el cerrito has a del norte?

sketching on the BART
Sketched on the BART last weekend. BART is the underground/subway system for the San Francisco Bay Area, and on this occasion I got the Amtrak to Richmond (at the end of the BART line) and BARTed it to San Francisco. Good idea. I also did the return trip in the evening, good idea, and I made sure I went with plenty of time to connect to my Davis train at Richmond. Except…I didn’t get off at Richmond, I got off at the station just before Richmond, El Cerrito Del Norte. I knew there was an El Cerrito after Berkeley, but assumed the station after that was my one. When literally everybody in the carriage got off, I couldn’t see the station sign from the BART train and assumed it must be the last stop. Even getting off the train, I couldn’t tell it wasn’t Richmond, and there weren’t exactly big clear signs around (like you get on the Underground). I followed the crowd down the stairs, got my ticket out and was about to go through the barrier when I realised: this looks…unfamiliar. Pretty sure this isn’t Richmond actually. So where is it? Still no sign. I walked back up to the platform, and saw the sign at last, located inconspicuously up above the platform. There was also a display that told me the next Richmond train was in 19 minutes, meaning it would get into Richmond about two minutes after my Amtrak, the last of the night, was scheduled to leave.

I believe I said the word “bugger” several times.

Faced with the prospect of spending the night in the Bay Area somehow, I just waited. I didn’t want to sketch, rather I wanted to focus my thoughts – the train will come soon, and I will not miss my connection. I don’t normally make these sorts of mistakes, believe me, it’s very unusual (except when I am asleep on the London Night Bus, but that’s different). How did I not realise El Cerrito had a Del Norte? It’s not like I don’t have a BART map, and a BART app. Evidently a lot of people live there because the train completely emptied. Think positive, use the bloody Force if I have to, wish upon a bleedin’star; after nineteen long minutes the train came. I stood by the door the whole time, preparing myself for an Olympic style dash from BART to Amtrak, hoping that I hadn’t already missed it. As the BART pulled into Richmond I could see no Amtrak on the adjacent platform, meaning, well I didn’t care I just ran. I got to the top of the stairs to the Amtrak platform…and saw the lights as the train rolled in. Massive sigh of relief, no need to brave a night in Richmond (which, I’ll have you know, is nothing like the Richmond in London). The jolly Amtrak conductor even said that the train had been delayed by a few minutes leaving San Jose, so I truly was lucky (though perhaps the Force had something to do with it).

My own silly mistake, getting off at the wrong station, but the bad signage did not help. I am used to London’s big signs, clear and visible from the train itself, along with the onboard display and of course the automated announcer. So BART, please make it more obvious which station we’re at. Paint great big letters all over the platform walls or something.

old vedanta temple

old vedanta temple San Francisco
At the corner of Filbert and Webster in San Francisco’s Cow hollow neighbourhood is a very peculiar looking building. I noticed it on a previous trip to the city and wanted to go back and draw it. This building is the Old Vendanta Temple, topped with exotic domes and adorned with fanciful windows, yet still retaining that sense of old San Francisco. Well, this is old San Francisco – built more than a century ago, it was said to be the first Hindu temple in the Western hemisphere (according to this interesting piece on sfcityguides.org). I sat acros the street behind a telegraph pole (my only shade) and sketched from the domes down, which was fun, but by the time I was messing about with the windows I was getting a bit antsy and wanted to stop. I prefer the unfinished look of the sketch though, it tells more of a story and leaves details to be filled in by the brain. Plus it gave me time to go looking around the shops on Union Street. After the morning at the Tenderloin, Cow Hollow with its flash cars and fine heels and fancy bistros where it is brunch all day is the exact direct opposite.

while waiting for the bus

red devil lounge SF

More from San Francisco last Saturday; after spending a good while on top of Nob Hill it was time to move elsewhere. I wanted a bit of upscale, after the intimidating grunge of the Tenderloin,  so I headed over to Union St, aka Cow Hollow. I had to get there first by bus though, and since I only had just spent one of my two dollars on a nice cold Pepsi Max, I had to walk down to Polk St to get some cash from a bank. I hadn’t been to Polk in a while, the Polk Gulch, and it’s pretty grungy down there too, though in a less ‘shuffly’ way. When it came time to catch my bus to Fillmore, I had about ten minutes or so and that was juts long enough to catch a sketch of this interesting club, ‘Red Devil Lounge’. They have live music there, and were advertising shows by Adam Ant and ‘From The Jam’, which as you may know is basically the other two non-Weller members of The Jam, well foxton at least (not sure about the drummer), and the picture featured an aging Foxton trying as he might to reincarnate himself as Weller circa 1979. Which Does Not Work. Anyway I sketched away (I added the colour later but did all the penwork in that short time), and caught the #1 bus up the hill and down the hill to Fillmore St.

