the view from telegraph hill

SF view of Golden Gate sm
Here are the last couple from my day in San Francisco, and these are the bridges. Above, the view of the Golden Gate Bridge as sketched from Telegraph Hill. There are always a lot of tourists around the base of Coit Tower, and on this day the clear views of the Bay were incredible. Isn’t San Francisco beautiful? It’s amazing. I love drawing cities, and as cityscapes go this is iconic.
SF Bay from Telegraph Hill

I went around to the other side of Telegraph Hill to a quiet spot on Vallejo that I have also sketched before, about eight and a half years ago. The view has not hanged much (though if you could see beyond Treasure Island to the Oakland side of the Bay Bridge, it is now completely different – the old bridge has been almost entirely removed, with the new spacious modern bridge taking its place. This view however shows the classic San Francisco side of the Bay Bridge. This hill is so steep that it’s quite a climb to get up here. I couldn’t imagine living up here (what a view if you did!). Below, the first time I sketched this. I stood a few steps down, closer to the tree. I’m told there are green parrots in Telegraph Hill, flying free and wild. Telegraph Hill was known by the Spanish as Loma Alta, and later called Goat Hill by residents. It became known as Telegraph Hill due to the large semaphore tower erected in 1849 that would act as a signal to the city about which types of ships were entering the Golden Gate.
view of the bay bridge from telegraph hill//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

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the drinking spots of north beach

Mr Bings SF
Last year at around this time I Amtrakked it down to San Francisco to sketch North Beach, and as I mentioned in my last post that’s what I did again a couple of weeks ago. Now last year I spent some time sketching the bars and cafes of the area, so that’s exactly what I did again this time. Above is Mr. Bing’s, a little cocktail dive that I’ve always wanted to go and have a drink in but have never plucked up the courage. Well, I’m not here very often. I have always wanted to sketch it though, so it was the first thing I sketched that day, while eating an early-lunch panini at the cafe across the street. North Beach has those little green white and red bands on the lamp-posts to signify that this is the Italian neighbourhood, but just on that corner there you can catch a glimpse of a Chinese-themed lamp-post, as that is the border with Chinatown.
Caffe Trieste SF
This is Caffe Trieste, a little further uphill and around the corner from here. Caffe Trieste is an old San Francisco favourite, in business since the 1950s and popular with the artists, musicians SF tourguideand poets of the area. As a passing Big-Bus tour-guide (not on the bus with walking with a group) mentioned, this was a regular haunt for the famous Beat poets, such as Kerouac, Ginsberg, all the Beat poets. The tour guide (who I sketchd quickly, right) felt obliged to read some Beat poetry outside, I couldn’t understand what it was about though. It’s not just the Beat poets who sipped espresso here, apparently Francis Ford Coppola wrote much of the screenplay of The Godfather here. I never went into the Caffe (I don’t drink coffee, nor write poetry) but I would love to sketch the interior some day, soak in the beat-lit atmos. Did you know, Caffe Trieste was probably the first Espresso house on the West Coast? Its founder, Giovanni Giotta (Papa Gianni) came from Istria (near the city of Trieste; I’ve been there, nice place) in the 50s bringing a little piece of home with him.

Specs, San Francisco

I was feeling pretty Beat myself after all this sketching (do you see what I did there? Did you see that? Read it again) so as the Sun was quickly dashing westwards I chose to do my next sketch from the comfort of a pub table. One of my favourite haunts in the City is just around the corner from here, Specs, an interesting North Beach bar with walls and ceilings full of memorabilia and stuff to look at. I do love this place. Last time I was here I sketched a panorama of the busy bar area and was one of several artists dotted around the pub, unconnected but just doing what we do. I sketched over a couple of pints, listening to conversation, people watching, dreaming of anything. That might have been a Beat poet in front of me, perhaps a young Beat poet, I wasn’t sure. A young lady shared a laugh with a silver-haired man at the bar (I sketched them too, below), while a group of British fellows unseen to the left enjoyed a weekend pint while reminiscing about San Francisco in decades gone by. Or they might have been talking about something else, rugby or something, but I hear what my ears choose to hear. I like Specs. Years ago I came here with my friend from England and played chess and got drunk and laughed and did impressions of Brick Top. I like Specs.

