I decided to paint my current watercolour palette. I’m already thinking of changing out some of the paints. I’m using a mixture of brands, mostly Winsor and Newton Cotman, the cheaper ones with less intense colours (I always like that), a few of the Winsor and Newton Professional colours (some are a bit too bold, like Winsor Red, some work well), some Daniel Smith paints (which are mostly pretty bright, though they are often to be used sparingly because of their intensity, like the Phthalo Green) and I also have one QOR paint in there, the Ultramarine, which is intense but utterly beautiful and always looks good, especially when used in foliage against a green. Those few QOR brand paints I have are amazing. I am not a paint brand person, I don’t really go on about the perfect palette or really care too much, but I know what I need when I’m out and about, and some colours are better for certain places than others. I’m a drawer not a painter, but I use these to colour my drawings in. I really like using the Daniel Smith Manganese Blue hue for a sky, but also like a little touch of W&N Cobalt Blue in there to cool it down. I still mix up Payne’s Gray, W&N Ultramarine and Purple Lake to get my shadows, in various combinations. I’m probably gonna ditch that Hansa Yellow Deep experiment and go back to regular old Cadmium Yellow Hue. I bloody love the DS Transparent Red Oxide, which is a type of brown, and not as transparent as you’d expect, but produces an amazing colour. I’m still using those Faber Castell waterbrushes, I do have some other ones I got recently but haven’t used them as much yet. I have some regular paint brushes and a little pot of water too, but that’s more for when I’m painting at home, and I never have very good quality brushes, just a few that work ok for me. I like carrying around the little palette of 24 colours. Anyway these are my current paints, and I’ll probably change them out again next week. I just wanted to see what they all looked like on that Fabriano watercolour paper. I’d been a little concerned the colours weren’t showing up as vibrant as I’d expected on it, for whatever reason, and they do react differently than in the smoother pressed Moleskine watercolour. Anyway, that book is finished now. I still have to scan it all in though.
life gives you lemons
I saw this old beauty parked opposite my building at work, and raced downstairs one lunchtime to check it out. It’s an old Plymouth, rusty in places and decorated with stickers, one of which was for the “24 Hours of Lemons” race, which I’ve heard of before, a long time ago when I drew an old car in Davis that the owner told me took part in that race. Here’s the blog post about that one. Wow, that was 2013, ten years ago? Life moves on you fast.
Here is that car from ten years ago. Looking at the Flickr post, there was a comment from my olf German sketching friend Florian Afflerbach, aka Flaf, an expert and much loved car sketcher who sadly died in 2016, far too young. Seeing his comment again made me a little sad, but also glad to have known him. I still think of him when drawing old cars, he was supposed to teach a workshop at the Manchester symposium on sketching cars, but he was killed in a road accident shortly before, so Gerard Michel and Lapin who both knew him well and sketched with him often, taught the workshop together instead. Lapin always said that every sketchbook needs an old car and a dinosaur; this sketchbook (the Fabriano one, #46 in the official list) has this one plus a Lego dinosaur, so that’s the quota filled.
Here is some info about the 24 Hours of Lemons race: https://24hoursoflemons.com/. There’s even a photo of this very car on that webpage. I have never been to one of those races, but I’d like to go and sketch some of the cars in them some day. There’s one at the Sonoma Raceway in December…
i hear you’re a bassist now
The number of instruments in this household is slowly rising. Just before Christmas I got myself an early present, finally getting a bass guitar, having never had one before. I played one a few times at school, but since then I’ve never picked one up. I am a massive Macca fan, so I decided to get the Höfner violin bass, with smooth flatwound strings. It’s light to pick up, being hollow-bodied, and shorter scaled so not massive. I would like to get a massive bass (though I’d have to describe myself as a Massive Bassist), a big heavy Fender, because they’re so different, but I have been really loving learning bass on the Höfner. I’m a beginner, for sure, but I learned a few riffs years ago and have been getting my way through a bunch of Beatles and Motown stuff as I try to learn bass lines. Got a lot to work on, especially regards technique – I know there are a few ways to play, and I still primarily play in a similar way to how I play guitar, but I’m slowly getting the hang of that bass plucking (though I tend to pluck at my guitar like a bass sometimes anyway). I don’t play with a big booming bass map, rattling the teacups of my neighbours, but I use a small practice bass amp that has a nice clean sound to it. I’m sure I have some work to do with setting it up properly, I might take it into a shop to help get it sounding just right. I struggled a bit with fret buzz, particularly on that top E string, and adjusted the truss rod and the bridge a little bit, though the latter is not easy on the Hofner. It turns out that when the weather is very wet, when we had all that rain, the sound is different to now when it’s dry and there’s a lot less moisture in the air (fret buzz has gone). I’m no expert, and don’t really see myself ever being one. I still enjoy my little Lake Placid Blue Squier Tele, I don’t actually plug it in very often and it’s my go-to when I need a quiet strum. I’m still not a particularly skillful guitarist, I have been improving a bit as I’ve been playing more but being all that good was never a high priority for me, I just like to play what I play. I’ve played guitar since I was 13, and my brother got me