yuletide ukelele


I know it’s nearly Spring Break, but since we are still catching up with the end of 2022, here’s something that took up a lot of my time last November. Every year, I make an advent calendar for my son, and every year I feel like I have to outdo the previous year, or if not outdo, then at least do something different. Last year I didn’t make a calendar so much as painted Studio Ghibli images onto 24 round plastic baubles, filled with coloured paper and candy, and placed them on a small tinsel tree. This year, my son has gotten into playing the ukulele in a big way, so I decided that would be the theme for this year. I would make a ukulele shaped calendar. Then as that idea got itself into complicated knots, I realized, why not make an advent calendar out of a real ukulele? I had a cheap one lying in the cupboard that I bought at an ABC store on Maui a few years ago, when I was desperate for a ukulele to play on the beach but had left my nice Luna one at home. I think it was about $25. It plays fine too. I thought about putting an LED light inside and covering the palm-tree shaped opening with a coloured gel, so that it would act like a lamp when hung on the wall. I tried that out, but in the end never added the LED due. It’s an idea I’ll still explore though, I like the idea of hanging playable ukuleles on the wall that can also act as colourful lamps. Now because I’d had so much fun last year painting with acrylics in tiny detail on curved plastic surfaces, I just knew that was the way to go with this project. It was still trial and error though, and the smooth lacquered wooden surface, once painted over, never got as smooth again, though I did add layers of acrylic varnish to make it shine a bit. This was a lot of work, but a lot of fun.

But an Advent Calendar needs windows, and how was I going to do that by just painting the wood? I didn’t want to cut windows into the uke – it’s a soprano, small enough already, windows would basically destroy it. What would be behind the windows? When my son was little I would add in pictures of the things he was interested in that year, TV shows, our cats, places we had been. I’ve created a few with candies and stuff inside window boxes, impossible on this one. I decided I would do two things: add scenes from our favourite Christmas movies and shows, the ones we always watch, but painted on in acrylic rather than stuck on. I would also, around the edge, add in the names of Christmas songs that could be learned and played on the ukulele. That meant this would take aaaaages, but that was a lot of fun. In the end I decided to do a third thing – there would be a holiday song to play for every day, 24 in total, with chords and lyrics printed onto a small piece of paper that would also be behind the window, whatever the window itself would be. I spent a lot of time making those, figuring out the chords, getting them in the right key. But how will those go behind windows? I decided to use round stickers, with little tabs beneath them to easily pull them off. The stickers should stick easily to the acrylic and be removable without peeling off any paint (ever tried to remove acrylic paint from a plastic palette? That takes a bit more effort than a little sticker). That totally worked. However, try as I might, I could not add the songs, no matter how small I printed them, with those behind the stickers the sticker would not stay in place, especially on the curved edges. So, I decided to put the songs, along with a little candy snack, into the windows of the old 2020 advent calendar, the one designed to be a model of our house. For the ukulele, it would just be the reveal of the images, but I really had fun painting those. I’m not going to show you all those (I always keep them just for us!) but here are some of them. I loved doing the Home Alone window, with the iron mark on one of the Wet Bandit’s face, and I was dreading attempting to draw the flippin’ Polar Express onto a tiny little circle, but I was really pleased with the result. The Feliz Navidad image was nice and simple, and also based on the logo of Red Star Paris (and my wife got me a Red Star Paris football shirt for Christmas). You can see below also the in-progress painting of the front, which I did last, but started with all the Hawaiian hibiscus flowers, and there are the snow-people on the beach, who first made an appearance in the hastily-drawn 2019 Hawaiian advent calendar (drawn on my iPad on a flight back from England).

It was a success, and my son and wife both loved it. And yes, we even played some festive songs on it, though I’m not sure how many of the Christmas tunes my son actually learned, but he’s getting really good at the ukulele, and is now getting pretty skilled with the guitar too. It’s good to have a bit of music and a bit of Hawaii in your life.


Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona duit

Brazen Head, Dublin Today is St. Patrick’s Day, so I thought I’d just say Happy St.Patrick’s Day with an old drawing I did in Dublin in 2014. I was looking through my sketches from around then – boy I did a lot of drawing back in 2014 and a lot that are still my favourites – but on our three day family trip to Dublin I actually didn’t draw hardly anything, except this. My son was six, we brought my Mum with us, and we did a lot of walking around and looking at Dublin, and how much had changed over the years, how busy it was. It was my first time there since about 1997, and even longer for my Mum, though our family were Dubliners for generations on my Mum’s and Dad’s sides (though my Mum’s dad was from Belfast), and the city is still full of family most of whom we don’t really know. On the final evening when they were all too tired and full of fish and chips I took a walk down to the Brazen Head, purportedly Ireland’s oldest pub, and drew the inside, so this to date is my only sketch made in Ireland.

