And so to 2021. I was really hesitant this year to send out wishes of “Happy New Year” as the clock struck 12. After the 2020 we all had, and let’s face it we are still having, a lot of people are still very much suffering through, the wish of “Happy New Year” seemed a bit hollow. I want people to be happy, but it might seem like I’m telling them they should be happy, and people have a right not to be if they can’t be or just don’t feel like it. I usually just don’t feel like it. So I nearly said, “Have a positive new year,” thinking, that sounds better. And then I realized actually that sounds a lot worse, given the current circumstances, the word positive has a negative meaning. “Hope 2021 is better than 2020” seemed alright, but like, this seems a bit tongue in cheek, even though it’s true. In the end I decided, I won’t send out Happy New Year messages, I’ll just pretend I forgot because of the time difference. To be honest, so some fireworks went off on telly, and I have to write a “1” at the end of the dates instead of a “0”, and maybe put up the new calendar (I got a Tottenham calendar for Christmas; Dele Alli is January, which probably means he is going to be sold). Years ago I used to like New Years, something about it meant you could talk to complete strangers, which in Britain is illegal for the rest of the year as you know. These days we just stay home doing our best to stay awake for midnight, which isn’t ever a problem every other day of the year. But either way, wishing everyone a Happy New Year this year probably is for the best, at least it’s a bit of non-negative cheer. The Christmas season for me doesn’t stop until January 6th, when the decorations come down and the last of the Christmas Calorie Food has to be eaten. This includes these lovely pannetoni that I picked up from the local Italian deli, Zia’s (one of my favourite Davis shops). This particular one, a small pannetone you can cut in two and share over a cup of tea, as I did while watching the Neil DeGrasse Tyson show Cosmos, has chocolate chips in it. It was pretty delicious. The little boxes they came in though were so pretty and I had to draw it, while watching Neil DeGrasse Tyson pretend to be on a spaceship orbiting Saturn and saying things like “Uranus is a giant gas cloud”. I keep accidentally calling him Neil DeGrassi Junior High Titan too, I blame the effect of the Christmas Calories. One of the best things I ate over the Christmas was also Italian, a huge “Tronco di Natale”, kind of a Christmas log covered in chocolate, but also nothing like what you’d expect from a Buche de Noel or a Yule Log. It was much lighter and tastier than expected, I need to get one next year. I did get some imported mince pies, huge and mostly crumbly pastry, but I also made some of my own with some ruby port mincemeat I picked up in England last time I was there. Nice but a bit rich, and spilled everywhere, I need a bit more practice cutting the pastry. I got a Dundee Cake too because really, why not, but haven’t eaten that yet. We decorated the usual cookies too, and got some homemade cookies from my mother-in-law, and lots of other chocolates here and there, all the Lindt balls and peppermint bark and Hershey kisses and chocolate macadamia nuts and Cadbury’s fingers and Turkish Delights and Milka bars, plus the little chocolate reindeer I traditionally hide all over the house to be found on Christmas morning, all the choccies and candies I put in my son’s advent calendar, not to mention all the cheeses I feel it’s necessary to have on hand. This might seem like a lot, but Cost Plus in Davis was closing down in December and lots of things were massively reduced, so I stocked up. Because of that, I didn’t end up getting the big pannetone from Zia’s like last year, but I got several of these smaller little ones instead, and that was a great choice. Now the post festive season weight loss plan kicks in, before Birthday Cake Season starts. Heavy New Year!
Last week, after not leaving the house for what felt like a lifetime, and taking a few days off work to eat and look at a screen, we got out of the house and drove up to the snow. It doesn’t snow in Davis, down here in the Sacramento Valley, but a couple of hours to the east of us is one of the snowiest parts of the contiguous US, in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The first time I ever went there I had never imagined snow like it, whole cars and the lower levels of houses swallowed up entirely, icicles like something from Hoth, and so cold my eyeballs were freezing over. It wasn’t like that this time, I don’t know they get quite that much snow up there any more, but there was still a good amount of snow, and lots of ice, though it wasn’t very cold. We went up to Truckee, walked around the town for a bit, got a pastry, ate our pre-packed sandwiches in the car. I really like Truckee and it’s been more than a decade since we stopped by there. I liked the look of this diner, Jax Truckee Diner, which of course wasn’t seating people inside right now but was allowing people to get take-out. Definitely somewhere I want to go to properly once all this Covid is behind us. I posted this on Instagram and my cousin said she had actually eaten there last year. I didn’t have time to draw it on site but I really wanted to draw it, so I took a photo and drew from that when I got home.
