through the rear window

rear window view march 21 2020
The days indoors continue. So I am looking out the window. I did get out for a run yesterday, staying away from people, and this evening (Sunday) I managed to go out for a walk, this time avoiding the green belt path I know lots of people take, to social distance as much as possible. I ended up walking down some streets I’ve never explored, and was amazed at some of the designs of the houses. I’d love to draw those. Right now is not a good time to be on the streets sketching. So, looking out of the window it is. Amazingly I have never drawn this view from the upstairs back window before. I had always thought of putting a desk in that room and using it as an office, but we never got round to it, and now it’s just basically the Room of Requirement. It’s where guests sleep when they visit, and for all I know there might still be some in there somewhere, finding their way through all my travel books. The cats love it in there, full of places to hide, though it’s not much bigger than a broom cupboard. But ti does have a pleasant view, so my project now during this period of indoorsiness is to Do Something About It. Isn’t that all our project? And yet, with this whole thing going on, even getting out of bed is a struggle. I did find some time a couple of days ago to Do Something In The Yard though. My yard is beyond help, but since we got someone to get rid of the tree, it feels a bit more manageable. So I cleared a little space and built a soccer rebounder (not pictured in the sketch below as it’s a bit too far to the left). I had ordered it ages ago, but it turned out to be bigger than I thought. I finally built it a couple of days ago for my son to use in the yard, but it really does rebound a lot, so will take a bit of control. Sleeping in the foreground is one of our cats, Whiskers. They are indoors cats, but I let them run around and explore the yard. They love all the nooks and crannies and webs and branches, and Whiskers likes to get into weird-cat-noise contests with a neighbour’s cat, and guard the bottom of the fence while our other cat Sawyer just rolls his eyes.
back yard + cat

sheltering in place, the first few days

stairs
I really hate 2020, a lot. Like, it can honestly just bugger off. Well, this week Davis announced it will Shelter In Place, then this was followed a day later by an Order to Shelter In Place by Yolo County (yes our county is called Yolo), and this was then followed by the whole of California. So I started this week in the office, ready to pack up any moment, and was working from home by the middle of the week. Lots of meetings by Zoom. Because my wife is also working from home, it’s different from other times when I have worked from home like when I’ve been sick or looking after my son when he’s sick, because I can’t just have Revenge of the Sith on in the background or play David Bowie. It’s all an adjustment. I’ve not quite decided to turn on the camera in the Zoom meetings yet, until I can decide what my suitable background will be. I need to get a selection of clever sounding books and put them on a shelf behind me, either side of my head, so people will be like, wow, maybe he is clever. I have a lot of language books, and the Riverside Chaucer, or maybe I should put my own books – speaking of which, my most recent book was published in CHINESE this week! They sent me a copy. Or perhaps I’ll just put up one of my vintage World Cup posters, that would look more like me. Anyway, now that the whole world of urban sketchers it seems are sketching their houses, I thought it about time I did the same, and drew the living room last weekend. This week I drew a few more. Above, the stairs, drawn late at night while watching videos on YouTube about Star Wars (wow, there’s a lot of utter crap out there). The hanging birds and letters on the wall are from a Happy Birthday message I made for my wife, in Hawaiian. She really likes Hawaii. We would not mind being stuck there right now. There’s my son’s bike, he’s new to riding it, but he loves it, it’s just now with social distancing it’s harder to meet up with friends. And of course, despite living in Davis, the bike capital of America, I still can’t really draw a bike. I don’t care; there’s a pandemic on.
bedroom
Working from home means I can go to different rooms in the house and work. While I do have a nice computer at a desk downstairs, I can also take the laptop upstairs and do exactly the same thing. As it slowed down one afternoon I sat in the bedroom, answering emails and approving this and that, listened to podcasts, and then decided I needed to draw the bedroom. I don;t think I ever have before, the lair of Lego and piles of things, framed pictures and clothes, musical instruments and boxes of records, and all the shoulder bags I no longer use but don’t need to get rid of yet (I just brought one out of retirement that I got in 2007, it fits my new iPad into it so it’s back on the team). That large framed drawing in the middle, that is actually a print of an extreme panoramic drawing from Liège that Gérard Michel gave me way back in 2011. I keep meaning to bring that one into work, it’s too big for that piece of wall so it rests on top of other frames for now. I also have one of a 360 degree drawing from the Montagne de Bueren staircase that he gave me, now I have visited that very place maybe that one should go up here too, I just need to frame it.
kitchen

