old metal bones in dusty sunshine

old cart thing

UC Davis is a huge campus. You look at the map and you see all the buildings clustered around the bit that hangs off the edge of downtown Davis and you think, yeah that’s a decently sized campus that, yeah you need a bike to get about, but it’s not massive. And then it’s pointed out that what you see on the map is like looking at a camel and only seeing the humps. Or going to a Barcelona game and only watching Messi. Or eating a 99 ice cream but not eating the wafer cone. Actually it’s not really like that, I just really want a 99 ice cream cone. A 99 is a soft-serve vanilla ice cream in a cone but with a chocolate flake in it, popular in Britain. It’s very hot in Davis this week and one of those would be nice. But it’s not like a map of UC Davis, unless the cone part is really far away from the flake part. The point is, UC Davis is much bigger than you think. We are an agricultural school, and to do that you need lots of fields, and space. Cycling around campus this week I have compared it to a game of Carcassonne, do you know that game? I’m a little obsessed with it. Several roads on the main part of campus are currently blocked off due to ongoing construction work, which makes cycling around quite a journey of discovery, but I do always think, “my opponent put that there to stop me from completing my city! Where will my meeples go?” So, campus is actually huge. In fact it’s so huge, we have our own airport. We are the only UC with its own airport. Useful for the crop-dusters, you see, and there are plenty of those. Side-note, until I moved here I did not know what a crop duster was. I’m from London, not really a thing, not really a big farming city. So when Han Solo says that travelling through hyperspace is “not like dusting crops, boy” I honestly had no idea what he was on about. I had images in my head of someone going through fields of maize with a little cloth wiping down everything. Similarly when I was a little kid I used to think skyscrapers were called that because they had people on the upper levels poking brooms and rakes out of the window to, I don’t know, get rid of clouds? I still have actual drawings from when I was six showing this obviously wrong and stupid misconception. With crop dusters I was 29 when I moved to America so it’s entirely conceivable that if I’d stayed in London, I’d still assume farmers would go out into the fields with little feather dusters and cans of Pledge. Also, what crops did Han Solo think Luke was dusting anyway? He was a moisture farmer in a desert. It’s literally all dust. Han is from Correllia, not really a big farming planet.

Anyway, during this pandemic our offices have been closed and we’ve been working from home, but mail still has to come in and be picked up, and our campus Mail Division is located right on the outer rim of the university. If there’s a bright centre to the campus, it’s on the road that it’s farthest from. I needed to collect some checks for an urgent visa application for a new scholar so I cycled all the way over to the Mail Division building, while big tractors rumbled past me on the road, and loaded up my bike with several weeks’ worth of mail and packages, all strapped with elastic onto the rear basket. Opposite Mail division, near the entrance to the UC Davis Airport on Hopkins, there are a bunch of old farming machines, iron skeletons of ploughs, old small tractors, all plonked by the road among the long yellow grass. I’ve always wanted to draw them, so while I was on this long round-trip I thought, well why not now. I didn’t draw the whole thing there as I was busy and had things to do, and I could waste time with my pens when my chores were done. So I finished it off at home later. This is some sort of farming instrument, but I don’t know what it’s called because as I say, I’m from London and the only farms I ever knew were Chalk and Broadwater. I like the the words “On Your Left” were written on the side, it reminded me of Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson. Like I said I finished this off at home, and while I drew I watched “The Crystal Calls”, which is about the making of the Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance show, one of my favourite things ever. This seemed appropriate, as much of the program was about how the puppets and props were put together and used, and this looked like the framework of the Skeksis carriage. I want to go and draw the other old metal farm things, but it’s a very long way to ride out to. Maybe next time I get the mail.

