I’ve had this Lamy Safari fountain pen for about a year or more I think, I don’t use it very often. I wanted to draw with a fountain pen, but I might need an extra-fine nib to do what I’m used to with the Uni-ball Signo, but the other day I decided to brush it off and take it downtown for a quick late-lunch sketch. I had decided it was time for me to draw outside again more. this year I am so many sketches behind my usual haul, for fairly obvious reasons, even with sketching at home and virtual sketch-trips. Working from home I’m not getting myself out to draw during lunch like I do when I’m working on campus, like a routine. I’m eating at home rather than popping down to the Silo or downtown. The things I want to draw are further away as well, I haven’t really been inclined to draw my own neighbourhood much. There’s a lot of park scenery, trees and grass, it doesn’t leap out to me as much. It’s where I run. I haven’t run much this past couple of months due to the unbreathable air, although yesterday I did manage a couple of miles on the Green Belt. But on this one Monday I cycled down to 3rd St downtown and stood outside the little post office, to draw the buildings across the road. I have drawn these before of course but it’s a colourful scene. As I sketched, mask on and off to the side, people tried to get into the post office, but it was closed. I think it was for Columbus Day / Indigenous Peoples’ Day, that’s what I overheard anyway. People kept on coming up and trying to open the door, and then looking through the window, then leaving, wave after wave. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit entertaining, I felt like I was watching a prank show. One couple pulled up in their car and dragged out five or six big parcels. I had to say something, but I don’t think they heard me through my mask, and by the time they were desperately pulling the handle with a pile of boxes around them it seemed a bit pointless telling them again it was closed. Another young guy looked forlornly through the window with his packet in his hand, and an older man in an SUV offered to take the young guy’s packet to the bigger post office for him, and the young guy agreed and handed over his item to the complete stranger. At this point I really did have to say something, and pointed out that if this one is closed for a holiday then the big one probably is too, so maybe you should call ahead first. They both made ‘oh, I guess you might be right’ faces, and the young guy got his packet back from the old guy, who said he would go there anyway and offered to drive the younger guy there, like there’s no global pandemic going on. I mean sure, kind samaritan and all, but maybe check if it’s open before driving a complete stranger out there in your SUV. Through my mask I made a ‘yeah, not a great idea guys’ face, and they shrugged and went on their separate ways. I presume. Maybe they went around the corner and met each other again and made “screw that red-headed sketcher bloke” faces and drove out to every post office in the county together high-fiving and singing Shania Twain songs to each other, that’s what I imagined anyway; it’s been a long year.
This is the corner of 3rd and B in Davis. B goes in one direction, 3rd goes in another. On the corner there on the right is “Pizzas and Pints” and I’ve not eaten a pizza or drunk a pint there. It’s pretty new, and I don’t eat downtown all that much these days obviously. Plus drinking pints of milk and eating pizza? It’s related I think to the place a block down the road, “Burgers and Brew”. Now I like a cup of tea with a burger as much as anyone. Actually I don’t eat burgers, as I don’t eat beef. I eat chicken burgers though, and those new Beyond Burgers are nice as well. More than that though I really love alliteration, which as an Anglo-Saxon poetry non-expert I can appreciate. I did write a little bit about the Alliterative Revival in my Master’s dissertation though. There might be more of these places, like “Fajitas and Flagons” or “Sausages and Sodas” or “Tacos and Teacups”, I don’t know, this is why I’m not a restaurateur. On the other side of the street is the US Bicycling Hall of Fame. The actual Hall of Fame. I wish they would have the names of famous cyclists on stars all around it like Hollywood, it wouldn’t have to take up too much room because you could remove them when they are disgraced. It’s easy to be disgraced these days. I’ve never actually been into the US Bicycling Hall of Fame, except to use the toilet. To think of the famous cyclists who have used those toilets! Wait, I’m not suggesting they did anything other than have a wee or a poo, blimey no. I do ride a bike though, and I recently got it serviced at the Bike Barn, a long overdue tune-up. Wasn’t cheap but they replaced a bunch of parts. I did ask them specifically to fix the kickstand, but for some reason they couldn’t do that so they instead loosened it and made it worse, not it can barely stand up by itself, it’s like me on my stag night. My stag night, that was a long time ago, and some great memories, if only I could remember them myself. I still lived in London then, we went out around Chalk Farm. Those were the days my friend, you never get those back. Now, beyond that building is Central Park, no not that one, this is the one in Davis. It’s significantly smaller with significantly fewer appearances in Law and Order. That’s where we held the tenth anniversary Let’s Draw Davis sketchcrawl last Saturday. The first one was there in October 2010, ten years later we held another one there and I’ll post the sketches from that soon. Time flies…
