Tag Archives: travels

up above the streets and houses

Whenever an urban sketcher flies he or she is compelled to sketch the plane. You’re sat there for hours inside this huge metal perspective trick, usually with little else to occupy your mind than movies you don’t really want to see. Our flight to London was mostly ‘night-time’ (lights out for sleeping, though daytime outside), but I did get the sketch in, while my son coloured in a superhero colouring book that I drew for him. This year, trans-Atlantic flights are a LOT more expensive than they’ve been since I moved out here, so we flew Virgin Atlantic, who are slightly more expensive than United, but are about a million miles more worth it. The flight itself was smooth and pleasant, the cabin crew helpful and amiable, and the entertainment system, as always with Virgin, was top quality, though I didn’t watch anything myself other than an Alan Partridge special. The food was very tasty, and plentiful. It was cramped of course, as all these flights are (I love how at the end they make you walk through first class, to show you what you could have enjoyed if you had just been a little richer). As you land, the Virgin crew come around and give you sweets, and not just any sweets, but Love Hearts. Virgin is the best.

Compare that to our United experience in 2012. Ouch. I vowed never to fly United again – rude, uncomfortable, poor entertainment (tiny screens, terrible movies), lack of food (by which I mean they ran out of everything except beef, which I cannot eat), rude (by which I mean the cabin staff slammed the beef dish onto my tray and told me I had to have it, and had no right to complain – all I had said was “no chicken or vegetarian?”), the plane felt like it was falling apart, rude, the obnoxious smell of the toilets wafting through the cabin and – most of all – rude. I don’t like flying at the best of times, but Grrr, United. I don’t want no beef. I put their rudeness down to the fact that City had just pipped them to the League. At least it got my drawing energy fired up, as you can see from last year’s sketches.

United SFO-LHR
United LHR-SFO

In a review of transatlantic airlines, here is all you need to know: United give you beef, Virgin give you Love Hearts.

get to portland

steel bridge, portland
This weekend I am going to be in Portland! The one in Oregon, not the one with the Lighthouse and the Bill and the Fear of Rabbits. Just a weekend away sketching, food-carts, micro-brews, book/comic-shops, sketching. And bridges, I must sketch bridges. And old signs. I was last there for the first Urban Sketching Symposium in 2010 and loved it, but didn’t get to explore as much as I would have liked. I never even had a single Voodoo Donut. So I will be remedying all of that, and I don’t care how much it rains (after this long hot dry Davis summer, a bit of rain would be welcome*)

So, any sketching/local-beer/food-cart/comic-shop tips would be welcome!

Also, if you are Portland-based and fancy meeting me for some sketching I will be meeting the some of the Portland Urban Sketchers this Saturday Oct 27 for some sketching around the Saturday Market in the morning, and then perhaps some bridges and river (or some food carts or some old town) in the afternoon. We will meet at 10:00am at Floyd’s Coffee, on NE Crouch St. I am looking forward to it. They have a great group of sketchers in Portland, and were one of the original ‘regional’ Urban Sketchers blogs to be set up.

Also, on Sunday evening I’ll be going to Dr.Sketchy’s Anti-Art-School event on SE Morrison, at 7:00pm. I’ve never been to one of these before so it will be intriguing. Details about that can be found on their Facebook page. There will apparently be pirates to draw. Something different to fire hydrants and bridges!

PDX here I come! If you see me, say hello.

*that said it finally started raining in Davis yesterday after many months, and there was a tornado warning!

here am i sitting in a tin can


I think I still have some Lisbon sketches (and a few London ones) yet to show you but in the meantime I’ll fast-forward to the air-travel. I sometimes wish that airports would only happen to other people, or that heathrow airportteleportation devices could be invented a bit more quickly. Until that happens, air travel is the only way I’m getting around the planet. So be it.

