at the foot of the mountain, such a long way to climb…

E street, Davis

I am finally using my Urban Sketchers Moleskine, the accordion/Japanese-style book that I got from the Urban Sketching Symposium in Portland (wow, that ground-breaking event was two months ago now!). I am trying out brown Pitt pens, and have decide to devote the book to one long series of drawings set around the city of Davis. This is a fun project, and a little ambitious, as I will have a second book devoted solely to campus. The plan is to show them side by side as two long drawings. I decided on brown because I liked the soft effect it had against the yellowy Moleskine paper, which I have not always loved (and nor have my other pens, but the Pitt ones quite enjoy it). The sketchbook format is a little tricky to keep hold of (I use lots of clips; however I like what Gerard Michel did while filling his), and it’s a bugger to scan, but I’m getting the hang of it. 

The first in this series (minus a gap on the top right corner where the word “Davis” will go) was drawn on E Street, sat on the steps outside the Natsoulas gallery. I’ve sketched this building  a couple of times before, it’s an interesting little house downtown (but really I’m more interested in that pipework in the foreground, as you know). I’m already a few drawings in, but this is the first…stay tuned for more!

when the circus comes

kcra3 van at gubernatorial debate, uc davis

Politics has come to town. The first of the California gubernatorial elections (yes, I do just like saying that word) was held yesterday in the Mondavi Center at UC Davis. The race for Arnie’s successor is on. In the democrat corner, Jerry Brown, the man who was governor a long time ago, during the 1849 Gold Rush or something. In the republican corner, Meg Whitman, founder of e-bay, which might come in handy when she’s auctioning off all of our public services and state parks. I watched some of the debate on TV; it was pretty underwhelming, as expected, but I know which of the two I’d vote for, if I had the vote.

I popped out at lunchtime to witness some of the preparations. Police cars were everywhere, lining the entire building. The media were setting up camp, and so I sat in the shade and sketched this KCRA3 News TV van. KCRA3 is our local station, it’s the news channel with Edie Lambert and Gulstan Dart (who hosted the debate), and of course KCRA3 Chief Superior Weather Plus Meteorologist Doppler Radar Controller Grand Lord Mark Finan and his colleague/substitute/baldrick, Dirk Verdoorn; I’ve spoken about these Californian weather guys before. It was really hot – it may be almost October, but we’re having 100-plus degree heat here in Calfiornia. As I was finishing the sketch, a member of the UC Davis news office took my photo. I couldn’t sketch the debate itself, but I was pleased to at least document it in my own small way.

these aren’t the droids you’re looking for

Downtown LA fire hydrantMarina del Rey hydrant

You may recall I have a thing for sketching fire hydrants. Well, here are a few more. These forst two are from Los Angeles, sketched on our recent trip there. The short one with the long noses was sketched while waiting for the bus on the corner of Flower and Wilshire. incidentally, taking the bus in LA was fine, but changing buses at a fairly rough feeling underpass in Culver City with a suitcase in tow was a little anxious. Still, we survived and went down to Marina del Rey, where I sketched the peculiar looking hydrant above right, which was outside our hotel. 

fire hydrant on 8th & irvingby the ferry building

Two more, from San Francisco this time, the stumpy one with the red top on the left was on Irvine Street in the Inner Sunset, while the all-white one was sketched after dark while waiting for the Amtrak bus outside the Ferry Building.

And finally, Davis. I spotted this unusual shaped one on Fifth Street on Saturday, and it had to go in the book. I’m a fire-hurdant-sketching machine. In fact I’ve got a new set on Flickr devoted to them (and other urban pipes) (and beer-pumps, because they, you know, serve a similar purpose).

hydrant on 5th street

call me bubbles, everybody does…

champagne! 5 years in america!

So anyway, to celebrate five years in America, we drank champagne, pink champagne. This has been some time coming – we have been saving this for just such an occasion (this very nice bottle having been brought over by my very excellent friend and best man Roshan for mine and my wife’s fifth anniversary last year), and we figured the fifth anniversary of our emigration was a good time to crack it open, and it was very good indeed. You can’t beat good proper champagne. The bottle was fun to draw too, and I’ve started a new brown paper sketchbook, much bigger than the last one.

and now my life has changed in oh so many ways

Five years ago today I moved to the US, and we’ve been here ever since. Just thought I’d mention it.

It was a culture shock, for sure. One of the first things I did was not get my sketchbook out – I wasn’t drawing as much back then – but throw a pumpkin at the Santa Rosa harvest fair. I even blogged about it, back in 2005: So you know, I have moved a lot of the stuff from my old blog onto my one. There’s more to come, but my ‘letters from america’ are all there (which were weekly observations for the first year, and then tailed off), plus a lot of the sketchbloggery.

