sketching the birds and getting stung by a wasp

LDD 071820 Arboretum
On Saturday morning we held our first “Let’s Draw Davis” sketchcrawl since the pandemic sent us all home, our most recent one being on February 29th. It was a socially distanced crawl, masked up and stood out of the way, down at the UC Davis Arboretum. It’s been a while. I felt uncomfortable being out sketching, but when I arrived our group was not too big so it was nice to see people. However seconds after parking up my bike I got stung by a wasp! Right behind my ear. That has never happened to me before, not even on those hot June days in the garden back in England, but they finally got me now. So I was in a bit of pain as I introduced the sketchcrawl from behind the veil of my face mask. I was wearing a mask with one of my sketches on it, from Porto. Above is the view from the path of the Redwood Grove.
Davis Underpass 071820
Above is the richly decorated underpass that goes beneath the train tracks. When I lived in South Davis I would take this route every day on my bike, but it has been years. it was not so colourfully painted back then, but it looks very nice now. It was hot while I sketched, and my head was hurting a bit, probably due to the wasp sting that was still throbbing a bit.
LDD 071820 Grapes
Above, a few grapes hanging down from the Gateway gardens. Below, there were some turkeys passing through with a bunch of young poults, so I quickly sketched some. The bird on the right is a Green Heron, though I thought it was a Kingfisher due to the colouring, which reminded me of Kingfishers back in England, which to be fair I’ve also never seen. I was told it was a Green Heron so I am glad I waited to write that down. It was incredible – it would extend its neck to double its body length like Mister Fantastic or something. I expected another bird that looked like Doctor Doom to come along and fight it and call it “that fool Richards”, or a movie studio to come along and reboot it unsuccessfully. Still it was a fascinating creature.
LDD 071820 turkeys and green heron
Speaking of fascinating creatures, here is that wasp. I didn’t know exactly what had stung me because I didn’t see it, but when I went back to get my bike, one of the other sketchers Bill Lum came with me to identify it, to see if it were a wasp, a yellowjacket, a bee or maybe even a murder hornet, at least that is what I was thinking. He noticed that there were plenty of them over some of the bike racks, and they had built nests inside – putting my bike on one had disturbed it, so it had stung me. As he got close, one of the little bleeders came out and stung him too! So, we had to be careful. I held my sketchbook up as a swatter, and carefully extracted my bike from the wasp danger zone. Gently does it. I managed to do so without getting stung again. The sting was not particularly bad, and went down by the afternoon. I’d never been stung before so it was a first experience, nature’s way of telling me it’s not time to go sketching outside yet.
Paper Wasp
Bill took a photo of it, and identified it to be a ‘paper wasp’. So naturally I have spent the past few days trying to come up with paper wasp jokes, none of them any good, at least not on paper. So not a yellowjacket, not a murder hornet. Very interesting to draw though!

varsity town

Varsity June 2020
This is a familiar building. It was the first sketch I drew downtown in three months, and I felt awkward out there drawing after such a long time. I still do to be honest; we have a sketchcrawl coming up this Saturday and I’m nervous about it, although I’ll be wearing a mask with one of my sketches on (see those here!). I was masked up standing on the corner wearing this, I could hear that screeching violin music coming from a block away making me wish I’d worn earplugs as well as a mask, but it was a comforting view to draw. The Varsity Theater always reminds me of first coming to Davis, working across the street at the bookstore, doing some of my earliest Davis drawings of this 1950s exterior. The last film I saw there was Jojo Rabbit, one of our favourites, and in fact after cycling home from sketching this, stopping off in the Co-op to get some cheese and wine on the way, we watched another of Taika Waititi’s earlier films, “Boy”, which was brilliant and crazy. We’ve been on a Taika movie marathon lately, not a bad way to spend time at home.