I must say that I actually enjoyed flying with US Airways. The planes were comfy with lots of leg-room (better than Virgin, BA and United), even on the domestic flight. I had to change planes, sure, but there are worse places to change than Philadelphia airport, and I was able to fly back into near-to-home Sacramento rather than the miles-away San Francisco.

A word of warning to any flying urban sketchers though – occasionally, just occasionally, your micron pen will burst in mid-air leaving a splat of pure black mess all over your page (and all over you if you’re not careful). I left the mess on there, and in fact blew it about a bit to make an interesting shape, and just drew around it (see top drawing). It just adds to the atmosphere after all, though it looks a bit like a Dementor is serving the coffee.

Prior to getting on that flight, I sketched the last page of my London/Lisbon moleskine, a drawing of the plane itself. and what should be in front of it? A day-glo fire hydrant! since they’re unusual to see in England I was happy to have spotted it. I feel a bit like Bill Oddie sometimes, if Bill Oddie liked fire hydrants and had red hair.

I tell you one thing about Heathrow, for some reason Terminal 1 no longer has a football shirt shop. I was looking for ages for that, and had to make do with looking at William & Kate mugs at the Harrods shop, toy underground trains at the Hamley’s shop and what seemed like one of the last chain record stores in Britain, Heathrow’s branch of HMV, where I picked up (appropriately) the Rocky box-set on dvd for like eight quid. Philadelphia airport has Rocky t-shirts and Clubber Lang shot-glasses and stuff, but didn’t have that, so round one to LHR. 


I was pretty exhausted by the time of my final flight (the sixth of the trip), listening to a young guy in the aisle opposite talking to an older lady about all the places he’d visited in Europe, before putting my headphones on, turning up the music and trying to chip my way through A Dance with Dragons (spoiler alert, GRR Martin fans, I’m still none the wiser on this series; I think the butler did it, but GRR Martin is yet to introduce the all-important butler character who will be more important than all the characters you’ve followed for five books, and then kill him off just as you start to wonder if reading his chapters was worth it…). Anyway, after all this travelling, all this sketching, it was nice to get off the plane and be back with my family again.

getting to where you should be going

sacramento to philadelphia
The first few of a good many “travelling” sketches. The first above was sketched on the flight from Sacramento to Philadelphia. I must say US Airways were pretty good. The last time I flew with them (to Vegas in February) the plane was small and couldn’t carry the weight of all its passengers. The ones I took for these longer journeys on the other hand were modern and spacious, and more than capable of carrying a few extra big-macs. When I got to Philadelphia airport, I had more than five hours to occupy myself. There are only so many airport stores to look in and departure lounge seats to draw, so I took the train into downtown Philadelphia, a very grand East Coast city with nice yellow traffic lights and ornage fire hydrants (wait for the next post!).

philadelphia train

Finally I left Philly, and got my plane back home across the Atlantic. I didn’t watch any of the offered movies, but I did play a few games of chess against the airplane computer. And beat it almost every time (except for one in which I did all I could to get a stalemate, and I got it – I aint losing to the back of a chair). Sleeping was a little more difficult. It always is. I can fall asleep on a five minute bus ride, and miss my stop, but put on a flight across the Atlantic and I’m like a Bizarro Rip van Winkle.

philly to london

go tell it on the mountain

mt shasta, from weed airport

Sketches in my little red moleskine (I like to carry a smaller book for these very quick more scribbly sketches now) on the trip up to Oregon last Friday. It’s a long hot journey, and we usually have to stop once or twice. One place we like to get out and stretch our legs is at the Weed Airport (yes, it’s really called Weed, and boy do they make a deal out of their mildly amusing name), beneath the most incredible mountain I’ve ever seen (perhaps even more so than Mont St. Victoire), Mount Shasta. It’s a hundred degrees on the first day of July, so it’s refreshing to see so much snow on the peak. Sketchbooks out. Of course, I now share my paints with my son, so he likes to get his own stamp on my sketchbook now. There is his version of the mountain and the sun and the plane just below there. Beside it, a windsock, you gotta draw the windsock.

