free as a firebird

blue pontiac firebird

This blue Pontiac Firebird, with furry dice in the window, was parked on 2nd Street last week when I was on my way downtown. I had to stand and sketch it. There’s a real primary colours feel to the classic cars I’m finding to sketch lately (ie, they’re usually red, yellow or blue). Speaking of primaries, big ones today in America. Michigan and Arizona. Mitt vs Rick, with Newt and Ron sitting it out. They should just merge them all into one candidate, “Mittrick Newtron” and have done with it. I must say, I’m dreading this marathon-of-marathons election season reaching California, all those horrible endless pointless soul-destroying attack ads, paid for by super-pacs and other nefarious organizations, which unfortunately really do have an effect on the outcome of elections, regardless of a candidate’s actual worth. And these torrential ads are called free speech… free to the highest bidder. I’m almost glad I can’t vote for any of them.

don’t start me talking, i could talk all night

de vere's, davis

Last night’s talk at the Avid Reader went very well, a lot of people came (many thanks to all who came!). I spoke for, I’m not sure, an hour and a half, maybe two hours? It was nigh on half past nine when I left anyway. I introduced the new Urban Sketchers book, ‘The Art of Urban Sketching’, spoke about Urban sketchers as a group, as a philosophy, how it all started, and I think I may have made some sense occasionally, stringing my planned talk together like I string my sketchcrawls together, if you know what I mean. I talked a bit about my own sketching, how and why I do it, and passed around some images of Davis that I’ve drawn. Quite a few familiar faces were there, for which I was very thankful! I even signed some books; nice to see  so many people with the Urban Sketchers book, I hope they’ll be as inspired by all the other sketchers as I am! I read from the book, the manifesto, the profiles of certain artists, showed some of my favourite images in the book (several of them were by Luis Ruiz, including his one of Malaga’s now-closed oldest bookstore, Libreria Cervantes, which was very relevant being talked about in an independent bookstore, although the Avid Reader is doing pretty well these days and is in fact expanding into the former space of the recently closed toystore, Alphabet Moon, three doors down the street). I tried to talk a lot about urban sketching to Davis and cities like it, how we as urban sketchers are recording  a place’s history in personal ways; I was pleased to meet another artist who had also painted the Davis Lock and Safe building, for example. My throat was getting pretty dry by the end of it.

So after the talk, I popped over to De Vere’s for a cold beer. All of this talk about drawing meant I was just itching to pick up a pen again, so I went straight to the bar and started sketching, and sketching, and sketching. I lay down a wash of browny-yellowy-orange first, to represent the bar’s light, then draw over that in my black uni-ball signo pen. I couldn’t represent the bar’s noise though – where last week’s Little Prague outing was defined by very loud music, this was deifned by very loud talking. It got packed quickly, and you couldn’t hear any music, but quite often people were yelling over each other at the bar. I however kept inside my bubble, and didn’t really mind; I had done all the talking I could that night, and now was my quiet time, in a barful of noise (that’s livin’ alright).

a look at the book of the art of urban sketching

The Art of Urban Sketching

I am really enjoying The Art of Urban Sketching. It’s also fun seeing people from all around the world enjoying it as much as I am, and hopefully being inspired to get out and draw by every page. I like it so much, that I will be at the Avid Reader bookstore on 2nd St, Davis this Friday, Feb 24th at 7:30pm, talking about the book, about Urban Sketchers, and about urban sketching in general. If you fancy coming along to hear me yap on and on and maybe pick up a copy of the book (and support one of your local independent stores), pop by the Avid Reader at half seven this Friday evening!

PS: here is an excellent video of Gabi Campanario, the book’s author and founder of Urban Sketchers, talking about the book on local Seattle TV this week along with Gail Wong of the Seattle Urban Sketchers group. Enjoy!

The Avid Reader, Davis

The Art of Urban Sketching (Facebook page)

Urban Sketchers

wait a minute, mister postman

silo on an envelope

Another envelope sketch, though this one was on an airmail envelope from India. The Silo, where I yet again had lunch today. You can sketch anywhere, you don’t even need a sketchbook (though sketchbooks are nicer and more organized).

now you see it… now you don’t

davis locksmiths, now gone
There’s a Davis building which has been around forever, and which I have drawn a couple of times now, Davis Lock and Safe on 4th St. Since drawing it I have had many local people (and non-locals too) how much they like that building; sure it’s empty, downtrodden, ramshackle, but it’s comforting, been there since they were a kid, cycle past it every day. Well, as of just a few weeks ago, it is gone!

former site of davis lock and safe

It was demolished, and now the land stands empty. I have no idea what will go in there. I went down to sketch on Sunday. It’s useful for urban sketchers to document their environments, because once they change, they are changed for good.