We had a nice time walking about in the snow. We went to a country park we’d never been to before close to Donner Lake (named after the Donner Party, the tragic historical incident which thankfully was given a name that many jokes can be made out of). It was like walking in a winter wonderland. When I say that, I don’t mean it was full of little stalls selling mulled wine and mass-produced hand-carved ornaments and expensive scarves, with Bing Crosby piping out of the speakers. Nor do I mean it was like walking in Woolie’s Winter Wonderland, which if you ever shopped at Woolworths in December you will know what I mean, back before Woolworths was finally laid to rest in 2008. I mean it was full of trees and snow, a perfect place to take photos. It was just nice being somewhere that looked different to Davis for a change. I don’t think I could live full time in a place which snowed regularly, but I don’t care, there is something magical about the world being blanketed in this white cold stuff. When it would snow overnight in London as a kid, which was way less often than you might think, looking out of the window and seeing the rooftops, the ground, the tops of cars, the branches of trees all gleaming white is still something I get excited about.
In the car, we listened to the Adam Buxton podcast, his interview with Paul McCartney. That was a good interview. At one point Paul talked about when he met with John Lennon in New York in the mid 70s and they discovered they were both really into baking bread. I imagined what if they had decided to get together again and form a baking partnership together. I imagined they had a bakery in the West Village called “Love Me Dough”. (They would probably have had to invite George and Ringo in if they wanted to call it “Il Fab Fornaio”). They would sell products with names like “Got To Get You Into My Loaf”, “All You Knead is Love”, “Baguette Back”, “Bake in the USSR”, “I’ll Be Bap”, “A Croissant The Universe”, “Here Comes the Bun”, “While My Guitar Gently Wheats”, “Ticket To Rye”, “I Should Have Known Butter”, “Please Mr Toastman”, “Being Fro the Benefit of Mister Cake”, “All My Muffin”, “Garlic Twist’n’Shout”, “You’ve Got To Hide Your Loaf Away” and “Yeasterday”, to name but a few, I will think of more over the next rest of my lifetime. Flour Power. Rock’n’ Roll. Actually I’m already done with this idea. That was a loooooong journey home.
One from mid-December 2020. I didn’t sketch much in December, I found it a tricky month to get drawing. I mean, that’s not unusual. Looking at the chart I made from before, Decembers typically make up only about 3.7% of my annual drawing. Ok I will be honest, I made that statistic up, but it sounds about right. If I ever get the inclination I will actually do a statistical study of when my sketches were made and where, and with what pen or sketchbook, indoors or outdoors, in Davis or elsewhere, with or without colour, sketches per week, if there are trends with certain times of year or days of the week. And then I will use this data to create the perfect urban sketcher. Then I can predict what my year will look like to some degree of accuracy. You might be thinking, oh he is joking here, Pete says this stuff but isn’t really serious. To which I will say “exhibit (a), look at my previous post showing my chart of sketches from 2013-2020”, and “exhibit (b) I have spent almost a third of my life working for top-level statisticians. Not that I understand even one speck of dust of the sort of statistical work they do, I stopped doing maths at 16 with my GCSE (I got a grade C, which was the highest possible for the class I was in) (when I was at school, prior to the GCSE years I was in the top class for maths, but hated it, as I was taught by a certain Mr.Blindt, who was old school before there was old school, and his classes terrified me almost as much as the subject matter itself. So I asked to move down into the second-tier class, Miss Barker’s class, which was less stressful, but it meant I could feel alright about my grades (I even came top of the class in several tests), but it meant that the highest possible grade for my final GCSE exam was a C. I think it left out all the really hard stuff like sin/cos/tan and long division, and adding and subtracting and numbers and things. Grade C was a pass, and that was enough. I was more interested in art and languages.) (Incidentally, I actually only got grade A in two of my GCSE subjects, Art and German. In GCSE Art I got an “A” for every single piece of homework over the course of those two years, with one exception – the very first piece of homework assigned, for which I got a “D”. I didn’t mind, I didn’t expect a good grade for that joke. The homework assignment was “draw a part of your body” so I drew my eyebrow. I remember the boy passing back the homework assignments was a fairly mouthy kid who hadn’t been in any of my classes before, and he said loudly “hahaha, you got a D? You’re rubbish at drawin’!” That alone made it worth it.) (A-Level was a different story. I actually got a D overall for the whole thing. I was a bit more disappointed with that, but frankly my interest in the subject of art itself had waned so much, as had my interest in school life in general. I also got a D in A-Level German, a subject I had previously won annual school prizes for, while I ended up giving up A-Level History halfway through. I didn’t really get on with the History teachers, or at least two of the three we had anyway, the third was alright but looked a bit