Tag Archives: london

‘ighgate

"Suicide Bridge", Archway

On my full last day in London, I took the tube down to Archway to meet my cousin Dawn for some sketching around Highgate. This was my old neighbourhood before we moved to the States., and I still love it around there. I used to live on Hornsey Lane, a few doors down from the bridge above, Archway Bridge. Of course, this bridge is better known as Suicide Bridge. Unfortunately, it’s a name more commonly earned than I realised before I lived up there. Dawn (who also lives nearby here) and I sketched beneath the bridge, beside the busy Archway Road, where the 134 bus charges down on its way into central London. Because I lived higher up Highgate Hill I would not come up this way much, so it was fun to come back and explore a bit more. We popped into one store full of second hand stuff and I saw (but did not get) a full set of Worzel Gummidge dvds. We grabbed a sandwich at Tescos (I love that about England, proper normal-size sandwiches everywhere, not the doorsteps you get over here) and sat opposute the Jackson Lane building, an arts centre not far from Highgate tube station.

Jackson's Lane, Highgate

We walked around inside there, and I picked up leaflets for events that of course I can never go to, but I’m always dreaming of us all living in Highgate again some day. It’s my favourite part of London, along with Crouch End. We walked further up to Ripping Yarns, an amazing antiquarian bookstore stacked to the brim with wonderful books. Hardly enough room inside to turn around. They specialize in old children’s books but also have lots of other books as well. We spent a lot of time in there, I was looking through many of the old annuals, Roy of the Rovers, the Beano, Topper, all those I used to have on my own shelves. I did pick up an interesting (and slightly quirky) little book, The Observer’s Guide to British Architecture; it’s quite hilarious in its description of Saxon building practices, dismissing them as “primitive”, “uneducated” “crude”, complaining that “they built their churches piecemeal like children playing with bricks”. It does give a comprehensive history of architectural methods with nice little illustrations so it’s a great find, plus it has that old old book smell.

We sat opposite the bookshop and sketched it, and then it was time to go. It was lovely spending time with Dawn and you should check out her incredible work on her Flickr site.

Ripping Yarns, Highgate

I had a few more things to do in London, no more sketching unfortunately (I bought an Ireland  football kit for my son), but this was the day that the Duchess of Cambridge was in labour so lots of people were hanging around waiting anxiously for the big news. I was already home packing my suitcases when the as-yet-unnamed heir to the throne was announced. The next day we flew back to America. I still have to post my Barcelona sketches; those are coming soon…

and they sang him a song of times long gone

Angel Inn, Highgate
You would think I draw nothing but pubs. These two yellow-stained sketches are from a month ago in London, both sketched while out with my friends. The top one is the Angel Inn in Highgate, a lovely pub I have been to many times before. I especially like it on a cold wintery day, when you can escape the chill of the Highgate Hill and sit by the warm radiator with a pint and a paper (or in my case, a sketchbook). This was not the case during heatwave-era London, but it was just as fun, catching up with my friend and relaxing in the atmosphere. I drank a couple of English craft ales, though I forget what they were called.
John Snow, Soho

This one was sketched more centrally in Soho, on a Sunday evening which actually saw several pubs. We popped into this one (because one of my favourite pubs, The Ship on Wardour St, was closed for the night): the John Snow on Broadwick St, because it has fairly cheap and good beer and nice wooden interiors, though it was pretty empty. I also remembered after we’d been there for a while that this was the pub that gained notoriety a couple of years back when it threw out a gay couple because they kissed each other. Boo, this pub! I do know the pub is named after a very famous epidemiologist (and not the bastard son of Ned Stark, nor the Channel 4 newsreader whose cousin Peter is the guy with the Swingometer). These were the only London pub sketches I managed on this trip. Next time perhaps I will manage a big panorama!

sketching jack’s london, part 4: micro-sketchbook

sketching jack's london cover sm

sketching jack's london p1 smAt the ‘Sketching Jack’s London‘ sketchcrawl last month I gave every participant a small eight-page micro-sketchbook that I had made myself, only 3″x4″ big, to use to sketch London when they need to, with quick micro-sketches. The paper was either just regular Canson or Strathmore drawing paper (I had made it with whatever I had in the cupboard), bound in construction paper, and numbered – I got No. 1, and used it for some super-quick sketches, mostly of other sketchers later at the pub. I did finish the book though, and here are presented all of the very small pages…

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“Rebel Dry Cleaners” is a great name. I imagine Mon Mothma and Nien Numb and all the rest in there, running out the back when the stormtroopers walk past, etc.

