the pool of london

hms belfast

This is almost it for London sketches, I promise you. But not quite yet. These were sketched down at the Pool of London – that stretch of the Thames after London Bridge, the true ancient heart of London the river city. It was an absolutely freezing cold day, bitter and icy, with snow still blasted to surfaces even here in central London, days after the massive blizzard. The scene above is of HMS Belfast, the battleship-turned-tourist spot permanently moored in the Pool of London, with the ancient Tower of London to the left and the less ancient Tower Bridge to the right. The Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror in the late eleventh century as a symbol of the Normans’ military control of the capital, while Tower Bridge  was built at the end of the nineteenth century because people needed to get from one side of the Thames to the other.

I found this great spot to sketch all three, on a little covered outcrop overlooking thethe gherkin Thames, with benches and shelter from the wind. I sat down to sketch, got my moleskine and pens out, started to sketch and then within three minutes a couple of men from India came up and asked me not to sit there. They would be filming there, and needed me to move. I saw that there were some other people there with them, and one had a camera (not a film or TV camera, but just a fancy hand-held). “How long will you be?” I asked. I didn’t want to lose my opportunity to sketch this scene. They both answered at the same time, one said “ten minutes”, one said “half an hour to an hour”.

“Which is it?” I replied. “Half an hour at least,” they said. I told them I wanted to sketch here, it’s a public place.

“You can come back another time, the ship’s not going anywhere,” one said back to me.

“But I  am,” I said. “Do you have a permit to film here?”

I know that you need a permit if you’re out filming and require the public to not go into public places. Again they both answered at the same time: one said “yes, the other said “no”. I asked to see it. No response. I knew they didn’t have one. 

“Look,” I conceded, “I’ll give you fifteen minutes, and then I’m coming back and I will sketch here.” Thankfully they agreed; it was either that or call a policeman to sort out who has what rights to be where. I went off and did a quick ten-minute sketch of the Gherkin (see right), then went and warmed my hands up in a bookstore, before resuming my spot to sketch HMS Belfast. They were filming some romantic kissing scene, but they didn’t object when I came back for my turn. While I sketched, several people came along and stood in the way to take photos and look at the view, and I didn’t mind because they had every right to.  It is an amazing view.

london bridge

And this I sketched shortly before then, at London Bridge. This looks towards the heart of the City of London – you can see Tower 42 and the golden-topped column of the Monument there. That column, built by Christopher Wren to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666, would, if it fell over, reach the exact spot in Pudding Lane where the fire began. Presumably Wren kept that fact to himself, lest gangs of curious seventeenth-century scallywags attempt to push it over to find out. There has been a bridge on this spot called London Bridge since the time of the Romans, and yes, previous incarnations did sometimes fall down (or burn down, usually). This particular London Bridge dates back to the 1970s, when the previous one (which was not falling down, but sinking) was sold to a man in Arizona who needed it to sell postcards.

I however was utterly freezing. After these sketches I went and had a nice hot chicken pie.

things that go

toy taxi

I like sketching my son’s toys, as it is a good way to capture them for posterity. Here are some of his many vehicles. Above, a taxi cab – very American. I sketched it in my samll WH Smith sketchbook – I rarely use that book these days but it’s really nice, especially for sketches like this.

duplo police motorcycle

Here’s a Duplo policeman with his police motorcycle (or ‘motorskykle’ as my son calls it; when he first learned to talk, it was one of the first words he learned and it was always ‘kykle!’) I’ve been trying to find the police car too but no shops seem to carry it. It’s online of course but quite expensive. I’m quite into Duplo and Lego. One of the great things about becoming a father is you get to play with all these cool toys…

duplo firetruck

And here is one of his Duplo firetrucks. Firetrucks are the big thing. I coloured this one with Staedtler watercolour pencils, I don’t use them often but really like them. They especially have a cool effect when drawing toys.

Next: a fleet of helicopters…

brrrrr! drawing uc davis

a little bit of england

After a week of winter storms and immense downpours, the weather calmed down a little (just a little) in time for the latest Let’s Draw Davis sketchcrawl. It still rained, but the main thing was that it was freezing cold! So not as many people came as on the last one, but a few of us braved the cold and got sketching. We met at the corner of 3rd and A – the rather optimistic plan was to sketch the UC Davis campus all day. I was sketching mostly in my new  59c micro-sketchbook and captured lots of little mini-sketches, some of which are below (I didn’t bother scanning all of them). The final sketch of the day, in a period when there was a little sun, was done at the MU bus station on campus, a little piece of England (the phone box above). That on was in my moleskine.