an electric on my 14th birthday (still have it, but it’s back in London, it needs a lot of work, and new frets, but is otherwise still a lovely little guitar). I still have my big Ibanez ArtCore that I got in 2006, though I never get that out of its case, and never really loved that guitar. I got some good sounds out of it for sure, but I guess I let it sit locked away for so long when I spent years not playing at all. I had gotten very self conscious all of a sudden years ago that actually I was pretty shit at guitar and didn’t want to even try any more. I rarely even picked up my acoustic, my beloved Hohner that I got in 1996 in Charing Cross Road, except to occasionally strum through a bit of frustration. I can’t say exactly what prompted this sudden dismissal of my instruments way back when, I had been writing some music and made some decent little tunes (decent in my head, anyway), but decided it was all a waste of time. It’s only in the past year or so, I think basically since watching Get Back, that I’ve said no, I want to play music again, and I don’t care who thinks it’s shit, it belongs to me. Also, a few years ago my wife got me a ukulele, after our first Hawaii trip, and I slowly started playing that and absolutely loving it. I’m not out there going to jam with others, play in front of people who are expecting cool bluesy licks and the sort of expertise you’d expect from someone who has apparently been playing guitar since 1989 to be able to muster up, but I never got that good when I was a kid, and I’m only playing for me as an adult. But I’m learning, my own way, and now I’m picking them up regularly, every day, and trying to learn new songs and lines bit by bit. It’s fun, music is fun, not something I’m making a song and dance about, but I really enjoy it. What I love about the bass is that I am approaching like an absolute beginner too, so basically everything is new, even if it’s not really. Plus it looks cool. I think at school I veered towards the guitar because I thought the guitar was obviously cooler than the bass, which was easy and plodding, and nobody could really hear anyway. Now of course we all know, the bass is bloody cool, and as a Beatles nut this one looks so cool. This is the start of a beautiful friendship (and, if I’m not careful, a beautiful collection).
football at my desk
Well, the football season has ended. Ok, not all of it, there are still European finals and FA Cup finals and another round of games in some leagues where the title has already been decided, but as far as I’m concerned, as a Spurs fan, the season is over, and now we have to look to next season. What that will look like, nobody knows, since we have no new manager in sight, no certainty that our best player and all-time record scorer Harry Kane will stay, but certainty that we will not be playing European football next year. Ah well, maybe the break will be a good thing. It’s been a strange season. Spurs were stuck in fourth for most of it, while playing football that was dreary at best, less “to dare is to do” and more “don’t you dare do”. We sacked Conte eventually, replacing him with his assistant Stellini, then replacing him with Ryan Mason, it was like the Tory Party leadership. Manchester City won the league (again), overtaking Arsenal a few weeks before the end of the season, the Gunners bottling it when face with the massive state-funded behemoth in their rear view mirror. I found myself actually feeling sorry for them. At least Chelsea were utterly hilariously atrocious; we were terrible, but ended up sixteen points ahead of them. Five other London clubs finished ahead of them. Two other west London teams finished above them. Leicester got relegated, only a few years after they were the champions, going down with Leeds and Southampton. Meanwhile little Luton Town, who were relegated from the old First Division just before it became the Premier League, finally made it back up to the top table having been in the non-league divisions just a few years back. In Italy, Napoli won their first title since the Maradona years, finishing miles ahead of everyone else, while in Germany it went down to the final day, but Dortmond lost and Bayern pipped them to win an eleventh title in a row, because of course. In France, the oil-state sportswashing project called PSG won another title, keeping it interesting in Ligue 1. The middle of the season saw that same state hold a winter World Cup, which I must say I’m actually on board with the idea of every other World Cup being held just before Christmas, I enjoyed mixing the footy with the festive fun, and despite all the controversy about the hosting, the final was one of the most entertaining I’ve ever seen, with Messi finally getting his World Cup with Argentina. Time for a football break. The Women’s World Cup will be this summer though, and that should be good, but there’s just so much these days. I quit soccer coaching last year and have been watching my son’s team from the sidelines, thankful to not be thinking about practice plans and playing time as much, but still wincing whenever they play long balls. I’m still as obsessed as ever about football shirts, in fact most of the time I might prefer the shirts to the actual sport. I’m also still part of the organizing team for the local Davis World Cup youth recreational soccer tournament, my role being to take care of the website and the logos, and of course I’ve designed a million logos. This year is one of my favourites. Come August though, when the new Premier League season rolls back in, I’ll of course be as excited (or filled with dread) as ever, getting up early to watch the gsames, or catching them in my lunchtime as I did with the one I sketched above. That was a game we drew against Manchester United, who had been fellow Champions League contenders until we got blown away by Newcastle the weekend before. It was tough watching Spurs, but my allergies are so bad in Davis that it was better than being outside sneezing all lunchtime.
