It’s a funny shape, this building. It’s Tercero Dining Commons at UC Davis. Sketched while the rain poured down. This is now the wettest season in these parts since I moved here. The shape of this building reminded me of a ship at first, then I realized it’s actually a giant beached parasaurolophus, not sure if it wants to be rescued. Nothing surprises me any more in 2017.
The rain is back today. Quite heavy as well. It was even rainier a week ago though, when I went out at lunchtime to sketch the rally at the Quad in support of Muslim students, faculty, postdocs and their families affected by the utter chaos of the recent Executive Order; yes, you know the one. The bursting showers had thinned the crowd a bit, but didn’t stop people coming and sharing their stories beneath the safety of their umbrellas, though it was hard to hear their voices over the heavy pounding from above. I stood beneath a large umbrella and captured what I could, adding the paint quickly. I’m very glad I was able to be there.
This is Roessler Hall, UC Davis. Or at least, part of it. Sketched from just outside the Physics Building. After all the big winter storms, destroying trees and swelling rivers, the sun finally came out. Elsewhere, the Oroville dam threatened to burst and large surrounding areas were evacuated; this has ceded a bit now, but it’s only February and there will be a lot of snowmelt later this Spring, so northern California is in for a bit more flooding I think. Feels a bit like the first winter I was here, over 2005-2006, but after years of drought it’s more of a surprise. It’s a worrying situation for a lot of families and I really hope for the best. I recall the storms and floods of early 2006, followed by the searingly hot summer that year, and being so new to California it was an eye-opener for someone like me, from a huge city like London coming to a small city in a vast agricultural valley, to understand the impact of weather on the land. I watched a lot of KCRA3 News and its Chief Meteorologist Mark Finan (Sorry, “KCRA3 Weather Plus Chief Meteorologist Mark Finan”, you have to say the full title otherwise the weather gods are displeased), who quickly became my favourite figure on Californian TV. He got all the exciting weather, and you knew the weather was not going to be interesting when they let Dirk Verdoorn, the reserve keeper, the Michel Vorm to Finan’s Hugo Lloris if you will, take over the reins. I really like Dirk too actually, but Finan with his long unwieldy official title (my wife and I used to joke that it actually just goes on and on, “…Emperor Beyond The Sea, Supreme Mugwump of the Wizengamot, Lord of the High-Slung Bottoms of Zob…”) became an early on-screen hero of mine in those nascent days as a new Californian. Well anyway, on this day at the end of last week the sun was out, the blossom was about to break through, and though the rain is back now, we’re all ready for a bit of Spring colour in this headache of a 2017.
Here are a couple of downtown Davis sketches from the little area of E Street between 4th and 3rd, because I’m checking off every building in Davis now, check check check. One thing I am doing actually, after eleven years in this town, is going through all of my sketches and finding one Davis sketch for each day of the year. The sketch has to have been done on that particular date. So far I’ve gone through ten months of dates and the average is 2-3 dates per month that I never sketched Davis (sketches of Lego or things at home, or other places like Sacramento do not count, has to be Davis). That isn’t bad going. Now then I have a list of dates I need to sketch Davis on, and then I will come out with a big calendar showing what Davis looks like on each day of the year, it’s quite an idea. Problem is, I had the idea in February so the three missing days in January are going to have to be sketched next year, or perhaps I just “alternative-fact” them. So the top one is Chase Bank, I remember when this used to be Washington Mutual, remember them eh, the old WaMu. Funny, nobody says ChaBa. Except Shabba Ranks. Oh now that brings me back to the early 90s! Actually can I come back, I kinda hated the early 90s. Well, love-hate. At least I was young. The one below it is Swanson’s Cleaners, which is closer to F Street so has an F Street address. It’s important to get things right, in this day and age. I drew this because I needed to sketch on my birthday. Aging, slowly aging. Actually can I go back to the early 90s again, at least I was young, I’ll put up with Shabba Ranks and Apache Indian and Ace of Bass, even Spin Doctors (actually, not them). I used to watch that late night show with Terry Christian, The Word, that was how the yoof got their yoof cultcha. Actually I did like watching Gary Crowley on The Beat, that was a good show. Oh nothing against The Word, I enjoyed that too, but The Beat was better. Jools Holland was always great but featured a lot of stuff beyond my musical comprehension, clever music with more than four chords. The ITV Chart Show was alright, for catching up on music videos, i remember seeing Pulp on there for the first time, that song “Lipgloss” which features my favourite lyric ever: “And your stomach looks bigger and your hair is a mess and your eyes are just holes in your face.” Yep, that is me, now. I also recall getting into St. Etienne after seeing one of their videos on TV one Friday night. Fell utterly in love with Sarah Cracknell. I went to Loppylugs, local record shop in Edgware, and bought the 12″ of “Who Do you Think You Are?” I got it home and it was scratched so I took it back. Same thing happened. I took it back again and the third one was ok, though it did jump a little. I still have it. That was the big risk with buying vinyl. But every time I hear the opening of that song I still anticipate the scratch, and I still think of Friday nights watching music shows on telly when I was sixteen or seventeen.
