i feel as though, you ought to know

Hart Hall UC Davis

And a few more from the UC Davis campus. It will be nice when I get back to the sketch-scan-post all in the same day (or at least same couple of days) routine like I used to have years ago, but I always let the scanning build up, especially when I have had some trips. We were in Chicago during Spring Break, and then I was in Berkeley for a conference, but I finally got around to scanning and editing all of my recent sketches this past weekend, no mean feat. Yet I’ve not been sketching every day, perhaps because I didn’t want the to-be-scanned pile to get bigger. Also, not been too inspired by Davis, although I still find things to draw on campus during those lunchtimes. Above, the final page of Sketchbook #45, a place I have drawn many times but it never gets old, Hart Hall. Hart Hall never seems to change. This was about when the allergies were starting to kick up again, as the blooms starting blooming-well blooming.

TLC UCD 022123

This was a windy lunchtime in February. What do draw? Well I stood outside the Teaching Learning Complex (which you’ll remember I drew a lot as it was being built) and drew the view towards the Silo area, I like all the triangles of that building. I like this sort of view, I can do different shapes, values and textures, though I always have to make sure I have enough elastic bands to keep my pages down when it’s windy.

Walker Hall and Shields Library UC Davis

Finally, another building I have drawn a lot is Walker Hall, which I sketched throughout its whole reconstruction into the Graduate Center. So many times over the past several years did I stand on this spot looking across toward Shields Library in the background, and this would be a building site, I would be poking my head over a fence with some bins in the foreground and some trucks scattered around. Not any more! Except on this day, as I sketched a Facilities truck came along and decided to park right in front of me, blocking the specific view I was drawing. I couldn’t really see over it, so I just though ah well, and came back the next day to draw the rest. This is a really great part of campus now. I think on our graduate open house it poured down with rain making a tour very difficult, if not impossible, but if I were touring graduate students now I would make sure they came to this place, to see this amazing new facility we have for them. And then there is the great Shields Library, which was the first place I spent much time on this campus, before I was working here (my wife was already an employee) I would come here to read books on medieval language, spend time in the computer lab writing and updating my blog (before it was a sketchblog, when it was just a here-I-am-living-in-America-now blog, the old 20Six one before I switched to this WordPress one). I don’t suppose I thought much in those days that I would still be here now, and sketching these same places, watching them and recording them as they changed. It’s not my actual job, but I feel like it kind of is my job. One day, these places will look different again. Though maybe not Hart Hall, that never seems to change.

another view of the MSB

MSB UC Davis

This is the Mathematical Sciences Building (MSB) at UC Davis, the building that has been my work home since I joined the campus along time ago. I wanted to draw a new view of it, this time slightly set back from the street (California Avenue; it was called Crocker Way when I first started), stood outside the entrance to the Earth and Physical Sciences Building (unseen to my left), which was not even there when I first started. Also missing are some trees, the largest and most recent to leave this earthy realm fell in the massive new years eve storms, along with hundreds of others trees. It’s left quite a gap, it provided some good shade in the summer for those sitting outside, although we still have the big wide spread tree you can see there that will keep us cool. I have drawn the building in panorama a few times over the years, we use those on our mugs and stickers and Stats department website, though each new drawing there is another tree missing. Be nice if this building were just a little bit bigger though, so we could have more office space. The perennial problem. The winter storms and rain look like they are finally over now, here in late April, and suddenly BAM it’s summer. It will be 90 degrees most days this week. The allergies have kicked into full gear, as always happens when the heat cranks up, but with everything being watered so much this year there has been a lot more growth, so the pollen is through the roof, as it were. I had to stay home today, the allergies were so bad that I didn’t actually sleep at all last night. At 5am or so I messaged work to say I wouldn’t be in and then worked from my bed until I eventually fell asleep around 7am, though not for long. Stupid allergies. I also saw that Spurs sacked their interim manager today, Stellini, the Tottenham merry-go-round continues, not so merry after losing 6-1 to Newcastle. But back to the MSB.

