Tag Archives: san francisco

a bright centre to the universe

Columbus Avenue (not "St"), San Francisco. Click image to see bigger.

Columbus Avenue (not “St”), San Francisco. Click image to see bigger.

It was getting a bit nippy by the mid afternoon in San Francisco, but I had a lot of drawing left to do. I wanted one more panorama, and I wanted it in one of my favourite spots in the city, that bit of Columbus Avenue (not ‘Street’ as I always write it) by Jack Kerouac Alley, with City Lights Books and Vesuvio. I like how this street slants down and I have drawn it before looking downhill to the financial district, but never from here. I stood for an hour and a bit sketching before it started to rain a little, and had to finish off the window shading later on. God I love San Francisco sometimes. Anyway I have always wanted to sketch inside Vesuvio, so I popped in for a couple of pints of Anchor Steam and sketched the scene below. This place merits a whole lot of sketching, it’s so full of detail and character. I love bars like this at Christmas time.

Vesuvio, San Francisco

After this, I made the odd decision to walk through Chinatown to Union Square, five days before Christmas, which was a bit manic but hey, I once worked on Oxford Street at Christmas time. I got my bus to the train at Emeryville, and went back to Davis, tired and full of sketches.

Leave the pen. Take the cannoli.

amtrak in the morning
Late last month, on the weekend before Christmas, I took a day in San Francisco, just to get out of Davis for a little while and sketch things on ground that slopes a bit. I didn’t have much of a plan beyond “go to the Ferry Building, have a cannoli, draw loads”. So I did. Here’s my sketch from the early morning Amtrak train, above. It’s not cheap, traveling the Amtrak, but it’s a lovely journey and you get free wifi.

So I got to the San Francisco Ferry Building, where they have the Saturday Farmer’s Market. I like getting here on a Saturday, and finding the little stall inside that sells Italian cannoli filled with chocolate, and sugary messy lemon-filled ‘bombolini’, little doughnuts. After cleaning my face I went outside to draw a panorama, which took about an hour and a quarter. Those sugary treats made me work very energetically.

SF Ferry Building

SF Ferry Building. Click on image to see larger version.

From there I walked aimlessly before taking a bus up to North Beach, where I also walked aimlessly, but its a great place to be a bit aimless. I ended up at Grant Avenue near Green Street, where I looked through some nice little shops and sketched the Savoy Tivoli, a colourful establishment I had a pint in several years ago while listening to some live jazz musicians I bravely attempted to sketch. This place dates back over a century, opening in the year after the 1906 earthquake.

savoy tivoli, san francisco

I’ve never had a pint in this place, The Saloon, which is at the bottom of Grant near Columbus, but it has a sign outside which says its the oldest saloon in the city. It was once Wagner’s Beer Hall, named for its owner Ferdinand Wagner, an immigrant from Alsace, back in 1860. It survived the 1906 earthquake, the prohibition era (when it was the “Poodle Dog Cafe”), and went through a few names before settling on “The Saloon” in 1984. It’s historically a rough-and-ready part of the city this, and some day I may pop in for a beer and some history, but on this day I sketched outside. I had some more drawings to go, and I didn’t want to stand around for too long so I kept it quick.

the saloon, san francisco

To be continued…

the red victorian

SF Red Victorian sm
The rain came down in San Francisco, but I took a bus up to the Haight. It has been years since I was in this part of San Francisco, and I had forgotten how many amazing old colourful buildings there are to sketch around here. And hippies too, can’t forget the hippies, there are still lots of hippies. I walked about looking for a good dry spot to sketch from, and settled on a spot across the street from the historic Red Victorian, an old hotel and arts cafe, and a mainstay of “Peace, Man” San Francisco. I’ve always liked this building. There is the Peaceful World Cafe, they hold Peaceful World Conversations, and there’s also a Living Peace Museum. I must say, stood sheltered form the rain as I was, I felt pretty peaceful sketching it too (apart from one odd ‘crunchy’ guy making incomprehensible comments every time he shuffled past, but you get that when you’re out and about). You can find out more about the Red Vic and its owner, founder and artist in residence Sami Sunchild here: http://www.redvic.com/. Oh and here’s the map from my sketchbook.
SF Haight map sm

