we could steal time, just for one day

seven dials
The shortest day of the year is shorter in London than it is in Davis, because London is further north and the night-time is subsequently longer. It gets light at about midday and then five minutes later it’s dark again. Well, that might be an exaggeration. It also feels shorter because there is (a) more stuff to do and (b) more people in the way when you are trying to get to those things. While I am adept at navigating London crowds, having worked on Oxford Street when I was younger, ten years in tourist-and-commuter-free Davis have, if not quite dimming my instincts, decreased my tolerance for the slow-moving crowd nature of pre-Christmas London. I still know most of the shortcuts, however, and back when I was a student at King’s College London I would dash through this area to get to my classes, in wind and rain. This is Seven Dials, a junction of seven streets just north of Covent Garden which was deliberately designed to confuse American tourists. It’s always been one of my favourite spots in London and one day I will draw a panorama encompassing 360 degrees and all seven of the Dials, but it was not this day, because this day was very short (refer back to my previous statements), and also rainy.

Although the day was short, I had filled it well, meeting in the morning at the National Portrait Gallery with the lovely folks from Rotovision Books (by the way, a quick plug, my book creative Sketching Workshop which was created by Rotovision Books is available in bookshops and online, you can find our more about the book on my dedicated page CREATIVE SKETCHING WORKSHOP). I then met up with my two cousins, the amazing artists Dawn Painter (http://dawnpainter.co.uk/) and Claire Scully (http://www.thequietrevolution.co.uk/; Claire also published a book recently which you should all get, it’s called The Menagerie and is a colouring-in book filled with her exquisitely detailed and bejewelled drawings of animals), and Claire’s fiance and another amazing artist, Stewart Easton (http://www.stewarteaston.net/), and his little boy Archie. We all went for tea and then wandered Covent Garden, going to Stanfords (Yeah!!) and the London Graphic Centre (Yeah!!). A brief meet-up, but always a pleasure to see them. I wish I were in London more!! I also got to meet, even more briefly, with London urban sketcher James Hobbs (http://www.james-hobbs.co.uk/), who of course wrote chapters in the creative Sketching Workshop book, nice to see him. Hopefully on my next trip I’ll get more time to sketch with London’s urban sketchers (by the way, I am considering organizing another ‘themed’ sketchcrawl in London this summer, perhaps on the weekend before the annual Urban Sketching Symposium which this year is going to be held in Manchester). Anyway, once I left everyone I did a bit of shopping (had to get a football shirt for my old great friend Simon, aka the actor Simon Nader (http://www.simonnader.com/; incidentally he was in Silent Witness on BBC1 earlier this week playing a drug dealer), who I was meeting up with that evening, and then I went back up to Seven Dials to get this sketch in. I stood beneath the awnings of a building and sketched as the sky darkened and the sparkly Christmas lights got brighter, and the rain sprinkled down. It was not heavy. Seven Dials is lovely.

blue blue electric blue, that’s the colour of my room

blue posts kingly street soho, london
This is the Blue Posts pub in Soho. No, not that one, that’s on Berwick Street. No, not that other one, that’s down on Rupert Street. This is the one near Carnaby Street, on the corner of Kingly Street and Ganton Street. I sketched it a couple of days before Christmas, as the sky got dark early, and people rushed around getting last-minute Christmas presents. “Where is Hamleys?” they would ask me. I would tell them, and they would just run in the opposite direction without looking back. Here’s a pro tip – don’t go to Hamleys on a Saturday afternoon before Christmas and be on the top floor when all the escalators break down. Yes, we did that. Well on this particular Wednesday I had an afternoon to spend sketching (and shopping), so I came up to the craziness of the Regents Street end of Soho and found the Blue Posts pub. This particualr Blue Posts pub anyway. I’ve sketched the one on Berwick Street, and the one on Rupert Street is on my must-sketch list, but this is a nice pub, and I’d had the pleasure of coming in here the Saturday evening prior. That night I had been out with a few friends at a pub on Beak Street called the Old Coffee House, which I did not sketch. Two of them had not yet seen The Force Awakens, while me and my other friend Roshan had been to see it the day before. When you see The Force Awakens, you want to talk about it, but we couldn’t, for the whole evening. Oh we had a great time talking about comics, but the Star-Wars-talk was just busting to come out. So when the other two had left, Roshan and I went to the Blue Posts, as it was open later, to finally talk theories and spoilers. It was packed, so we stood by the bar, where we met a man who was in a similar predicament. However he had promised to keep his mouth zipped, because unfortunately the barman at the Blue Posts, a lovely chap, had not seen it, and any Force-based chat was again off-limits. Dammit! Respecting the fact that the universe was still inhabited by people who did not know that [SPOILERS EDITED OUT!] and that [SPOILERS!] is in fact [SPOILERS!] who [SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!], we kept quiet and talked comics (we had no problem spoiling those). So when I came back to sketch the pub a few days later, I popped in to see if the barman had seen Force Awakens yet, but alas I couldn’t find him. Now it is January, there really is no excuse, so next time I go back it will be in the full Kylo Ren costume, exclaiming loudly that [SPOIIIILLLLLERRRRSSSSSS-LALALA-NOTLISTENINGGGGG]. I won’t discuss the film here, not right now anyway, except to say that it was awesome, amazing, beautiful, and that I am totally on Team Rey, but that I do miss George Lucas’s storytelling. Anyway, the Blue Posts. I think I have mentioned before the fact that in centuries past Soho was a hunting ground? Well, it was, before all the buildings, before all the clubs and bars and strip joins and hang on they are hunting grounds too, of a sort. Well, those royal hunting grounds were bordered with blue posts, which is (we think) why several pubs take their names from them. There is another Blue Posts pub in Mayfair, not too far from here. You can make out the bright pink lights strung above Ganton Street on the right, as well as the large metal banner marking the entrance to the Carnaby Street shopping zone, which I photographed below I would love to sketch a panorama of Carnaby Street some day, but only if that day is actually about twenty or thirty years ago, when it was still interesting. It doesn’t even have Soccerscene any more, the once great football shirt shop that I spent too many hours in in my youth, where I fell in love with the Sampdoria shirt, the Fluminense shirt, the 1991 CIS shirt (the red one with the little squares and lines on it), and all the metal badges. Back then the shops were all punk t-shirts and Bowie and leather and loud music. These days it’s all Muji and Puma and mobile phone shops. But it does have beautiful Christmas lights.
IMG_5603
map, soho, london
Well, it’s now 2016, January 10th, and I’m writing an hour or so since I learned that David Bowie, that cosmic super-being, has died aged 69. I’m stunned. He was a hero of mine since I was a kid, there’s never been a part of my life when I didn’t hear his music, and now he’s gone. I just want to say rest in peace, Mr. Bowie. Give our regards to the cosmos.

