we need to talk about camden

Camden Lock
Camden Town, ladies and gentleman. There’s no way to properly describe Camden, it’s just Camden. It’s grimy and tacky and great, and vibrant and awful and touristy and local and rough and everything, it is Camden and can be everything at once. Everyone in north London has their own Camden I think. I for one have a lot of personal history around here, nights out, days about, the odd gig, too many night buses, a good few birthdays, and of course my stag party. I haven’t sketched much around here, so I wanted to do a bit while I was back. I chose the Regents Canal, specifically Camden Lock, well Hampstead Road Lock. I stood, with the sun shining, and sketched the lock, as far as I could. I didn’t do any colour except the red cross of the flag. The clouds were rolling in, oh big black clouds, scary looking but not enough to stop me. And then, whoah, massive thunderstorm, super heavy rain – good job I got the ink done, because this rain was stupendous. People dashing about like mad things, and I took shelter in a doorway. When I added the colour later I left it as the luscious N1 summer blue sky, pre-tempest.
Dublin Castle pub, Camden
This is the Dublin Castle pub on Parkway, Camden Town. It is approximately 1994. No no, wait, it’s 2014, I got confused there. It’s easy to get confused, it hasn’t changed in the slightest. Well, maybe the price of beer. Anyway, I arrived soaking wet, having run through the rainstorm from Camden Lock (see the handy map below to figure out my route), to see if this old haunt had gone the way of the so many London pubs – gentrified, sanitized, or worse, closed. Thankfully it was still the same, though being the daytime it was practically empty. I got a beer (actually wasn’t expensive, for London) and sat and sketched the red interior. As I was sketching the big ‘Madness’ poster, I heard a guy talking to a woman at the bar whose voice was familiar, and it was in fact Suggs himself, the Madness singer. Now he does have a long association with this pub and this area (here’s his ode to the area) but still it was fun seeing him in there, briefly, especially as I was drawing his poster (he’s on the tube-sign one next to it too). Oh, this old place, many evenings were spent in here, back in the 90s and early 00s. Playing the Who on the jukebox. Talking Serbian poetry with students from Belgrade. Watching very serious unheard-of bands while surrounded by record company band-scouts. Getting my drink knocked vertically across the bar by bouncers steaming past quickly to conclude a fight. Dancing to Anarchy in the UK while my friend Tel threw up in the toilets. Yep, there’s a lot of social history in a place like this. I sketched here until the sun came out, before heading back to Burnt Oak for dinner.

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And here’s the map…

camden map sm

2014 art auction at the pence

pence art auction 2014
Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Pence Gallery’s annual art Auction, as one of the contributing artists. The wealth of amazing work on display was amazing, as always. The Pence is a great place and they work tirelessly to promote excellence in local art. I met a lot of nice people there, and really enjoyed watching the auction. I sketched at the back, stood next to the dessert table (wow, amazing chocolates!). The auctioneer is very humourous, and very god at getting the crowd to buy art (though every time he said “going once, going twice,” I really wanted to say “c’mon baby don’t be cold as ice…”) This is the third year in a row I’ve sketched it, and I think I’ve captured it now. Below, the view from the patio outside. A very warm night, people talking, art-lovers buying, music playing. One of my favourite spots in Davis. Oh, and both my pieces sold! I honestly hadn’t expected them to this time (I’ve sold my pieces in the previous three years) so I was pretty buoyed, and went home pretty happy. I had been coaching my son’s U7 soccer team (the Red Foxes) that afternoon, it had been a good game, so all in all a pretty nice Saturday. Many thanks to Natalie Nelson and the good people at the Pence for inviting me to take part and attend this very fun event.
pence art auction patio 2014

at the westminster bridge

Westminster Bridge, London
Westminster Bridge, crossing the River Thames. As I started sketching this, the rain came down, so I moved into the little tunnel next to the bridge (which I had never seen before; is it new?) and sketched from there. Eventually the rain stopped. Then started again, then stopped. It was one of those days. There is a very famous clock tower on the other side of the river. I like bridges. I even bought a book about bridges while I was back. In fact I spent a lot of time in bookshops in London. Bookshops are the best. Anyway, I had planned to sketch a lot more bridges in London but you know it is. Maybe that is the next sketchcrawl I organize? Those curves were not easy to capture with absolute mathematical perfection while stood against the wall in a damp tunnel with wet people shuffling by. But here it is, Westminster Bridge, painted green because the seat in the House of Commons are green (Lambeth Bridge further down is red because the House of Lords has red seats). It was opened in 1862 and Wordsworth wrote a sonnet about it.

