Yesterday I went downtown for the first time in three months, joining the Black Lives Matter march from Community Park. There was a sizable crowd that seemed to increase by every block, all wearing face masks (I social-distanced as much as possible – this was the most people I have been around since the shelter-in-place began), with many hand-drawn signs in support of justice for black people recently killed by police officers, particularly George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Cars and buses honked in support as they went past. We marched down F Street, and I tried to sketch as I went, but that was actually very difficult, all I managed were some scribbled figures, so I added in a lot more details and signs later on from the pictures I took. We circled round to Central Park, before circling about the downtown streets. The crowd then went on to march outside the Davis police station, though I ended up staying downtown (I stopped into the Soccer and Lifestyle shop, now open to the public again, to see how they are doing – the shelter-in-place has been very hard on small businesses). I’m so glad I went along on the march, it was very heartening to see so many – young, old and those of us in the middle – out expressing their voices in support of our black friends and neighbours. Yesterday afternoon, the Davis police chief announced a change in their use of force policy, a very positive step. This past couple of weeks have been a big moment in this country and the constant shock news has been often very difficult to process. It’s been emotional for everyone, feelings of anger and sorrow, on top of everything else this year is throwing at us. Marching even for that short while, just being around people again, and hearing so many voices speak out in solidarity with the black community, was the right thing to do.
Mele Kalikimaka! It’s Christmas Day in Hawaii. We got up and did all the Christmas stuff, and then went to meet up with some others for a bit of lunch and some Christmas day drinks, followed by an afternoon in the ocean. It was cloudier, even a bit rainy, but in a Hawaii way, not a British way. Swimming in a warm ocean is definitely not something you do in England on Christmas day, nor even in California. Hawaii’s pretty nice. I didn’t bring my sketchbook into the ocean. I did do a little bit of sketching at the ancient Hawaiian petroglyph preserve at Waikoloa, a sacred rocky ground filled with carved patterns on the stone.
I also drew this green fire hydrant nearby to our rented house, it’s lovely isn’t it.
On Boxing Day (which is not what Americans call it but I’m British) we took a drive down the side of the Big Island, going to Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau national historical park (https://www.nps.gov/puho/index.htm), which was fairly spectacular. It is an ancient Hawaiian place of refuge, where those broke a law (or ‘kapu’) could flee to evade punishment. Some beautiful old Hawaiian kii protector statues and tikis, as well as demonstrations of traditional Hawaiian building and craftwork.
Here are a few photos from the preserve. The rocky black lava fields that meet the sea were home to so much wildlife, especially the big honu, the beautiful sea turtles that are so symbolic of Hawaii.
Afterwards we spent a rainy day along the Kona coast, visiting a coffee plantation, stopping off in a little town called Kealakekua, having lunch at Annie’s Burgers & Beer (the beer was delicious, the vegan ‘taro burger’ I had was much less my cup of tea), looking at ukuleles in a little music shop, and trying chocolate covered ‘donkey balls’. Not real donkey balls of course, they’re actually nuts. Not those sort of nuts. Check them out here: https://donkeyballstore.com/
We finished off the day with a beer at Kona Brewing in Kailua-Kona. It was pretty crowded there, and looking back in this time of social distancing, it seems like a long time until we are in such close quarters and having pints and pizzas again. I like the Big Island. The last thing I drew there on our trip was this hibiscus flower, one of many blooming around our house. Mele Blooming Kalikimaka!
2020 has been a big pile of farts wrapped inside a cake of poo mixed into a giant bowl of wee. And just when you think it can’t hold any more beer, every day just keeps asking it to hold its beer. Why will no day this year hold its own beer? Is it too much to ask to maybe just put your beer on a table or maybe don’t do the thing you were going to do that requires you to not hold a beer? Go home 2020, you are drunk. But you’ll have to walk because there are no cabs, and you better be in before the curfew starts.
