if the sun don’t come you get a tan from standing in the english rain

name your saucesbig ben

The smart thing to do would be to check the weather forecast and then decide what to do, but of course as anyone who is familiar with London summers (or winters, autumns and springs) knows, the weather forecast cannot be relied upon anyway. We’d planned to do a walking tour around Westminster (one of the London Walks; I illustrated their book a couple of years ago, including the chapter on Secret Westminster) and wasn’t going to be put off by a few drops of rain. Indeed it looked like it would be just another breezy, grey Saturday, maybe the odd drop here and there but nothing to worry us. We met the group outside a tourist-packed Westminster station, giving me enough time to grab a ten minute sketch of Big Ben (above) before learning about Westminster’s secrets. As we stood behind Westminster Abbey looking at Oliver Cromwell across the road, the rain suddenly turned into a torrent, and pretty much stayed that way for the next few hours.

rainy walk in westminster

It was an interesting tour, to be sure, despite the massive downpour. We went down backstreets of Westminster I never even knew about, and took a stroll through the old Westminster school. Of course I attempted to sketch as we went along, which was a challenge I’ll admit. Once it was all over (a little earlier than planned, I suspect), we went to a pub in Whitehall, the Old Shades, to dry off and have something to eat.  
the shades, whitehall

Not that the rain deterred us too much. We still spent a day around central London, popping into the National Gallery, squeezing through the crowds at Hamley’s, looking through the football shirt shops (hey, it’s me).

shoe in pall mall window

And then in the evening, a night out in Camden Town with friends (one of whom, Ralph, I hadn’t seen in over twenty years). Before meeting up, I grabbed another very quick sketch standing on Camden High street. So despite all the rain, that was a fun day, and it was a fun night as well.

camden sketch

sitting in an english garden waiting for the sun

mum's garden in burnt oak

I always get up early on my first morning back in Burnt Oak. Often I will go and sketch in the kitchen, listen to the news, have a cup of tea. It was pretty gloomy out, so I looked out the window and sketched the back garden. Later on, it would rain, and rain hard, and we would be out in central London getting drenched, but at this point it was just overcast, a typical changeable English summer.

garden gnomes

I drew these the next day, in the rain. This gnome has slept in that garden since I was a kid, and though his paint has peeled away, he hasn’t woken up yet. These were drawn onto a postcard which I sent to my son. I sent him postcards nearly every day, each with a drawing on them. I must say, this is very much the English palette. While Lisbon has a lot of yellow and blue, London has its greeny grey and brown.

hey paper champion!

philadelphia museum of art

Five hours to kill in Philadelphia, so what do I do? Do I go down to the historic centre, visit where United States of America was made, see the Liberty Bell, see where Ben Franklin lived, eat a Philly cheesesteak? Well I wouldn’t do the last one as I don’t eat that sort of meat. No, for me it’s all about Rocky. I took the train to 30th St Station (an impressively grand station, in what I must say is an impressively grand city), checked out a map with my ipod on the free wifi (gotta love technology), and walked over to the famous Museum of Art, where Rocky Balboa famously ran up the famous steps, humming the famous tune under his breath, jumped up and down a few times, then ran down and got back into his tourist bus with the scores of other people doing the same. I for one walked up the steps. The view is very nice. At the bottom of the steps and to the side is the famous (and impressively grand) statue of Rocky, a prop from the movies which has become a pilgrimage spot for folks like, well, me. Well I wish they had a statue of Clubber Lang, he’s my favourite. Him and Mickey. “This guy’ll kill ya to death! He’ll knock ya to tomorrow!” Anyway after a sketch and a few photos of the Italian Stallion, I sauntered back to the train station, having only enough time to stop and sketch one Philly fire hydrant. I liked the yellow traffic lights here too. And then I flew to England, to tell everyone I saw Rocky. They were suitably impressed.

