively mild winters, but now it seems the snow comes earlier and stays longer, and the disruption is magnified. Naturally, Britain fails to cope, as the absolute madness of Heathrow attests. I’m glad I came a few days earlier than I would have. I just hope we can get back…
These are a couple of photos of what I have been out sketching though; the top one being the street where I grew up, about an hour after the biggest blizzzard I can remember here. I’m sure people thought I was a nutter sitting out there freezing, well they’re right, but urban sketchers are tough beasts. My fingers took a battering in the second one too, sat down by the River Thames, looking out at HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge. My toes were frozen too. I warmed up with a nice chicken and mushroom pie. That’s one thing Britain can always get right!