2019 ended so well, at least for me. We spent the final days of the year in Hawai’i, in a tropical paradise sipping cocktails in the pool and playing the ukulele in the ocean. It seems like an extravagant piece of fantasy fiction now; if you try to visit Hawai’i these days you have to quarantine for two weeks, and your hotel gives you a one-time-only key that lets you into your room but not back again if you deign to leave it. Cheers 2020 you utter *!#*%!. Happily I did start the year with my feet in the ocean. It was only ever going downhill from there.
So, finally I’ll post some of the sketches I did while there. I didn’t do too many, as I was pretty busy sipping cocktails and playing the ukulele in the ocean, but of course I draw whenever I can so here are a few. Above, sketched on the flight to Kahului in Maui, where we would change before flying to Kona on the west side of Hawai’i, the Big Island. We were spending Christmas there – you can see I have spelled “Mele Kalikimaka” wrong – that’s Hawaiian for Merry Christmas – with my wife’s family also flying in from California, and from there we were going to spend New Year’s back in Maui, just the three of us. Hawai’i is pretty great, but I might occasionally leave the apostrophe behind and just say Hawaii if that’s ok.
An attempt at drawing digitally, which I was still getting the hang of, waiting to change planes at Maui airport. We took so many flights last year, going all over the place, that it’s probably for the best that in 2020 we’ll be taking so few. I’m not a fan of airports, at least they are small in Hawaii and have lots of those lovely chocolate covered macadamia nuts to eat, expensive though they are.
I’ll tell you what else they have a lot of in Hawaii – Spam. They love it there! Loads of different varieties in the stores. Also, custard pies, proper big custard pies, like the ones clowns or the phantom from Tiswas would throw. (Actually I’m not sure the phantom had actual custard in his pies, come to think of it he threw flans of foam, which I always remembered as custard pies) (Why is this a thing? Well in the supermarket I was texting back and forth with my big sister about having found actual custard pies and we were talking about that). Anyway Spam. I don’t actually eat most of it (not being a pork/beef/that sort of meat eater) but they did have some delicious turkey spam so I cooked that up for breakfast.
Christmas Eve sat on a tropical beach is pretty alright though, huh. I’ll say that is quite a nice way to do it. With delicious shave ice and cocktails at the little beach club at Mauna Lani, this was perfect. The ocean was warm, the waves not very strong, and my brother-in-law went snorkeling further out (I didn’t, but maybe next time I’ll give the snorkeling a go). I loved just spending time in the water. My sketch does no justice at all to the scene, but it’s fun to unwind on the sand as well.
But the Christmas traditions are important in our family, and one of the most important is sitting watching Muppet’s Christmas Carol on DVD on Christmas Eve. The best Christmas film. Michael Caine’s best film. The best version of this story (and I love the Albert Finney version). I drew it on the iPad with a nice cold beer. We also watch Blackadder’s Christmas Carol every year as well, another tradition, and The Snowman, but admittedly we’re not paying as much attention to The Snowman by that point. I also like watching It’s A Wonderful Life, but since 2020 feels like the Pottersville timeline it’s a bit on the nose. We were staying in a house near Waikoloa, with great views of lava tubes, about a 10-15 minute walk to the beach. Not a bad place! The Big Island is very different from the previous island we had visited, Oahu. At least, our side of it was. It’s much bigger, and much rockier, being part of an active volcano. The lava field landscapes were incredible, immense plains of sharp lava rock stretching down to the ocean from the enormous peaks. And you drive what feels like a short way and suddenly it feels like the jungle, everything is green and wet. We went on a kayak trip down the old flumes of the sugar plantation in Kohala, that was very interesting, something I will remember for years. We didn’t explore the Hilo side of the island this time, nor did we have time to go up to the volcano (plus it rained), but I want to go back on a future trip.
But maybe not in 2020. I’ll post some more of my Hawai’i sketches in the next posts.