deep down in the borough

Borough Market, London
Borough Market is great. It may be one of my favourite markets. On this one Saturday morning, I took the train down to London Bridge station and marched right over to my favourite sandwich stand, lovely chicken served by the same guy with the amiable smile. You always get a lollipop too, well I do anyway. But as I now like sketching iconic markets (hey this is still a new thing, but after Barcelona’s La Boqueria last year, San Francisco’ Ferry Building and of course, er, Davis Farmer’s Market, I needed to sketch the market under the railway arches, with all its goats-cheese middle-class craft-beer tourist-trail glory. I stood and sketched the scene above, next to the Globe pub. There’s been a market here, on and off, since the eleventh century (not really surprising in the least given that London Bridge and the gates of the City and all the docks and the Pool of London were like, right there). Apparently it was abolished in the 1750s by an Act of Parliament due to ‘traffic congestion’ which let’s face it Borough Market, don’t make things up. Cars weren’t even invented for another hundred and fifty years, so stick to the facts, Borough Market. Anyway it came back and thrives today, a fun and colourful spot to be on a Saturday morning. I had a few hours to sketch before heading off to take my son to his first Spurs game at White Hart Lane.
Stoney Street, London
I sketched the scene above from stoney Street, right on the other side of the market. It was pretty crowded as I walked through. That huge great big triangular glass tower is the Shard, tallest builidn gin Europe. One of those buildings you look at in its development phase and its like, oooh, hmmm yeah, yeah that’s different, and then when its built its like, “take a photo from this angle! Ooh and this angle! Ooooh and this old church in it as well, juxtaposition of the old and the new!” (By the way, never, ever utter that phrase in my presence, ever.) And now it’s like, er, London did you see this thing? You do know you can’t just get rid of it when you’re bored of it? It’s like a big glass Orthanc, or whatever that tower was called in Mordor, ‘Eduard Balladur’ or something. Or maybe the Ministry of Truth. It dominates proceedings. Look London its things like this that become symbols of the city in the long run. Is this what London is now? A big, sharp glass behemoth standing high above everything else like an oligarch’s shiny fantasy? I wouldn’t be surprised if the sides actually turn into a V-style TV screen so that some benevolent rich dictator  can tell us how happy we are, how contented we are, and to destroy Emmanuel Goldstein. Yeah, not sure I like the Shard all that much, but we have it now. We need another, somewhere else in London, just as a counterweight. But I do like Borough Market.
borough map sm

And here is the late-night hand-drawn map. The odd thick lines are traintracks, isn’t it obvious, and I foolishly decided to add some buildings before deciding that was quite pointless. Anyway, this shows where I sketched. I had a job interview down here once, about a decade ago, at the Institute of Linguists. I wished I’d gotten it, because I always wanted to be coming down here every day (I had been working in Finchley, nice place but this was nearer to the Thames) . I never did, and then I moved to America. Ok, enough life story. More London sketches to come.

