kearny to columbus and a pint of anchor steam

SF Kearny & Sacramento
I usually head towards Columbus. It’s my favourite street in San Francisco, cutting a diagonal slice across the grid, leading from the Financial District to the Italian flavoured North Beach. I haven’t sketched a lot of Chinatown recently, but my tired feet didn’t feel like climbing up to Grant or Stockton, so I strolled along the flatter Kearny, and stopped a couple of times to draw the scenes above and below. I was on the corner of Kearny and Sacramento, the long slope of the latter blowing dust downhill and into my eyes. Standing a few feet back shielded me from the wind, and gave me a cheeky view of Coit Tower, waving at me like a prize. I had no intention of going that far this time.
SF Kearny St shop
I could not resist sketching the store above. Something about this view just said it all to me. These are the types of scenes I like to sketch the most. I didn’t go into David’s Food store, perhaps David is Beckham, or who knows even Bowie, reborn. Or maybe Cameron, perhaps they have a lot of pork products. But maybe it’s more David as in Goliath, with Goliath being modern expensive San Francisco, and this little food store is holding out against them as the David figure, with long hair that gives him strength, until Goliath finds his weakness in his tendon, I might be mixing up my old stories here. I also didn’t go to Rainbow Cleaners, but I assume that is where Geoffrey would get Zippy, George and Bungle dry-cleaned. This is the silly thing I think about when I sketch. I should be thinking about meaningful pearls, writing travel articles in my head, stories of the smells and sounds of the city, but in reality I’m just daydreaming about Rod Jane and Freddy. At least I wasn’t humming any of their songs! Oh no maybe I was.
SF Sentinel Building

I got myself back on track.This is not the end of Kearny, but it is where it meets Columbus and where it starts getting significantly more mountainous. I have drawn this view before, many times, in fact one of the earliest San Francisco sketches I did was of this building. It’s the Sentinel Building, which has Francis Ford Coppola’s Cafe Zoetrope at the bottom. I’ve not been in there but next time I will. I like Coppola’s films. The Godfather, the Godfather II, all his films.
SF Specs

And finally, time to rest. I left the bright late afternoon and walked into Specs, one of my favourite spots in the city. At first I though it was closed, all the lights were off, but it was just much darker than outside and it took a while for my eyes to acclimatize to the dim lights in there. It’s full of stuff, and a few characters. I ordered a pint of Anchor Steam, took a seat with a view and started scribbling in my book. I read for a little (amazingly I could see really well after my eyes got used to it), reading some of those travel stories, and then drew these two fellows at the bar in pork pie hats. Or bowler hats, I don’t know, I’m not a hatologist. I enjoyed drawing this. It’s very different, much more of a reaction to the low light than a line-for-line interpretation; I’ve done that already. I’ve sat on this seat before, years ago at the end of a night out with my friend Simon, we played chess (drunkenly, he drank whiskey and I drank beer). Seven o’clock approached, the long journey back to Davis beckoned. I really love coming to the city, especially this area. I have plans to do a historical sketchcrawl down here sometime in the next couple of months, I have thought about it for a couple of years now. There is a lot to discover. Just around the corner, for example, on the very next day, March 24, City Lights Books was celebrating the 100th birthday of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, famous local Beat poet and co-founder of City Lights. A hundred years old, can you Beat that!

