Click on the image for a larger view. One of the reasons I came to sketch San Francisco’s North Beach last March is because I wanted to sketch this old bar – Specs, just off Columbus. I’ve been here before and it’s a sketchers’ delight – memorabilia covering the walls and ceiling, a small narrow bar area full of friendly atmosphere, and a healthy smattering of artists. That evening I wasn’t feeling too well, and went back to my hotel for a rest, but I forced myself out because I was going to get this sketch, goddammit! When I arrived, the place was pretty full, but there was a space in the middle of the bar area, so I parked up there and got the sketchbook out. I had no stool, so I had to stand, but I didn’t care. Behind me, an older fellow was sketching bar patrons in a big sketchbook, while further inside another man was painting oil on a large canvas. Definitely an artist-friendly bar. The last time I was here was back in 2010 with my friend Simon, visiting from England, and we played chess and traded Brick Top impressions and had beer and whiskey into the wee hours (well, he had the whiskey, I had the beer). This time around, I drank my Anchor Steam slowly and sketched quickly, getting as much of the two spread panorama as I could. I wasn’t feeling much better to be honest but was pleased when a stool became available. This took me all of two beers, my second coming courtesy of the house (cheers Specs!), in a time of around an hour and a half. I really sketched fast. Upon finishing up, I stopped off for a freshly made doughnut on Columbus to eat back at the hotel, which actually made me feel a lot better. After a long day of sketching, I was happy for the rest.
Have you seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier yet? Spoiler alert – it’s great. I’ve seen it twice. I’m quite a fan of Cap. I like my heroes to be heroic, and you can’t get more heroic than Steve Rogers. After the movie, I popped into De Vere’s for a couple of pints and to do some more bar sketching. I had spent the previous few days sketching manically at the UC Academic Advising Conference (sketches to be posted next) and well, I can’t really stop sketching. I wanted to sketch a different angle than usual and include a lot more people, but they all kept moving about, so in the end I turned and asked the group next to me if I could sketch them. Most of them had beards which is always a nice thing when sketching.
Back to San Francisco’s North Beach, on that Friday of sketching at the end of last month. After a quick check-in at my hotel, I walked back up Columbus to stand outside the famous City Lights bookstore and sketch Vesuvio’s, a popular local bar on the corner of Jack Kerouac Alley. This junction is one of my favourite in the world. I have said it before, I could draw this area for years on end and never get bored. Well, not that bored anyway. The last time I tried to sketch on this spot, about five years ago, I got a little way in before rain stopped play, but on this occasion it was a warm, sunny Friday afternoon, getting into Happy Hour, as the world ended its work week and started to relax. It was a fun time of day to be out with a sketchbook. As I stood, the occasional bar patron would come out and check out what I was sketching (one bloke had his friend wave at me from the upstairs window, so I added him in). I popped my head inside afterwards, but didn’t stay for a pint, as I had more sketching to get on with while the sun was still shining. I have been in before, and one day I plan to sketch the interior.
Continuing the theme of these similar looking buildings on the UC Davis campus, this is the Gunrock Pub, part of the Silo complex where I have had lunch so many times. It used to be called the Silo Cafe, or the Silo Pub, but now it takes its name from Gunrock, the equine UC Davis mascot. This, like the others, was furiously sketched over a lunchtime with the colour added in afterwards. I’m filling this S&B Alpha landscape sketchbook fast.
And so on to the very last spread of the Panoramarathon, and of the Seawhite sketchbook. The Year of the Horse had just begun, so time to saddle up and gallop the last furlong. So, cue the joke about the horse and the bar and “why the long sketchbook?”. I never got that joke anyway. The barman shouldn’t be asking why a horse has a long face, but what exactly a horse expects to be served in a bar. Unless bars are serving sugar-lumps and brewing hay-beer (and they probably are, these days) I would say, “oi, Tonto, never mind your long face, you drink from the trough outside mate, or you can git the hell outta this town, and the man who rode in on you”, or words to that effect. This is technically the old wild west after all, or Back to the Future III country at least. Anyway, back to the drawing… I have sketched the Little Prague bar on several occasions over the past seven years or so, but not quite from this angle, so I decided that I would take up that challenge to finish out the project. After a very busy week I popped by on a quiet Friday evening and sketched away. After a while, a large crowd of people came in en masse (there they all are in the sketch, mingling away with their pitchers and their nametags). That chef bloke with the bleached hair and the goatee, Guy Fieri I think he is called, was on the telly. I didn’t really pay attention to anything much except finishing the sketch. This panoramarathon was going to be done by the end of January, dammit! February is just not long enough to keep saying such a complicated word. After a while, the DJs came in and the loud dance music started, and so after one quickly-sketched panorama and three slowly-drunk dark beers, I finished up and went home to bed.