boltz in the dark

the lightning bolts
Since returning from London – and I have plenty more sketches yet to post – my sketching regularity has fallen off somewhat. This often happens after a big trip, but I’ve also been filling my lunchtimes reading Marvel comics (Marvel Unlimited, dudes), and the rest of my time coaching my son’s soccer team, which also includes planning training, designing the team badge, making stickers, creating a record of the kits worn by all the other teams, and all of that fun stuff. After London, sketching more panoramas of 2nd Street just doesn’t hold the same appeal right now. However, I did get out of the house one evening to go down to Art-Is-Davis on D Street for a special party hosted by the resident artists there, to mark the end of their time at the artist’s co-operative. I was invited by one of them, my friend and fellow artist Dori Marshall, and I got to speak to many Davis artists I hadn’t met in a while, and some I was meeting for the first time. It was a nice evening, and there was a band outside in the little courtyard behind the building. the band were called the Lightning Boltz, and they were really good. I’ve said it before I do love to have live music when I’m sketching, it adds to the whole rhythm. It was also extremely dark – I sketched this in almost total darkness, in a shadow next to the building. I couldn’t really tell one colour from the next so it was guesswork, but pretty informed guesswork (I know which paint is where in my paintbox after all). This didn’t take me long, a couple of songs at most. The band liked it when I showed it to them afterwards, but I realised the guy in the middle has a quite different beard than I drew! Well, that’s my eyesight in the dark.

standing on bow street

bow st russell st panorama sm

More London… After a morning spent mooching around Greenwich (and re-enacting scenes from Thor 2 with my son) I had some time to do more panorama sketching in central London, and I chose to look around the Covent Garden are for just the right spot. I found it on the corner of Bow Street, Russell Street and Wellington Street, sloping down towards Strand and the Thames. This is a colourful bustling part of central London, but not too busy in the Oxford Circus sense. Tourists ambled here and there – hither and thither if you like – occasionally stopping to ask me for directions (“um, sorry can’t remember London as well as I used to…but here’s a handy map!”). Yes that object on the left of the picture with the yellow top is a very handy map of the area, there are lots of those around London now which is very helpful. Bow Street always conjures up thoughts of London’s first professional police force, the famous “Bow Street Runners”. Across the way you can make out the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, where Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is currently playing. It’s supposed to be one of London’s most haunted theatres, haunted by a ghostly ‘Man In Grey’. Maybe it’s John Major. Russell Street, crossing over to the right, leads up to Covent Garden, land of Annoying Street Performers. Annoying Street Performers – in fact any street performer who requires you to clear a massive space in a crowded public area and walk around their sacred space while they jump about to awful music simply in the name of ‘spectacle’, and then passes around some sort of bucket expecting you to contribute actual money to fund their nonsense – are not my favourite things about big cities (you’d never guess). My own public performance these days consists of standing for two and a half hours drawing at an unusual angle into a Moleskine. Here are some in-progress shots…
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I do love standing and sketching panoramas, but they really do take a long time. I had to add the colour when I got home. I had to stop after that two and a half hour mark because I needed to go home for dinner, so I had less time to look around the shops. I never got to Stanford’s, one of my favourite shops in London growing up (they specialize in MAPS), but I did find the new Moleskine store which was fun (I stamped the back of my current Moley with their little London stamps). A little pricey, but they had a lot of really cool stuff. I’m using the newer ‘art plus’ version of the watercolour Moleskine, which I’m not enjoying as much as the twelve previous watercolour Moleskines I have filled. The new paper is…different. Still, I’ll fill it! Here is a map of the area, showing where I stood and sketched,

cov garden map 2

 

For a closer look (why not)…

bow st russell st panorama sm LEFT

bow st russell st panorama sm RIGHT

2014 art auction at the pence gallery

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Right now, I have a couple of my sketches in the Pence Gallery’s 2014 Art Auction, an annual event that supports the gallery and consists of a silent auction throughout September and a Gala Event with a live auction, taking place this Saturday September 20th. I’ve been fortunate enough to take part in the past three years, and am a big fan of the gallery and how it promotes local art. The pieces I have in it this year are my sketches of Piccadilly Circus (drawn on location early one morning in London) and my most recent Farmer’s Market sketch, sketched one busy Wednesday evening earlier in the summer. I’ll be going again on Saturday and will probably bring my sketchbook with me (for a change, eh), so if you see me, do say hello! And check out the lovely work of our Davis artists.