the evolving san francisco

SF Market Embarcadero
On Friday night, the rain came down hard. My son’s Saturday morning soccer game in Concord, was cancelled. It’s been a wet, wet winter here in northern California. So, instead of having a lie-in, I decided last-minute to jump on a train to San Francisco, for a day of sketching. The sun was coming out. I don’t actually go to San Francisco very often – the last sketching outing there was in 2017! – perhaps I think I have seen it all, it’s a long way to go for a day out without a plan, I’m always left wanting more, and as I get older my feet hurt more from marching around cities as I’ve always done. Then I go, and I remember how different it is from Davis, I remember how much I love true cities, proper urban environments, I remember that I really love San Francisco. This city is changing; it’s changed even since I first started going there, taller buildings are going up, people and places are being priced out of town, but change is inevitable. If cities stayed the same, San Francisco and all its neighbourhoods would not be recognizable as the ones we know today. The scene above, for example, at the corner of Market and Embarcadero looking toward the iconic Ferry Building, looked utterly different until the early 1990s. There used to be an enormous double-decker elevated freeway passing right in front of this view, the ‘Embarcadero Freeway’, a hated blight on the city (read about it on the SF Chronicle site). Built in the 1950s and controversial from the start, the freeway linked both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. In 1986 the people of San Francisco were asked whether it should be demolished; voters voted ‘no’ and it stayed up (goes to show, what do the public know). Then the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake happened, seriously damaging the freeway, and that decided things for everyone. The Embarcadero is a lot nicer now. I started my day at the Ferry Building where I got my little ‘bombolini’ from the lady who sells nice Italian-style pastries, I bought a book of travel stories from the Book Passage, and then I stood on the corner of Market in a nice shaded spot with the my sketchbook. Many of those old streetcars passed me by, some of which originally came from far away, such as Chicago or Milan. This orange and green one used to trundle along the streets of Los Angeles. I took care not to stand too close to the curb, in case buses banged into me from behind, but that was the best vantage point so that neither the yellow sign nor the palm trees blocked the Ferry Building’s clock tower. It’s better than a big elevated freeway.
Blue Hydrant Market
Here is a blue fire hydrant I spotted on Market. You don’t see many blue ones around here. It looked pretty hastily painted.
SF 181 Fremont

The biggest changes lately though have been the addition of a whole clan of skyscrapers to the are South of Market (SoMa). they are going up so fast I cannot keep up with their names. This one for example took some finding out. The building to the right is Salesforce Tower, the new tallest building in San Francisco which was not quite yet finished when I last sketched it. On the right is the older Millennium Tower (built presumably a couple of decades ago if naming convention holds, though that doesn’t account for the Millennium Falcon, although Correllia probably has a different calendar to Earth, and it was a long time ago and far, far away). I stood on Mission and looked up squinting to draw this. Sunlight reflected from those windows on the Millennium Tower; I was worried I might melt if hit at the right angle, like those cars in London beneath the Walkie-Talkie. I didn’t know the name of this building, it was so new, and it doesn’t appear on Google maps yet. With the whole South of Market Transbay project, new glass and metal skyscrapers are flying up all over the place. The idea of skyscrapers on such earthquake-prone ground as San Francisco was a quiver-inducing prospect until fairly recently, but I guess the engineers are better at solving those conundrums. I discovered the name of this building much alter, after some research online: ‘181 Fremont’. 181 Fremont? That’s it? Not the ‘Upright Protractor’? the ‘Union Jack-knife’? The ‘Alien’s Umbrella?’ I think San Francisco needs to take a leaf out of London’s book and give their new skyscrapers silly and not-particularly-descriptive names. I mean even ‘Salesforce Tower’, what is that? Ok Salesforce might sponsor it but come on San Francisco, come up with a funny name. Perhaps that is what we have lost, as the city changes, the ability for the local humans to come up with plausibly imaginative nicknames for tall buildings. Perhaps they feel, as I am sure Londoners do, that once you start nicknaming tall buildings, you have to come up with nicknames for all of them, even boring ones, and it’s just too much effort. 181 Fremont it is then.

