walk on by

Lego AT-AT

I still have a lot of Star Wars Lego sketches to show you, but here is one of my favourites so far, of the beloved Lego AT-AT. My son used to call these the “Garbage Trucks” when he was smaller, which makes sense given the sounds they make. It’s a remarkably solid construction (except the head, that tends to fall apart more easily than I’d like, I may have to reinforce it a bit) and filled with snowtroopers, who are probably my favourite stormtroopers. I’ve actually framed this and put it on the wall, in case it’s not clear I like Star Wars and Lego. Drawing objects like this are a good lesson in perspective. Drawn on Stillman and Birn ‘Alpha’ paper with brown-black uni-ball signo um-151 pen and coloured with watercolour paint.

phoenix house

phoenix house f street davis
Here is a building from downtown Davis called Phoenix House. It’s called that because of the Irish word for ‘water’, Uisce (see also whisky), or clear water to be precise, ‘fionn uisce’, anglicized as ‘phoenix’. Actually, no it doesn’t. I’m thinking of Phoenix Park in Dublin. There is a Phoenix Park in Sacramento as well but that isn’t a real park let alone have anything to do with phoenixes or water, clear or otherwise. Ok it might be a real park, I don’t know. Quit with all the sidetracking, this isn’t a Twitter comments thread. Phoenix House in Davis is named after the Order of the Phoenix. No, it’s not that either. Perhaps, and this is the most likely and believable story (with zero evidence, but when does that matter any more eh), it was a house that burned down and was rebuilt, hence Phoenix reborn from the ashes. A bit like La Fenice, the grand opera house in Venice. You know I could look this up and do some actual research, but alternative facts are the order of the day. Reality has become so quantum, we will have to start naming the different Earths soon, like in the Marvel Universe. Perhaps this was named for the famous but under-reported Phoenix Green Massacre. Or it was named after the classical Mesopotamian King Phoen the 9th. Or maybe seven guys whose initials spelled out PHOENIX, Paul, Horace, Oswald, Elliot, Norman, Isaac and Xavier, and they ran an independent pony express (or ‘Pon-ex’ as they sometimes called it) firm from that very spot. You don’t know. I could make it all up. I could have invented the whole building. That car might have been red, those windows might have been triangular. Sad! Anyway none of that is the case, and this is Phoenix House on F Street (or “Ph Street” as I call it), and one day I promise I will learn about its history, but whether I believe it or not is something I cannot tell.

counting acts and clutching thoughts…

putah creek uc davis

It’s February, the birthday month. I don’t really do a lot to celebrate, I don’t have parties or anything, don’t really have enough of a social circle for the sort of nights out I used to have when I was younger, now it’s more a quiet meal with the family, a pint of beer and some cheesecake. Now this sketch, done on the first day of the month at the UCD Arboretum about a minute from my office, was not meant to be metaphorical of  birthdays but in that great way you can retrospectively attach meaning to anything, this is a bridge, signifying crossing from one time to another. Weak I know. On the far side though is the Robert Mondavi Institute of Food and Wine Sciences, which includes the Beer lab, so I supposed that signifies celebratory tipples in some way. There is a STOP sign, which must mean I need to stop and assess myself, and there is a yellow sign for a roundabout, which of course as we all know signifies the Circle of Life, obviously, that one’s obvious. The path, well part of it falls into shadow which of course means the path is not always clear, and then of course there is the Creek, and that one is easy, it signifies my creaking body as I get older each day. I had no idea there was so much semiotic depth to my sketches! I wonder what all the fire hydrants mean? Actually don’t answer that.

the house of glass

UCD Greenhouse
This greenhouse behind Robbins Hall at UC Davis is one I have wanted to draw for ages. I walk past it some days when coming from the bus stop, and in the mornings it’s got that great glow from the inside. The ground was very wet from all the rain we had recently. As a top agricultural university, UC Davis has a thriving Plant Sciences department, within the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. In fact UC Davis is ranked #1 in the world in Plant and Animal Sciences. We really know our stuff. We’re also one of the leading universities studying the effects and causes of climate change (see http://climatechange.ucdavis.edu/), which given the current, ahem, climate, is something to be very proud of. Science, scientific expertise and continued scientific research are of the utmost importance, and worth standing up for.

