Another London scene, another London pub. I sketched this on the same day as the last post but am posting it separately because that was about Soho, and this being a few blocks away on the other side of Charing Cross Road is really not. Plus I got to draw a different map (in a sketchier style, though in retrospect the colour scheme, the splatters and the near-total illegibility makes it looks like it was raining, when as you can see it really wasn’t) (I don’t care, I like it). So here we are in St.Martin’s Lane, which winds down from Long Acre to William IV Street, looking towards the church of St. Martin in the Fields. Roughly in between Charing Cross Road and Covent Garden. This above is The Salisbury, located on the corner of St. Martin’s Court. Now several years ago (2008 as it happens) I did sketch on this corner before. On that day it was raining, and hard. Nothing pleased me more; we had been in the middle of a very dry period in Davis, so any London rain put a huge smile on my face (going through the current historic Californian drought, I now look upon that period in Davis as the wet one). I stood beneath the shelter of the theatre opposite and sketched this pub on the corner, the Angel and Crown (see right), I’m glad I did; it was closed this time. It wasn’t clear if it was closed for good, but it was all boarded up, and when I walked past a week later it had even more boards up around it, and seemed as if it might be given a different name. So i am glad I sketched it then. This time I stood outside the Angle and Crown (right where that lady with the umbrella is standing in the older sketch) and drew the more ornate black and gold exterior of the Salisbury. This pub dates from 1898 (actually it’s much older, and was previously called the Coach and Horses, in a nice callback to my last post). The name refers to the Earls / Marquises of Salisbury, landowners in this manor, the first of whom was Robert Cecil (Cecil Court is around the corner) who was a political bigwig in Elizabethan times. Right, enough history. This pub is in the heart of Theatreland, and has long been associated with actors, though theatre-going tourists flock here too for its authentic interior. After doing the inkwork and some of the wash, I popped in for a pint and to add a little bit more paint. I chatted to an old Irish builder nursing his Guinness while I painted, while groups of tourists perused their maps. I wrote a note in my sketchbook, “£4.60 for a pint!” and exasperated at the price of beer in modern London. This, I told myself wisely, is why so many London pubs are closing, nobody can afford to drink out any more. After visiting a couple more pubs in London, where a pint of beer tended to be above a fiver, £4.60 seemed like a golden age (comparison, when I left London £3 a pint was considered expensive). Alas, with London rents and property values skyrocketing, a lot of pubs can’t afford to exist (especially when developers see more value in luxury flats than places of historic community value), so it’s nice to see the old ones that still do and if the price of beer has to go up to enjoy them, well so be it, I suppose. This was never one of my usual stops in London, but I appreciate the hell out of it now.
I would love to draw the whole of Soho, if that’s possible. Like every single block. And I kind of want to do it immediately because it’s changing, year after year, but then it always has done. Centuries ago this was a hunting ground (“So-ho!” was a hunting cry, like “Tally-ho!”), its borders marked with blue posts (hence the two pubs called ‘The Blue Posts’, and when I was a guide on the open-top buses I used to wheel out the old chestnuts about it “still being a hunting ground, know wot I mean”, but I’m not even sure wot I mean now. In my 500-miles-away-ness in California, I’ve been concerned about pubs and other famous London landmarks closing down or disappearing, and I’ve been eager to record these narrow streets while they are still here. Above, Greek Street, at the junction with Romilly Street. Greek Street was so named because of a Greek church nearby, and former residents include the very same Giacomo Casanova. On the far left, past the Prince’s Theatre on Old Compton Street, is a Michelin-starred restaurant called L’Escargot, where a long time ago a friend of mine worked for a week before quitting. I recall it being a much funnier story at the time. The timber-framed pub is the Three Greyhounds, another name reminiscent of the royal hunting ground days, while the patisserie in blue is the Maison Bertaux, which has served tea and cakes since 1871. On the corner is the Coach and Horses pub, also known as ‘Norman’s’ (after the infamous long-standing landlord Norman Balon, who claimed to be the rudest landlord in London). This pub has a good claim to being Soho’s most famous, a haunt of well known writers and actors such as Peter O’Toole, Jeffrey Barnard (he of ‘Unwell’ fame), it’s about as Proper an old Soho Drinker as it’s possible to get. Further down on the right Romilly Street leads to Cambridge Circus, at the junction of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue.
For those of you who haven’t gathered by now, I am talking about Soho in London, not the one in New York, which is a contraction of the words “South of Houston”. Our Soho as I always told people is named for “South of Hoxford Street” of course, with ‘Hoxford’ over time becoming ‘Oxford’ due to the predilection of London English speakers to drop the ‘h’. No, not really. One of the thoroughfares that really defines Soho is Old Compton Street. Old Compton is well-known for its gay community, and in centuries past it was populated by the French Huguenots; there are still several French-themed places in the area. Above we see some of Soho’s other European residents, with the Spanish tapas restaurant Cafe Espana located next to an Italian deli. ‘I Camisa & Son’. I do love an Italian Deli.