Still working from home, but coming to campus a couple of times a week at least to do stuff in the department, although the lack of people on campus really is depressing, the start of Fall quarter is usually about the buzz and energy of everyone being around, but there’s none of that this year, with most people working from home and most students taking their classes remotely. This is the Zoom Generation. What a year. Nobody really knows when this will end, but end it must, and construction goes on for when we are all back. I wonder what impact the pandemic will have on future architecture? I’d be interested to follow developments in the next few years with global pandemics in mind now that is a thing. In the meantime here are some sketches I did in the middle of September on the UC Davis campus of some of the ongoing construction projects. Above, Walker Hall, which is nearly ready. You can see all my other Walker Hall sketches at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/petescully/albums/72157678149480548. This will be the new Graduate Center, and I attended a virtual walkthrough last week which was really exciting. Last time I was in the building was two years ago when I was invited to sketch inside during reconstruction, I was able to explore the space and try not to fall through holes in the floor, and I got my photo of me sketching with the hard-hat which was what I really wanted. It’ll be great to see Walker Hall finally open. Here is the ongoing construction project at the Chemistry Building, that started at the end of 2019. This part of it anyway, the other parts of the huge building have been undergoing work for a few years already. You can see the sky was sorta blue on these days, the AQI was still high, but the smoky skies were intermittent. Not so on the day I drew the sketch below, when skies were dull and brownish/orange from smoke. I wasn’t outside for long, but I ate a sandwich at the Silo and stood outside to draw the view of the new Teaching and Learning Complex rising over the skyline. Building work keeps on going.
A few weeks ago we went to the town of Sonoma for the afternoon, to have an outdoors lunch with my wife’s mother. It was nice to get out of Davis and I took the opportunity to go and do a sketch of the Mission, above. If you don’t know about the Missions of California, here is a good site for you to find out about them: https://californiamissionsfoundation.org/the-california-missions. The one in Sonoma, called San Francisco Solano, is the most northerly one, the end of a trail that leads all the way down to San Diego. This little adobe building dates back to 1823 as the culmination of three hundred years of Spanish-Mexican settlement in California, going back to 1523. It was actually badly destroyed in the 1906 earthquake but was rebuilt and restored. I have drawn it twice before, but it turns out it was a really long time ago: 2007 and 2006!
The very first time I came to California, in 2002, we spent a couple of days in Sonoma housesitting at my (future) wife’s friend’s place. I really liked Sonoma best out of all the places I went to on that trip, and I remember the delicious wine and the great cheeses from that cheese shop. Now during the pandemic there are still people out and about but the cheese shop was closed, and seating at restaurants and cafes was all outside. We had an early dinner in one of our favourite spots, Hopmonk Tavern, and I sketched my son on his device while the ladies talked. This is one of only a few occasions we have eaten out since the whole pandemic started. This was a brief respite form the terrible smoky air in California, but that soon came back. That very night there were enormous fires that erupted near here in Napa Valley, destroying some historic wineries and lots of homes, raining large flakes of ash down on all the towns around. I hate this awful year, and I really hate fire season. It’s never been so bad, and it’s terrible on all the industries around this way.
I have started sketching outside more lately, even though the weather is hot again (94 degrees yesterday, in mid October, that is not normal but what is). But earlier in the month I needed to sketch one evening, and even though I am thoroughly bored of drawing the living room I just went ahead and sketched anyway. I sat down to watch a replay of the Spain-Portugal friendly game (not knowing the score, and not knowing what an immensely boring game it was). Not an epic. More ‘claw my eyes out wish I’d spent my time watching something else’. Oh well, there have been a fair number of overexciting Premier League games lately. I’m thinking of changing the pictures on the wall going up the stairs, maybe taking down the prints of my cathedral drawings (three of them aren’t even really cathedrals, I should just call them big churches) and replacing them with my classic World Cup posters, perhaps to remind me occasionally that international football can be fun, even if the most fun parts are just the posters, the sticker albums and sometimes the kits.
