You may have noticed before that I like to sketch by the river. Apologies for the shameless Alan Partridge reference in the title there; nobody throw a dead cow at me. This was on my last day in Portland (though there are several more PDX posts to come, I still haven’t finished scanning, there’s a couple of bars, some food carts and a whole bunch of pirates yet…). The rain had stopped and the sunshine opened up my paintbox up. I was planning to wander the Pearl District, where the USk Symposium had been in 2010, but, oooh, that river. I found a quiet spot on the banks, amid the rocks, between Steel Bridge and Broadway Bridge, and drew the latter. Though it is very industrial down this stretch of river, there is an inherent beauty in such architecture – not for me the grand sweeps of baroque opulence, give me a factory and a couple of big metal bridges and I’m happy as a, er, um, insert ‘happy’ simile here.
Hey guess what, I have put together a Flickr set with all of my sketches of bridges and riverbanks in it, it is called “Bridges, Riverbanks…”
When the rain comes, I don’t run and hide my head. I do however stroll about and look for a little bit of cover so I can do some drawing. I love sketching bridges - no trip to Portland is complete without at least one bridge sketch. I like drawing bridges more than fire hydrants. Partly it is because I like being beside the river (as opposed to crouched just off the kerb hoping cars don’t hit me), but also because bridges represent that great connectivity of humankind, our ability to create cities and urban landscapes in tandem with the forces of nature, those big powerful (and very much alive) rivers. London exists because of the Thames, and prospered because it had a bridge (which admittedly kept falling down but that is another story). So when it rains, as it did in Portland (and occasionally in London too, I’m told), surely bridge sketching is a perfect sport?
Not exactly. For one thing to get out of the rain you often have to go beneath the bridge, which makes drawing the thing a bit trickier. Thankfully decent covered vantagepoints do exist for the more intrepid urban sketcher. On Sunday lunchtime, with a modest hangover from the previous night’s PDX craft beer samplings, I made my way down the southeast waterfront to the Hawthorne Bridge (above). The rain was coming down in bouquets (Portland rain is sweeter, as I’ve said before) and there were lots of people milling about the water’s edge. Boating crews lined the river, and were one-by-one taking to the water, cheered on by colourful umbrellas dotted along the bank. The road that comes off the bridge is high and curving, and I found a spot far beneath where the driving rain could not touch me. Joggers and other happy, soggy people jogged and plodded about the path in front of me, so I stood slightly back on a slope of grass and sketched away as best as I could. I think my slightly swaying demeanour comes across in the sketch, and that’s why I like this one at the top so much. After about forty minutes or so it was time to move on, and walk through the rain.
I had another rainy bridge experience the day before, at the end of a Saturday afternoon. I had spent the morning sketchcrawling (well, sketching, not so much crawling) with the fabulous Portland Urban Sketchers in two indoor locations in Old Town (that post is yet to come), and afterwards went to the Saturday Market. I drew Steel Bridge on my previous visit, but it’s a lovely structure and deserves to be sketched many times. This one, below, took a lot less time than the 2010 one, partly because I was sketching in almost direct rain. It wasn’t heavy rain, just a light sprinkling really, but there really wasn’t a good location beneath Burnside Bridge to sketch the view I wanted, so I took my chances. Still, once the pen started to protest at this treatment, I wrapped it up, but I was happy with it.
If I could spend my days drawing bridges by the river I would be one very happy fellow. Incidentally here is a set on my Flickr stream called “Bridges, Riverbanks…”
Everybody needs a weekend away every now and then. This past weekend, I flew up to Portland, Oregon, a city I had first visited two years ago for the first Urban Sketching Symposium. I wanted to come back and see some places I had previously missed, catch up with some local urban sketchers I know, eat from food carts, sample local beer, and spend time by the river. I like it down by the river. This was the first sketch I did after arriving at the hotel and light-railing it downtown, a big boat on the Willamette. The bridge in the background is the Burnside Bridge; those spiky towers belong to the Convention Center. As I sketched, cyclists cycled by, joggers jogged on, and gaggles of geese giggled at my goggles.
You can expect the next week or so of posts to be about my trip to Portland, either in a linear or nonlinear or scrawled comic or urban dance form. I got rained on rather a lot, but that was ok, it’s Portland rain which is sweeter than other rain, and contains beer and voodoo donuts.
More sketches from Belem, on the day before the Symposium. This is the Padrao dos Descobrimentos, or Monument to the Discoveries. Portugal was a big big player in the Age of Discovery, paving the way for other European nation states to sail across the sea and stake their claims, trade or otherwise, across the world. This huge monument juts out into the Tagus, looking towards the Atlantic, headed by a statue of Prince Henry the Navigator. Sure, the monument was built by the dicator Salazar but, you know. It’s still pretty impressive.
Portugal’s maritime past is celebrated everywhere in Belem, and in front of the Padrao dos Descobrimentos is a large mosaic map, decorated with images of Portuguese ships (such as the one drawn to the left). It’s quite an incredible story, how this very small nation managed to somehow span itself across the globe, and ultimately gave birth to the large and politically important nation of Brazil.
As Portuguese interests expanded and riches brought back, cities such as Lisbon grew in global importance and buildings were constructed to consolidate this. The Torre Belem, seen below with my sketch of it, is one of the most famous symbols of this time. A fortification built on a small island in the Tagus River, it was completed in 1519 and served to protect Lisbon and act as a gateway to the city.
