My son was having friends over for a playdate, so that was my cue to get a few hours of quiet sketch-time downtown last Sunday afternoon. After filling my stomach with a large burrito, I stood out on F St to draw a panorama which includes the Old City Hall (now City Hall Tavern) and the little package delivery shop. I stood next to the bins near the Paint Chip art shop. I listened to podcasts about (a) History and (b) the X-Men. After two hours of drawing all the ink (I coloured it in at home) I stopped, and went for a pint at de Vere’s, where I read (a) a magazine about history and (b) an X-Men comic. They both make perfect sense now.
Why do I like sketching panoramas in January? Perhaps it is because I am so busy and it is a way of concentrating on something else for a while, more complicated than a smaller one-page drawing, with a bit of meat that I need to come back to and maybe colour in at home (or next day on site in this case). Or maybe it’s because sketching in January in Davis is usually sunny, not that cold, and with leafless trees giving a better overall view (I don’t really like drawing foliage). Maybe because I liked last year’s panoramas so much (I made lots of mugs of them, you can buy them here) that I’m just trying to recapture past glories, trying to one-up myself from what I’ve done before. Maybe it’s because panoramic sketches, filling the whole spread as they do, eliminate that white space that nags at me in my books (I like to draw maps or maybe write pointless barely legible notes on the unused pages). Perhaps it is vanity, I like how they look when I am showing them to people, in person or in shows when they are laid out on a table, even though on my sketchblog they look much so smaller, and you have to click on them to see more detail. Or maybe it’s because of that, knowing that to see it you have to make that extra effort of clicking once with your finger, maybe it makes it worth more? I think it’s a mixture of all of these things. I draw more in January than in December, like despite being busy in my day job I am trying to fill some sort of post-Christmas void, the decorations are down so I’d better draw stuff. In truth it is the counter-balance; January is traditionally my busiest work month (working with graduate program admissions) and being busy gets my creative juices flowing, so it’s a kind of release.
This sounds very much like I am trying to justify my constant need to be drawing stuff. “What is it for?” is the most common question you get when out sketching. It’s a natural question, but one which often makes us the sketcher feel nervous and uncomfortable, as if we’re being put on the spot (which we usually are not, except in rare cases, and I’m not going to go into those here). There is always this nagging feeling that the world at large expects us to be doing something for a clear purpose, that we have to prove that this drawing outside thing we do is of actual value (I have actually had someone recently actually say to me while complimenting me on my work that the world doesn’t see art as having any actual importance. Thanks a lot, those paper snowflakes didn’t just make themselves you know). This is almost always not the case and people are almost always genuinely interested and even inspired by seeing you out there drawing, and if they are artists themselves they will let you know and maybe that evening they will go home and draw something amazing. If you are someone who is intimidated by drawing outside, as I once was (and occasionally still am), for fear of interaction with people who may witness your work in its raw unrefined state, just remember that your very presence out there creating and observing is making the world a better place, and most people really do see it that way. “What is it for?” When asked this question, the answer is always, always that it’s because you love to draw. Regardless of what it is really for, commissions, learning about architecture, spying etc, that is always the best (and truest) answer.
As I was drawing this, which is of the Chemistry buildings at UC Davis (I always see fire trucks outside, which is a bit worrying) sketched from Bainer Hall, home of Engineering, (that sculpture in front is related to something to do with engineering, how’s that for detail, I only walk it past it every day of my life), one of the janitorial staff on campus stopped to chat, as he was emptying the bins, a nice chap he was, very interested in drawing. He told me that he draws too, and also does woodwork, that was his personal creative release. I”m always well impressed by woodworkers, but I think he recognized straight away the need to create, and though he asked at first if I was studying art, when I said I was a staff member he understood right away, no need to ask “what’s it for” because it was just for the love of it. That was nice. I told him that one of the things I like to draw on campus are the bins, I never leave them out to make something look nicer, in fact I vehemently keep them in to the point of obstinacy. This brief interaction made me smile, and so having had my one allowable interaction while sketching I put my headphones back on and pulled down my hat so that nobody would bother me again (only joking) (kind of).