I did draw a series of Dublin pictures from Google Street View a couple of years ago though.

Dublin GPO smDublin Lilliput Press smDublin Christchurch smDublin Aviva Stadium smDublin Four Courts smDublin O Connell Street sm

Dublin virtual sketch tour//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

I drew it all in one notebook (with thin paper) that my friend Simon got for me in Dublin; when he actually moved to Dublin, I decided to fill that same sketchbook with drawings of Dublin, and sent it to him as a going-away gift. I have all these Irish songs from my childhood going through my head when I look at the pictures, and I really should get over there again some day, and wander about with my real sketchbook.

Here are the blog posts that go with it, I liked to add a bit of writing:

In the meantime, Happy St. Patrick’s Day. I have my 2014 Ireland football shirt on today.

long day at disneyland

disney castle 122022 sm

Just before Christmas we took a brief little trip down to Southern California to visit Disneyland. My wife loves Disneyland; on my first ever trip to America in 2002 she took me there. This trip was to see all the Christmas decorations, which is always fun, and we were staying for two nights, which meant we would attempt the long, long day in the parks, and we were going to both parks, including California Adventure. We had an early start, getting to the gates not long after 7:00am, which is ridiculous but my wife is a good Disney planner and if we make the early start, we can beat a lot of the crowds, and have time for an afternoon nap. So we headed down Main Street with the other early birds and went over to Adventureland, which was not yet open. We were going to start off with Indiana Jones. While we waited, more and more people started to arrive, and I took the opportunity for a first quick sketch of the castle, above. I got this story into my head that Donald Duck’s original name was Dickie Duck (because they were supposed to be Mickey and Dickie, you see), and so every time I saw Donald Duck I would refer to him as Dickie Duck, and I don’t know, it would make me laugh when people tried to correct me. Didn’t really happen, just got eyerolls from my family. I’m Such A Dad. Disney days are busy, I always bring my sketchbook but we are generally on the move, and we get a lot of rides in. We went back to Galaxy’s Edge, ths Star wars land, and rode on the Rise of the Resistance ride, which is a lot of letter ‘R’s, but was a pretty phenomenal experience. By the early afternoon it’s usually time for a rest; my wife and son went back to the hotel to chill out, but my idea of resting is stopping and sketching. I found a spot nearby the Haunted Mansion, which was all decked out with ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ theme, which they do every year. We didn’t ride the Haunted Mansion this time, I’m not that into that one anyway.

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While they were still resting at the hotel I strolled back over to Galaxy’s Edge to draw the Millennium Falcon. It’s not super easy to draw and I find myself sketching the various Mickey and Grogu eared people walking by. Fewer people with lightsabres this time but some had some pretty nice ones. I love a lightsabre, but I’m not doing that whole expensive build-your-own fancy one, though they do look good. We have enough plastic ones at home that me and my son used to fight each other with when he was small. I had an interesting juice drink with a fancy Star Wars name, then met up with the family again to spend a bit of time at California Adventure (the guy on the turnstile was very rude to us when the system wouldn’t let my son back in), rode on the rides at Cars Land (always great), had a look at the new Marvel Avengers stuff (wasn’t so great) and then later on we went back over to Disneyland for the fireworks which we watched over the Falcon, and had a drink in the Cantina. We went home at 11:30pm, so that was a very, very long day in the parks. I don’t need to go back again for quite a while but it was a fun day out, right before Christmas.