positive latitude

Latitude UC Davis

This is Latitude, a dining hall at UC Davis which opened last year. I first drew it just before the pandemic. I was on campus recently and cycled past this on the way to or from my weekly Covid test, and really wanted to stop and draw the unusual shape. I like the name Latitude. If it were a 1980s band it would be called L’Attitude. If it were at a higher elevation we might call it Altitude. “With a latitude like that you’ll go all the way round the world”. Etc and so on. This was drawn the end of April; it’s the middle of May already. How did that happen? I mean I know literally how, but these days time runs in bizarre directions. I genuinely got the day wrong last week. I contacted someone at work to see if they needed me to sit in on a meeting in case they need extra reference information which I like looking up, and they were like, um that was yesterday. I’m like, why was it a day early? Then the penny dropped. I get that a lot now. You do too, I bet. Years ago I turned up for a meeting with the dean a day early. I’m sat there in the meeting room getting my notepad ready, nodding pleasant hello at those coming in, people I didn’t recognize, thinking this is weird, where are the usual lot. The dean came in, sat down and looked at me, confused. Yes, wrong meeting, my one was the next day. Ironically it turned out that my department chair at the time had done the exact same thing the week before, turned up a day early, same meeting room. Well we like to be ahead of the game in our department. So, Latitude was closed for most of 20/21 but opened up this spring, and features a menu of international-themed dishes. I should eat there some time, it sounds nice. When I’ve been back on campus I’ve still been eating at the Silo, and in fact earlier this week I had lunch there and even sat indoors, the first bit of indoors eating in well over a year. Apart from dinner at home obviously. A little bit of normality sneaking back in. I can’t wait until I can finally go down the pub, sit at the bar and sketch with a pint, and not worry. That’d be nice.

life on the other hand

quick ipad sketch

I mean, this is my main view a lot, looking over the top of my iPad, on the couch, a can of Pepsi Max (sorry, Pepsi Zero Sugar), my knees. We saw all the drawings of my house a year ago (see petescully.com/tag/uskathome/ for some of them). I was having a bit of a tough week, touch couple of weeks, I think we’ve all been getting a bit like that, but there are days when you just want to focus and get the head straight. I wasn’t sleeping too well, and on this day I got up super early and started doing some work. By lunchtime I was already exhausted again, so I sat on the couch while Paris St. Germain played Manchester City in the Champions League. That was the first leg, when PSG had a great first half but fell apart in the second. I liked James Richardson’s description of the game, that “Parisians were losing their heads like it was A Tale of Two Cities, which in a way it was, the worst of the halves and the best of halves”. I wish I could have thought of that. I think of funny things sometimes but I forget them, and other people do too. Sketching often helps, it’s where I go when I need to go somewhere. That was the case at every age. I like drawing on the iPad to just mess about. I use Procreate to draw, but I use Notability a lot to write notes with, and doodle like I would on a notepad in a meeting. Constantly doodling. Ahhh, I need a sketching trip, a proper trip where all I do is go around by myself drawing everything, but right now even the thought of it exhausts me.