the stay-at-home cats

Whiskers June 2020 sm
These are our stay-at-home cats. Stay-at-home orders are nothing new to these two. They probably like having us around more, or they don’t, it’s hard to say. Whiskers and Sawyer. two brothers. However with all of the disruption that happened in our downstairs when we had that flood, what with moving out the furniture and everyone staying upstairs, the noise from all the air dryers and the work, it took a toll on the kitties, and one of them, Sawyer, got very ill with the stress and ended up twice having overnight stays in the animal hospital, poor thing. Not the TV show, but the place. He had to be nursed back to strength, amid all the confusion with the living room, and on top of that his brother started acting as if he didn’t know him. As soon as he came back from the vets Whiskers was hissing and growling at him, Sawyer didn’t know what it was all about, but Whiskers couldn’t get over all the new smells on him, to the point where we had to keep them separated while we worked from home, and it took weeks for them to be ok around each other again. We learned a lot about cat behaviour during this time! Thankfully they are friends again now, but it really took a while.
Sawyer June 2020 sm
Animal Hospital, remember that show? I remember the sweet music and the little puppies being nursed to health, I remember also that it was presented by a kindly sweet old man in glasses, my memory isn’t great so I need to google that one, can you guess who it is yet, oh it was – never mind, never mind! I forgot he presented it. Wow, even Animal Hospital memories tarnished. Those guys were creeps, the Rolfs and the Jim’lls and the weather man bloke on the floating map in Liverpool, and all the rest of them. There was another show I remember though, Pet Rescue, I think it was presented by the former Chelsea and Romania player Dan Petrescu, but I may be confusing that one. Before this turns into another “remember this old TV show” post (and I do want to do another one of those), let’s get back to the drawings. I don’t draw animals often, but I really wanted to draw the cats again, after all they’ve been through. They are finally friends again now, maybe not as close as before, but not hissing and fighting as much, they are even back to cleaning each other, and occasionally alternating each other’s napping spaces. Now that the living room is normal they seem a lot more content. Cats are funny.
quick cats watercolour june 2020

While I was messing around testing some new paints recently I did try a couple of quick gesture sketches of them looking out of the window. Always fun. They like to look out of that window at the other cats outside, the outdoor cats from down the block, and the birds in the trees. We get a lot of hummingbirds here, they like to come and hover about looking right into our window.

before we all went marching home

UCD Quad 030320 sm
We’ll all remember March 2020. For one thing it was the longest month on record. Sure, it was 31 days, but it felt longer, much longer. I’ve already posted my at-home sketches, a story unto itself, during the whole Shelter-in-Place period which is now over except that it is probably starting again any day now. We’re still working from home anyhow, so life carries on just the same, but with even more masks. Speaking of which, you can now purchase face masks with my sketches on at : There are plenty in there, Davis sketches, other country sketches, loads of sketches. Ok, so on with the story. I did do a bit of outside urban sketching before we were all ordered to march back home, so here are them. At the top is a sketch of the UC Davis Quad, with slightly out of proportion people, which is fine but next time I’ll get it right. Although in my defense purple hair lady with red top was very tall. It was a Springtime day, and while news was starting to get ominous about the virus, we were still here living in a “well maybe it won’t be so bad” bubble while looking at Italy and wondering what on earth was going on there. We started wiping things down religiously in our departments, and started looking for the facemasks left over from when we had the fires, and our instructors were ahead of the game with starting an option for remote instruction, while everyone washed hands while singing happy birthday and stockpiled all the bogroll. I didn’t really expect what was coming though, which turned out to be no shortage of bogroll at all.
Latitude UCD 030420 sm

This building is one of the newest on campus, called “Latitude”. It looks like it could be a graph showing a rise in, I don’t know, cases of something, followed by a dip, and then a second wave, but that is just using architecture to make a point that doesn’t really match up with the current situation. Still it is an interesting looking design. If we in Stats ever got given a new building something that looked like this would be nice and visually representative of a graph. Chemistry too should get a building that looks like lots of test tubes, English should get a building designed to look like a big book-case, and Animal Science should be housed in a gigantic statue of a cow. This is why I don’t design university buildings, I just draw them. Although the Backflow Preventer in the foreground reminds me of a mechanical horse, or maybe a robotic camel.