a night at the oakland coliseum
The main evening activity for the UC-AMP Conference in April was attending a Major League Baseball game at the Oakland A’s stadium, the Oakland Coliseum. I was dead excited for this game. The stadium was pretty dead too. I went with a group of other UC Davis staff members and we all sat along with many of the other UC-AMP attendees, many of whom I had spoken to in the various workshops that day. We had good seats, and there was a mixture of Oakland fans and Chicago Cubs fans all around us. The A’s were playing the Cubs, and it was soon pretty obvious who the better team was. The A’s were more like a D-minus. The stadium itself is a vast concrete bowl, a short walk from the BART, not the most beautiful stadium approach in the world. Contrast with the splendid San Francisco Giants ballpark, whatever that is called now (I’ve not been in ten years). We had to walk quite a distance once we got inside the ballpark, but I had been here before, and things were starting to get familiar to me. I’d only been once, 21 years ago, my very first trip to a baseball game on my very first trip to America. In 2002 I went with my now brother-in-law to watch the Oakland A’s play a great game in the sunshine against the Cleveland Indians, with their slightly (massively) problematic ‘Chief Wahoo’ badge and even more slightly problematic (massively racist) chanting. That aside, the whole experience was bizarre to me, and nothing like being at a football match (except for the other team’s problematic chanting). It was much more of a family outing, with as many women there was men, all of whom were just as enthusiastic. This was definitely not the case in European football stadiums at the time, which were still mostly a male world full of gruff swearing and awful pies. It was one of the things that I really liked about America when I first came, was that things like sport that were seen very much as “boy’s things” while growing up in England were really much more Unisex over here. I think that has changed a lot back in the UK over the years, but certainly as a kid my female friends who liked football were seen as outliers, and even now people back home often assume my wife wouldn’t be interested in sports; over here I get the impression it would be ridiculous to think like that. American sports are for everyone, much more inclusive. On this night, there was one female A’s fan who was not only enthusiastic but angrily yelling at the players before breaking into a rousing chorus of “Let’s Go Oakland”, while another female Cubs fan got more and more vocal about how great her team was to the point where they were calling each other out across the crowd, in a way that was probably more good-natured on one side than on the other (I sketched them both). Back in 2002, I remember one difference between English football and American baseball that stood out most clearly was the part of the game they called the “Seventh Inning Stretch”, when everyone stood and sang this song about being taken to the ball game. I was like, what is this, what is going on? People were joining arms and singing at the top of their voices like it was an old cockney knees-up. It was like being transported back into some antiquated era, the only thing like it now being when they sing ‘Abide With Me’ before the FA Cup Final. Another thing I noticed on that day was how so many of the fans were into their statistics, often writing down all sorts of numbers and reciting all these things about ‘batting averages’ and other phrases I had never heard of. The ballpark on that day was pretty crowded; the A’s (short for “Athletics”) had a pretty good team that season, and made it to the play-offs where I remember they beat the Giants. They had this one player, Miggy Tejada, and then at the end of the game on the big screens they would show this little puppet called the ‘Rally Monkey’. They would wave that thing, there would be little comical scenes starring the Rally Monkey, it was for sure not something we ever did down at the Lane. Imagine if in the 80th minute of a game, we’re 2-1 down against Chelsea or someone, if at that moment all the fans suddenly started waving these little cuddly toys to try and encourage their team to get back to victory, well they would have got, to use a common phrase on the terraces, their “f&*!in’ ‘eads kicked in”.
But the main thing I took away from that first ever baseball game was what I was looking for on this day – Garlic Fries. I was surprised when lining up for food and drink that you can watch the action on little screens as you wait in line, but the most suprising thing was that you could buy fries, right, but with garlic on them. Garlic Fries?! Oh boy I had to try those. And they were amazing. I got back from the game, this is what I talked about, these Garlic Fries. I’d never had anything like them. I’ve eaten Garlic Fries since, but they were never quite as good as those first ones at the Oakland ballpark. So that was my mission here. When I found them I was delighted, but when it came time to pay, I was surprised to find I’d only been charged 9 cents. The cashier when I asked just said, “hey I just press the buttons, I don’t know what the price is”, and she didn’t mind. So she got a better tip, and I got amazing Garlic Fries, that tasted even better for only costing 9 cents. On my way back to my seat I spoke enthusiastically to one of the stewards about my first time here in 2002, Miggy Tejada, Garlic Fries, the Rally Monkey and sunburn, and she listened and smiled, but I could tell there was a bit of sadness in her that things here were just not the same as back in those days, except for maybe the Garlic Fries. When I got back to my seat, everyone around me was jealous of my Garlic Fries, and I probably smelled of them for quite a long time afterwards.
No chance of seeing the Rally Monkey on this night. I left right after the seventh Inning Stretch when they were 6-1 down; in the end they lost 10-1. Even quite early in the game, the fans were singing “Let’s Go Oakland” and then leaving. The same night there was a big basketball match on, the Sacramento Kings were playing in some big important game, and most people around me were following that on their phones or watching it on laptops. Yes, people would come to a baseball stadium and watch a basketball game on their actual laptops. The team was pretty poor though. I heard that on Opening Day, they could only muster up about 3,000 fans to come and watch them. Enthusiasm is not high, and nobody likes the owners (there’s something that the A’s fans do have in common with many Premier League club fans, then). In fact, the day after I went to this game, the owners announced that they would not be staying in Oakland, and would be moving out to a new home in Las Vegas. I started to understand why some of the staff didn’t really seem to care that much, such as the one who charged me 9 cents for Garlic Fries; why would they care, the owners are about to boot them all out of their jobs. It’s a pretty ignominious end to a storied history in Oakland, and there will be a lot of fans that will be pretty unhappy, fans who always loved their team, but it was a pretty unhappy ballpark experience compared with that first one I went to back in the sunshine of 2002. I left on my own, got lost around the stadium, walking through a desolate parking lot before finding the BART and riding back to Berkeley, not the safest I’ve ever felt. It will likely be my last time at the Oakland Coliseum, but I’m glad I was able to go back one last time, and get those amazing Garlic Fries once again.
