to the batmobile!

My son has rather a lot of Batman toys. He quite likes Batman, and Super Heroes in general. This is one of his Batmobiles. I drew it in the Stillman & Birn Alpha book that I am drawing my son’s things in. While the current crop of Batman movies aren’t really suitable for a five year old, I did get him the original 1960s Batman movie, which I loved, and which he also loves. One scene in it though reminds me somewhat of the later sequences of the Dark Knight Rises, “some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb”. If only they had Batman flying around with a nuke and bumping into nuns and ladies with prams. Then there is Miss Kitka…

dejeuner encore

silo, uc davis
One from another Monday lunchtime at the Silo. I just stayed indoors, eating a burrito and listening to the new Art Brut album on my iPod. I didn’t want to be outside sketching, the weather is warm but very windy, and my nose is like a pressure cooker. This time of year is pretty bad for allergies here in Davis. This wasn’t a particularly interesting lunchtime, so I will tell you about the weekend.  On Saturday it was the 99th annual Picnic Day. I pretty much never sketch at Picnic Day, mostly because of the crowds, but also because I am here on campus every single day, and drawing Picnic Day, when that same campus is ridiculously crowded, just seems a bit odd to me. Plus I always get too hot and tired, wandering from place to place with my son. We did see some nice cure kittens though. I missed the parade in the morning, the best thing about Picnic Day (no, the late night parties are not the best thing, not that I would actually know). I was volunteering for a couple of hours at the Little League’s Snack Shack, which was a great change of scene. I had to sell snow-cones and other strange candies I have never heard of to tiny children (who mostly shared my dislike of grape flavoured sweets). It is funny how different the candies are here to what I had as a kid in Burnt Oak though. I recall in the newsagents on Watling Avenue, and in Toni-Bells too, there was what seemed like thousands of different “penny sweets” (which actually ranged from half a penny to a whopping ten pence). I would spend hours in there with my friends just trying to choose what to buy. This wasn’t you pick’n’mix neither, this was serious sweets business. This was all brought back to me when a kid of about six or seven presented me with a dollar and just said, how many different things can I get for one dollar? Quite a few as it turned out. Back in my day though, that sort of money would have kept you in candy for a month. And I’m not that old.

oh you pretty things

18th st, san francisco

I could draw every single house in this neigbourhood, and never get bored. More work from my sketchcrawl day at the Castro, San Francisco. This sloping row of Victorians, had it not been taking quite so long (best part of a couple of hours, and I had to finish the colouring in at home) could have ended up as a very long panorama, all the way down the street, had I not wanted to, you know, sketch some other things and eat something (Thai red curry if you’re interested). But how enjoyable was this to sit and sketch? Immensely! This is right opposite Philz Coffee on 18th St, where the sketchcrawl officially began.  A couple of sketchers were sat on the steps behind me, still sketching when I finally got up and stretched my legs. ..

moby dicks, SF

After some sketching away from 18th St (these sketches are not completely posted in chronological order, rather they are in geographical order), I returned, clock ticking, needing a few more sketches before the meet-up at 4pm. It was getting windy. I sat on the corner of 18th and Hartford, leaning against a fire hydrant. I’m not sure if you can lean against a fire hydrant while sketching (and I don’t really need to know) but surely if anyone should, hello like. This is Moby Dick’s, a popular local bar (I assume; it’s in the locale, and there were people there, so presumably, hello like), and there down 18th you can see the iconic belltower of the Mission School. The rusty hydrant below (which was not the one I leaned against, but looked very similar) (I’m sure you are riveted by this) was a bit closer to the Mission High school tower, on the corner of the very crowded and very windy. The final meetup was nice,  I met quite a few new sketchers and as always was hugely inspired by what I saw; this is my favourite part of these sketchcrawls, seeing other people’s sketchbooks, real and in the flesh, not just online. Very cool.  You can see some other sketchers’ results on the SF sketchcrawl forum, and not just from San Francisco, but also from the rest of the world. Great stuff, world!