Mrak UCD 060320 sm
This is Mrak Hall, where the university administration does its administering. I’ve spent a lot of time in its 1950s marbled halls, even going once up to the top floor where the boss works, Chancellor Gary May (a fellow Lego and X-Men fan who I have sketched before), when I was escorting a prominent guest from the UK to meet him. I have drawn Mrak a whole load of times, and I like it from this angle with the pink springtime blossoms on two of the trees and one of a pair of Eggheads visible in the foreground. Mrak Hall is named after Emil Mrak, the first chancellor when Davis became its own UC back in the 50s. This was March 6, and things were starting to look ominous, but we still moved as though the world would still be turning, preparing for visitors from across the country, though at this time we did have one visitor withdraw from a visit from Europe out of concerns, wisely as it would turn out. We still planned our big soccer tournament for May, the Davis World Cup, though with a doctor on our committee voicing concerns about the upcoming pandemic we did start wondering if perhaps we should postpone before we put in all the major work – wisely, as it would turn out.
MU Parking Structure UCD 030920 sm
This is the parking structure at the MU, where my wife would park her car back when we all went to campus every day. By this date, March 9, alarm bells were ringing. Not literally, just figuratively. On campus we started having ad hoc committee meetings to switch to remote instruction if that became a thing. However, everything was still normal until told otherwise, classes, sketchcrawls, soccer practices and games. AYSO encouraged us to be aware of the threat of coronavirus and that players who were sick should stay home, we should not shake hands with fellow coaches, players should not share water bottles, but games would still go ahead. We were planning for our upcoming vacations (we were looking forward to visiting Utah for the first time in April, and still thinking about a trip to Italy which in another year we would have already had booked and planned and paid for by this point but in 2020 we held off and delayed for some reason, wisely as it would turn out). I was looking forward to another 5k race in Davis, the ‘Lucky Run’ having done the Davis stampede in February, and was planning on having a series of races throughout the year. I’m really into running now. In fact since the shelter-in-place I have been regularly running 2 to 3 mile runs, which is much more than I used to be able to do.
EOP 031120 sm
I remember this sketch being the moment when things started getting real. Before sketching I was emailing back and forth with the opposition coach planning for the weekend’s game in Mt Diablo, and then while sketching I had parents asking if the game would go ahead, followed by an announcement that no, the season was being postponed, for now. No games, no practices, no meetings, until further notice. I’ll always think of that with this picture. On campus, we were starting to encourage staff to work remotely if possible, as other counties started a lockdown of sorts, a ‘shelter-in-place’, a phrase I only knew from whenever there was a different type of emergency, that is a gun-themed one. Now the sketch, I have drawn it before, but it’s one of the oldest buildings on campus, University House, and I like it when there is pink blossom on the tree. Schools however were still open, just under thorough disinfection, but I think everyone knew they would be closing any moment now. Any moment now. Here it comes, schools are going to close…

Wellman UCD 031320 sm

And it had to be Friday 13th, didn’t it. I walked into campus that morning and it felt odd, unusual, and calm. Well we got the message after lunch that schools would close until mid-April. On campus, people were nervous about being there, about getting on the bus, about meeting with anybody in person. The Trump administration announced travel bans from Europe (not including the UK at first, and then deciding oh yeah, them too). And we staff decided that we would work remotely if possible, though we did not get the official order to do so until the next week, once the state had announced the Shelter-in-Place order. And this is when we start drawing from home. It feels like remembering history now rather than just a few months ago, but This Whole Thing isn’t going away any time soon and keeps developing here and around the world, not always with the best leadership at national levels, though I think our campus leadership has done well under the difficult circumstances. And here we are in the middle of July. Things are rubbish, they really are, and I don’t want things to be so rubbish, but they are. And this sketch is of Wellman Hall, ironically named in a pandemic situation. This was my last outside sketch until June, and even now I’m not doing much of it.

