skyscrapers and the golden gate bridge

Embarcadero and Mission SF
Perspective, detail. I like those things. I arrived early in San Francisco, and found a spot on the Embarcadero looking up Mission Street. I remember wanting to sketch this view years ago when I used to wait for the Amtrak bus here, the only that no longer stops there, but I am glad I waited a few years as there are way more buildings to sketch in the background now. I went to the Ferry Building, but the place which sells the nice bomboneri and cannoli I like so much was no longer there, sadly. So I got a travel book to read on the train at Book Passage. Reading doesn’t make me fat, though it weighs down my bag a bit. Actually the book I got that day, a collection of travel stories, I also took to Europe with me and read some while on the rails, but I left it on a bookshelf in a hotel in Brussels for someone else to enjoy. I was being weighed down, so had to get rid of some unneeded items. The stories I kept in my head, however I don’t really remember that many of them now, except for one, about a couple staying at a hotel in Tierra del Fuego or somewhere, and the electricity all went out, so they took that opportunity to engage in a little bit of what used to be called ‘how’s your father’ back in the 50s, only to be embarrassingly interrupted by another family coming into the wrong room. That’s all I remember. There was another story about a music writer travelling to Prague who got taken for a ride by a local who had an automatic gun, but let’s get back to my own less-interesting stories of travel shall we. I stood at this spot in San Francisco and drew this picture, and then went somewhere else. There, that’s the whole story.

SF Golden Gate Bridge

I ended up at Golden Gate Bridge. I haven’t been there in ages, not to sketch anyway. It was a nice day, a bit windy, much cooler than Davis. There is something about standing somewhere so iconic and impressive, you feel really lucky to have this within reach. I remember when Magneto used it to get his villainous brotherhood from the north bay over to Alcatraz, all because his friend Juggernaut said he couldn’t swim. I mean a boat would probably have been easier but the Master of Magnetism does like grand gestures. Shame he lost his powers before he could help rebuild. I do like X-Men: The Last Stand, despite the clumsy script. But “Charles always wanted to build bridges!” is a classic cheesy line, even for him. He just couldn’t think of a suitable line for a boat. “Charles would be ferry impressed!” Enough X-Men chat. Actually I am reminded of when, in the comics, Magneto (him again) used his powers to prevent an earthquake in the city, and also when he sat up on Mt Tamalpais nearby and went deep into his powers to project them into space and rescue Kitty Pryde from the big planet-bullet thing, oh comics. Anyway, the Golden Gate Bridge. I included Fort Point down below because that is where I was headed. I have never been to Fort Point before, a building that predates the bridge itself. It was built at the height of the Gold Rush, to protect the Bay and as a formidable naval defense for the young United States. I enjoyed it in there, I didn’t sketch any of the cannons but I liked wandering about and peering through the small windows in the thick brick walls, and catching glimpses of the bridge. It was a lovely day, lots of sunshine, but super windy. I sketched up on the roof there, before climbing down the steep narrow staircase that made me feel a bit nervous. I got down, and then took a nice long walk along Crissy Field. More to come…