shelter from the storm

SF Ferry Building Market sm
It’s a good job my trip to San Francisco at the end of March was only an overnighter, otherwise I may be posting sketches for the next couple of years. Here is another, sketched on the Saturday morning at the Ferry Building market. After the previous day’s sketches of North Beach I had gotten a pretty decent night’s sleep. When I woke up however the heavens had quite literally opened up. Well when I mean quite literally I don’t mean there were angels and harps falling from the sky, but that would have been less torrential than the rain which came down. It was magnificently otherwordly rain, which as you know is not particularly common here (and this epic downpour was more than needed for drought-threatened California). In the half-block from the hotel to the crosswalk I was drenched through. I retreated and reorganized. Now I love the rain, and yes it does make sketching a lot more limiting in terms of where I can stand. I had really wanted to sketch the Farmer’s Market over at the Ferry Building though, and wanted to be outside. No problem of course, I can always find a good spot! Not this time. Everywhere outside was a rainy blur, and every bit of shelter with a decent view seemed to be leaking. And then I remembered – oh yeah, the interior, I’ve never sketched inside the Ferry Building itself, never attempted that lovely roof. I had one of my favourite cannolis from the little cannoli and doughnut stand, and perched up beside a colourful patisserie to sketch the scene. I kept the colour to a minimum as it made it stand out more. I had spent a lot of time rain-dodging, and then searching in vain for the perfect spot, that by the time I drew this and was done it was already the early afternoon. The idea was that I would sketch some more of the City before heading home, but it was so rainy that I just took a bus up to the Haight.

specs and the city

Specs SF smClick 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.

it’s a trappe!

La Trappe sm
More from San Francisco, last March. Yes amazingly I still have not shown all. This was my dinner, eaten at a small Belgian restaurant in North Beach, La Trappe. I have been there with my wife once before, and enjoyed the size of the massive beer book (which, large though it is, doesn’t have my two favourite bieres belges but has a lot of bloody nice ones). They aint cheap either. The food though is lovely. I am a fan of moules frites (a pot of mussels with Belgian fries, which ironically I didn’t actually eat when I lived in Belgium). On this evening, I chose the Moules Normandes, a tasty dish of mussels heavy with apples. I had the frites of course, which were nice (but not as nice as the ones I used to eat in Charleroi at 3am, drowned in mayonnaise), with two dipping sauces, mayo andalouse and roasted garlic mayo. For drink, I had a Maredsous 8, the brown one. Nice, but not my favourite Maredsous, and I didn’t finish it. Mostly I drank water. Anyway if you are in San Francisco, I can recommend it, and you’ll find it on the corner of Greenwich and Mason, right on Columbus. Oh yes, here is the map…
SF La Trappe map sm

they say the neon lights are bright

SF broadway
Back to the sketches from San Francisco last month (that long ago now? Still more to post! I’m so behind…). This is the intersection of Columbus and Broadway, a colourful  and bustling part of the city. I stood here sketching early on a Friday evening, getting a lungful of car fumes from all the traffic, with a warm sunset behind me. That over there is the city’s red light district – I overheard a couple of people use the phrase “titty-bars” which probably aren’t some sort of candy (or maybe they are?), and also a popular area for clubs and music. It always makes me think of San Francisco’s legendary Barbary Coast, which during the gold-rush was centered a block away on Pacific Street, a haunt of vagabonds and prostitutes, drunken sailors and cut-throat gamblers, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. The big bawdy signage on Broadway is probably tame in comparison. The signs I like the most are the ones on the right though, “No Stopping Any Time”, that one telling you not to go left across the street, basically keep away from the sinful side. It’s an important intersection this, though, as around me Chinatown effectively turned into the Italian North Beach. One tourist who had just walked up Grant Avenue with his family asked me if I could tell him where the Italian pastry shops were, this now being the Italian town. He went on to ask me about other districts, in particular Nob Hill, which I told him was a very steep climb. “Which ethnicity lives up there?” he asked. Maybe I should have said something funny, like “the Swiss”, because they like climbing big mountains, but I didn’t think of it at the time, and it wasn’t all that funny anyway. So I just said “the rich,” and got a nonplussed look as if to say, that’s not an ethnicity. I meant to give my explanation as “the rich live on Nob Hill because they are used to climbing big mountains…of cash” but I didn’t think of it at the time, and it wasn’t all that funny anyway. I shrugged, they went off in search of pastry and I carried on sketching. The map below shows where I was.
SF northbeach map

There is more SF sketchage to come, by the way, so stay tuned crude-map-fans…

SF broadway photo