Specs drinkers

I have another post of sketches from that day – stay tuned. So, do you remember when I posted my North Beach sketches last year, over two posts? One of the posts (“Leave the Pen, Take the Cannoli“) got a ridiculous number of comments, 223, possibly my record. The second post (“A Bright Centre to the Universe“) got a very respectable 11 comments, which is pretty good, but clearly not quite as good as the first. I actually prefer the drawings in the second, but according to everyone else the first post is more than 20 times better, but that’s fine. Anyway on that note I will leave you with the chronologically-out-of-place first sketch of the day, which I did on the Amtrak at around 9 in the morning. The train from Davis was crossing the Delta, with the golden brown landscape dashing by in the chilly morning sunlight. It was even colder when I got back to Davis, cycling my bike home in the near-freezing dark. It’s a long day out, sketching in the City.

Amtrak from Davis to SF

the sentinel building

SF sentinel building
At the end of November, I went to San Francisco for the day, just to sketch. It had gotten really cold in Davis, whereas San Francisco was about the same temperature, and therefore really warm. I understand that logic. I wanted to get back to North Beach, one of my favourite sketching destinations in the world (Strasbourg I think is top). I came down here at the end of last year and sketched until my fingers were too cold, and although it isn’t cheap getting down here on the Amtrak, it’s worth it just to be somewhere so different from Davis. Now I will post the building above is called the Sentinel Building, and has a special place in my personal sketching history. I remember coming here in late 2006 and sketching this on a postcard sized piece of watercolour paper, using just light pencil and watercolour paint. I remember a man asking if he could watch, and in those days I was so shy about my sketching I said no, and turned instantly invisible. I was however really pleased with the outcome, and figured that all of my sketches would be like that (when I discovered micron pens I went in a completely different direction). Here is that sketch, from nine years earlier:
on the corner of kearny and columbusIt’s still one of my favourites, and brings back warm memories for me. California was still so new, so much to discover. For example, I later discovered I got the name of the street wrong. I do wonder sometimes why I am drawn back to the same old spots, but urban sketching is about having a conversation with your surroundings (even if too shy to have a conversation with the people). Anyway, after less than a year of going out and about with new pens and new sketchbooks, I took my first of many Watercolour Moleskines back down to North Beach, and sketched the Sentinel Building once more. I remember that I used a Copic 0.1 multiliner, and a grey version of the same pen for the buildings in the background.
the sentinel building
Back then I was really into scribbly frames as well. This was another sketch I really loved, and still do. For a long time this was actually my favourite of my sketches. It was like, I was trying to get my sketches to be a certain way, and this was it, but it was just the sort of atmosphere I couldn’t achieve in bright, hot, low-level Davis – it was city-specific.

Back to the present…so the sketch at the top was done while standing up the quite steep slope of Kearny Street. I noticed that there is a lot of graffiti on the dome now. Here are my in-progress shots. Well, the above are technically “in-progress” as well! I’ll show you the other sketches from that day in a different post, but for now, here’s the Sentinel Building.

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sometimes you just need to draw dragons

Luke drawing
This is my son drawing on Black Friday, while the rest of the family were out Black Friday Shopping. He’s drawing a dragon, he likes dragons. I like dragons too. I’m not very good at drawing dragons so I’m hoping he’ll teach me some day (I’ll teach him how to draw fire hydrants, very handy when dragons are about). I can draw Lego dragons, and we have a few of those.

