people fly by in the traffic’s boom

Market St Panorama sm

Market Street, San Francisco. Click on the image to embiggen it.

A couple of weekends ago it was the Worldwide Sketchcrawl Day. While many of the world’s urban sketchers were busy in Singapore at the 6th Urban Sketching Symposium, I was in San Francisco, though I didn’t manage to meet the other SF sketchers this time. I arrived in the city a little late, my train (which was packed with Barcelona and Manchester United fans, evidently they were playing a friendly that day in Santa Clara) taking longer than usual. While the sketchcrawl was starting up at Duboce Park I wanted to have a look around Market Street first. This section of it is a little sketchy, but there’s stuff to sketch. A few months ago I came here to see Noel Gallagher play at the Warfield (an epic gig, like being sat inside a massive gramophone, and Noel was excellent), and I remembered that I want to sketch the Golden Gate Theatre at some point. So I stood on the corner and sketched a panorama, fully intending to add colour at some point (until I got struck down with “can’t-be-bothered-itis”). While I sketched, some Christian group across the street started bursting into songs of praise. Not because I was sketching, of course. After a while, a homeless man with a dog decided to stand not far away from me and take that as the appropriate opportunity to perform an inspection of the content of his underpants, which I daresay needed inspection by a licensed professional, but perhaps not so openly on the corner of Market Street. Again, I don’t think it was because I was sketching. Oh, the characters around here. When I was done with this sketch I had lunch at the food court of the Westfield shopping center, and took the Muni Metro up to Duboce Square. I didn’t meet a single other sketcher, but I did do a fair bit more sketching.

Duboce Square houses SFDuboce Square Park, SF

Duboce Park is quite nice. It has a very Local Neighbourhood feel about it, though this being San Francisco I’m sure you have to be doing pretty well to join the local neighbourhood these days. I’ve never really been here before, except for when travelling through on the Muni, or that time last March when I wandered about nearby with a couple of friends from England on the way from Castro to the Haight. The park is filled with dog walkers, families, young people laying on the grass reading books.  By the way, note that I deliberately said ‘reading books’, and not ‘looking at their electronic devices’. ‘Reading books’ probably makes you think “yes, reading books, as it should be, not on their iPad looking at Facetwit or Spacechat or whatever the youths are into these days, ignoring the amazing views.” You may well be thinking this while reading this on your iPad. Well I’ve said ‘reading books’ to give you the impression that they were all probably cultured individuals, but for all I can remember they were on their iPads, and for all I know they were reading e-books. They may have been reading Kafka or Kundera for all we know, but the world sees ‘electronic device’ and thinks ‘shopping for shoes’ or ‘reading clickbait on Facebook’.  Whereas they could be reading a tattered paper book, lying on the grass with their legs lazily crossed in the air,exploring a world of wonder and imagination, and that book might be ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ or a footballer’s autobiography* or anything by Dan Brown. So the moral is ‘don’t judge an electronic device by its cover’, but feel free to judge a book-reader by the trash you can see them reading. So anyway, I was sketching the park, there was a kids birthday party going on nearby (with a pinata), in the dog park part of it dogs were running around and barking and texting, or whatever it is dogs do, and construction vehicles lined the street beside the Muni lines. I sketched the second one from the steps of the Harvey Milk Center for the Arts. I enjoyed sketching here.

Lower Haight St panorama sm

My final sketch of the day (not counting the one I abandoned due to getting tired) was another big panorama, this time in nearby Lower Haight Street. This is a very colourful neighbourhood, edgier, more ‘hipster’ than ‘hippy’, and there was some sort of small daytime dance party (or maybe it was a record store with DJs and cool people) a few steps away. I overheard two guys talking, there was talk of this party and that band, all many levels of cool above my coolscale (or below it, depending on your point of view). I was aching standing here, and the wind was picking up (sky was blue for periods, but a lot of clouds and fog rolled in and it got very chilly. A welcome change from the Davis heat I was escaping, but I needed to sit down and relax for a bit, so I walked down to the Toronado pub nearby and got a beer. Sitting down proved much harder, as it was pretty crowded. I had one beer and went home, the end of another busy sketching day in the city.

selfies in san francisco

SF Boat and Selfie Stick
A couple of weeks ago or so we took advantage of a special offer on the Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains where if you buy a ticket, your family or friends can come too for only $5 each way. Since it costs $60 to get to San Francisco these days, which is a lot of money actually, a day out in the city would usually cost me $180 in train tickets alone, but as it was it cost only $80. “Only” $80; I could buy a lot of Lego with that. Well, maybe not a lot, but some. One or two decent sets anyway. The Avengers Tower plus the Ant Man set perhaps. I don’t know, let me think about this actually, I am making my list. Anyway, my wife, my son and I all jumped on the train at 8:25 in the morning and travelled down to San Francisco for a day of just wandering in the city, seeing stuff. It’s such a nice train journey across the Delta and along the Bay, and my son had never been on that journey before. He liked it I think, but he did his best to put on his I’m Bored face everywhere we went in San Francisco. I thought the change of scenery (and cooler weather) would us all some good, but he really wanted to get back to his Lego (tsk, we’re so different). I took him to the Musee Mecanique however, and that was a hit, It’s on Fisherman’s Wharf and is full of old arcade games from the past century, and we had a great time; he particularly liked the skee ball game, while I battled it out as Magneto and Cyclops on “X-Men vs Street Fighter”. Stupid Dhalsim and his long arms, no match for the might of the Master of Magnetism! (Actually I lost). Anyway afterwards we walked down to the water’s edge, to the little sandy beach area at Aquatic Park. While my son paddled his feet in the water with my wife, I sketched the scene, with the boat SS Balclutha moored on the jetty. I have sketched that ship before. As I sketched, a young woman on the beach was taking selfies, and lots of them. hundreds perhaps. Selfies from above, below, standing, crouched, lying down, facing the boat, facing the bridge, facing the sand, facing the sky, facing the city, every possible iteration of selfie there is (ok not every possible iteration). With the dreaded “Selfie-Stick” of course, bane of everyone’s lives, and if you believe the press, on the verge of being universally banned from existing anywhere ever. She was very happy, and why not, in the sunshine, next to an amazing city backdrop, Golden Gate Bridge free of fog, why not. Passers-by called her the “Selfie Queen”, probably fair, but it made me think of the actual Queen, whose face as we know is on all the money in England, I had visions of Elizabeth II holding up a twenty pound note and looking at it pulling a duck face (can I just point out I don’t know what that is but I hear the term a lot, I don’t care what it is either), and saying “One is taking a Selfie of One’s self,” while Prince Philip is looking at a Selfie-Stick and saying “What the bloody ‘ell is this?” while making some racist comment about tourists. Oh, the Royals. So, I added Selfie Queen (not my term) to the sketch. My wife joked that I should have drawn a selfie of myself with everything in the background, but it would have been hard holding the pen with the book stretched out in front of me, and then the painting, I couldn’t do it.

I only did one sketch that day, but I did come back down by myself a week later for the worldwide sketchcrawl (more train money spent). We got ice cream (not Ghirardelli, the lines were too long), and decided against queuing up for more than an hour for the cable car (Saturday afternoon isn’t the best time for that), so headed home.

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.