academic surge

academic surge, uc davis
We have had loads and loads of rain, honestly. Not on the day I sketched this, though. It is the Academic Surge Building at UC Davis, right next to the building where I spend every day working. I did sketch from the inside stairwell of the Earth and Planetary Sciences Building opposite. It is home to, among other things, the Bohart Museum of Entomology (, an awesome museum dedicated to insects. Yes, I know you knew already what Entomology was. I did too, though back when I first came to UC Davis I had an interview with the Enology Department, and I got it wrong, because Enology is wine science. So remember: Entomology = insects, Enology = wine. Drawn in the Stillman and Birn Beta Landscape book, which has a soft blue cover. It’s very nice.

to everything, turn, turn, turn

chemistry building uc davis
And so, the fourth season. If you are ever interested in how the same scene changes over the course of four seasons, here is sketched evidence. Not that you need evidence, you can just look outside with your own eyes, but if you are a season-sceptic, if you think the seasons are all just a big con then hopefully this should paint the picture clearly. The view of the Chemistry building at UC Davis, sketched from almost exactly the same spot (except the most recent; it was a bit muddy so I stood on the driest patch of grass, in the shade of a tree-truck so as to stop glare on my book). The leafless scene. Note that I wrote “1-6-16” as the date because I am clearly a new-year-sceptic, it’s all a big con by the calendar lobby. Below, you can see the Spring blossom scene, the fiery red autumnal scene, and the leafy green summer scene.

chemistry building uc davis
chemistry buildings, uc davis
Leap Day 2016 UC Davis

any way the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me

rainy uc davis!
Alright, 2017, let’s get you started and over with. I can feel you are gonna be one of those years, aren’t you. One of those ones with four numbers in them. 2016 was just a warm-up. Anyway, here in California we have rain, and lots of it – more than we have had in years. We need it after this drought. I remember big storms and floods in this area when I first moved here, and apart from the odd storm here and there they have never been matched, but these come close. We have had it good though; in Natomas, they had a tornado touch ground a couple of days ago. These were drawn in between those days, the top one being of the steady rain on the UC Davis campus. I stood beneath the shelter of Bainer Hall to sketch, a spot I have sketched from too many times to count now. Below, I forget the names of the buildings in the foreground, Sciences Lab and I think that’s the back of Haring, but you can see the observatory on top of, er, is that Hutchison? Am I pretending not to know, that is the question. Of course I do, I’ve been on campus for years. But look at that sky! Look how dark it is, dark and foreboding, like around the castle of the Skeksis at the start of the Dark Crystal. There was no lightning though, just dark, heavy, you might say grumpy clouds, moving toward the east. I’m not superstitious, but oooh, a big storm. I have done a lot of sketching so far in 2017, mostly of Lego Star Wars vehicles, you will see some of those soon. In the meantime, dark brooding malevolent skies. And science, surrounded by lots of good science. Also, the way the wind blows does matter to me, very much.
dark skies, uc davis


2016 is over, 2017 is already fully in swing. I suppose at this point I should give a review of 2016. Here’s my review: #2016. Enough said, I think. Let’s just say I tend to do a lot of drawing when things in the news stress me out! And there really were a lot of celebrity deaths. To those who say, it’s statistically the same as every other year, I say “cor, you are well clever you are”. David Bowie alone was enough. You know the rest of the list; I mean even Manuel from Fawlty Towers died. It’s ridiculous. On top of that, I’ve personally known several people who passed away this year too, including my uncle, two professors from work, and of course my friend and fellow urban sketcher, Florian Afflerbach. He is greatly missed by our urban sketching community.

So, as I do every year now, above is the list of sketches I have done this year. It doesn’t include badges designed for my son’s soccer teams, nor the advent calendar I drew, and other side-projects here and there, so yes this isn’t even all of my drawing but this is what I filled my sketchbooks with.

2016 was very much #2016. But personally, it’s actually been a good and very productive year. This was the year I turned 40, which was celebrated with a trip to New York with my friends from London.

And I wrote a book! “Five-Minute Sketching People“, a book about, well, it speaks for itself. My second in a year, though this was the first written solely by me (as opposed to being the primary author, as last year’s book “Creative Sketching Workshop” was). It was a lot of work, a lot of late nights at my writing desk, but I’m proud of how it turned out and it’s going into a second printing. My first book has been translated into French as well, so that was exciting to learn.

Apart from the usual local Davis/San Francisco/Sacramento, I went to (and sketched)…

  • London, England (twice)
  • Manchester, England
  • Knebworth, England
  • New York, NY
  • Disneyland, CA
  • Santa Barbara, CA
  • San Diego, CA
  • Legoland, CA

…and I drew a lot of people, because y’know, the book. Also the Manchester Urban Sketching Symposium, there were like 500 people there. I went on eleven plane journeys, and one long 11-hour train journey down California, as well as two much quicker train journeys to Manchester and back.

