This is Mrak Hall. That’s “MRAK”, my dear autocorrect, not “Mark”. It is a big solid looking building on the UC Davis campus, the place where the administration sit, and make all the rules and policies we have to follow. I have sketched it before but not in a long while. I come here often to drop off paperwork and turn up a day early for meetings (doh!). In front there, on those two little hillocks (“HILLOCKS”, dear auto-correct…) are two of Robert Arneson’s Eggheads. This is called “See No Evil, Hear No Evil”, which was obviously named after a hilarious movie with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. The last time I drew them, they were located in a slightly different place, in fact they were pretty much where I sat to draw this picture. I sat on the steps of King Hall, whose extension forced the eggheads to move to the middle of the roundabout in 2009. In fact my last sketch is below, from 2007. That long ago?
A couple of weeks ago, UC Davis celebrated its 100th annual Picnic Day. One hundred! Click on the images to see larger versions (or you could hold your face close to the screen, though I wouldn’t advise it). Picnic Day is a UC Davis institution, the largest university open house in the country, attracting thousands of visitors to such attractions as the Doxie Derby, Battle fo the Bands, the Chemistry Magic Show, and, er kittens. Yes, we waited for half an hour in line to see kittens, only to find out they were now cats (they were probably kittens when we started queuing). Four cats, just sitting there doing nothing, two of which were asleep. Yet massively popular. My six year old wanted to see nothing else. The first thing we watched however was the Parade, the annual march of bands, bikes, floats, the occasional political candidate, which was as fun as ever. We sat down outside Shields Library to watch it, when I started painting, but broke my water jar (as described in a previous episode). I added the rest of the colours at home.
This second spread was sketched at the Battle of the Bands. I went home with my family, already tired after the excitement of the cats, and had a rest before heading back in to see the famous band battle. I’ve only seen it once, briefly, but I don’t really like crowds. I am getting better at sketching in large numbers now though, but nonetheless it was tricky. I stood at the top of the slope leading down to Lake Spafford, on the banks of which were gathered the bands themselves. Now these aren’t your guitar-hero indie-beard bands, oh no these are the colourful marching bands, and boy is this an event. The bands come from universities around California. The idea is that each band takes turns playing a song, and then by the end of the day (or night), the last band standing, the last one that has not exhausted all its known songs, is the winner (and I’m told it’s always the UC Davis Aggies). It is crazy, and chaotic, but it all works, and those musicians really keep it up for hours and hours. On the left there is a dancing tree from Stanford. I finally left during a long bit in the middle where all the bands came together in groups of the same instrument, and placed themselves around the crowd in a kind of promenade-theatre fashion, playing a continuous jam (I left after 45 minutes and it was still going on) in a variety of poses. Definitely a Davis event to be experienced at some point in your life.
And this was all. In nine years this is the most Picnic Day sketching I have ever done.
Back to the sketches from San Francisco last month (that long ago now? Still more to post! I’m so behind…). This is the intersection of Columbus and Broadway, a colourful and bustling part of the city. I stood here sketching early on a Friday evening, getting a lungful of car fumes from all the traffic, with a warm sunset behind me. That over there is the city’s red light district – I overheard a couple of people use the phrase “titty-bars” which probably aren’t some sort of candy (or maybe they are?), and also a popular area for clubs and music. It always makes me think of San Francisco’s legendary Barbary Coast, which during the gold-rush was centered a block away on Pacific Street, a haunt of vagabonds and prostitutes, drunken sailors and cut-throat gamblers, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. The big bawdy signage on Broadway is probably tame in comparison. The signs I like the most are the ones on the right though, “No Stopping Any Time”, that one telling you not to go left across the street, basically keep away from the sinful side. It’s an important intersection this, though, as around me Chinatown effectively turned into the Italian North Beach. One tourist who had just walked up Grant Avenue with his family asked me if I could tell him where the Italian pastry shops were, this now being the Italian town. He went on to ask me about other districts, in particular Nob Hill, which I told him was a very steep climb. “Which ethnicity lives up there?” he asked. Maybe I should have said something funny, like “the Swiss”, because they like climbing big mountains, but I didn’t think of it at the time, and it wasn’t all that funny anyway. So I just said “the rich,” and got a nonplussed look as if to say, that’s not an ethnicity. I meant to give my explanation as “the rich live on Nob Hill because they are used to climbing big mountains…of cash” but I didn’t think of it at the time, and it wasn’t all that funny anyway. I shrugged, they went off in search of pastry and I carried on sketching. The map below shows where I was.
