sometimes you just need to draw dragons

Luke drawing
This is my son drawing on Black Friday, while the rest of the family were out Black Friday Shopping. He’s drawing a dragon, he likes dragons. I like dragons too. I’m not very good at drawing dragons so I’m hoping he’ll teach me some day (I’ll teach him how to draw fire hydrants, very handy when dragons are about). I can draw Lego dragons, and we have a few of those.

swashbuckling with a sketchbook

Swashbucklers 2015Shiver me timbers! That is a very Portland phrase for two reasons, first of all it’s a bit colder there than here, second of all you have the Portland Timbers soccer team (who just won the MLS Cup, well done!), and third of all, PIRATES (I know I said two reasons, but I lied like a lying lily-livered landlubber). Pirates. You will remember perhaps two years ago when I went to Portland for the Swashbucklers Ball, the big event where people dress up as pirates (and we’re talking seriously good pirate costumes too) and mingle with other pirates, dance to music, drink, and say “Yarr”. Oh, and in the case of at least two pirates, “draw other pirates” too. This year I went again to the Ball, this time with my wife (who doesn’t sketch pirates), and fellow sketcher and pirate Kalina, who lives in Portland. It was through sketching pirates at a Dr.Sketchy’s in 2012 with Kalina that we discovered this piratical culture of PDX, and it’s great fun. Above I sketched the Melody Ballroom while the band Chervona knocked out some tunes. The French flag flew above the stage in honour of the victims of the awful Paris attacks the day before.

Swashbucklers 2015 Angela and Kalina
Here are Kalina and Angela in pirate costume. My costume is not seen, but I had a black pirate shirt, a red sash, blue pirate pants, a big dark pirate hat, and a parrot. Oh and a lightsabre. At one point I congratulated one pirate on his weaponry and he got his big flintlock pistol out. I grinned and just went, bzhhooooommm. It’s a LOT of silly fun! (Unfortunately my ‘sabre doesn’t light up, but still.) I sketched, and danced, and chatted to pirates, and we decided that next time we would get the VIP tickets and get a table so we weren’t standing so much. Here are some other pirates I sketched:
Swashbucklers 2015
This fellow had a classic high-seas look and a feather too
Swashbucklers 2015
This bearded pirate (whose name was Justin) wrote “Yarrrr” on the sketch, and one of his companions had a parrot similar to mine, though with different plumage. They weren’t real parrots you understand.
Swashbucklers 2015
I loved this guy’s look, I remember him from the previous year. His hair reminded me of Balthus Dire (of Fighting Fantasy ‘Citadel of Chaos’ fame) which of course is immensely cool.
Swashbucklers 2015
I sketched this more mediterranean pirate a bit too quickly to make out the most interesting feature of his costume, the sabre with the large cobra’s head on the end.

Yarr!! And that’s all I did. Gotta love the pirates.

roll out the barrels

Deschutes PDX
In our first evening in Portland, we went to a couple of different brew-pubs, the first being Burnside Brewing, where we met with a couple of old friends we haven’t seen in years, Robin and Chris. I didn’t sketch there, but I did have a nice red ale called “Too Sticky To Roll”. After leaving them, we across the river to the Deschutes Brewery, as I really like their beers. I had been there once for a pint in 2010, and while it can be busy it’s a nice place. I got an Octoberfest beer (I can’t remember the actual name), and sketched the above scene with the barrels and the giant bottle opener. I added the wash later. At Deschutes we met with Rita Sabler, fellow urban sketcher and one of the most prominent contributors to the Creative Sketching Workshop book (her drawing and storytelling style is awesome), who I first met at the Portland Symposium in 2010, and again in Barcelona in 2013. We were joined by her partner Jim, and we had a nice dinner, sketching and talking. I had the Black Butte Porter Mac and Cheese with Chicken, it was delicious. Afterwards, my wife and I spent a bit of time mooching around Powells before heading back to the hotel (waiting a long old time for the MAX as well).
Rita and Jim

