we could steal time, just for one day

seven dials
The shortest day of the year is shorter in London than it is in Davis, because London is further north and the night-time is subsequently longer. It gets light at about midday and then five minutes later it’s dark again. Well, that might be an exaggeration. It also feels shorter because there is (a) more stuff to do and (b) more people in the way when you are trying to get to those things. While I am adept at navigating London crowds, having worked on Oxford Street when I was younger, ten years in tourist-and-commuter-free Davis have, if not quite dimming my instincts, decreased my tolerance for the slow-moving crowd nature of pre-Christmas London. I still know most of the shortcuts, however, and back when I was a student at King’s College London I would dash through this area to get to my classes, in wind and rain. This is Seven Dials, a junction of seven streets just north of Covent Garden which was deliberately designed to confuse American tourists. It’s always been one of my favourite spots in London and one day I will draw a panorama encompassing 360 degrees and all seven of the Dials, but it was not this day, because this day was very short (refer back to my previous statements), and also rainy.

Although the day was short, I had filled it well, meeting in the morning at the National Portrait Gallery with the lovely folks from Rotovision Books (by the way, a quick plug, my book creative Sketching Workshop which was created by Rotovision Books is available in bookshops and online, you can find our more about the book on my dedicated page CREATIVE SKETCHING WORKSHOP). I then met up with my two cousins, the amazing artists Dawn Painter (http://dawnpainter.co.uk/) and Claire Scully (http://www.thequietrevolution.co.uk/; Claire also published a book recently which you should all get, it’s called The Menagerie and is a colouring-in book filled with her exquisitely detailed and bejewelled drawings of animals), and Claire’s fiance and another amazing artist, Stewart Easton (http://www.stewarteaston.net/), and his little boy Archie. We all went for tea and then wandered Covent Garden, going to Stanfords (Yeah!!) and the London Graphic Centre (Yeah!!). A brief meet-up, but always a pleasure to see them. I wish I were in London more!! I also got to meet, even more briefly, with London urban sketcher James Hobbs (http://www.james-hobbs.co.uk/), who of course wrote chapters in the creative Sketching Workshop book, nice to see him. Hopefully on my next trip I’ll get more time to sketch with London’s urban sketchers (by the way, I am considering organizing another ‘themed’ sketchcrawl in London this summer, perhaps on the weekend before the annual Urban Sketching Symposium which this year is going to be held in Manchester). Anyway, once I left everyone I did a bit of shopping (had to get a football shirt for my old great friend Simon, aka the actor Simon Nader (http://www.simonnader.com/; incidentally he was in Silent Witness on BBC1 earlier this week playing a drug dealer), who I was meeting up with that evening, and then I went back up to Seven Dials to get this sketch in. I stood beneath the awnings of a building and sketched as the sky darkened and the sparkly Christmas lights got brighter, and the rain sprinkled down. It was not heavy. Seven Dials is lovely.

christmas in south ken

NHM Xmas 2015
There are a few places in the world that are very special to me, and this is one of them – the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, London. I came here just before Christmas with my family to see the dinosaurs (Dippy the Diplodocus is still taking pride of place in the main hall, but will soon be replaced with a whale skeleton). I used to come here when I was a child to see the dinosaurs (Dippy was my favourite), when my older sister used to bring me here as a four-year-old so that I could argue with the staff about vertebrae (I never understood that story either). I was a total dinosaur nut, and I even still have a few of my old dinosaur books from my youth. Those dinosaur illustrations enthralled me, and the long hard-to-pronounce names were fascinating to me. This place is more than just dinosaurs of course, and within its walls it keeps a massive collection of specimens from all periods of natural history – around 80 million specimens in all, mostly housed in the Darwin Centre. This is an unbelievably important place. But back to the dinosaurs, the term ‘dinosaur’ was coined by Dr. Richard Owen, who eventually helped to found the Natural History Museum. This building was opened in 1881, and is one of the jewels of London. And importantly, it is free to go in.My son’s not as into dinosaurs as I was, he kind of likes them, but he really likes rocks and minerals, so he enjoyed that. After we were done and had played a few games of Top Trumps in the cafe, we went and had lunch in South Kensington (it’s so nice there, so civilized, and I had an organic mince pie which is very posh of me), I went back to use up the rest of the daylight sketching the ice rink and Christmas tree in front of the museum. In London in December it starts getting dark at about half past three, though this was an unseasonably mild day with some clear sky. The scene before the museum is so festive, I might make it into a Christmas card next year. You’d probably not catch me ice skating though.
mince pie

christmas every day

christmas living room dec2015 sm
Happy New Year! I’ve been away these past couple of weeks or so, not blogging over the Christmas period, instead gorging on Quality Street and mince pies. I was in London for Christmas, flying back on New Year’s Eve, and am still getting through the jetlag even now. Our decorations are staying up for a couple more days yet, and there is still festive seasonal beer in the fridge. 2016 is going to be busy, very busy. To bring you right back into the spirit of Christmas however here are the first three sketches from the new Watercolour Moleskine (#14), all of a certain festive theme. Above, our living room here in Davis. We dragged out the fake tree this year, sketched a few times before (years ago). On the TV, Stewart Lee on DVD. On the shelves to the right you can make out my son’s advent calendar, made by me – I make him one every year. This year was pirate-ship themed. I tried to sketch this same scene last Christmas, on Christmas Eve, but not long into sketching it our electric went out, not to return for almost a week, which was an adventure. This year at least I finished my sketch!

lois's living room xmas 2015 sm

Second up, this is my mother-in-law’s living room in Santa Rosa. Click on the image for a closer view. We had an early Christmas with our U.S. family before our trip to London, and I sketched this while my two-year-old nephew was napping and the house was still relatively quiet, before all the presents were unwrapped. Everybody’s stockings were nicely placed above the fireplace, and dogs were asleep on their blankets. They are in this image, but you can barely see them, and they don’t look as much like dogs as they might (I don’t really draw dogs too well). This was a nice day, but we had to go home in the evening to pack for London…

xmas mum's living room sm

Finally, across the ocean to England! This is my Mum’s living room in Burnt Oak, north London, (again click on the image for a closer view) which I started sketching on the first jetlagged morning there, up early with my son, but finished off over a couple more night-time sessions on the trip. This is the living room that I had all of my childhood Christmases in, beside that very fireplace. The Christmas parties my family had in this room, many years of memories. This year as in many others we had all the family over for Christmas dinner, with two long tables going the length of the room.  On the TV there, we were watching Return of the Jedi, because this was December the 18th and we had tickets for the morning show of a film called The Force Awakens (which you might have heard about). We had a lovely Christmas in London, and the weather was warmer than in Davis. I hope you had a lovely merry time too.

Happy new 2016!

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.