to view a voiceless ghost

pond square, highgate

They say Pond Square is haunted. Who are they? Well, lots of people and ‘ghosts of london’ books, but not the estate agents I imagine. It’s possibly haunted by a pond, but I have never seen it (there hasn’t been a pond here for more than a century and a half). I love this little nook of old Highgate village. I used to walk through here in the wee small hours on the way home after getting off the late bus up the hill from Camden Town (with a beer-sopping bag of chips and pepsi max). Give me Highgate and its Hill any day.

Copic multiliner and watercolour.

you give me fever

The Hay Fever’s really kicking in now. Sat outside the Davis Co-Op fighting back the sniffles and sneezes, and drew in the moleskine.

the davis co-op

The Co-Op is a nice supermarket, a proper Davis institution. It’s in old north Davis where the picket fences and old buildings are.

Incidentally, I now have a twitter account. Not actually sure why or what for, but I have one.

a parliament of fowls

quad, the

Quiet on campus these days. Not the birds though. They are out in force, probably back from wintering in central america, twittering and tweeting and facebooking. I wonder if birds really do have an internet? Like, one of their very own that we don’t know about? (perhaps it’s called the internest) There’s a lot about birds we don’t know. We never ask.  

I don’t think I want to know. Probably all means, in bird language, “hey babe, fancy comin’ over to my nest for some early worms?” “i can’t, i’m washing my feathers..” You see, sort of thing that would put me off my lunch. Can’t imagine a bird’s blog would be much fun to read either. “I just ate a worm! And it’s not even early! (45 comments)”  They probably film little videos of themselves pooing on cars and post them on PooTube. It’s a growing problem. ‘Happy Crapping’ I think it’s called.

Okay, enough of the ‘cheep’ gags. Next week the students will be back, cycling about, going to classes, and the birds will probably fly off to Oregon or Canada or Vacaville or somewhere.

in the city of blinding lights

vesuvio & city lights

This is the one I began sat in North Beach outside City Lights, but abandoned after drawing the outline when it started to rain. I did most of it at home with a photo and plenty of time (and a roof over my head). It is one of the best spots in the city; indeed, one of those really cool spots in the whole world. City Lights is an important San Francisco bookshop, most commonly associated with the Beat poets (presumably they were called that because they were tired the whole time?), and a bastion of progressive politics.  Right next door, just across Jack Kerouac alley, is Vesuvio: a colourful brewpub that also trades on its historical Beat clientele.

I went there after visiting Specs, an old old place packed with junk and people just across Columbus from here. Very nice atmosphere, and they do a lovely Anchor Steam.

Drew this in copic multilner 0.3 and 0.1, cobalt blue. And I nearly did the whole thing. But I decided not to complete it. I heard somewhere that leaving something at 75% is often better than going for 100%. With this drawing, I felt that to continue would make it look overdone, and I think I’ve made the right choice. This is also my illustration friday submission for this week (been a while), theme of ‘subtract’, because this is columbus avenue with part of it taken away.

here’s another sunday morning call

eddie rickenbacker's

This is my 200th post on, thus my 800th in total since April 2005 (including the ones from the previous incarnation). That’s a lot of scullybloggery, and a lot of drawings (though not all of it was drawing, of course). And so, more from San Francisco, the efforts of last weekend: a triptych of pen drawings around SoMa, the area South of Market. On the left is Eddie Rickenbacker’s cafe/pub place, a really cool place with loads of motorbikes all hanging from the ceiling. This was the last I drew, before racing to the bus / train back home.

