Haven’t done too much sketching in 2016 yet though…
This is the inside of a Ryanair flight to the south of France. It took off from Stansted Airport on a warm Thursday morning, bound for Marseille. It had two big wings, it flew in the sky and I don’t need to write in such an obvious style, I’m not Dan Brown. Perhaps I’m nervous because I am finally posting my sketches from my trip to France. It was a big deal to go back to France this year, because I was going back to two different cities that mean a lot to me, but both of which I hadn’t visited in over a decade. Since I moved to California, France has become significantly further away.
I decided a while ago that I was done with the in-flight sketch, that no longer held an interest for me, but since I was off to France to sketch and sketch and sketch, I wanted to keep my pens sharp. The cities I was headed for, by the way, were Aix-en-Provence and Strasbourg. Aix was where I was going first, the ancient capital of Provence in the deep French south. I spent a year there between 2001 and 2002 which ultimately turned out to be a pretty pivotal period (spoiler alert, I met my future wife there, and ended up in America). On the other hand Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, where many people still speak a German-related language called Alsacian, was a trip much further back in time. I first went to Strasbourg twenty years ago in 1995 on an exchange trip between my college and a Lycee there, and totally fell in love with the city (I was a teenager, it was a good looking city). Besides, the 3rd Urban Sketchers France National Meeting was taking place there, and I really wanted to rub shoulders with the French sketching community, and test just how low the depths of my French language skills have sunk this past decade or so (spoiler alert, pretty low). This was a solo trip, a sketching trip, and I was pretty excited. Allez les Bleus!
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.
In a review of transatlantic airlines, here is all you need to know: United give you beef, Virgin give you Love Hearts.
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!
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 teleportation 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.
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!).
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.
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.