sketching sofia and hennessy

DES001 UC Davis 100615

Last week I was invited to attend an undergraduate Design class at UC Davis, DES001, by Professor James Housefield. I was there to sketch the special presentation by two guest speakers, Sofia Lacin and Hennessy Christophel, who form a design team called LC Studio Tutto. It was in a large lecture hall (Kleiber; I’ve sketched the outside before), quite a lot of people in there. I sat on the side at the front, it was a struggle to get a good view of the speakers so I moved on to the floor! They were very interesting, and talked about their local projects, including “Same Sun”, the colourful one on the massive water-tank that you may have seen as you enter Davis westbound from Sacramento. This one. Pretty cool! Very interesting to hear about their design process. Of course I had to sketch quickly and try to add a few nuggets of what they said. A lot of it resonated with me, from what I learned and experienced back in the days of Interactive Theatre at uni.  Here’s a tip when doing this sort of sketch, it is always important when doing that to get the relevant information, if you write down the wrong things it can affect the context and undermine what public speakers really said. That said, the line that stood out most for me was “Whenever possible, make a cake of your artwork”. Now, this was accompanied by a very beautiful picture of a cake of their artwork, but, well, I couldn’t agree more. All I could think of afterwards was fire-hydrant cakes. It made me very hungry!  DES001 UC Davis 100615

I kept thinking about cake as I sketched the students listening to the talk. Many of them asked questions, and it was very engaging. I sketched these people in my newer pink pen, which made me think of frosting, which made me think of cake. I was thinking of Battenberg, that’s a nice cake.
DES001 UC Davis 100615

Sometimes when you are going to sketch people, it’s fun to pre-prepare a block of colour so that you can draw over it. I’ve done it before, it is fun. Unfortunately this time I chose red, and although one of the speakers Sofia was wearing red, the overall effect didn’t really work quite as well as I’d hoped, and the likenesses weren’t all that close. That’s ok. Perhaps I needed more words all around the figures like I did when pirate-sketching that one time. I didn’t have much time on me though, because it was wrapping up, and was my turn to speak. I got a few minutes to say some things about sketching in general, and show my sketchbook to the audience projected onto a big screen. DES001 UC Davis 100615

One interesting thing in this class, Prof. Housefield has his students all stand and sketch for five minutes at the start of class, while music plays over the PA. They all sketched an image of Magritte’s pipe, but I sketched them. Just five minutes though! Overall it was a lot of fun, and I had some very nice conversations afterwards. I didn’t mention, but a couple of weekends ago my sketches were featured on the UC Davis Instagram account all weekend as an “artist’s takeover”.  Which meant that I myself had to start an Instagram account. I’m @pwscully, if you are interested. (@petescully, which is my Twitter and everything else handle, was already taken, so I went with my “novelist name” – thanks, kid Pete of the 80s – and now in 2015 of course I don’t use for the book I have actually authored). I haven’t got the hang of the old Instagram yet either, and approach it grumpily as another thing which doesn’t quite make sense. But I’m veering off topic.

So many thanks to James Housefield (I’ve sketched him too) for inviting me and many thanks to Sofia and Hennessy for their inspiring talk. I hope you can check out their work.

rencontre 2015: strasbourg, city of sketchers

Cafe Atlantico, StrasbourgWhen I first read that Strasbourg was the location for the third annual Urban Sketchers France ‘Rencontre Nationale’, I knew I finally had an excuse to go back there. I still left it a long time ultimately deciding, but I tied it into a short visit back to London (to surprise my dad for his birthday), and then threw Aix into the mix as well. I had wanted to go to one of the French ‘rencontres’ since the first one in Lyon a couple of years ago. These are literally just large gatherings of urban sketchers from all over France (and neighbouring countries too), serving as sketchcrawls held over several days, informal, relaxed and friendly. I like the International Urban Sketching Symposia, the sixth of which is now taking place in Singapore, but they sometimes feel like a lot of rushing around and can be pretty overwhelming, with all the workshops and organization. Sometimes I prefer something a bit more simple, like this (that said, I do really wish I were at the Singapore symposium sketching with everyone!). The sense of freedom afforded just wandering about a city with no time restraint, but still having the opportunity meet and learn from other sketchers, especially those whose work you’ve followed online, is great, and I really love following Urban Sketchers France. Of course, I’m often shy and my French is atrocious so those don’t go in my favour, but thankfully there were several familiar faces here!Urban Sketchers France at the Cafe Atlantico, Strasbourg
The 2015 Rencontre National USk France was organized largely by local illustrator Lolo Wagner, who had put together an impressive programme of information and suggested sketching routes and locations, as well as places to stay, to eat, to drink. Every evening after the sketching was done the croqueurs urbains would meet up en masse at the Cafe Atlantico, on the banks of the river Ill, to boire un verre and check out sketchbooks. If you wore your USk France badge you got a good price on your beer too. As you can see above, it was a pretty nice location to end the day. We also met up on the Saturday evening for a large group get-together to eat tarte flambée. Many sketchers stayed at a local hostel called CIARUS, a place I myself have stayed a couple of times back in the late 1990s (a nice place too).