Workshop, June 3: “Perspectives of San Francisco”


Exciting Announcement! I’m going to be teaching a workshop in San Francisco on Saturday June 3rd called “Perspectives of San Francisco“. It is part of the Urban Sketchers “10×10” series of workshops, being held to commemorate ten years of Urban Sketchers. Yes, Urban Sketchers has been around for ten years. Well, the Flickr group, started in 2007 (I remember well, it was called “Urban Sketches” (no ‘r’), and I joined another group at the same time called “Rural Sketches” wonder what happened to them) (hey for all I know they are still around, I’m just in my Urban bubble obviously). So, let’s explain what this is all about. Cities around the world, from Seattle to Sydney, from Johannesburg to Jakarta, from Ramallah to Rome, will be holding ten workshops each over the course of the year. Workshops are limited and you have to pay for them, but will be taught by Urban Sketchers members on a variety of different subjects. Here you can find the in-progress list: http://www.urbansketchers.org/p/10-years-x-10-classes.html.

In San Francisco, the workshops kick off on March 11 (with a launch party at Arch Art & Drafting Supply on February 11)  and continue through June 10. The instructors teaching workshops are Srivani Narra Ward, Laurie Wigham, Nina Khashchina, Richard Sheppard, Uma Kelkar, Rhoda Draws, Oliver Hoeller, Suma CM, Susan Cornelis and myself. The full list of workshops can be found at: http://www.urbansketchers.org/2017/01/10-years-x-10-classes-in-san-francisco.html. In fact there is a pdf with more details including cost ($45 per workshop) to be found here.


So, my own workshop will be called “Perspectives of San Francisco”, starting at 1:00pm in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. As you can probably tell, the focus of this workshop is ‘perspective’, but specifically perspective in a busy city built on hills with steep streets and steep history.  The level will be intermediate, but I will make the approach to perspective as digestible as possible. Spaces are limited to fifteen participants, and you’ll need to bring drawing materials and sketchbooks (preferably panoramic – big enough to fit long perspective sketches on!). North Beach is my favourite part of the city and a great place to practice urban perspective sketching so I do hope you can sign up!


You can register by contacting Suhita Shirodkar, the lead instructor of the San Francisco Bay Area 10×10 program by emailing suhita@gmail.com. Or why not check the Urban Sketchers website for a workshop taking place in a city near you!



and now the year of the fire rooster

UCD LunarNewYear 2017
The Year of the Rooster has arrived, and we had a celebration of the new lunar year in our department at UC Davis. We have a lot of students from China, as well as from Korea, and so we have a big party to mark the festive occasion. This year we had a fun karaoke game – the songs were in Chinese, but our non-Chinese students were invited to sing them, in Chinese (written in pinyin on the screen). They were then given marks out of ten by judges like in the Olympics. It was great fun. I sketched the whole room as people ate and chatted. Now apparently it’s the Fire Rooster this year (the last Fire Rooster was in 1957). So, to all my friends from China and other countries that celebrate lunar new year, I wish you a Happy Year of the Rooster. Or is it the Cockerel (as we’d say in Britain)?

froggies of an evening


More two-page-spread bar-sketching. I popped into Froggies in downtown Davis one evening, had a couple of beers, and behind me people sang karaoke. I didn’t. I might have if they had the Frog Song by Paul McCartney and the Frog Chorus, “We All Stand Together”. I saw Macca in Sacramento recently but he didn’t sing that one. I was a big fan of Rupert the Bear when I was a kid. I planned to make this full colour, watercolour-shaded, surround-sound (well maybe not surround-sound, not with the karaoke and all), but I was tired so left it at this. Another in the many illustrations of Davis.