jackson fillmore

I wasn’t planning on checking out all the very cool and decidedly un-grungy shops on Fillmore St, Pacific Heights (the opposite of Tenderloin), so just went to wait for the #22 bus to Union St. The helpful bus-stop display said it was going to be 11 minutes or so, which was just enough time for another sketch, of the Jackson Fillmore trattoria. I drew this very quickly in Moleskine #10 with my brown pen, and covered a lot of detail before the bus came. I later added some of the bricks on the left and some lines on the right, and splashed some sepia on for the sky, but otherwise it was all crammed into that short bus-waiting time, so it goes to show that when given a tiny crack of time you can draw quite a lot. I’d have drawn the same if I were given 30 minutes for the bus, I am sure. When the bus came, I stood, and it went up and down some steep hills, which is quite the ride.

Chestnut St view SF

After sketching down Cow Hollow (I’ll post that next), there was another bus wait, for the #30. So I got out the pink pen and the sky blue marker and quickly drew the view to the south of me, in my SF city moleskine. When the #30 came, it was jam packed, and a little stinky.

goodness gracious

grace cathedral from the choir

San Francisco: after climbing the excruciatingly steep Nob Hill, leaving the shuffling Tenderloiners behind, I sketched Grace Cathedral. Regular listeners will recall that I drew the cover for their Christmas brochure last year, and was fortunate enough to go and sketch at their Christmas show itself. It is an amazing cathedral, and with my current desire to draw cathedrals (I have been trying to practice by drawing from books) I was eager to return. It was windy up on that hill. I stood behind a newspaper stand and drew the choir end. I drew in my Moleskine and coloured with watercolour, except for the sky which was done in a new blue Pitt marker I just bought – I was trying it out for colour. Darker than expected! It’s a magnificent building from the outside, but epic inside. I don’t get many opportunities to sketch cathedral interiors from life, and believe me it is a completely different animal from drawing from a photo. It’s all about trying to show the magnificence which is all around you. I drew on larger paper than usual, my Canson Urban Sketchers 7″x10″ sketchbook. After the craziness of Market Street, it was so peaceful sketching inside Grace Cathedral. There was a piano playing, and after a while a powerful baritone tested his tonsils, while to my right silent folk strolled around in circles following the lines of Grace’s famous labyrinth, as I stood sketching by a large stone pillar. I’m not a spiritual or religious person, but I’ve always loved cathedrals, the immense old stone and bright stained glass and beautiful acoustics.

inside grace cathedral, san francisco

i’ve got nowhere to go and so i follow my feet

hibernia bank building, san francisco
On Saturday, I took the early train down to San Francisco for a day of sketching and walking. I like to do that from time to time, just head down to the city and explore, before heading back. On this occasion I took the Amrtrak to Richmond and then the BART to Powell, intent on visiting the big Blick art store on Market, and then sketching this building – the old Hibernia Bank building, on the corner of Jones. I have never drawn it, put off by, well, the local Tenderloin personality shall we say. This building always reminds me of Marc Taro Holmes though, who has painted it so expertly on a number of occasions (such as HERE and HERE). The building has been due for redevelopment for some time now, and is still boarded up, but as one passer-by mentioned to me, it survived the earthquake in 1906, and do I have a dollar? Several people stopped asking for change (I presume they meant change of the monetary kind, rather than like change as in widespread reform or revolution, though they may have taken that too). As always in this part of the city there were lots of ‘shufflers’, people ambling about hither and thither with no particular place to go. There are a lot of panhandlers around here, and a fair few drug users, and one or two frequent drinkers; this area has long been an unfortunate byword for social problems. But the number of people who stand about on street corners just yelling at people or growling does make you feel a little uncomfortable. I drew for almost an hour before I’d had my fill, and then decided, for some reason, to walk through some of the blocks which were probably the shadiest and most dodgy-character-filled, especially on this Saturday lunchtime. I found myself trying not to stand out too much, by pulling crazed faces and growling at my feet, as if I was in that scene in Shawn of the Dead trying to fit in with the zombies. It must have worked, because I passed a rudimentary soup kitchen and the kind lady serving offered me free soup and fresh water. Eventually, I started to leave the shuffling, yelling Tenderloiners behind as the hill I was climbing went sharply upwards: Nob Hill. I stopped and drew a fire hydrant which had been comically wrapped in police tape. Someone had also stuck German football stickers to the top, but they can’t be seen. This city is an experience.

