back in black

black friday
I hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving! Except if you’re in the UK, in which case ‘Happy Last Thursday’. Or Canada, in which case ‘Belated Happy Thanksgiving’. Or everywhere else. Anyway, it’s the most turkey-ful time of the year, and why not. I love thanksgiving, for the food. The autumnal colours are always nice as well.

But the next day is Black Friday. Black, because of the mood after spending hours locked into the consumerist nightmare that is big box america, home of the all-you-can-spend strip-mall. Black Friday sounds rather like a good pirate’s name, “yarrr, Captain Black Friday, shiver me timbers.” In a way though, Black Friday is the captain, that is supposed to steer the ship of the economy back on course (but you wouldn’t trust ‘im, an’ he’s only got one leg, etc etc). Not for me the 4:30 lining up in the freezing darkness outside Best Buy – I did that two years ago as an experiment, and have no need to do so again. I popped down to the action zone later on in the day though, to see for myself the economy rumbling back into gear, and spent hours stuck there in the maelstrom (or the toy department of Target at least), coming away with not a clue and no bargains at all. I did stop to draw Best Buy though. Looks very peaceful, doesn’t it.

Speaking of autumnal colours, the day before Thanksgiving we actually had some rain in Davis. said there was a Severe Weather Warning for the Sacramento Valley. Severe weather. Shit. I looked, and they said there would be Some Rain, 30-40% chance. Some rain. Well, I braved the severe weather and got a tiny bit damp, 30 or 40% damp on my jacket at least, dodging brown leaves as they fluttered gently to the puddle-spotted pavement, and drew the picture below. Severe weather, seriously.
il pleut

By the way, I posted both of these drawings on Urban Sketchers this week. Good reminder for you to go and check that site out; it’s nearly a month old, with hundreds of urban drawings already.

hanging on the telephone


No, this isn’t the magical forest where things from London just pop up between the trees, it’s the MU bus terminal at UC Davis, which has magpied a few British things to make them feel more like Londoners. Also at this terminal – it’s the only place in California where it rains, there are gangs of tabloid hoodies waiting to scowl at you from a distance, and there’s bloody Boris Johnson with his pointless competition for pointless new routemasters. Authentic. Actually no, you can keep those things, we’ll just take the phonebox, the lamp-post and the bus. Cheers.

Hanging on the Telephone… do you remember when Saddam was executed, and there were those guys filming it on their mobiles? I wonder if that song was running through their minds for a soundtrack?

On that note… Happy Thanksgiving!

get thee to a nunnery

flaws, mostly

Part two in a series. This is the old convent up on Orange Hill Road, Burnt Oak, the one that provided the nuns for the adjacent St. James’ school. Opposite there was another school, Orange Hill. I went to neither. Both are now gone. My old school though, in Edgware, is also now gone, demolished, an old comprehensive replaced with a futuristic brutal looking academy. I’ll bet the bogs still fit heads down them though.

father wears his sunday best

hunt boyer house

This is not Our House and it’s not in the middle of R Street, it’s the Hunt Boyer House and it’s on the corner of E Street, and 2nd, Davis. There used to be this absolutely whopping tree behind it, and I mean enormous, but they cut it down as it was leaning a bit too far to the right (never a popular thing in this town). Mind you, from the other side it looked like the tree was leaning too far to the left. Oh well, I suppose many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. Perhaps instead of cutting it down we should have bailed it out.

and you, you will be queen

dairy queen

I’ve never been to Dairy Queen, never stopped in for a KitKat Blizzard, but this one is on 5th street in Davis and I’ve passed by it a lot. As you can see, it’s by the railroad tracks. And a fire hydrant. I still love their fire hydrants here. did you know it’s illegal to park in front of one? This could be anywhere in America really. But it’s in Davis. It’s a funny republic, this country. They have a Burger King, a Dairy Queen, but no Taco President or Soda First Lady.

the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming

things have changed

I finally sat down and started a new series, much in the vein of the ‘you see, davis’ set, but this one being situated in the town where i was born (and hence called as such). actually burnt oak isn’t really a town, it’s a suburb, a part of london still lost in the middlesex postcode, long after middlesex has been wiped off the map (i suspect this is what ahmedinedjad really meant by that phrase). This is also my entry for illustration friday this week, the theme being ‘opinion’. I am glad that my opinions change over the years, that even though i am very opinionated I can still change my point of view. Or maybe my mind is just drifting along and ultimately doesn’t care about any opinion either way. Maybe we will never find out. For example, I hate arsenal, but actually felt sorry for them this week. Oh who am I kidding. Anyway i think it was muhammed ali who said, the person who thinks the same at 50 as they did at 20 has wasted 30 years of their life. Or something like that. I’ll find out when i’m 50 i guess, when i’ll probably think that was all bollocks.

right through the very heart of it

the empire strikes back

The final bit of urban sketching done in New York (I also took a lot of photos for reference drawing later, but you can’t beat being there on the streets tasting the air). Here I am just off Washington Square, looking up Fifth, indeniably NYC in November. I never went up the Empire State. Always thought it would be better to gostart spreading the news up the Rockefeller anyway, because at least from there you can see the Empire State – I love seeing that building. I also adore the Chrysler – it’s one of those buildings that when you first see, you cannot stop taking photos of it. It could be the most beautiful modern building in the world (and I say modern meaning in the past 100 years). I sketched it from the steps of the New York Public Library, itself a fantastic old building (but not one with baby changing facilities, I might add).