I sketched the scene at Cafe Atlantico (top sketch), and you may notice that the page is a bit dirty. What happened there was that I was talking to some people, and my hand which was covering my page luckily saved the sketch from a random bird’s dropping, falling from the sky. That was a good save! So I joked about how American I am now because I am prepared with hand sanitiser and wipes, and I put my sketchbook down for a moment on the ledge next to me which was also the sidewalk and…a bike cycled over my book. It was right by the railing, not like in the middle of the street, but it left a big tyre mark across the page. Oh la la, I said. The cyclist apologized, we all shrugged (gallically of course), not that big a deal. He said it makes it look more artistic. No, not really, it looks like a bike cycled over it. I got most of the track marks off, but you can still see it, and I decided not to get rid of it in the scan because – the cyclist is right – it does at least mean I can tell this story. It’s not necessarily a very good story, but it’s a thing that happened.
USk France rencontre 2015As I mentioned, we got together on the Saturday evening to eat Tarte Flambée at the Brasserie De La Bourse, a large 1920s-era restaurant in between Place d’Austerlitz and Place de l’Etoile. I don’t eat certain meats, so my tarte flambée came without lardons, but normally this most Alsacian of dishes – which is kind of like a flat pizza-like bread covered in cheese and onions – usually comes with little strips of pork called lardons, a bit like bacon. They love lardons in France, and my non-pork-eating status means I’ve missed out on many lovely French dishes (in Aix one of my colleagues often came to our apartment to make ‘tartiflette’, which was delicious but I had to pick the lardons out.

There were some sketchers I knew and a few I was meeting for the first time. My sketching friend Gérard Michel, the famous urban sketcher from Liege in Belgium (who I first met in Portland in 2010) was there, and it was great to see and chat with him again, and see his amazing sketchbooks. If you’re not following Gérard Michel on Flickr, your really should be. If you want to see what you can do with the art of perspective, have a butcher’s at his album ‘Perspective Games‘. Mind-blowingly good. I keep hoping to finally have time to visit Belgium again to sketch architecture with him, and the Liege crew. His nephew Fabien DeNoel, who I first met in Lisbon in 2011, was also there, and his work is equally as impressive. I sat with them and some other Liegois sketchers, in fact there was a large Belgian contingent at the Rencontre. I had met some others such as Corinne Raes  in Lisbon and Barcelona (she’s great and I got to meet her husband Werner, who took video at the Rencontre), and it was nice to meet a few more too. I also finally met Dutch artist Rene Fijten, whose work I’ve admired for many years, he’s a nice guy. I had met Paris sketcher Martine Kervagoret a couple of times before so it was nice to see her again, I like the Paris urban sketchers. I met for the first time some of the sketchers from the Aix-en-Provence group, such as Caroline Manceau (I think she actually lives in Marseille) whose work is great, and Nicolas Doucedame, whose sketchbook was mightily impressive. I really hope to sketch with the Aix group in the future, they organize regular sketchcrawls down there in my old home. A couple of other sketchers I met whose sketchbooks really impressed me were Sophie Navas, who I think is from Clermont-Ferrand and had some amazing sketches (I did meet several Clermont sketchers when I was in Barcelona, and I’d love to finally attend the Rendez-vous de Carnet de Voyage in CF some day, it’s just I never get the time), and Vincent Desplanche, who had an unbelievable amount of sketches in a short time, and is my new hero of the two-page spread. His style is loose, in pencil and watercolour, but so effective.

Restaurant La Bourse, Strasbourg
I did sketch at dinner a little, the restaurant windows above, and a few sketches of people (further above), including Gerard, Fabien, Vincent, Sophie and others whose names I have forgotten. However I struggle with sketching people, especially when I am surrounded by people who sketch people, I get more self-conscious than usual. I daresay if I was in a room full of fire hydrants, someone who doesn’t sketch fire hydrants may feel the same way, but I did my best, and in fact went one better. It wasn’t my idea (it was Fabien’s) but I did a sketch of Gérard Michel using a local material, namely the Tarte Flambée. And it actually did make a good likeness, or at least a better likeness than my pen sketch, I think I captured his famous smile. He loved it; here it is:
Gérard flambé!

