’tis grand to be in new york

NYC Grand Central
Did I mention how cold New York was? It was so cold, even brass monkeys wore gloves. I don’t even get that. It was so cold, I had to open the fridge to warm my hands, no I said that one last time. It was so cold, I lost the ability to think of anything ever. There, that works.

But it wasn’t too cold to sketch.

I tell a lie, it definitely 100% was too cold to sketch, but for the sake of it, for the sake of urban sketching as a thing, I jolly well did it, because, well I’m not in New York every day. Sadly.

This was done on the Saturday afternoon, the second coldest day of the trip (oh wow, the 14th was even colder, it was so cold that it made Frosty the Snowman look like the Human Torch, see I’m just not very good at these analogies and things, I don’t know if that’s really what I do. I would be terrible in one of those schoolyard “yo mama is so fat…” contests you always hear about, I would be like, “yeah, shuttup, you mug, stop being sizeist” or something. Anyway back to the sketch. Yes, I stood in the sub-sub-freezing-cold weather and sketched the scene above. In the goshdarned cold. Oh I was wrapped up warm, unbelievably warm. Multiple layers of clothing, two jackets, gloves, thick hat, thermal longjohns, two pairs of socks, look I’m not going to describe my whole wardrobe here (stripey underpants, ok?) but I was pretty warm. But that cold, man. Amazingly my uni-ball signo um-151 pen held up pretty well and did not let me down. I did all the inkwork except for about half the windows on the skyscraper (it’s the Chrysler Building for those of you who have not heard of New York before) and some of the windows on that other building in the background (I believe the phrase that I uttered when I got to that part was ‘sod that’), and then added the paint once I got inside somewhere warm (I went to an igloo on Pluto). This is Grand Central Station.

Sorry, sorry, I meant Grand Central Terminus. What? ‘Terminal’? Right ok, it’s Grand Central Terminal. Only an out of town bumpkin like me would call it ‘Station’. In fact I think it’s one of those things whereby they go around telling people it’s ‘Station’ just so that when people repeat it to New Yorkers they can get laughed at. Actually I think none of this isĀ  true at all, this is in fact entirely a conversation I had in my head while sketching, in fact the imaginary conversation turned a bit ugly at one point and I had to break up the imaginary out-of-towner who was all, “you think you’re better than me, huh” and the imaginary New Yorker who had dropped his imaginary banter and moved straight into an imaginary aggressive “huh, wiseguy, huh, well things are gonna get real ‘terminal’ for you soon buddy”, and well I just left them to it frankly, this completely imaginary conversation that didn’t happen. I went indoors, and sketched in there instead.
NYC Grand Central Terminal

I did wonder where Avengers Tower was, since my New York is so bound to the imaginary. Being inside the immensely impressive Grand Central reminded me of that scene in Avengers when Thor and Hulk take out those Chitauri, and then Hulk punches Thor sideways. It also reminded me a lot of the Lego Marvel video game, the bit where you have to fight Sandman. I liked standing in here sketching, and I had intended on adding colour as well, but the day was moving along fast and I wanted to get back and go for dinner. I was told afterwards that there is an amazing place in the downstairs food court for beer and oysters, and I wish I had tried it, but that just gives me an excuse to go back to New York. Hey, do we even need an excuse to go back to New York? It’s an amazing city, with more sketching to be done there than I can possibly imagine (and yeah, punchline coming, I can imagine quite a bit).

(Except when talking about the cold)

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in the bars of old new york

NYC McSorleys

New York was cold. Very, very cold. Like “are you kidding me” cold. It was so cold that doing anything other than go inside somewhere warm was a ridiculous prospect. Not to say that I didn’t, and you will see an actual sketch I did outside in the next post. We also walked through Central Park which was beautiful, if somewhat frosty agony afterwards. The sort of cold where you go home and open the fridge to warm up. Fortunately New York has a proliferation of bars, and here are a couple more sketches of some. the one above was McSorley’s Old Ale house, another ‘oldest’ New York drinking establishment, established in 1854. Ah, ’54, what a year. That was the year old Fernando Wood became the mayor, a big player in the Tammany Hall political organization. New York had seen a big influx of Irish immigrants in the decade prior, escaping the Potato Famine. McSorley’s is old and feels it, but bustling and full of life for an old geezer. Sawdust is all over the floor, and the beer comes in pairs and is good – you can get two kinds, light or dark. Don’t fanny around. Despite being as cold as one of the moons of Jupiter outside, it was packed with people, a busy Valentine’s Day crowd. We stood at the bar until a table opened up, then warmed up with soup and a bit of sketching. Oh and lots of silly voices. Have you seen ‘The Trip’ with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon? Very much like that, doing the Michael Caine / James Bond voices, but greatly expanded in repertoire. Imagine Caine as Han Solo saying “Don’t Get Cocky!” and you get the idea. It was most enjoyable fun, though maybe less so if you were sat next to us. I sketched this far, and then we moved on.

