sweet fanny ann

A little pause in the London sketches – I’m about halfway through now so still many more to come! Here is my first drawing since coming back to the US: Fanny Ann’s Saloon in Old Town Sacramento.

fanny ann's saloon, old town sac

I had to go to Sac to do a spot of Christmas shopping. And it absolutely peed down with rain. I had intended on stopping by here on the way home to maybe catch a sketch, but the enormous rainstorm meant I had a bit more time to do so. This is one of the most sketchable pubs in this part of California – there is so much paraphernalia to draw, hanging from the walls and rafters. I will draw more of that some time. It’s a little touristy, being in the middle of the old Gold Rush era cowboy town, but it’s friendly and a nice pit-stop. And the beer is good too.

the ship has weathered every rack

the ship, soho

This is The Ship, on Wardour Street. Everyone knows The Ship. It’s a small place that never really seems to change, and it’s one of my favourite little pubs in Soho. I used to come here a fair bit in my twenties. Being located right in the middle of soho helps, and I like to stop here whenever I’m back on a sketching trip to Soho, to warm up, and have a beer. I did so this time back, this time sketching it to boot. My pens were protesting so much at the cold that I had to put my pencil case on the radiator, while I ate a jacket potato. I hope this place doesn’t change. It’s a port of refuge of sameness every time I come back, while other old, familiar places are closing down around us. But everyone knows The Ship.

i lift my lamp beside the golden door!

liberty's, london

A second Soho sketching day was called for. One is never enough. This time I chose an even colder, wetter morning. The rain had stopped by the time I reached Oxford Circus station, but nonetheless I found a spot under some awnings and sketched the fabulous mock-tudor building of Liberty’s, the big old department store near Regent Street. I was looking through the archway into Kingly Street, where there are lots of cool bars and pubs. I actually used three pens for this drawing, because in the cold they kept failing me – I had to rotate them, using one for a while, putting in my inside pokcet to warm up, using another – I had quite the system going there. Makes me appreciate California’s warmer climes (though funny enough it was colder here in Davis when we got home).

The London sketchbook continues…
liberty's photo

your golden section

golden square, sohoAnother from the afternoon sketchathon in Soho. We made our way through art shops (I love Cass Arts on Berwick St, and Cowling & Wilcox on Broadwick St) and questionable alleys to the slightly more upscale edge of Soho at Golden Square. I had forgotten how early the Sun goes down in England in November – it was getting dark at half past three – and it was getting colder too, so we sat in the square and drew some architecture, while the Moon shone down upon us (that’s that little white circle up in the sky on that sketch there).

pete, sketching in golden square, soho

There I am, uni-pin fineliner in hand. After this, another old pub, The Old Coffee House on Beak St.

pillars of hercules

manette street, sohoI love sketching in Soho. You can do a sketch of something, and then just pop into an old pub and sketch in there. Sketch, and repeat. There are so many old pubs in soho to choose from. My friend Simon and I sketched down in Manette Street, just by Foyles Books (one of my favourite bookstores in the world), which as you may see I have called Mallet Street. Mallet Street is in fact somewhere else; oh dear, my A to Z London memory is starting to fade. We sat in the cold outside the Borderline club, a regular haunt of mine in the mid to late 90s (those indie nights) and I drew the back of the Pillars of Hercules pub, with the covered alleyway leading into Greek Street. Fingers freezing,  we finished up and went inside for a pint of ale. I must say: though I love old English pubs, I’m not really a fan of the beers here any more. I’ve been rather spoiled by the West Coast micro-brews. Oh I don’t dislike them (in fact give me a Youngs or a Fullers any day), but these Adnams ones, well I would much rather have had a Fat Tire or an Anchor Steam. I think if I had English pubs with West Coast beers, I’d be a very happy man. And probably hung over quite a lot.

pillars of hercules, soho

whenever i walk in a london street

tottenham court road

…I’m ever so careful to watch my feet. Sometimes though it is good to stop and look up. So this is Tottenham Court Road, by Goodge Street, looking out at BT Tower. I was meeting my friend Simon one chilly Friday for an afternoon of sketching in Soho. They don’t sell Micron Pigma pens in London (I asked), so before I depleted my supply I popped into Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road and picked up a Uni-Pin fineliner, which works very nicely. I did find, on my sketching outings, that I would often have to use several pens in each sketch – they don’t react too well to freezing temperatures and often give up the goat (or is it the ghost, I forget), so I would have to put one in my jacket pocket to warm up while a subsititute would come on for a little while. I tended to rotate three pens on an given sketch. It reminded me of playing football when I was a kid and they would take you off for a while to give another kid a go while you put your warm coat on. Anyway, it was with cold fingers that I drew this scene, thinking about when I used to catch the bus home up here, the 134 to Archway, several years ago.