This is the kitchen, drawn from the dinner table, late at night while (again) listening to podcasts. One thing about working from home more now is that I snack more, which I had in the past year cut out completely (I lost 30 pounds in the last year, though I’ve put a couple back on now). I miss my walking to work, going to the gym after work, and I need to be a bit more dedicated to not snacking at home, but there’s a pandemic on, and the stress of that makes me feel more hungry I think. In this Shelter in Place order though, we are allowed to go out running, as I did this morning, I went on a 2 mile run (I actually was supposed to do a 5k this morning, but the event was cancelled). Most of north Davis seemed to be out too, walking dogs, walking themselves, running, biking, throwing balls to each other, social-distancing I suppose, not really sheltering in place. In Spain they have been using drones to tell people to go home from the park! So, I will run while I can, and I never liked going near people anyway, but I’m not gonna lie, I’d really like to go and sketch at the pub. I’m going to miss that for a while.

at home in the time of pandemic

living room USkAtHome
Interrupting the travel sketches for a bit to catch up with events back home in 2020. 2020 for me by the way started on the beach, but 2020 has been what historians will probably call a complete f*ck*ng sh*tf*ck. This period of world history in particular will one day be studied as an elective. You all know what I’m talking about, the COVID-19 pandemic, and every day it is developing, and it’s overwhelming, and scary, and surprising, and pretty shite overall. I’m not going to go on about it here. A lot of people around the world are spending a lot more time at home than usual, and so Urban Sketchers last weekend recommended that we all draw our homes rather than go out and mingle – you can find their sketches in the usual social media places with the tag #USkAtHome – so here is my own entry. I spent most of Saturday at home, our AYSO away game in the morning had been cancelled, the preceding week having been one of the longest weeks I can remember. This week is moving just as fast, we got the ‘shelter-in-place’ call today in Davis, though we don’t yet have the drones following us home like in Madrid. Saturday afternoon I finally opened the bottle of Charles Quint that I had brought back from Belgium last summer, and sat in the living room watching one of my favourite zom-rom-com, Shaun of the Dead. Seemed like the right call. Sketched in uni-ball signo pen and tombow brush marker. These are strange times indeed.

Arteries and Arches: Amsterdam, The Map

Amsterdam Map
Here is a map showing where I did my Amsterdam sketches. It links to Flickr where you can see a much bigger version. It’s hard to see otherwise. I drew the map on my iPad this time. It was therapeutic, drawing all those streets and canals. Well tracing them really. I ‘forgot’ all the little lanes in the very middle, but I didn’t sketch in there anyway. I have mixed feelings about Amsterdam. Seeing the map now I just really want to go back, not be doing a symposium, just eat cheese and poffertjes and maybe not go mad in a heatwave. Explore the bits I didn’t sketch in, like De Pijp, the Museum Quarter, and Jordaan, even the trendy northern districts. But then I want to go everywhere all the time, even more so in this sudden new dark time of coronavirus pandemic and no travelling. I spend my evenings watching travel videos on Youtube like we may never have travel again. When all this is over I feel like I’m going to want to see everything on earth while we can. In the meantime I will make more maps, and if I can’t go there, I’ll sketch from Google Street View if I have to. Anyway, I’ll post some more recent sketches for a bit before returning to the story of last summer (after Amsterdam, we went back to Belgium, then Disneyland Paris, then London).