Below is another panorama sketch I did last month, inside the MSB Colloquium Room, at a mini-conference we held in honour of our emeriti faculty. It was really great having our eminent retired professors back, I’d not seen some of them since before the pandemic, and we had several presentations by our younger faculty, such as this one by Asst Prof. Mina Karzand. I’ve been with the Stats department a long time myself now so I gave a little speech as well with my memories and moments with each of them, and thanking them for establishing a welcoming culture in our department that we’ve tried to maintain. It was a nice event, and so I had to sketch it.

stats mini-conference 3-1-23

E Street between 1st and 2nd

E St pano March 2023 sm

Sketchbook #45 really took a long time. Or should I say, is taking a long time. Even though I have officially reached the last page now (and started sketchbook #46 last Sunday) I still have a couple of sketches from a recent trip to Chicago that I need to add some finishing touches to before scanning. Sketchbook #45 went from October to April, which is an unusually long time for me to fill a sketchbook, even longer to scan and even longer to post them all. It’ll be done soon, I promise. I try to work in a linear fashion. These sketches were all done in March along the same block of E Street, Davis. I’ve drawn all these things before, of course I have. I don’t think I ever draw a panorama of the particular stretch of E Street, from that angle, but now I have. I stood slightly in the street off the sidewalk, right next to the outdoor seating area of one of the small cafes along that row, and had to actually come back the next day because while sketching, a huge delivery truck parked in front of me blocking the entire view. Below, Orange Court, just across the street, another place I’ve drawn before many times. That’s where my favourite restaurant in Davis, Sophia’s Thai Kitchen, is found. I like their bar too and would go there about once a year (I don’t get out that much) to sketch it and try a ‘Lava Lamp’ cocktail. These are pretty typical Davis drawings for me. Maybe they could have been done by AI, as all the kids say now. You hear so much about AI these days, AI bots sourcing/scouring and stealing/recreating people’s art into something ‘new’, and then there is ChatGPT which has exploded everywhere suddenly, I’m hearing a lot about it in the university setting where I work, both negative and positive (I work with people very involved in machine learning). All that modern stuff these days, our new robot overlords. Differentiating between genuine writing and AI-generated text is getting harder, even though there are programs designed to catch people who use it, even those programs are getting it wrong by flagging up real writing as looking like it was AI-generated. In the past it was easy: if you were a human you would say “yes” or “I dunno”, while a robot would say “affirmative” and “does not compute”. I wonder if anyone would notice the difference between the real me writing and an AI mimicking me. I like to think there are enough things in the way I write and draw that make me recognizably human. An AI would probably include too many fire hydrants and references to football shirts. But then, these things are not the only way we present ourselves, we don’t only live in this global digital universe setting. There’s no AI that can actually show the real sketchbook, with the greasy fingermarks around the edge of the pages, or have a conversation with me where I get over-excited about paints. An AI cannot tell what I was listening to, or the smells in the street, or genuinely recreate that smudge on the paper where my brush slipped because a gust of wind blew my page at the wrong moment. Embrace the real.

E St orange court 031823

That said, I like the drawn mechanical stuff. I have drawn these pipes (below) before, many many years ago, located at the back of the former Uncle Vito’s. It was a day when I needed to sketch, I went out and thought, yes this will do. You can imagine these pipes being part of the robot overlords snaking their way around the world. Who knows. Maybe we are too worried.

E st Davis

back in the sac

midtown sac I & 27th 022523 sm

It’s been a little while since I sketched Midtown Sacramento. My son’s soccer team (the one I used to coach but stepped down from last year because I was knackered) had a tournament in Natomas (I think it was Natomas, the places all blend together some days) but we only stayed for the first game, so afterwards I was dropped off in midtown Sac so I could go to the art store and draw some of the old buildings around there. I started off by drawing this big old Victorian on the corner of I and 27th, a fantastic well-kept old house. There are plenty of old interesting old buildings in that neighbourhood. I went to the university art store, and walked down to Dessert Diner for a delicious hot chocolate and cake (I’ve not been there in years, it’s fantastic). I also found a little record shop that I’ve not been to before, Rocket Records, that I was going to sketch but maybe another time. Last time I sketched a midtown record shop (The Beat), it closed down. I then had lunch at one restaurant/bar by the train tracks which served barbecue food; I won’t say what the place was called, but the food was utterly gross and made me feel sick. I got barbecued chicken with mac and cheese, and it was so bad, for one thing I’m not sure the chicken was cooked too well but it was so drenched in a smoky, woody stench that it made me gag. The mac and cheese may as well have been a rain mac, it had no flavour. So I quit that place and left, the taste being in my mouth for hours afterwards. I did one more sketch though, of the St.Francis of Assisi church which is over near Fort Sutter.