Below, this is the first sketch of the building I did in 2010. Bye bye, Lock and Safe!

davis lock and safe co.

she’s a nice girl

red fiat in davis

Bloody lovely weather yesterday in Davis, so I went and sketched for a bit in the afternoon. I spotted this beauty parked on 3rd Street, so I parked myself on the sidewalk and whipped out the moleskine sketchbook. There were quite a lot of very sketchable cars out yesterday, for some reason, but I didn’t have time for them all. One thing that drew me to this car was its shadow – basically, it is Batman. Who knew?! There’s this advert on the telly these days for Fiats where this guy is confronted by a tall young Italian woman who slaps him in the face and then acts all seductively, before the guy realises she is just a car. My four-year-old saw that commercial, and he said dryly, “she’s a nice girl”, which had me in hysterics. He does like cool cars though, so this one’s for you matey.

i’ll be sitting when the evening comes

sf ferry building

Last weekend, my wife and I stayed in San Francisco, at the Hyatt Regency by the Embarcadero. Can’t get enough San Francisco! The views from the Hyatt are exceptional. After a day walking around the Mission, we took a break at the hotel before dinner and I drew the view from the hallway window: the Ferry Building, with the Bay Bridge spanning eastwards. The Sun was going down, so the light was constantly changing. Below, a quick sketch of the room. Both drawn in the Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

san francisco hyatt regency

whiskey in the jar-jar

little prague, davis (envelope from peking university)

Last night, I partied like it was 1999. That is to say, I went to see the Phantom Menace. In 3D. I know I always say that 3D is shite, and that Phantom Menace is, largely, also shite, but I couldn’t wait – this would be awesome man! Well, the chance to see Star Wars, any Star Wars, on the big screen again couldn’t be passed up. Phantom Menace has its faults (I am looking squarely at you, Jar-Jar Binks – time has not made it easier to forgive the Gungan for his hapless existence) but in many places it is quite great – Liam Neeson’s Qui-Gon is someone everyone would want to know, a favourite uncle, Obi-Wan’s lightsabre skills are still world class, and I think Jake Lloyd was superb as young Anakin. They made some improvements, fixing Yoda from that terrible puppet to a digital one that more closely resembles the original puppet, and switching all of Amidala’s lines with ones that made sense (actually they didn’t do that, sadly).  I was reminded of how excited everyone was when the trailer first aired,  when double-bladed lightsabre wielding face-painting experiment Darth Maul told us he would be revealed to the Jedi. But was it 3D? Nope.

It’s hard to just switch a regular movie into a 3D movie, I guess. I remember seeing Jaws 3D at the pictures when I was a kid and jumping out of my seat when a harpoon flew out of the screen – now that was 3D (actually, Edgware cinema it may have been a real harpoon, looking back). There were trailers for new 3D movies last night which did look quite spectacular, but they were made with 3D in mind. Phantom Menace just wasn’t. Not even the podraces, exciting though they were, particularly flew out of screen. The most 3D bit, seriously, was when Watto was speaking Huttese and the subtitles came up. I was like, “oooh floating letters!” After a while, the 3D glasses (“3D – Real D” it says, whatever the heck that is supposed to be) were bugging me. I expected those light cardboard ones you used to get, red on one side, blue on the other, but these were proper plastic sunglasses. They’re great, if you don’t already have glasses on. They fit over your glasses, but wearing two sets of specs is a real pain on the nose.

Still, after Darth Maul went to pieces, after Qui-Gon Jinn was set on fire and after the Gungans paraded their vuvuzelas in the streets of Naboo  (with Palpatine looking on saying to himself, seriously what part of “wipe them out” did they not understand??), it was fun to come out of the movie theatre feeling like I had relived the olden days. I then fancied a beer and a sketch. One other thing I did in 1999 was spend a couple of weeks in Prague, so I went to local pub Little Prague for some Czech beer. I’ve drawn this place several times before, and this time I drew on a brown envelope (from Peking University), using a uniball vision micro, a superb Y&G Calligraphy pen, and a white gel pen. Oh and a bit of warm grey Pitt brush pen. Took me about an hour and a half, while people milled about dancing and drinking. I like Little Prague, but the music on Friday nights can be a bit loud and, well, not my thing. Lots of others seemed to enjoy it though, but I concentrated on drawing all those bottles. I considered extending the envelope to draw the rest of the bar (I would love to do a curving panoramic of this bar sometime, perhaps on a less busy evening). I would like some time to organize a Drink and Draw type group here in Davis, something that seems to be popular in other cities. In the meantime, here’s wondering how the other Star Wars films will look in 3D. I think I can guess!