another world, another time

sculpture uc davis

I’ve drawn this before. I’ve always thought it looked like a magic portal. Where would it go? This sculpture is actually called “Shamash” by Guy Dill, and was made in 1982. I’ve always wondered. 1982…I always say that my memory pretty much goes that far back, although I know I have memories from earlier, flashes really. In 1982 I was six, and I remember some things from that year clearly. The FA Cup Final replay, Spurs v QPR. I remember my older brother Johnny, who was at the game, came back from Wembley shortly before our neighbours, who were also at the game. We are spurs fans, they were QPR fans. My brother went to every home game at White Hart Lane in the 1980-81 and 1981-82 seasons. So my brother got the Chas’n’Dave songs on his record player, “Tottenham Tottenham, No One Can Stop Them” and “Spurs Are On Their Way To Wembley”, turned up the volume full blast, hung the speakers out of the bedroom window, and waited for the neighbours to get home. Everyone in the street came out, not to complain, but also to watch the QPR neighbours get back from Wembley. It was all good fun, we were a pretty close street. I do remember the Royal Wedding, Princes Charles and Lady Di, and that was 1981. We had a street party. Us little kids running around waving flags and everyone’s dinner tables lined up in the middle of the street with sandwiches and fizzy drink. There were games, and I distinctly remember my dad winning the “dad’s piggy-back race” with me on his back. I do have vague memories of the 1981 FA Cup Final win, the great Ricky Villa winning goal. I certainly have even earlier memories, I remember my Grandad, and he died in 1980. All I remember is him at his house on Blundell Road in Burnt Oak with my Nan and my uncle Billy, and I remember when he was ill, before he died. He was from Belfast. I have an old photo of him with me sat on his knee when I was about two, I’ve had that photo all my life. I have other memories from 1980. I had a small part in a BBC TV serial called “A Little Silver Trumpet”, and I remember going to the big round BBC TV Centre every day, I remember the sets, having greasy make-up put in my hair, I remember going to film in Brighton, I remember them just letting me draw and they just filmed me drawing, holding my pen in the same funny way. I have even older memories than that, I definitely remember visiting my Dad in “the Big House” which was where he lived until I was 4, and he’d always get a milk and a Yorkie bar. I remember walking around Burnt Oak with my big sister Jacqui and going through fields behind the houses with stingy nettles. I remember my uncle Billy taking me to see a film at the pictures that might have been Spider-Man. Memory is a funny thing, there are so many photos in albums and stories from others of events I have not really any memory of, but these things I always remember, things that belong to me. I’d say that from about 1982 though, when I was six, memories become a little clearer. I remember getting stuck in the snow with my mum down in Hendon, and it took a long time to get home, and we had oxtail soup when we did, and to this day I think of that when I taste oxtail soup. I remember that was the year we got central heating in our house. I remember getting chickenpox that year. I remember cutting up my pyjamas and pretending to be the Hulk, and getting into trouble because “my days of being the Hulk are long gone”, whatever that meant. I remember seeing pictures of the Falklands War on TV. I remember reading all of my brother’s Beano and Roy of the Rovers comics. I remember in 1982 going to meet The Tweets (the ones who wore bizarre bird heads and did “The Birdy Song”) with my friend Daniel, and I remember they wore big leathery gloves and did not talk. I even have a photo of that meeting. I remember my uncle Billy singing Come On Eileen in our kitchen. I remember playing in the sandpits at Welwyn Garden City. I distinctly remember going to see the Dark Crystal with my Dad and my next door neighbour Barry, and dropping all of my popcorn when Fizzgig appeared. At school the next week my friends all played Dark Crystal. “Another world, another time.” I am still obsessed with the Dark Crystal (I loved the recent Netflix series so much).  1982 was the last year when I was the youngest in the family, my little sister Lauren being born a year later. In my life 1982 was a really long time ago, and this sculpture has been around since that year. I’ve drawn it before. I’ve always thought it looked like a magic portal. Where would it go? Back to 1982? I mean, at least Spurs won a trophy that year. I always forget not to write posts like this, those “I remember when I was a kid” posts, but I suppose it’s part of getting older isn’t it, trying to keep remembering. Another world, another time.

Not Short For “Triceratops”

042121 tri co-ops

This here is the Tri-Co-Ops at UC Davis. I have drawn it before (haven’t I drawn everything in Davis before?) but this one was done on the iPad using Procreate, drawn so that I could show the step-by-step as a demonstration video on the UC Davis Sustainability Sketchcrawl on Earth Day, not a real sketchcrawl because it was virtual, done over Zoom, but a sketching event anyway. The people who took part, I am not sure how many there were (nor did the organizers show their drawings after), they were then invited to draw along while I did a live sketch of a wheelbarrow (also from the Tri-Co-Ops), talking about the process as I went. 042221 wheelbarrow by tri-co-ops

I drew that on the iPad too so that I could share screen. I recently did my staff evaluation at work, and one thing I did not put down as a skill I have learned is proficiency with Zoom, because even though I’m much more of a master at it than I was a year ago, join the bleedin’ club mate, what d’you want a medal? I have done the thing where I set m phone up as a camera to share that over Zoom, angling it down above the desk so people can see me draw (I did a workshop last year where I did that) but the connection kept freezing, my wifi wasn’t too strong in the bedroom desk where I was giving the workshop. I had considered doing a live sketch on site, setting up a tripod and Zooming direct from the UC Davis campus like a proper old-school live roving reporter, like Danny Baker, but with hopefully fewer train-station arguments. (Danny Baker fans will probably remember that clip, “Don’t you DARE talk to me like that!”). The campus wifi wasn’t strong enough though to Zoom outside for an hour where I wanted to sketch, so I didn’t do that. So, I sat at the relative comfort of my desk at home, with the cats and a cup of tea.