Check out the Pence Gallery’s website for more details, a visual list of the auction items, and to buy tickets.

take the high woad

alex salmond
Today, September the 18th, 2014, is the day of destiny. No I’m not referring to the opening games of the group stage of the Europa League, I’m talking about the matter of a vote happening among our friends north of the border. No, sorry, not the Canadian border, I’m talking of course about Scotland. Living over here in America as I do now, you could be forgiven for not hearing much about what is actually a pretty massive issue, that of Scotland finally breaking from the UK and gaining full independence from the Union. The people of Scotland are answering a simple question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”, with a simple answer “Yes” or “No” (though why “Aye” isn’t also an option I don’t know). Despite whichever side of the argument you sit on, this is a pretty proud day for Scotland, and especially for their First Minister, the Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond (that’s him drawn above). As a Londoner who now lives in America, but who has always had a long affinity for Scotland, I really don’t know what my opinion is. For a long time I might have harboured quite an excitement at the prospect of Scottish independence, but now it is an actual prospect, I find I’m quite on the fence.

Honestly, I don’t know what to think about it. I’ve thought about it for years yet I feel a bit under-informed and uneasy about it now. First and foremost I’m of the mind that, as a non-Scot, it’s None Of My Business, but in fact I’m not so sure it isn’t. I believe Scots should choose their own destiny, no question. However it will probably mean the break-up of the Union, and as a UK citizen that affects me directly, as well as millions of other non-Scottish Britons. Politically speaking, Scotland carries a lot of weight nationally – it’s not really a big Tory-voting area, so the UK Labour Party would stand to lose a lot of its voting power if Scotland no longer sent MPs to Westminster. Hence the big Labour presence in the “Better Together” campaign; if Berkshire was voting for independence you can bet your life that Ed Milliband would be on the “Yes! Freedom for Maidenhead!” trail. But Scottish independence would also technically mean English independence. England, you see, isn’t independent. Nor does it have a devolved parliament like the Scots; it only has the direct British government, because that evolved from the English parliament following the Act of Union in 1707. Ah but no, you say, England along with Wales and Northern Ireland would remain “the United Kingdom of Great Britain”, right? Yes, in the eyes of the world and the EU and all the international treaties…but they wouldn’t be. Not really. The band will have broken up.

It’s hard not to think of the U.K. like a band. You have the big bossy lead singer (England) who often gets mistaken for the whole band by an ignorant foreign music press, you have the quiet mysterious bass player who has an amazing singing voice (Wales), you have the eccentric and beautiful drummer (Northern Ireland is the Keith Moon of the U.K.), and then you have the creative songwriter, the one with all the best ideas, maybe plays rhythm guitar but plays lead better than any of them, and is probably the best drummer too. We won’t mention the drugs. Maybe they had a decent solo career before falling on hard times and being convinced to form a band with their neighbour and set about conquering the world (but you know, literally). Now Scotland wants a solo career. The remaining members of the band keep the record deal and can carry on playing the back catalogue…but they’ll never replace the member they lost, and then the bassist and the drummer will want their own record deals, and before long, England is reduced to playing on Cruise Liners and appearing on Celebrity Big Brother Get Me Out Of Here. Ok maybe the band analogy is going a bit far, but it does feel like that, a little. Hey, in about twenty-five years when they’re all broke they can get back together for a comeback tour.

As Scotland votes though, there are a few things I am thinking about:

