Tag Archives: stillman & birn

early morning, norwich walk

Norwich Walk

Here is the last drawing done during my London trip this past summer; click on the image to see it in larger format. Well the last one I’m posting; chronologically this was the first one I did, but I only just recently remembered to go back and finish it (add colour, finish all the bricks). This is Norwich Walk, the street where I grew up and where my mum still lives, as drawn from my old bedroom window on my first early morning back in the UK. I was jetlagged of course so awake at ridiculous o’clock, with the window open wide and the bright dewy air softening the world. Of course our house isn’t one of the ones in this row because I was inside it when I was drawing, perhaps on the next trip I’ll draw the panorama from the other side of the road (but maybe not at 5:00am in the morning). This was my view every day for a few decades. I’ve drawn it before, in fact I recall drawing several felt-tip pen versions for my art homework back at high school. It hasn’t changed that much, but I remember when those driveways were all gardens; I think it was the Daniels family’s house to the right who made the first one, followed by ours, then everyone else followed suit. There are still a couple of front gardens left but not many, however there are no cars parked on the street any more. In my youth they were all parked on the other side of the already very narrow road. I spent a lot of time in that house in the middle as a kid, first when the Glennon family lived there, then when the Edwards family lived there. I remember when it got pebble-dashed, that was popular in the 1980s wasn’t it. One of my memories was just outside there when I got run over by a white van one Saturday afternoon. I was seven years old, playing with my friends Natasha and Simon, my Star Wars figures all over the front doorstep. This street was our playground, as were all narrow Watling Estate streets to the kids who lived in them. We ran over the road to knock for our friends Robert and Victoria. He couldn’t come out though so we went back across the street. I was going first, didn’t look where I was going, and then BAM, all I saw was white. Then I woke up on a couch with everyone screaming and crying around me, so I passed out again and woke up in hospital. They kept me in overnight; I was alright, had a big scar on my head for a while but I got some new Star Wars toys when I got back home which was wicked. I remember getting the AT-ST ‘scout walker’ and my big sister helping me create a landscape on the carpet with a blanket for all the Star Wars toys. I also got a card form everyone in my class, everyone except my friend Wayne who I sat next to, because as weird coincidence would have it, on that very same day he also got run over, but he injured his legs and was out of school for a lot longer. I was a lot more careful crossing the street after that, but these days it is much easier for kids to see oncoming traffic now that everyone parks on their driveways!

I sketched this in the panoramic ‘Alpha’ Stillman and Birn sketchbook (a great sketchbook that), before having a proper English breakfast with my Mum, and getting on the early tube to go and sketch Piccadilly Circus. I love that ‘first morning back home in Burnt Oak’ feeling. I wish I could get back there more often!

go west, young man

westminster abbey sm
I got on the tube on my second morning in London and went to work – another day of sketching my old city – but without a real plan as to where I would sketch. When I am at a restaurant sometimes I spend ages looking at a menu just to whittle it down to three or four items that I will ultimately decide upon only when asked, on a whim usually (yet I always end up eating the same thing, it’s weird), well sometimes I am like that with the sketching. I had no idea what I wanted to sketch. So I just went where the wind took me. I ended up outside Westminster Abbey, that great spiritual epicentre, the Royal Peculiar, both crowning and final resting place of kings and queens for a millennium. I’ve never ever sketched it, but some recent Spanish sketching visitors to London (that would be Inma Serrano and Miguel Herranz) had sketched it from this very angle and so I was inspired. I love to sketch a cathedral (of course it’s not technically a cathedral, nor is it an abbey, but as I’ve mentioned it’s a Royal Peculiar, direct responsibility of the monarch). I haven’t actually been inside since I was a kid, going to see Poet’s Corner and all that, but I sat across the street amid a crowd of Japanese tourists snapping away with their massive cameras and sketched upwards. It’s a spectacular building. It actually brings me a lot of joy to look at it, knowing its place in English history. This was Edward the Confessor’s church. Admittedly not this particular heap of architecture but it’s been going since his day. Or before, if legends are to be believed, for it was here on what was the Island of Thorney that a simple fisherman had a vision of St. Peter near here, and so in the seventh century an abbey was founded, and apparently the tradition of salmon being given to the Abbey years later was a reference to this incident where a local angler claims he saw a long-dead Pope splashing about in the Thames. William the Conqueror was crowned here, the Norman upstart who fancied himself a king and bloody well became one. And most recently, our latest royal William married Kate Middleton here, at an ungodly hour that meant certain American family members getting up ridiculously early to watch it all on TV. Ah, it’s all spectacle and nonsense, really, but it’s all good fun. This was the last page of my landscape Stillman and Birn ‘Alpha’ sketchbook and what a book it has been. It’s a little larger than my usual size but the paper and the format have been superior, really nice quality, smooth but not too smooth, and takes watercolour very nicely, but really allows for detailed penwork without feeling like I’m chipping away at granite. Of course that is also the uni-ball signo pen I’m using, the old micron pigma was a bit harder work but that’s because I’m tired of nibs that wear down in general. I did originally plan to colour this in, but I liked the pen version so much when I’d finished that I decided against it.