It was a slightly damp, grey morning, and I had aborted one drawing made post-doughnut-breakfast in North Beach (I’ve finished it since at home) due to a brief spattering of rain, so I went to the shops instead. Well, Virgin Megastore – not often these days after all that you can do that. And I found that this one too was closing down, with everything on sale. All of the others back in the UK changed to Zavvi a couple of years back, and then suddenly went bust at christmas with the downfall of Woolworths (its distributor). Great shame. when I was a young teenager, going down to that huge Virgin at the corner looking up stockton (yellow)of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street was a weekendly ritual, a place where I could find anything I could possibly want. I would spend hours there. So it was a little sad I guess going to one for the last time. Perhaps we are seeing the end of the big chain record store. The irony is that, for now at least, a lot of smaller independent record stores are still about and outliving the chains nearby, over here at least. Tower Records (actually a local store founded in Sacramento) closed down a couple of years ago; yet the independent Armadillo records across the street in Davis stayed open. In fact where Tower used to be is now a newer independent record store called Dimple. The fall of the global chains may actually benefit smaller stores. 

But back to the drawings. I sat opposite Virgin on Market St and sketched the final days of the store, but hidden behind a lamp-post, while looking down Stockton to the tunnel which slices through the hill in the distance, its daylight pushing through like a magic door into another world (yes that’s the best simile I could muster up, but hey I’m tired, I’ve had a busy week). There were a lot of people out shopping, helping the economy. I wondered, if we are shopping only for the greater economic good (as we’re told we must) rather than to get a bargain for ourselves, whether we should in fact shop at places we know are closing down since it doesn’t help them much in the long run? Is that how it works? But I’m no Adam Smith, so I just bought the latest Mojo magazine at 40% discount and was SOMA, san franciscowell happy.

I wandered around SoMa, down to Yerba Buena gardens, and drew the SFMoMA and its tall neighbours before popping by the Cartoon Art Museum. Here’s an interesting thing: Yerba Buena was the name of San Francisco before San Francisco.  It’s such a cool city, such a great place to sketch, but I was feeling anxious to get home, tired, exhausted from the hills and the pressure I put on myself to draw everything. I think it showed in the previous day’s efforts, a lot. I nearly didn’t do any more drawing at all, and considered putting away the sketchbook and pens for a fortnight or a month or so to refresh my thoughts. But I was pleased enough with these three (especially the first and last) to get me a little way out of that particular mental rut. Here they are all finished, with the wash added later on. The sketchbookery continues unabated…

south of market triptych

and the band begins to play

More sketches from San Francisco. I trotted into Washington Square, at the heart of North Beach, where nearby there were many bars and cafes, and all around me there were green-t-shirted revellers galloping (for want of a better word) from pub to pub in honour of St. Patrick’s Day. I sat and drew the church of Saints Peter and Paul. 

washington square

I saw an unpleasant sight. One of the gallopers in green, a rather plump lady, had some embarassing sweatmarks on her shirt. Not just coming from under the armpits, but around the whole bra area. A hoop of dark sweat around a lurid green t-shirt. It was a pretty cold day, I might add. I recomposed, and walked down a street where some interesting jazz or whatever (cool old men with trumpets and a big double bass, and an oboe and stuff) wafted out of an old looking pub, the Savoy Tivolisavoy tivoli jazz bandIt was pretty cool, so I went in and got a drink and attempted to capture the scene, failing spectacularly; however, I was trying different pens and a different style, and I don’t normally draw musicians, so funny enough I quite like the results, unmannered though they are. 

There weren’t as many St.Patrick’s drinkers in there, but plenty more everywhere else. America really goes mad for it, more so even than in Irish north London which is my background. It’s ironic; years ago, St.Patrick’s day was the one day in Ireland when pubs were closed (presumably, people go out drinking because they think that’s all the Irish do or something). It’s funny how in America, people get very sensitive on tv and in advertising with the word ‘Christmas’, or even ‘Easter’, yet nobody bats an eyelid at exclamations celebrating the religious day of a famous saint. And all this ‘luck of the Irish’ stuff you see everywhere? I don’t get it, over the years the Irish have been one of the unluckiest peoples in history (living next to the English didn’t help much); possibly all of the four-leaf clovers plastered everywhere means that people don’t realise it’s the three-leafed shamrock that symbolises Ireland. And another irony: St.Patrick’s colour was actually blue.

