another day in late november

3rd st, Davis
I hope you all had a very nice Thanksgiving. Well, those of you in America, anyway. To the rest of you, well I hope it was a pleasing run-of-the-mill normal Thursday. Mine was very nice, thank you. So, this sketch was done in Davis a few days before Thanksgiving, in downtown Davis, on 3rd St. That’s it, really. The weather has been nice, sunny, not really cold. A boring tale I know but boring is good. And another sketch that looks like so many others from downtown Davis, but again that was the point, to have a unifying look about them. That leafless time of year is here which will hopefully bring me many more buildings to sketch, unobstructed by those damn pesky leaves.

sunday in portland

food carts in portland
After an evening in the company of pirates, a lazy Sunday in downtown Portland. I didn’t go anywhere new or explore too much, just did what I enjoy – eating en plein air, going to Powell’s books, lining up for doughnuts and sketching a bridge. Many of the food carts weren’t open, including the delicious Thai one I ate from last year (“I Like Thai Food”, and I really do), but I grabbed a curry lunch from one (it was so-so, but really filling) before pottering off to Powell’s. I love Powell’s Books, you could get lost in there forever, and in fact you should. The bookstore covers an entire block. I love the smell of bookstores. After getting a t-shirt and a pint glass (I am such a tourist) I did another touristy thing and went to line up at Voodoo Doughnuts.
voodoo doughnuts, portland
Well, naturally I sketched it first – the linework anyhow, I added the colour later. I stood across the street and tried to guess how long it would take me to queue up for doughnuts by figuring out each person’s position, but after fifteen minutes I realised that line was actually two lines, doubling up on each other. Ah, so longer than I though. I lined up anyway (it too about twenty minutes or so; I had to endure the touristy family in front of me being all touristy, unlike me huh) and eventually got to choose my doughnuts. Despite all that time in line I still couldn’t quite make my mind up so just spent down what little cash I had left and carried away a big pink box to take back to Davis. As I got myself together outside a man passing beamed, “ooh did you get a dozen?” I was confused (stranger in street starting conversation, does not compute) and replied, “er, dunno, I just said words and they gave me a box of things,” which made a lot of sense I’m sure. I was tired. So I headed to the river, always a good place to start or finish a trip, and sketched a bridge.

P1130952I have been using a Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook I bought in London, it was cheap and the paper is smoother. But there has been something about it which is just not quite right, sure the watercolours don’t take the same way as with my watercolour Moleskines, but I don’t know, something’s been feeling a bit off. Anyway I brought with me a new sketchbook, a brand new landscape-size Alpha book from Stillman and Birn. I love the Alpha paper, but have been waiting for the right moment to start this one, so I used it to draw the Burnside Bridge (see below). It was a joy t use! Even though I didn’t add any paint to this one, it’s lovely paper to sketch on, though not smooth like the other book I was using it’s more to what I am used to.
burnside bridge, portland

And that’s it! Until the next time, Portland, until the next time.

knights vs pirates

playmobil pirates and knights
A break from the Portland sketches, but this is connected, for those toy pirates were bought in a toystore in downtown Portland. These are some of my son’s Playmobil toys, pirates and knights. This year he got into knights in quite a big way, after we visited the Tower of London and picked up a couple of plastic swords and a toy knight’s helmet. Since then I’ve been battered in an onslaught of medieval mayhem (he has a plastic bow and arrow set also, which I’ve been on the rubber-suction-cup end of once or twice), although we’ve made our own shields (his design, of course). However it is always safer (for me) if the battles are between little plastic men, so I’ve upped his Playmobil collection with more knights, and of course (since I was dressed as one myself in Portland), pirates. Well this set of pirates has a cannon, so the latest game is called “knocking down the bad guys”, though it evolves into a general theme of knights vs pirates. Let me tell you, this plastic cannon is pretty powerful, but those knights with their shields are equally tough and can sometimes take a bit of a pounding before falling down. I love Playmobil toys, they’re the best, and they’re also great to draw. These ones are in his Stillman and Birn ‘alpha’ book, the one where I’m drawing his stuff.

shiver me timbers! the swashbuckler’s ball

2013 swashbucklers ball, portland Last weekend I put on a big hat and dressed up as a pirate, as you do. It was in Portland and I was going to the annual Swashbuckler’s Ball, a big party for pirates at the Melody Ballroom. And boy, were there some pirates! I was amazed at the incredible costumes, the level of dedication all the pirates went to was most impressive. My own costume (despite my amazing hat) was of the more subtle variety – but being a pirate is fun!