hydrant on 18th & church, SF

and the clock waits so patiently on your song

castro street SF

The 39th Worldwide Sketchcrawl took place in the Castro, San Francisco. This here is Castro Street (click on the image to see a larger version), and I was very eager to sketch a panorama of this scene. The magnificent Castro Theater could take up an entire day of sketching all on its own, so full of detail it is. I enjoyed speaking later to other sketchcrawlers who had attempted it, some having drawn more detail and some having drawn less, each impactful in their own way. It’s a tricky one. For me, the horizon was the thing – I had intended on sketching a lot more of the beautiful slopes of old houses on that hillside, but the smaller size of my sketch and the level of foreground detail meant leaving it out would be better. Well, that and I would have been there until about Thursday. No, with this sketch I wanted to capture the sweep of Castro Street, sinking and rising among San Francisco’s many hills. The Castro is well known as the predominantly gay neighbourhood of the city, and you’re not really left in any doubt of that! Rainbow flags adorn lamp-posts, bars, houses; this is an area which is open and proud. I was stood at Harvey Milk Plaza sketching this, and if you have seen the movie Milk, you will know a bit about the Castro and its history, and the great gay rights campaigner and city supervisor Harvey Milk. I saw a documentary about Castro Street once; this community really has a fascinating history. Anyway as I stood sketching this, first in the morning before the sketchcrawl meeting, and then going back to finish it off after lunch, the wind really started picking up, making me rue not bringing little clips for my sketchbook. Is topped without going the whole spread, and I stopped in the right place. Here’s another tip – sketch a scene with a clock in it somewhere, and you can keep good time, without checking your watch and worrying about being too slow.

sketching castro street

Here is a car parked a bit further down Castro Street. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to sketch – there is a lot to choose from – but when I saw this it looked like the distant cousin of this other car I had drawn once, and I just HAD to sketch it. Now whenever you draw a car on the street you are always running the risk that the driver will drive away. I checked the meter, still plenty of time left, but I took a couple of reference photos first, and then started sketching, sat on the kerb. Behind me, a stall on the street was offering free HIV tests at a nearby clinic; further down, tourists were giggling at the skimpy male underwear in the shop windows. I got as far as the outline, the license plate and about half of the details before the car’s young owner came and drove it away. He didn’t see me sketching; if he did, I hope he didn’t think I was a traffic warden. I considered putting more money in the meter if he could leave it there a bit longer, but it gave me an excuse to go and sketch other things. Which I will show you in the next post…

car on castro

In the meantime, check out the other great sketchers from around the world at the 39th Worldwide Sketchcrawl Forum.

on the morning train

amtrak sketch
Last Saturday was the day of the 39th worldwide sketchcrawl, and so I took the train down to San Francisco, because after a very busy week, I needed some Bay air. I was joined on the early morning train by fellow Davis sketchers Alison Kent and Allan Hollander. We all sketched on the train (that is Alison above, though it’s not a great likeness; I have sketched Allan on a previous Amtrak journey a couple of years ago). It is nice to sketch with people you’ve sketched with many times before, because they’re used to the way you go about it, you don’t have to ‘perform’ with your sketches as it were and I still always feel I learn something. Plus I like drawing Allan’s beard. We all talked about sketching, traveling, and the recent death of Thatcher. Alison showed me her hand-made sketchbook from her recent round-America rail trip. I have always wanted to do that, but she produced an amazingly dedicated book of sketches, all in purple pen, an inspiration. Follow that link and check it out.