Amsterdam Afterwards

Amsterdam Herengracht bridge Sunday sm
The Symposium finished, people went there separate ways, some together, some sticking about in Amsterdam, and I decided to have a lie in and a late start for a day of wandering and sketching some of the parts of the city I hadn’t explored much yet. My family were arriving in town later that day so I had a lot of time for some more sketching before the full-on tourist part of the trip started. The temperatures had dropped, the skies started to cloud up a little, it was still busy out but I finally had a bit of headspace. I walked over to Herengracht and sat down by the canal to draw this bridge. I saw a few other sketchers here and there, nobody I knew, but we know we’re all in the sketching family so there’s usually a nod of respect.
Amsterdam Leliegracht and Keizersgracht sm
I really like this particular junction at the corner of Leliegracht and Keizersgracht. Amsterdam has a lot of charm. I think I didn’t love Amsterdam, overall, it felt a little stressful with the tight sidewalks and cyclists, the tourists and the partygoers, and the dirt, far too many cigarette butts on the ground, but there is no denying Amsterdam is still beautiful, and so unlike many other cities. The first time I came to Amsterdam in the summer of 1998 I had the same impression, though I had also spent all night on a train from Berlin. There is so much to search though, no shortage of places to explore. I mooched around bookshops, tried samples in cheese shops, got lost in alleys and small squares, or as lost as my map-enable apple watch would let me. This side of the city west of Damrak is full of postcard views and long canal vistas. I knew I’d come back so I wandered back toward the Centraal Station area (perhaps my least favourite station area), had a look around the football-themed store Copa (perhaps my most favourite store in Amsterdam), buying two pairs of socks, one which features Diego Maradona doing the ‘Hand of God’ in 1986, and Zidane headbutting Materazzi in the 2006 world cup final, and went to meet up with my family. The next couple of days here would be doing more of the tourist stuff – a boat trip around the canals, Anne Frank’s house, the Van Gogh Museum, and a change of hotel.
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Here are a couple of sketches I did near the Centraal station. Teh lamp-post thing below looks like some kind of city warning against public drunkenness.
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Amsterdam Spui sm

I didn’t sketch as much once the family arrived, just a few here and there, I think I had earned the break. Above is a quick one I drew at Spui while eating Flemish Frites (see below, they were delicious). I can’t reiterate how much I love the frites over here, they do taste delicious.

I did try to do a quick sketch of the tall houses at Damrak one evening, just to mess about with some of the new materials we were given at the symposium.Not my usueal sketching but fun to mess about.
Amsterdam Buildings Damrak sm
Amsterdam Buildings in Blue sm
Below, I drank a beer called “Bastaard” by Hertog Jan while we had an Indonesian meal at Kantjil by Spui. Sketching with pencil can get messy as you can see by the filthy page.
Amsterdam Kantjil beer
And here is one of the little tiny toy cars they have here in Amsterdam to get around the super narrow streets. I never did sketch one; I asked Lapin who loves to sketch cars if he was going to add one to his collection, but even he said no, that’s no car. Look at it, it’s like something from Richard Scarry. I expected another one to come along looking like a big carved out apple , and a pencil and a banana.