disney galaxys edge 122022 sm

we wish you a Messi Christmas

2022 world cup final

I guess it’s time to talk about the 2022 World Cup. It seems so long ago already. After all the years of build-up and controversy, we ended up getting a Christmas World Cup, and on the football pitch, it was pretty enjoyable. And yet, as often happens when there is  so much football, I feel like I’ve already forgotten most of it. England went out to France, didn’t we? Kane missed a penalty in the game? Wales played in it, didn’t they? It all seems a bit like a dream. It happened at the wrong time of year, it should have been in summer. I had all the World Cup flags up at the same time as the Christmas decorations, it was like having Christmas in Australia or somewhere. Sure, I felt conflicted, like a lot of us did. This Qatar World Cup was a talking point alright, and I won’t go into all the reasons why here, suffice to say I didn’t think it should be there. One of the less controversial reasons, for me, was holding a World Cup in such a tiny space, when these days it seems like two countries is barely enough for a major competition. But it turned out this made it a lot easier for the FIFA President Lex Luthor to get to every game in time for the TV cameras to tarry on him in the stands. I wasn’t hyped for this World Cup, being held mid-season with almost zero build-up, and we’ve had so much football the past couple of years since returning from the lockdown break .There was no way I was waking up at stupid-o-clock to watch South Korea vs Ghana (spoiler alert, I was totally waking up at stupid-o-clock to watch South Korea vs Ghana). This was a World Cup during the academic year, so work would be busier than in the usually-quiet summer. And yet, once it kicked off, I couldn’t help myself, and just got carried away as usual. There were twists, turns, surprises, shocks, and it all ended in one of the best cup finals I have ever seen, with Argentina beating France on penalties in a super dramatic match, and Messi finally winning that one thing he’s always wanted (and I don’t mean Cristiano Ronaldo being forced to be his butler for a month). I drew several of the games on my iPad as I watched them, the last one being the final itself (above), and I wrote down the commentary as it was being said. This was drawn in our very festive living room, and when I drew Messi tearing it away on screen, Argentina were still 2-0 up and cruising, before the Mbappe-inspitred French fightback. What an amazing final, and my favourite moment was the goalkeeper Martinez posing with the Golden Glove award afterwards.

world cup france v australia

We put the games on the big screen at work, in our study lounge. We are a World Cup enthusiastic department, with many of our faculty and students getting right into it. I put up a big wallchart that people could check every day. When I sketched this it was not very busy, but during some of the final group games and knockout stages we got quite a few people in there. We could only get the games in Spanish for some reason, but that was fun because they not only say “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLL” as they do, but they also write “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLL” in closed-captions on the screen. We did watch the 2018 World Cup in here as well, I remember watching England beat Colombia on penalties – rather, I remember hiding in the kitchen area, unable to actually watch. On this day, I watched France vs Australia (France won 4-1).

world cup santa rosa

This wasn’t just a Christmas World Cup, this was also a Thanksgiving World Cup. Above, the sketch I made on Thanksgiving Day at my mother-in-law’s house in Santa Rosa, while watching Brazil beat Serbia, with Richarlison scoring an amazing overhead kick. I wish he would score some of those for Tottenham, or any goal at all, that would be nice. The USA played England the next day, and our transatlantic family sat around to watch it (a far cry from when Black Fridays were for going early-morning shopping). It was a pretty turgid 0-0 game, a better result for the Americans than for the English, but not one to convince people what all the fuss is about with this World Cup thing.

world cup mbappe

Back home for this next one, and our decorations have started going up. We put our Christmas decorations up after Thanksgiving is over, they like the clear delineations in the holidays here. For example, if you go to big stores like Target, Valentine’s Day starts on December 26th, St. Patrick’s Day starts on February 15th, and Easter starts on March 18th. Personally I wish it could be Christmas every day, and I think that would make a really good idea for a song. Speaking of Christmas songs, the biggest surprise this year was when we discovered that Baddiel and Skinner and the Lightning Seeds had written an updated version of Three Lions, especially for this Christmas World Cup. My initial reaction was that it must surely be cheesier than a bag of Wotsits, with that chorus getting a little bit too much airtime the past few years, but was surprised to find I bloody loved it. It was very fresh back in ’96, and now it’s one of my favourite Christmas songs. “Santa says let’s play the Christmas Tree formation” Hanging up behind the tree you can see my 2006 USA (sorry, “USMNT”) shirt, coupled with my 2010 England away shirt, the only England shirt I own. I’ve owned a USA football shirt longer than I’ve owned an England one. The game on TV was France vs Poland, and the commentator was just gushing about Kylian Mbappé, the French superstar. They called him a “cheat code” and a “superhuman”, they said he’s “a postman; he delivers”, they called him not only “different calibre” but “different gravy”, confusingly, and they referred to him as “a Ferrari, but a Formula One Ferrari”, which presumably means he will have engine failure halfway through a game and throw away a lead. They also said it would be “his tournament”. It nearly was.world cup morocco spain

One of the surprises of the tournament was Morocco, who made it all the way to the semi-finals. I’ve liked Morocco’s team since they did well in England’s group in the 1986 World Cup. Back in 1986 I had no idea really who was supposed to be good or not, other than Italy were the reigning World Champions, West Germany were West Germany, Brazil were super famous, and Argentina had Diego Maradona. I did know that Morocco were not supposed to be good though, because like Iraq, Canada, Algeria and the like, they got half-sized stickers in the Panini album. Even teams like Bulgaria, Northern Ireland and Paraguay got full-size stickers, so ‘Maroc’ must be crap. They were not – they topped England’s group, beating Portugal. I remember they had a player with a festive-sounding name, called Abdelkrim Merry ‘Krimau’.This time around, they also beat Portugal, this time in the quarter-finals, but before that they also dispatched their other neighbours from across the Straits of Gibraltar, Spain. I was at home that day working on my laptop, but it was quiet so I sketched the game. It was pretty exciting, and went to penalties. Morocco’s kit was reminiscent of their kit from 1998, also made by Puma. Morocco ended up losing the semi-finals to France, and finished fourth overall, a heroic historic run. I thought they might actually win it.

