corona heights

corona heights SF

There’s a lot to explore in San Francisco, and I like a bit of urban hiking. The problem is that whenever I go to the city I usually only have a limited amount of time, most of which is spent stood on a pavement clutching a sketchbook in an awkward-looking but comfortable manner, drawing some building, and that takes up time. If I wander too far, I might miss the Amtrak bus back to Emeryville. A bit of urban hiking is fun though, although in this city it’s more like urban mountaineering, the hills are so steep. I had seen a few interesting city-scape views online that I’d not seen before, ones that would make good sketches, so I looked up the path to Corona Heights, a large hill between the Castro and the Haight, and filled with energy from a little sugary bag of Turkish Delight I’d bought at the Ferry Building I scaled the steep streets and found my way to the orange rocky promontory at the top, with a near 360 degree panoramic view of San Francisco. There were a few people up there, people with their little dogs, people just sat chilling and taking in the view, and the sun had come right out and was giving it all that. I always love to draw this city from above, so I found a spot in the shade of a rock and drew furiously. It was a lot of observation, although didn’t take too long. Drawing a scene like this you have to match things up like a puzzle, but also be careful not to put too much detail, and this pretty much reflects how my eyes were able to see things. Having the big rock formation in the foreground helped give it some perspective but also helped to make the job of drawing the landscape much easier, breaking it up so the view is more manageable. I remember drawing a similarly-sized panorama overlooking the city from Telegraph Hill years ago and it took ages, but was way less detailed, and I think it was because it overwhelmed me a bit. I take any opportunity I can to draw a cityscape but some are easier than others. This one for me represents a nice day, more than anything, exploring an area I’d not been to before. I got a text from my son while I was at the top, my new Casio keyboard had arrived, so I could play some tunes when I got home. I bought myself a keyboard to mess around with, not an expensive one, just one so that if I feel the need I can start playing a little music. I haven’t played a keyboard since I was at school, when I learned a bunch of chords from a teach-yourself-easy-keyboard book I got with my Christmas present keyboard in 1988. It’s nice having one again, and I’m already figuring out a few tunes. Anyway I think of that now when I look at this sketch.

masonic ave SF

Afterwards I headed towards the Haight, so it was downhill, uphill, downhill, repeat. The streets curved and I might have gotten very lost were it not for that smartphone that keeps us all where we are meant to be, doesn’t it. I have been lost in some great cities. Paris, Porto, Portland. Even London, where those late night buses would take me to parts of the world I’d only heard rumours of, after I’d fallen asleep and the driver said it was the last stop. One time in Edinburgh back in the late 90s, I was leading my group of festival-flatmates back to our shared digs from the theatre, and we were so lost that they decided to go their own way, while I continued on my route. After about 30 minutes of being even more lost, I actually bumped into them again, coming in the opposite direction. They laughed at me for being even more lost, but they were lost too weren’t they? Still they ended up following me and we found the house, but I never heard the end of it. Thing of the past now, with our modern world. So I didn’t get lost, but I wandered about and saw some amazing houses. One of them I saw from below as I climbed Masonic Avenue, the rear looking like something from a Ghibli film, and I thought about drawing it then. However when I reached the top of the hill, I was blown away by the front, a picturesque brick house adorned with hearts for Valentines Day, with pink blossoms lined the street. The garden was very pretty and there was a sign calling it ‘le Petit Chateau des Cavaliers’ above a picture of two dogs. It wasn’t ‘petit’, but there were cavaliers; a man came out walking two cavalier King Charles spaniels, who I’m assuming are the masters of the house. I used to have a dog like that when I was a kid, she was called ‘Lady’ but I just knew her as ‘Soppydog’. I told him that this house was really beautiful and had brightened up my day hugely, as I was juts wandering around the city. He said it was a hundred years old. I stood on the corner opposite and did a very cursory outline sketch, but didn’t want to stand here too long and decided it was a ‘do later’. So I ‘did later’, drawing it on the train and back at home around the outline I had started. I went down to the Haight, and didn’t do any more drawing there because, well, I always forget I don’t like the Haight that much. So I went for a bit more urban hiking, and climbed Buena Vista Park, before making my way down again to catch the N-Judah down at Duboce. Day in the city, done. Though I did stop into the Lego store on the way home.