And so, with the sketches of ‘day zero’ over, now to talk about the Symposium…
The Captain Kidd pub in Wapping. My friend and fellow sketcher Simon has been telling me about it for a long time, but we’d never been because it’s, you know, in Wapping. Still, with Wapping and it’s less salubrious denizens Murdoch and pals being very much in the news that week it seemed like a good idea to pop down there. We took the London Overground (the old orange East London line, now revamped and extended with swanky new trains and a new name) and went down by the river. The old pub literally backs onto the thames, and we grabbed a pint each and sat on a bench looking across the water. The rain would eventually force us inside, but not after a quick sketch of the scenery, and another attempt at sketching my friend (who really should be very easy to capture, but I always get him just wrong, it’s almost become a running theme; next time, I promise, I’ll practise more!). After some catching up and quite a bit of laughing, we sketched inside and I drew the scene above, before I had to head back home. Such a brief trip to London this time, not long enough with my good friends!
Ashland in southern Oregon is famous (very famous) for it’s popular (very popular) Shakespeare Festival. This town is Bard friendly, and the British theme pops up here and there, such as in this pub, the Black Sheep. Set up a steep wide staircase off the main drag, this big pub serves fish and chips, beans on toast, and other such grub. They also have an old red phonebox; I think there are more red phoneboxes in American pubs than on English streets these days.
Ashland is a nice place. It was already a hot day and we went for a stroll through Lithia Park. While my son played at the playground, I sat by the heavy gushing creek and drew the sketch below. There were notices all around that on one morning the week before, a cougar had been spotted in that very park. That’s a mountain lion, not the other type of cougar. It gave tips on what to do if you see one – don’t turn around, make yourself look big, try not to make it laugh etc – and it reminded me that there are a lot of wild animals about in America. We’ve had mountain lion sightings in West Sacramento. Last week news reports told of coyotes in north Davis killing a cat. I saw a great big centipede in the bath once. Gotta be careful. Give me British beans on toast any day, much safer…
Side one, track one of Moleskine #8. The eighth of my watercolour moleskines, that is (the ‘difficult eighth album’? Do I get a Greatest Hits, or just a ‘Best Of’? They’re all ‘Live’ albums; maybe this should be the ‘White Moleskine’, but such a thing doesn’t exist, yet; better get on that, moleskine). Either way, this is the fifth annual drawing from this very spot of an ever-changing view, Mrak Hall at UC Davis sketched from Putah Creek, with the now finally complete King Hall extension blocking the view.
Today is the longest day of the year, and certainly the hottest so far – we measured 106 degrees at one point driving home. Scorching weather and Davis go hand in hand. While sketching, I listened to the new Art Brut album, ‘Brilliant! Tragic!’. I didn’t find it quite as brilliant as their previous albums, but I loved the song ‘Sealand’.
Anyhow, because this is an evolving view, here are the previous years, for comparison:
Sacramento on a Sunday afternoon, down by the river. I popped over there on the bus for some sketching and shopping. It was the last of our lovely warm February days before the rains came (I say ‘before the rains came’ like it’s some endless deluge – it rained a bit yesterday, and might rain again today, and possibly tomorrow – that’s all). It was nice by the river though. I sat on the Delta Queen riverboat and sketched the I Street Bridge, a big old swivel-bridge used by trains and cars.
Before that, I sat beside the Delta Queen and looked up at the old buildings on the waterfront of Old Town Sacramento. I’ve been meaning to sketch these for a while, with the big wooden beams beneath holding up the boardwalk. I sat on the little jetty while families of daytrippers with bouncy children hopped past.
And below, the golden yellow Tower Bridge, crossing the Sacramento River at Capitol Mall.
So… as you may have gathered from my non-posts this past week, I am away from rain-sodden California to lovely London, where I’ve had a week without any rain whatsoever.
Oh, but we’ve been having the worst snowy winter weather I’ve ever seen here. Many days after a sudden blizzard, the snow is still here there and everywhere, tough it hasn’t stopped me from getting out there with sketchbook. Yes, fingers freezing off and pens giving up the ghost doesn’t get in the way of this urban sketcher. Not two months ago I was sketching in hundred degree weather heat. Thing is, I grew up with snow lasting only a day or two before sodding off, and always tell people about our comparatively mild winters, but now it seems the snow comes earlier and stays longer, and the disruption is magnified. Naturally, Britain fails to cope, as the absolute madness of Heathrow attests. I’m glad I came a few days earlier than I would have. I just hope we can get back…
These are a couple of photos of what I have been out sketching though; the top one being the street where I grew up, about an hour after the biggest blizzzard I can remember here. I’m sure people thought I was a nutter sitting out there freezing, well they’re right, but urban sketchers are tough beasts. My fingers took a battering in the second one too, sat down by the River Thames, looking out at HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge. My toes were frozen too. I warmed up with a nice chicken and mushroom pie. That’s one thing Britain can always get right!
But boy, is it cold…
On Saturday afternoon I went down to old town Sacramento, sketched me some fire hydrants, but that ain’t all I sketched. After meeting with the SF Bay Urban Sketchers, who had just been to the new Crocker Art Gallery, we all stood by the Sacramento River and sketched the big golden yellow Tower Bridge. I have sketched this before (a sketch which made an appearance on Fox 40 News of all places last year), but it was a while ago, and I came to sketch this one with memories of sketching a similar (though less yellow) bridge in Portland in the summer. This is the River City, and an old-time sailboat passed by as I sketched, the golden Tower Bridge’s mid-section rising and dropping as she passed.
We strolled through Old Sac sketching a little more. Despite all the grand old cowboy era buildings, I like this little theatre and did a small sketch, drawn to those long diagonals and the long shadows.
This is also railroad land, and the railroad museum is just around the corner from here. I was just here a couple of days before with my wife and toddler son, and I promised him I would come back and draw a bridge and a train. I had liked the look of this little yellow diesel engine, so here it is.
A nice break from the fire hydrants…