galaxy’s edge

Galaxys Edge at Disneyland!
In June, we went to Galaxy’s Edge, the brand new Star Wars land at Disneyland California. It was fun – expensive – but they have a huge life-size Millennium Falcon, and since it’s the fastest hunk o’ junk in the galaxy well, you have to sketch it. It was busy, for sure, though at that time Galaxy’s Edge were still only letting in limited numbers, I think it’s more open now. It’s very hard to get a reservation for a drink in the Cantina, that took some queuing up, but that was fun as well. Could have used more people dressed as aliens. The Millennium Falcon ride was good, flying in the cockpit, people saying “punch it” like that phrase is the new “may the force be with you”. Oh, the whole place is called Baku, and is named after the the city far, far away where they held this year’s Europa League final, forcing two teams and a few fans all the way from London, through asteroid fields and pursued by bounty hunters. Sorry not Baku, it’s called ‘Batuu’, which sounds very similar. As I sketched this I stood on a box that I had been sitting on, and a space-uniformed Batuu lady came up and said that climbing is not permitted in Batuu. They really sell this place as a real place (and people really buy it, with real non-Batuu currency). It’s pretty big too, and they are going to expand. The level of detail is epic even for Disney, and I tried a quick sketch in the restaurant (below) but there was so much to draw.
Galaxys Edge at Disneyland!

All in all, it was fun. My bubbling drink at the Cantina was crazy. I know Star Wars has been part of Disneyland for a long, long time (Star Tours is still one of my favourite things) but now Disney owns it and decides on its direction, well I do miss George Lucas, and when I asked my young nephew recently who his favourite Disney character was and he said “Darth Vader” well, a little part of me sank. But they did a pretty good job on this park. It’ll be expanded with a new ride soon, so I’m sure we’ll be back.

Up next…sketches from the summer trip…


long walks, conversations and cocktails

SF Palace of Fine Arts
I usually sketch standing up, except when I sit down. On this occasion, I had just walked two and a half miles from Fort Point along Crissy Field and over to the Palace of Fine Arts. I needed a rest. I sat on the grass in the shade. The last time I sketched this building was in about 2007 I think. Yes, a quick look through Flickr and here they are. It’s a nice spot that I evidently only go to every twelve years. See you in 2031.
palace of fine artson a bench

I walked down Chestnut and had a delicious lunch at Squat and Gobble, before jumping onto a bus and heading to my favourite part of the city, North Beach. I usually sketch standing up, but on this occasion I brought my little lightweight fold-up stool with me. At least two people stopped while I was sketching just to take a photo of this little stool, and enquire as to where this mystical object could be purchased on the wild realm of the internet. It was about $15 on amazon, a no-name brand, it is super light and fits into my small bag and I haven’t yet fallen off of it. I have lost weight recently which helps. Anyway I found a little nook beside a church on Columbus and drew the Italian deli Molinari, another favoured sketching subject of mine.

SF Molinari

Yes, there it is below, as sketched back in 2014 from an entirely different angle. On that occasion I pretended to be a traffic warden for an older lady who wanted to park her car there while she popped in to get some cheese or something, she said that if I looked like a warden then other wardens wouldn’t give her a ticket. I’m just there with my sketchbook so I’m like, yeah fine, but no other wardens came up and ticketed her.

SF: Molinari

On this occasion though, on the other side of Columbus, I had several non-stool based and non-traffic warden based conversations. One was with an old student from our department who happened to be walking by with her son and her sister, that was a nice surprise. There was another couple who were late for early dinner, and I used the power of the internet to help them find their restaurant, like a street wizard. There was an older fellow who I thought was homeless, who came and sat next to me for a bit with his big bin-liner, and it turned out he too was an artist, and showed me his incredible location drawings of North Beach (this is what was in his big bag), including Molinari sketched from the same spot (but in greater detail). I was very inspired. We talked about drawing out in the street, I told him about my attitudes toward urban sketching, it was a very nice meeting. And then after that I chatted with a monk, in full monk’s robes, who worked at the church next to where I was sketching, and he showed me a sketch of the church someone else had done for their newsletter, and we talked about San Francisco’s trees being different from the ones in Davis. Sometimes it is nice to talk to people in the street in a city like this.

SF Jackson St

I moved along, and down into Chinatown. I wanted to draw one specific row of buildings in Jackson Street. I didn’t have time to draw it all so I captured the essentials. I got enough. When I say I didn’t have time, it’s because I wanted to factor in time in the rest of my day to hang out at an old North Beach drinking establishment that I have never before been into, the Comstock Saloon.

