have yourself a merry little christmas

gingerbread house
Christmas is nearly here folks, how exciting! After all the present-wrapping-up snowflake-cutting-out and tree-decorating (I know ‘trimming’ is the word people prefer to sound proper, but I’m from Burnt Oak you see and trimming is what we used to do to our hedges, back when people in Burnt Oak used to have hedges), one thing remained. Well loads of things to be honest but we needed to make our Gingerbread House. I’ve never ever made one before, can you believe it? So this was a joint effort with my son, and I think you’ll agree it turned out nicely. So naturally I had to draw it. Ahem, next year’s Christmas card. My son did most of the actual decorating, while I worked on structural stuff and snow on the roof, writing on the wall, etc. I especially like the icicles. Well as a first effort it’s not bad, next year we’ll make a whole village…

My son and I listened to Christmas music while making it, and discussed that song The Twelve Days of Christmas. Because, seriously, really? Those are your gifts? So right, it’s the first day of Christmas, and you’re hoping for a nice pressie from your True Love, and he’s all, “um, er, yeah I got you a, er (quickly looks into the garden) a bird! In that pear tree out there look, it’s a partridge, just for you. Merry Christmas!” And it flies away. So next day you’re expecting something cool, an iPad or something, but he still hasn’t been to the shops you can tell, and you’re like, so… and he’s all “Ah, well, er, that partridge flew away so look out in the garden, there are two, what are they, pigeons? Doves? Turtles Doves! Just for you!” And you’re like, Turtle Doves? Bloody hell’s that? Do they have little shells on them? And then next day he pulls the same thing, more birds out in the garden, French Hens? Do they lay French Eggs? He must really think you like birds. Just because you watched that one documentary about birds and you said you liked birds, this always happens, it’s the only thing you get for Christmas, birthdays, anything, all bird-themed. Next day? Four more birds, “Calling Birds” he says they’re called, and you’re thinking “Can they call me a cab? To a luxury hotel?”, and he sees how disappointed you are with all the birds (“Are you avian a laugh?” he says to lighten the mood but one sharp look and he’s straight down the jewellers. Next day, that’s more like it, a golden ring, and it’s lovely. Oh, and then another, and another, and FIVE GOLDEN RINGS? Did they come in a set? When am I going to wear five golden rings, am I Mister T or something? Like, just get one really nice ring with a diamond. This guy has no clue. (At this point my son pipes in on the story, “those rings are probably really expensive too, could have gotten something a lot better with that money!” “What like Pokemon cards or Lego?” I ask. “Da-ddy!” he says) So next day it’s more birds, but this time it’s geese. Oh brilliant, a bunch of geese honking about pecking everyone, and what are they doing, ‘laying’? ‘Laying’ how exactly? Great thinking, do I live in a country park, do I look like I own a big pond? “Ah,” he says, thinking, “you probably won’t like what I got you for tomorrow then,” quickly getting on the blower to the customer service at “Swans-R-Us”. We determined that the rest of the song was probably just a reference to something else, maybe they went to see a Cirque du Soleil show, or perhaps watched a box set of Downton Abbey perhaps, but either way, next year perhaps Mr True Love should stick to the List and keep all the Gift Receipts.

Merry Christmas Everyone. Hope it’s a Good One.

it’s chriiiiiiiistmaaaaaaaas

e st plaza xmas tree
Been lacking in postage lately, and sketches too, but I have been cutting out lots of paper snowflakes. I’ve been a bit sketch-lazy lately, or rather uninspired; my lunchtimes feel too short to sketch what I really want to sketch, my weekends too busy. I know, a weak excuse. I want to draw big panoramas, maybe I will do what I did last year at around this time and just explode into life. In the meantime, I sketched this a couple of weekends ago, on a cool Sunday afternoon (I say cool, some really annoying music was blasting over the loudspeaker outside Baskin-Robbins) which is actually why I didn’t draw/colour the whole thing. Rubbish music overpowering my own headphones is reason enough to move along. But enough bah-humbuggery! It’s Christmas! This is the Christmas tree standing in the E St Plaza, downtown Davis. I missed the official tree-lighting (not a downtown event I particularly warm to) so sketched the tree a few days afterwards. I presume those barriers are to hide the presents? We put our own tree up the day before. I love a Christmas Tree.

mince pies

mince pies
Christmas is coming. Which means mince pies. These mince pies in particular were made by a fellow Brit at work, and who kindly made me a whole tin of these little bite-sized festive treats (thanks Jean!). They were delicious, and very nice with a cup or tea or three. So, I had to draw them. It was an act of unbelievable will power to sit and smell them in front of me while drawing and not eat any until I was done. Well, in fact I’d had a few first, but still, the rest of them didn’t last long afterwards. Hopefully I get some time to make some myself, though mine are always messier and uneven, not that I notice the shape as they fly into my belly.

Dear Americans who don’t know: mince pies are not made with meat. The “mincemeat” used is something else entirely. I must admit I stopped trying to encourage my American family to eat them some years back, because I realized that there would be more left for me. And Santa of course, who loves them. Home-made ones are much nicer; although in England I always used to get those yummy ones from Marks & Spencer. One thing about M&S mince pies though folks, they always seem to have a useful best-before date of December 24th. Make sure you give Santa the freshest ones.