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I did change hotels when my family arrived, moving from the Grand Amrâth to the Doubletree, which my wife had booked (she got a really good deal). It was a nice hotel for sure, very modern, with amazing views over the city, but zero of the character of the Grand Amrâth. But these views! I had to sketch it. I did go up to the rooftop lounge to look over the city, but I did not want to sketch up there, it wasn’t really my thing to hang out there. The Doubletree hotel is right across the canal from the Grand Amrâth so we could see the whole building in all its glory from across the water, and I would get up for a run past it, and some of that lovely fresh juice from a nearby supermarket. I miss all the nice juices and foods from Holland. I would like to come back and explore more of the Netherlands. The Dutch people I met at the symposium came from all over and there are so many places I know not that much about. Aaargh, the world is so big, there is so much I want to see before I’m done. I want to see it all, and sketch it all.
Amsterdam View from Doubletree sm
But I was done with Amsterdam, we all were. Time to move on, time to go back to Belgium and eat some more frites and waffles. But the heatwave wasn’t done with us yet. We went to get our Thalys but of course, there were cancellations and delays, hung over from the travel chaos a week before. We waited and waited, a few hours with hundreds of others, until in the end a Thalys came and everyone was lucky to get on. But we had first class reservations (a good call as it turns out, for very little more cost) and so I was given a couple of free Belgian beers (a couple of cans of Leffe Blonde) in our carriage for the journey. It was all a bit stressful at the time, but I’m usually travel lucky, it all works out in the end. When life gives you lemons, draw in your sketchbook and be patient, and life will eventually give you Leffe. Onwards to Brussels!
Amsterdam Waiting for Thalys sm

“Je bent in de aep gelogeerd”

Amsterdam In'tAepjen sm.jpg
If I was continuing the silly a-themed alliterative titles I would call this post “Apes and Ale in Amsterdam” but the phrase I am using, “je bent in de aep gelogeerd”, is more than appropriate. Ape-proriate if you will. This is ‘In’t Aepjen‘, a celebrated historic brown cafe in the heart of Amsterdam, near the red light district. It was on that Friday of the Symposium when I was totally wiped out by the heat, I had gone back to the hotel for a rest in the evening, to spend some time in air-conditioned comfort. But I got hungry, so I went out to find some food. It was still stupendously hot. I wanted to eat some Indonesian food, but I was passing an Indian restaurant near my hotel that just looked really nice, and I can never resist a good Indian. It was absolutely delicious. I sat in there for a while writing my diary, sweat dripping from my brow. There was a couple on the table next to me, who asked if the food was too hot for me, I said no it’s just the weather! They were visiting from India, and they said the food was like back home, it really was very good. Happy to have found a delicious meal, I went for a wander about Amsterdam. It was already after 10pm by this point, so I didn’t want to go down to Amstelhoeck with the other sketchers, so I went for a walk. I had wanted to find a proper old ‘brown cafe’, and maybe get one last sketch in. I ended up coming across ‘In’t Aepjen’, which was small and full to the brim with character. Brown cafes are old Dutch pubs, called brown due to their dark and cozy interiors, usually wooden and often stained with decades of smoke. No smoke any more, thankfully, but the brown was very much in this cafe. It was decorated with lots of monkey themed items, and barrels and ships and other knick-knacks. I decided to continue drawing with a brown Pitt brush pen, and knocked out the panorama above, which took me just one beer to draw. The beer in question was the ‘Aepjen Bier’, red and tasty. Click on the image to see it in more detail. I chatted with the barman, who told me the story of the bar, its name, and that Dutch phrase.
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The brown cafe was opened in 1519 on Zeedijk, so it was celebrating its 500th year, and the name means “in the monkeys”. It was a place that would give lodging to sailors, many of whom would have been returning from distant exotic lands, like Indonesia, this being the Dutch Golden Age of Exploration, bringing back many things, including monkeys. To pay for their lodgings they would sometimes give the monkeys to the owner of the cafe, who would then sell them to a local whose animal gardens would be what became the Amsterdam zoo, but in the meantime there would be monkeys all over the shop, and it wasn’t a great place to sleep when you’ve got monkeys jumping about all over you, with their fleas and lice and banana skins and PG Tips and so on. In fact people would get sick from staying there, bringing rise to a common phrase in Dutch, “je bent in de aep gelogeerd”, which meneertje barman told me translates as “you are fucked up by the monkey”. I suspect ‘gelogeerd’ is probably closer to ‘lodged’ but the barkeep’s colourful local translation is better. Its written on all their stuff, and I’m assured this phrase is well known in Dutch, and that it does actually originate from this cafe. To be “fucked up by the monkey” is to be having bad luck or be in trouble. I went home having learned a new Dutch phrase, repeating it to myself as I walked through the narrow streets back to my hotel in the Scheepvaarthuis.
Amsterdam In'tAepjen 2 sm

