sketching fire hydrants in strasbourg is cool

Strasbourg Hydrant 1 smStrasbourg Hydrant

Let’s just go back in time again, to 1995, to my first ever trip to Strasbourg. More on that later. But let’s just say I ask my 19 year old self, in twenty years time, do you expect that you will come back to this city, right, and draw pictures of fire hydrants? I would have laughed the very crazy idea right back to England. Yet here I was, in 2015, sitting crouched up next to red fire hydrants drawing them as if it’s totally normal. Actually if I’m honest, my 19 year old self would have been, “oh wow, respect.” My 19 year old self would have thought that was the coolest thing. My 19 year old self, may I remind you, thought that going to Denmark for the summer with less than a hundred quid in his pocket to pick strawberries and have adventures (adventures that largely consisted of being poor and getting sick of strawberries, it has to be said) was cool. My 19 year old self worked at an Asda coffee shop and would get red Slush Puppy all over my shirt and think, oh that’s cool, I look like Mr Blond from Reservoir Dogs now. My 19 year old self wore black adidas shorts and a nike baseball cap and a messy purple shirt that had buttons missing. My 19 year old self was frankly an idiot, but then that’s true of most stages in my life to varying degrees. Being 19 was a time I remember with great fondness, a time of energy and invention and wanderlust. But I still wouldn’t have thought of drawing fire hydrants all over the world, that was not an idea that I had yet had. So I was pleased, on making this anniversary return to Strasbourg, to find they did have hydrants there too. I only drew the two above. The first one was sketched in Petite France, on the rue des Moulins. The second one was drawn on my last day in the city, on the rue des Francs-Bourgeois, across the street from the Vox cinema. Now, my 19 year old self went to that cinema. My 19 year old self had as one of his favourite movies (and it still is) Les Visiteurs, the French comedy classic about two knights who go into the present day, wash in the toilet, beat up a postal van, and so on. Jean Reno and Cristian Clavier, “Cousin Hubert”, all of that. Well, I didn’t see that there. I did see another movie with cristian Clavier there called Les Anges Gardiens, a stupid comedy he starred in alongside Gerard Depardieu (I know right, a French film from the 90s with Depardieu in it, such a rarity). I saw it on my second trip to Strasbourg as a 19 year old, a solo trip in the autumn of that year, when I came back to explore the city more by myself. I recall it was billed as being the ‘next Les Visiteurs’ so I had to see it. It wasn’t, it was bloody awful. You see? My 19 year old self was an idiot, even my 19 year old self knew it. Anyway, that’s what I remembered when I was sketching that fire hydrant, with the tramway humming past me.   

little hydrant

An honourable mention goes to this hydrant, which I did not sketch (I was on my way to a morning urban sketchers meet-up). I loved the way it was hiding in an alley, half in shadow, with the silhouette of a very Alsace-looking shop-sign just behind it. Strasbourg-hydrant-noir, if you like, but you know, in the daytime.

More Strasbourg sketches to come…

les bouches à incendie d’aix

Hydrant at Marseille airport

I hadn’t expected to see fire hydrants in Provence, but I left the airport and, there they were. I obviously wasn’t as interested in drawing them when I lived there before. Maybe I thought that was weird. Directing a play in which wolves fought with lightsabres against people holding day-old baguettes, absolutely fine; sketching fire hydrants, get away you loony. I’m sure that is the first thought people have when they see me sketching a hydrant. “Les bouches à incendie“, that is what they are called here. Or ‘bouche d’incendie’. Anyway, I sketched the one above while waiting for my navette (that is the shuttle bus between airport and town) at the Marseille-Provence airport. The one below was started while waiting for my first poulet-frites in ten years, and finished later.