Messi Gvardiol

Here are a couple more things. Above, a small graphic I made of Messi in the semi-final against Croatia, teaching masked youngster Gvardiol a thing or two about turning. I loved this iconic moment. And finally, a couple of Christmas ornaments I made, one saying “We Wish You A Messi Christmas”, the other replying “And a Mbappe New Year”. And it was. I’m sold (or am I sportswashed?); I think every other men’s World Cup should now be held before Christmas, a new tradition. Sure it might mess up the European football seasons, but they are being messed up anyway. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with being a bit Messi.


go forth and see

4th and C 112622 sm

I am going to get the last few of these Fall sketches posted before Spring starts. This was the view downtown at 4th and C in late November. This building has shown up in quite a few of my sketchbooks over the years. Same old, same old, the world keeps on turning. Spring is coming. This past week though, Winter returned and California had loads of snow. Not here in Davis, too low down, but we could see it on the hills nearby up Lake Berryessa, a very unusual sight. The snow is heavy in the Sierra Nevadas now; Truckee is one of the snowiest parts of the US outside Alaska anyway, but there was a lot of it this week. Even southern California saw loads of snow in places you wouldn’t normally get it, like in the mountains around L.A. We had a bit of rain in Davis, and it was cold, but no snow. It’s sunny today. Spring is coming.

chemistry building, latest update

chemistry nov 2022 sm

I like drawing construction as you know. This particular project, the redevelopment of this side of the UC Davis Chemistry building, feels like it has been going on for hundreds of years. They started building the new wing itself fairly recently though, and the steel framework was being put in place in December, a good three years after I sketched the old walkway being demolished. Above, one of the steel beams being moved into place. It reminds me of playing Donkey Kong years ago, with little Mario running up the girders and jumping over barrels. My brother used to sit on the end of my bed and play that all night.

chemistry dec 2022 sm

I drew the Chemistry building from a slightly different angle to get the last burst of that fire-red blossom in the view.

Chem UC Davis

And the most recent attempt was earlier in February, when I drew from by those standing stones next to the Silo, but pretty much got bored with drawing so left it like this.

A Street in Fall

A St Davis 102522

A street I like to draw is A Street. I know that sounds like a philosophical statement, but the name of the street is A Street, I’m not just referring to a street. I know that it’s probably been a couple of years since I said that tired old chestnut, but it makes me laugh and that’s what matters. I do love drawing this A Street though, because it’s on the border of downtown and campus, and easy to walk to from work. I have always been drawn to draw that lovely red house on the corner of Rice, especially in the autumn when some of the foliage is turning a similar colour. I’ve drawn it several times over the years. More on this building later, because I’m not done referring to how much I like its lovely rusty red colour, it really makes it stand out among a street of mostly white houses. This was the first page of a new sketchbook.

A St Davis 102722 sm

Further up the street is the Belfry, a building I have drawn several times as well. Maybe the building called the Belfry is actually the yellowish one on the left, a kind of religious place, but this interesting tower behind the fence looks belfry like and I love sketching it. I decided not to bother adding all the colour in this time, the pen drawing being interesting enough. I can see the slanting-to-the-right thing happening again, maybe that’s just the way I hold the sketchbook, though they do say you get more right-leaning as you get older don’t they. Ha ha.

A St Davis 121722 sm

I have drawn this building before, perhaps ten years ago. I seem to remember it was temporarily the home of the International Hillel house, before they moved back into their much larger and newly built building down the street. All those autumnal trees against that bright white, mixed with the terracotta tiles, this is an interesting place to sketch.

A St Davis Dec2022

And then, I saw that the rusty red house I loved sketching looked suddenly blanched. They had painted it white! So this house now appears twice in the same sketchbook, in two different colours. Maybe this is their away kit. I mean, it looks good, but it looked better red, stood out more, felt more rustic. Each to their own I guess. I wish we could change the colour of our house, from its dull taupe, but that’s our local HOA I guess. Still, the stop sign stays its usual red. And that concludes our latest tour of A Street, Davis.