I really wanted to come back to In’t Aepjen and sketch another time, so a few days later when I was less heat-exhausted I returned for a couple of beers and to draw in more regular pen. I spoke again with the barman, and he told his story (reluctantly this time) to some female American visitors who wanted to know about it. I also chatted to a guy from Glasgow who was visiting on business (I think he was in the toilet paper business, but I couldn’t think of any good jokes, apart from “how do you make a bog roll? Push it down a hill” but I didn’t say that because one, it’s rubbish, two they might not call it bog roll in Scotland, that might be a London thing, and three he might have actually explained to me how you do make bog roll, what with him being in the bog roll industry). So I just told him the story about “je bent in de aep gelogeerd.” It’s a conversation piece alright. I might start making up similar stories in London pubs. “Oh yes, the Olde Cheddar Cheese, that gave rise to the popular phrase “to get the cheese stuck on your elbow”, which basically means to be confused about what time it is,” or if I’m in the Good Mixer, “ah well this is where the very common phrase “you have been good-mixed up” which is when you can’t find your wallet but a stranger buys you a beer and a round for the whole bar”, or actually I’m going to not think of any more now. I drew as much as I could, adding a little bit of colour, but my eyesight wasn’t great and I wanted to sleep so I added the rest of the colour later on. These are a couple of my favourite of my many bar-sketches, and if you’re in Amsterdam you should look for this place, there is lots to see and sketch, and the atmosphere is good. Just don’t get fucked up by the monkey.

Alleviating All Anxiety of Amsterdam

Amsterdam Dancing Houses sm
Moving on to the next day and the final day of the Symposium, I woke up Saturday morning definitely feeling the heat exhaustion. I decided to skip my final workshop (I did go and let them know so they wouldn’t be waiting for me) and find a spot to sketch peacefully. I hadn’t yet drawn the dancing houses along the banks of the Amstel from Groenburgwal, so I found a nice bench and drew away. I met another sketcher doing the same. It was quiet, the weekend heat had not yet started cranking up, and my stress-headache was clearing up immediately. I didn’t need to be in a class, stopping and starting and rushing, being “on”, I needed to be in “breathe-in, breathe-out, sketch” mode. It worked. I had met Lapin earlier the morning, and I was going to go and sketch with them (as it turns out he and Gerard and co went to sketch my hotel), but I decided to draw the Dancing Houses. They are impressive. Many houses seem to ‘dance’ in Amsterdam, leaning this way or that – my perspective tip of following the windows to find the vanishing point on the horizon doesn’t work as well here, where the windows follow lines more suited to more Marty Feldman’s binoculars (Young Frankenstein reference). Crooked buildings are fun to draw. By the way I did overhear one sketch instructor scoff at counting the windows on houses in Amsterdam, but counting the windows really helped the composition of each element, and also helps get the scale right. Besides, in Amsterdam they are usually three windows across as a rule. The patchwork nature of the architecture breaks up the monotony you find in many cities, it’s just so fun to draw. Looking back I probably could have had the energy to do some more group sketching and plough on, be a bit more sociable and awake, but mental health came first and I look at this sketch and immediately I feel more relaxed. Breathe in, breathe out, sketch.
Amsterdam Montelbaanstoren sm

I wandered about a bit more, bumping into the occasional sketching friend, I met Nina Johansson (long term urban sketch idol of mine since the beginning) teaching a class nearby here, the tall Montelbaanstoren. It was pretty peaceful over here too, a couple of blocks from my hotel, in fact the workshop I had skipped was being taught close by, but I decided not to join late. I sat by the canal and drew the tower as best I could, with a bike in the foreground. I was going to add full colour, but stopped at the blues, it just felt right for the relaxed mood.