the castro, san francisco

A few weeks ago I took the train down to San Francisco for a day of wandering and sketching. It was just before my birthday, and I needed a day out with the sketchbook. You can only draw so much Davis. I didn’t have a plan as to where I would go, but I thought I would like to try climbing one of the big hills for a big vantagepoint view over the city. I knew the weather was supposed to be nice, though it started off foggy as you’d expect with the city. I took the super early train down from Davis, walked over to the Ferry Building to get the little bombolini from the lady that sells them there, I have my habits. This is what I do, I don’t mind being predictable. When I am long gone what will be remembered is that I would get the early train into the city for a sketching day and start off eating little bombolini, one filled with nutella, the other with lemon cream. In the book of my life that will be one of the scenes they film, over a soundtrack of a nice song I like, something by Belle and Sebastian. I decided to go sketching up in the Castro. It’s been quite a few years since I was sketching up there, and I wanted to draw something colourful. The last panorama I did in the Castro, back in 2013 before a sketchcrawl, I’d left uncoloured apart from the red sign of the Castro Theatre. The panorama above, which I sketched in the shade on the corner of 18th and Castro, was a lot of detail. So, I drew as much as possible in the almost-hour I stood there, added in a few spots of red and a few rainbows, and coloured in the rest later, which itself took ages.

Castro and Market, SF

I actually drew this one first, while the morning fog still lingered, on the corner of 17th and Castro looking up towards Sutro Tower. I added in the watercolor while standing there, the sky had a strange pearlescence, and people lined up at the cafe across the little street form where the F car stops to get their brunch (it may have been a late breakfast / brunch, which is sometimes shortened to ‘lunch’). There was a guy camped at the bus stop, and there was a fair bit of odor wafting up, so I just remember a farty smell now when remembering sketching this, so I wanted to be done and run. I had decided I would go exploring up Corona Heights, but would draw around the Castro first, maybe eat lunch myself down there. I had a burrito at a place near 18th, and it was not very good. I didn’t even finish it. I had some Turkish Delight that I had bought at the Ferry building though, and that gave me some energy when climbing up the steep hills later that day.

Market St, SF

Above, this is a very quick sketch of the Ferry Building I did while waiting for the F streetcar to arrive on Market. I splashed a bit of watercolour on there for effect. I did the same on the other half of the page when I got on the F, and as it dried I added some lines in while we trundled uphill towards the Castro. This is a fun way to draw while on public transport. I haven’t spent a lot of time on any public transport for quite a while, save for the Amtrak occasionally, so i was glad that it wasn’t too busy and that they have a number of single seats still. These old streetcars are well known – they aren’t the famous San Francisco cable cars, but these historic vehicles originate form all over the world and have found a new home here in the city. You can learn more about them at: The one I was on was a classic San Francisco original from the 1950s, but many others come from Milan, Philadelphia, Zurich, Kansas City, Melbourne, even Japan. I do love the streetcars. When I spent a year in Belgium, some Saturdays I would go wandering in Brussels and would get on the streetcars there until the end of the line, and just read my book while the streets of Ixelles, Etterbeek, Laeken passed by outside.

on the F streetcar, SF

Below are a couple more sketches I attempted on the Castro before climbing big hills. The first, two big old houses where I just drew the outline and the alley, and ended up juts not bothering with the rest. The page is a bit dirty because as you can see from the sketches below, I decided to use coloured pencil to do some brass rubbing (well, masonry really), I saw the word ‘Castro’ on a stone plaque on the street and thought ‘that would look good in my sketchbook’, having seen someone else do that a couple of days before. Maybe it would have worked better not on the fairly thick Moleskine paper, because you can barely read it. So i drew some people instead with pencil. I didn’t get any interesting characters (such as the naked guy who I’d usually see passing by every other time I come here) but sketched a few passers-by and went off up the hill. I’ll post that next time.

