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!
Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Pence Gallery’s annual art Auction, as one of the contributing artists. The wealth of amazing work on display was amazing, as always. The Pence is a great place and they work tirelessly to promote excellence in local art. I met a lot of nice people there, and really enjoyed watching the auction. I sketched at the back, stood next to the dessert table (wow, amazing chocolates!). The auctioneer is very humourous, and very god at getting the crowd to buy art (though every time he said “going once, going twice,” I really wanted to say “c’mon baby don’t be cold as ice…”) This is the third year in a row I’ve sketched it, and I think I’ve captured it now. Below, the view from the patio outside. A very warm night, people talking, art-lovers buying, music playing. One of my favourite spots in Davis. Oh, and both my pieces sold! I honestly hadn’t expected them to this time (I’ve sold my pieces in the previous three years) so I was pretty buoyed, and went home pretty happy. I had been coaching my son’s U7 soccer team (the Red Foxes) that afternoon, it had been a good game, so all in all a pretty nice Saturday. Many thanks to Natalie Nelson and the good people at the Pence for inviting me to take part and attend this very fun event.
After the day at Warwick Castle, we drove down through the countryside to Stratford-upon-Avon, a place synonymous with William Shakespeare, because all of the signs in this entire section of England say so. Stratford is a lovely place, in a lovely part of the country. When we got to the house in which Shakespeare was born and grew up, I had to sketch it of course. Yes, I’m a tourist and very proud of it. After this, we drove through the Cotswolds, which are lovely, before driving back to London. So now I’ve been somewhere else I’ve never been before!
This is Denmark Street, just off of Charing Cross Road in Central London. I sketched it over a period of two and a half hours one Wednesday afternoon, having taken the morning off from sketching (I was up in the loft searching for my old collection of Fighting Fantasy books), and added the rest of the colour later on. Denmark Street is famous within British musical history as our very own ‘Tin Pan Alley’, home of music publishers and recording studios, and later of music stores. There are lots of guitar shops, as well as other instruments of course, and is also home to the famous 12 Bar Club. The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, all are associated with this street in some way (the Pistols actually lived here for a bit). Not only music – the comic shop Forbidden Planet was founded at number 23, where that red awning is in the picture now. It’s around the corner on Shaftesbury Avenue now. This place is steeped with history and it’s a street I have always had a lot of love for, being a bit guitar-obsessed when I was younger (it took me years to actually pluck up the courage to enter one of those stores though, very intimidating to a shy teenager!). I actually bought my current acoustic guitar from Macari’s, though it was from their other branch, on Charing Cross Road, back in 1996.
So when I heard that Denmark Street was under threat of demolition, all part of the Crossrail redevelopment that has completely destroyed the junction of Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road, I knew I had to sketch it while it still looked like this. Many of these buildings are ‘listed’, historic buildings of importance. Whether they will be knocked down or just somehow modernised is not clear, what it will mean for the historic character of Tin Pan Alley is also unclear, will the music stores be forced out in favour of latte shops and corporate office space is also not clear, but let’s face it. If Denmark Street loses its character it will be yet another blow to London.
Here’s my sketchbook. I used the watercolour (“art-plus”) Moleskine, with a uni-ball signo um-151 brown-black pen. Oh, and here is a map showing where Denmark Street is.
And finally, I thought you might like this. As you may know, I like drawing fire hydrants, mainly because I find them exotic and foreign, for we don’t have them in the UK. Well, actually we do, but they are underground, with metal coverings on the pavement. Here is one I sketched on Denmark Street. So there you have it!
Parliament Square! Click on the image for a closer view. After sketching the Royal Court I went back to Westminster, and stood in Parliament Square to sketch a panorama of the Palace of Westminster, that is, the Houses of Parliament. I know what you’re thinking, I spent a lot of time sketching the tourist attractions this time and not enough time sketching little newsagents or hidden side-streets, but they are all to come, don’t worry. When I passed through the frankly impossible Parliament Square I thought, well why not. There really is a lot of traffic around this square, and not many crossings to get into the middle; it’s never been one of my favourite places. But in the golden sunshine, what a spectacular view! When I was a tour guide I loved the turn into this square, it was almost cinematic with Big Ben (yes I know it’s the bell) and centuries of history unfolding all at once. We’ve had a parliament here since the thirteenth century, though most of the Palace of Westminster – including the Clock Tower (that houses the bell Big Ben), now officially called “Elizabeth Tower”, being renamed in 2012 after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – was built in the 1800s by Sir Charles Barry after the old palace burned to the ground. The oldest part of the building is Westminster Hall, built by King William II (William Rufus) in around 1097. That’s the part with the big sloping roof.
The square is, naturally, a popular place for protest movements. On the left is Parliament Street which leads to Whitehall, many of the British government buildings are located here. Westminster Bridge leads off, over the Thames; in the distance there you can see the Shard, tallest building in Europe. I’ve included the statue of Winston Churchill which, I was told when training as a tour guide, is actually electrified with a low voltage to prevent pigeons from sitting on his head. “We will fight them on the statues.” It’s hidden away a bit but you can just make out the statues of Oliver Cromwell, former Lord Protector, a strange choice for a statue outside Parliament because despite leading Parliamentary forces in defeating the Royalists in the Civil War, he did also shut Parliament down as and when it suited him too. On the right hand side you can just about make out St. Margaret’s Church, the parliamentary church; on my old tour I would joke that it was a place where Tory and Labour MPs would go and pray together but not the Lib-Dems because they haven’t a prayer, tee-hee, well times have changed now haven’t they. This church backs onto Westminster Abbey.
Here’s a close-up. I worked in Westminster Hall once back in the 90s, serving tea as part of a catering job I was working on (it if I recall rightly a Jewish single’s night organized by the MP Oona King). I remember walking about the amazing building, seeing where William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace was tried before his execution, wandering about the old stone corridors and hearing voices echoing down the stairwells. I went to the toilet, and remember the booming sound of Big Ben making me jump, opening the window and seeing the large clock face right there. I do love this old building.
Here’s a map showing whereabouts I stood. After this, my drawings were done for the day, and I spent the rest of the afternoon mooching around bookstores.