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.
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.
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!
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…
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.
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…
And 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.