castro st houses

castro people

saturday shadows

3rd & G Street, Davis CA

Another from downtown Davis. Done on the same day as the one in the previous post. Shadows against the building. This is on the corner of 3rd and G, and behind me G Street was closed off to traffic so the restaurants and bars could have people all seated out in the street. This building was (or still is, I don’t remember) a Thai restaurant, of which Davis has many. In decades past it was a bank, and it is a very ‘bank’ looking building. I was listening to a podcast about Neil Innes while drawing this. Along with the rekindled Beatles obsession I’ve started listening to the Rutles again, as they are a big part of the Beatles lunchtime legend. I went home and started playing a load of those Rutles songs on my guitar, and have been humming them ever since. I have been playing music more lately. I got a keyboard a week or so ago, and even though I’m a beginner I still remember the chords I learned when I was 13, and it’s fun to just play about with a few tunes. Like, a song will be in my head when I wake up, so I roll over to the keyboard and figure out how to play it from memory. I always liked doing that. This morning I had ‘Lonesome Town’ in my head, so I got up and worked that one out, mostly, before going to work. Reminds me of the 90s. What was that on, the Pulp Fiction soundtrack? Maybe it was the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack. Two CDs I used to listen to a lot in the day.

right up your alley

Tim Spencer Alley (off 2nd), Davis CA

This is Tim Spencer Alley, just off of 2nd Street. It’s funny how the streets have to be “1st, 2nd, 5th, B, F etc” but an alley gets named after a person. Tim Spencer was a UPS driver, according to Davis Wiki, and was by all accounts very friendly and beloved. I don’t have any more information than that. I quite like when streets and places are named for people I don’t know anything about. I’m probably never going to get a street named after me. If I do though, I think I’d like 2nd Street. I had my first job in America on 2nd, at the Avid Reader, and I’ve drawn it loads of times. Not saying that I want a street named after me, I mean it’d be nice, but you probably have to be, you know, in history as it were, before they start naming things after you. That’s probably for the best, it would be confusing. It was confusing enough having the same name as my dad when I was growing up, imagine having a whole street named after you. I’d be well offended if I saw a dog doing a poo on the street me. No, I don’t want a street. Or a lane, or an avenue. Maybe a road. ANYWAY. I was cycling back from the DMV, a building that will never be named after me in a million years, having gone to update my ID card. I was out of there much earlier than I had planned for, having basically expected to go on leave just to wait in line at the DMV. I was in and out very quickly. So I stopped off downtown on my way back to the office to grab a snack for breakfast. The light on this part of 2nd Street was great, so I whipped out my sketchbook and just started drawing the outline, and that lamp-post and street sign, and then decided to go and grab my pastry and get some work done. I would come back on the weekend to do it properly. Saturday morning came, I cycled downtown and stood in the sunlight on that corner, with a hat to keep me shaded, and drew fast and furiously. Early on in the process someone asked me how long I have been drawing, so I said “sixteen inches”. They meant how long in my life. “Oh right, um five foot ten.” I didn’t say that last bit but I really should have. I mean it is kind of a Time Bandits reference and I try to get Time Bandits references in wherever I can, although nobody here seems to get them.

I looked up Tim Spencer Alley to see if I could find out more beyond what Davis Wiki didn’t say. I’m always a bit nervous looking up places named after people in case the story behind the naming is a bit sad, but actually Tim Spencer is very much alive and well and still lives in Davis. There was an article in the Enterprise last year in fact, a conversation with him. He retired from UPS back in the year 2000 and was so well-known around downtown that there was a move to have the alley named after him – he even said in the article “I thought that only dead people had streets named after them. I guess not.” He does sound like a friendly bloke and it’s one of those day-making things to learn that our town honors people such as him. I’m glad I finally drew his alley!

all the science words

physical sci library UC Davis

This was drawn while campus was still quiet, before people returned from the month-long remote period in January. That said, here on campus in early February, a lot of people are still working remotely, and there aren’t many coming into our department in-person just yet. This is the old Physical Sciences Library building, which has been undergoing a remodeling for the past few years. Beyond it is the Chemistry building, itself still undergoing a massive reshape. I drew this from the shade of the Physics building. When I was at school, science consisted of three parts – physics, chemistry, biology. You took all three, and then at GCSE level you did ‘integrated science’, which was divided among the three. As a rule, I enjoyed physics but was crap at it, I didn’t like biology but was good at it, and I was so-so about chemistry and was so-so at it. Maybe a bit more on the crap side. I was scared of Bunsen Burners (I mean who isn’t, really?). I like Van Der Graaf generators, mostly for the name (and the band). Biology though, I found it dull, and it was always a surprise to get some of the better grades in the class. My biology teachers were nice. I liked my physics teacher (Mr Vilis) a lot, even though he was always grumpy (he would go ballistic if anyone opened the window), and never gave me good grades or seemed to know I existed, but I still liked him, he could be funny. I really enjoyed reading about physics at home, but it was a difficult subject at school. Chemistry was sometimes interesting, especially when a test tube full of poisonous purple gas would break and everyone had to leave the room. Learning all the molecules and formulas was hard. I remember we learned ‘KMnO4’, Potassium Permanganate, and I thought that was the best possible band name ever, but I never used it. Now I think it sounds like a radio station in the US. Even if I had been better at school science classes, I would probably never have made it as a scientist because I would just make silly jokes from all the science words. And I am still afraid of Bunsen Burners.