Rhyming A Street

A St Davis
This is A Street, in Davis. Not “a street”, etc and so on.  It’s a corner of Davis I have sketched before, etc and so on. But now, it looks different, etc and so on. I don’t constantly repeat myself, exactly, I prefer to say that I ‘rhyme’. I drew this on a rainy lunchtime, from the shelter of the Social Sciences Building opposite. This was previously Davis Textbooks, on the corner of 3rd St and A St, then it was empty, and now it has been completely refurbsihed and is going to be ‘iTea’ which I think is some sort of chain of boba tea outlets. At least I think it’s a chain, I saw one other, in ChinaTown in San Francisco, the other day. Wait, what, ‘boba tea’? Have I got that right? If so they have missed a trick. A mash-up between Boba Fett and Mr T would be the coolest thing ever. “I don’t hate Solo, but I pity the fool. No man gonna come between me and my bounty.” You can imagine the rest, all of the Boba Fett / A Team stuff, and putting the mohawk on the helmet and those wookiee braids mixed with feathery earrings, you can imagine the whole look yourself, it’s just generally a good idea. But this is getting away from the point, which I tend to do in these blog posts, etc and so on. They have cleaned the place up a lot, and given those bricks a nice lick of green paint. By the way that car, not the blue one but the other one, it looks odd, the front wheel is a bit too far back and it’s very close to the car in front. This is because at the moment when I got to drawing those bits, another car parked in front of me on this side of the street, obscuring my view, so I just drew the top of the car and improvised the rest. Look, a tree in the foreground, my signature. But what is this? A bike? I hate drawing bikes, I said so in the Davis Enterprise last week. Well, there were actually two bikes there, but I chickened out on drawing the second because as you know, the thing I hate more than drawing bikes is drawing two bikes.

This is what this corner of Davis  looked like just a few months ago. Work going on in the street, the old Davis Textbooks sign was still up, the space was empty and someone had done a huge graffiti ‘Class of 18’ sign over the front. You have to admit that looked kinda cool.
A St Oct 2018

In Spring 2014 it was still ‘Davis Textbooks’, though I don’t recall if it was actually in business. I only ever went inside there once, when my friend Tel from England (who himself sells textbooks online, now based in Japan) wanted to have a look. We used to work for a university textbook shop in Hendon. I liked this corner because of all the signs and poles and urban furniture all about. It’s the entrance to UC Davis, but looking down 3rd Street. Lots of bikes whizz past here. Hey look that same car is there, from the first picture. Its wheel is in the right place.
A & 3rd Davis

Back when I drew it in January 2008, in the days right before impending parenthood encouraged me to draw in landscape format, I only drew the street corner, with all the newspaper boxes that used to be there. It was a gloriously vanilla January day, with lemony sky and a kind of tarte flambee feel to the world, I have no idea where that is going. I painted the sky yellow before adding the blue is what I am trying to say, it was a thing I did then for some reason, I must have forgotten that is how to make the sky green.
sc17: 3rd & A

So, another change to another spot in Davis. I’m glad I have been drawing it, and here again is the point of drawing Davis, capturing moments in time as well as space.

and as in uffish thought he stood

tree behind music annex
This gnarly, knobbly looking thing is behind the Music Annex at UC Davis, next to the back alley that runs alongside the Arboretum. It looks a bit like an ancient sea creature that has broken through the deck of a ship, only to be cast under an ancient spell and turned to wood (lignified?). I needed to sketch at lunchtime, so I sketched this. Trees are beautiful, aren’t they. The uglier, the more beautiful. I used to like climbing trees as a kid, but I’d never climb very far, just to maybe the first branch, and I’d feel like a tree-dwelling champion. I was a big fan of the Ewoks when I was a kid, and always wanted to live in a tree-top village. I never had a tree-house, though I did have a climbing-frame in my back garden with a little metal swing at the top, it was less like a tree-house and more like a birdcage, but I loved it. I wish I had had a tree-house though. I didn’t have a tree though, so there was that. What would be cool would be to have not a tree-house but one of those houses which is just a door in a tree-trunk, and you open it to reveal a spiral stair-case going down, down, down into a subterranean world. I was a big fan of Mr.Happy when I was a kid. Jamie and the Magic Torch as well. Hang on that wasn’t a door in a tree, I’m not sure why I thought of that. Anyway the problem with that would be lack of sunlight, and it’s not really a tree-house any more and just a cave, and I don’t want to live in a cave. Unless it’s accessible by fire-pole. I was a big fan of Batman when I was a kid. I think every house needs a fire-pole, really. Coming back to this tree though, you have to wonder how much of it has been shaped by its proximity to the Music Annex. Trees are alive, they can experience and feel, and perhaps the presence of all that music has made it feel more alive and expressionist than trees next to, say, the Mathematical Sciences Building. (By the way I can vouch that those trees are generally very good with numbers). Or maybe all that music has warped its personality in the same way that listening to hours and hours of sad pop songs can make you eternally miserable, like the guy in High Fidelity? Maybe this tree is a music snob, and only listens to tree music you haven’t heard of. Or maybe, just maybe this tree is angry and frustrated, knowing that so many instruments being played right there, right on his roots-step, are made of wood, his dead friends, his dead relatives. All those woodwind instruments like the oboe and the clarinet, all those violins, cellos, even pianos, guitars, ukeleles, xylophones, they play such bitter notes when you are a tree. Or maybe they see it differently, maybe trees are proud that their kind can produce such beautiful sounds. Or maybe, and this is more likely I’ll admit, maybe it’s just a tree and it couldn’t give a monkey’s.