UC-AMP 2023 (“not the urban sketching symposium”)
The 2023 Urban Sketching Symposium took place in mid-April in Auckland, New Zealand. I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand; when I was a kid I bought a little pocket Berlitz guidebook for New Zealand, I used to read about Milford Sound and learned a couple of Maori words (admittedly it was just ‘Kia Ora’ which was easy to remember because of those juice adverts, “It’s too orangey for crows, it’s just for me and my dog” “I’ll be your dog! Woof woof woof woof…” You remember the one). So when the first international USk Symposium after the pandemic was announced, I was excited to go. Except, it was in April, and in New Zealand, and that was a tricky time with work, so I decided, ok, I won’t go. I’ll get to Auckland another time, I guess. So I got to watch all my other fellow sketchers’ posts from down in Auckland, but I didn’t have time to be jealous because instead, I went to a different conference. This was for work was the UC-AMP conference at UC Berkeley. Despite not being at the USk Symposium, I still acted as if I was, and kept my sketchbook out at all times. I drew pretty much all of the speakers whose talks I attended, as I usually do as I am taking notes at the same time. I was very impressed with all the talks, this being my first UC-AMP I was not sure what to really expect, but I’ve not been as engaged at a work conference as with this one, and I learned a lot that I will bring back to my own job. The networking was good too, and I met some interesting people and got some different perspectives. See, even though I’m not urban sketching, I’m still obsessed with perspective.
Many of the talks focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, in a pretty broad number of ways. The keynote speaker was Dania Matos, Vice-Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion at UC Berkeley, and I really enjoyed her talk. “Data drives decisions, but story telling drives commitment.” I liked that phrase. As I say, I drew most of the other speakers too, though I’ll not go into all their talsk or names here, but here are the sketches I did.
I mostly drew in the small Stillman & Birn Alpha pocket sketchbook I use for people sketches (and occasional travel sketches), and mostly used that purple Pigma Brush pen that I like for these quick people sketches (though I did use the black Zebra pen for one of Eugene Whitlock, above).
I will say though, the guy above, David Alcocer, gave a really excellent and engaging presentation on the UC Budget. I thought, as did others, that this would be the one very dry talk, but it was the opposite, and I felt like I knew a lot more about the bigger picture, plus he was just a great presenter too.
With these last two, I did write a lot more o what they were saying down, as it was worth noting. The colours by the way are just my usual watercolour, with a waterbrush pen.I’m very much looking forward to the 2024 UC-AMP conference, whcih will be in Riverside, and hopefully won’t clash with the Urban Sketching Symposium. Although actually it probably will, because once again the next one will be in the souther hemisphere, in April, in Buenos Aires, in Argentina. Another place I’d love to go, another place I probably won’t make it to. We shall see. I do miss seeing all of my global urban sketching community, but it was nice to be part of another community for a few days, and come away just as full of ideas.
In mid-April, I went to a conference in Berkeley, the UC-AMP conference (standing for University of California Administrative Managerial Professionals, me being a manager type these days). It was actually one of the better conferences I’d ever been to and I sketched a lot; I’ll stick the conference sketches in the next post. I did take the chance to sketch a bit more of Berkeley though, a palce I’ve drawn a lot over the years, but don’t go to as often these days. I was also starting a new sketchbook, one I’d never actually used before, a Fabriano watercolour book. Same general size and format as my other sketchbooks (that roughly 5.5×8″ size in landscape, slightly bigger than my watercolor Moleskines, smaller than the Stillman & Birn Alpha, but about the size of the Seawhite of Brighton books I used to use). The paper was a bit coarser, a bit thicker, and this would be an experiment. Basically, I was having a bit of trouble getting hold of the usual watercolour Moley, noweher seemed to have it in stock, and so on a whim I tried this. It was ok, I didn’t really love it, the pen had to work a little harder, but the paints too did not always act in the same way as in the Moley, in a way I can’t really describe but never mattered when using similar Fabriano watercolour paper at home, but out on the streets seemed to be a bit different. Paper matters, and I’m fussy. (I’ve actually finished the sketchbook now; while still not my favourite, I got used to it and got around it by washing the pages with a light sheen of watercolour paint ahead of time, making it much easier to work on, a preparation I never had to do on the nice Moleskine pages). So, I stood outside the Berkeley Games shop on Durant, just off Telegraph, and drew the colourful scene ahead of me. That games shop is massive. I have a friend in London who has in recent years become a massive serious board games fan, and would love this place. The weather was warm, cooler than Davis of course, with a lot of characters about the streets. I’m less into Berkeley than I used to be, as a place, largely because of some of the people that roam about making you feel uncomfortable. Shortly after leaving the BART station I was yelled at by a random wild-eyed guy who started following me, asking if I work for the university, and telling me in a shower of expletives that they have been following him and monitoring him and what he would do to those people and their families and their children, which wasn’t very nice in the middle of the day. Another guy sat on Shattuck started yelling at me recently when I was with my family because I was wearing an Adidas hat and he didn’t like Adidas, and that because I wore Adidas I was a Nazi, and then kept yelling “That guy’s a Nazi!” at me as I tried to cross the road, doing my best to ignore the weirdo. Try that in Burnt Oak, mate. People out there getting aggressive and bizarre, you have to ignore, but it doesn’t make it feel like a nice place to go. Still, Berkeley is Berkeley. I finished up and went back to the hotel where the conference was taking place, to attend the reception.