Allan Hollander, veteran Davis sketcher.
helennewspaper boxes

Helen Peng from China, plus some newspaper boxes sketched from a cafe.


Cynthia Sterling, sketcher from Napa. 
3rd & A, davis

Sketched at the meeting point, 3rd and A. Note the raindrops on my paper! (I was using a water soluble pen for a change).

The next Let’s Draw Davis sketchcrawl will be in March (probably the 19th or 20th) at the Arboretum… details soon! Hopefully, the weather will be a little warmer…

watching john adams

john adams (well, paul giamatti)

A couple of weeks ago I finished watching the HBO period show ‘John Adams’ on DVD, with Paul Giamatti. For those who don’t know, Adams was the second American president and the first ambassador to the UK. I knew that, because I used to go past his house on my London tour years ago (it’s on Grosvenor Square). It was a good series, covering an interesting period in history (if I go for my citizenship, I’ll know all the answers to that test now). I had to sketch Giamatti while watching. It’s funny, when I first started watching the series, I found myself suddenly putting on their voices and accents, which were less USA and more Somerset farmer Giles (especially Benjamin Franklin). “Ooh-arh, oy don’t much like dem taxes on moy cuppa tea, arh, an’ oy don’t loyk dat king George, ‘im very mad, moy lovely, arh”.  I even started wishing people still wore those funny wigs (which appeared to be more like hats).


Anyway folks…tomorrow, Let’s Draw Davis, sketching around UC Davis from 10:30… it’s raining still now, but it’s supposed to be sunny in the morning. Hope to see you there!

and don’t dilly-dally on the way

st james church, piccadillypiccadilly postbox

Londonistas, fear not. I still haven’t finished posting all of my London sketches from December. There are still more to come. I’ve been spreading them out over a period of a couple of months to keep you coming back. Or rather, because I’ve just not gotten around to scanning and cropping and blah blah. Still, it mixes it up a bit – San Francisco here, Islington there, Sacramento here, little bit of Davis. This is Piccadilly, in central London. It’s a thoroughfare named after those ruff collars that people used to wear years ago (think Shakespeare, Raleigh, Blackadder…) and full of fine shops and elegances. St. James’s church (above left) is a great old Wren church, free of stained glass (as was the fashion in Protestant England) and a building I’ve wanted to sketch for quite a while. Light was fading though (the sun goes down at about midday in England in December) so I had to be quick. A few people asked if I sold my sketches while I was sat there. One even asked me in Italian. Another said he’d give me a fiver for it. Sorry, I said, this is part of my sketchbook and I don’t cut out pages. A tenner then, he said. Hmmm, five hundred quid, I said. Bargaining ended there, and I got back to sketching.

I sketched a post box on St. James Street. It has two slots for letters, which is handy if you’re in a hurry. It reminded me of that line in Little Britain, “if you put a second class stamp on a letter in Britain, it’s guaranteed to arrive somewhere at some point in the future, maybe.” Ah, Britain. When I used to be a tourguide I would tell my American tourists that the “ER” meant ‘Emergency Room’. I also used to tell people that, where an ‘L’ plate on a car means ‘Learner’, the ‘GB’ sticker means ‘Getting Better’.   

the angel commonly called erosgielgud theatre, shaftesbury avenue

I also used to tell them that Piccadilly Circus was the Times Square of London (which is what we’re supposed to say), and that the statue of ‘Eros’ isn’t Eros at all. It’s called the Angel of Christian Charity, and was erected for the Earl of Shaftesbury. It is supposed to point up Shaftesbury Avenue, but now i fact points the other way, due to a mistake when re-erecting it. Now it’s used as the emblem of that paragon of virtue and unbiased truth, the Evening “we can’t even justify being paid for so now we’re free” Standard. It was, as always, very busy. McDonalds was jam packed; it was like Piccadilly Circus.