mt shasta by lukewindsock at weed airport

in car to oregon

leavin’ on a jet plane

Happy New Year! I got back into Davis today, after two and a half weeks in snowy England. I’ve never seen a winter like it in London, but I still managed to do some sketching, though probably less than usual. The scanning and posting will be an ongoing process. Here’s a good place to start: my first and last sketches of the trip, both on BA jumbo jets, drawn in my Moleskine diary.
flying British Airways to London

Here’s the thing: I hate flying. Not in a BA Baracas “fool aint gettin me in no plane sucker” way. I hate airports, the ever-decreasing baggage allowances,  packing suitcases, Heathrow, overhead lockers, the toilets, the engine noise, the fact it takes me two days to get over the ear-popping thing and I hate that sleeping on a plane is practically impossible. Flying is not my favourite thing, but it’s a necessary necessity. Carbon footprint my bottom. 

Below is the sketch I did while waiting to leave London yesterday, New Year’s Eve. You can sense the dread.  

leaving London behind, New Year's Eve

And so it is a new year. In fact today is 1-1-11, which must be significant. New Year’s Resolutions? I have no idea about that, but I had three doughnuts for breakfast. Perfect jetlag cure. Art goals? Just keep on going, keep on drawing everything around me.

2010 was an interesting year for sure, and very full on art-wise. Some interesting projects, some interesting travels and of course the Portland Urban Sketching Symposium in the middle of it all, spurring the creativity of the rest of the year. We held a couple of great sketchcrawls in Davis in the Fall, and a third ‘Let’s Draw Davis’ crawl will take place on January 22 to coincide with the worldwide sketchcrawl. There are more fun things happening soon as well so I’ll keep you posted.

But for now I’ll just say happy new year, I hope 2011 is filled with fun and if you haven’t yet taken up sketching as a way to record your world, why not do so now? It’s so much fun!

an afternoon around pacific grove

centrela hotel, pacific grove
While people who nap take naps, the people who sketch go out and sketch. It’s my way of napping, and for someone who likes drawing big old houses, Pacific Grove is like a dream. There were so many to choose from, and such little time, that I settled on this big green hotel, the Centrela. The ocean fog was descending a little and making the world feel damp, but that’s partly what I came there for, from the hot dry Sacramento Valley. When I was finished sketching this, I spoke to a man who was from South Harrow. Small world, huh. Not that I’m from Harrow of course, no no I’m from Burnt Oak, but you know, London/Middlesex connection.

another Pacific Grove fire hydranta Pacific Grove fire hydrant

I have a thing about fire hydrants, as you know. So I took the time to sketch some. I like the little one with the red top. I understand that the colours on top of the fire hydrants have something to do with water pressure? That’s what I heard, and I’m not going to let the ability to just look it up quickly on Google distract me from finding out if it’s true or not. I think of them as little characters, with little Smurf hats, guarding the street corners like gargoyles.

a mermaid at pacific grove

And here is a mermaid. You didn’t know mermaids existed, did you. Well, this is proof, isn’t it (not that it would stand up in court). She was lolling outside a boutique on Lighthouse Avenue, covered in seashells and beads. I wanted to ask if there existed types of mermaids with the fish bit on top and the legs on the bottom (I think I saw that in Red Dwarf once).

a cute little house

pacific grove little housepacific grove little house

pacific grove little house

We took a few days family time away in a cute little house in Monterey – Pacific Grove, to be precise, down on the California coast. After the non-stop sketchathon of Portland it was just what I needed – not that I stopped sketching, of course.

It really was a cute little house, but just right for us. the beach was a shortish walk away, and playing on the sand was so relaxing. Having spent so much time around architects, I took a slightly more technical apprach to building sandcastles, and constructed irrigation channels beside them so that the incoming tide would just wash around them like a moat. Yeah, that didn’t last long; King Canute I am not. I hadn’t built sandcastles in years.