After reception food and chat, and a little wine, I was a bit full to eat dinner but still decided to head out to find a historic bar called Tupper and Reed. The evening activities for the conference the next day would be either (a) attend a baseball game, which I did, or (b) go on a bar crawl of Berkeley, that classic Monday evening activity. One of the places they would go though was Tupper and Reed, an old wooden bar on Shattuck that’s about a century old. Described in the conference materials as being like something out of Harry Potter, all brick and wood and presumably wizards and dark magic, “and they even have a beautiful retro record player sitting at the far end of the bar!” (just like Harry Potter, eh). It was built in 1925 and is quite nice, has a lovely old fireplace, though I have to be honest, it felt a little clean. Nice enough. People seemed cool, it wasn’t too crowded and the staff and patrons were friendly. There were some people playing pool, and the music was right up my cup of tea, 90s and 80s stuff that would probably have been on my Walkman back then. This is though primarily a cocktail bar, and so they had some very fancy cocktails. I decided to try one called a ‘Flying V’, because of the guitar themed name, and I think it was nice, but I could not drink very much of it. I mostly drank the bottle of tap water I got to go with it, bit too strong for my liking. Still I got a decent sketch out of the evening, and went off to bed. My hotel was very close by, and I was up on the 16th floor.
And what a view that was! You could see the Golden Gate Bridge from my bed. I woke up early before the conference, and did a drawing of the view. I went back to add a bit more at various points but I had to get this view down. I love a high-up view. Remember that one I did in San Francisco a couple of years ago, from the Hilton Financial District? In enjoyed that. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, putting these scenes together. I decided against putting all the windows in that building opposite, just a suggestion, you can imagine the rest. I did have a conference to get to though, which thankfully was only thirteen floors below in a fast elevator. It was so nice having everything take place in the same hotel. The previous UC Berkeley hosted conference I went to, in 2017, was a bit more spread out about the campus, which was a bit more tiring. I also did not stay overnight, but took the early train down and back again in the evenings, so it was pretty tiring. This was better.
That said, after the workshops and talks were all done, I did go out and explore campus a bit more, because there is always something to sketch. There was a walking tour of campus for many of the participants, but I decided not to do that, and stood outside the magnificent Wellman Hall with my awkward sketchbook. At one point the tour group passed me by. It was a little breezy, and the pages kept flipping up because I only had one elastic band with me to hold them down. The shade of the tree I was under also kept moving, deliberately I assume, in an effort to annoy me. Plus this paper just wasn’t quite right, was it. I hope nobody on the tour heard me swearing at the universe. In the end i took a photo of my sketch and posted it on my Instagram, and remembered to include the conference hashtag because they’d said to do so. Well I’m glad I did; this unexpectedly won the conference’s picture competition!! They announced that on the last day, to my surprise. Apparently I win free registration to next year’s conference, in Riverside, and I was already looking forward to going to that so that was a nice prize. But yes, I did kind of fight with myself to draw this one, and I was pleased to go and sit down for a bit in the shade afterwards.
On the last day, after the last speeches and talks, I took a last stroll up Telegraph, firstly to find that place that does the Belgian waffles my son really likes (I had to send him a picture of one and of course eat one myself), and do another sketch, this time of Amoeba Music on Telegraph. I remember the first time I went to Amoeba, it was the one on Haight, back in 2002. I first came to this one in 2005, right after we moved to the US, when we were checking out Berkeley as a potential place to live. My wife was interviewing at UC Berkeley (if memory serves she got the job, but had in the meantime accepted a position in Davis, and so that’s where our lives ended up, the rest is sketchbook history). I loved a record store, and if I recall correctly I bought a Paul Weller CD here. I chatted with a nice guy for a bit while I sketched who works for the Telegraph business association (we talked a lot about Lego), and it reminded me that this is a thriving little community here, that people are rightly proud of. I’m glad to see Amoeba still doing well too, though I didn’t have time to go in and look around this time.
I did pop into a little art shop that I had been into before though. And what did I get in there? A new watercolour Moleskine sketchbook. Having been a bit back ordered online, and not in any of my local shops, they had one here, and for a good price too (ten bucks cheaper than listed on the Moleskine site). But of course because I have a policy of not starting a new ‘primary’ sketchbook until I have finished the current one, I did not abandon the Fabriano one, and used it all the way through my recent London trip (the sketches of which I’ll probably post in about 2028, I did so many), and just started the new book last week, at the Victoria and Albert Museum of all places. So it all worked out.