Of course, I sketched. I first sketched the Portland pirates last year at Dr. Sketchy’s. Also sketching was fellow pirate sketcher Kalina Wilson; her work is incredibly good. I personally was struggling a bit – drawing pirates who keep moving about is pretty tricky. I felt oddly self-conscious of sketching people armed to the teeth with swords and cutlasses (only joking), so I kept it quick, and here are my results. I did enjoy sketching the view from the back of the ballroom (see below), though I did the lettering and shading afterwards. In fact apart from the painted backgrounds, I didn’t get my paints out at all, just stuck to the penwork. 2013 swashbucklers ball, portland The music was great, (Chervona, Abney Park, and another band whose name I have forgotten but who appear in the sketch above) and got a lot of pirates dancing. Even I danced, which may surprise you. Whenever I was struggling to sketch, I would wander off and dance. Below is an attempt at sketching dancing pirates. 2013 swashbucklers ball, portland I did manage a couple of quick individual pirate sketches, to which I added my own observations on the type of pirates I thought they might be. Lots of pirates reminded me of other people – there was one guy who was the spit of Richard Attenborough, a very jolly face, while another reminded me a bit of Ivan Vanko in Iron Man 2 (I think Mickey Rourke would make a really good dastardly pirate). There were pirates of all ages and styles, and one or two Jack Sparrows. The pirate I drew in the green sketch below (who is probably a lovely gentle pirate) actually reminded me of the sort of villainous pirate you’d get in old BBC kids shows from the 80s. I really wish I had had the courage to ask a pirate to pose for a sketch, just for a couple of minutes, but I am a lily-livered land-lubber, so that didn’t happen. 2013 swashbucklers ball, portland 2013 swashbucklers ball, portland I stayed until all the music was done, and then walked home, dressed as a pirate, back to my hotel. I certainly enjoyed being a pirate for an evening, and will surely do this again (but next time I’ll sketch on an old yellowing rolled-up maritime map, yarrr). I’ll build up my swashbuckling look. And my pirate lingo too, say “be” instead of “am”, learn all the insults, get a parrot etc.

Incidentally…you can order a print (or even a mug) of my Swashbuckler’s Ball sketch from the Society6 website at

To find out more about the Swashbuckler’s Ball (and hey, see you there next time!), visit their website at: YARRRR!!!!

lunch with the portlands

PDX urban sketchers
Last Saturday in Portland the PDX Urban Sketchers met for their regular sketchcrawl, this time down in Goose Hollow. I was having a nice lie-in, so I joined them for lunch at the Goose Hollow Inn where they shared their beautiful sketchbooks. They are an inspirational bunch, the Portland sketchers, many of whom I have met before on numerous occasions. I sketched (see above: Vicky, Kalina and Andrea) and had some nice warm soup, and I got my new pirate hat. Yes, you heard that right, a new pirate hat – I was in Portland to be a pirate and go to the Swashbuckler’s Ball you see, and say “be” instead of “am” occasionally. Kalina was kind enough to order it from (yarrr!), and it’s a most excellent hat – there’s even a picture of me wearing it on the USk Portland website! Yarr indeed me old landlubbers.
A Roadside Attraction

That evening, I dressed like a pirate (yarr) and walked through Portland before finding the eclectic sketcher’s dream of a place called A Roadside Attraction, where I met up with fellow pirate sketcher Kalina for some pre-Swashbuckler’s Ball sketching. To be honest though, there was almost too much to sketch! I did what I could, but this was a place that needs several days to sketch in any justice. And so, on to meet the pirates! To be continued…

ghosts and bars of portland

old town pizza
Regular listeners may be aware that occasionally I like to sketch bars, preferably ones with character, warmth, interesting people and of course nice beer. You’re always going to get that in Portland, so I was keen to check a few more names off of my list. Last year I visited Old Town Pizza with the PDX urban sketchers and noticed the lovely old bar area, but didn’t sketch it that time. While the rain tumbled down, I wandered the streets of the old town, stopping by Floating World Comics, before resting my tired legs with a pint of Old Town’s “Freshtoberbrau”. Old Town Pizza/Brewing is in an old hotel building which is apparently haunted, though you would never know because it’s not like all the publicity for this place goes on and on about it. The ghost is called Nina (pronounced like Nine-ah) and wears perfume and rides a bike and reads vegan zines, well maybe not the last two. I do like this place though, despite the Rentaghost theme tune playing in my head, and the beer was very pleasant. I especially enjoyed the Volkswheat, which I pronounced “Folksveet”. A guy at the bar kept coming in and out, and while you can’t tell here, he really looked like Tyres out of Spaced. Warmed up and rested, I went back to the hotel.
Bailey's Tap Room