back at three mile

Three Mile Brewing, Davis
I’ve sketched this place before, it’s Three Mile Brewing in downtown Davis, a small brewery that does some very nice beers. Such as ‘Burnt Reynolds’. There always seems to be dogs in here. There was another one unseen in this sketch, as well as the one that is there. Last time I sketched in here there was a dog in the sketch. Am I now a dog sketcher? I have drawn a few dogs over the years, but I don’t really go for drawing animals much. So, Three Mile Brewing in Davis is named for the old three mile no-alcohol exclusion zone from campus that existed years ago (until 1979!). I like the colour scheme in this room, and it was handy that man wore that jacket providing a balance between the Burnt Reynolds beer and that wall on the left.

Napper Valley

UC Davis Quad
A lovely sunny Monday lunchtime. This is the UC Davis Quad. You will notice on the right there are blue hammocks set up with people taking naps inside. This is very much encouraged in Davis (also in nearby Napper Valley). Taking a nap is good for you. What do you call it when someone is pretending to be asleep? Fake Snooze. I haven’t tried the hammocks myself, they are usually all occupied. Ironically they didn’t have these when people were camping on the Quad years ago in the ‘Occupy’ protests. Back then, UC Davis was put on the map of infamy by the ‘Pepper Spray Incident’. Did you hear about the peanut who was pepper-sprayed? He was a salted. Peanut. Ha ha, ha ha. It’s very peaceful here now, though we still have protests and a number of marches, as you would expect. This for example was March 18. Sorry I appear to have been possessed by the spirit of Tommy Cooper.

Déanaimis Tarraingt Dáibhís

Last Sunday – St.Patrick’s Day – was the day of our most recent “Let’s Draw Davis” sketchcrawl. It was a shortish sketchcrawl, three hours downtown, ending up with a get-together to look at each other’s sketches. This time I included a ‘scavenger hunt’, which was optional, but I gave it a go. It was Ireland-themed, nine things, specific (“an animal sculpture”) or vague (“snakes!”). The weather was lovely, warm and sunny, and lots of people were out. I drew a group of cyclists (a couple of whom I chatted with), focusing on the one of course wearing green.
Let's Draw Davis March 17, 2019