SF Comstock Saloon

This old bar is beautiful, and they are very good at mixing their drinks here. For this reason I wanted to have a couple of cocktails. Now I usually stand when I sketch, but here I wanted to sit. I sat the bar, wrong angle to draw. I sat at a seat by the window, with a barrel for a table, again not super comfy. So I sat at a taller table, excellent angle. However I felt very conscious that people coming in might want to sit at that table, which is better for two or three than for one. I don’t know why I felt so conscious of that here. It felt like a nicer place. Also, I noticed that occasionally some of the tables would have a little ‘reserved’ sign on them, which I think was to deter single patrons from using spaces that a pair or trio might use. So, I drew very fast, and then just relocated myself to the bar. The staff were well dressed and clearly professional barmixologisters or whatever the phrase for them is. When it comes to mixed drinks I am clueless and need a list. I had an absolutely amazing daiquiri, totally beautiful after a day of sketching. The second drink I had was a Mint Julep I think, it was less to my taste but nice nonetheless. You can taste quality. The best mixed drink I ever had was in Hawaii, the Monkeypod Mai Tai, and it was amazingly fresh. I feel a bit posh drinking anything that isn’t beer, or Pepsi Max, or a cup of tea. Libations libated and sketches sketched, I walked back to the Amtrak bus and took the long journey back to Davis. I felt a bit more creatively refreshed, San Francisco is good for that.

skyscrapers and the golden gate bridge

Embarcadero and Mission SF
Perspective, detail. I like those things. I arrived early in San Francisco, and found a spot on the Embarcadero looking up Mission Street. I remember wanting to sketch this view years ago when I used to wait for the Amtrak bus here, the only that no longer stops there, but I am glad I waited a few years as there are way more buildings to sketch in the background now. I went to the Ferry Building, but the place which sells the nice bomboneri and cannoli I like so much was no longer there, sadly. So I got a travel book to read on the train at Book Passage. Reading doesn’t make me fat, though it weighs down my bag a bit. Actually the book I got that day, a collection of travel stories, I also took to Europe with me and read some while on the rails, but I left it on a bookshelf in a hotel in Brussels for someone else to enjoy. I was being weighed down, so had to get rid of some unneeded items. The stories I kept in my head, however I don’t really remember that many of them now, except for one, about a couple staying at a hotel in Tierra del Fuego or somewhere, and the electricity all went out, so they took that opportunity to engage in a little bit of what used to be called ‘how’s your father’ back in the 50s, only to be embarrassingly interrupted by another family coming into the wrong room. That’s all I remember. There was another story about a music writer travelling to Prague who got taken for a ride by a local who had an automatic gun, but let’s get back to my own less-interesting stories of travel shall we. I stood at this spot in San Francisco and drew this picture, and then went somewhere else. There, that’s the whole story.

SF Golden Gate Bridge

I ended up at Golden Gate Bridge. I haven’t been there in ages, not to sketch anyway. It was a nice day, a bit windy, much cooler than Davis. There is something about standing somewhere so iconic and impressive, you feel really lucky to have this within reach. I remember when Magneto used it to get his villainous brotherhood from the north bay over to Alcatraz, all because his friend Juggernaut said he couldn’t swim. I mean a boat would probably have been easier but the Master of Magnetism does like grand gestures. Shame he lost his powers before he could help rebuild. I do like X-Men: The Last Stand, despite the clumsy script. But “Charles always wanted to build bridges!” is a classic cheesy line, even for him. He just couldn’t think of a suitable line for a boat. “Charles would be ferry impressed!” Enough X-Men chat. Actually I am reminded of when, in the comics, Magneto (him again) used his powers to prevent an earthquake in the city, and also when he sat up on Mt Tamalpais nearby and went deep into his powers to project them into space and rescue Kitty Pryde from the big planet-bullet thing, oh comics. Anyway, the Golden Gate Bridge. I included Fort Point down below because that is where I was headed. I have never been to Fort Point before, a building that predates the bridge itself. It was built at the height of the Gold Rush, to protect the Bay and as a formidable naval defense for the young United States. I enjoyed it in there, I didn’t sketch any of the cannons but I liked wandering about and peering through the small windows in the thick brick walls, and catching glimpses of the bridge. It was a lovely day, lots of sunshine, but super windy. I sketched up on the roof there, before climbing down the steep narrow staircase that made me feel a bit nervous. I got down, and then took a nice long walk along Crissy Field. More to come…