But we urban sketchers, Gerard and me and all the others, we sketch architecture, and cathedrals the most. Ok it isn’t to scale, but here is Strasbourg Cathedral, made out of Tarte Flambée. I’m sure I’m not the first. And it tasted great!

Cathédrale flambée!

You can see some great posts from the Rencontre by USk France members at the Urban Sketchers France website (tag “rencontre USk France”). This post is particularly nice as it shows the group photo (taken by Marc van Liefferinge) as well as a newspaper article in DNA (Derniere Nouvelles Alsace): http://france.urbansketchers.org/2015/02/rencontre-usk-france-2015.html.

Lolo Wagner also put together this great album of photos from the Rencontre on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lolowagner/sets/72157654652186532

In the meantime I have more sketches to come…

take the high woad

alex salmond
Today, September the 18th, 2014, is the day of destiny. No I’m not referring to the opening games of the group stage of the Europa League, I’m talking about the matter of a vote happening among our friends north of the border. No, sorry, not the Canadian border, I’m talking of course about Scotland. Living over here in America as I do now, you could be forgiven for not hearing much about what is actually a pretty massive issue, that of Scotland finally breaking from the UK and gaining full independence from the Union. The people of Scotland are answering a simple question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, with a simple answer “Yes” or “No” (though why “Aye” isn’t also an option I don’t know). Despite whichever side of the argument you sit on, this is a pretty proud day for Scotland, and especially for their First Minister, the Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond (that’s him drawn above). As a Londoner who now lives in America, but who has always had a long affinity for Scotland, I really don’t know what my opinion is. For a long time I might have harboured quite an excitement at the prospect of Scottish independence, but now it is an actual prospect, I find I’m quite on the fence.

Honestly, I don’t know what to think about it. I’ve thought about it for years yet I feel a bit under-informed and uneasy about it now. First and foremost I’m of the mind that, as a non-Scot, it’s None Of My Business, but in fact I’m not so sure it isn’t. I believe Scots should choose their own destiny, no question. However it will probably mean the break-up of the Union, and as a UK citizen that affects me directly, as well as millions of other non-Scottish Britons. Politically speaking, Scotland carries a lot of weight nationally – it’s not really a big Tory-voting area, so the UK Labour Party would stand to lose a lot of its voting power if Scotland no longer sent MPs to Westminster. Hence the big Labour presence in the “Better Together” campaign; if Berkshire was voting for independence you can bet your life that Ed Milliband would be on the “Yes! Freedom for Maidenhead!” trail. But Scottish independence would also technically mean English independence. England, you see, isn’t independent. Nor does it have a devolved parliament like the Scots; it only has the direct British government, because that evolved from the English parliament following the Act of Union in 1707. Ah but no, you say, England along with Wales and Northern Ireland would remain “the United Kingdom of Great Britain”, right? Yes, in the eyes of the world and the EU and all the international treaties…but they wouldn’t be. Not really. The band will have broken up.

It’s hard not to think of the U.K. like a band. You have the big bossy lead singer (England) who often gets mistaken for the whole band by an ignorant foreign music press, you have the quiet mysterious bass player who has an amazing singing voice (Wales), you have the eccentric and beautiful drummer (Northern Ireland is the Keith Moon of the U.K.), and then you have the creative songwriter, the one with all the best ideas, maybe plays rhythm guitar but plays lead better than any of them, and is probably the best drummer too. We won’t mention the drugs. Maybe they had a decent solo career before falling on hard times and being convinced to form a band with their neighbour and set about conquering the world (but you know, literally). Now Scotland wants a solo career. The remaining members of the band keep the record deal and can carry on playing the back catalogue…but they’ll never replace the member they lost, and then the bassist and the drummer will want their own record deals, and before long, England is reduced to playing on Cruise Liners and appearing on Celebrity Big Brother Get Me Out Of Here. Ok maybe the band analogy is going a bit far, but it does feel like that, a little. Hey, in about twenty-five years when they’re all broke they can get back together for a comeback tour.