And so, to the city.  Worldwide Sketchcrawl #39 was in the Castro district, the colourful quarter known as San Francisco’s gay capital. I sketched around here a few years ago, and really wanted to come back and draw some of the big old Victorian houses. And maybe do a panorama of Castro Street.

allan sketching philz coffee

Above, Allan sketching outside Philz Coffee on 18th St, in the Castro, at the start of the worldwide sketchcrawl. Here is Alison’s post about the sketchcrawl on their joint blog The Magpie Nest. I will post my sketchcrawl sketches soon. Stay tuned.

spring broken

spring broken

Sometimes you just draw where you can. These were all done during Spring Break (which for me was most definitely not a break, more of a severe bruise). I sketched on a map of campus, scrawling whatever notes were in my head on that particular day. This is kind of how the inside of the old head looks. The map itself is blotched with neon yellow, remnants of a campus tour I gave the week before. Time is flying by so quickly. Some days are less Gollum and more Gandalf.

counting acts and clutching thoughts

2nd st
Ooh what a busy old time April 2013 is. It doesn’t stop, and the old inbox keeps growing regardless. On Wednesday I just had to sketch something, anything. I cycled downtown and just carried on that row of 2nd St I have been sketching. It was a bit of a rushed job. Vehicles were left out. This is yet another real estate office (I wonder if there is such thing as unreal estate, or surreal estate, or atletico estate?). This is the week of course that Maggie died. I will probably draw her on a brown Chinese envelope (oh, is it too soon?). Brown pen in moleskine. Back to work.

when the flowers are in bloom

3rd st Davis
It feels like I’ve not been sketching as much lately. This is true. Though my busy 2013 initially brought a burst of sketchbook activity hitherto unseen (or so it felt), I’ve had little energy to go out and sketch as much as before. Well, that and the dreaded allergies – it’s that time of year. This always happens to me at around late March, early April: not just the allergies, but a general slowing down of the manic sketching. I refer to it as my annual “what does it all mean” phase. It picks up again pretty quickly. The weather is getting hot already, but we’ve had a lot of wind as well. Sneezing city. Anyway, I did take a lunchtime last week to try out a lovely new sketchbook I was sent by the kind people at Stillman and Birn. It’s their latest product, from the new extra heavyweight ‘Zeta’ series. Much smoother paper, but super thick too, 180lb. I usually try out new sketchbooks at the comfort of my living room table, where all the elements are just so, and let’s face it that isn’t how I do most of my sketching. So I took it downtown, and used a worn-in micron pen. It took a bit of getting used to – while the paper is smoother, my penwork is used to the slightly less smooth paper of the watercolour moleskine, but I got the hang of it. I am relishing doing a big pen-heavy piece. I was also drawing in a larger format than usual, and I always forget that takes a bit longer. I added the colours at home. The paint, that was going to be the test, and yes it’s different from watercolour paper, but it really takes the paint very well. It’s thick paper, so it doesn’t buckle at all, but unlike some other smooth papers the paint doesn’t bead up. Overall, very exciting paper!

This is that block on Third Street I have sketched several times.

hidden in the backseat of my head, someplace i can’t remember where

fremont diner sonoma
In all the years we’ve been living here in CA and passing through the wine country region on the way to Santa Rosa, I’ve always wanted to sketch this old diner with this amazing old truck parked out front. I was never sure exactly where it was on that road we’ve driven down a hundred times, just one more place we pass. On Easter Sunday, on the drive back, my wife suggested that we stop, so I was finally able to add it to my Moleskine. This is the Fremont Diner, on the outskirts of Sonoma, a town I have always loved. It was raining, and the diner was closed, so we sat in the car, my wife read a magazine while I sketched. One day I’d like to eat here. Apparently they do ‘fried pies’. Sketched in dark brown uniball signo um-151 pen with watercolour, in a watercolour Moleskine.

all good things

newman chapel, davis
Unlike back home, Good Friday is not usually a day off for me here in the United States. Easter Monday continues not to be. But this year it was, because it also fell on Cesar Chavez Day, and for that equally good day, my stressfully busy week is shortened so I can sleep in a bit, pop to the shops to get frustrated at how little decent Easter chocolate there is, get my hair cut really short, and of course take the time to sit on the sidewalk for a couple of hours and draw something. This is Newman Chapel on 5th and C, Davis, which I have sketched before from different angles. I’m not a religious man as you know, but I like having Good Friday off. Any holiday that is on a Friday is good in my book.