back to the old city hall on F

F St panorama Davis CA<

From one city hall to another. This is the old City Hall building on F Street, downtown Davis. Again, I have drawn this many times. It has a lot of history. You reel off the things it has been like the words of a song, it’s been a fire station, a police station, a restaurant, a bar, a gallery, and even a city hall. And now it’s empty, the restaurant Bistro 33 and its adjoining bar closing not long before the pandemic started. Recently it suffered damage by fire as well, and you can still see a great big hole in the roof (hidden a bit behind that flag pole in this sketch). I wonder what this building will be next? Maybe this building is the David Bowie of Davis buildings, always reinventing itself. Then again it doesn’t usually look too different externally so it’s not really David Bowie. It will probably be yet another restaurant, or maybe a frozen yogurt shop, because we don’t have nearly enough of them in Davis. Maybe it will be a Starbucks, because the one that opened down the street taking up the space of not one but two former independent shops isn’t enough. Who knows. Maybe it should be turned into a Star Wars themed cantina, it’s about the right size and layout. I love that one they have in Hollywood, the Scum and Villainy Cantina. I went to the one at Disneyland too, though it was a little bit packed and not a place to spend an evening. Speaking of Star Wars – the ‘Book of Boba Fett’. Oh dear. That show was a mess. He didn’t even have a book. At least we got to see a live action Cad Bane. I have a lot to say about that show, but I’ll save that for a different post. Perhaps instead of whatever it was they did, they should have gone the Beatles route and just made like a documentary with Boba and his old bounty hunter mates planning one last job. “Fett Back”. Yeah I’ll save this all for another post.

Back to F Street. For a little time comparison, here we are going back thirteen years to January 2009 when I first drew this building…

old city hall

where does all the time go?