There is more SF sketchage to come, by the way, so stay tuned crude-map-fans…
This is Fast Mart, on the corner of B and 2nd in Davis. I think it’s called that because you go there when you don’t want to be tempted to eat anything. Or maybe this is where Quicksilver shops. I’m not sure, all of these stores have similar names after all (like Kwik-e-Mart). In actual fact, if you look closely, the store is called “Fast and Easy Mart”. This is what happens when you get mergers, Easy Mart was probably bought out by Fast Mart like when Sky bought BSB (that’s pretty obscure reference for you, people not living in Britain twenty years ago), resulting in “BSkyB”, or as it’s more commonly known, “Sky”. I’ve never liked ‘mart’ as a shortening of ‘market’ either, as another word for ‘shop’ or ‘store’, though we don’t really use it in everyday conversation, “I’m just going down the mart, want a tin of pop?” Still, it’s a place to get a massive fountain soda on a hot day. I like what is above the store though, the sculptures of the musicians. “The Lamplighter Players”, they are called, sculpted by local artist Tony Natsoulas. This little shopping strip is sometimes called Lamplighter Square. The clock behind them must be wrong, because I sketched this during my lunchtime. Perhaps they are located three hours into the future? Either that or my eyesight is going (which it is, but thankfully my optometrist is just across the street). No map this time folks, just have to imagine it, or go there yourself.
I am catching up, slowly. This is another one from UC Davis, Valley Oak Cottage, over at the Arboretum’s Headquarters. It’s a stones-throw from where I work (admittedly quite a big stones-throw, and no, campus health-and-safety officials, I don’t throw stones around to determine distance). Another one where I stood and drew all the ink on site but added the colour in later. I’ve had to do this a lot lately, rather than paint on site, because of three very important reasons. First, lunchtimes are limited and my level of detail is increasing. I do love drawing so much that the colouring in is just an afterthought. An important one but not as important to me as drawing on site, getting all the perspective in there, etc. I do prefer to add the colour from real life but I’m not all that with paint anyway. So basically, if I have a short amount of time I have to prioritize, then my priority is inkwork first. Also my sketchbook, the Stillman and Birn Alpha landscape, is bigger than I used to use and bigger sketches take longer. Second, lately I have actually been enjoying doing big complicated sketches in the daytime, and then having something to colour in at night while watching television. It’s like I’m drawing myself a colouring-in book. You have no idea how satisfying it feels. Actually its better when I draw superheroes rather than trees and buildings, but it’s still fun. Third, I actually lost my favourite little waterjar, then one I used for years, and then a couple of weeks ago I broke my only other favourite small waterjar, the back-up one, sketching at Picnic Day. It smashed all over the kerb, just before the marching band arrived, scattering broken glass all over where we were sitting, good job there Pete. So I need to get a new little jar, and then I can paint on site again. My previous experiments with waterbrushes didn’t really pay off for me. So there you have it. I must say though, it’s Spring and all the leaves are back, and, meh, I don’t like drawing foliage.
Back to San Francisco’s North Beach, on that Friday of sketching at the end of last month. After a quick check-in at my hotel, I walked back up Columbus to stand outside the famous City Lights bookstore and sketch Vesuvio’s, a popular local bar on the corner of Jack Kerouac Alley. This junction is one of my favourite in the world. I have said it before, I could draw this area for years on end and never get bored. Well, not that bored anyway. The last time I tried to sketch on this spot, about five years ago, I got a little way in before rain stopped play, but on this occasion it was a warm, sunny Friday afternoon, getting into Happy Hour, as the world ended its work week and started to relax. It was a fun time of day to be out with a sketchbook. As I stood, the occasional bar patron would come out and check out what I was sketching (one bloke had his friend wave at me from the upstairs window, so I added him in). I popped my head inside afterwards, but didn’t stay for a pint, as I had more sketching to get on with while the sun was still shining. I have been in before, and one day I plan to sketch the interior.
I cycle up F Street a lot, on the way home from downtown, and have passed this historic Old North Davis building for years. “Must sketch that someday,” I always said to myself. I believe it’s a dentist’s office, but it’s a lovely period house in a neighbourhood of nice old wooden houses from a century ago, two blocks from the Co-Op. If I could draw the entire area all in one book, I would (hint hint, there’s a commission idea, City of Davis). Actually there is already an impressive book about the area, written in 1999 by John Lofland (the pdf of which is online at oldnorthdavishistory.org). This building is the Anderson-Hamel home, built in 1903 by the man who would become the first mayor of the newly incorporated City of Davis, John B. Anderson…but it was not built here. It used to be downtown, but in the 1940s the house was moved five blocks north to make way for a new drugstore. Old houses move around in Davis, it’s not particularly uncommon. Some have even moved since I have been here. It can be disconcerting but I dare say the houses themselves don’t mind all that much.
Here is the map. As I sketched this building, I listened to a history of Captain America. Kind of appropriate, in a way.