rear windows

Math Sciences Building UC Davis

This is the rear side of the building where I work on campus, the Mathematical Sciences Building, though I am no mathematical scientist myself. My window is one of those ones up on the top there, and I’ve surprisingly never drawn the building from this angle before, though I have drawn from those windows a few times. I was walking back from the vending machine in the next building over one lunchtime (the drink machine in our building is a bit temperamental when it comes to actually accepting your card payment; you tap the card, it gives it the whole “authorizing payment” wait, and then on some days it says yes, and on others it says nope, we’re not doing that today, cash only and good luck with that, what’s ‘cash’, why not write a check, why not barter some oxen, caveman”) (I always imagine the drink machine talking in a very stroppy voice, or being like Barry from High Fidelity). Anyway I was walking back that way and decided that this was a good angle to stop and sketch, with the bins in the front, and the sky was looking interesting. We’ve actually had rain lately, and now the weather is cooler, like you’d expect for November, but this has been an unusually hot year in the west. The big return to campus this Fall has been successful, although a good number of staff are still working partially remotely, a situation that looks like it will continue, but the students and faculty are back and all learning in-person again, and it seems to be going well. Hopefully it stays that way. I couldn’t go back to fully remote myself, I would need a better desk for one thing. And a better chair. I should probably get a new chair for work anyway. I’ve had my current office chair for sixteen years, and it was my predecessors’ chair, back in the long long ago, so it has seen some mileage, or whatever the sedentary non-moving version of mileage is, just “age” I guess. The wheels are coming off the chair a little bit but it still works. Some other people in our department are getting new chairs now and the prices have really gone up since before the pandemic, the guys who bring the chairs told me, it’s incredible. Same with a lot of things I guess. That’s 2021 for you. And it’s nearly over, this 2021, this strange successor to 2020, and then we will have 2022, the grandchild of 2020, with whatever fun that brings. I should probably get a new chair.

mechanical monsters

big machine on catalina

This behemoth of a machine was parked at the corner of our street last month during the seemingly endless roadwork project going on in our part of north Davis. There was no question, I had to sketch it. Look at this absolute beauty, this enormous street dinosaur robot creature. There was another one a little further down, I would have drawn them both but the wind was picking up. I imagined them battling in the street, the biggest robot battle since Sir Kill-a-Lot first killed a lot (little Robot Wars/Spaced reference there), those cones being their minions. One cone was stuck on the robot’s tail, those cones eh, they should make a movie about their japes. I do love a bit of detail though. It’s very relaxing to get stuck into a drawing like that. It was a Sunday afternoon.

still climbing the mountain

The Barn UC Davis

This is ‘The Barn’, a building on the UC Davis campus, I have drawn it before, I have commented on its simple name before, I’ve done it all before. I like the regularity of it all. At the same time…well, you know. I just like to draw. It’s ok to draw the same thing over and over. Look back at Cézanne’s sketchblog from his years in Aix-en-Provence, another city I have spent time in. “Got up, had a little walk down to Cours Sextius, walked past the Dog People, got a Pepsi Max from the Petit Casino, and then drew Mont St. Victoire YET AGAIN. But I’ve never drawn in on a Tuesday before, so. Be nice if they built some more mountains near here that I could draw TBH. Time for a Poulet-Frites. Hope I don’t step in Dog Poo again.” I’m sure he said all that. I was in Aix from 2001 to 2002, I met my wife there. I loved a Poulet-Frites. Stepping in Dog Poo was a common occurrence. ‘Stepping in Dog Poo’ was my ‘Mont St. Victoire’. What if we had decided to stay there, instead of moving to Davis? Instead of The Barn, you’d see a lot of drawings of that fountain with all the dolphins on it. I would speak better French though, probably. I have never picked up a Californian accent. One thing about The Barn, it does resemble the shape of Mont St. Victoire, a little bit. Well, it’s triangular.

I climbed Mont St. Victoire once. Twice actually, if you count the second time I did it. The first time I got all the way to the very top, where it is very windy, and climbed it alone. The second time I got the the almost-top, but let my friend Simon do the last few meters, while I just waited at a pretty nice overlook. It’s pretty high up. It’s a good achievement, climbing a mountain, especially a famous one that a famous artist has painted loads of times. I wouldn’t mind doing it again some time. 