fall or nothing

chemistry buildings, uc davis

When this time of year hits, we get that big explosion of colour before the weather finally comes and washes it all away. Sometimes the weather doesn’t come, and it’s been a hot year, but now the rain has started (well, it’s misty) and the winds are blowing away these bright leaves (well, they’re falling off in a slight breeze) so I’m posting these autumnal scenes from a couple of weeks ago at UC Davis. Above, the view of the Chemistry Buildings, surrounded by red and gold. A very UC Davis scene. Below is the view directly opposite, of Bainer Hall, home of Engineering. Slightly less bright colour but still glowing with the themes of Fall. But in each of these as you will no doubt have seen, two different types of UC Davis fire hydrant, in the signature white and blue. November is gone now, and we’re almost reaching mid-December, and have I done all my Christmas shopping? No, still more to do. What does everyone want?!? I know what I want – for the world to look like this forever! Well maybe not forever, but at least for a bit longer.

bainer hall, uc davis

we wish you a merry creative sketching workshop

Creative Sketching Workshop US cover 1Christmas is coming boys and girls. Hey you know what would be good for those of you who like to sketch (or know those who might), a great book featuring twelve urban sketchers from around the world demonstrating a variety of different approaches to various urban sketching subjects. INCLUDING FIRE HYDRANTS. My book “Creative Sketching Workshop” was published recently and is a whopping good read. You can get it in the UK at bookshops and from the amazon, (currently ranked 153 out of all books on Art Issues, down from the previous high-mark of 22) and in the US you can also get it from north light publishing (they have lots of great art books, several by fellow sketchers), also bookshops and also amazon.com, where it is currently ranked as the 90,075th book out of all the books (let’s break that 90,000 mark dudes!). Learn a bit more about the book…

creative sketching workshop books

swashbuckling with a sketchbook

Swashbucklers 2015Shiver me timbers! That is a very Portland phrase for two reasons, first of all it’s a bit colder there than here, second of all you have the Portland Timbers soccer team (who just won the MLS Cup, well done!), and third of all, PIRATES (I know I said two reasons, but I lied like a lying lily-livered landlubber). Pirates. You will remember perhaps two years ago when I went to Portland for the Swashbucklers Ball, the big event where people dress up as pirates (and we’re talking seriously good pirate costumes too) and mingle with other pirates, dance to music, drink, and say “Yarr”. Oh, and in the case of at least two pirates, “draw other pirates” too. This year I went again to the Ball, this time with my wife (who doesn’t sketch pirates), and fellow sketcher and pirate Kalina, who lives in Portland. It was through sketching pirates at a Dr.Sketchy’s in 2012 with Kalina that we discovered this piratical culture of PDX, and it’s great fun. Above I sketched the Melody Ballroom while the band Chervona knocked out some tunes. The French flag flew above the stage in honour of the victims of the awful Paris attacks the day before.

Swashbucklers 2015 Angela and Kalina
Here are Kalina and Angela in pirate costume. My costume is not seen, but I had a black pirate shirt, a red sash, blue pirate pants, a big dark pirate hat, and a parrot. Oh and a lightsabre. At one point I congratulated one pirate on his weaponry and he got his big flintlock pistol out. I grinned and just went, bzhhooooommm. It’s a LOT of silly fun! (Unfortunately my ‘sabre doesn’t light up, but still.) I sketched, and danced, and chatted to pirates, and we decided that next time we would get the VIP tickets and get a table so we weren’t standing so much. Here are some other pirates I sketched:
Swashbucklers 2015
This fellow had a classic high-seas look and a feather too
Swashbucklers 2015
This bearded pirate (whose name was Justin) wrote “Yarrrr” on the sketch, and one of his companions had a parrot similar to mine, though with different plumage. They weren’t real parrots you understand.
Swashbucklers 2015
I loved this guy’s look, I remember him from the previous year. His hair reminded me of Balthus Dire (of Fighting Fantasy ‘Citadel of Chaos’ fame) which of course is immensely cool.
Swashbucklers 2015
I sketched this more mediterranean pirate a bit too quickly to make out the most interesting feature of his costume, the sabre with the large cobra’s head on the end.

Yarr!! And that’s all I did. Gotta love the pirates.