What the bloody-hell all of this has to do with a drawing of a bank and a dry-cleaners though is beyond me, but thanks for listening…
I still have a lot of Star Wars Lego sketches to show you, but here is one of my favourites so far, of the beloved Lego AT-AT. My son used to call these the “Garbage Trucks” when he was smaller, which makes sense given the sounds they make. It’s a remarkably solid construction (except the head, that tends to fall apart more easily than I’d like, I may have to reinforce it a bit) and filled with snowtroopers, who are probably my favourite stormtroopers. I’ve actually framed this and put it on the wall, in case it’s not clear I like Star Wars and Lego. Drawing objects like this are a good lesson in perspective. Drawn on Stillman and Birn ‘Alpha’ paper with brown-black uni-ball signo um-151 pen and coloured with watercolour paint.
Here is a building from downtown Davis called Phoenix House. It’s called that because of the Irish word for ‘water’, Uisce (see also whisky), or clear water to be precise, ‘fionn uisce’, anglicized as ‘phoenix’. Actually, no it doesn’t. I’m thinking of Phoenix Park in Dublin. There is a Phoenix Park in Sacramento as well but that isn’t a real park let alone have anything to do with phoenixes or water, clear or otherwise. Ok it might be a real park, I don’t know. Quit with all the sidetracking, this isn’t a Twitter comments thread. Phoenix House in Davis is named after the Order of the Phoenix. No, it’s not that either. Perhaps, and this is the most likely and believable story (with zero evidence, but when does that matter any more eh), it was a house that burned down and was rebuilt, hence Phoenix reborn from the ashes. A bit like La Fenice, the grand opera house in Venice. You know I could look this up and do some actual research, but alternative facts are the order of the day. Reality has become so quantum, we will have to start naming the different Earths soon, like in the Marvel Universe. Perhaps this was named for the famous but under-reported Phoenix Green Massacre. Or it was named after the classical Mesopotamian King Phoen the 9th. Or maybe seven guys whose initials spelled out PHOENIX, Paul, Horace, Oswald, Elliot, Norman, Isaac and Xavier, and they ran an independent pony express (or ‘Pon-ex’ as they sometimes called it) firm from that very spot. You don’t know. I could make it all up. I could have invented the whole building. That car might have been red, those windows might have been triangular. Sad! Anyway none of that is the case, and this is Phoenix House on F Street (or “Ph Street” as I call it), and one day I promise I will learn about its history, but whether I believe it or not is something I cannot tell.
It’s February, the birthday month. I don’t really do a lot to celebrate, I don’t have parties or anything, don’t really have enough of a social circle for the sort of nights out I used to have when I was younger, now it’s more a quiet meal with the family, a pint of beer and some cheesecake. Now this sketch, done on the first day of the month at the UCD Arboretum about a minute from my office, was not meant to be metaphorical of birthdays but in that great way you can retrospectively attach meaning to anything, this is a bridge, signifying crossing from one time to another. Weak I know. On the far side though is the Robert Mondavi Institute of Food and Wine Sciences, which includes the Beer lab, so I supposed that signifies celebratory tipples in some way. There is a STOP sign, which must mean I need to stop and assess myself, and there is a yellow sign for a roundabout, which of course as we all know signifies the Circle of Life, obviously, that one’s obvious. The path, well part of it falls into shadow which of course means the path is not always clear, and then of course there is the Creek, and that one is easy, it signifies my creaking body as I get older each day. I had no idea there was so much semiotic depth to my sketches! I wonder what all the fire hydrants mean? Actually don’t answer that.