Passsers-by were very friendly. Several people stopped and asked me about the buildings I was drawing. I told them, in this city so few people look up, just staring at shop level or avoiding the masses of bears who wait at the corners all ready to eat the sillies who tread on the lines in the street, and though those old facades are grimy and ridden with pigeons and pollution, the architecture hidden in plain sight is really very interesting.

also posted at urban sketchers

please beware: this is the bald-faced stag

"please beware: this is the bald faced stag"

It actually says that on a sign on the door, honestly. This is the (infamous) Stag, on Burnt Oak Broadway, scene of many a late-night punch-up over the years. Everyone knows the Stag, it’s one of those pubs which are always there, central to a neighbourhood, not just any old boozer, a character in its own right. I don’t go there, personally, but I did pop in to finish the colour in this drawing in the warmth. I did feel a little self-conscious getting my little watercolour set out, not exactly hard-as-nails, but nobody cared. I hadn’t set foot in there for many many years, since I was a kid. My nan (‘nam’, we called her) used to drink in here every single day, she was a true regular. I imagined her sitting in that seat by the window where she always sat. I got all nostalgic. I could smell the cheese and onion crisps. There weren’t many people in there, but the conversations were generally littered with “f***ing this, f***ing that”; having lived in the swear-free States for a few years now I had forgotten how many times you are supposed to put the word “f***ing” within sentences when you come from Burnt Oak. It’s really a f***ing lot.  

After sketching this, I popped into a Romanian cafe/bakery across the road, and had a cup of tea with the owner, a Romanian man I hadn’t seen in over twenty years, an old family friend. That was nice; he gave me a huge plate of Romanian cream cakes to take home to my family. A fun first day back in Burnt Oak, the f***in’ town where I was f***ing’ born, innit.

home again

mum's kitchenI just got back from two weeks in London, where the weather was changeable and there was Match of the Day, trifle and turkey rasher sandwiches to look forward to. And now the scanning and posting begins in earnest! I sketched a lot in London. There was a lot to sketch. But it was cold, very cold, sometimes wet, very wet, and the sun went down at about half-past three, so it was dark, very dark. I loved it. I do miss my home town sometimes.

However, by being across the pond we were missing Thanksgiving, so my American wife cooked my British family a lovely Thanksgiving meal of roast turkey, mashed potaoes, green beans with caramelized onions, gravy and amazing pumpkin pie to finish it off. Thanksgiving is my favourite of the American holidays, by far, so it was nice to share that with my family in Burnt Oak.mum's living room

I got up very early (jetlag) and sketched in the kitchen, pre-meal. I also drew a slice of the living room. I wasn’t involved with the cooking; my job that day was to entertain my son, so I took him out and we explored the town where I was born (well, the suburb), the park, the shops, the library. This is the house where I grew up, drawn quickly in purple micron pen.

It was nice being back home in the UK, though it was only for a short while. I enjoyed Match of the Day (Lineker and his banter with Hansen), I lapped up the trifle (especially my brother’s, he has a secret recipe), and I ate a lot of turkey rasher sandwiches. Bliss.

they say that london is brighton-by-the-land

I’m still here folks. Well, not here, but there. Freezing my little fingers off, not to mention my poor Pigma Micron pens (unused to sketching in such climates, and you can’t even buy them here), in my home town. Just below, Moley #5 on Tottenham Court Road, just down from Paperchase, just before midday.  

my cold fingers, in london

The Moley and the Microns (and a Uni-pin fineliner) have been kept very busy, up and down the streets. I will scan all at some point, but not just yet. And that title is a David Devant-ism, if you’re interested. Meanwhile, I am enjoying Match of the Day, Cadbury’s Chocolate, Trifle, Tesco Metro, Unpredictable Weather, University Challenge (I had forgotten just how fast and long those questions are!!), Expensive Lukewarm Beers,  and Highgate. I am nonplussed by cultural references (who the bloody hell is Jedward? Please don’t answer), astounded that I’m a bleedin’ Celebrity is still on the air, and please what has happened to all the Lilt, I can’t find it anybloodywhere. America may as well be a million miles away to me: I’m back home, briefly.