Well after the flood thing we finally got a new floor and repaired walls and a return of the living room. Good opportunity to move a few things around. I’ve since put shelves back next to the telly and the coffee table back in the middle, I’m going to get a new dining table and have a think about the desk situation. Meanwhile cat furniture is being moved about, our poor cats just want the living space back. Our cat Sawyer was sick again, and had just come back that day from another stint in the hospital, needing lots of rest and recuperation. I celebrated getting both the couch and the cat back by watching some Shakespeare online – I’ve been enjoying the Globe Theatre’s productions aired on YouTube, so I thought I’d watch The Winter’s Tale. Unfortunately I wasn’t really into it, and my family thought it was a bit boring, so in my Winter’s Tale discontent I switched on one of my favourite bits of Shakespeare, the Ian McKellen version of Richard III from the mid 90s. Brilliant from start to finish, and I’d forgotten how many names were in that film. A younger Robert Downey Junior playing himself as Rivers, an about-the-same-age-as-ever Jim Broadbent playing himself as Buckingham, and an ageless Maggie Smith playing herself as the Duchess of York. So many more big names. Been years since I saw it. I did take part in a production of Richard III in my first year at university, not acting, I was on the art side of things, I helped with the props and drew maps and took part in making a huge floor for the stage, covered in newspaper clippings. I then helped with the stage management and getting actors’ costumes ready, just doing what I was told. The stage manager was a third year student who was a little bossy – I suppose you had to be – but she really liked yelling at us first years helping out (there was one moment where she did say “you’ll be like this when you’re my age”, though I pointed out I was older than her). She was alright though and the whole production was really well done and a fun experience, though I’ll never forget trying to pull a large wooden table I borrowed from the Territorial Army along with other props all the way down Deansbrook Road, and then I never used it (was I expecting to bring a table with me on the tube across London to Mile End?) I can’t recall the art director’s name now but she was really nice and I loved helping with all of that stuff. I did quite a few other productions at university during my time there but that was the biggest and most properly done. Unlike the version of Caucasian Chalk Circle by Brecht which I co-directed. A very fun experience, all acting in German, but this time it was my turn to be the bossy one. I was at first just playing Azdak the Judge, maybe the best role ever written, and perfect for me. In the first half of the play (before Azdak appears) I decided not to act in other roles but did all of the artwork instead. Since we had very little budget for a set, I took an overhead projector, some sheets of acetate and five coloured pens, and drew out entire sets to be projected behind the actors. I also drew a few people to be extras, moving around alongside the actors, and operated the projector from the front row. It was very Brechtian, I suppose. And then some people would always miss rehearsal, or show up way too late, and so when the director asked me to be co-director I just replaced their small roles with cartoon people projected on stage. It was a chaotic and highly silly play but immense fun and time well spent with some great people. It’s been a really long time since I did anything like stage work, and I’ve often toyed with the idea of getting into it again. but I think not. It takes me forever to set up a stage for a Lego animation, let alone anything bigger. Still, I do have ideas for some Lego animated Shakespeare (that isn’t three hours long) that I would like to do some day, but right now, I’m just enjoying having a new floor, never mind a stage.
My page is my stage. I like to think about the act of urban sketching in relation to performance, both the physical act of being out as part of the urban environment and also the creation of art on the page too. Years ago I would hide away, under the cloak of invisibility, until the first Symposium gave me the confidence to be part of the scene itself, and not worry if people came and looked at what I was doing, but to embrace it. The act of seeing other people out sketching can be a catalyst to go sketching yourself – someone else is doing it, I should not be afraid to do it too. There’s a whole road of ideas I’ve been thinking about on this subject, the crossover between performance/theatre and urban sketching, particularly the relation between community sketching events such as sketchcrawls and interactive theatre. The act of several sketchers positioned around a scene such as a few stalls at the Farmers Market turned those stalls into something else, a performance to be viewed, it doesn’t have to be a scripted performance but we are watching it, and recording it, telling its story through sketches. There’s a lot to unpack and I might get around to writing it all down some day; it was a topic I was going to explore in a talk at the Hong Kong Symposium this year, before that was cancelled, but I’m still developing the ideas. In the meantime, as the local shelter-in-place order starts to draw to a close, I’ll finish drawing around the house and finally get back to sketching outside.