st francis assisi midtown sac 022523 sm

Interestingly enough, the first time I drew this building was sixteen years ago to the day from when I drew it on February 25th. I remember that day. My wife had told me about a record shop – the aforementioned ‘The Beat’, now long gone –  so I went and spent a lot of time there, and wandered midtown with my beloved WH Smith sketchbook looking for places to draw. This was one of my favourite of my early California sketches, back at the start of all this.

st francis church & friary, midtown sacramento

the mustard seed and the cloud forest

D St pano Feb 2022

This is D Street, Davis. There is a big gap of nothing to the left where I couldn’t quite be bothered to draw the car that was there. It moved and became a different car, and well, I just didn’t want to include it. I drew it over a couple of visits, fully intending to draw it in full colour because the colours were quite nice, but ended up only keeping the red because that’s what stood out most. Your mind will fill the rest in. If that sounds like a Jedi mind-trick, it is. The British phone box outside the Mustard Seed (a fancy and not cheap restaurant which I last went to with my wife for our anniversary in September, and was pleasantly surprised to find they had one of my drawings of that very phone box on the wall) was also one of the first things I drew in Davis, if I remember rightly. That summer of 2006 when I started really filling my sketchbooks, I painted it, no ink drawing, and it made me happy. A little piece of home, like the big red buses, here in my new home. When my son was very little we would come by here and pretend that the phone box was a rocket ship taking us to the moons of Saturn. Then it got chained up so people couldn’t use for interplanetary space travel any more. This being a panorama you will need to click on the link (takes you to my Flickr site) to see it in more detail. That’s the Cloud Forest Cafe on the left, another popular place that I’ve drawn before. I like the little narrow alleyway directly in the center, there are some cute little places in there, and then it leads you through a (slightly smelly) back alley which leads through to E Street, or if you turn right you get to the rear of the Pence Gallery. This is a nice spot in Davis, it’s no surprise that when important visitors or prospective faculty come to campus they are often taken here.

another san francisco day – part 2

Caffe Trieste SF 021823 sm

It was a busy afternoon in North Beach, San Francisco. I had already sketched a lot, but was still going. I sat outside Caffe Trieste, a historic old cafe once frequented by famous beat poets, musicians, actors, artists. Coppola wrote a lot of The Godfather while drinking coffee in here. I’ve sketched outside here before. I have never actually spent any time inside; I don’t drink coffee, and the line was always a bit long for me to figure out what else I might want; another time. I hear they make pastries. The cafe was opened in 1958 by Trieste native Giovanni “Papa” Giotta, who died in 2016; he was known as the “Espresso Pioneer of the West Coast”. I went to the city of Trieste in north-eastern Italy back in 2001, an interesting place, very close to the Slovenian border.