This was actually sketched over three lunchtimes, standing up, the first being only about twenty-five minutes (I had to eat), the second almost exactly an hour (I still had to eat, but I ate fast) and on the third day I added the paint, which took about two-thirds of my lunchtime, but I spent that sitting down. I was sitting down for almost the whole time while writing all this too and I’ve been here for a good hour already so it all evens out. There is another panorama ready to be scanned and posted, with one more on the way so stay tuned, there is more to come folks…
Another panorama. I like drawing panoramas as you can guess. This is probably coincidental but I also like a pan of Ramen noodles. This is down on G Street, Davis, down between 1st and 2nd Streets. G Street as you can tell was named after the letter “G”, probably short for “G. Whizz” who was of course a real person. Gordon Bennett was a real person too, no he actually was, no look it up. Where am I going with this? I’m not sure, but this was done on a cool Sunday afternoon early in the New Year, back in the heady days when you could still make resolutions and pretend you would stick to them. On the right there is my barbers, Razor’s Edge, formerly located on 3rd Street but now found down here after the building on 3rd and G was demolished (as you of course will remember from previous chapters. It’s ok, there won’t be a test). There is also a shaved ice shop called Vampire Penguin. I’m glad they shave the ice before they serve it, one thing I cannot stand is hairy ice. Except on an Ice Wizard? It’s ironic that you get shaved ice right next door to Razor’s Edge. Vampire Penguin though, now that’s an interesting name. Reminds me of that cartoon, Count Duckula. He of course was a duck which despite being of the bird family and rather fond of water is actually quite different from a penguin, so it’s not really the same at all. On the left, some kind of beauty place called Y2K, which of course is a reference to the year Y2K (don’t laugh, it’s an important year in the robot calendar, almost as important as the year 5J2X, which of course is like the robots equivalent of 1066). Thanks for stopping by, by the way. If you have read this far through the nonsense I just want to say thank you for coming by, for visiting my blog and looking at my drawings and reading (skim-reading) my writing. If you like panoramic sketches followed by nonsense I can assure you that there is more of this to come. I have at least two more panoramas already done, waiting in the wings. It’s actually all the rambling verbiage that follows it that takes me the longest time to come up with. On my old blog, from a million years ago on “20six”, whenever I would post a picture I would do the same but make the writing really small, in a tiny font, sometimes even in a kind of middle grey. Thanks again by the way if you have gotten this far. And this far too, and this far. If you read the first line and thought, “blah blah skip a few” and are just rejoining the text now, you’ve not missed much, I can tell you that I stood for about an hour and a half drawing this (aka “until my fingers got cold”), and then coloured it in at home. Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook, uni-ball signo and watercolour paints.
2015, the future. On New Year’s Day I had a day off. New Year’s Eve is always a bit unnecessary in my opinion these days, old fogey that I am becoming, just watching TV waiting for that awful pointless ball drop in New York City that actually happened three hours ago. God that is awful, isn’t it? Times Square on New Year’s Eve, in a massive crowd of people doing basically nothing, being forced to listen to the most awful bland TV music in the history of popular entertainment, if you happen to be watching on TV you also get treated to hours of the most awful TV presenter banter intermingled with nonsense about how Times Square in New York City on New Year’s Eve is somehow magical and amazing, well it is for you random celebrity pop singer, you have all the trappings of being a random celebrity pop singer, you don’t have to wait in a big crowd listening to you bawl on before some stupid ball comes down a stupid pole. And you know what? They didn’t even show the actual ball on the TV channel I was watching, like it must have been sponsored by the other side, was it? I bet it was. The fireworks if there were any must have been too because they were also lacking. Oh I watched the fireworks from London on YouTube, and London won New Year’s Eve this year. Anyway, if you’ve managed to read this far into my anti-NYC-NYE rant (Happy New Year, by the way), here is what I managed to sketch on the first day of 2015. I was in old town Sacramento, while my wife went to Arden to return some stuff, and I had about an hour and a half. I did most of the drawing on site, but finished the detailing and added the colour later at home. It was a lovely sunny day. I do