A couple more on the iPad drawn in the bedroom, or the Bedroom Office as it now is. Both drawn before we got our living room back (which was over the weekend, hooray!) so this was also the dining room and watching tv room. It’s also where I draw and write (haha, I hardly ever write at the moment), and it would be where I do my Lego animations but I’ve not done those in a while either. I felt like installing a running track around the bed and using it as a gym too. With all stuff from downstairs shelves all over the floor it would have been more like a hurdle track. Ah well, it’s where we are right now. I notice from some of my fellow sketchers in Europe that things are slowly beginning to open up there, and I think that they will here too soon, but extremely cautiously. Well most of us, some aren’t. I also can’t wait for the shelter-in-place to be over, because then the walking and running paths around here might not be so busy, people might stay in more. I don’t know, I want to go places, get on a train and wander about the City, but I don’t know how we’ll all feel. I have a nice mask. Lately I’ve been obsessed with the idea of going on week-long hikes along the national trails of England, as if that should ever happen. I used to think about that sort of thing when I was young but never got around to it, except my time in Cumbria when I was 17 doing the Outward Bound thing. In the meantime, stay at home, it’s very hot outside again in California. These two sketches were done on the iPad, sat on the bed, the one below while watching Revenge of the Sith (I do love ‘Sith’, one of my favourite films), the one above while monitoring an online seminar/workshop for our department. The bookshelf was moved from downstairs during the flood but I am going to keep it there as I like having books close by my bed. I have already moved the dvd shelf downstairs and replaced it with my old collection of Fighting Fantasy books. And right now, I’m watching the Bundesliga, as football has returned to Germany, albeit in empty stadiums. Unlike the quiet first round of games, the Dortmund-Bayern game has crowd noise pumped in, and the tv cameras are angled to show as little of the empty stands as possible. I’ve watched so many old World Cup games lately it is nice to watch some actual real new games. I feel like a teenager again, when I would rarely leave my room, just stay in there drawing and watching football or Star Wars or reading. Still on top of the recent flood which left us without a living room for a month, one of the cats got sick and was in hospital a couple of times, he’s recovering now the poor thing, but he did wee all over my side of the bed one night. Go home 2020 you are drunk! One thing all of this disruption and time at home has given me is time to go through things and organize stuff, get rid of what I don’t need, and one day I might get started on that.
In the meantime I’ll draw round the house. Tomorrow our local sketching thing Let’s Draw Davis will have a virtual get-together, less of a sketchcrawl and more just the show and tell bit, showing what we have drawn while stuck at home during this whole thing. I had an idea over the weekend that I might put a video together of my stay-home sketches, and the I thought I could do a series of YouTube videos giving a tour of Davis through my sketches, focusing on a different area or theme each time, make about 8-10 of them. Summer project.