This Saturday I’m going to run the Davis Turkey Trot – not quite climbing a mountain, but it feels like an achievement. I always look forward to the pancakes afterwards. And the shower, and the rest, and the day at home relaxing. When I relax, I do big projects. I’m currently making this year’s Advent Calendar, it’s going to be different from previous years. I’m painting Studio Ghibli characters onto plastic baubles using acrylic, which I’ve never done before, but I’m already done with that part of it. Next I need to decide how I’m going to assemble them, what goes inside each one, where I will put it in the house, and how it will go with all the previous years’ calendars. I always say, this year will be the last one I make. I was feeling pretty down yesterday afternoon. I’m not sure why, just that time of existence. Maybe I was thinking about London, I’ve been thinking about London a lot lately; I know someone who is going there for Christmas and he asked me for some London tips, so I basically wrote a two-sheet guidebook with illustrations, I can’t help myself. So, I’m missing London. Feeling a bit overwhelmed with work and soccer coaching and just getting up and down sometimes too, like I need a sketching trip. Tired of the pandemic, tired of worry, tired of my glasses steaming up over my mask more on these cold mornings when I go inside, just for the first few minutes but enough for me to feel a bit lost momentarily. When I was outside yesterday lunchtime I saw an older woman down the street take a call on her phone, sit down, and start bawling her eyes out on the phone, it must have been some bad news. That affected me too, whatever it was I felt so bad for her, but just made me think we’re all that phone call away from the same. You start thinking about everyone in your world, all over the world, and how far away you put yourself. I couldn’t wait for the day to be over so I could get home, and get painting again, and just sitting down and focusing on painting very small details onto a little plastic ball while listening to a talk by Brian Cox about the Universe or something, well it made me feel alright again, for a bit. I’m looking forward to the run this weekend though. It wasn’t that long ago that I couldn’t run at all, so it feels good to run a 5k race, especially since I’ve not done an organized race since before the pandemic. But mostly I’m looking forward to the pancakes afterwards. 

a whisker away

1st and E Davis

I popped downtown for lunch one Friday, and it was sunny, and people were out and about, and I decided to stand on the corner of 1st and E Streets and draw the outside if the John Natsoulas Center for the Arts, where they have the big cat over the doorway, and the big colourful dog made out of vinyl records. There was some sort of art event going on, people were coming and going in groups. I remember when they were building the big cat, as I was drawing a panorama of 1st St at the time, about five years ago or so. You’ve gotta love a big cat. It’s called the Cat Patio, by ‘The Mosaic Boys’ according to the Natsoulas website which calls it the ‘largest mosaic in northern California’. By a whisker, I suppose.

I’ve always been fascinated by the dog with all the vinyl records on it though. Young me would have probably been horrified at the waste of coloured vinyl which to me was the height of rarity, like picture discs or 12″ singles, until I discovered they aren’t that rare at all. I remember once actually going to Loppylugs Records in Edgware as a teenager getting into music and buying a red vinyl single from some band thinking wow, you don’t see many of these, if this band’s any good this will be a great addition to my Record Collection. Record Collection, hah. I gave up on an actual Record Collection at a young age. It seemed so important once didn’t it, to have a Record Collection, but in the end it turned out to be a bit pointless. I did enjoy going from second hand store to car boot sale looking for old original press Beatles records though, when I was 13, and I still have those along with the ones that my uncle Billy gave me. Those few important ones I got as a teenager, those were all I really needed. Anyway I got this one red vinyl single, by some duo with long hair whose name I can’t remember, and well, it was total pants. Utter pony. I was embarrassed even listening to it. I couldn’t even look at the photo of the duo on the back sleeve. The best thing to do with this red vinyl would have been to add it to another pile of shite coloured vinyl records and turn it into a massive sculpture of a dog that lights up at night, and evidently that’s what’s happened here. I have no doubt that the records on that dog were just as unlistenable as that one I got, so bad the only thing you can do is turn them into art. I really like the big colourful dog, even though you can only see a bit of it.

maybe the dreams that we dreamed are gone

Arboretum UC Davis

This is another lunchtime sketch from the UC Davis campus, this time down at the creek in the Arboretum, looking towards King Hall and, well, Mrak Hall, back there somewhere. You can just about make it out. It has been a while since I drew from this shaded path by the water, but it used to be a regular sketching spot for me, and I’d come back every year to draw as the scene changed. It looks a little bit unrecognizable from the very first time now. Believe it or not, the sketch below was drawn from the same place, over fourteen years ago. Obviously my drawing style has evolved a bit since 2007 but you can see how much things have changed in this view.