Tri_Co-ops iPad sketch

Here’s the video. Now I’m not sure if you can actually view the video in this blog post, but if you click on that image it will take you to my Flickr page which hosts it, and you should see the video there. I tried to approach drawing it digitally as if I were drawing it in my sketchbook, blocking with a bit of pencil then diving into the ink, finishing off by colouring it in. It’s not exactly Bob Ross, or even Tony Hart, and it’s just the drawing coming into shape, no words by me. I have thought about doing a step-by-step video, narrating as a I go, but I think it wouldn’t turn out as well as I would like, and you’d probably hear me saying “oh bugger!” and “oh bollocks!” a lot. Or maybe just saying “err…” a lot.

As it happens, when I did the virtual sketchcrawl last year, they recorded it and put the video on YouTube. So, here’s the video of me sketching a bike in 2020, early in the Zoom era. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MKklfPxnU4 . Not exactly my best drawing, but it’s always harder when people are watching! And I managed to avoid saying “bugger” or other popular British vocabulary, but I do say “err” and “umm” a lot. And very few silly jokes!

d street, mid-april, davis

D St Davis

The thing about using the watercolour Moleskine sketchbooks again, I just love how the pages open flat making me think, I really need to draw a two-page panorama on this one, I just have to. But of what? I wander Davis sometimes not sure what I want to spend time drawing over two pages that I haven’t already drawn. Not everything works. The time of day makes a difference. How long I have to draw is fairly essential. How interested in the shape of the buildings I am. I mean the buildings aren’t going to be too unusually shaped, this isn’t the world of the Dark Crystal or something. With this one, on D Street at the corner of 3rd, I’d not drawn these two buildings before (at least from this angle, I’ve drawn the other side) and I had never realized what a pair they make. So I stood in between them and drew. I didn’t finish it all there though, I coloured in later. Style Lounge, and Myland Nails and Spa. Until very recently Style Lounge had these large ornate mirrors parked outside, which is where they would have their outdoors work with clients (I’m sorry my vocabulary for style stuff is limited, me having no style at all). I never did draw one but they looked really cool from the street. The other side of the building is painted all different colours, it adds a bit of life. Myland Nails and Spa, again not really aimed at me, unless they are actually a hardware store that sells nails and spanners, but part of the sign has fallen off. But they only sell nails and spanners, nothing else. Maybe I should go in there like Ronnie Corbett, asking for nails. No, I won’t do that. I bet that happens all the time though. No, I don’t bet that. This is what happens when I just write without really thinking, I can’t be bothered coming up with any actual jokes or interesting things to say. I can’t even come up with a good blog title. My last post was actually fairly well written I thought, little bit of history, bit of emotion, bit of metaphor linking the theme of the drawing to the wider world and my longing to get back to see London, while this one is more “I’m sure I have a lot to say, but this ain’t the time”. Sometimes my blog posts veer off dramatically from the theme of the drawing, like I’ll post a drawing of a bookshop and use that to launch into a story about when I got chased by a dog in Namur. (There was not such post by the way, and anyway it was two dogs). Sometimes like this one they are literally about nothing. I’m always a little worried when I write a post like this that someone who knows me will read it and think, oh that guy hasn’t got a clue, what’s this? What is all this? Like, they may have Googled me because I coached their kids soccer and found all my drawings of Davis, which are nice, and then read some of the stories, which are funny, and then read a blog post like this where it’s not really saying anything. “‘Nails and Spanners’? Is this guy nuts?” Or perhaps they were forwarded a link to my sketchblog after my drawings were shared across the university or in a newspaper somewhere and they read the words bit and go, ok nice drawing but do we need the words, what are these words and do they even go together? Years ago, when I had my old ’20six’ blog, I would often write blog posts with just words and no drawings – what a concept! – and act like I knew how to write things and have ideas. And then when I would post drawings, I would include some text but in a much smaller font, in italic, and it would typically be nonsensical gibberish that I felt it necessary to include but didn’t want to distract from the drawing. These days I just ramble. I don’t re-read them. And now WordPress can also convert your blog posts into audio podcasts through Anchor. It is possible to have the posts converted into a generated voice. Now for me this doesn’t make a lot of sense as I am posting drawings, but I suppose if someone was listening to me talk about the drawing in more details and the experience and all of that, it might be interesting. But probably not. So I decided to test out the service and converted one of my long posts about Dublin, if you remember I did that virtual Dublin sketchbook last year. The generated voice is Male American, and my words said in Male American auto-voice sound absolutely hilarious, to me alone. Now, this has been posted just as a test, ok, and I will very likely delete it if I actually want to publish any of these stories on that platform in the future, in my own proper voice. But hearing my words in auto-generated non-ironic Male American is quite a thing: https://anchor.fm/petescully/episodes/Dublin-Part-2-literally-littered-with-literature-eqslqo. Especially the bit where the Male American voice keeps pronouncing BERNard as BerNARD specifically in a bit about pronouncing BERNard in that way. Twelve minutes of fun.