pride, my bottle and glass

london pride

Occasionally, I really miss London. Sure, there is a lot to be improved (for example, when I drank this bottle of London Pride I actually put it in the fridge first – tastes much better cold). When a man is tired of London, he’s usually tired of the Underground, or the council tax. And it’s just so crowded, and so many good stores have closed, and the weather is frankly shite when you most need it not to be. But I miss it, it’s home, it’s me, and of course it’s where the Olympics will be held this year, and it keeps cropping up in the media. With all this talk of London I am getting very homesick for my native city. Sure, there were horrendous scenes last summer during the riots; yeah, every headline is ‘stabbing this’ or ‘shooting that’, fine, the economy is so far down the plughole it may actually make it to the north sea, evaporate and come back as even more rain. I know, it rained every day on my last visit, and the one before that saw a blizzard of Narnian proportions. But what a place! The history is just everywhere; Burnt Oak, my home area, has a name that dates back to the Romans, sort of. It’s on the Edgware Road, the old Watling Street, built by the Romans. Of course nothing else was built there for another millennium plus a few more centuries, and then a couple more, but you know, it’s history, man. When I take a walk around the 1930s housing estates, to the 1960s era flats, and the kids playgrounds erected in the 1990s (and vandalized ten minutes later), all I can think of is, history man, we don’t get this sort of ancient history all around us in California, where everything was built like, five minutes ago, and there are no centuries-old epic highways built by road-building Latins before English speaking people arrived. (Well, there’s the Camino Real, but y’know)

Of course, I’m having a laugh, int ya. I always think it’s funny though when people in America (and the UK too) speak of London like a walk through the pages of history, when the great majority of things you will see are no older than the things you’ll likely see in the States (except for a few obvious exceptions; all the Norman churches and castles, for example, but even then they may have been heavily modified in later years). What’s older, the White House or Buckingham Palace? Tower Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge? Independence Hall or Big Ben? Oh this is an easy game to play to your advantage (“What’s older, Windsor Castle or the Mall of America?”) but the point is that while we do have a long long history Londoners are not generally immersed in it on a daily basis, any more than big city Americans. The streets and their names go back many more centuries than the architecture that occupies them, and provide great stories if you should know them, but sometimes the truly historical takes some digging. And that’s where we have the edge, in the history that goes back beyond what we can see. Many of our winding streets follow their medieval courses. Names like ‘Threadneedle Street’ and ‘Lombard Street’ tell us something about the trades or even the nationalities that lived there. London Bridge dates from the 1970s, but there has been a bridge over the Thames at that spot since Roman times (apparently prone to falling down), which being the only one was London’s Bridge. The stories of history too pervade the modern settings – it’s always great to stand in the middle of a crowded street and say, for example, here, Oliver Cromwell was hanged two years after his death in front of huge crowds, or right around here, Dick Whittington heard the Bow Bells and turned back, putting his cat in a cage to mark the spot. But even the history we know isn’t as established as people think. Londoners had not the smoggiest idea who Samuel Pepys was for two centuries, but now he’s considered one of the most well-known of historical Londoners. For many centuries, Londoners believed that their city was founded not by Romans, but by a Trojan named Brutus. Historical names remain, but their meanings slip away from us; I grew up near St.Alphage’s church, but had little idea that Alphage (or Ælfheah) was a hugely important part of Anglo-Saxon London’s self-consciousness as a city: he was the Archbishop of Canterbury who was martyred (read brutally tortured and murdered by drunken bloodthirsty Vikings) in 1012, becoming London’s first martyr-saint (very important for an aspiring medieval city) – that was exactly a thousand years ago!

I’ll be watching the Olympics in California of course, with the usual time delay, feeling sad every time they show an establishing shot of the Millennium Dome or the BT Tower and other such historical buildings. I’m sure a tear will be brought to my eye when they show the curve of the Thames or the layer of grey ozone above the Docklands, or when the US networks interview locals about what sports they’ll be watching, and then shrug in confusion when they say ‘Affle’ics’ or ‘Fuh’baw’. I miss London, I’m proud to be from the city, with all of its history. So here is London Pride, a beer I enjoyed and sketched in the brown-paper-beer-book last week.

“i don’t want chocolates, i want paris”

"i don't want a box of chocolates, i want paris!"

No, I’m not in France. I drew this from a photo, the Cathedral of Sacre-Coeur in Paris’s Montmartre, for the Pence Gallery’s Valentine’s Day thing. Imagine it in a black frame with a red matte, and there you have it. Drawn with that favourite brown-black Uniball signo dx um-151 pen (yes you do have to say the whole name of the pen, it’s like announcing royalty) on classic cream Canson paper. It’s been a long time since I was last in Paris. I think it was when I changed a train there, a much delayed Eurostar, more than ten years ago.

Happy Valentine’s Day!