Look at this big geezer. I had to go into the office in early April, a few weeks into the shelter-in-place, and found an overgrown campus where the wildlife had taken over. Standing like a sentinel outside my building was this turkey, looking enormous with his feathers all ruffled up and on display. Strutting. His long wobbly beak and that colourful chin feature looked like something from an early 1980s Dr Who prop department. The ‘snood’. Always reminds me of those Arsenal players who wore those snoods when it got cold but the Premier League said they couldn’t. And the long hairy bit on his chest that falls down, look how long it is! That’s called a ‘beard’. Some humans have those. As far as I’m aware legs covered in tattoos, shaving one side of your hair and sampling snifters of craft beer aren’t yet popular in the turkey population. And he didn’t want me entering the building. He kept shaking his feathers at me as if to say, #stayhomesavelives ! #gobble #itscalledasnoodnotafacialnutsack (and other popular hashtags). When I went in, he came and stood by the door looking through the window at me and stayed there for a few hours, goading me when I came down to use the vending machine, I better not try to leave or he will stop me and ask for my attestation, am I going out for essential items (cranberry sauce or gravy I suppose). There are a few other doors to the building though so unless his mates are covering all the exits he wasn’t stopping me. He did loads of poos all over the entranceway though. You needed to know that. We get a lot of turkeys in Davis, there is a flock that lives near me on the north Davis green belt. They strut about making loud gobble noises when I go for an evening walk. They live quite high up in very tall trees, you’d be surprised how high they fly up. You may recall the story of Downtown Tom, a solo turkey who lived in downtown Davis for a while, occasionally terrorizing citizens and catching bad guys, evading all attempts at capture, until The Man had had Enough, and called in a sniper to assassinate him in his sleep. I imagine they though if they ever did catch him, they would all stand around wondering whether Tom actually intended to be caught, because he had some other nefarious plan up his snood. But no, they took him out in the dead of night, not releasing the news for six months, presumably it took that long to be sure he was really dead and didn’t have some kind of horcrux somewhere. Dudes, he’s a turkey. Tell you what though you don’t want to get into a ruck with one, they have much bigger claws than you do.
I drew this from a photo I took, in the grey paper sketchbook.
Different times, before the Shelter-in-Place, before the downstairs flood, before a lot of things, last Christmas in the living room. Our little fake plastic Christmas tree. Drawn on the iPad which is the first time I can draw the tree and not have to leave little spaces for the lights and ornaments, I just draw them on top digitally. One of my cats looks on. The cats aren’t talking at the moment; one of them got sick last week (he actually had to go to hospital overnight, poor thing), and now the other one won’t go near him without hissing. Hopefully once the house is back in shape they can all get along nicely again. Cats eh, it’s almost like they’re a whole different species. On the wall in the background you can make out the various advent calendars I have made over the years for my son. I made another one last Christmas, this year it was Hawaii themed, because we were going to spend Christmas in Hawaii. Those sketches will be posted soon. Seems like a million years ago. Anyway, the Hawaii advent calendar is below. I drew it on the iPad while flying back from England at the start of December (so it was a couple of days late), trying to grapple with Procreate while squeezed into a narrow seat in the dark with a large man with big elbows sat to my right, while also suffering with a stinging nose. I was looking forward to Hawaii! Be nice to be there now, with a Mai Tai and my ukulele.
I wish I had an advent calendar counting down the days until the Shelter-In-Place is over. Actually I now call it the “Global Coronavirus Shared Experience”, or “GCSE”.
If the flood has done one thing, it has cut my commute time down by quite a few seconds, now that I don’t have to go downstairs but just roll out of bed to the desk next to my bed. I’ll still be late, but I do work at all hours these days and nights, what even is time. This was the desk where I did my Lego animations (I have a number of lamps, there’s one on the desk with a yellow gel filter hanging from it); despite all this time at home these past two months I haven’t done a single bit of animation. I am still drawing that sketched virtual tour of Britain, I have just reached Sunderland so I’m getting close to the end. I’ll scan it all in one go. I drew this before I moved the bookshelf and a bunch of other downstairs stuff up to my bedroom, so I’m feeling a lot more cramped in here now. But it’s working for me ok. I have my books close to me, although I should find a way of putting them behind me like all the cool people do in their Zoom calls. Actually I have been rotating virtual backgrounds for Zoom, although sometimes half my body disappears when I move, making me a floating head, like Holly from Red Dwarf. I usually have a sketch of my room as a virtual background.