As Scotland votes though, there are a few things I am thinking about:

  • If Scotland votes “Yes”, the Union is not breaking up any time soon. It just means that it is more likely that it could. England historically though is not good at letting go.
  • After much vexing about the Union Jack (and I do love vexillology), I have decided I don’t care what happens to the flag. In fact, start again, let’s have all new flags. We can have a contest, the one with the most ‘likes’ on Facebook wins.
  • If Scotland leaves the UK, England should try and start a Union with France, just to make Scotland jealous. They can even call the new flag the “Union Jacques”
  • Independence or not, Scotland isn’t actually going anywhere, it’ll still be in the same place. It’s not going to the Moon. We can still visit. Our kids can still get married there without our permission (my mum did that, at 17).
  • UKIP – hahahahahaha!
  • They’ll need their own national football team oh no they already have that. They’ll need to print their own money oh no they already do that. They’ll need their own national newspapers oh no they already have those. They’ll need their own monarch, och nay they actually already have that as well, with The Queen (you might argue that in fact England has their monarch, given that the English royal line died with Elizabeth I, but that would ignore all the German Saxe-Coburg fun and games that came later and they definitely were not Scottish at all).
  • Scotland should adopt the GMT+1 time zone. Here’s a story, when my wife (from America) lived in England she went on a business trip to Aberdeen and I told her, as a joke, to put her watch forward an hour. I bottled it the day before and said I was joking, of course. But still, it was a good one ‘cos it seems so ridiculous, unless you’re from a country that does actually have different time zones, like, er, America. So Scotland tell everyone they are adopting the GMT+1 time zone, but then don’t, just as a joke. It will be hilarious.
  • The Economy. The NHS. Everything. Whatever happens, the rich greedy guys will always try to take away from the poor guys. A change in the makeup of the UK will provide a whopping opportunity for them to dismantle everything that benefits the disenfranchised in the name of “oh but it has to be this way”, both sides of the border.
  • My affinity with Scotland starts with my mum getting married there at 17, my best friend when I was 12 being Glaswegian (he got me into the guitar), Gregory’s Girl being one of my favourite films, and watching a lot of Rab C. Nesbitt. However… I’ve only ever been to Scotland once, and I got lost in Edinburgh. And drank garlic vodka. I’m hardly an expert.
  • England should adopt “I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor” as their national anthem if Scotland leaves. “Go on now go, walk out the door…”. Scotland on the other hand should adopt the Bay City Rollers “Bye Bye Baby”. If they stay together, let’s change the national anthem to, no not “Let’s Stay Together”, but “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. It has nothing to do with the whole England-Scotland thing it’s just a great song I’d like to hear played at the Olympics.
  • However the vote goes I hope at least one tabloid sub-editor uses the headline “Rubbing Saltire into the Wounds”. We may never get another opportunity. Unless…
  • Scotland could ask Wales and Northern Ireland if they want to start a brand new Union with them. I imagine the idea might go down rather well…

Who knows?! Good luck today Scotland, however you end up voting. It’s your country. Just be careful what you wish for, whichever way you wish.

part of the queue

davis farmers market may 2014
Recently I went to the Davis Farmers Market on a Wednesday evening to do a bit of sketching. It was a warm evening, as you get around here, and a lot of people were buzzing around getting food from vendors and listening to live music. It’s always tricky figuring out what to sketch; in order to capture the vibrancy of the scene, you need to sketch a bunch of people moving around. I chose a spot near the food vendors and sketched the market information building, which sells t-shirts and baskets and other such stuff, while a queue of people lined up before me for tacos, finding themselves inevitably the foreground subjects of my sketch. I stood holding my big sketchbook (the larger size Stillman and Birn Alpha book rather than my smaller everyday sketchbook) at an unusual angle, I look kinda funny when I sketch like that. Someone came to look at my work, but they were at the wrong angle and probably thought I was holding it up so they couldn’t see, but that’s just how I hold it, close to my chin like a violin. I had time that evening so added the paint on site, sitting down on one of those benches by the tree to do that. I didn’t eat a Naanwich or any other of the market foods, I can’t really eat and sketch.

Anyway this particular sketch (and several others) will be on display and for sale this month at the ‘Art Is Davis’ Co-op on D Street, Davis, as part of the ‘Scene In Davis‘ show. We will be having an artist’s reception in the early evening of Friday June 13th, so if you are in Davis please do come by, look at some of my sketchbooks, and say hello!