In the evening I went out for a nice meal with some of the local artists I know (Hi Linda, Ron, Deb and Angelika!) at Bridgeport, where I had eaten back in 2010, a really nice brewpub. Unfortunately I arrived half an hour late, due to an immense amount of traffic on the way. I could have walked, or taken the MAX and walked, but I opted for the streetcar as I thought it would be quicker. Big mistake! I had given myself plenty of time, but it took forever to arrive, then crawled sloooowly up Broadway and finally across the river. It took me over an hour to get to the Pearl District from the Lloyd Center; hopping backwards with my eyes closed the whole way would have been quicker. I’m not used to these ‘city’ aspects of getting around any more! But in the end it was a lovely evening with lovely people, though I didn’t sketch there this time.

Afterwards, I went off to sketch another bar that was on my list. Bailey’s Tap Room is downtown, and lots of people recommended it last year. While it’s not an obvious sketch subject, no old dark wood and warm fireplaces, it was a nice place to sketch for a few late-night hours, sampling amazing beers from Montana, Utah, and elsewhere, talking to locals and visitors, reciting the text of Jabberwocky, and shunning frumious bandersnatches (except for that last part). It reminded me a little of the University of Beer in Davis, and the barstaff were friendly and really knew their stuff. A fun Portland night! This time, I did walk back to the hotel, crossing the Steel Bridge at night, it wasn’t very far. And I had a nice, well-earned lie-in the next day. Lubbly-jubbly!

portland rain again

Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
This past weekend I went on a brief jaunt to Portland, Oregon, on a mission for food, beer, comics, bookshops (well, one big bookshop), rain, great people, sketching and pirates (mostly for the pirates). I like Portland. I wanted to go somewhere to just take it easy, and Portland is that place. I didn’t even mind not doing too much sketching – if I did it, good, but if not, well that’s ok too, I just enjoy being somewhere like Portland. Of course I always do more sketching than I realise, but I’m glad I finally got to sketch the building above, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, that is, the big theatre downtown with that classic Portland sign. Built in 1928 It was raining, and so I stood across the street under some convenient cover and sketched away. Rain is nice. We have some here in Davis now but we’re just trying it out for a while; in Portland the rain is a character in its own right. I loved the Portland rain last time and walked about in it whenever I could. This time the rain was light and sprinkly, so I didn’t really get wet at all. Shortly before then, I was passing through Pioneer Square when who should be there but Santa Claus! He was there to welcome the brand new Christmas Tree, which arrived at the square on a big truck right after I got there; I had to do a very quick sketch, of course. You’ll notice there are two trucks – one carried the tree, and the other carried the additional branches. I watched them lift the tree, and then they spent a good deal of time attaching the other branches, I guess they drill holes into the main trunk and insert the branches to make it bushier. Well whaddayaknow!
Pioneer Sq, Portland

I have plenty more PDX sketches, including ones of the pirates from the Swashbuckler’s Ball, so stayed tuned Portland fans. The finishing off and scanning is still happening…

big mechanical monster on campus

weird chainsaw machine at UC Davis
If you had to come back as a monster machine, this one is about as badass as you can get. I can’t believe I just used the word ‘badass’ because I’m not twelve, but really there aren’t many other available words in our lexicon that can describe this thing quite as well (and it’s anatomically accurate too, the big chainsaw thing being at the rear). I saw this machine near Shields Library on the UC Davis campus, I believe its purpose is to open up the Earth’s core and tear out its soul; either way when you show up for work in the morning this is the machine you want to be playing with. Give this one a parking ticket, I dare you, I double-dare you. When you absolutely positively got to rip up every piece of sidewalk on the street, accept no substitute. It looks like something out of Robot Wars. I sketched this in the Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook, with a micro pen that has seen better days.

ninjago red fire mech

ninjago red ninja

It’s all about the ninjas these days. This is a ‘Ninjago’ red ninja fire mech, oh yes it is. What exactly that is I’m not quite sure; the Ninjago world is something a little beyond me, though the boy is watching enough cartoons (“Masters of Spinjitsu”, I kid ye not) this week to give me an education. This is what all the kids are into now. You have to be careful not to plan too far ahead at Christmas time, not get too many things on the original list, because the list changes fast and there are all new things to add. All the endless ads and target catalogs don’t help, but mostly it’s guided by the trends in the kindergarten playground. Next week it’ll be something different. I remember being that age – it was all Star Wars, no Battlestar Galactica, no Mr Men, no Hammer House of Horror (honestly, we played that more than anything at our school).