I should have watched Star Wars. I’ve been listening to some Star Wars podcasts (well one, called Full of Sith) and I’ve been thinking a lot about Star Wars, especially the prequels. I love the prequels, and even more so now the sequels are all done with (I was much less impressed with those – although I loved Force Awakens, I was undecided on Last Jedi, but I really disliked The Rise of Skywalker, despite a few good bits, it was overall poodoo). I might some day write an unnecessary blog post about it accompanying some tangentially related sketch. But I love the prequels, I have a lot of good feelings and memories around those, and I love them even more knowing that a lot of people are very sniffy about them. That said I love that one episode of Spaced where Tim is really annoyed about Phantom Menace. Maybe I should have watched Spaced, been a little while since I saw that series. Or maybe Shawn of the Dead, or Hot Fuzz, I love those films. I was less impressed with the final ‘Cornetto trilogy’ film, The World’s End, but maybe I should watch it again. I did watch a film last night, Knives Out, which was directed by Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, and starred Captain America and James Bond, it was a whodunnit sort of film. Why do we say “whodunnit” rather than “whodidit”? Speaking of the genre, you know the board game “Cluedo”, in America they just call it “Clue”. So why do we Britishers call it “Cluedo”? What about “Ludo”, do Americans just call it “Loo”? If only there was a way I could ask them. What about Ronaldo, is he just called “Ronal” over here? I’ve never thought about it. I wish I had thought about it during that Spain v Portugal match, because that would have made the game slightly more interesting.
A few weeks ago we took an anniversary weekend out of Davis and down to Monterey. While the bigger fires closer to us had been contained or started to recede, other big fires in different parts of the state had created an even bigger smoke emergency, so this was probably the worst of all the poor air times in the 2020 fire season for us. San Francisco had the unforgettable Martian ‘orange sky’ day; further up the West Coast Portland and other cities were experiencing hazardous air conditions like we’ve never heard of. Probably a good time not to go anywhere. Or maybe, if we are just going to be stuck indoors, best to go and be stuck indoors at a nice hotel so it at least feels like a vacation. So we drove across the Valley and the Delta, and around the East Bay to the South Bay and everywhere was just dull toxic grey, like an apocalyptic waste, everything familiar hidden. We made it down to Monterey, and the thick smoke became mixed with thick fog. The AQI levels were still high, but slightly lower and damper now. Monterey will always have fog in September but we could barely see anything at all. We were staying in Pacific Grove, one of our real favourite places. As you can see from the sketch at the top, the fog was thick. I sat on the rocks along the coastline to draw. We even ate outside at actual restaurants, for the first time in six months, and that felt great. Pacific Grove is a charming town, on the top corner of the Monterey Peninsula. The houses all beg to be drawn, and I’m sure they get painted a lot. The air quality was good enough for me to go and walk about town and sketch, something I’ve been really missing in 2020. The sketch above is a hotel on Lighthouse. In the new social-distance pandemic reality I stood masked up out of the line of foot traffic or cars parking, the mask-steam on my glasses adding to the sea-fog and fire-smoke. I usually get over mask-steam on my glasses quickly, when I get a new mask it’ll happen the first or second time and then magically it stops as I adjust, but I find when I’m sketching that it happens more, because I look down a lot and it shifts things around. Still you need to wear the mask in Monterey or you get fined a hundred bucks. Nobody can use cash nowadays so I use that hundred bucks I am saving as an extra filter in my mask. I don’t really, but if I did it would might me not forget where I leave my mask when I’m at home. Actually one place here did take cash only, this lovely delicious bakery called Pavel’s Backerei. We came here to pick up breakfast, and there was a line outside. The pastries were huge and delicious. They didn’t take cards though, so it was lucky I had some actual cash on me – I don’t normally carry any, but it had been in my wallet since before the pandemic, maybe as a souvenir of the past. The bakery was on the same street as this impressive town hall, so later that day I came back and drew it. It was an awkward one to draw though, the sort that seems like a good idea but is less fun to actually execute. I enjoyed drawing the hotel on Lighthouse a lot more. This fence was right outside our hotel window. We had a nice room, just a block away from the sea (which was invisible) and the lighthouse (which was now closed to the public). A lot of golfers around here, loads of golf being played. I suppose people really like golf, it’s never appealed much to me, but that might be all the stuff that surrounds it rather than the actual hitting a ball and walking over fields bit, which sounds alright I suppose. I’m not allowed to watch golf in our house (my wife actually enjoys watching a bit of golf) because I make too many golf based jokes or puns on the golfers’ names. I can’t think of any now, I actually have to have the golf on to activate that particular box, so I’m just not allowed to watch it, which is a fair way. So, I draw rocks instead. There are so many rocks, it was like a rock festival. Sat there with my sketchbook I might have felt like a rock god. But I didn’t; rock gods don’t have to fend off seagulls who are looking to make off with your paintbox.