  • If Scotland votes “Yes”, the Union is not breaking up any time soon. It just means that it is more likely that it could. England historically though is not good at letting go.
  • After much vexing about the Union Jack (and I do love vexillology), I have decided I don’t care what happens to the flag. In fact, start again, let’s have all new flags. We can have a contest, the one with the most ‘likes’ on Facebook wins.
  • If Scotland leaves the UK, England should try and start a Union with France, just to make Scotland jealous. They can even call the new flag the “Union Jacques”
  • Independence or not, Scotland isn’t actually going anywhere, it’ll still be in the same place. It’s not going to the Moon. We can still visit. Our kids can still get married there without our permission (my mum did that, at 17).
  • UKIP – hahahahahaha!
  • They’ll need their own national football team oh no they already have that. They’ll need to print their own money oh no they already do that. They’ll need their own national newspapers oh no they already have those. They’ll need their own monarch, och nay they actually already have that as well, with The Queen (you might argue that in fact England has their monarch, given that the English royal line died with Elizabeth I, but that would ignore all the German Saxe-Coburg fun and games that came later and they definitely were not Scottish at all).
  • Scotland should adopt the GMT+1 time zone. Here’s a story, when my wife (from America) lived in England she went on a business trip to Aberdeen and I told her, as a joke, to put her watch forward an hour. I bottled it the day before and said I was joking, of course. But still, it was a good one ‘cos it seems so ridiculous, unless you’re from a country that does actually have different time zones, like, er, America. So Scotland tell everyone they are adopting the GMT+1 time zone, but then don’t, just as a joke. It will be hilarious.
  • The Economy. The NHS. Everything. Whatever happens, the rich greedy guys will always try to take away from the poor guys. A change in the makeup of the UK will provide a whopping opportunity for them to dismantle everything that benefits the disenfranchised in the name of “oh but it has to be this way”, both sides of the border.
  • My affinity with Scotland starts with my mum getting married there at 17, my best friend when I was 12 being Glaswegian (he got me into the guitar), Gregory’s Girl being one of my favourite films, and watching a lot of Rab C. Nesbitt. However… I’ve only ever been to Scotland once, and I got lost in Edinburgh. And drank garlic vodka. I’m hardly an expert.
  • England should adopt “I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor” as their national anthem if Scotland leaves. “Go on now go, walk out the door…”. Scotland on the other hand should adopt the Bay City Rollers “Bye Bye Baby”. If they stay together, let’s change the national anthem to, no not “Let’s Stay Together”, but “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. It has nothing to do with the whole England-Scotland thing it’s just a great song I’d like to hear played at the Olympics.
  • However the vote goes I hope at least one tabloid sub-editor uses the headline “Rubbing Saltire into the Wounds”. We may never get another opportunity. Unless…
  • Scotland could ask Wales and Northern Ireland if they want to start a brand new Union with them. I imagine the idea might go down rather well…

Who knows?! Good luck today Scotland, however you end up voting. It’s your country. Just be careful what you wish for, whichever way you wish.