christmas in south ken

NHM Xmas 2015
There are a few places in the world that are very special to me, and this is one of them – the Natural History Museum in South Kensington, London. I came here just before Christmas with my family to see the dinosaurs (Dippy the Diplodocus is still taking pride of place in the main hall, but will soon be replaced with a whale skeleton). I used to come here when I was a child to see the dinosaurs (Dippy was my favourite), when my older sister used to bring me here as a four-year-old so that I could argue with the staff about vertebrae (I never understood that story either). I was a total dinosaur nut, and I even still have a few of my old dinosaur books from my youth. Those dinosaur illustrations enthralled me, and the long hard-to-pronounce names were fascinating to me. This place is more than just dinosaurs of course, and within its walls it keeps a massive collection of specimens from all periods of natural history – around 80 million specimens in all, mostly housed in the Darwin Centre. This is an unbelievably important place. But back to the dinosaurs, the term ‘dinosaur’ was coined by Dr. Richard Owen, who eventually helped to found the Natural History Museum. This building was opened in 1881, and is one of the jewels of London. And importantly, it is free to go in.My son’s not as into dinosaurs as I was, he kind of likes them, but he really likes rocks and minerals, so he enjoyed that. After we were done and had played a few games of Top Trumps in the cafe, we went and had lunch in South Kensington (it’s so nice there, so civilized, and I had an organic mince pie which is very posh of me), I went back to use up the rest of the daylight sketching the ice rink and Christmas tree in front of the museum. In London in December it starts getting dark at about half past three, though this was an unseasonably mild day with some clear sky. The scene before the museum is so festive, I might make it into a Christmas card next year. You’d probably not catch me ice skating though.
mince pie

big four house

old sac dec 2015
This is Old Town Sacramento, sketched almost a month ago now, though it looks very much the same. I drew it while my wife and her sister and the kids were in the California Railroad Museum, which is next door to this row. Sketching Old Sac means sketching lots of windows, lots of those little bollard things on balconies (what are they called? I must look it up), oh and wooden boxes, just lying around for no apparent reason than to give Old Sac its Authentic Look. This was the last sketch in a sketchbook. This is actually called the Big Four House, and is a National Historic Monument dating back to the 1850s, very much the California Gold Rush era. Now the Big Four were actually four tycoons most usually associated with building the Central Pacific Railroad: Leland Stanford (he of the University), Collis Potter Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker (he of the Art Museum).

christmas every day

christmas living room dec2015 sm
Happy New Year! I’ve been away these past couple of weeks or so, not blogging over the Christmas period, instead gorging on Quality Street and mince pies. I was in London for Christmas, flying back on New Year’s Eve, and am still getting through the jetlag even now. Our decorations are staying up for a couple more days yet, and there is still festive seasonal beer in the fridge. 2016 is going to be busy, very busy. To bring you right back into the spirit of Christmas however here are the first three sketches from the new Watercolour Moleskine (#14), all of a certain festive theme. Above, our living room here in Davis. We dragged out the fake tree this year, sketched a few times before (years ago). On the TV, Stewart Lee on DVD. On the shelves to the right you can make out my son’s advent calendar, made by me – I make him one every year. This year was pirate-ship themed. I tried to sketch this same scene last Christmas, on Christmas Eve, but not long into sketching it our electric went out, not to return for almost a week, which was an adventure. This year at least I finished my sketch!

lois's living room xmas 2015 sm

Second up, this is my mother-in-law’s living room in Santa Rosa. Click on the image for a closer view. We had an early Christmas with our U.S. family before our trip to London, and I sketched this while my two-year-old nephew was napping and the house was still relatively quiet, before all the presents were unwrapped. Everybody’s stockings were nicely placed above the fireplace, and dogs were asleep on their blankets. They are in this image, but you can barely see them, and they don’t look as much like dogs as they might (I don’t really draw dogs too well). This was a nice day, but we had to go home in the evening to pack for London…

xmas mum's living room sm

Finally, across the ocean to England! This is my Mum’s living room in Burnt Oak, north London, (again click on the image for a closer view) which I started sketching on the first jetlagged morning there, up early with my son, but finished off over a couple more night-time sessions on the trip. This is the living room that I had all of my childhood Christmases in, beside that very fireplace. The Christmas parties my family had in this room, many years of memories. This year as in many others we had all the family over for Christmas dinner, with two long tables going the length of the room.  On the TV there, we were watching Return of the Jedi, because this was December the 18th and we had tickets for the morning show of a film called The Force Awakens (which you might have heard about). We had a lovely Christmas in London, and the weather was warmer than in Davis. I hope you had a lovely merry time too.

Happy new 2016!