mrak, seen from the creek

I know, I do a lot of these types of posts. Here’s a drawing of somewhere on campus, and here’s what it used to look like years ago. I never imagined being here this long. I’m not sure what I imagined back in 2007, but here we are still in Davis, tracking the changes. And for those of you “why don’t you put people in your sketches, blah blah blah” folks, look, there is one person in each of these two drawings, although the newer one is more of an anthropomorphic scribble. It’s probably not the same person, but maybe it is, after all, I am. They have gone from jogging along that path to walking across the grass, into the shrubs. I’m still drawing into a Moleskine, trying to interpret the world into ink lines and watercolour blots.

rock and cactus

Rock Hall UC Davis

This is Peter A. Rock Hall, formerly known as Chem 194. It was named for former Dean Peter Rock, who was a Chemistry professor and the founding Dean of Math & Physical Sciences, and who passed away shortly after I first came to campus. I’d only been here a few months but I remember how fondly everyone spoke of him. This building was renamed about a decade ago. I always say that UC Davis missed a trick renaming Chem 194 as Rock Hall instead of renaming Young Hall as Rock Hall, because then some smart-alec (me) can say “I remember when Rock was Young”. Instead I have to explain this every time and say, “I remember when Rock was Chem 194”. Which is both marginally funnier and less-marginally excruciatingly dull, which is why I don’t really have conversations very often. In the foreground are some cacti, a prickly subject, and there goes the last of the puns for this post, may they rest in peace. I drew this in mid-October (it is already November, how did that happen?) (don’t explain, I know how it happened) and I have tried to draw as much as possible lately, but still, the subject material is running a little thin, I’ve been in Davis sixteen years. Sixteen years today as it happens, November the Fifth is when we moved here from our temporary stop in Santa Rosa. Remember, remember the fifth of November, innit. Penny for the Guy. Did you ever do that, as a kid, those of you from the UK? I remember me and my neighbour Tasha would sometimes make a Guy, we wouldn’t really go round saying ‘Penny for the Guy’ much, but we did always throw him on the bonfire. May The Fawkes Be With You. (Oh no, the puns have risen from the dead!) Back home, the Fifth of November was either ‘Guy Fawkes Night’, ‘Fireworks Night’ or ‘Bonfire Night’, and I remember once hearing an American news face referring to it as the ‘British Fourth of July’. Which is preposterous for a number of reasons, for one thing the weather is better in November. It makes sense having your main firework event at a time of year when the sun has gone down by 5pm, rather than in the middle of summer when you have to wait ages to set those fireworks off. In England you can get it all done before Coronation Street. Don’t forget to put those sparklers in a bucket of water, kids. 

Interestingly, I actually have a mug (that I was given when I was a teenager) that says ‘Peter, meaning the Rock’ on it. I even drew it