I had a big exhibit at the UC Davis Design Museum called “Conversations of the City”, a retrospective of ten years’ worth of my sketchbooks, which was a great success. I also held a smaller exhibit at the Putah Creek Winery in October. I organized a few Davis sketchcrawls (though not December – I need to put the dates in for this year), but also organized a large Wren-themed sketchcrawl in London which was a big success and great fun.

The sketchbooks I used this year (not including the peripheral hardly-ever-use ones) were…

Incidentally, if you’re interested, here are the sketches from 20152014, 2013 and 2012. Yes, I did sketch even more this year than usual, and here is the proof: 2016 compared with the past few years.


And 2017 is well under way. I sincerely hope you, and all of us in general, have a good year.And even if you don’t, just get your sketchbook out and do a lot of sketching!

old east davis on new year’s eve

4th & I on new years eve
The last sketch of 2016. What a year that was. 2017 will be a year too. On New Year’s Eve we don’t really do all the partying. When I was a kid though, my family and neighbours always had big New Years parties, either at ours or another house in the street, lots of fun memories. We had quite a few families in our street with kids of similar age so we’d all play while the grown-ups drank and danced, then Big Ben would be on the telly going “BONG BONG…” and then all singing the Auld Lang Syne song and the next morning, a lot of mess to clean up. Bit quieter these days. I do like to get out before the sun sets and get a last sketch of the year in, and so on New Year’s Eve I cycled downtown on my new bike (my other bike went the way of so many celebrities in 2016, just before Christmas), before settling on the corner of 4th and I Streets in old east downtown Davis.”I Street” is not like “I, Claudius” by the way, nor is it like the Roman for 1st Street. I thought about drawing a panorama, but I got cold. Ended up adding most of the colour once I got back indoors as well. This building is historic, it is known as the Schmeiser House, and was built in 1911 by a man called Theodore Schmeiser, who ran a company that manufactured almond hullers and brought the first water supply to Davis. Here is a page with some history about it. Apparently the chimney has a swastika built into the brickwork, added as a “good-luck charm” by the Schmeisers whose family had come from Germany, obviously in the pre-Nazi era when that symbol didn’t mean what it later meant. Still, hmm. People apparently call this the “Swastika House”. If it wasn’t mentioned in every single article about this building, it might not be noticed (I didn’t, but I will now). Interestingly, I have learnt that Davis actually had a football team until 1909 called the “Davis Swastikas”, which had big swastikas on their chest; they disbanded after a player died of a broken neck. Here is some info on Davis wiki – that uniform looks very shocking in modern context, but again, this was well before it meant what it now means. Ugh. Well, a bit of sketching and a bit of history as one year changes into another, and this is still a lovely old building I’ve wanted to sketch in ages. There’s a whole list of historic Davis buildings and monuments listed on the City of Davis website as the “Historic Pedestrian and Bike Tour” on which the Schmeiser Building is included. I should really make my way through the list, sketching each one. I have sketched 23 of the 47 (remarkably few!), so I know what my new year’s resolution will be…

AT-AT walker, step by step

ATAT build 1
Look what I got for Christmas! I know, more Star Wars and Lego, but I have wanted this for ages. It’s probably my favourite vehicle in Star Wars (and, um, therefore anywhere), though the Millennium Falcon is also up there (with the Snowspeeder not far behind, I love that little thing). The AT-AT, which I do pronounce attatt (not spelling out the letters), also know as Imperial Walker, the big armoured behemoths from The Empire Strikes Back. I remember getting the toy one as a kid at Christmas, I must have been about six or seven, and I remember the big box, it was the pride of my collection. This Lego version took significantly longer to put together, and well, I love it. I sketched the steps of building it. Above, it looks more like the skeleton of a small ship that the snowtroopers have cobbled together. Below, the armour is starting to take shape, the feet are built and the neck has been screwed on.
ATAT build 2<
Then, I added the legs. I lay it on its side. It’s quite tall, and surprisingly sturdy. Lego is very technical these days.
ATAT build 3
And then it was done! Took me a few days to complete, but I took my time, enjoyed it. Now battle commences. General Veers, prepare your men.


Disneyland Castle Dec2016

Before Christmas we took a family trip to Disneyland, down in southern California. I managed to get a couple of sketches in, namely the Fantasyland castle, and Flo’s V8 Cafe in Cars Land, over in the California Adventure park. Christmastime in Disneyland is fun. Hey what is your favourite Disney movie? I’m not including all the ones owned by Disney like Star Wars and Marvel movies, but the cartoons, and some of the live-action ones like Mary Poppins and stuff. I suppose Pixar counts as well. Mine is probably Jungle Book, or maybe Aladdin.

Disneyland Cars Land Dec 2016

These were the first sketches in my new Stillman and Birn (Beta) softbound landscape sketchbook. That’s a mouthful, so we’ll just call it the Sm&B(B)SbLsSb for short.