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Urban Sketcher James Hobbs, who’s a really nice guy, I got see look through his excellent sketchbook. On the right is Joan who I was friends with at school and who went off to become an artist, she also came on last year’s London sketchcrawl whch was only the second time I’d seen her since we left school, so it was great to catch up.

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Dave from New Zealand on the left, I had met him in Barcelona so it was nice to chat with him again in London, and I always have to sketch a beard. Also, Denia, an artist friend of Joan’s who is from Greece and New York but lives in London.

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Finally Ana from Bilbao in the Basque Country, and on the red page is Roshan, my best friend who came down for the post-sketchcrawl drink. I’ve not sketched him much before so this was not a bad attempt!

And that is it! I do enjoy sketchcrawling in London, there really are so many interesting artists to meet and I really enjoyed this one. I already have another one in mind for next time…”Sketching Wren’s London“, from the Monument to the Old Bell, an exploration of the City of Christopher Wren…see you in 2014!

sketching jack’s london, part 3: the end

christ church spitalfields
The last sketch I did in my Moleskine (not counting the little ones done in my micro-sketchbook, whcih I will post next) was of course Christ Church Spitalfields. I couldn’t not sketch it. Built by Nicholas Hawksmoor in the English baroque style it was completed in 1729 (so definitely a big part of Jack’s London). I did have to rush through it a little though; the end was nigh, people were gathering, time to down pens and down pints, as it were. The ending group was rather different to the startning group; some earlier sketchers had to leave before the end, while we were joined by several after-work sketchers. It’s always like that even on a daytime sketchcrawl, and that’s the beauty of it, you can just sketch for as long as you like. This being July, the London evening was still light and still pretty warm, and the company was great. Here are some of the evening sketchers, gathering in Spitalfields…
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And here is the final group! In total, early group and late group combined we had about thurty-five people, and it was excellent meeting all of you! I asked not to do the ‘sketchbooks on the ground’ thing, preferring the showing each other our books individually, in a more personal manner. That whole thing of laying the books on the pavement means that both sketcher and observer are detached from the book, and the sketchbooks are, you know, on the floor. Much nicer to flick through them, and see them as they are.
Sketching Jack's London

And afterwards, a few of us headed over to the Ten Bells pub. This sketchcrawl was for sure a highlight of my trip and I really enjoyed meeting everybody. Good job folks! I don’t know if we found Jack the Ripper’s London, but it was great to explore the area through the eyes and sketchbooks of others.

Hey the next USk London sketchcrawl will be from the Tate to the Tate (organized by Nate – Nathan Brenville) THIS FRIDAY August 16. It’s also an afternoon-evening’ one, starting at Tate Modern and ending at Tate Britain in Pimlico (they’ve got a lovely gallery). If you’re in London, the information can be found here: http://urbansketchers-london.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/tate-to-tate-sketchcrawl-august-16th.html

Anyway, more a few more “Jack’s London” sketches still to come from me…

sketching jack’s london: part 2, aldgate east – brick lane

Aldgate East
After sketching the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, I walked down to Aldgate East, and stood opposite the magnificent building above the station, and the lovely Whitechapel Art Gallery. I didn’t have time to go inside, but I have been before, like twenty years ago. Traffic was heavy on the street, this being rush hour on the outskirts of the City. I thought I might spot some of the other sketchers on the ‘crawl, but I did not; everyone had already headed towards Spitalfields. I did bump into one other sketcher while sketching this.

Aldgate East
Then, up to Brick Lane. Brick Lane is more commonly thought of these days as the hangout of hipsters, but thankfully much of the street was still devoted to the greatest thing in Britain – curry. This is the heart of “Bangla Town” – there is a large Bengali and Bangladeshi community around here – and many street signs are doubled in Bengali. When I was studying up in Mile End in the late nineties I would come up here fairly regularly for a curry, and often to this very place, the Standard Balti House (as well as the Curry Bazaar, a few doors up, and also still there). I met with another urban sketcher, Isabelle Laliberte, and we sat on the street opposite sketching away at the old brick and colourful signage, while employees from each curry house tried to entice people in, as they’ve always done. And yet, I did not have a curry! Can you believe it? It was a hot day, and I just wasn’t feeling hungry. I come thousands of miles to get to Brick Lane, and I end up not fancying a curry. Something is wrong with me! Maybe next time, when it’s cold outside…