house of red

red house 8th st Davis

I pass a lot of houses in Davis that I think ooh I would love to draw that house some time. And then I walk on and forget about it until the next time I pass by and think, oooh yes I’d love to draw that house, when I have time. And then I carry on walking or riding my bike until the next time I pass it and I go, you know I should really draw that house some time, it’s so nice. and then I walk or ride or jog along, and forget about it. Until the next time, etc and so on. There is one house though in north Davis that is probably my favourite house in town, it looks a bit like a red barn or farmhouse on the corner, almost Scandinavian in its picture postcard cuteness (it even has a mailbox that looks like a small version of itself). There is a whole barn section around the back, and the circular brick chimney with the little brick spiral going up it is probably the cutest cute-house thing I have ever seen. And no, I don’t watch HGTV (though for some reason it reminds me of Jamie and the Magic Torch). I always wonder about its history, when it was built, was it ever moved from somewhere else (as so many other Davis houses were), did any famous Davisites ever live there, does it have a locally know name that I’m unaware of? Is it haunted? (No, a house this lovely can’t be haunted, because there’s no such thing as ghosts). So on one of my many many walks home from work (since my bike’s been acting a bit weird I have gotten back to walking, I’m killing those ten thousand steps a day, totally whooping that goal) I saw that the house had a big ‘For Sale’ sign outside, well in fact it was a ‘Sold’ sign, well in fact it was a ‘Snooze And You Lose’ sign, not that I’d have been able to afford it, but then again I did buy my current house exactly a year ago so I’m now in the homeowner’s club (I’ve heard it’s a cool club, they meet in a treehouse). So, what if the new owners hate red barns and decide to turn it into a modern brick and chrome palazzo? Or paint it taupe? Or rent it out to conspiracy cultists who never mow the lawn? You never know, so I decided right, I should draw this beautiful building. But you know, I was walking somewhere, I didn’t want to stop. I do feel self-conscious drawing houses too, even now; it would be nice if the City of Davis gave me some sort of card that I could show people to say “local urban sketcher, totally normal, just ignore”. So I decided to draw from a photo. I don’t mind drawing from photos, if I have at least drawn the backbone there and then, but straight from the photo I don’t get the sense of personal depth that comes from seeing the space with my own eyes. It’s why I’m always a little hesitant about commissions, unless the reference photos are at least close to what I would see from my own perspective. I’ve done quite a lot of house commissions in Davis by the way, and I do usually like to go and take a quick sketch on site or at least take a couple of photos that would mimic my on-site style. I dunno. It’s not always true, depends on the thing I’m drawing. Also, I find that when I paint at home sometimes I’m doing it in living-room light, and the colours end up a bit darker, unlike when I’m out on the street in the light of the outside. I think that shows sometimes. Anyway with this one, I drew right from the photo I took, but I decided (for some reason) to put some masking tape around the edges of the paper in my sketchbook and draw and paint right over the edge, and then peel the tape off at the end to reveal a perfectly straight-edged rectangular frame. It worked when I did some watercolour studies recently, though in my sketchbook it feels a little too…I don’t know, flat? I’m used to scruffy edges. Years ago I used to draw frames around my sketches, but almost never with a ruler – the straight, straight line is really out of place with my work, give me a slightly wobbly line any day. I used to have items like lap-posts, stop-signs, trees, hydrants that would pop out of the frame, like Deadpool breaking the fourth wall (but much more PG-friendly). If I were to do that here I should have had the chimney break the frame. Still, it’s a lovely house and I’ve drawn it the best I can in a smaller-than-I-usually-draw rectangular frame, even though it has a kind of ‘Drawn-by-Pete-in-2009’ feel to the style.

teaching and learning

Silo and Teaching Learning Complex, UC Davis

The students are back!

Everyone else is too. Campus feels full again. I think I said this already in a previous post. Well I repeat myself a lot, but each time I say it slightly differently until over time it is a completely different sentence.

For example this time I am using the ‘return’ button a lot more. 

Ok that is enough of that. 

This, as you know full well, is the UC Davis Silo, with the ongoing construction of the Teaching and Learning Complex behind it. The very-nearly-finished ongoing construction, I should say. It’s looking more like the finished article now. The TLC. I’m glad there will be both teaching and learning going on, it’s handy when they both happen. Sometimes there is teaching but no learning, and sometimes there is learning but no teaching. The University of Life is not a fully accredited degree-awarding institution as far as I am aware, but Life is the best teacher. Unless you learn very little, or learn the wrong things. People did used to say that though, back in the day, you’d say “I’m studying at uni,” and they’d go, “I go to the University of Life, me”, and I just wasn’t sure what to make of that, being fairly sure I was also alive. I mean it’s better than the University of Death, which sounds pretty shit, like a really crap heavy metal club. And I liked crap heavy metal clubs when I was at uni, I went to a lot of them, even though I couldn’t do the long hair and the whole look. My hair just grew upwards. But even I’d turn my nose up at the University of Death. But the University of Life, it sounds like something you get invited to by leaflets through your letterbox. I think it was a rival to the School of Hard Knocks, which I assumed was a place that has very heavily soundproofed doors. And they would say, “ah you’re book-smart, but I’m street-smart”. Yet I would spend considerably more time walking the streets than actually reading my books, you have no idea the lengths I would go to to avoid doing the reading in my French literature classes, or those undramatic books on dramatic theory in my Drama classes, I’d be walking all over the streets of east London. I couldn’t afford the bus fare.

So anyway, I stood beneath a tree and drew this panorama over a couple of lunchtimes. The tower of the Silo, which used to be covered in green foliage, is now bare and concrete-coloured. People passed by, some would sit and look at their laptops on the grass, most were on their way to either doing some teaching or some learning or let’s face it, a little bit of both. You never stop learning. The game is the best teacher.  

complicated canopy

manetti shrem museum of art, uc davis

At the start of this month we held the latest ‘Let’s Draw Davis’ sketchcrawl at Vanderhoef Quad on the UC Davis, meeting outside the Manetti Shrem Museum. Long-time readers might recall that I drew the construction of this building and it’s complicated canopy back in 2015-16, and was invited to the grand opening where I was able to sketch the artists mingling in this great space. I didn’t sketch inside on this sketchcrawl, but I did attempt that canopy again on this sketchcrawl. There’s a lot to take in. I didn’t quite get the gradient from red to purple right on the big sign, I need to play with mixing watercolor gradients a bit. We had a good turnout, it is always fun to see other people sketching. 