City Lights SF 021823

I stood on the corner of Columbus and Broadway, outside the Condor, and looked across to City Lights Books. Behind it to the left, Vesuvio. I’ve sketched this spot a number of times over the years, it never gets old. This area right here might be one of my favourite places on earth. City Lights is pretty famous, though not actually very big, and again has a long history with the beat poets. I must admit I’ve not really read any beat poetry. I’ve heard of all the names and nod knowingly whenever anyone reels them off, but I’ve not actually read any. Maybe I should, perhaps it will mean something, but I always imagined it as someone reading poems while someone else does beatboxing with their hand over their mouth, imagining something like a rap version of Wordsworth, “I wondered lonely as a cloud, yeah”, but it’s probably not that at all. I like poetry, I did well studying it at college, though I’m not sure I could do it myself, and I don’t like poetry enough to actually spend any time with it. I’m like Facebook friends with poetry, I’ll ‘like’ it but pretend to be busy if it wants to meet up for a coffee. Still, I had a look around the poetry room upstairs and nodded thoughtfully at all the titles. There were people sat reading as you’d expect; I thought one of them was Maggie Gyllenhaal sat reading a book by the window, but I never recognize famous people so it probably wasn’t. Although I did see Robin Williams once at the Farmers Market a long time ago (come to think of it, it was my wife who saw him, and I just went “oh yeah! wow.”). I thought I’d better actually look for that Paul Madonna book that was mentioned in the previous post. His first volumes were published by City Lights after all, but I couldn’t find it in here (I think they didn’t publish this one, but likely it was just sold out). I did pick up another book though, “Spirits of San Francisco” written by Gary Kamya, and illustrated by Paul Madonna, and took it across the street to read at one of my favourite bars, Specs. Read about San Francisco stories while sat in a place full of San Francisco stories.

Specs SF 021823 sm

It was however too dark in Specs to read anything. I love Specs. After a day on my feet, this is the place to stop and rest them, with a pint or two of delicious Anchor Steam, the proper San Francisco taste. It’s full name is Specs 12 Adler Museum Cafe, and it was founded by Richard Simmons, nicknamed ‘Specs’ due to the big glasses he wore. I took the seat closest to the window, underneath the orange lamp-shade. Still too dark for my weak eyes to read, it was barely light enough for me to draw (once upon a time, maybe wouldn’t have been an issue) but I was going to draw anyway. I had sketched a lot that day, this was a tired end of the day sketch, and one where I couldn’t really see colours on my page too well so I bathed it in a wash made up of the colours I could see. There is so much to draw in here, and I have done it before. I listened to the conversations of some people sat nearby, one older fellow was a music photographer or journalist telling stories about musicians from over the years, it was interesting. There are always interesting local people in this bar, I remember coming here once and sketching a panorama on one busy evening about a decade ago; the elderly barman that evening (who may have been Specs himself? Probably wasn’t) passed me a free Anchor Steam and told me that this was a place full of artists; away to my right a guy was oil painting on a canvas, behind me at the tables there was an older woman busy scribbling drawings in charcoal and pencil; I was definitely not alone. You never run out of things to look at, and sketch, in Specs. One of my most fun evenings in the city was spent here about thirteen years ago with my friend Simon, visiting from England, where we played a drunken game of chess in there and told silly stories. It’s still my favourite bar in the city, and this was the first time I’d been in since before the pandemic; so glad it’s still there.

Speaking of artists, back to Paul Madonna: I ordered that third All Over Coffee volume (“You Know Exactly”) online and have been enjoying going through all three volumes a lot. Here is a book review of it on KQED. I learned shortly afterwards that he had been in a really bad accident towards the end of 2022, when a driver going the wrong way collided with his vehicle in San Francisco and left the scene, leaving him severely hospitalized and lucky to be alive. I met Paul and his wife Joen in 2016 at the grand opening of the Manetti Shrem gallery in Davis, but I’ve been inspired by his work ever since seeing that first volume in a shop window in Berkeley in 2007 while on a sketchcrawl (when I was drawing a lot with purple pen, if I recall), and immediately getting excited about the linework and detail, as well as the subject, which was every corner of San Francisco (but erasing the people and cars, as I’d been doing). I still love his work, as it has developed over the years, and it reminds me to keep trying to look at the same places again in different ways. So it was a shock to hear of his awful accident which has prevented him from working, though there was an update in the past couple of weeks that he has finally been able to go back to the studio. There is a Gofundme fundraising page set up by the San Francisco Public Library to help Paul during his recovery. I really hope that he has a full recovery soon, and can continue to share his inspiring art with the world.