SF GG Bridge from Fort Point

sketch the day away

Amtrak to Bay Area
But before we get to the European trip, I still have some other sketches to post, other stories to tell. Galaxy’s Edge in June, San Francisco in July, and a whole bunch of sketches at an Indigo Girls concert that I probably won’t post for some time yet. I sometimes think that the blur of life is not a story worth telling, or maybe one not worth listening to, but I suppose that the reason I like to sketch is because everything is worth taking an interest in. Sometimes I’m not sure this makes a lot of sense. I like to draw to keep my habit of drawing sharp, to push myself further in my sketching, but mostly because I just like to draw things that I see. It is ok not to draw. It is ok not to feel the need to sketch experiences, just because we have the ability to do so. But drawing illustrates the world I live in. It gives me a chance to spend time looking, really looking, observing and understanding, even with my poor eyesight and distracted mind. I look at other people’s work and I get inspired to keep going, to do more, to expand my skill set and keep sketching, but it’s hard not to compare, to feel like I need to ‘catch up’, to get frustrated at my own deficiencies and inefficiencies, and forget what actually makes my own sketching unique to me. I go through phases where I’m highly uninspired by my own work, maybe it’s the paper, maybe it’s the materials, maybe I need to mix it all up again, maybe I am drawing myself into a corner. Other times I feel like I knock it out of the park inning after inning while blowing bubble gum. A few times I am so pleased with a sketch that I hear Hermione Granger’s voice in my head saying, “you’re a great wizard Harry.” Other times I get so frustrated with a sketch that I hear Severus Snape saying “ten points from Gryffindor”. Sometimes I just get bored drawing Davis; sorry Davis. If it makes you feel better I am sure I would get bored drawing London too, even London, if I lived back there. Sometimes I get bored of drawing, for about five minutes or so. What’s it for, all this sketching? Because I like sketching, that is always the answer. It’s not for a book, it’s not for a workshop or a demo, it’s not in the hope of selling it, it’s not for anyone else. I show it here because I think it’s important to share our sketches and inspire each other, as I always learned from seeing the sketches of others online, and seeing their progressions too, seeing how they learned. That is how Urban Sketchers started, and why one of the core tenets was sharing your work for others to see. We learn from each other. That’s why I like to run sketchcrawls as non-judgemental spaces, places to come and draw and encourage each other, just enjoy the art of location drawing. We pick up all sorts of things from seeing others work. My love of slightly shaky lines for example comes from something I saw Martha McEvoy doing on a sketchcrawl in Berkeley in like, 2007, and I just liked the style. Of course in the above sketch it’s partly because the train is moving but that then seeps into the sketch, as opposed to taking something away. The experiences you feel are part of the result. So anyway where am I going with all of this? Yes, why we sketch, or why I sketch. We humans are complicated beings and for me, sketching is mostly about finding my calm place. Sometimes I beat myself up about going somewhere and worrying about sketching too much, like I need a certain number of sketches before I can feel satisfied. Like as if I need to show people afterwards that look, I got five good sketches so it was worth expending the day, whereas actually I could have just spent a bit less time sketching and more time looking through the corners of that old bookstore. It’s good to find a balance. Often when I travel with my family I find the balance by getting up early and sketching before they wake up, or sketching when they are resting, or even after they have gone to bed I will go out and night-time sketch. Anyway, there are days, like on the 6th of July this year, when I get up super early and feel the need to catch a 6:25 train out of Davis and down to San Francisco for a day of exploring and sketching. So that’s what I did. Am I bored of sketching on the Amtrak train yet? Evidently not, so there’s the sketch, with a little bit of story to go with it. It’s not story in which anything happens, there’s no great anecdote or a hilarious yarn about a ticket inspector’s wig falling off and being stolen by a chihuahua, but nevertheless it’s words on a page. I have more sketches from the day to come, and I covered a lot of ground that day, but I’ll save all that for another post.

back from the old world

I’ve just returned from a long trip to Europe, to France, Belgium, Holland and of course to England. I was in Amsterdam for the 10th Urban Sketching Symposium – it’s come a long, long way since the first symposium in Portland in 2010. I was in Belgium, visiting five cities. I was in Paris, and then later in Disneyland Paris, which I enjoyed a lot more than I expected. I was back home in London, which had its highs and lows, but we got to see a game at the new Spurs stadium. I filled a sketchbook, and started drawing with some new materials (Zebra brush pens, Nero pencils). It was hot, very hot. I had a lot of different foods, a lot of different beers, and lots of fresh juice from Holland. I stayed in eight beds (including six different hotels), took eleven trains, four planes (including one first class across the Atlantic – more on that later!). I have a lot of sketches to scan. This will take a long time, so the stories will have to wait before I post them here, but I hope you tune back in to catch up with me on my summer travel. It was a journey alright, in a lot of ways, and I definitely learned a lot. If you travel and do not learn, you may as well stay on the couch. But now I’m back in Davis, preparing to get back to work, proper work, I have a couple of drawings I need to draw, a workshop proposal I need to write, soccer coaching plans I need to prepare, maps to draw, sketchcrawls to plan, and explore some other new art-based ideas I had while I was gone. The rest of 2019 is going to fly by.