Brick Lane

More Jack’s London sketches and photos to come…

sketching jack’s london…part 1

Whitechapel map with names
And finally time to report on the sketchcrawl in London last month! “Sketching Jack’s London“… I had decided, after reading ‘From Hell’ (the graphic novel by Alan Moore, not the terrible movie upon which it is based) that I wanted to do some sketching around Whitechapel, an area of London I had not been to in more than a decade, but which I used to go frequently in mySketching Jacks London: sketchcrawl, July 17 student days for curry. So I announced a sketchcrawl; while the London of Jack the Ripper is mostly gone, some things remain, so it would be fun to try to look for old Whitechapel in the guise of a sketchcrawl. Now, this sketchcrawl was a bit different, as it was midweek and started at 3:00pm, to go on until the evening. It was a hot and sticky day, perhaps the hottest yet, and my journey on the tube to Whitechapel was squashed and uncomfortable. A good group of us gathered outside Whitechapel tube station, several sketchers I had met before and many I was meeting from the first time. Among the global urban sketchers were Alissa Duke visiting from Sydney and Sue Pownall who lives in Oman, both of whom I met for the first time a few days before in Barcelona. I was also meeting London Urban Sketcher James Hobbs for the first time. My superbly talented cousin Dawn Painter was there too. Too many great sketchers to name! Here’s a photo of the starting group:
Sketching Jack's London July 17, 2013

Everybody got a hand-drawn map and guide made by myself, as well as a small micro-sketchbook that I also made. I introduced the sketchcrawl; I’m not much of a Ripperologist (though I do get the online journal, an one of my sketches appeared in it once) but I love a bit of urban history, especially exploring it with a sketchbook. As I said in the guide, if you don’t want to look for the Ripper’s city, you can always just sketch the hipsters. As the sketchers all dispersed, making a slow exploration towards Christ Church Spitalfields, I stuck around the tube station to greet any latecomers and sketched the entrance to the tube station. I don’t imagine Jack the Ripper coming by tube, but the station dates back to the 1870s so it’s not impossible. I wonder how he would have felt about the extortionate ticket prices. “What a Rip-off” probably.

whitechapel station

I mooched around Whitechapel, which was busy and not massively different from how I remember it, and eventually made it down to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Established in 1570, this is in fact the oldest registered manufacturing company in Britain – or the world, as the various bike tour guides passing by would say. Still, they have a magnificent history (see their website) – this is where the Liberty Bell was cast (though it broke, of course), as well as the bells of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the bell from the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, and perhaps the most famous bell of all, Big Ben, a bell so famous that most people think it’s a clock. Big Ben is also the biggest bell they ever cast here. I didn’t go in, but sat in the shade of a tree outside while locals stopped and said, oh wow man, and offered to give me cold drinks.

whitechapel bell foundry

I must admit, I love this type of sketch probably more than any other, a bit of old brick and history. This is such a London sketch, a London palette and London lines, quickly made.

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More Jack’s London sketchery to come!

all hallows by the tower

all-hallows-by-the-tower
London’s skyline changes every time I come back. The City now has at least two skyscrapers that were not there last year, dwarfing other prominent 21st century additions like the Gherkin. It is an ever-changing city and it always has been. Above is one building that, while subject to many modifications and rebuildings over the centuries, has pretty much the entire span of London history within its foundations. All-Hallows-By-The-Tower, a small and often overlooked church which sits right next to the Tower of London (which is rather handy given its name), is said to be the oldest church in London, founded in 675, though its main building and spire date from the 1650s (though greatly rebuilt after it was damaged in the Blitz). After drawing it, with one of London’s newest towers being constructed in the background, I popped inside for a look around, to learn a bit more about its history. There is an actual Saxon-era arch still standing, and if you go below to the crypt museum you can see some original Roman tiled paving – this church was built on the site of an building from the days of Londinium. On my tours years ago I used to tell Americans the two things I knew about the place: William Penn was baptised here, Pennsylvania fans, and John Quincy Adams was married here, you know, President number 6 (I never needed to go into too much historical detail as the open-top bus would be swinging past it too quickly, this being the home stretch). It was nice to finally come and spend some time looking at it and learning about it.
Tower of London

I also sketched a bit of the Tower of London itself. You want some history, here’s some history. This is the White Tower, the oldest part of the Tower, built by William the Conqueror. I don’t need to tell you the history of the Tower. Once on my old tour though I was telling people about the Tower, when one guy with a nasal midwest accent piped in, “hey, that’s not a tower.” Er, yes, it’s the Tower of London. “But it’s not a tower!” he insisted. Perhaps when I told him about the Tower he had been expecting Barad-dur or something, but I pointed out that yes, it is a tower,  though your personal definition of the word tower may be based on a modern idea rather narrower than the name of a building that has been around for 900 years. However to appease him I announced to the tour bus that had now arrived at the stop for the “Normano-Plantagenet-Tudor compound of castle, palace, tower, prison, moat and ramparts of London”. Nobody got off, so I assured them, “Here we are at the Tower of London! Have fun, and remember the Crown Jewels aren’t all crowns and they aren’t all jewels!”