another san francisco day

Book Passage SF 021823 sm

It was another one of those days when I needed a day sketching in the city. I took the early train down to San Francisco, heading first to the Ferry Building of course, where I get my usual Saturday morning bomboloni from the lady that has a little stall there. It’s my old tradition. I ate them outside Book Passage, a little bookshop I always come into, and thought well I may as well draw this shop, I’ve been coming here for years. I would usually get a book that I could read at the end of my sketching day, either during my post-sketching beer or on the long train home. The book I saw today though was too big to want to carry around, it was Paul Madonna’s third and final All Over Coffee collection, I’ve loved those since first seeing the original book in a shop window in Berkeley in 2007. However the book was a bit too big and bulky to carry around all day so I left it; I’ll probably get it at City Lights later. So, on to the sketching and exploring. I wasn’t planning to go anywhere new on this day, but retread an old favourite area, North Beach, a good place to spend a Saturday. I always prefer exploring on Saturdays than Sundays; I’ve never liked Sundays much for doing things. Even as a teenager when I would get out on the bus or on the tube, Saturday was always the better day to explore. Sunday I like to stay at home. I found a seat in the shade of the Ferry Building and looked out at Telegraph Hill, with the colourful throngs of people milling about the Embarcadero in front of me, and Coit Tower poking up in the distance. And a blue cone, placed on the fence, important to include. I enjoyed drawing this scene. I was listening to an audiobook (about the Beatles probably), and my iPod slipped out of my pocket onto the ground. I only realized about 20 yards away when the voice in my ears abruptly stopped telling me about Ringo, and so I went over and there it was still on the ground where I’d been sitting. Must be more careful (and not put things in hoodie pockets). I like to have something to listen to while exploring.

Embarcadero view 021823 sm

So I walked towards North Beach, through Walton Square stopping off at the Safeway for a sandwich, up Pacific where I found the (currently closed) Old Ship Saloon I’ve heard of but never been to, and round to the steep climb of Broadway. I had wanted to draw the old signage on the big old clubs that line that street as it meets Columbus. I’ve drawn them before from the other side, back in 2014 which was, checks calendar, nine years ago now. How did that happen? I first drew this neighbourhood back in 2006. That was eight years before 2014. Well, let’s not look down, just keep on sketching. I may have had it in mind to do a panorama but I wasn’t quite up for that, so I drew these three big signs, and just like in 2014 I didn’t add much colour. I also had forgotten my red pen so used pink to substitute.

Broadway SF 021823 sm

It is fun to wander the streets and see how much they have changed since I first encountered them. North Beach being the italian part of town there were always the green white and red tricolores on lamp-posts and buildings, and I stood on Green Street and drew the scene looking down towards Columbus. The pandemic times forced restaurants and bars to move a lot of their seating outside, making the already tight sidewalks feel very cramped, and while people have moved back inside now, a lot of the outdoor areas remain, making it feel like you are walking through the middle of a busy restaurant by just walking down the road. I stood very near to where there used to be a little music store which I have sketched a couple of times (//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js” data-wplink-url-error=”true”>2007 and 2016) but is now a gallery; I think the record store may still exist just around the corner, I popped into a little one that reminded me very much of the old one, but maybe it was different. The local business owners were out and about in the street chatting to each other, I felt there was a bit of a community round here, and there was some sort of Mardi Gras event happening near here, people were starting to appear dressed in all sorts of colourful clothes. I wanted to show the lively neighbourhood in my sketch, hopefully it comes across. I couldn’t draw all the windows, by that point it was time to move along. I wandered into some shops, walked up Grant Street a bit, and then headed back downhill. I had no actual plan for the day, except to wander about with my sketchbook, which is the best plan anyway.