solid old oak

silkstream parade, burnt oak
I always intend to sketch more Burnt Oak whenever I’m back home but I never quite get around to it. And I should – the old place keeps changing in small, and sometimes pretty big, ways. Since my last trip, at least one of the historic focal points of the area has closed down, probably for good: the Bald Faced Stag, the old pub on Burnt Oak Broadway. Love it or loathe it (and it was often pretty loathed), the Stag played a big part in many of our lives as Burnt Oakers, and it just doesn’t feel right that it’s no longer there. What then is left of old Burnt Oak? Rather a lot, B.O. fans, rather a lot. I did a quick solo-sketchcrawl one afternoon, starting with the distinctive buildings of Silkstream Parade, above. This is between the Library and the Station, and to many of us these were the shops you went to when you went Up The Road. The old newsagents on the corner, at one time called Magson’s but I don’t recall its previous name, was replaced by Costcutter’s many years ago, but you can still see the long-disused cigarette vending machine on the side of the building. Heron Pharmacy is still there, unchanged in decades. Zam’s chicken is where Toni’s used to be, an old ice cream and sweetshop, I remember showing my Mexico 86 sticker album the Italian guy Toni who ran the place and him telling me all about the Italy players. Whenever I think of Paolo Rossi I think of Very Cherry Slush Puppies (remember them? You remember them). The kebab shop is also long gone, that had one of the most often broken windows in the whole of England I recall. There used to be a butchers shop here too, and was there a greengrocer’s? Was that the whole set? Tanning salon now. Anyway that’s enough “How We Used To Live”, any more of that and I may as well start every blog post with “Who remembers Penny Sweets, remember them eh, Kola Kubes eh, not like that any more eh”).
hassan
I moved up Watling Avenue to Hassan, which has been there since before I was a kid, unchanged. They don’t make shop signs like that any more, it’s all primary colour plastics now, but Hassan has class, gilded edges which of course my sketch doesn’t really show. Not being much of a clothes shopper, and this being a clothes shop for Men (my Mum, not being a Man, never dragged me through this shop as a kid, unlike John Ford and other Burnt Oak shops), I’ve never ever been inside Hassan’s. I know people who do, people who live far from Burnt Oak and come out of their way to go there. Personally I just love that it is there, still there. So now I’ve finally sketched it. I stood opposite outside a closed-down cafe on the corner of Gaskarth Road. Cafes, eh, remember cafes? Don’t get cafes any more, it’s all Starbucks these days, etc.
captain's cabin
Sketching across Watling Avenue wasn’t too difficult. As busy a street as it is, it’s pretty narrow. Burnt Oak Broadway on the other hand is much wider, so when I sketched the old fish and chip shop the Captain’s Cabin I had to squint a lot more. Burnt Oak Broadway is what we call this part of Edgware Road, itself part of the ancient (and I mean ancient) Watling Street, the long straight road built by the Romans linking Londinium with the north-western reaches of Britannia. It’s from Watling Street that Watling Avenue gets its name, and in fact the name Burnt Oak is a reference to the old Roman custom of burning an oak tree to mark the boundaries between places, or so we were told at school. See, my town got some history, bro. This chip shop is pretty much the only one in ‘downtown’ Burnt Oak (to use an Americanism) left from the Olden Days (“who remembers fish’n’chips, eh, vinegar, chip butties, eh, it’s all piri-piri cappuccinos now”). I do remember there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken next door when I was a kid (remember those? No seriously, you don’t get them any more, all KFC now) and a Barclay’s Bank on the corner which got turned into an amusement arcade, not sure how amusing it really is though, maybe it amused NatWest across the street. The Captain’s Cabin is still there, the sign is different from when I was a kid, so I sketched it. Personally I used to get my chips from the Golden Fry down the Watling, where they had the Space Invaders games my brother used to play (“Who remembers Space Invaders, eh? Don’t get that any more, it’s all Minecraft and Halo and Words With Friends now”). Captain’s Cabin for me was always that bit further to walk for the same thing, but I still always liked their chips.
burnt oak map

And here is a map of Burnt Oak, you don’t get maps like this any more, it’s all iPhones now, but it was with maps just like this that I managed to navigate my way around town when I was a kid. No not really. I just wanted to draw a bit more of a fun treasure-island-style map (and yes I know north is in the wrong direction, I’m not working for the Ordnance Survey or nothing) for my home town (and yes Burnt Oak is not an actual ‘town’, just a small nook in the expanse of London, an offshoot of Edgware really, but Burnt Oakers everywhere, even those who have long since emigrated to the far-flung corners of the world, we know that it is its own place, our home town, but once you start getting too sentimental it’s only one step away from “Who remembers bus passes, remember bus passes eh, get on a bus and go somewhere yeah, can’t do that now eh”). I do love to sketch the place though, to capture it for old time’s sake, because by golly it changes fast. But…not that fast.

up kentish town

kentish town station
This is Kentish Town station, in north London. I came here when I was meeting up with my friend James one evening, and stood outside a curry house opposite sketching as buses and cars trundled up Kentish Town Road towards Tufnell Park and the Archway. There are a lot of old tube stations that look like this, with the dark ox-blood red glazed terracotta tiles and the typical arches, and one day I swear I would love to sketch them all (hint hint London Transport, a fun book commission?), though I hurried through this one a bit, not drawing the whole length of the building (it would make a really good panorama…) and added the colour when I got home. It was designed by Leslie Green, who built many of the iconic London Underground stations over a century ago, and is on the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line. It’s a pretty interesting place, Kentish Town, and this was my first time here in years, other than passing through. Though in fact I did end up passing through, ending up meeting my friend in nearby Camden Town, where we swapped world cup football stickers.

kentsh town map sm