So, I’m living in a small corner of the upstairs for now. I get out for a run every day or so, but then it’s back up here to work or draw or read or eat. The internet went down one day, very disruptive for those working from home, or doing anything from home. So I drew my bathroom. Spot footy shirts in laundry basket. I did manage to cut my own hair ok, I did a good job. And then below, this sketch was from a month ago, before the flood, another one playing with the mad pencils on grey paper, this time late at night watching the Formula 1 show on Netflix. That’s Ricciardo there, it was announced this week he will join MacLaren for 2021. If racing or sport ever comes back. Of course the Bundesliga returned this weekend, in front of empty grounds, and I got in a few jokes, “Glad to be Bach” (in the Frankfurt-Mönchengladbach game), “All Quiet on the Westphalian Front” (in the Dortmund game) and I slipped in a “Don’t München the VAR” when Bayern had a goal disallowed today. As far as silly puns this is as good as it gets in these difficult times, these strange unprecedented times, these very confusing times; they may be no “I pity the foal” but I’ll take what I can get.
So we are still at home here in California, sheltering in place. As it turns out, I’m glad I drew the living room so often when this coronavirus period started, because it looks totally different down there now, I say as I type from the desk upstairs. This sketch is from nearly a month ago – time flies when you’re having fun, huh. The Global Shared Experience is evolving, as different countries and different areas grapple with different rules and reasons. I want things to return to normal but they will not do so just because we want it to. So we carry on. It’s hard to believe it is mid-May already. I should have been preparing for the Davis World Cup next weekend. As it is I’ve been watching lots of old FIFA World Cup games, including the one pictured on my iPad above, Argentina v Cameroon from 1990. A classic game I last watched while getting my hair cut in the barber shop behind Tesco in Burnt Oak when I was 14. This is – was – my desk downstairs, my workspace working from home, and my workspace when doing anything else as well. Bit close to the kitchen snacks, mind. Well, a couple of days after drawing this scene, late on a Friday afternoon, I stood up from my seat and felt a splodge at my feet. There was water coming up through the laminate flooring, getting worse toward the wall, and it was obvious there was a huge leak coming into our house from next door. It’s a good job I was home, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to get all our furniture out of the way in time, and get someone out to do something about it, there was nobody next door. They had some sort of bad leak in there, thankfully it was stopped but it soaked our walls and floor. So, they brought in big noisy air dryers and dehumidifiers to try and dry the place out. I moved that desk, and put the bookshelves in a different spot. We stopped the water getting any further.
I sat up that night with a beer and sketched the view from the couch, while one of our cats lay on the top shelf, not really minding the noise I guess. I drew some of the noisy green machines in our dining area. I set up a new desk area upstairs. A few days later our landlords sent us a large pod to put our furniture into while the floor is torn up, and prepared for more drying of the walls – another week of noise.
Eventually they took away the air dryers, satisfied the moisture had gone, and our living room looked like this. We’re basically living and working in just one half of the house now, not ideal. People have come in and patched up the wall, they’ll be doing more this week, and hopefully giving us a new floor too. So all this has been fun during this already fun time. I’m glad I drew the living room so much now.
The dishes keep piling up don’t they, during this Shelter-In-Place. No sooner have you turned on the dishwasher, the kitchen fills up again. Even when I wash a cup for my next cup of tea, I find that I have somehow used several others, and it’s just me that drinks loads of cups of tea. Don’t get me started on forks. The trick is to make sure that you have some cutlery left out of the dishwasher so the couple of hours that it’s running you aren’t desperately seeking teaspoons. Ever tried making a cup of tea without a spoon? Pouring the sugar in from the sugar bowl like some heathen, stirring it with whatever cheese knife you can dig out of that draw where you put all the odd kitchen stuff you never use, the apple core devices and the blunt pizza cutters and the wooden skewers, you know the one, you all have one of those. Thing is about the kitchen, it’s where all the snacks are. I’ve started wearing my face-mask in the house now, to stop me from snacking so much. So, this is the kitchen. I’m sketching all the rooms at some point. I might not sketch the toilet though. However all of this home sketching has been ultimately useful – in the past week or so most of our downstairs (living room, desk area, dining room) has all been taken apart so work can be done on the floor, so now everything looks completely different, and of course we’ll probably arrange it all differently when we put it back in place. Except the kitchen, which is pretty much just the same. The coronavirus age continues…