Green St SF 021823 sm

Part 2 coming next…

arrivederci, uncle vito’s

Uncle Vitos 022223 sm

This here is – or rather, was – Uncle Vito’s Slice of NY, a New York themed pizza place in Davis. I had just had lunch at Raisin’ Canes (a fried chicken shop, nothin’ to do with raisins), and I stopped to sketch this corner. It started to rain as I was drawing, so I moved slightly under the awning of Peet’s Coffee (nothin’ to do with Pete, who doesn’t drink coffee). Uncle Vito’s opened in about 2009 I think it was, I remember there was a small Chinese restaurant here before I would sometimes eat at during my break from work at the Avid Reader bookshop on Saturdays, “Wok’n’Roll” I think it was called. Long time ago. Anyway I went into Uncle Vito’s a few times over the years, only once for pizza (I had a ‘thai-style’ pizza and it ended up being covered in nuts and nut sauce, it wasn’t so good, but their regular pizza looked nice but that put me off a bit) but I did like their massive massive portions of garlic fries. Usually I would just pop in for a beer, as they had a nice bar, good beer, friendly people and always something to sketch. Behind the bar they had one of those lampshades with the fishnet-stocking legs, from the much-loved film A Christmas Story. By the way, I really enjoyed the newer one that came out this last Christmas, A Christmas Story Christmas, that was really fun. It’s a shame this place closed, that pandemic did it for so many places. Still, I have the sketches. Here are the bar sketches I drew in here over the years.

uncle vitos uncle vito's, davis uncle vito's, davis uncle vito's

little red house

6th St Davis

I was walking through old North Davis on the way home when the shadow of this chimney across this little red house on 6th caught my eye and I had to draw it. I have that book about all the old houses in Old North Davis by John Lofland, but it’s in a different room right now and I can’t be bothered to go and look this one up. I do like red wooden houses. They remind me that I’m in America; I wouldn’t see red wooden houses in London, but I would see them in the things I associated with America when I was a kid, which was namely Richard Scarry books, and the A-Team, and I don’t really associate them with the A-Team (unless it’s an old barn that B.A., Face and co have been locked up in, along with a bunch of tractors, and they somehow build a tank and burst their way out, remember they used to do that? We would always play that part of the show on the playground at school). It also kind of reminds me of Denmark; back when I spent a summer in the Danish countryside picking red strawberries, there were many little wooden houses, long and low, many had thatched roofs, some of them must have been red. They would always have the Dannebrog flying from a pole, that’s the Danish flag. But no the main reason it makes me think of Denmark is every time I look at this sketch from the corner of my eye, it the red couple with the pinstripes puts me in mind of the great 1986 Danish kit made by Hummel that was worn at the Mexico 86 World Cup. Always a football kit reference with me. I’ve drawn a lot of the Old North neighbourhood over the years (those are the blocks after 5th Street, up to about 7th or 8th, in between about B and G). It’s a nice little area to stroll. This was on the weekend after my birthday, I must have gone downtown for a milkshake or something.

but things don’t really change

Yeti F St Davis

Here’s one from downtown, the Yeti Restaurant. I sometimes get their chicken biryani, it’s quite nice. It’s on the E Street Plaza. It was my birthday week, and perhaps to fight off the thoughts of getting older, I needed to furiously draw in my sketchbook. So I drew this, but I didn’t eat biryani for lunch. I might have had it for dinner, I can’t remember now.

F St 020723 sm

On my birthday, I went just eats of this spot to where the plaza (‘plaza’, haha; it’s a parking lot) meets F Street, so I looked over to Blaze Pizza. My family like Blaze, and sure it is nice, but it’s a bit thin for me. That’s where Tower Records used to be when I first moved here, then it was Dimple Records, then I stopped buying CDs and records and now music is just, oh whenever, look for it, stream it. Explaining to young people now that a record was not something you bought to be retro, music was actually something you had to look for. That One Way sign looks like it is pointing backwards, but we all know that life is a One Way street and there’s only forwards. So, I had to accept that another year had passed and my age counter clicked again, no point fighting it.

2nd St 020823 sm

And seventeen and a half years after I got here I am still in Davis, drawing the same buildings downtown, the original intention being to fill my sketchbook with the place I was living at the time, and to show those at home what it looked like. Many places have changed in that time. This place on the corner of 3rd and D has not changed much, even that big sign has been there for so many years, and I sketched it a fair few times. I drew it on the day after my birthday, officially know as “isn’t your birthday around now? Happy birthday for whenever it was” day. Time keeps rolling by.