The animal sculpture was easy, as right there on First Street are two enormous animals, a giant dog made of records and a cat gateway thing, outside the Natsoulas Gallery. It’s not a specifically Irish thing, sculpting animals, but not all the list had to be. The dog is called “Roy” and is a tribute to the artist Roy De Forest, by John Natsoulas and others. Becuase I wanted to show some of the detail, the various coloured vinyl records that make it up, I sketched up close, covering the ‘something musical’ point. I used to have some coloured vinyl records, when I was a kid I would sometimes buy them because I liked the colour, not because the music was any good, and I’m guessing those who donated these probably felt the same. Speaking of not-good music, that awful violin player was downtown again, his screeching echoing down E street. I wasn’t drawing him, no way. Sketching the records was a little bit of a challenge as I don’t like drawing circles (it’s why I hate drawing bikes), but also the sun was beating down, so I added the colour once I got into some shade.
Let's Draw Davis March 17, 2019
Below is fellow Davis sketcher Alison, who has been sketching Davis much longer than me and who I knew from the very earliest sketchcrawls. She found a great display of Irish books in the window of Logos Books on 2nd Street, so I sketched her sketching those (the bookshop was my ‘something to do with literature or poetry’), and then I drew one of the books myself, a children’s Irish legend book about St. Brigid’s Cloak. I don’t know enough of the Irish legends myself, despite my Irish family I never learned any of that stuff as a kid (my mum just played Wolfe Tones, Brendan Shine and Daniel O’Donnell a lot), in fact it was my son who told me the story of the Red Hand of Ulster back when he was a preschooler (gory storytime!), though I did like reading about the Fomorians and the Tuatha De Danann, Balor and the Evil Eye, that stuff.  And I loved hearing the story of the Rock of Cashel and Devil’s Bit Mountain when I went there as a kid (Cashel is full of Scully gravestones actually, that always excited me). And I know about St. Patrick of course. There’s a whole wealth of story and mythology I need to read about.
Let's Draw Davis March 17, 2019
“A green object in the street” for me was a street sign. It could have been anything, a tree, a bin, a bike, a bush. I also asked for something more than a hundred years old, and that required a bit of Davis knowledge. I said not to draw my jokes which are all about a hundred years old (including that one). I drew part of the Dresbach-Hunt-Boyer mansion, which dates from the 1870s.
Let's Draw Davis March 17, 2019
Now ‘snakes’ was always going to be interpretative, as I don’t expect to see a lot of snakes slithering around. We do of course have snakes in Davis but they like to hide, and don’t often go downtown, especially on St. Patrick’s Day, for obvious reasons. I knew there was a green metal snake sculpture behind the Pence, however it is no longer there, so I ended up drawing some metal pipes, and calling it “snakes”, and there you go.
Let's Draw Davis March 17, 2019

And the last one “DRINK!” is a reference to Father Jack’s favourite word. I had about twenty minutes before the end, so I popped into De Vere’s Irish pub (which was packed), remarkably found a seat at the bar with a great view of the Guinness toucan that had been perched up above the taps. I drew that and had a (quite marked-up) pint of Smithwicks in a plastic glass. I don’t really like drinking Guinness much myself, it’s alright but not really my tipple. And then it was time for the final meet-up with the rest of the group. we had a very good crowd this time around, and I can’t wait for the next one in April! We’ll announce when exactly that is very soon. I have some soccer game rearrangements that are still being figured out, but I’m really in sketching mode this year – I’m already months ahead of my 2018 sketch-count.
Let's Draw Davis March 17, 2019

I never learned much Irish, except a few choice phrases, so the blog title today is a little bit of Google Translate finagling. I quite like bad translation though, there’s a certain comedic innocence to it. We used to play on that in our multi-lingual theatrical performances back at university. I did have a book when I was a teenager, ‘Teach Yourself Irish’, but it was a ridiculously dry edition and put the language out of reach. I could see how it connected to other European languages, but the orthography-to-pronunciation difference was too great for me to hear it in my head, so I just learned a few words and phrases, mostly ones other people had taught me (so I could say them). None of my family ever knew any Irish phrases other than Erin Go Bragh, Cead Mile Failte and Pogue Mahone, the last one being spelled the way the band did, not the spelling I was taught later by Irish people. None of the Irish people I knew as a kid (who were pretty much my nan’s generation) spoke any Irish words, so even as the historic language of my ancestors I never felt much of a connection to it. If they learned it, it was something they might have had to do at school decades before and forgot instantly, same as I remember very little about Chemistry class except a dislike of Bunsen Burners. I do remember when I was about 12 though being somewhere in rural Kerry, and suddenly everything was in Gaelic, the radio stations, the street signs, actually that was it, the only other things around were sheep and fog. It wasn’t until I was much older that I met someone who spoke it natively, as in at home, and whenever she used it to with us it was usually in song and not to be translated (she was clear about that). So, with the Irish language, it’s another thing that I might get around to learning a bit of now we live in the YouTube era, but might not be that high on the priority list living out in California. Anyway I hope all my Irish friends had a fun St. Patrick’s Day! I certainly did.

Hey, if you want to see other people’s sketches from the day (or post your own from the sketchcrawl, if you came along) you can go to the Let’s Draw Davis group page on the dreaded Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/383785982124525/  

To find out when future sketchcrawls will be, our main FB page will show those: https://www.facebook.com/LetsDrawDavis/