So that was the Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook, started in August, finished in January. You can see all the images form that book in this handy set on my Flickr site.
Sophia’s Bar, Davis. Click on the image to see a larger version. 2014 has started as a very busy little year so far, with not enough time to sketch. Not enough time..? Well, make time. I’ve been feeling a little headless-chicken-esque, so one Wednesday evening I decided I needed to go and pour myself into another bar panorama, this time at Sophia’s, a bar which I have sketched before, but I had not included the fishtank before. The fishtank was going in this time, for sure. My friend Tel, who I grew up with but now lives in Korea for some reason, would like that fishtank. Years ago he used to make me go with him after school all the way to a shop in Colindale called Vibratanks to see the tropical fish in their bright tanks, his nose pressed against the glass staring at the tetras and guppies and swordtails. To get him back, I would make him come to WH Smith in Brent Cross where I’d spend ages looking at pens, travel guides and adventure gamebooks. In a twist of irony he now sells books, while I am sketching fishtanks. Anyway, I sat with an amber beer and covered the pages in paint before going in with the pen. I was spotted by the owner Kenneth who remembered my previous sketch, it was nice to meet him. After sketching the wider view I went to sit at the bar to get a better view of the bottles, and spent a good deal of time chatting to people, many from all over the world, while scribbling away continually. I am on a bit of a roll with these panoramas now, and have done a few more since then (yet to post; I am calling it the ‘panoramarathon’) but still 2014 continues to be busy, busy, busy. I’ve just remembered that when I am so so busy, and so so stressed, it’s always best to balance it with some art. No time for it? Make time for it. You’ll be glad you did.
I hope you all had a very happy Black Friday last week. I went shopping and bought a blu-ray player and some toys, and then later that day took the blu-ray player and the toys back to the store, just so I could say I was involved in this very cultural holiday. I’m not really a fan of Black Friday. I always hope it rains on those people waiting outside Best Buy at 4am (although this year they decided that Thanksgiving was not an important enough holiday any more and all went shopping on Thursday evening, which thankfully we didn’t). This year our Black Friday was more relaxed, and we even went down to Scandia to do some go-kart racing. That was fun. Naturally I got a bit carried away, speeding around like it was the Monaco Grand Prix. Still, the one previous time I had been go-karting, as a kid twenty-five years ago in Spain, I literally had been carried away, crashing at full-speed into a pile of tyres on a tight corner, completely totaling the barely-safe go-kart. At least there was none of that this time!
In the evening I decided to head downtown (we were in Santa Rosa, not Davis) and sketch a bar. I wanted to sketch the Russian River Brewing Co, but it was a little packed to say the least. So I walked down the street to the Sweet Spot, a pub I’ve always liked. And here is why – there are football shirts (soccer jerseys to you) behind the bar. Some of you may know that my number one obsession is football kits. That is putting it mildly. So naturally I drew these fast. I could name almost all of them, however two of them eluded me. That drove me nuts! I spent the next day trying to figure them out. I determined that the blue one with the ‘Sol’ badge was actually a local team from Sonoma, so that doesn’t count. The red one, made by diadora with a blue/navy trim and the ‘Pilsener’ sponsor I simply can’t work out. The badge looked like it had an ‘N’ in the middle but I have no idea. A football shirt has me stumped. The beer was nice, the atmosphere friendly, and I finished the whole thing in under three pints.
Regular listeners may be aware that occasionally I like to sketch bars, preferably ones with character, warmth, interesting people and of course nice beer. You’re always going to get that in Portland, so I was keen to check a few more names off of my list. Last year I visited Old Town Pizza with the PDX urban sketchers and noticed the lovely old bar area, but didn’t sketch it that time. While the rain tumbled down, I wandered the streets of the old town, stopping by Floating World Comics, before resting my tired legs with a pint of Old Town’s “Freshtoberbrau”. Old Town Pizza/Brewing is in an old hotel building which is apparently haunted, though you would never know because it’s not like all the publicity for this place goes on and on about it. The ghost is called Nina (pronounced like Nine-ah) and wears perfume and rides a bike and reads vegan zines, well maybe not the last two. I do like this place though, despite the Rentaghost theme tune playing in my head, and the beer was very pleasant. I especially enjoyed the Volkswheat, which I pronounced “Folksveet”. A guy at the bar kept coming in and out, and while you can’t tell here, he really looked like Tyres out of Spaced. Warmed up and rested, I went back to the hotel.