like Bob Geldof. One of the other history teachers seemed to despise me, because she would regularly turn me away from class for being even 30 seconds late, despite the fact nobody else had taken their jackets off; it didn’t help that I would go to my German class right afterwards complaining about her constantly, not knowing that my German teacher, a usually sympathetic guy, was actually married to that same history teacher – a rookie error on my part, to be sure. The other history teacher I had left teaching at the end of the first year to go and be a Welsh-language pop star (if memory serves, it was a band was called “Ian Rush”), but not before stating to the class that “certain people in this class will either fail or not finish this A-Level”, obviously meaning me; our class wasn’t very big, only about seven or eight students. I did enjoy his classes though, learning about the Italian risorgimento, reading Harry Hearder, studying Garibaldi and Mazzini and Cavour, doing the 1848 revolutions, German reunification, Bismarck; I really thought I was doing alright in his class at least, but evidently it wasn’t how the Ian Rush singer felt, and I remember feeling really disheartened by that at the time. My D in art though was honest, and I could have appealed it (if I recall my art teachers may have even suggested it, or maybe it was my head of year, I don’t remember), but I felt that I had really hit a low ebb in life by that point, and my school work was long gone; I hated being 18. I got a place in an art foundation course that didn’t require a very good grade to get into, but then I decided I was done with art and went off to college to do two more years of additional A-Levels, in English and French, with a retaking of German for my third one. Much more successful, and then I went off to university and did French and Drama.) (The decision to study Drama came out of absolutely nowhere, by the way)
Anyway I was talking about statistics. I think the reason this came up is not because I work with statisticians or because I need to chart my sketches, but because I came across a website this week of football (soccer) statistics called FBRef, and I can’t stop poring over the numbers. I love it, it has everything. Not just xG but xA as well. I never knew I needed to know Moussa Sissoko’s xA score before (“expected assists”) but 0.01 still seems low. Ok maybe I still need to get my head round those particular stats, but I like learning that over the past four years for example he has an 85.4% pass completion rate (3542 passes out of 4041 completed), 3317 of which were with his right foot, 382 with his left, 169 with the head, 96 from throw-ins, and 22 with “other body parts”. I could go on, I’m not obsessed with Moussa Sissoko or anything, but that’s just one example. So maybe I need to up my stats game when analyzing my sketches over the years. How long did each one take me? Was it morning, afternoon, evening? Temperature? Did I finish off at home or do all on-site? Waterbrush or paintbrush? I could get obsessive. (I do get obsessive for example with my running, I make charts detailing this stuff). But to be honest, this isn’t how I improve as a sketcher. This isn’t how I analyze what I’m doing that doesn’t feel right, what I could improve to make it how I actually want it. sometimes you just have to keep doing. Little by little you think, well ok this didn’t work last time, I’ll try that this time. It’s also not a trajectory. I’ve drawn myself into cul-de-sacs before, using one style so much that I realize after a while it’s not the style I really want, and try to pull back to an earlier way of drawing, but my fingers need exercising. Sometimes it is fun to just see what comes out, take the thinking out of it and jump in. Don’t worry about inspiration, just get the pen moving and the inspiration will come. Things such as value and perspective are important technical abilities to learn, but like when I’m coaching soccer I say that the game is the best teacher, with drawing I say that going and looking and doing is the best teacher. So the sketch above, it’s not technically a great drawing, it’s probably not the best sketch I could have done given the temperature, time of day, length of time I had been standing, but I liked it, it was quick. Whereas the one below, on 3rd Street, which was what I had originally set out to draw, I stopped because I wasn’t enjoying it. I felt rusty, it required a bit more thinking than I felt capable of at that moment (and I have drawn this building many times before), so I just turned myself around 180 degrees and drew the view toward campus. Maybe in that sketch I was ‘rubbish at drawin’ and that it was ok, not every sketch has to be an A. So that is the statistic that I can barely quantify, my state of mind, my mood, and my reason for sketching something. I like the sketch above because it represents me saying no to something I’m not enjoying and just jumping in somewhere else instead. And I will keep the one below because, unfinished or not, you can fill the rest in yourself using your imagination, so there’s no need to finish it, really. A bit like my History A-Level. I didn’t really fail at it, and I didn’t really need to finish it, because my imagination filled in the rest. Which is probably why I thought World War 2 was won by Captain America and Bucky, the French Revolution ended when Godzilla ate Napoleon, and Italian unification was achieved by Garibaldi, Rich Tea and a packet of Chocolate Digestives. Well you live and learn.