This past week has been a very difficult time for our community in Davis, and this is a difficult local news event to write about here. This is the ‘Compassion Corner’, where 3rd Street meets C Street, so called because of the Compassion Bench, a colourful ceramic bench built about a decade ago at the place where David Breaux, known locally as the ‘Compassion Guy’, would stand and talk to people about compassion, empathy, understanding. He had this idea, to bring awareness about compassion to people, aksing them to write into his notebook what they felt compassion to be. I passed him many times in the street over the years; I never spoke to him myself. On the lunchtime of Thursday April 27, we all got a notification on our phones about police activity in Central Park, and to avoid the area. That was very unusual. I didn’t discover until later that evening that a man had been murdered, and it was David Breaux, found on a bench in the park. He’d been stabbed; we didn’t know when, or any of the circumstances. He was 50. The community was in shock, David was well loved.
Two days after David’s murder, on Saturday evening, our phones went off again, this time there was a ‘disturbance’ in a different park, Sycamore Park. A 20 year old UC Davis student, Karim Abou Najm, was cycling back from an undergrad awards event when he was attacked with a knife, and died at the scene. Witnesses saw the person who did it escape. The city was in shock, people were anxious about being out at night, though it wasn’t clear the cases were related. Then on Monday night our phones went off again at about 1am, another knife attack, this time a woman at a homeless camp near the train tracks; the victim, a woman named Kimberlee, survived; witnesses saw the suspect escape. The police searched everywhere, the FBI were called in, and the community was in a state of alarm at the thought of a serial killer among us. This was a very real situation, nobody knew what would happen next. In an effort to discourage people from being out after dark, UC Davis announced that classes after 6pm would be held remotely, while shops and restaurants downtown all started closing by 8pm.
I went down to the corner of 3rd and C on Wednesday to look at the tributes laid out for David Breaux at the Compassion Bench. There was a news reporter there with a camera, wanting to talk to people who knew David. I said I didn’t really want to say much, not having known him myself, but I’ll be sketching the tributes. I realized I had actually forgotten my pens, left them in my office; none of us have been really sleeping much this week, and my mind was really not 100%. So I went to the Paint Chip and bought a new pencil and pen (a Micron 05 in sepia, not my usual pen these days but still nothing like drawing with a fresh micron pen). As I sketched, people stopped for a while by the bench, some leaving tributes, others just deep in thought.
I was going to draw just the bench itself, but decided to draw the whole scene as a panorama. It was important to show the context, show this place in connection to the city around it, a street I have drawn so many times. The same day I was sketching this, it was announced that a person of interest had been taken into custody by police following a report of an individual matching the witness description, right down to the actual clothes worn, who was hanging around at the site of the second murder, where many tributes had been left. The next day, police announced that an arrest had been made, and that the suspect was a 21 year old male who had been expelled from UC Davis the week before, two days before the horrifying murder of David Breaux. The city and campus breathed a collective sigh of relief, but there remain feelings of sadness, exhaustion, shock. It’s difficult for me to fully understand it all. The Davis Enterprise has been doing some amazing reporting on the case, the journalist Lauren Keene always does a great job at keeping us informed: https://www.davisenterprise.com/news/local/breaking-suspect-21-arrested-in-davis-serial-stabbings/. David Breaux spoke to everyone about compassion, and his message is being more widely heard now, at a testing time.
You can learn more about David Breaux’s compassion initiative here: https://charterforcompassion.org/11eleven-project/david-h-breaux-compassion-initiative. Last Sunday a large group gathered to pay tribute in a vigil
For Karim Abou Najm, hundreds attended a service for him at UC Davis last Friday afternoon. I know faculty who knew him, and he had a bright future, taken from him. However he was a great inspiration as well. A special fund has been set up by UC Davis in his name to raise funds for Undergraduate Student Research Awards. You can learn more and donate to those here: https://give.ucdavis.edu/VCSA/125342 .
my name is Sue, how do you do
A great sketcher once said (and it was Lapin, by the way) that every sketchbook needs two things – a dinosaur, and an old car. Sketchbook #45 has those things now, after we visited the Field Museum in Chicago, an incredible collection which is chock full of dinosaurs. (I already drew an old car at the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento) I missed out on going to the Urban Sketching Symposium in Chicago in 2017 (I had just been promoted, and felt it would be a good idea to stick around and learn stuff in that first month on the job), so I missed Lapin’s workshop “Groarrr!” which took place at the Field Museum, drawing Sue, the enormous Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton that is the highlight of the collection, as well as being pretty much the most complete T-Rex skeleton in the world. Plus it’s called Sue, so I had Johnny Cash in my head the whole time. “My name is Sue! How do you do! Now you gonn’ die!” I also briefly had the theme tune to The Sooty Show in my head, thinking of the silent cheekiness of Sooty, the mischievous squeak of Sweep, and the bossy voice of Soo, the only one who could use real words, if you don’t count Matthew who was a real human and now a hand puppet, or at least so we are led to believe (did you ever see his legs?). People who didn’t grow up in Britain will have no idea what I’m talking about, but I did imagine Sue the T-Rex talking in that voice, saying “izzy wizzy let’s get busy”. Never mind all of these pop culture ramblings, it has been a busy week. If you want to learn some actual stuff about Sue the T-Rex, you can visit the Field Museum website: https://www.fieldmuseum.org/blog/sue-t-rex. We don’t know if Sue was a boy dinosaur or a girl dinosaur (insert an Ian Malcolm quote from Jurassic Park here) but they were named after Sue Hendrickson, who discovered the dinosaur in 1990 in South Dakota. The light in there kept going dark, for mood and storytelling, which made sketching a little tricky.