In the evening I went out for a nice meal with some of the local artists I know (Hi Linda, Ron, Deb and Angelika!) at Bridgeport, where I had eaten back in 2010, a really nice brewpub. Unfortunately I arrived half an hour late, due to an immense amount of traffic on the way. I could have walked, or taken the MAX and walked, but I opted for the streetcar as I thought it would be quicker. Big mistake! I had given myself plenty of time, but it took forever to arrive, then crawled sloooowly up Broadway and finally across the river. It took me over an hour to get to the Pearl District from the Lloyd Center; hopping backwards with my eyes closed the whole way would have been quicker. I’m not used to these ‘city’ aspects of getting around any more! But in the end it was a lovely evening with lovely people, though I didn’t sketch there this time.
Afterwards, I went off to sketch another bar that was on my list. Bailey’s Tap Room is downtown, and lots of people recommended it last year. While it’s not an obvious sketch subject, no old dark wood and warm fireplaces, it was a nice place to sketch for a few late-night hours, sampling amazing beers from Montana, Utah, and elsewhere, talking to locals and visitors, reciting the text of Jabberwocky, and shunning frumious bandersnatches (except for that last part). It reminded me a little of the University of Beer in Davis, and the barstaff were friendly and really knew their stuff. A fun Portland night! This time, I did walk back to the hotel, crossing the Steel Bridge at night, it wasn’t very far. And I had a nice, well-earned lie-in the next day. Lubbly-jubbly!
And another bar sketch for you, this one from a few weeks ago at the City Hall Tavern, into which I popped after sketching the Wealth of Nations band. Nice beer. Revolving bicycle wheels on the ceiling. Two and a Half Men was on the TV, for some reason (hence the blank TV screen, I simply cannot reproduce such unparalleled artistic genius on paper). Above the bar, a quote Benjamin Franklin once said to help bars sell more beer (“Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy,” he said apparently, but I suspect he said that about a lot of things). Bars like random beer quotes. That one by George Best about spending most of his money on women and beer (and the rest he just squandered) is often decorated proudly on pub walls, unflinching in its sad irony. I had the ‘Hell or High Watermelon’ beer. Halfway through sketching, the bad TV went quiet (hooray!) and the tables were cleared from the centre of the room (booo!) to make way for some sort of space for people to move around to loud thumping music, so I had to relocate to the bar to draw the details there. As the more well-dressed-for-a-night-out people started coming in, I finished up and called it a day. Another bar sketch done.
Incidentally I still have a few first-run copies of my short self-made bar-zine on my Etsy store, “Davis Bar-By-Bar“. I plan to print more and make further volumes, and if I ever get time, put together a book. Ah, time gentlemen, please.
This is the Grad, or the ‘Davis Graduate’, a long-time bar of these parts. It’s a sports bar with about a million screens to watch all kinds of sports (you can get little portable speakers at the bar tuned into whichever game you’re watching (I was watching Marseille lose to Monaco, but didn’t need the speaker). It’s also a dance hall, though I’ve never actually been in the evening, not my kind of thing. It’s also a place to eat burgers and fries and other similar things. In fact, I hadn’t actually been to the Grad since about 2008, when I came to watch Turkey play the Czech Republic in the Euros. The Grad has never been particularly high on my list of bars to sketch – I’d always remembered it as too awkward a space, too many sports screens, that loudspeaker that announces when someone’s Gradburger is ready, my hands being greasy from eating fries, plus I’d seen Tottenham lose too many matches while there. However I am on a mission to sketch as many Davis bars as possible (for my bar-zine, and maybe a book), so on the Labor Day weekend I came down (I live closer by these days) with the sketchbook, and I honestly have to admit I have been missing out. This was an excellent place to sketch! And I had forgotten they had a pretty large selection of excellent beers on tap. Plus Olympique de Marseille playing on the screen (next to, er, Judge Judy). Oh, this was definitely sketchworthy, and worth coming back to sketch some more. I stuck around for a while and chatted to the bar-staff (cheers Greg for the pint!) and another regular who told me stories about Davis from years back. I’ll probably be telling my own Davis stories in years to come. Various sports happened on screens around me; try to count how many screens are in this sketch alone. Happy with my latest panoramic bar sketch (another one for the zine) and sufficiently full of that very nice Summer Solstice beer, I left, got my Weetabix at Trader Joe’s, and sauntered home.