I did my bit though; got myself a nice big green margarita, shortly after sketching my last urban scene of the day, a cable-car waiting on California St. Back to my typical old way of sketching. More to come.

a cable car on california

how many roads must a man walk down

I ambled and jaywalked into North Beach. That view down Columbus of the TransAm Pyramid, my final destination, a big triangular monolith on the horizon, calling me like a dark lord’s tower, but i would not draw it, for i was on another quest, to be as relaxed as possible about wandering up and down hills and streets and slamming in as many sketches as possible.

 the view from lombard street 

I feel I put too much pressure on myself sometimes. After drawing ‘Bimbo’s’ below (mainly for the powerlines, and the name, not the building), and stopping by LaRocca’s across the street to add the wash, I just had to climb Russian Hill; it was just ‘there’. At the top of Lombard I stopped and drew the view out to Coit Tower (above), doing it little justice, but after the slog of the climb it didn’t really demand penance, just adoration. Oh ok, it wasn’t really a slog as such, I just felt it later on.
bimbo's north beach

The thing about Lombard Street is that they say it’s the crookedest street in the world, but surely Wall street is crookeder? The tourists didn’t care. Cable cars rattling by behind me. Weekenders standing out of their sunroofs camcording while zigzagging carefully downslopes. There’s me meanwhile, sat there using a micron 0.1 and a newly discovered micron 1, for things in the foreground. And occasionally a camera too, just to fit in with the crowd.
the dim light of day

can’t hear no buzzers or bells

on the trainI went back to San Francisco to walk up and down more hills, and sketch more random spots in the name of satiating my urge to put pen to paper, and discovered a few art shops here and there to look at or buy more pens, because you can never really have enough.

And so I got off at the touristest of traps, Pier 39, and it was cold. I listened to the sea-lions, showing off, and looked out at boat-shaped alcatraz, deciding it was too cold to draw there, and that some hot clam chowder would help (and it did, though I broke the head off of the plastic spoon). I think I waslistening to Pulp, or the Smiths, I forget now. Was going to walk up Russian Hill from Fisherman’s Wharf – one look, and sod that. So went straight into one of my favourite things in San Francisco (and totally free), the Musee Mecanique, a motley collection of ancient and newer arcade games and attractions, wooden and pixelated.

uncle sam

I went there on my first trip to SF, back in 2002, when it was stranded out by the ocean at the cliff house, and loved it; I cannot believe I’ve not been back since it moved somewher a bit more accessible. It’s (and I use this word a lot, but I mean it, though it makes me sound like Timmy Mallett) brilliant, an historical treasure trove, full of things you might recall from your youth no matter how old you are, even if you’re 100. And people were at the musee mecanique having such fun. You will too. Bring quarters. I was skinnier back when I first shook this Uncle Sam’s hand; he hasn’t changed (though my less-than-extraordinary rendition makes him look a bit like rowan atkinson). I played the old Star Wars arcade game (i used to be an absolute artist at that; used to be, this time i got shot down by a stupid tower on the death star after dispatching loads of tie fighters), and got my Magneto-shaped ass handed back to me by Chun-Li in X-Men vs Street Fighter – been a long time since i played arcade games. So I did some drawing.

I could have spent all day there. But I didn’t. I went walking, and walked up hill.

see me walking around

Tomorrow morning, I will be off to San Francisco to do some more urban sketching. A couple of years back I videoed my sketching trip from the ferry building farmer’s market up Telegraph Hill. Here, at last, it is. Below are some of the drawings I did that day. Some are from early in my first Moleskine, others are from my as-yet-unfinished WH Smith spiral bound book, and this was also the first time I’d used Copic multiliners, funny enough.

ferry building farmer's marketon the corner of columbus, washington and montgomeryfilbert street flowersthe sentinel buildingcoit tower pen
view of the bay bridge from telegraph hill