February, I hardly knew ye

davis community church 020220
Ok, since I’m posting month by month to play catch-up, here are a bunch more sketches all from February, from Davis (downtown and campus this time). I’m still not going out and sketching at the moment, even though I can, I’m just not for some reason. This week I have been drawing Northern Line tube stations with a limited palette of three colours, one of which I can’t pronounce, one I can’t remember, and the other one I just like having fun with the name. You’ve got to have fun with language in a pandemic, although in my case it’s more like a pun-demic. I have to wear a mask indoors so nobody can hear the dad jokes.
Right, back to the drawings. Above is Davis Community Church. I like drawing this building, especially when the trees are a bit leafless. I drew this building first back in 2006, and I remember not being super happy with the outcome but thinking, you know one day I’ll think this will look good. I never did, to be honest, but I’ve drawn it a few times more when I have been much happier with it, and I really like this one. I drew it again, below, uncoloured and from the front, more quickly over a lunchtime, but I was not super bothered with that one so just left it.
davis community church 021120
I do like drawing churches though. I’m probably one of the most unreligious of people I know, but I love a good church building, in fact most interesting looking religious buildings. I’m kind of specifically obsessed with cathedrals, and want to do a sketchbook tour (a real one, not a virtual one) drawing loads of them, inside and outside, and I don’t know that I’d ever get bored of them. I remember the very first time I went to Notre Dame, in Paris, and feeling the ancient cold stone, looking up in wonder at the massive rose window, sensing the years of stories. I mean I don’t get that feeling obviously from the Davis Community Church building but it’s interesting in its own way, and I like to stop and draw it every now and then.
Plant Sci UCD 020520
Let’s take a stroll back over to campus. This is the Plant Sciences Building at UC Davis. They are really good at what they do there, and what they do is plants. Specifically, the science of plants, or Plant Sciences. Ok I am not a plants person, I don’t know my onions. I studied medieval English, and before that Drama and French. We have established in the previous post that I love science, but only in a kind of “cousin you only see every now and then” kind of way, I don’t remember science’s birthday until I see people on facebook saying happy birthday to it. Biology was not my interest, despite me getting ok grades in it (for my class anyway). I do remember one homework set by my biology teacher in which we had to describe to aliens who had just landed on earth what the difference was between an animal and a car, why one was alive and the other was a machine. My answer was short. “It’s a bit like your spaceship.” I said. My teacher didn’t give me a good grade for that. But the thing is, this was clearly a vastly more advanced civilization, being able to get across space like that when we couldn’t even get the high-speed rail link to the channel tunnel right at this point. If anything they could tell us what the difference is, and a whole lot more. I don’t know, I’d be a bit suspicious of these space aliens asking suspicious questions, I don’t think I’d want to tell them all that much. This homework was from like, 1990, and I’m still thinking about elaborating on my obviously wrong answer. I think that’s where my science career ended, and also my sci-fi writing career.
UCD 021820
And then there’s these buildings. I don’t know what they do, but there is some construction going on opposite. One of the things that happened to me in February, I went to the emergency room on my birthday, as I had picked up some sort of infection in my nose, which looked terrible and was very painful, but thankfully got better with lots of medicine. I keep forgetting about that now with all the global pandemic we’ve had since, but that was my first trip to the doctors in a decade so it felt like a big deal, and made for an exciting birthday.
3rd and University 022520 sm
This one, on the corner of 3rd and University, might be my favourite sketch of this whole period. Very springlike. I was getting over that whole nasal infection thing, and I had a spring in my step (people kept bouncing into my door) (sorry, dad joke alert). This is another corner I have returned to many times over the years. It used to have a telegraph pole with shoes hung over the lines. Now (out of shot) there is an obelisk made of bike arts.
Rice Lane Davis 022720 sm
And finally here is another spring-like sketch, this is a house near campus I have always thought was one of the prettiest in town. I only drew a bit of this one on site though because I was in a hurry, so I did all the colour and half the drawing later on. There was a “Bernie” sign on the tree, presumably for Sanders, I don’t think it was for Bernie Winters. Remember Bernie Winters? He had that massive dog, a St.Bernie-Winters I think it was, I think it was called Orbitz. Anyway this is a beautiful little house, there are some lovely little houses in this town, and as I’ve been exploring more on my walks and my runs in Davis I’m seeing just how many lovely houses there are.
February was a long time ago. Today is Born on the Fourth of July here in the US, and so Happy Independence Day to everyone. We are watching Hamilton tonight! And tomorrow morning, I’m also watching Lewis Hamilton, because my beloved Formula 1 is back…

roll up for the chemistry tour

Chemistry Building UCD 122019
The Chemistry Building at UC Davis is big, and I have drawn bits of it before a few times. This is the building that I have most often seen fire trucks outside of, unsurprisingly. I did notice last December just before Christmas that some new work was starting on this side of the building, and that the large concrete double-decker connecting walkway between two wings was about to be toast. So I stood on the little hillock opposite (no rhyming jokes please) and drew as the machines started tearing into it. This was page one of my sketchbook, which in the new numbering system is #36, a Stillman and Birn Alpha book.
chemistry UCD 011020 sm
There is work going on around the other side of the building too. So in early January I stopped and drew that one lunchtime. Chemistry, I was not a fan of that subject when I was at school. I didn’t like Bunsen Burners. Our teacher was ok, a bit grumpy though, used to say things like “I don’t care if you pass your exams, I’ve already passed mine,” and I was pretty so-so with the subject. I like Physics a lot more, I just wasn’t very good at it. Whereas I didn’t like Biology much, and yet I used to get really good grades in it. They all used to even each other out like some sort of science equation with chemistry being in the middle, Bi + Ch – Ph = PS. That looks really unsciencey. One thing we used to enjoy (and so did most of you) was coming up with molecules using the letters in the periodic table to make rude words. Science can be fun. Fluoro-uranium-carbo-potassium for example, or Polonium-Oxide, etc and so on. Surprisingly I ended up getting C overall in GCSE integrated science, and that was my non-starter science career done with. You can’t go on to be a scientist after that. I loved Michael Faraday, read lots of books about astronomy and the solar system, and watched Young Einstein a bunch of times, but I guess when it came to chemistry all I brought away was remembering the formula for Potassium Permanganate, KmNO4. Oh well. Now I listen to science podcasts and watch science TV shows and feel like I know loads about science but chemistry was always a bit beyond me. Honestly it was the Bunsen Burners.
drill ucd feb 2020
I drew this drill using the iPad. It was there with all the other machines by the Chemistry Building. Brings me back to school too, back to CDT class. Craft Design Technology. What Americans would call “shop class”. Drills, sanding machines, moulding plastic, building cogs, circuits and conductors, and all sorts of things I have forgotten. Again I was not super good at it except in the bits where I could draw. We did do one project in the third year though where we had to design a moving vehicle with a rubber band and some wooden sticks, and I made this triangular designed race car (obsessed with race cars, Formula One is back this weekend!), using a kinder-egg plastic shell as the front wheel. We had to race them. Guess who won! Yes amazingly I did. No idea how, total fluke, but I hung up my engineering boots that day.
chemistry building jan 2020
Here is another with the iPad, back round the side where the walkway used to be. I like using the iPad for those skies. You put them on a different layer. Working in layers in ProCreate is really handy.
Chemistry Building UCD 060520 sm