This cute little house did have a strict ‘no sand’ policy, though – even though they charge quite hefty cleaning fees per stay, they still wanted to see no evidence of beach activity whatsoever. Perhaps it clogs up their vacuum cleaners. Yet I couldn’t exactly strip off outside. I was quite paranoid having to tiptoe to the bathroom with sand in the toes and sand on my clothes. I can never clean it off at the beach itself. I always make the same mistake of using the sea to wash off the sand. That never works, folks.

fly away, pete

It’s going to take me some time to add all the pictures and tell all the stories about the 1st International Sketching Symposium in Portland. I am still ringing with excitement about all the things I learned and all the people I met, rubbing shoulders with 80 other people who ‘get it’, and all the creative ideas that started to explode from my head as soon as got on the plane back to Sacramento. I’ve not been this excited aboout creativity in many years, and am eager to charge headlong into exploring more ideas. However, it’s time to start scanning those drawings and documenting for those of you who weren’t able to be there. Matthew Brehm, in his excellent lecture on the history of sketching as a social activity, called it the “Woodstock of Sketching”, and I agree, it probably was (apart from the drugs, sex and nakedness aspect of course).

Anyway, in linear fashion, I’m going to start at the beginning, Sacramento Airport. 

sacramento airport
sacramento airport

I’m not a huge fan of airports, or flying in general. I was when I was younger, but nowadays I struggle a bit with them. Have you seen that film ‘Up in the Air’? Yeah, that guy’s not me. (Apart from the good looks of course; only joking).

On the plane, I sat by the window for the obligatory ‘view from the plane’ sketch. The stewardess brought round sodas and juices to the passengers. I forgot to ask for one without ice (they come in plastic cups rather than little cans, like on Virgin and other flights). When my diet coke came, fully iced, and i asked if it were possible to have it without ice, the stewardess gave me a look like i had asked her to tell the pilot to fly the plane upside down. Still, five minutes later she brought me a diet coke without ice.

“Where are you from?” the older guy next to me said suddenly, his wife looking on.
“Britain,” I said.
“People in Britain like their drinks warm?”
“No,” I sighed, “it’s because when I’m done with this drink I don’t want a cup of ice just sitting there.” Well, I don’t, I have nowhere to put it, and I really don’t like swallowing the ice. There’s no drain on the plane. It could get knocked over, onto my sketchbook, or my laptop. No explanation needed.

Apparently there was. “Well, in America,” he announced, his wife nodding, “people drink their sodas with ice in it.”
“No, mate,” I said, “it’s nothing to do with that. I don’t like ice.”
The man and his wife raised their eyebrows. I imagined they would be talking about this over dinner later with their friends, all drinking fully iced sodas, that crazy British guy who just doesn’t understand American customs.

I brought my own bottle of diet coke on the flight back. Some things are just too complicated to explain.

Symposium blog: http://pdx2010.urbansketchers.org/

oregon trail

a corvette in medford
We spent the long Independence Day weekend in Medford, Oregon, attending a large family reunion. I’ve been once before – it’s a long old journey through the northern reaches of California, up the valley and through the mountains, and Medford really does feel a world away from Davis. The heat came with us though, regularly hitting the low 100s. Right on the rural edge of town, horses, chickens, rabbits, and the sound of roosters crowing. I perched in the shade outside my wife’s grandma’s house, and drew my wife’s uncle’s Corvette, which had travelled even further than we had (in considerably more style), but stopped while adding the colours, just as a truckload of cousins-in-law pulled up. I think the ‘missing’ colours actually give the sketch a bit more strength; it is so easy to overdo it.

I did manage a drawing on the drive up too. I sat in the backseat for a little while to feed and generally entertain my 17-month old son, but he fell asleep, so I attempted some in-car sketching, which is pretty hard. You can just about see the mountainous forests whizzing by there.  

on the road to oregon