remember the very first New Years that I was here in California, I remember having the exact same rant about the three-hours-ago nonsense on TV back in 2005-06, that was NINE YEARS AGO. I remember the news stations were asking people in Sacramento not to be shooting their guns up in the air on New Year’s Eve (a popular pastime apparently) because bullets, you know, come down again and could hurt people. I remember how stormy it was that year, how we had a lot of flooding in the area. I was new to America, still not working at that point, with Davis being all new and fresh and undiscovered. Anyway…this was done in the Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook, and yes, same as last year, I’m spending January doing panoramas. More to come…
This is the side of the soon-to-be-remodeled Freeborn Hall at UC Davis, with the Memorial Union building in the background. I sketched this one foggy autumnal lunchtime last week. I only wanted to add in a dash of colour, for the Fall season is in full flow here. Actually I wanted to colour in the whole thing but couldn’t be bothered, so before you applaud my effective limited use of colour, remember you are congratulating my laziness. Only kidding (kind of). With this drawing, I was really attracted to the shapes more than anything so I think it does work with just the lines and a splash of autumn. I am amazed I had never noticed this scene before, despite walking through it a million times. I had gotten off the bus one morning, listening to some music or other (I think it was Pimlico by David Devant) when it just framed itself in front of me, ready-made. Whoah, those angles, that composition, that unmistakable UC Davis look. If I hadn’t been in a hurry to get to the office I would have stopped and sketched it right then and there. The image rattled around in my head for a couple of days like an unbelievably good idea that I had to realize before someone else discovered it, or the building got demolished, until I finally found a lunchtime to cycle over and capture it. It took about a half hour to forty minutes to sketch it. I love how it turned out as well, a good example of how I like a line-only sketch to be.
Last Saturday was the 45th Worldwide Sketchcrawl, when hundreds of sketchers around the world embarked on sketchathons in their cities and towns. It was time for another ‘Let’s Draw Davis’ sketchcrawl – it had been a year since I organized the last one – and about seven of us met down at David Commons and sketched about town all day, before meeting up again at the E St Plaza. My first sketch was of the Boy Scout Hut, above, which sits across Richards Boulevard on First St, with the ‘art garage’ in the background there. (It’s called the ‘art garage’ because there’s a load of recently commissioned murals and art in there now by local artists; not me though, my drawings are a little too small!). The Boy Scout Hut is no longer used by the scouts, but is now part of the John Natsoulas Gallery.
I have sketched this stretch of E St before (above; click on the image for a larger view), but wanted to add this stretch of Davis to my collection of two-page full-colour panoramic spreads. Orange Court is an interesting little spot, which includes such local favourite spots as the Hotdogger, Haute Again, the Dumpling House (they still have the London Fish & Chips sign but I don’t know if they still do it; only ever ate there once, back in 2005 or 2006, it was ok but London fish & chips it wasn’t), and of course Sophia’s Thai Kitchen & Bar, whose curries are my total favourite in this town. Further down the street to the right is the Thai Canteen, who also do really nice food, quite different from Sophia’s, I especially like their green curry rice. Further down the road still are Sugar Daddies (they may be called something else now actually but it still says that in the window) who do amazing cupcakes and I love their Nutella Milkshake. Did I just say “Nutella Milkshake”? Yes I did, yes I did. Come to Davis.
The last sketch of the day (because the panorama took two hours, and I only did about two thirds the colour, finishing off the rest afterwards), was this quick sketch of the colourful front of Yeti Restaurant. I left it in black and white, partly because I used a pen which I knew would run with a wash (the previous sketches were in brown uni-ball signo um-151; this was in the black). I’ve never eaten there, but it’s in a good location on the E Street Plaza. The remaining sketchers from the day met up near here to look at each other’s sketchbooks, and that was nice to see how everyone had interpreted the town. It’s taken me a week to post (what a week it’s been, this depressingly busy October can’t end soon enough), but I’ll be putting them on the Sketchcrawl Forum shortly too. Why not check out the 45th Worldwide Sketchcrawl Forum, and see what everyone else in the world has been sketching? There’s a lot of great urban sketching out there!