And then finally, the same view as in the first picture, and this happened to be the final page of Sketchbook #36, rounding off the book with a view from the same small hillock (oi, watch it) as on the first. And this was also my first outside sketch in three months, after the shelter-in-place was lifted. As things start to get worse, it looks like the little bit of reopening that we have seen will now be scaled back. I’m not going out much to draw these days anyway, spending my lunchtimes at home and not really going out on the weekends, so I have started looking online again and drawing London tube stations, because why not. 2020 is totally Ruthenium-Boron-Bismuth-Sulphur-Hydrogen. See no wonder I got a C in Chemistry.

i’m standing in the wind, but i never wave bye-bye

E Street 011820
January still, but this time in the non-campus world of town.Was it cold this day, probably, I can’t remember. Might have been too cold for me to bother colouring in. Except for those two bits of yellow. This is E Street. One day Davis will get around to naming its streets after actual things and not just alphabet letters. Maybe not people though, you never know if the name will need changing later if said person turns out to be a colossal scumbag. For example I’m surprised Savile Row in London is still called that. It doesn’t matter it’s named after a different Savile, just fix it anyway. Best leave E Street as it is then. Or name it after e-name concepts such as “Evolution”, or “Emolument”, or “Epidemic”. Perhaps rather than make it permanent, it could be symbolic and on a rotating basis, so it will stay “E Street” in all the addresses and publications and maybe most of the street signs, but be given a new name each year, named after some prominent figure of the day. I can’t think of any personally because nobody’s name begins with “E”. “Eddie the Eagle Edwards Street” maybe. Anyway it’s just a thought, and a bloody good one. Actually no, it favours those with names in the early letters. You see a lot of “A” Streets or “G Streets”, not so many “W Streets” or “Q Streets”. Not saying they don’t exist in bigger cities but basically what I’m saying it that Davis with it’s lack of a “P Street” and an “S Street” is unlikely to be temporarily renaming any streets after me any time in the future, so time to give up on this wild and crazy dream.
First St 012920 sm
Where’s this? First Street, along there somewhere. Drawn from the shaded trees side of the street. It’s a busy road. I’ve drawn most of the buildings along that side of the street. First Street, Second Street, maybe these need a rename. Name them after things or people that rhyme with the ordinal numbers. So “Damien Hurst Street” for example. Then, well we’ll come back to Second Street. “Thora Hird Street”. “Terry Christian Out Of The Word Street”. We’ll come back to Fourth Street. “Biff McTannen Street.” This doesn’t work, forget all of this. Let’s just say 1st, 2nd, 3rd Streets and don’t worry about it.
CACA Davis 011320 sm
And this sketch has a bit of colour. It’s the Cal Aggie Christian Association, as drawn from the edge of the UC Davis campus. On Russell Boulevard. Named after Russell Brand, you might think, but in fact they rename it annually after different Russells: Russell Brand, Russell Harty, Russell T Davies, Bertrand Russell, Russell Crowe, and of course Russell Grant. Mid January, sunny Davis. We had a much less rainy year this year than last winter. This meant we had far fewer soccer games cancelled, hooray! Until mid-March came along and the global pandemic situation tore everything up. I think this was all of the non-campus sketches I did in January, it was nearly six months ago now.