One of the things I love about New York is that you always feel a little like you’re on the set of Ghostbusters. Things are so familiar. And not just Ghostbusters, but any of the million or so other movies or shows that have been set here. Not a feeling you get strolling down Edgware High Street.

I still hadn’t eaten, which is not a good thing (and surely an impossibility in the big apple), and as I previously mentioned, I wanted something ‘New York’. But then I happened across a little Belgian place, the BXL Cafe in narrow 43rd Street, which called me in to taste some Maredsous beer and some absolutely amazing moules frites (better than I have had even in bxl cafeBelgium, I might add). I drew the place (right) in copic and faber-castell brush pens; trying something different for a change. Overheard some Scottish women talking about shopping for their kids, sounded like they had saved up a long while for this trip, and I felt sorry for them because the pound has absolutely plummeted this past couple of months. I overheard a lot of British people in New York – more than I did New Yorkers – the place is choc full of them. Probably why I felt at home.

Came back down again the next day, with my wife and baby, to go to Central Park and see the amazing fall colours. We ended up getting a little lost on the Subway, which is enormous fun with a stroller by the way, and sitting in a cafe off Sixth trying to feed the baby (while overhearing, of course, English people). And I finally had cannoli, something definitely New York, and it was good. New York is good. Can’t wait to go back.

go west, where the skies are blue

west village
New York City, continued… I moved up Manhattan to the West Village area, hoping for some lovely old bricks and some leafy autumnal streets, and yep, that’s what I got. I think I had in mind the excellent work of Nina Johansson when choosing what to draw here (though I’m a lot scruffier). NewYork2008120I sat and had a beer called magic hat outside a cool, dark little pub called the slaughtered lamb, on west 4th. A great spot to watch the world go by, and other such cliches. Oh, and to watch taxi cabs nearly have crashes, that was fun as well. I love the yellow cabs in New York – better than our London black cabs (yes, better, that’s right). Not that I ever take either. I always wonder though, is that cab the Cash Cab? My wife wondered the same thing too; we love that show. I gave up on the magic hat after about two thirds of a pint, because a big red-eyed bug had decided to come in for a swim. I photographed the work in progress, for fun. I then wandered washington squareover to Washington Square, admiring the trees and the bundled-up chess players. I sat and quickly drew a guitarist, as you do around here, and took in the scarf-wearing intellectual atmosphere around NYU. I wanted to go there a few years ago, to study drama perhaps, but the fees are so big. I just love the area I think. I was looking forward to this neighbourhood most of all, and I was enjoying the sunny cold and the leaves, but I realised I hadn’t eaten anything that day, so pressed on up town. And, hot dogs aside (I don’t eat them), I decided that I really wanted something that tasted of New York.

and i sang ‘you’re as free as a bird’

The second morning in New York was brighter and breezier. I took an early train, and went all the way down to the bottom tip of Manhattan, to look out at the Statue of Liberty, which is famous because it was in X-Men. It was placed out on Liberty Island way before the world became a place full of digital camera snapping tourists, so it’s not there just as a cynical ploy to get you to take the ferry and get a closer look. It was there to greet the throngs of immigrants, the huddled masses arriving on ships toward Ellis Island, that the New York was eager to welcome, and who have contributed so much to the city and the country’s character (something to remember, daily mail readers). A gift to show the bonds of liberty and friendship between America and France (something to remember, fox news viewers). From here though it’s kind of hard to see properly. You’d think they’d move it closer.

Gotta love her though. Really, I couldn’t come all this way and not see Lady Liberty, holding up her ice cream. I’ve been close up before, and she’s cool. This day however was a sketching day and that means packing in as much of the city as I can grab, and drawing some along the way. I wandered about the wall streetfinancial District, stopping off at the World Trade Center site, still empty and closed off as it was when I was there six years ago. Mooched around the narrow streets that reminded me so much of the City of London (and with names like Thames Street you can see why). Stopped off in Wall Street, to see what all the fuss is about. There was a lot of construction work going on, cue all the quips from all the passers-by. Sat on the steps beneath a huge statue of George Washington (on the site where he was inaugurated President, which is pretty cool), I sketched the New York Stock Exchange, which is still covered over with that huge (and unnecessary) flag, which reminded me of a giant band-aid. Are they hiding behind it?

lazy sunday afternoon

lazy sunday afternoonNice to be home; New York was very busy (I still have more drawings to post, of course). We flew back via a snowstorm in Minneapolis (after rain and sun in the Big Apple), back to the warmer wee hours of Sacramento. Novembers in Davis are bright and sunny, sometimes a bit chilly, sometimes a little rainy, but right now it’s warm and enviable. Lovely weather. Nice long shadows creeping across apartment buildings.

This however is cobweb season; for some reason, Novembers in Davis mean waling down the road avoiding huge long cobwebs that are floating from every lamp-post and tree. I hate getting caught in a floating web. You get that creepy feeling for ages afterwards, like there are things crawling on you.

The picture: notice the big black blob on the left side, that’s where my usually trusty micron pen exploded, suddenly, leaving a large black globule of ink I do not want to get on the furniture or clothes all over the page. The perils of drawing!