The first dinosaur I drew though was the nemesis of the T-Rex, the heroic Triceratops. I always imagine Triceratops as a Captain America type figure, fighting the big meat-eaters for hours, looking up and saying “I can do this all day”. In the books Triceratops would always be locked in battle with the Tyrannosaur, its large parrot beak, rock solid neck shield, and the horns of both a rhino and a yak, like who designed this creature, a four year old? Triceratops is nevertheless a design classic, really hard to beat. Parasaurolophus and Styracosaurus have pretty amazing heads, but Triceratops is beautiful. I sat on a bench with my son and drew the whole thing, a good spot to rest the legs after looking at so many dinosaurs already.
I did this sketch above while they were resting again a bit later, watching a school orchestra play some music from the movies (not Jurassic Park) in the main hall of the museum. Hanging above in the foreground is a model of the enormous flying prehistoric beast Quetzalcoatlus, which I’m not going to say is an ugly dinosaur, but is no Triceratops. It’s no Pteranodon either. It was gigantic though, you would not want this thing pecking away at your plane’s cockpit (spoiler alert for one of the Jurassic World movies, which was not very good). I should point out, Jurassic Park is one of my favourite films of all time, and I adored the book as well. It is for me nothing short of a perfect film. I quite liked the follow ups, the Lost World and Jurassic Park 3, though now I think about it Jurassic Park 3 was not actually very good. Jurassic World…well, I’ll say it was enjoyable, I guess. A nice idea, but not a re-watcher, and the characters were completely irritating. The follow up, Jurassic World Volcano Wars I think it was called, was utterly diabolical, and there was nothing whatsoever of interest, but I did watch it on a small airplane screen so no huge loss. The last one, Jurassic World Dumpster Divers or something, we actually went to a movie theatre and paid actual dollars to see, and the universe is never giving me back that five and a half hours or however long it was. It was advertised as having the original three back in it, and back in it they indeed were, and Jurassic Park it was not. Jurassic World Dominion made Jurassic Park 3 look like The Godfather Part 2. I’m not going to say it was the worst film I have ever seen (because I have watched The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Hour Long Sequels) but you know when you like apples and you eat all the different apples, but you eat one apple that tastes so disgusting and makes you want to vomit, that while it doesn’t put you off eating apples completely, it does make you much less likely to want to eat an apple afterwards, to the point where you just give up eating apples and eat cereal instead. Well that was the last Jurassic World film and movies in general for me. But you know, you should watch it, don’t take my word for it.
I could have spent all day in the Field Museum, learning and sketching, but we moved along, and headed for the Nutella Cafe. We decided to skip the Art Institute, due to Museum Fatigue, though my wife did go there on our final morning in Chicago and the pictures she took of all the very famous artworks made me wish I had actually gone. Next time! Instead, on our last morning I stayed at the hotel with my son, before heading out to do one last sketch, down at Michigan and Wacker. It’s a bit of an unfinished sketch, but I decided this time not to bother going in later and drawing all those windows, because you know, you get the idea. Tribune Tower (on the right) is an architectural masterpiece, containing stones from famous buildings from all over the world, which is actually a bit weird but ok.
Right, Top Five things I would like to do next time I’m in Chicago:
- Listen to The Blues. I never got to go to any of Chicago’s famous Blues clubs, like Kingston Mines, or one of the other ones. I will admit, I’m not exactly a massive Blues afficionado. I like it, but not as much as I want to like it. But Blues in Chicago? That I want to see. I want to be somewhere in Chicago watching some old Blues player carve riffs out of a big Gretsch, taking in the whole atmosphere, so that all I want to do is get home and play Blues riffs until my fingers hurt.
- Art Institute. As mentioned, I decided to sketch in the street instead of actually see some great art. That might have been a mistake, or maybe I was just saying to myself, no I’ll do that next time. They have Van Goghs, Picassos, they have that American Gothic painting, and Nighthawks by Hopper! My mate Roshan had that as a poster.
- Watch some Improv. I never got to to go any of Chicago’s famous Improv clubs, like The Second City, or one of the other ones. I will admit, I’m not exactly a massive Improv afficionado. I like it, but not as much as I want to like it. But Improv in Chicago? That I want to see. I want to be somewhere in Chicago watching some old Improv actor carve witty lines out of a big Suggestion, taking in the whole atmosphere, so that all I want to do is get home and improvise until my fingers hurt.
- Have a different Deep Dish Pizza. I really liked the one at Pizzeria Uno, as described in a previous post, but I would like to try some other places, maybe get some local suggestions.
- Wrigley Field. I never got to to go any of Chicago’s famous baseball parks, like Wrigley Field, or one of the other ones. I will admit, I’m not exactly a massive baseball afficionado. (Okay, I’m not doing that again.) I do like a ballpark, but even I know Wrigley Field is pretty special and historic, and there’s nothing more American than going to an ancient baseball stadium,, taking in the whole atmosphere, so that all I want to do is get home and swing a baseball bat until my fingers hurt (I literally never want to do that after watching baseball).
There is one other thing I’d do next time, that’s get in touch with some of the Chicago Urban Sketchers I know, such as Don Colley, who is pretty amazing. I thought about contacting some to see if they wanted to go and sketch an old bar some night, but this was a family trip and I knew I’d be cream-crackered too. I am tempted by the Chicago Sketch Seminar this July, although it’s very soon after another trip I’m taking, and I’m sure I’d be too tired. But it does look really fun.