After doing a few sketches of the hotel (I posted those already), I wandered over to Niewmaarkt to enjoy one of my favourite discoveries in Amsterdam – poffertjes. Little mini pancakes, from a friendly guy called Tony Benson. I spoke with Tony and a woman who was with him, we talked about Belgian footballers (maybe because I was wearing my Belgian shirt again), she was really inot Eden Hazard and asked who my favourite Belgian player was (Super Jan Vertonghen obviously!). The poffertjes were small but delicious. I could eat some of those now.

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In the afternoon, there would be another sketchwalk, over near the NEMO center, culminating in a huge group photo (the ones I usually miss at every symposium), and then the final reception over at the Muziekgebouw. I was going to meet up with everyone there, but at the hotel I realized I really needed more rest, not more rushing around in the heat. Here’s how I rested:

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I also rested by spending an hour or so in the amazing blue-tiled pool in the hotel’s basement, and relaxing in the hot-tub. Best decision I ever made. Matt Brehm was right, you don’t have to draw.
The sketchwalk was nice, and although I turned up too late for any sketching, I did meet up with a lot people I had not seen during the symposium. Many of the local groups got together for their local group photos – I am one of the Californians, but I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo with them. I did at least make the final group photo, but there are so many people in the picture that I obviously can’t be spotted, even with my bright red Belgium 1984 shirt. Actually though, in this photo of the whole group (by Belgian friend and photographer Marc Van Liefferinge) I can be spotted near the middle of the back. Proof I made it there.

You know what, there are loads of sketches you can find from other symposium attendees, if you go to Flickr and search through the tag “amsterdam symposium“. Of course most people now just bounce them out on Instagram and so on too. There are a LOT of Amsterdam sketches to be found. I went over to the final reception (a very very long walk, I went with Mauro and Fabien, though Fabien stopped on the way for a beer and to wait for Gerard, they were not coming to the reception but actually driving back to Liège that night). At the reception I caught up with all the people I had not spoken to as much so far, such as Gabi, and Liz (we snuck up on Paul Wang and got our annual symposium pic of the three of us, guerilla-style), Elizabeth, James, and of course Rita, and did a little people sketching, but mostly chatting. I also got to meet Danny Gregory for the first time, he was there with all the Sketchbook Skool lot, that’s a big thing now. I had been a chapter in one of his books years ago, the one with my drawing of Vipins ont he cover, and we’d tried to arrange a video interview to go on his website but it was always dinnertime in my house and we never did it, so it was nice to finally meet. (Though I suspect I he didn’t remember who I was). I also met a number of people who I’ve since started following on Instagram, it’s what these whole events are about really. And then in the end, it was the gathering off for dinner, I went off with a big group of the usual sketchers, and we had a great evening. The best bit though was finishing off with some late night or early morning) car sketching. A bunch of us led by Lapin sat in a narrow street by a canal and drew a couple of classic Citroens. This is apparently a tradition at the Clermont Ferrand festival. My habit of sketching fire hydrants at 3am when I travel does not seem so odd now; these are my people. One of though people though, Hugo Costa, nearly fell in the canal when his stool broke – lucky escape! Here’s what I drew, and a photo of some of us sketching in the darkness of Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Night Car Sketching sm

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Now this little fire hydrant I actually drew at night on the first night in Amsterdam, but I’ve saved until now because why not. As for the blog post title, “Alleviating All Anxiety of Amsterdam”, I mean it says it all but seriously I might come back and change all these titles some day.
Amsterdam Hydrant sm

And that was it for another Symposium. I have more Amsterdam sketches to share here, plus a bit more Belgium, a bit of Disneyland Paris, a few from London, and then loads more of Davis, then some from Santa Monica, and Portland again, and Hawaii. But after this long day of relaxful sketching Citroens by lamplight, I had a well-earned lie-in on Sunday. After all the heat, there was a little rain coming, but so were my family.