Aix hydrant 2 sm
DSC04448“Poulet-frites”, I hear you say? This was my favourite meal when I lived in Aix. There were a few places I would get them, the best being the little place outside the Super U, but I also liked “Le Regal” as well. Well a decade later Le Regal had moved across the street to a spot outside the post office, significanty upgraded its friterie stand, but still they produce lovely poulet-frites. Poulet-frites is basically a small baguette filled with chicken and the sauce of choice (I love le mayo), then topped off with loads of fresh frites (French Fries to you). Poulet-frites, I love you very much. There is my poulet-frites on the right.
Aix-en-Pce hydrant
Lastly, this one, a semi-naked fire hydrant on the corner of Avenue Victor Hugo (the famous writer / cartoon crimefighting duo) and Boulevard Roi René (the last king of Provence / cafe owner and helper of the Resistance in WWII). Do you remember when I sketched fire hydrants at 2am in Los Angeles? Well I sketched this one at 2am as well. I was having a stroll through the still-balmy streets on my way back to the hotel after a night sketching an old pub I used to know, and this one caught my eye. When I was done sketching, I popped into a late-night convenience store to get a nice cold Fanta Citron to drink. A drunk man in the shop smiled at me and said, “eh, tu es gourmand!” I had been looking at the Mars Bars and though he might have been sarcastic. He then patted my tummy, and said again, “tu es gourmand, monsieur!” Cheeky get, I thought, sure my belly’s getting a bit portly but as I explained to him (because I felt the need to explain), “no no, it’s ok, I live in America.” I said that (in French) as if it somehow justified my paunch, like living in America with all of its fast-food and chocolate-based holidays will somehow contribute to weight gain (in my case it does, along with the desk job and general lack of exercise, but I also lived on poulet-frites and Pepsi-Max when I lived in France so touché). Not that I haven’t been vain about my stomach size in the past; once at the doctor’s office, the nurse asked me to stand on the scales to be weighed and I held in my tummy to make it appear as if I’d lost weight. That didn’t work. But I thought, no, if I’m a gourmand then so be it, I’m going to have that Mars Bar, to hell with you, drunken French stranger and your early-hours waist-size-judging fixation. Then I remembered, it’s ok, Mars Bars are slightly smaller in France than in England, so I have nothing to worry about.

Incidentally, I learned the French name for fire hydrants because I came across the French version of Gabi Campanario’s book “The Art of Urban Sketching” while in a bookshop in Strasbourg. Below, I talk in French about why I love sketching them so much (click to see plus grand, and I guarantee you, my French is nowhere near that good…)


Next up: sketching a totally French bar called “O’Sullivan’s”!

and our friends are all aboard

The Galley bar, Santa Monica
More sketches from Santa Monica. Above is a sketch of the bar area at The Galley, a nautical themed restaurant on historic Main Street which dates from the 1930s. Back in 2007, I went to Santa Monica after going to the UCAAC and stayed down here in the Ocean Park area. I really liked the area, so on my trip last month I came back. I had sketched The Galley that first time, but only from the street – the interior is another matter entirely. It is themed like a boat, of course, but also lit up by hundreds of Christmas lights of all colours, a sight which I cannot recreate in pen and ink. But I gave it a good go! I kept thinking of the lyrics to Yellow Submarine, and as I sketched I played a game in my head, whereby for every song that came on I would replace its lyrics with those of Yellow Submarine. After a while it was becoming uncanny – try it, is really works! No, it does. If it doesn’t, you’re not doing it properly. Anyway I sat at the corner of the bar, it was pretty busy, and sketched as best I could on the last page of my Seawhite book. The atmosphere was friendly; one fellow told me that on this night there was a party going on for a staff member to celebrate her last night of work there, and so I did my best to include as many faces as I could in my sketch. This is definitely a place for locals, and I chatted to some very cool people over the course of the evening. This really is a city I love visiting.
The Galley, Santa Monica
The next day I made sure to come back down Main Street in the sunshine, and so I couldn’t resist sketching The Galley again from the outside, just as I’d done those years ago. This time I climbed the stairs of the Edgemar center across the street for an elevated view. I also bought a t-shirt at the tourist center downstairs.
farmers market santa monica
After eating an amazing chicken pie with mash and gravy at a place called Aussie Pie Kitchen, I remembered that there is a great Farmer’s Market on Main Street, and I caught the tail end of it. I sketched a band with the California Heritage Museum in the background. Here is a handy map from my sketchbook to show you where everything is.
ocean park map
Hey, remember that I sketched a fire hydrant in the wee hours of the morning in Westwood? Not to be outdone, I did the same thing while walking back through the quiet streets of Ocean Park. There was this really interesting hydrant which had been sprayed lime green. I couldn’t let this one go!
hydrant ocean park sm

Oh, and here is the sketch of The Galley from May 2007, sketched in a WH Smith sketchbook.

the galley, santa monica

westwood ho!

westwood blvd
Short break in posting…but here are some more sketches from my recent trip to southern California. I was staying in Westwood Village, Los Angeles, which is a pretty nice neighbourhood around the slopes of UCLA. Apart from the rumour of a Sasquatch wandering about the place. A Sasquatch? In LA? I don’t know about that. I had gotten off the bus from Hollywood, and a middle-aged woman at the bus stop said to me, all concerned, “I’ve just seen something really weird, something I can’t explain.” Ok, that’s nice, bye. “No honestly, it was a large creature walking about, tall, really hairy, I think it was a Sasquatch.” I mean, this was LA, so I’m not saying it was impossible, but Sasquatches, well you think more of like the Rocky Mountains or Canada. Perhaps it was a Wookiee, I thought, but I didn’t say that, because I have a feeling she may have really thought that. I had just come from Hollywood Boulevard after all, where I’d seen Darth Vader, Spider-man, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and even bloody Deadpool, so Chewbacca isn’t out of the question. “Thanks, I’ll keep my eyes open,” I said and walked off really fast. The next day however I did actually see a tall hairy man, but he wasn’t a Sasquatch, as far as I can tell.