One other thing you may be interested in, my American friends, when a Londoner says “mince pies” he might also mean his “eyes”, which is Cockney Rhyming Slang. I don’t really use that one myself, mostly because it makes me suddenly very hungry at the very thought. I really love mince pies.

christmas at the capitol

capitol building xmas 2013 sm
This weekend past I went to Sacramento to do a little last-minute Christmas stocking stuffer shopping (ended up buying myself a couple of comics at Big Brother in midtown, one of which was Inhumanity #1, it’s very good), and topped of the afternoon with a sketch outside the Capitol building. This is where California is governed from, a huge white building at the end of Capitol Mall. The late afternoon December sunlight was golden, and the large Christmas tree was set up outside. People were gathering for some sort of caroling event that would take place later on, while at least one wedding party ambled by taking photos, the bride being in one of those massive dresses like you see in the olden days, you know the ones. I sat on the grass and sketched away, the cool afternoon turning quite mild by this point. Not long until Christmas now! Our own tree is up, chopped it down myself, and the place looks all nice and warm. I wish it could be Christmas every day.

’twas the night before christmas

merry chirstmas everybody!
It’s Christmas Eve! And for some of you back home in the UK, Father Christmas will be arriving soon so still time to be good. A while to go here in California, but the mince pie is at the ready for Santa, and a nice turkey dinner awaits us. Oh, and a trifle, I made a very nice trifle this year. Above is our tree. We cut it down ourselves from a local Christmas tree farm (in the rain and mud), a bit bigger than last year, and heavier too. Most of the presents beneath the tree are for that smallest member of our family, who has been getting up excitedly at 4:00am every morning to open the latest window on his spectacularly successful daddy-drawn advent calendar (it was a xmas-tree-shaped race-track).
watching charlie brown at 4:30am
I draw a christmas tree every year, so I thought you might like to see every tree I have drawn since 2006. I neglected to sketch the first tree after we moved to cA, 2005, but since it is the same fake tree we used to get every year you can just imagine what it looks like. I’m including a couple of my mum’s trees from visits back to north London as well.
sapin de xmasat about 5am on boxing day
2006: Davis (left), Burnt Oak (right)
at home, january 2008
2007 (well, Jan 2008, but the tree was from Xmas 2007): Davis. Not-yet-President Obama was on the telly!
zweichristmas back home
2008: Davis (left, though in the background), and Burnt Oak (right)
last view of the tree, till next yearMerry Christmas!
2009: Davis (left); 2010: Davis (right)
our christmas tree
2011, last year, Davis CA.

Happy Christmas to all, and have a very merry 2013.

christmas at the cathedral

2012 Christmas Concert at Grace Cathedral
As mentioned in the previous post, I drew the cover for Grace Cathedral’s 2012 Christmas Concert brochure. Last Saturday my wife and I went down to San Francisco, and up up up Nob Hill, to see the wonderful show itself, courtesy of the cathedral. Naturally I took my sketchbook. While last year I drew the impressive vaulted ceiling all the way down to the singing choir, this year I took a panoramic approach; you’ll have to click on the image for a larger view, I’m afraid. I did all the penwork during the concert, and added the colour when I got home (from my detailed notes – shirt=yellow, hair=brown etc). I have drawn in here a few times now so i am getting used to this impressive space. It is always nice to draw with a cathedral full of singing all around you. The Christmas Concert at Grace Cathedral is a San Francisco tradition, and I’m very honoured to have illustrated their flier and brochure two years in a row. Here they are…
grace xmas programs 2012
The concert was majestic. I love all the old Christmas songs, Hark the Herald Angels Sing and all that; though I’m not a religious person myself, they make me nostalgic, somehow reminding me more of England than America, Christmas Carols, mince pies, junior school concerts, Harry Secombe on the telly, Shepherds washing their socks by night. There was, almost inevitably, one deeply sad moment: a verse of Silent Night, added to the set following the terrible event that happened the day before in Connecticut. It was a well attended concert, one of several that have taken place this month at Grace; this weekend there are performances of Handel’s Messiah performed by American Bach Soloists. Many thanks once again to Abby and Bruce for giving me this opportunity again. As I have said before, I do love drawing a cathedral!

http://www.gracecathedral.org/visit/concerts-and-events/christmas/

it’s party time

stats holiday party 2013

Yesterday was our department’s (Statistics, UC Davis) annual holiday party. In all my years there I’ve never sketched any of our department events, but this time I felt the need to. I usually decorate the whiteboard for the party in dodgy dry-erase markers (and did so again, with snowmen – easy to draw – and a leafless tree – took a bit more time), but I don’t have a decent photo of that so you’ll just have to imagine it. Technically it’s my largest piece of public art. I had meant to bring a trifle too, and I went to the store and got all the ingredients, and quickly cycled home eager to put together my favourite favourite dessert, and realised I had forgotten one important thing. No sponge cakes. Back home I’d use either Jaffa Cakes or basic trifle sponges, but here, among other things, I’ve taken to using Twinkies. Well you all know Twinkies are now consigned to the big bin-bag in the sky, but I had cleanly forgotten to look for an alternative (Ladyfingers I’m told are good, but I can’t ask for them without thinking of Alan Partridge gyrating around a pole), and so it slipped my mind. I won’t make a trifle without this aspect of it, so the trifle did not get made. I considered burning the other ingredients ceremoniously, but I decided to keep them and make a trifle on a different day. I will probably use Pims (a near-equivalent to Jaffa Cakes, not the stuff you drink on a hot day in Surrey). Still, the food at this potluck was amazing as always, and I particularly enjoyed the vegetable biryani. Very festive!