And here are all the sketches from 2020. Far fewer than in 2019, but given the year it’s been, that’s hardly surprising. I put these together every year, as I go along. You can tell the story of the year this way. 2020 has been a story in everyone’s lives for shitter or worse; for me it started off in Hawaii, on the paradise island of Maui. To summarize the rest: youth soccer coaching; birthday in the ER; pandemic starting; Friday the 13th of March; sketching the house over and over; working from home; schooling from home; flood at home, sick cat; landlord deciding to sell house, and then us buying the house; fires all over California / unbreathable air; Zoom calls; family members passing away, new family being born; cancelling all travel plans; doing a virtual tour of Great Britain; sports stopping then starting and Spurs briefly topping the league; US presidential election result going as hoped-for; son starting a new school but then breaking his arm; running lots but needing to get back into it again. We’ve all had our own years, some much much harder than others, and the new year won’t be making that change any time soon. All in all, on the sketching front it was a less productive year maybe but still a good haul under all the circumstances.
Here are the comparisons year by year from 2013 to 2020. I was not surprised that 2020 was about half of 2019, but didn’t expect it to be on a par with 2015, for example. My goal for 2021 is just to match 2020, in some way, beat it if I can, and maybe to try and learn something new, bring something more to my sketching. Or just do what I can to stay sound of mind. If I have times when I just cannot draw, that’s fine too.
This was the last sketch of 2020, outside Cloud Forest Cafe on D Street, Davis. And in the spirit of 2020, a bird pooped on the page while I was sketching, as if to say, you know what, this year is not done with you yet. At least I presume it was a bird. I was standing underneath a tree, and then plop a big black splat across the page. It was really dark black as well, which makes me think maybe it wasn’t a bird but one of those oily things that trees occasionally plop onto the sidewalk, there are trees here that do that, lots of sticky paths. But it was a direct hit, missing my clothing completely, and leaving thick muck across the page. I wiped it off but was also a little delighted. This will be something to talk about! I thought, happy to have a conversation starter. Also, if the sketch didn’t turn out to be all that, I’d have a ready-made get-out-of-hard-drawing card, plus the actual effect of the black poop (which splattered bluish grey poop artistically across the spread) would make it look really interesting. Unfortunately I did such a good job at cleaning it up (I didn’t want to leave too much of it on there, in case it was diseased, if it was from a crow and I got sick it would be ironic after avoiding covid to get ill from a corvid), that it looks like a brownish smudge now. Still, whether it was a crow or a tree that pooped onto the page, I welcomed it as the last hurrah of twenty-twenty. What a year! I don’t know about you, but I thought 2020 was a little bit shit.
And now it is 2021. I saw online that if Back to the Future was made now, Marty McFly would be travelling back to 1991. 1991! There would be loads of references to jokes about the ridiculous idea of Donald Trump being president some day, and Doc Brown would be asking if Bryan Adams was still number 1. There would be payphones and cassette players. When Marty walks into a 1990s cafe wearing his 2021 clothing, someone would say “hey what’s with the face mask?” And when Marty travelled 30 years into the future to the far-off year of 2051 there would be a news report about Tottenham winning the Premier League (as well as all the usual flying cars. Anyway the point I’m making is that we now live in the future and we used to live in the past when it was the present. Wait no the point is, what seemed like ancient prehistory to us in the 80s and 90s is as far away from us then as the 80s and 90s is to us now. And when you think about it, it’s really even further. Is 1991 closer to 1961 than 2021 is to 1991? I mean, it kind of is. The internet, mobile phones (and not the big brick ones carried by yuppies in 1991), plus lots of other things I’m too lazy to think of. (Tottenham won the FA Cup in both of those years too, so maybe 2021 is our year?) Let’s just say that sounds about right, 1961 and 1991 are closer to each other than 1991 and 2021. Or maybe not, I don’t care that much.
But will 2021 be that different from 2020? 2020 was definitely different to 2019 for example. I did approximately half the amount of drawing in the past twelve months as in the previous, but then 2019 was a bumper year for sketching and travelling. I went to London three times in 2019, but zero in 2020. Right now my calendar says it is 2021, but the president is still that same tiresome person for another few weeks, people are still getting sick and dying, businesses are still closing, we’re still working and schooling from home, the pandemic is still raging as bad as ever, though at least there are vaccines now. 2020, the real 2020, won’t actually stop until we are out of This Whole Thing, in the same way that the ‘real 2020’ didn’t start until mid-March, but then again we might not be back to any sort of normal for a long time yet, so we’ll just keep on keeping on. And Happy New Year, all the same.