hydrant on nob hill

hop to it!

bugshow mosquito lamp

“Hop To It” is the name of the Bug Show currently on display at the Pence Gallery in Davis (details of the show are here: Hop To It). I popped down there last Friday and did a little sketching. Some of the pieces there are incredible! One of my favourites was the mechanical contraption above, “Mosquito Lamp” by Scott Rhoades, made of found objects such as an old drill. It’s remarkable! So I had to do a sketch of it.  I also did a couple of sketches of some of the ceramic and stoneware bug objects – below is one of local art all-star Heidi Bekebrede’s ‘Cuteware’ bees, with the trademark cuteware smile, her work is always a pleasure. I also liked the ‘Grub Phone’ by Wesley Wright, he had a couple of pieces there that really stood out and got a lot of admirers.
bugshow ceramics sm
My piece at the show, a drawing of a yellow VW Beetle, sold! Here it is below, with the little red dot. So you know, I wasn’t the only one who submitted VW Beetle for the bug show, there were a few in fact..! Anyway if you’re in Davis, pop by the Pence and see the bugs, the show runs until July 29.

beetle at pence


all-star t-ball hat
My young son recently finished playing his first t-ball season, closing off by being picked on the all-star team to play on the proper little league field on July 4th. Proud parents ahoy! I quickly sketched the field during the game, in my Miquelrius notebook below, and also drew his red all-star game baseball cap, above, in the Stillman and Birn alpha book. That is a good drawing book. After the game, when my son had finally stopped running the bases, we went to the little league pancake breakfast with all the other little leaguers, before going to the movies to see Brave. Well done little dude!
davis t-ball all-star game

scheduled for demolition

boiler building
I have drawn this building before, but never knew what to call it. It seemed rude to ask its name by that point. The boiler building, by the music building, has long been a favourite of mine for the rusting boilers and pipes that dot its edges, and its general old but warm feel. A slice of the old campus, a cousn of Hart Hall. Here is my previous drawing (which hung on the walls of the Pence in my show last December; it’s now available in my Etsy store). The one above was done a week or so ago, when I was invited to come and sketch it with Catherine Buscaglia, from UC Davis Design and Construction Management, who had emailed me to let me know that finally this old building will sadly be demolished later this month. I have come back a couple of times to draw it again, and may come back to witness its demise.


Here are some of the rusty boilers I was talking about. I have drawn them before, as part of my ‘pipes and hydrants’ series, and you can see them here. I have looked through the broken window, and inside it looks even more interesting for sketchers of metal pipes, though I may be a little too scared of spiders crawling all over me to sketch inside. Below, one more, done from the front side of the building. The ever changing landscape; I wonder how it will look by the time the new academic year begins?
boiler building (other side)

city hall tavern

city hall tavern, davis
After a very busy week, I went out on Friday evening to the Art About and did some sketching at the Pence Gallery (haven’t scanned them yet), chatted to some very nice folk, and then strolled around downtown before parking at the City Hall Tavern (in the old City Hall building I tend to draw a lot). I wanted to do a bar sketch so I looked at the massive scene of bottledom and said, yeah ok I’ll give it a go. Those revolving bike wheels on the ceiling were a little challenging but there they are. The Giants were winning, beating the Astros, and there on the right are the black straws again that pop up in all of my bar drawings, everywhere in the world. The beer was nice too, Third Shift Amber Ale, and only $4 a pint. It was pretty quiet when I came in, but got busy by the time I left, with the young Friday night crowd. One guy spoke to me while sketching and recognized me as the guy who drew the bar at De Vere’s. Another guy, a younger Aussie bloke, chatted to me about Iggy Pop. I told him I always liked the song The Passenger because I can’t drive either. He said Iggy Pop was a real rocker, not like Justin Bieber or someone. Perhaps, but in thirty years people might be saying, oh these kids now aint real popstars, not like Bieber, yeh he was a proper rocker. You never know. I saw Iggy Pop supporting the Pistols at Finsbury Park in ’96, and just wanted him to put a shirt on to be honest.

This whole sketch took almost two hours, starting from right to left. It was done with a Micron Pigma 02 pen, with a bit of uniball vision micro for some of the thicker lines and shading.