When was my last post? I don’t remember. I know I can look it up by just looking at my last post, but even as I read the date I forget what it says. Time is an irrelevance. It’s October now, isn’t it? What month is that, eight? Ten? Are months important any more? When you look at months, they do beg the question: what the hell is that about? This one has 30 days, this one has 31, then comes February and it’s like, wait no, just 28 for you, except every now and then it’s 29, I mean what the bloody hell? What is an hour?How many in a day, 24? Right let’s divide the hour into 24, no actually 60, I mean when you actually look at it all, it really does make you wonder WTactualF? Days in a week? 7 FOR SOME REASON. What is a week? I mean we know what a year is. We can understand years. Days too, to an extent, although the actual day bit depends on the time of year and where you are on the planet. But years, we get years, we can’t do anything about years. The French Revolutionaries tried changing all the months to more sensible time frames, with funny names like Breezy, Wheezy and Sneezy (those weren’t the real names, that’s what the British called them mockingly, because our old fashioned months made so much more sense). Years we understand. Except that there are only two thousand and twenty of them apart from all the thousands that went before. Don’t get me started on the boring people that insisted on the millennium not being the millennium because there was no year zero, and I was like well what the hell are we supposed to do with all these fireworks?? Besides I personally count years from 1BC. Years though, I do understand years, and a week ago or so (I think, time is an irrelevance) I celebrated fifteen years living in the U.S.
Fifteen years! Fifteen times around the Sun, and what a bloody hot sun it has been, especially lately, here in California. It’s October, and we’ve still been having 100 degree weather. Fires have still been giving us choking air. As a socially-distanced-soccer coach I constantly check the AQI to see whether the Sky Gods will permit us to kick the ball around for a bit while trying to stay six feet apart, and still be heard trying to explain rules of complicated drills under my mask. The game is the best teacher. Recently we got out of town for the weekend, driving down to Monterey across a California we could barely even see, the smoke was so thick, and even in Monterey the smoke mixed with the fog. I did do some drawing, I will post them another day. The pandemic is going on and on and on, with no normality in sight, I don’t need to tell you that. Cinemas are closing, films aren’t coming out. The things we love are on pause, or going away, and time is hard to measure. But I’ve been living in America for fifteen years, and that’s a thing for me to think about. I’ve generally measured time in sketchbook pages, though this has been much harder this year because I am so far behind all the other years. The sketch at the top of this post shows little relevance to the theme of this thought bubble, but it shows time passing, a new building, the Teaching and Learning Complex, the TLC, which meant something different in a different time. It’s an optimistic building, in these strange and unusual and unprecedented times, when so much teaching is happening through the exhausting little rectangles that give us all headaches. I like drawing buildings on campus in their various stages of transition, it’s real time, really passing. It can’t always be measured but it’s time you can hold on to, and keep, and never get back.
We can never get this time back. People grow, live and stop, things happen and stop happening, we adapt, and it’s hard, it’s bloody hard but it was hard before, now we have an excuse, that’s what I think some days. This week I’ve been seeing videos online celebrating the 25th anniversary of Oasis’s second album, “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” which was always one of my favourite records. I remember the day it came out, I had been having the most illustrated year of my life. Illustrated? I suppose that’s the word, I was 19 and felt like I was grabbing the world by the horns a bit. That was the year I took off and went to Denmark to pick strawberries all summer. Listening to music on my crappy tape player, and what music it was, 1995 was a great year, optimistic. By the time October rolled around this album came out and I went and got the CD from Our Price in High Barnet, where I was at college, and I got home and immediately put recorded it onto a cassette, so I could listen to it on the tube. I was going down to Stratford if I remember rightly, I was going on a date with a girl from Prague I’d met a few days before. I just remember getting to Stratford tube station, and I was so engrossed in the album I didn’t want to turn it off, so I just walked about Stratford until the very last bits of Champagne Supernova had finished, walking through a subway, volume turned right up on my headphones. Then I met the girl from Prague and apologized for being late, saying there was a delay on the Central Line or something, which sounded plausible. I remember it was a nice autumn evening, we went to a pub and played pool, but I just couldn’t wait to get back on the tube to Burnt Oak and listen to it again. That was all twenty-five years ago? That blows me away. And then again, it doesn’t. The last fifteen years probably surprise me more. The decade between where and who I was in September 2015, moving to America, and October 1995, listening to that album for the first time, makes me really wonder about what years really are – that was definitely longer than the fifteen years that have flown by since. I’ve fit a massive, massive amount in, and I still am, but the thirties and forties are so different from the twenties. Back in the old days, an album was as long as the amount of space on two sides of a 12 inch piece of vinyl. Then it was as long as you could put on a CD without getting bored. Now it’s arbitrary, what is an album? Endless playlists, pick and choose, random selection, the ceremony vanished a long time ago. But each song carries a piece of history with it, some memories that only you can carry, that album carries a lot of mine. Time is irrelevant, but absolutely precious, utterly priceless. We will never forget this year, none of us, a massive shared experience which will be different for everyone, but don’t look back in anger, I heard you say.