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I moved onto the first page of my new sketchbook for the next building. After a year off, I went back to the old favourite, the watercolour Moleskine. This was to be #13 in that particular series. However, as has been pointed out in reviews by fellow urban sketcher and watercolour-Moley fan Liz Steel, the paper in these newer “Art-Plus” Moleys is…different. It isn’t quite the same. Grainier, yes a little, but also different sides of the paper have different textures, like a front and a back, a common feature in lots of watercolour paper but not in the older watercolour Moleskines. Still, I haven’t had too many problems with them and I still love the format and pocket at the back…but somehow it’s not quite the same. By the end of the book I’m sure I’ll be totally used to it and ready for Moley 14…we’ll see!
westminster central hall sm
Anyway what I sketched next was the big domed building across the street from Westminster Abbey, known as Methodist Central Hall (or Central Hall Westminster). This took under an hour, paint included, stood in the shade of a tree while local workers lunched. For my next sketch, I jumped on a tube and went down to Sloane Square… to be continued…
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soho lyrical

The Lyric, Soho
One of the missions I set myself was to draw old pubs in Soho. Pubs…they are a dying breed these days. Remember pubs? they’ll say one day. Pubs were great. So many are closing down, old ones like the Nellie Dean, an old favourite of mine, and those that remain are often modernising, sterilising, losing their uniqueness. I say that, but still I managed to find many great old pubs in London, and people still drink a lot, despite the massive hikes in the price of a pint. Wow, beer is dear now. But for me its the existence of the pub, and the old architecture of the British public house, that I’m drawn to (I actually don’t like a lot of beer in London these days, I prefer the brews of the west coast of America). While back, I did stop by an old favourite, the Ship in Wardour Street, for a great evening. This pub, The Lyric in Great Windmill Street (http://www.lyricsoho.co.uk/), sits on the cusp of Theatreland, and while I’ve never actually been in I have walked by many times wanting to sketch it. So on my first day back I made sure I drew it. I stood opposite on an extremely narrow pavement while delivery vans stopped and started and a local workman, presumably some sort of security guard, I wasn’t sure, stood chatting away on the phone the entire time, joking with his colleague about something called a “jelly cab” whatever that is. He was friendly, and asked if I was an architect, I said no, they work longer hours than me. I did most of the inkwork and some of the paint, but finished off the paintwork later. It is nice taking sketches home to colour in, it gives me more time to sketch other things! Which I promptly did. Anyway I am very pleased with the result and here is another London pub added to my collection. I love Soho.
The Lyric, Soho

and said goodbye to the circus

Piccadilly Circus

I’ve been away for a little while…but now I am back. Jetlagged, with lighter pockets. For just over three weeks I was back in my native city of London to see family and friends, and to feel like a tourist. I even organized a sketchcrawl. I did a LOT of sketching, so I will undoubtedly be scanning and posting for the next month or so, but it’s about time to get started already. On my first morning in London, I awoke bright and early (well it was not quite bright yet), did a panorama sketch of my old street from my old window (to scan and post later), and hopped on a train down to Piccadilly Circus, the crazy traffic and tourist filled pulse in the middle of London. I generally dislike Piccadilly Circus, especially now that there are no big record stores worth going there for, but they do have that big Waterstones bookstore a little further down Piccadilly, and of course they have Lillywhites. That is a huge sports store, to which I primarily go to look at the massive collection of football shirts (you may not know this, but I’m a football shirt nerd, oh you did know? Oh yeah, see all my previous posts this summer…). I got down there early, before it opened, and took a spot outside their big windows to sketch the Angel of Christian Charity, also known as the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, but known to Londoners and sign-posts as Eros. I usually avoid this spot due to overcrowding but at this time of the morning it was immeasurably more pleasant. I sketched in a large spiral-bound Stillman and Birn Alpha book, and stood looking towards Regent St and Shaftesbury Avenue. After a while, some police officers showed up, dressed in bright yellow overcoats. They were just hanging around, and then more came. Some photographers also started gathering, and then more police, and then two officers mounted on horseback, all in a jovial mood, all happy to pose with tourists. There must have been over forty police officers there, and they all stood together and said “cheese, guv” and had their photo taken in front of the statue (“Ello, ello, ello, what’s goin’ on Eros then?” I nearly quipped). I had alreayd drawn most of it by then but I did add a couple of coppers for good measure. A young woman from Germany, holidaying in London, stopped and watched me sketch for a while, even sitting down when I crouched over to add the paint. I was in a good mood for my first out-and-about sketch in London, and when I was done I said goodbye to the circus, popped into Lillywhites to look at all the new football shirts, and set off to sketch the narrow dusty streets of Soho. 