And here is the map, showing where I sketched…
This is the Good Mixer in Camden Town. I was meeting up with my friend Simon, and while he dealt with the fun that is London Transport I came down here to sketch this old pub from the outside. It was pretty chilly, which I was not displeased with (writing as I do after several 100 degree-plus days here in Davis), but I just had to capture this old Camden warhorse. One day I will draw the unchanging interior; that place has stories to tell. The Mixer is well-known in Camden, in the 90s it was the haunt of many Britpop locals, and when I used to come out in Camden this would invariably be the place where we would end up. My mate Terry and here spent many Saturday nights in here playing pool (well actually he wad the one playing pool, I would usually lose a game then watch), met many interesting characters, saw the odd ruck, drank a lot of beer and cider. I still have a nice orange scarf that was left in here one night in the early 2000s; a woman (I think she was French) who was sat next to us had left it behind, so I held onto it until she came back. When she didn’t, I handed it to the barstaff at closing time, but they said they would just throw it away, so I should keep hold of it. It was a nice scarf, and a cold night waiting for the N5. Fun place, the Mixer. For years I didn’t realize the bar had two sides, I had assumed that it was a mirror behind the bar, but a mirror that didn’t work very well reflecting people (this gives a good idea as to the time of night we would usually end up in here). Lots of fuzzy memories. Admittedly my stories are not anywhere near as colourful as some of those who pass through here, but I’m not that interesting a person. Anyway, I finished up my sketch, and popped in for a beer (by the way London, wow, how can you charge so much for pint? It’s almost double what it cost when I last lived in London!), and added the colour while waiting for my mate to arrive, and we went to the Spreadeagle.
This is Hertford, which is (conveniently) in Hertfordshire, England. Despite being only up the road from where I grew up in north London, I had never been there, and it is very nice. It sits on the river Lea (or Lee, depending on the map you read; mine always called it ‘Lea (or Lee)’), and has an old brewery there called McMullen’s, whose name is everywhere (and whose beer is very nice). We were going up to visit Knebworth House, not too far away from here, but we got all the way there and discovered that it was closed during the week. So instead, we drove down to Hertford, and walked about a little while. there is a castle, but not a big one, with a nice little park. There were, we noticed, a lot of pubs and a lot of barber shops. I really liked the orange building below, and so I sketched it, its timber frames giving me an opportunity to practice for my upcoming trip to Strasbourg. The scene above though is of the River Lea (or Lee), with a row of lovely terraced houses on its banks and an old pub called the Old Barge. I just had to stop and sketch. I added the colour when I got home. It was very peaceful. I always forget about the River Lea (or Lee), which actually runs through north London before meeting up with the Thames at Bow Creek.
Here is a map of where it is. After this, we were going to drive to the village of Ware, but we decided to drive home and relax on the couch with a cup of tea, watching Countdown. So a pretty ideal day if you ask me!
London! This explains my recent blog-absence, I have been travelling back to Europe. Not just to London, but to France as well, where I did a great many sketches, most of which were in Strasbourg at the 2015 “Rencontre Nationale” of Urban Sketchers France – more on that fun later. But London, it’s always a pleasure to come home, and it’s always so brief. I came back to surprise my dad for his birthday, which was fun, and we had a nice family get-together. On the second day, I went down into central London and took my mum to afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason. It was pretty posh. Afterwards though we popped into The Ship, my favourite pub on Wardour Street, where I did this sketch above. I have sketched outside The Ship before (see left), but this was my first interior. I always liked this pub’s unchanging, yellowy, old-fashioned interior, so was surprised to find that it has been ‘done up’. Not demolished and converted into a gourmet burger restaurant or luggage store like everywhere else, in fact the interior hasn’t really changed much at all, except it has been nicely repainted and cleaned up considerably. It is still very much The Ship, just smarter. My mum took a picture of me sketching it, in case you wondered what I look like when I sketch a pub (what did you expect?). It was great to be back in London.
The corner of 4th and G Streets, Davis. “Scuse me mate, you’re in the way. Scuse me! Mate! Oi, Mate! Can you move a sec, I’m drawing? Mate do you have to stand right there? Mate you’ve been there for ages, just move along a little? Are you listening? Mate can you move?” I said over and over, but he didn’t move, he just stood there, like a statue. Well he wasn’t a statue, he was a sculpture. I didn’t really say any of that, not aloud anyway. This is one of the many pieces of urban art you can find dotted around downtown Davis, and since I was drawing this corner, with that funky looking wooden building next to where Little Prague used to be, I decided it would be more interesting to add him in. I think it’s a him. He’s lovely, covered in colourful mosaic-y bits. I’m all into that. He’s located next to Jack in the Box, which may possibly be the worst fast food chain restaurant in Davis. By the way if it were a real person standing there I wouldn’t be yelling at them to move. I would just move slightly myself, or draw them (but I’d prefer to move, as you know I don’t like drawing real people). The thing about drawing on location is that people and vehicles tend to move around, and if you’re drawing the permanent things then it’s not really a big deal. You can always look around them, fill in the gaps. This isn’t possible when drawing from a photo. In this sketch, the sculpture allowed me a sense of depth, a sense largely absent from my own thought processes (which mostly consisted of me pretending to yell “oi mate, can you move?” to an unmoveable piece of public art I have chosen to stand behind). Sunday afternoon in Davis, it doesn’t get better than this.