Hairy abominable myths aside, Westwood Village is a lovely place. The scene I sketched above was not far from the Fox Village Theater, a gorgeous old cinema built in 1931. Loads of people had lined up the night I first got there to see Age of Ultron, many in costume. On this morning though, I stood on the street corner sketching while hairy Sasquatch man passed by me yet again. I did start to wonder whether I was really seeing him or if he was imaginary, but I don’t like to think too existentially while I am drawing.  I liked wandering about Westwood Village. There was a really interesting candy store, with sweets from all over the world. On my second evening there, I went for a drink after dinner at Barney’s Beanery, which I chose because it was an enormously sketchable bar. Click on the image below to see what I was able to do while I was there. People were friendly, and I chatted to some folks at the bar once my sketch was done. There were some Indian dentists out having a drink, talking to me about the upcoming boxing match between Pacquiao and Mayweather, you know the one which was about a million pounds to watch but was ultimately – gasp gasp – not all that. I said I’d not seen boxing in years so didn’t really care about it. They asked what the last boxing fight I had seen was. “Rocky III” I said, which is true.

barneys beanery

And of course, a fire hydrant. This one however was sketched at 2 in the morning. After getting back to the hotel from the pub, I was feeling peckish, so popped down to the Denny’s on the corner of the street for a nice milkshake. I noticed this hydrant, with a very slightly different design to any I had sketched before (it has a slightly different top) so I just had to draw it. I’m officially a 24-hour-hydrant-sketcher. I sketched another one in the wee hours the next night too, but you’ll see that in another post…
hydrant westwood sm

pete goes to hollywood

chinese theatre hollywood
More from the recent trip to LA. After checking into the hotel in Westwood, I jumped on a bus through Beverly Hills and over to Hollywood. I am from Burnt Oak, ok, so this is pretty much the stuff dreams are made of. An aside, buses in LA are awesome. Most of them only cost a dollar and the various networks go all over the place. It’s almost like it’s a proper city! (I’m being silly, of course it’s a proper city, and that’s why I love it – being from London, LA feels a bit more familiar to me in its massiveness.) You hear all the time that LA is only for the automobiles, but as a tourist, the buses are really excellent. So anyway I went to Hollywood and walked up to the Hollywood Boulevard, where I had last been in 2002. Tinseltown, they call it, but I didn’t see any Christmas decoration shops. It is of course tacky touristy mayhem, mixed in with a fair bit of grime, plus a whole bunch of famous names on stars on the ground. Come on, that is why we go. I wanted to sketch the world famous Chinese Theatre, made famous of course in Iron Man III. Ok it was famous before then. Note the bus-stop, I wasn’t leaving that out. A red carpet was being set up for the premiere of something, a small independent art-house movie called ‘Hot Pursuit’ which I presume is about the sadness of playing a game of Trivial Pursuit in a house where the air conditioning just won’t work. If it’s not then hey, great idea for a film, here’s my script Hollywood, MOVIE DEAL PLEASE. I sketched while Marilyn Monroe, Spider-man, and Darth Vader walked by, people dressed as space aliens and hookers (to be fair they may have both genuinely been either), and the occasional massive group of Chinese tourists. I have included a handy map in my sketchbook to show where this is located. This is the first page of the new Stillman & Birn ‘Alpha’ sketchbook I bought a couple of months ago, but I’ve been waiting to finish my current sketchbook before starting it. Well, I couldn’t wait, so after this sketch I reverted back to the Seawhite’s remaining pages for the other sketches. I’m not sure why I’m telling you all of this, you probably don’t care. Unless you’re some sort of Hollywood exec who sees a market in blockbuster movies about drawing in sketchbooks. I can see the trailer now. “He was a Sketcher, on the Edge…” etc.