hitting the deck

Wyatt Deck UC Davis

Wyatt Deck, in the UC Davis Arboretum, is going to be refurbished. Or is it Remodeled? Or Rebuilt? Renovated, that’s the one. I couldn’t remember my “re-” word. At least it’s not “reimagined”. That’s the buzzword right now, everything is being “reimagined”. Russell Boulevard in Davis is being reimagined. The workplace is being reimagined. I’m half expecting all those celebrities from that awful video last year, when the pandemic was only a couple of weeks old, to come out with a sequel, “Reimagine”. That was terrible wasn’t it, an early embarrassing low. But while the world is reimagining reality, Wyatt Deck is being renovated and the fences have gone up already. I’ve drawn Wyatt Deck before, a few times, we’ve had sketchcrawls here. I did a two-page panoramic in 2014. This renovation will be a long project, with the two decks actually being demolished and replaced by Winter 2022. According to the Arboretum’s website, the original redwood boards are rotten and may be unsafe, and it’s not particularly accessible by modern standards. So, renovation it is. I do wish I had come in for a longer last sketch, but I always have that one from 2014 and now I have this one with the fence, which tells its own story. It’s been here for over 50 years, and is named for Fred S. Wyatt. In fact when it first opened it was called ‘Wyatt Snack Bar’. Nearby is Wyatt Pavilion, which I drew in 2016 for the UC Davis Magazine’s Art Map (it used to be a livestock judging area located over near the Silo, but was moved here and converted into a theatre on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth; actually I went to see Richard III there in 2013). Anyway, I came down here during lunchtime when I was on campus this week (working from home I still have to come down to the office a couple of times every week; we’re planning on a full return in the Fall, but we are ‘reimagining’ how we all do things, so we’ll see what it looks like). I needed to sketch. I think I missed the window for most of the colourful plants that burst out in March and April but the weather is getting warm and May is knocking on the door. As I write, here it is; welcome in, May, it’s nice to see you. The past week was a bit crap for me, and I was feeling pretty down on Tuesday, hadn’t been sleeping much. People, again it’s people, they make things so stressful. Sketching helps, a bit. Just being on campus does too, over the past year it’s felt like a familiar place of retreat, not simply a place of work, somewhere I’m genuinely part of. So I drew this, a beloved old place I always liked going to, for the last time. And I made sure to include the fence in the foreground going right across it. A beloved old place I always liked going to, I can see it but I can’t go to it. I mean, there’s a story right there. Isn’t there just. I’d really like to get back to England some time soon, to see the family, but I can’t. This pandemic, man. I’m vaccinated now at least, but the stress involved in flying for eleven hours, and then there’s long waits at Heathrow, plus self-isolation, quarantine, and then nothing being like it was, and that’s before the emotion of family stuff. A lot of people I know have passed away since I was last there, and the world is a different place. Fences are up, more than I’ve ever known. But there is hope. We will be back on campus this Fall, we’ll make it happen, we’ll all do our part. Things will be different. Hey, that’s the point of life isn’t it, change. Eventually, the solid old wood beneath our feet starts to get rotten, things that we thought worked once need updating for a new inclusive way of living, new places are imagined, new stories not yet written. It’s going to be ok. I think it’s going to be ok.