By the way, here is the map I drew to give to all participants:
And we had stickers too…
(Click on image to get a bigger view) And now a return to posting, with something very special. While I was back in the UK, my family and I took a little jaunt across the Irish Sea to Dublin, capital of the Republic of Ireland. In case you were unsure. This was a big deal for me; my whole family is of Irish origin, with many of them being either from Dublin o having lived there, and the Irish thing was a big part of growing up in my corner of north London, in my family and community. I grew up around all forms of Irish music from the Wolfe Tones to, er, Daniel O’Donnell. I own a lot of Ireland football shirts, and a few Celtic ones too. I like my lemonade red. However, I’ve not been back to Ireland in a really long time. Seventeen years in fact, so I have long been overdue a visit. I have been told how much the place had changed in the past couple of decades, with the influx of money and the housing boom (and the subsequent recession), and they even have motorways there now. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Dublin, and my mum, who came with us, hadn’t been to Dublin in even longer. We were then very pleased to see that, yes lots of things had modernized and there were way more people and traffic than years ago, but it was still very much Dublin, there’s no changing that! One evening, my mum and I got fish and chips from a local chip shop, where a group of kids, aged about nine or ten, just started chatting away to us all friendly like about this and that, as if they’d known us for years; that was the Dublin I remember! It was my wife’s first ever trip to Ireland, and my son’s as well, in fact the trip there was all his idea. We stayed near the Liffey not far from Christchurch, it was nice talking with my mum about various great-grandparents that lived not far from there; we of course do still have a lot of family in Dublin but haven’t seen them in decades, wouldn’t know them now. We did a lot of walking about, there were crowds, but it was just nice to be back in Ireland after all these years. My mum and I joked about the characters that used to go up and down O’Connell Street years ago, long gone now. On the first night though, everyone was exhausted, so by myself I walked a block around the corner to the Brazen Head pub to do my first pub sketch in Ireland – my one and only sketch in Dublin, as it happened. It was a lovely place, too.
The Brazen Head proudly calls itself “Ireland’s Oldest Inn”, established in 1198. It has a pretty good claim too, and I’m basing that on at least one person saying so, so it must be true. The present building is from 1754 and the pub is referred to as far back as 1613 but it was built on the site of a tavern dating from 1198, apparently. It is said that Irish heroes Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone, Daniel O’Connell and Michael Collins drank here (not at the same time necessarily), as well as literary figures such as James Joyce and Brendan Behan. Ah, I know this type of factoid from my London tour-guide days, the old ‘Dickens used to drink there’ story; Dickens drank everywhere, there was barely a pub he didn’t sink a pint in. I believe a lot of people came here though, and it is still popular – it was filled with a good mix of tourists and locals. I sat and sketched one of the bars (there are several bar-rooms) from a little table opposite. Live music wafted in from the bar-room next-door to this, There was an enormous amount to draw – for some reason there were a large amount of souvenirs from U.S. police departments (I can’t think of the connection between American police departments and the Irish). I had an Irish cider, which, given that my stomach was feeling very unusual all day, turned out to be a pretty bad idea. I finished up my intensely detailed sketch without adding any paint and wandered home (an apartment a block away) along the Liffey, feeling pretty sick. And I wondered, warmly, how many of my forebears stumbled along this very river feeling this very way (presumably after more than a single pint). I wonder how many of them were sketchers?
It feels weird that this ended up being my only sketch in Ireland, having waited all these years to come back, but it was a pretty busy family trip, we rushed here and there about Dublin and took the train down to the beach at Bray, and then flew back to London. I did go back to the Brazen Head the second night we were there with my wife to watch some of the live Irish music, a bunch of guys surrounded by tourists sat on bar-couches playing traditional music. Sure, the sort you get in Irish-themed pubs everywhere, but this was in your actual Ireland and that was good enough. This was a brief trip, but it was really nice to be back. And I even stocked up on my favourite chocolate bar, Cadbury’s Tiffin. Erin go Bragh!