 manetti shrem , uc davis

I drew a quicker sketch from across the street, using a purple pen. It was a pretty hot day, and there wasn’t anywhere to get a cold drink, it’s not a busy part of Davis on a weekend. I had been coaching soccer that morning at a game in Woodland (we drew 5-5; we had been 4-0 down, but came back to lead 5-4, but with about three minutes of stoppage time our opponents scored an equalizer in the last second. Exciting game!)  

buehler alumni center, uc davis

The last sketch I did was of the Buehler Alumni Center. I’ve only drawn this once as far as I recall, and that was a curvilinear sketch from about a decade or so ago. There it is below. I drew that in 2010, the years have flown. Anyway, we gathered again to look at each others’ sketchbooks and it was fun.

buehler alumni center

the same story as ever, just a little different

view from bainer, uc davis

I took a little break in posting there; I’ve been busy, lot going on, plus my computer was making a noise like a tractor, so I wasn’t scanning any sketches, and I can’t write a blog post without a sketch, it’s like a crutch. I like writing though, it’s an important thing to do. I don’t do enough of it these days. November is coming up; I remember trying to do NaNoWriMo a couple of times, that didn’t last long. I don’t know if I have a novel in me. I just like to draw fire hydrants, I’m not that interesting. If I were a novelist, basically I would write the same story with the same characters over and over, but in each one you would see one or two small changes from the last time I wrote the novel, until eventually the thirtieth novel is completely different from the first. Wow, when you pitch it like that it sounds like a good novelist career plan. This view is a bit like that though. I have been drawing this view, from the steps of Bainer Hall looking towards the Silo and the Bike Barn (the most sketchable places within short walking/eating distance from my office) since 2007 and it has changed a bit each time, as has my style of drawing. This was drawn nearly a month ago, about a week into the new quarter of the academic year at UC Davis. Things are going well though, all these big classes in-person, everyone doing their bit to stay healthy, fully vaccinated and masked, no new spikes, at least not yet. Many staff still work at least partially remote. Students and bikes are everywhere, as they were in years past, though still feels a little quieter in other places. I like going in every day, though in addition to computer issues I’ve been having bike issue, so I’ve not been riding as much. I’ve been walking a lot though, totally smashing the ten thousand steps a day challenge. I’ve been coaching soccer in what spare time I have, that has been very battery-draining; our team has been winning though so that’s good, and we have a Halloween themed tournament next weekend which will be fun (our team costume is Spider-Man, and I love Spidey and the Marvel stuff as you know). I have been wanting to find some time to make another animation with the various Marvel Legos I’ve been collecting over the years, the last one I did was a couple of Halloweens ago, Dr Strange themed. I’ve been reading a lot of old comics on Marvel Unlimited – I love all the old X-Men stuff in particular – but I still love that old Fraction/Aja Hawkeye series, so I’m well excited about the new Hawkeye series coming on Disney+, seriously bro. I have been breaking out the guitar again for the first time in years, I’m still not any good at it but I don’t care, I like playing chords and remembering songs. I started getting back to the ukulele when we were in Hawaii in August, I forget how much playing music to myself is soothing on the soul, even if not on other peoples’ ears. But I have been drawing, still drawing, when I can. It’s never enough; I would like to be out drawing today, though I’ve decided to stay home and rest while rain finally starts to come down outside; after all these long months, we are at last getting some rain. I walked to work in the rain the other day, and it felt like home, felt like being back in London. By which I mean I was all romantically gazing at the grey sodden skies and taking in the breeze for the first ten minutes, and by the time I got to my office I was wet despite the umbrella, sweaty and grumpy, and wishing London was California. I am missing London right now though. It’s nearly two years since I was last home; this pandemic has kept me away too long. All I hear in the news and from friends is how depressing it is there right now, but I miss it, still. I am nervous about travelling international right now, in case I get a positive test and can’t fly back on time; things are just too busy. But do I want to stand on the embankments of the Thames and get depressing grey London rain down my face? Yeah, I do. Do I want to get on a packed tube train? Not really, no. Isn’t that the same London story as ever for me, just a few details changing over the years? Pretty much. So for now I draw Davis, and I’ve finally caught up on the scanning so I’ll post my newer drawings here soon, maybe with more interesting stories. Or maybe just the same stories again.