Right now, Lego is the main thing, the super-hero sets mostly but now it’s Ninjago that fires the imagination. Kids love ninjas. I remember when the Turtles first appeared, a little bit after my time to be into them, but in England they weren’t called ‘Ninja’ Turtles. The were the “Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles”. Ninja was deemed too violent a word or concept. Eventually that changed. Ninjago is just Ninjago, but with added whole-point-is-to-sell-more-toy-sets commercialism which the kids lap up. So do the adults, they enjoy looking for and buying all these things every bit as much, don’t tell me they don’t. My son, he’s at the age where he really enjoys building the Lego sets from the instructions now, all those tiny little pieces. Lego is different from when I was a lad, smaller, more complicated, lose one miniscule piece and basically the whole thing may not work. I like to build them too, but mostly I like to draw them. This is another entry the sketchbook of in my son’s stuff, a Stillman & Birn Alpha book.

faces from around the world

BCN view from hotel, Barcelona
I’ve not been sketching much lately, so not posting much…but I realized, I still haven’t quite finished posting from Barcelona! My people sketches, for one thing. The view form my hotel room as well, which is above, sketched in purple. So anyway, here finally are my people sketches, mostly from the evening drink’n’draw sessions at the CCCB and dinners with old sketching friends afterwards. So many great sketchers from around the world, old friends to catch up with such as Gerard, Jason, Liz, Lapin, Omar (and many more!!!), so many that I was meeting for the first time such as Stuart Kerr (who is a great character, love to hang out with him more some day), the french urban sketchers (I’ve been following for a while so was great to meet them all), and the Spanish urban sketchers, many of whom I met in Lisbon but I bumped into many across Barcelona. Plus the sketchers who had travelled from Asia, quite a big Singapore contingent, including Tony Chua and Parka, whose work I recognized as soon as I saw their sketchbooks. I wasn’t part of the Symposium itself, and how well that worked out for me I’m not really sure about (I was a little disorganized), but it was great to catch up with so many old friends, though all at once was quite overwhelming. So here are my sketches!
BCN Drink-n-Draw, Thursday
BCN DrinknDraw2
Below is Sue Pownall, the excellent artist from Britain who travesl the world, currently living in Oman, and I had the great pleasure to meet her again in London. Kumi Matsukawa was there too, from Japan, we met in Portland in 2010, I love her work. Another sketcher I was meeting for the fiorst time was Debo Boddiford, who I know from Flickr, and who has a wonderful southern accent. It’s funny to hear people’s voices having only read their words online. People probably think that about me!
BCN DrinknDraw people
On the Friday evening I went for dinner with the French and Belgian sketchers. I’d only met my friend and sketching hero Gerard Michel and his nephew Fabien Denoel before, and had a great time meeting and chatting with them (though I kept forgetting to speak French, though I can understand it). Gerard is sketched above; below are some of the others there that evening.
Une Soiree Franco-Belge

On the Saturday there was an end-of-sketchcrawl meeting, at which I caught up with many others. There’s Marc Taro, urban sketcher from Montreal, Eduardo Bajzek from Brazil, Stuart Kerr form Scotland, Rita Sabler who I met in Portland in 2010, Parka from Singapore (wow what a sketchbook he has!!), Simone Rudyard from Manchester, Amber Sausen from Minnesota, and Julie Blaquie and Martine Kervagoret from France.

BCN sketchcrawl
These final few were form the final gathering at CCCB (into which non-badged sketchers were initially barred from crossing the barrier, unlike previous symposia); Mark Leibovitz from New York, Daniel Green from Minnesota, and Matthew Brehm from Idaho, who I know from previous USk symposia, a great guy and a great teacher.
BCN DrinknDraw4 sm
Below was at a nice meal on the Saturday evening, attended by Paul wang (Singapore), Omar Jaramillo (Germany, orig. Ecuador), Yara (Germany, orig. Brazil), Nina Johansson (Sweden), Liz Steel (Australia), Jason Das (USA), Suhita Shirodkar (USA, orig. India), Virginia Hein (USA) and me (USA, orig. UK). What a worldwide line-up!
BCN Saturday evening Meal
And finally, my wife Angela, eating paella on the Sunday afternoon. I love Barcelona!
Angela eating paella