davis city offices

I drew this panorama while stood outside the Davis City Offices on Russell Boulevard, on a chilly afternoon, drawing so many branches and bricks, but I coloured it in when I got home. This was once the old Davis Joint Union High School building, from 1924, nearly a hundred years ago. I’ve been inside only once, when I was invited by a former work colleague and fellow artist to watch (and sketch) a Davis arts council meeting. I just drew people talking. That was ages ago. A decade, maybe longer? A decade doesn’t seem so long ago now. Many years ago, a decade was like half a lifetime. Now it’s like the space between times I have drawn a building. In fact I think it was about nine years since I last drew the outside of this building. You can see that one at the bottom of this post. Where does the time go? A couple of weeks ago, I was watching that old Hammer Horror film “Dracula AD 1972”. Have you seen it? It’s a classic, albeit a fairly crap classic set in groovy early 70s Chelsea, man. It does have Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing playing the Count Dracula / Van Helsing roles they are so well known for. That’s Count Dooku and Grand Moff Tarkin to today’s kids. Or Saruman and, er, Grand Moff Tarkin. Anyway I was watching that film for the first time since 1992, back when it inspired the schoolboy me to write a musical called “Dracula AD 1992” for a school project. This was for an obligatory GCSE class I was taking called ‘Expressive Arts’, which had various modules, including music, art, dance, and drama. I don’t remember if I was able to take the Music part (maybe I just don’t remember it; despite playing guitar and keyboard, it wasn’t a subject I connected with); for some reason the Art section didn’t go that well (I remember it being totally different to my regular GCSE Art class, mostly because it was full of people who hated art and just took the piss), and as for Dance, well forget it. Pete doesn’t do dance at the best of times, but 15 year-old Pete definitely didn’t. So it all came down to Drama, the last part of the GCSE. I think my drama teacher wasn’t a huge fan of my previous work (like the “Don’t f**k with me I’m Robin Hood” song in my mini-musical Robin Hood), he tended to favour the serious over the absurd. But when he heard I was writing a piece based on Dracula he was excited and encouraged me to read the Dracula novel for inspiration. Great book by the way, but I didn’t want to do that, because my inspiration not Bram Stoker but was Dracula AD 1972, which to be fair is only marginally sillier than the novel. Still, it wasn’t a particularly good story I was writing – a man is driving up the A11 and decides to stop at a motel called the ‘Alucard Motel’. Yeah I got the backwards-Dracula name from that 1972 film, the character ‘Johnny Alucard’, that’s where the similarity with that film ended. At the motel, the guy gets freaked out by all the weird stuff there, and when he meets Dracula he runs away and calls the police, who send in Dr. Van Helsing. You can guess the rest. It was less about the story, more about the silly songs and occasional crap jokes. I wrote eight songs in total, and rather than play them live we pre-recorded them and played them on a fairly crap tape recorder on the night. Songs like “This Motel’s Giving Me The Willies”, “Freshly Impaled Village Maidens” and “Get Lost Dracula”. It was performed by me, my best mate Terry (who had wanted to give up the GCSE but stayed in the class as a favour to me so we could do this) and our classmate Matthew who played Dracula. We played it in front of the class and families, and despite being pretty ropy it went down really well and people laughed and cheered and even sang along. There were other performances that evening, but I overheard someone’s mother humming one of my tunes on the way out afterwards. I did loads of drawings for the project too, typed up all the lyrics, even did a couple of pencil drawings of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, (which I still have). I drew all of the props (like the big ‘Alucard Motel’ sign that we walked about). Silly and unsophisticated as it all was, it was at that point the best thing I’d ever done creatively and I was sure my old drama teacher would like this one. That summer I got my GCSE results, and well, I got an overall grade of “D” for Expressive Arts. Ah well. I get to talk about it lovingly for thirty years.

Anyway the point was, when I watched Dracula AD 1972 in 1992, it was a twenty year old movie that was from some ancient history culturally (most things I liked were), and yet now, 2022, that is THIRTY years since 1992. That was a bit mind-boggling when I thought about it. 1992 when I was a gangly schoolkid is closer in time to when I emigrated to the US in 2005 than 2022 is. Dudes. Time is a scary old thing. Probably worse for a vampire. Imagine what it’s like for a vampire? Maybe I should make an updated version, “Dracula AD 2022”. Dracula is banned from Twitter and creates a new account as “Alucard” and starts trolling Van Helsing online, yeah you can see how this one is going. Maybe I’ll wait for 2032.

davis city offices

back to where you once belonged

ibanez artcore

I bloody loved Get Back. Peter Jackson has done an amazing job with all that old footage from the Let It Be sessions, it really was like getting the Beatles back for a little while. I have so many things to say about it that I can’t even say them, so I continue to re-watch it, to listen to other Beatles buffs talks about it, and then re-watch it again. It’s an absolute joy, compelling to watch. To say that it has re-sparked my life-long love of the Beatles is an understatement. At the same time, I was also recently given the massive new Paul McCartney book The Lyrics for Christmas, which I’ve been eagerly anticipating and listening to Macca interviews about it for the past few months. So I’ve not only been listening to all the old Beatles stuff but many of my old Wings and solo Macca stuff, which I loved so much when I was a kid. On top of that, I have pulled the old electric guitar out from under the bed, the one I bought in 2006 and haven’t played since about 2009, it has been locked away in its hard case under the bed like a spaceman in stasis. It’s an Ibanez Art-Core AFS-75, in black. It has been nice catching up. 