Hollywood map

“Draw the El Capitan Theatre!” they all said. “You gotta draw the El Capitan!” Yes, yes I should, especially as they are playing Avengers there (the opening night was that same night). It’s really hard, the way I draw, to sketch that big neon sign, so I jsut went for the bare minimum before abandoning it. Perhaps I’ll give it a better go someday. Perhaps. But this is all you get.
el capitan hollywood
Fire hydrants! So, when you travel, well when I travel, it’s always good to sketch some of the local hydrants. This particular one was painted red, white and blue (and yellow), as were many on Hollywood Boulevard. This one was located however right next to Walt Disney’s star on the Walk of Fame. Around me, star-spotting tour buses loaded and unloaded en route to peek at the gates of famous people’s second homes, while homeless people shuffled up to see why on earth I was sketching a fire hydrant. But this one’s a beauty, so I couldn’t resist adding it to my collection.
hydrant hollywood blvd


I caught a couple of glimpses of the Hollywood sign up in the hills, but as the early evening pressed on I wanted to stop and rest my feet, so I popped into the interesting looking Pig’n’Whistle pub. I was going to have dinner (it’s a restaurant too) but opted for a pint and a sketch. The light from the street was pouring through the stained glass windows, but the itnerior was spectauclar – the ceiling was old and of ornately carved wood, it was like being in an old mead-hall, but with very Spanish-feeling decoration. Yes, I’d recommend stopping in here. After doing this sketch, I popped back onto a bus to Westwood, and had a late dinner before watching the UK general election leaders spouting nonsense on the TV in my hotel room. Happy travels!
pig n whistle hollywood

hail hydrant!

fire hydrant on lighthouse, pacific grove
It’s been a couple of years since I last drew a fire hydrant, no kidding. That is, a sketch of a hydrant that is not a smaller detail of a bigger picture. Oh and not counting the underground one I drew in London last summer. So on our recent weekend away to Pacific Grove, on the Monterey Peninsula, I took the opportunity to sketch at least one that I’ve not captured before. Felt great to sketch a new one after all this time. I’ve not sketched any because I haven’t seen any I haven’t already sketched. Yeah, I’ve sketched ‘Jones’ ones this shape before I’m sure, but not this colour, this weird weather-worn slightly oxidized metal. It looks like an ancient junked-up Dalek. This one is up at Lighthouse Avenue, in Pacific Grove, and I giggled away listening to the Football Weekly podcast while sketching it. Oh fire hydrants, it is good to be back.

Hey, if you want to see the rest of them, why not go and my ‘hydrants and pipes‘ set on Flickr?

in the state of denmark street

Denmark St panorama sm

This is Denmark Street, just off of Charing Cross Road in Central London. I sketched it over a period of two and a half hours one Wednesday afternoon, having taken the morning off from sketching (I was up in the loft searching for my old collection of Fighting Fantasy books), and added the rest of the colour later on. Denmark Street is famous within British musical history as our very own ‘Tin Pan Alley’, home of music publishers and recording studios, and later of music stores. There are lots of guitar shops, as well as other instruments of course, and is also home to the famous 12 Bar Club. The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, all are associated with this street in some way (the Pistols actually lived here for a bit). Not only music – the comic shop Forbidden Planet was founded at number 23, where that red awning is in the picture now. It’s around the corner on Shaftesbury Avenue now. This place is steeped with history and it’s a street I have always had a lot of love for, being a bit guitar-obsessed when I was younger (it took me years to actually pluck up the courage to enter one of those stores though, very intimidating to a shy teenager!). I actually bought my current acoustic guitar from Macari’s, though it was from their other branch, on Charing Cross Road, back in 1996.

Denmark St panorama sm L Denmark St panorama sm R

So when I heard that Denmark Street was under threat of demolition, all part of the Crossrail redevelopment that has completely destroyed the junction of Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road, I knew I had to sketch it while it still looked like this. Many of these buildings are ‘listed’, historic buildings of importance. Whether they will be knocked down or just somehow modernised is not clear, what it will mean for the historic character of Tin Pan Alley is also unclear, will the music stores be forced out in favour of latte shops and corporate office space is also not clear, but let’s face it. If Denmark Street loses its character it will be yet another blow to London.
Sketching Denmark St, London

Here’s my sketchbook. I used the watercolour (“art-plus”) Moleskine, with a uni-ball signo um-151 brown-black pen. Oh, and here is a map showing where Denmark Street is.

Denmark St map sm

And finally, I thought you might like this. As you may know, I like drawing fire hydrants, mainly because I find them exotic and foreign, for we don’t have them in the UK. Well, actually we do, but they are underground, with metal coverings on the pavement. Here is one I sketched on Denmark Street. So there you have it!

Fire Hydrant in London