NYC 1849 bar

This next bar, visited the evening before after a lovely Italian meal in Greenwich Village, was on Bleecker Street and was called “1849”. Ah, ’49, what a year. Back in California, the Gold Rush had exploded, and people packed up and dashed across the country to make a few quick bucks in the sunshine. Back in New York there was a cholera epidemic, and a huge riot in Astor Place between people who thought one famous actor was better than another famous actor. they hadn’t even heard of Michael Caine at that point, if they had history may have looked very different. This bar wasn’t around in 1849 of course, in fact it is just a themed bar-restaurant that takes its inspiration from the Old West. I don’t know if they had potatoes with sunglasses on in the Old West but I’m pretty sure that was what was sitting behind the bottles behind the bar (people probably said the same about me to be fair). Lots of red light. Not a hugely warm place if I’m honest, nowhere near the character McSorley’s has, but the beer was nice.

pete’s tavern

Pete's Tavern NYC

Thank you New York City, thank you. They named a bar after me! Pete’s Tavern, on East 18th Street. Ok fine, it’s not named after ‘me’, but without a doubt, you know this was the first bar I was going to hit in New York. Pete’s was established in 1984, sorry I mean 1864 (it is hard to read the writing backwards on the window) and is the oldest continually operating bar in New York City. I visited another oldest bar in New York City a couple of days later and I daresay there are more, but I loved it here. I actually came once before, in 2008, but I didn’t have time to sketch it then. This was my 40th birthday trip though and dammit I was sketching Pete’s. Now before i go on I must point out my favourite bar sketcher / pub artist in the world is Stephen Gardner, who has inspired me to sit in pubs with a sketchbook for several years now. He lives in New York and has done some amazing paintings and sketches of Pete’s Tavern over the years – check them out in this Facebook album. The. Master. Sadly he was out of town that weekend (as were a lot of people, long weekend and all) but I still sketched Pete’s while enjoying a few celebratory beers with my chums from London. Quite a few in fact, a fair few. A good old few. Fun times.

barman at pete'sPhilip Shoptaugh at Pete's Tavern

And we chatted with locals and other bar patrons. The bartender was celebrating his birthday too, though he is considerably younger than me (29 I think he said) and was a lovely bloke from Ireland. I sketched him quickly in pencil. I also sketched another nice fellow I was chatting with, a trumpeter in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra called Philip, he was in town from Oakland (he was telling me his grandparents lived in Woodland, nearby Davis!), and his other job is actually an inventor of toys and games, especially mazes and labyrinths! Which was pretty much my dream job as a kid. And as an adult.

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Yeah, Pete’s was fun. We came back on the last day before I flew back for a farewell pint, and on that day the snow piled down outside the windows. I may need to come back and sketch here again.

new york’s cold streets

Grimaldi's NYC sm
Last month I went to New York City. New York is a big city on the east coast of the United States, in New York State, and you might have heard of it if you have seen any films such as ‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York’, or watched TV such as ‘Cash Cab’. I’d heard of it because I had been there before a couple of times, several years ago now but I still remembered the famous sights like the Imperial State BuildingĀ  and Centre Parks. Now before you say “geddouddahere”, calm down New Yorkers, I am joking. I love New York. It is pretty bloody awesome – but when I went last month, it was also pretty bloody cold. Record coldest Valentines Day in fact! So the sketching was at a minimum, but I still did some. Why was I here? It was a surprise trip in fact, my wife had arranged it in secret for my 40th birthday, and had told me on my birthday a few days before. Not only that, but I was to fly out there by myself and meet up with two of my best and oldest friends from London, Simon and Roshan, for a Boys’ Weekend. Quite the surprise! We stayed in an apartment on Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, a couple of blocks from Washington Square. In fact if we lived in the Marvel Universe, this was right across the street from Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. If you don’t know what that is, fine, there’s a movie coming out in November. I flew overnight (having sung Yellow Submarine on karaoke to the music of Modern Love just hours before) and arrived on a frozen morning. We walked up Fifth Avenue for a bit just going “Wow New York dudes!” before stopping into a little place called Grimaldi’s for pizza. I did a sketch of Simon inside, waiting for his pizza (or “pie” as they like to say out here). It was very nice pizza.
New York Fire Hydrant 2016
There were a lot of fire hydrants in New York. I would like to go back and sketch more of them. I did this one however while Simon was inside a shop trying on trousers (or “pants”). Oh boy, it was cold. Not as cold as it would get in the coming days, in fact I’d look back on this cold as some sort of Golden Age, but too cold to sketch much else. We walked up to the Flatiron, before knocking the walking on the head and went to Pete’s Tavern. Bar sketches will be posted later. For now, here is a sketch from the Subway, from a different day.

New York Subway 2016

And a photo of the Flatiron Building.