The Beatles were the band that made me first pick up a guitar in the first place, back in the 80s. My friend and fellow Beatles-nut Ralph had a guitar, so I got one for a fiver at a car-boot, but it was a pretty crap acoustic, so on my 14th birthday my brother got me an electric guitar, a Westone Concord II. I need to finally bring that old thing back from England at some point and fix it up, give it new pick-ups, make it a project. That’s what I actually learned to play on, though I was never very good and couldn’t do anything fancy, just play chords and do the the odd bit of finger-picking. It was easy to play though, easier than my Ibanez, which might look and sound better but never felt completely right. I think I’m a bit intimidated by this one. I would write songs, so many songs, it was always about trying to create, come up with new tunes. Anyway in 1996 while working at Thorntons chocolate shop in Oxford Street I went out on my break and bought a Hohner acoustic guitar at Macari’s on Charing Cross Road, which from day one had a beautiful warm sound, and it still has. I have brought that with me, to Belgium, France and over here to California, and it’s my favourite guitar. I got the Ibanez after moving to the US – my second Ibanez, actually. The first one, a black electro-acoustic I bought in Cotati a week or so after my arrival, broke when it fell over softly onto the carpet. So I went out and got this one as a much flashier replacement. I enjoyed it a lot and even recorded a few new pieces with it. I love playing with music, even if it isn’t exactly sophisticated, I just love it. And then I stopped, for some reason I just stopped playing entirely, and wouldn’t even pick up my acoustic. This lasted for years, and I was off guitars. I wasn’t any good, so that was that. I got a ukulele a few years ago after our first trip to Hawaii and loved it, so for the past few years I’ve been playing that off and on, and I love it, the gentle sound. I’m still learning but it’s already one of my favourite things. So I started getting my acoustic out a bit more, but not wanting to disturb, played quietly or when people weren’t home. After watching Get Back, my old Beatles love made me want to just be strumming, all the time, so I was on the uke or the acoustic as much as I could. Certainly on our trip to Hawaii I played a lot of ‘Here Comes The Sun’, which was optimistic given all the rain we had. Then last week I remembered my electric guitar, hidden away under the bed like a secret. I dragged out its heavy hard case, unhooked the clasps, and released it from its plush blue bed. Now the next bit should be, “and then the years fell away as I played a melodic solo, my hairs standing on end, I was back.” But that would be completely false because I was never that good a player, and the truth is I never felt comfortable with this guitar. It was nice playing it again, but it still felt like it could never be fully in tune when playing open chords (I felt the same back in 2006), I’m mentally used to the fretboard on my old electric, and I’m still sounding beginner-level clunky when it comes to riffs and scales. I feel a bit unworthy of such a fancy looking guitar. I think I’d hidden it away for so long because I thought, well I might just sell it. But then, you know what, I found that I could do a few things, and why not learn, why not take this time to improve? So that’s what I’m going to do, play it more often, try things I wasn’t able to do before, see what comes out. I got some new strings, I’m going to put them on this weekend. It feels like a new guitar, to the point that I feel surprised when I listen to the old recordings from 06-07, I did actually play it more than I thought. And I even drew it back then – see below, along with the chords of a tune I wrote called ‘Angry Words’ (ironically I didn’t write any words to that one, the tune was all in the lead riff). So now ‘m watching a lot of YouTube videos on doing this and that, and it feels like starting over, like an absolute beginner. Just like a sketchbook and pen, I loved having a guitar in my hands when I was growing up, it made me feel that little bit safer.



with kaleidoscope eyes

LaRue, UC Davis

One evening after work, I was coming out of the ARC, which acts as the large Covid testing center for campus, and the sky was just blazing all sorts of colours. We get tested at least once a fortnight on campus, and it’s pretty handy, in and out. The building across the street there is the Student Health and Wellness Center. The sky was creating a psychedelic drama reflected in the windows, and so I grabbed my paints and a pen and tried as best as I could to draw what I could see. I couldn’t see the sketchbook too well in retreating light but I love the result. You can’t beat a good sunset. The colours are probably not that accurate and my paint makes a mess but that is the fun of capturing something like that, and my eyes are different from the next person. I got the general spirit of the sunset. There was a lot going on. We do get amazing wild sunsets here in January.

another corner of 3rd and B

sams mediterranean cafe 3rd st

Another lunchtime sketch, this one at the corner of 3rd and B (again), Sam’s Mediterranean Cuisine. This used to be where Ciocolat was located in the past, Sam’s was originally a little further down 3rd St if I recall. Decided not to add colour to this one, except for a couple of spots, make them stand out more. I like all the trees, it feels like we’re in a forest. Well, we’re not out of the woods yet, as it were.