i wanna wake up in a city that doesn’t sleep

Trafalgar Square

I have to admit, London tired me out a lot this time. I think it was the heat – though naturally cooler than Davis, London actually had a heatwave, which when you add it to the fact that air-conditioning is a very rare commodity (Oxford Street’s shops were no places to cool off) and the overcrowded packed tube was a hellish place to be in hot weather, makes for a very stuffy city. I am not used to crowds and big masses of people any more, so I sought to see my home city in its quieter moments. Even a city that never sleeps dozes off from time to time. On one particular Tuesday, I got up and took the tube at the determinedly pre-rush hour of 5:45am and headed into central London to sketch in the early morning light. I love wandering around a city as it is waking up (preferably having recently woken up myself, rather than stayed up all night, as my much-younger self may have once done). London is no different, although in Leicester Square I did witness the remnants of some people’s night-before, a drunken testosterone match of pitiable proportions that made the street sweepers stop and raise their eyebrows and shake their heads. I’ve never liked Leicester Square. Trafalgar Square on the other hand… I’ve seen a fair few incidents of silliness there among the late-night throngs waiting for their night-buses in the shadow of Nelson’s Column, but when everyone is gone and before the city of the daytime re-emerges, this is an excellent place to stop and really absorb an epic sight. I’ll forever be grateful to London for pedestrianizing that awful north side of the square, the former rat-run outside the National Gallery, turning Trafalgar Square from a pigeon-infested overgrown traffic island to a pleasant place to sit and just watch the world, and this really is the world. The very centre of London, from which point all measurements from London are taken, is just on the other side of the square, at the statue of Charles I.  I sketched the view from the northern side in the early morning light, with Horatio Nelson on his high perch looking down Whitehall to the clock tower of Parliament, home of Big Ben. Summer morning light is like a golden custard pouring across the city, and those shadows move pretty fast when that sun rises.

Here are a couple of photos from the process – see what I mean about those shadows!
Sketching London in the early morningSketching London in the early morning

The morning moved along, some early commuters passed by the Square, the odd rise-and-shine tourist was out taking photos and waiting for the tour buses to start; when I used to tour-guide on those buses years ago I loved the early shift, with all the fresh faced tourists seeing the face of London that most Londoners miss. I sketched some of the buildings on the south side of the Square, whose rooftops I have long wanted to draw. That statue is of Sir Charles Napier, I believe, an old imperial commander, who has an impressive nose and sideburns that Wolverine would be jealous of.

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sketching trafalgar square

London can be incredibly annoying sometimes, expensive, grumpy, sweaty, time-consuming; but in these moments you get to see it at peace, waking up with a smile, in a good mood.

Also posted on Urban Sketchers London – if you haven’t done so, please check out their site!

tale of two towers

Big Scully's Tower Bridge

More form the first Saturday back in London… We all took the tube down from Burnt Oak (or rather, the Northern Line rail replacement bus, which for some unspecified reason took us to Finchley Road on the Jubilee Line – it appeared that the driver got rather lost) and went down to London Bridge, to visit the great Borough Market. My main reason was to get one of those really yummy grilled-chicken sandwiches that I had last year. I had been drooling over those for the past twelve months. After we sat and ate them in the gardens of Southwark Cathedral and listened to a little choir singing about how the tory government are destroying the NHS (I joined in the song, of course), we walked down towards Tower Bridge. There was a little event going on in the gardens beside City Hall, so I got a beer and we all sat down in the shade, where I quickly sketched Tower Bridge. My five-year-old son joined me for some father-son urban sketching, and he did his own version! He hasn’t done such observational sketching before so I was well impressed. He was very specific about getting the City of London flag right, that’s my boy.

Little Scully's Tower Bridge

I love being by the Thames. I have said it many times before, but I’m happiest by the river.

go back to chancery lane

Newsagent Chancery Lane
And so back to the London sketches. This was from the first proper day back, and I had just met a few London urban sketchers at the end of their meet-up in Leather Lane. On the walk back to the tube station I remembered this little newsagents on Chancery Lane. For some reason, I want to draw very British things like newsagents. It might sound funny, but we just don’t get many over here, unlike in London where they are everywhere. This one I used to go to a lot for snacks when I used to study every day at the Maughan Library, just down the street. Chancery Lane is pretty quiet on a Saturday, so I sketched peacefully before journeying back on the tube. Here’s one for you: spot the fire hydrant!