This is Tercero Dining Commons at UC Davis. At least I think it is, I’ve never been in there. Actually that isn’t true, I’ve been in the shop. I don’t know what the building with the funny protrusion from the roof is, I always thought it was a chapel or a giant periscope. This description is going well so far. I used to be a tour guide in London, and I tell you I was much smoother than this. “That is Buckingham House PALACE, Palace, where the King QUEEN lives, on your right LEFT is St. James’s Park GREEN PARK, Green Park, the only Royal Park with no grass FLOWERS, no flowers, Charles the First SECOND, I mean Second, got rid of them all, actually no it was his wife, there’s a funny story about that, no wait was it, hang on, here’s our stop. Oh hang on no, its the next one.” It was something like that. No, I was actually pretty good at it, except when being knocked down the stairs by branches of trees. It was an open top bus in central London, and those trees are vicious. I did have to know my stuff though, and spent hours researching the histories of buildings I might get in stuck in traffic next to. Sometimes here in Davis despite my many years here and my many observations, I do feel like I don’t really know what a lot of stuff actually is. Fire hydrants as you know are a fascination to me, but I have no idea how they work, not really. I’m sure they are more complicated than I think they are, but they’re so mysterious. The Varsity Theatre shows movies, but I have no idea how that works, or even what a movie is, it’s like magic. When I sketch a bar, I have no idea what anything is all about, I see people having conversations and it’s just like, what is that they are doing, one person says a thing, the other person says another thing, it’s just so otherworldly. Anyway, I was sketching this one lunchtime, listening to Football Weekly. I had neglected my urban sketching for a few weeks and felt great after I’d done it. Sketching helps brighten your day, even if it doesn’t make it make any more sense…
“I’ve not been drawing as much lately” is my oft-repeated excuse for laziness in posting, and while I do have a small backlog of recent sketches yet to scan, it is kinda true, and you can blame THESE GUYS. Well, that and other things (like football coaching, and all the art projects that go with it), but yes, an unusual amount of time has been spent making these little characters fly, blast, pow, and zap. And build, they do lots of building. These are figures for the Disney Infinity video game, the 2.0 Marvel Super Heroes version. These are my son’s (except for the Captain America, he’s mine!), and last week I lined some of them up to sketch in his “book of things” as I have imaginatively called the Stillman and Birn Alpha book where I record his toys and other bits as a memory for when he is older. There’s Hulk, Thor, Cap, Falcon, Nova, Loki, Black Widow and Iron Man. I’m a particular fan of Nova (but I also love the comic, the newer ones with Sam Alexander, who this version is based upon – or rather the one in the Ultimate Spider-man cartoon series). Infinity 2.0 is a fun game, which has various playsets such as Avengers of Spider-man in which you can do missions, strategies, skill challenges and beat up bad guys while playing as whichever super-hero – even Loki – you have on the little base. You build up each character’s skill set over time so that they can fly faster, hit harder, do special moves, and it’s generally a lot of fantasy fun. This isn’t one of those “Call of Duty Death Zombie Stabby-Stabby Car Thief Gang” games, thankfully (though you can be the Hulk and get a medal for smashing up cars). The real fun though is in the “Toy-Box”. There, players have the ability to create whole worlds, or complicated games, using their imagination and the various tools and toys on offer. My son has been busy building worlds he calls things like “Tree Tunnel Doom” and “Danger World”, and I have been building intricate yet huge castles brick by single brick, full of secret passageways and monsters. With Secret Wars going on in the comics right now I’m inspired to make Battleworlds, making me feel a bit like the Beyonder – “To infinity and The Beyonder” I would say, yeah you had to be there (and, like, care). We have more fun building our worlds than playing them, but we’re novices. Going online to the community toy-boxes, you can see and play in worlds built by others using the same tools, many the results of challenges set by the Disney Infinity team. One of my favourites is where someone built a copy of the Disneyland park. So if you ever wonder where all the sketches are, rest assured I am still creating, I’m just making huge space canyons filled with lava and frost giants and towers up to the sky. It’s incredible fun.
And at the end of the year, they’re bringing out Infinity 3.0, Star Wars? I have a bad feeling about this…