It’s been a journey (and it still is). I really miss family and friends (and chocolate bars) back home. I like it here though, and I like Americans, they’re very friendly. I have my own American family now. But I still say ‘zed’, and spell it ‘colour’, and drink endless cups of tea and eat baked beans and watch the footy and get grumpy about queues and say ‘innit’ and call everyone ‘mate’ and complain about the weather no matter how hot/cold it is. I’ll always be a Burnt Oaker. But I also say ‘diaper’ and ‘crosswalk’ and ‘RE-peat’ and carry hand-sanitizer around with me and … no, that’s it. But I’m slowly Americanizing. If I wasn’t, I’d have just written ‘Americanising’;I chose not to.

So to celebrate, today I cooked a nice typical British Sunday roast.

modern art makes me want to rock out

artfest guitarist artfest stradipearius

Last Friday I went out to the far western edge of Davis, to the fourth annual Stonegate Art Fest. It’s an exhibition of artwork – paintings, sculptures, photography – put on by the residents of the Stonegate area. I went to see the work of my colleague Rahman Azari and his wife (both are excellent artists), and do some sketching, and also spread the word about the upcoming Davis sketchcrawl on October 16. I met some interesting local artists and spent a lot of time talking, so only managed two sketches. I drew the guitarist (Kit Sodergren), who played an acoustic set; he was playing “If I Fell” by the Beatles as I sketched this. The other drawing is called “Stradipearius”, a piece by Eric Nelson which was part of the ‘box project’ the stonegate artists were invited to do. Each was given a small wooden box and asked to create something from it, with diverse results. Afterwards, I cycled home, through a Davis which is now full of people and new students, past frat houses which are ‘rushing’, and a downtown full of music and the excitement of the new school year. Summer is over*, and Fall is here at last.

(*when I say Summer is over, I say it while it’s like, 95 degrees outside)

beneath a palm tree

on the beach at santa monica

We relaxed beneath a palm tree on the beach at Santa Monica, with an ice cream an a mango smoothie. I love it down there, by the Ocean. I’m a big fan of the Ocean Park area. I could live there.


jadis, santa monica

On Main Street in Ocean Park/Santa Monica is a little place, an eccentric museum of sorts, with an interesting window display, a large fantastical flying machine (which I didn’t have time to draw). It was enough to draw me inside. I couldn’t just walk in of course – the door was barred. There was a sign saying that the entry fee was $100, with a 99% discount if you paid in cash. You also get two for one if you knock, so we did. We were greeted by an old fellow (slightly reminiscent of Catweazle) who oozed interesting tales and ripping yarns. This place was, as he told us, the personal collection of Parke Meek, who died earlier this year. There was a photo of him holding a sign saying “The Customer is Always Wrong”. I liked him straight away. He collected technological history, and created technologically themed movie props which are leased to production companies and appear in all sorts of films and commercials (like those big Frankenstein-style electric control boards, from which the bottom two sketches were made). They kindly allowed me to sketch; I had to sketch the old phone, and that item on the top there is a 1904 ediphone, a kind of turn-of-the-century dictaphone. I only sketched for a little while (we were off to the beach!).

If you’re in Ocean Park, you should pop by. This place is cool.

venetian sunday

venice canals

Have you ever been to the Venice canals? I don’t mean the ones in the actual Venice in Italy, I mean the ones in Venice in California, that you sometimes see in the movies (soppy movies, admittedly). We were there on our weekend in LA (it was our anniversary; appropriate, since we got engaged in the actual Venice) (and honeymooned at the Venetian), strolling about the narrow sidewalks along the water, admiring the houses, wondering which ones we would live in if we suddenly became very rich (I’d have to sell a lot of drawings I think). It was calm, there was no noise of cars, just the tweeting of birds. If we lived there I’d want a little boat.

Speaking of waterways, we stayed just around the corner in Marina del Rey, where our hotel was a block away from the Cheesecake Factory, and our room had an amazing view over the marina itself. I sketched it quickly just before we checked out.

marina del rey hotel view

LA galaxy

LA Disney Concert Hall
Part two of my downtown Los Angeles sketches. I slowly went uphill. On another day when I have more time (and I said this three years ago when I last decided not to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art) I’ll go to the MOCA. On this day, I was grabbing as many sketches as I could, and stood outside it (leaning against a newspaper stand of course), and drew the space age Walt Disney Concert hall (I say ‘space age’, I mean ‘the Death Star after a fight with Magneto’), by the legendary Frank Gehry. It’s home to the LA Philharmonic.

LA public library

I also drew the downtown Public Library. That’s a pretty nice building too, but I didn’t have time to go in and browse. Well, I know what I’m like with libraries, I’d be there forever. A fire hydrant just happened to poke its way into view.

And below, looking up, and looking down. Bye-bye downtown LA.

LA corner of wilshireLA no dumping