And there on the right, the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, in the Theatreland of Soho. I remember when this used to be the Globe Theatre, but it got changed and now we have a different theatre called the Globe (something to do with that Shakespeare guy again, they’re still going on about him). As I sketched, a group of small oiks gathered around me to watch. I sped up and moved to a different spot. I don’t trust small oiks, out in feral packs on the streets of London. I do like it round here though; a mate of mine lived about a block north of this spot years ago, up in Berwick Street, and those were great times. I can even remember some of them.

where the riverboat swayed beneath the sun

i st bridge, sacramento

Sacramento on a Sunday afternoon, down by the river. I popped over there on the bus for some sketching and shopping. It was the last of our lovely warm February days before the rains came (I say ‘before the rains came’ like it’s some endless deluge – it rained a bit yesterday, and might rain again today, and possibly tomorrow – that’s all). It was nice by the river though. I sat on the Delta Queen riverboat and sketched the I Street Bridge, a big old swivel-bridge used by trains and cars.  

waterfront building, old Sacramento

Before that, I sat beside the Delta Queen and looked up at the old buildings on the waterfront of Old Town Sacramento. I’ve been meaning to sketch these for a while, with the big wooden beams beneath holding up the boardwalk. I sat on the little jetty while families of daytrippers with bouncy children hopped past.

And below, the golden yellow Tower Bridge, crossing the Sacramento River at Capitol Mall.

tower bridge, sacramento

while the sun shines

saturday afternoon

Saturday afternoon at home, sketching at home while the young one naps. I enjoy the shadows of the wintery tree on the apartments opposite. Listening to the radio, the talk of Egypt and change in the middle east. Watched the football in the morning, Spurs beating Sunderland (quite how I’m not sure, but wins are wins). Finishing off reading ‘A Game of Thrones’ (whoah!). Watching the ‘X-Men: First Class’ trailer online. Another week until the next Let’s Draw Davis sketchcrawl (this Saturday, Feb 19th folks), wishing that the glorious sunny weather would stay for that. It won’t; the rain is already back in Davis. But I will still be out there sketching. I’ll just bring a raincoat. 

how does your garden grow

RMI building

On Friday lunchtime, I sketched inside the Robert Mondavi Institute for food and wine and other stuff, because I needed to get out and sketch and it’s a couple of minutes from where I work. I have drawn inside here before, from a different angle, and they have an incredible garden full of all kinds of plants and herbs and lemons and what not. There’s a nice smell as you sit and sketch. It’s called the Good Life Garden. I’m not making it up; I was expecting Richard Briers and Felicity Kendall to turn up, or at the very least, Neil from the Young Ones. 

I used a white gel pen to emphasize the bare trees. This sunny February weather is amazing! I want to do a long sketch of the building from the new vinyards at some point, but I think time of day is importnat. Lunchtime sketching can be a little frustrating – even though the light is still great, it’s better in the early mornings and late afternoons. At least I have this sunlight. Some places are grey and cloudy and drizzly at this time of year.

this is your leffe

leffe blonde

Back to sketching in the brown sketchbook, and this is Leffe blonde. It reminds me of living in Belgium, going to Brussels on the weekend. I do like a Belgian beer. I have many Belgian beer glasses which I got while in Belgium, and now have in the US. My favourite Belgian beers are 1. Charles Quint (Keizer Karel), 2. Fruit Defendu (Verboden Vrucht), 3. Kwak, 4. Leffe Blonde, 5. Westmalle Triple. You know, in case you happen to see me in the pub in Belgium (which admittedly isn’t likely, but if you do, it’ll be the Cuve a Biere in Charleroi).

up hill, down hill

powell & california, nob hill

The cable car from Fisherman’s Wharf up to Nob hill cost me five bucks. Five dollars! (You don’t put bourbon in it or nothing?) So I turned the ticket into a piece of art. Well, I sketched on it. Not easy when you don’t have Pritt Stick on you to glue it down. I held it to the paper with my thumb as I sketched (harder than you might think, given it was a really windy day on top of a pretty windy hill), but I liked the image of the cable car so it became part of the sketch. this is the view down California, from Powell. I have sketched this spot before a few years ago in another odd fashion (I don’t seem to ever draw this view normally).

chinatown, san francisco

Down the hill we go, to Chinatown. It was Chinese New Year and there were lots of dragons and parades and celebrations going on down there. That was hours before I went, though, so it was much quieter while I sketched. I don’t come to Chinatown often (you go there lots when you’re new to San Francisco, but now I see it as a bit too touristy and cramped – hah, that’s rich after sketching at Pier 39). I like all the colours though, and there is always something to draw. Plus it’s historic, and you can’t beat historic. (Actually ‘cool’ sometimes beats ‘historic’, but this isn’t Top Trumps). This is my favourite spot, on the corner of California and Grant, by the Old St. Mary’s Cathedral.

And so I went shopping, and went home on the train, and had a nice cold beer while waiting to turn 35.