the once and future queen

dairy queen former location
One of the buildings in Davis I have sketched a few times is the Dairy Queen, on 5th St. The DQ was very popular here, with its iconic sign, a place to take grandkids for an ice cream, and I even sold a couple of my sketches of it. Finally of course, it closed down, and the site has been bought by a developer. However, the developer has not torn the whole thing down, as you might expect, but has kept the shell of the building, specifically its iconic curving roof. I can’t wait to see how this ends up. When I heard about this recently I took myself back up to this spot on 5th St, which I never pass as much any more now I live in north Davis, and sketched from across the road. Goodbye Dairy Queen. I’ll probably sketch this site again before they’re done redeveloping.

By the way, here’s how it used to look…

dairy queen davis

moving, keep on moving

our new house
One of the other reasons I’ve been so busy lately is because we just moved house. Still in Davis, not even far from our old place but moving al the same. I love every single aspect of moving. The boxing up of every single thing no matter how miscellaneous, carrying heavy boxes of books, moving furniture, going through all of your things and saying, do I need this, do I need that, and then saying yes I do, remember the last time we moved? All the cleaning, taking down the curtains, filling in the holes where the pictures hung, figuring out if the furniture you have will fit in the shape of new place, all of the stress thinking about it which makes you really ill for a week before the move, I love it, it’s my favourite thing ever, even better than airports. Not really. Two weeks after the move we’re still unpacking, fitting into the new space, getting used to the quirks, but it’s a nicer place and I like it. Before we left our old place I decided to sketch it. So now we live in our fourth place in Davis since 2005. A new chapter!
our old house

decks appeal

Wyatt DeckAnd so, finally back to posting some sketches, if I can even vaguely remember what that feels like. The World Cup is over! Gone for another four years, what will we do? It’s not like there is any other football to watch in that entire time. Haha. I enjoyed going over the kits so much I may even torture you all with more, from the clubs, as many as I can possibly do. Mwahahaha. And football-puns? You ain’t, as they say, seen nothing yet. Oh, alright I’ll lay off the puns for a while, it is pre-season after all. I need to train for a few weeks to get my football-punning back up to match fitness for the new Premier League season starting in August. Expect to see me jogging around the green belts of Davis trying to make punchlines out of Pocchetino and find an angle on Van Gaal (you see? Much training needed). But in this time of world-cup-football-ness, amid all the dodgy haircuts and the acrobatic goalkeeping and the constant non-stop biting (it was only the one bite, wasn’t it?), I did manage to do some sketching. This was a panorama I did over two lunchtimes at the Wyatt Deck in the UC Davis Arboretum. Technically it was three lunchtimes but on one of them I didn’t do any sketching as I forgot my pen (doh!). I had intended to add paint to it as well but I decided I preferred it like this. I listened to a History podcast while sketching and it was a man who was a South American football historian talking (among other things) about the great Uruguay team of the 20s and 30s, the River Plate team of the 50s, and what football meant/means in terms of national identity among the nations in South America, how historically it was able to strengthen their differences while also presenting them with an opportunity to announce themselves globally (at the Olympics and later the World Cup). Very interesting. It’s funny how what you listen to when you sketch gets so involved with how you see the sketch from thereon – none of you will see any reference to Paraguay’s style of play or the founding of great Brazilian clubs by British immigrant workers in this drawing of some wooden buildings at the Arboretum, but I see those great south American football names in every line drawn. Except in the middle, which will always be about Batman, because I was listening to another podcast by that point which talked a lot about the Tim Burton Batman movie. Again, you can’t see that, but I do. Now I always wonder what was really going through artist’s minds when they were creating their work. I look at one of Mondrian’s compositions and I think, I wonder if he was thinking about getting a cat and in between colouring in those squares whether he went down to the pet shop to look at kittens, I don’t know. You don’t know. Or when Van Gogh painted that portrait of himself with no ear, maybe in fact he was listening to his annoying unemployed next door neighbour practicing their singing really badly day in, day out, and he just subconsciously painted himself with no ear without even thinking about it, you just don’t know do you. Or when Damien Hurst was putting that sheep into the formaldehyde, maybe at the same time he was listening to his favourite gardening show on the radio? And now every time he sees that sheep he keeps thinking, ooh I’d better water the petunias when I get home. You just don’t know.

By the way, click on the image above and you’ll see a bigger version. What you won’t see is any reference to Boca Juniors or Bruce Wayne.