rocky statuephilly hydrant

getting to where you should be going

sacramento to philadelphia
The first few of a good many “travelling” sketches. The first above was sketched on the flight from Sacramento to Philadelphia. I must say US Airways were pretty good. The last time I flew with them (to Vegas in February) the plane was small and couldn’t carry the weight of all its passengers. The ones I took for these longer journeys on the other hand were modern and spacious, and more than capable of carrying a few extra big-macs. When I got to Philadelphia airport, I had more than five hours to occupy myself. There are only so many airport stores to look in and departure lounge seats to draw, so I took the train into downtown Philadelphia, a very grand East Coast city with nice yellow traffic lights and ornage fire hydrants (wait for the next post!).

philadelphia train

Finally I left Philly, and got my plane back home across the Atlantic. I didn’t watch any of the offered movies, but I did play a few games of chess against the airplane computer. And beat it almost every time (except for one in which I did all I could to get a stalemate, and I got it – I aint losing to the back of a chair). Sleeping was a little more difficult. It always is. I can fall asleep on a five minute bus ride, and miss my stop, but put on a flight across the Atlantic and I’m like a Bizarro Rip van Winkle.

philly to london

my thoughts are far away

torre belem, lisboa

I am finally back from the 2nd International Urban Sketching Symposium in Lisbon, and the accompanying trip home to London, with a massive amount of sketches to scan and post. Where to begin? Well the obvious answer would be at the beginning, but I don’t know if I can be as linear as that, though I will try. So I’m starting in the middle somewhere. This sketch, drawn on “Day Zero” in Lisbon (the day before the Symposium, but halfway through the actual trip) is of the famous Torre Belem, one of the most recognisable landmarks in Lisbon, sat amidst the waters of the Tagus River. It dates back to the early 1500s. In the background is the 25 de Abril Bridge, which resembles a cross between the San Francisco Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge (the same people built the Bay Bridge as it happens). I had arrived in Lisbon that day after five rainy days in London, and the blue sky immediately made me feel more at home (I’m a Californian now, aren’t I).

I have so much scanning yet to do from this trip, it may take me a while! I completed a whole small red moleskine sketchbook, largely with people sketches and journal notes from the trip, and filled the majority of my watercolour moleskine. I met a lot of very cool people from countries all over the world, many of whom I had been following and admiring for several years. It was a busy schedule, for sure, and having twice the number of participants of last year’s symposium in Portland it felt a little overwhelming, but Lisbon blew me away – what an amazing city. Beautiful, colourful, historic, vibrant, yet relaxed, not overcrowded and hectic like London was. I want to go there again!

pete sketching belem

For now, here’s a photo of me sketching in Belem. This is a pose, as the drawing was just finished. I’m telling you it was a pose because I have since seen many photos and many drawings by other urban sketchers in Lisbon that show how I really look when I sketch – if you think I hold my pen in a funny way, you should see how I contort myself when I sit and sketch! I never noticed before. I’ll get around to posting everything very soon. In the meantime, please check out everyone else’s drawings and photos on the Urban Sketchers Lisbon Symposium Flickr Group.

I’m sketching all over the world

Sorry for the lack of posting… I’ve been in London sketching in the rain, and am now in Lisbon for the 2nd Urban Sketching Symposium! Sketches will be (and already are) coming thick and fast so stay tuned! Many thanks to those of you who helped me get here by buying dome of my drawings. Now I shall get some sleep, lots to learn in the morning!

the space between us

RMI building

The Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science at UC Davis, sketched from afar on the Old Davis Road. Pass by it every day, always wanted to sketch from this spot, beneath a shady tree at the other end of the vinyards, planted a couple of years ago or so. UC Davis is a leading institution for viticulture and enology. California has a lot of wine-growers. I like this sketch; it illustrates the colours of Davis, the local ‘palette’, and gives a nice sense of location – not just northern California in the middle of July when the grass is ochre and the sky is permanent blue, but my actual location while sketching it, sat distantly among the foliage.  

Tomorrow my location will be even further away, as I’ll be flying off to England, and then to Portugal…