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quick sketches from the lunar new year

Lion Dance for Lunar New Year
Last month our department held its annual Lunar New Year party. We have a lot of Asian students, predominantly from China, and so this has been a popular event each year. This time around I brought my sketchbook. Above is a very quick sketch of a “lion dance” by the Golden Turtle Lion Dance Association. This was set to music and was a really fun performance, though I had to be quick to capture it at all! The person at the rear of the lion is one of our co-employees Michael, and it was a great show.
KevinIrina
Here are a couple of people I’ve known for years now, Kevin (one of our PhD students) and Irina (formerly one of our PhD students, now an alumna who teaches on campus). I am practicing my five-minute people sketches , so did a lot of that on this day, mostly in my little Fabriano sketchbook. Below, a group of students eating (actually they muts have already eaten because those plates look empty). This was a single-line sketch, no taking the pen off the paper, drawn in the Moleskine.
Lunar New Year people sm
JamesDebashis
There was even karaoke. Above, one of our faculty, Professor Sharpnack, singing the Bowie song Golden Years; Professor Paul looks on. And yes I did in the end sing a song on the karaoke, after most people had already gone of course. And it was Bowie, and I did that thing where, have I ever mentioned this before? You take any song, any song at all, and replace the words of that song with the words from Yellow Submarine. And it works! So I proved it with ‘Modern Love’. “In the town where I was born, lived a man who sailed to sea, and he told us of his life, in the land of submarines…” You see? Totally works. I overheard one lady say, when it was announced I’d be singing Modern Love, “Ooh that’s my favourite song!” Ok, I thought, this version won’t be. Now I did something I’ve never done before, I sketched while singing on karaoke. Not particularly well, but I was multitasking and singing Yellow Submarine to the tune of Modern Love while someone else held the microphone up to my mouth. Now at last I can finally say that in my life, if I’ve done anything, I have at least done that. I haven’t scanned the result. I’m not showing all the sketches I did that day, they didn’t all turn out great…

I did draw a monkey though. Being the Year of the Monkey, we gave out special certificates to those who were born in a previous Year of the Monkey which said “Certificate of Most Excellent Monkey”, and here is our little monkey:

Monkey Logo crop

I hope you all had an enjoyable new lunar year, and have a most excellent year of the monkey.

walker hall and shields library

Walker and Shields March2016 sm

Another two-page panorama; click on the image for a closer view. This is the view of Walker Hall on the left and Shields Library on the right. We’ve had some wetter weather here lately, hence the overcast sky. I managed to avoid the big wind and rain storms while sketching. I had to do this over the course of a few lunchtimes (the second and third sessions were shorter otherwise just two). This area is scheduled for redevelopment over the next couple of years when Walker Hall becomes the new Graduate and Professional Student Center (or similar name). I saw the plans, it looks very interesting, so I will of course chart its development via the medium of sketchbook, gives me something else to do over the next couple of years. Shields Library will stay the same of course, but the promenade leading up to it will be a little more open. The front of Walker Hall will not change but the back will be quite different.Those trees are expected to have leaves on them as well which will look great once they are done. Also, the sky will be blue by then which should look quite nice.

frat’s all folks

D and 1st Feb2016
That’s a lot of cars. There are like, eight cars at least.This is the corner of 1st and D Streets (or the corner of “Free Speech” and “Design”) which is where you will find the fraternity/sorority houses of Theta Xi. Which probably explains all the cars, you know, “the taxi”. Look I’m 40 ok, I can make these jokes all day long. I was just getting away with it at 39 but at 40 I literally have a license for them. So Theta Xi is not the trainee-cab-drivers fraternity, though to be honest they have really missed out on a trick there. Like Kappa Chi Nu, the fraternity for future baristas at Starbucks, or Rho Rho Rho for the future professional canoeing instructors. That last one was a version of a similar joke told by Terry Pratchett, who is on my mind today because this day, March 12, is one year since he passed away. Damn, I loved Terry Pratchett. I grew up reading his books, absorbing his sideways worldview, I even used to draw characters from his books over all of my school notes, well Death mostly, ‘Mort’ being one of my favourite of his books. I even read the book in French (it is called ‘Mortimer’, and the title character ‘Morty’, since the name ‘Mort’ was taken by Death himself). I did have the German version too somewhere, ‘Gevatter Tod’, and I still have the graphic novel. At one point I tried making a comic adaptation in French myself but only got so far before shrugging my shoulders and giving up. I enjoyed the small-screen adaptations, the animated ones were a bit poorly made but the Sky TV shows were well chosen (Color of Magic maybe less so). I went to see one stage adaptation of Carpe Jugulum, which was actually staged before the book came out so that the um-actually crowd could not point out all minor deviations from the original (there were none anyway). It was at the beloved Riverside Studios in Hammersmith and Mr. Pratchett himself was there with his big black hat, along with a crowd of Granny Weatherwaxes, Deaths, Rincewinds and Cut-me-own-throat-Dibblers. I didn’t dress up, I didn’t do that sort of thing (though if I had, I’d have definitely been Vetinari). I remember one other thing from that night, I stood next to Stephen Fry in the toilets. He actually makes the Lord Melchett noise (“meeeeehhhhh”) while doing his business. Well no he doesn’t, but I imagined that he did. I definitely didn’t make it myself, at least thinking back I really hope I didn’t.

So, one year on, you are still much missed Mr Pratchett. I wish I hadn’t left all of my old Discworld books in England, because I don’t actually know where they are now.