Ok, so we then went to the airport, where we waited for hours and hours for our plane to deign to take off. We spent so long at that damned airport, and I hate airports at the best of times. So I sketched people again, in my little red sketchbook. That was pretty boring. We played a lot of Super Mario Kart 8 on the Switch, I had bought a new Switch Lite before the trip as the battery in the old one was utterly dead. We were exhausted, and it was going to be a long flight if we ever got on a plane. I don’t know why Southwest was delayed so much, but it wasn’t Tornadoes, they all happened the night before. Anyway, get on a plane we eventually did, so I had to do one last in-flight sketch. Until next time Chicago! I always fantasized about doing that thing where you take the Amtrak train for several days across the country, watching America on ground level as it gradually changes, waking up in far-flung cities or small-town America, but after spending four hours in Midway airport and getting bored out of my head, I think spending three days in a train seat might be enough to make me just get a plane back. But Chicago was damn cool, and I’ll be back.
Chicago high and low
I know what you’re thinking. This isn’t finished. And you’re right, this was all I could sketch at the time. I might have finished it later, but I didn’t. It’s the sort of view I might do a drawing of, on a bigger piece of paper, to test my drawing patience, but this one was drawn pretty quickly from the 94th floor of the John Hancock Building (sorry, it’s not called that any more), which might not be the tallest of Chicago’s big skyscrapers, but it was still pretty damn high up. The view made my knees go all trembly. That slightly wobbly line, that be the horizon, that be the eye level. So you can see that the two taller buildings in this view are the Sears Tower (sorry, the Willis Tower) and the Trump tower (yep, still called that). Our hotel room on the 16th floor was low down and quaintly street level by comparison. It was down there somewhere, we could see it. On the same observation deck there was this ‘ride’ where the windows would move outward from the building so that you appear to be hanging suspended over the city. Needless to say, I didn’t do that. The view didn’t look quite real. Buildings that had towered so far above us at street level as to be hard to grasp, were now some way below us. It was a bit like when I’d play Spider-Man on the PS4, except nothing like it. That is a great game by the way, as is the Miles Morales follow-up. When I’d sketched just about enough, we got the elevator down.
We did spend some time up at Lincoln Park, going to the Zoo, eating the most incredible corn dogs, wandering about a bit looking for a record store my guide book had told me was amazing (only to discover it had closed a while ago; well of course it had, a record store, in 2023? Why it’s next to the penny farthing store, just past the monocle repair shop). So we got the ‘L’ (the Elevated train) back downtown, feeling very much like we were in the Chicago from the films. One of our favourite films set in Chicago is High Fidelity, the one with John Cusack from about 2000. For me and my wife, that film may well be responsible for our whole relationship (to paraphrase the film). Well sort of; we both talked about it a lot when we first met, so I lent her the Nick Hornby book (set in north London of course) which was one of my favourites, and then we started going out. So it kinda is, actually. We were therefore excited to see sights we had seen in the film, such as the Kinzie Street Bridge, sketched above. It was about a 15 minute walk or so from our hotel, and I remember it in the film when Cusack’s character Rob was giving some monologue to the camera, although I think there were fewer big glassy buildings behind it then. When my wife and son went back to the hotel, I stayed to draw the bridge. I was listening to a fascinating Chicago history podcast, several episodes about how things in Chicago have often changed their names, and despite said things only being named something for a relatively short time, locals would refuse to call it by its new name for many decades longer than it had the original name. A bit like people who keep saying ‘Baby Yoda’ instead of ‘Grogu’. I did learn a lot about Chicago’s history and places though, and wished I had a lot more time to explore, but I would probably get tired, and like that record store, the places I’d be looking for might already be gone. Story of my life. Still I was very happy to have some mild weather for a moment to spend time drawing a bridge.
These next few are from the afternoon of the next day. I have some others from the morning of the next day, but those involve dinosaurs and I’ll post those next time. We found the big Chicago Theater with its bright red sign, and I stuck around to sketch it. Eventually it started raining, so I stood under some shelter and sketched Chicago people in my little book, using a brush pen. As I sketdched, one lad came up to me and asked if I had a disability. I laughed, strange question, no I just like to draw in the street. It turns out he was asking about the way I hold my pen. Ah. No, always done that, but thanks for asking, I guess. I mostly drew people coming out of the Metra station (yes that’s ‘Metra’, not ‘Metro’, that’s basically the Subway).
I also drew this fire hydrant, a few blocks away beneath the L. Standing under the ironwork of the L, with the train rumbling above me and the traffic rushing by beneath, I really felt like I was in Chicago like you’d imagine it. Not far from here there are those busy roads that are just underground, beneath the other roads, that make me think of the Fugitive, which we had watched not long before our trip.
Before heading home, and to get out of the rain for a bit, I found a very cool pub with a bit of a Belgian beer theme. Monk’s Pub was the perfect stopping off point, and good to sketch. I had one pint, and drew fast. I listened to a couple of older lads next to me talking with some passion about baseball. Monk’s was warm and welcoming, but I had to get back to the hotel to rest before dinner, so I waited for the rain to ease off and walked back.