SF GG Bridge from Fort Point

sketch the day away

Amtrak to Bay Area
But before we get to the European trip, I still have some other sketches to post, other stories to tell. Galaxy’s Edge in June, San Francisco in July, and a whole bunch of sketches at an Indigo Girls concert that I probably won’t post for some time yet. I sometimes think that the blur of life is not a story worth telling, or maybe one not worth listening to, but I suppose that the reason I like to sketch is because everything is worth taking an interest in. Sometimes I’m not sure this makes a lot of sense. I like to draw to keep my habit of drawing sharp, to push myself further in my sketching, but mostly because I just like to draw things that I see. It is ok not to draw. It is ok not to feel the need to sketch experiences, just because we have the ability to do so. But drawing illustrates the world I live in. It gives me a chance to spend time looking, really looking, observing and understanding, even with my poor eyesight and distracted mind. I look at other people’s work and I get inspired to keep going, to do more, to expand my skill set and keep sketching, but it’s hard not to compare, to feel like I need to ‘catch up’, to get frustrated at my own deficiencies and inefficiencies, and forget what actually makes my own sketching unique to me. I go through phases where I’m highly uninspired by my own work, maybe it’s the paper, maybe it’s the materials, maybe I need to mix it all up again, maybe I am drawing myself into a corner. Other times I feel like I knock it out of the park inning after inning while blowing bubble gum. A few times I am so pleased with a sketch that I hear Hermione Granger’s voice in my head saying, “you’re a great wizard Harry.” Other times I get so frustrated with a sketch that I hear Severus Snape saying “ten points from Gryffindor”. Sometimes I just get bored drawing Davis; sorry Davis. If it makes you feel better I am sure I would get bored drawing London too, even London, if I lived back there. Sometimes I get bored of drawing, for about five minutes or so. What’s it for, all this sketching? Because I like sketching, that is always the answer. It’s not for a book, it’s not for a workshop or a demo, it’s not in the hope of selling it, it’s not for anyone else. I show it here because I think it’s important to share our sketches and inspire each other, as I always learned from seeing the sketches of others online, and seeing their progressions too, seeing how they learned. That is how Urban Sketchers started, and why one of the core tenets was sharing your work for others to see. We learn from each other. That’s why I like to run sketchcrawls as non-judgemental spaces, places to come and draw and encourage each other, just enjoy the art of location drawing. We pick up all sorts of things from seeing others work. My love of slightly shaky lines for example comes from something I saw Martha McEvoy doing on a sketchcrawl in Berkeley in like, 2007, and I just liked the style. Of course in the above sketch it’s partly because the train is moving but that then seeps into the sketch, as opposed to taking something away. The experiences you feel are part of the result. So anyway where am I going with all of this? Yes, why we sketch, or why I sketch. We humans are complicated beings and for me, sketching is mostly about finding my calm place. Sometimes I beat myself up about going somewhere and worrying about sketching too much, like I need a certain number of sketches before I can feel satisfied. Like as if I need to show people afterwards that look, I got five good sketches so it was worth expending the day, whereas actually I could have just spent a bit less time sketching and more time looking through the corners of that old bookstore. It’s good to find a balance. Often when I travel with my family I find the balance by getting up early and sketching before they wake up, or sketching when they are resting, or even after they have gone to bed I will go out and night-time sketch. Anyway, there are days, like on the 6th of July this year, when I get up super early and feel the need to catch a 6:25 train out of Davis and down to San Francisco for a day of exploring and sketching. So that’s what I did. Am I bored of sketching on the Amtrak train yet? Evidently not, so there’s the sketch, with a little bit of story to go with it. It’s not story in which anything happens, there’s no great anecdote or a hilarious yarn about a ticket inspector’s wig falling off and being stolen by a chihuahua, but nevertheless it’s words on a page. I have more sketches from the day to come, and I covered a lot of ground that day, but I’ll save all that for another post.

back from the old world

I’ve just returned from a long trip to Europe, to France, Belgium, Holland and of course to England. I was in Amsterdam for the 10th Urban Sketching Symposium – it’s come a long, long way since the first symposium in Portland in 2010. I was in Belgium, visiting five cities. I was in Paris, and then later in Disneyland Paris, which I enjoyed a lot more than I expected. I was back home in London, which had its highs and lows, but we got to see a game at the new Spurs stadium. I filled a sketchbook, and started drawing with some new materials (Zebra brush pens, Nero pencils). It was hot, very hot. I had a lot of different foods, a lot of different beers, and lots of fresh juice from Holland. I stayed in eight beds (including six different hotels), took eleven trains, four planes (including one first class across the Atlantic – more on that later!). I have a lot of sketches to scan. This will take a long time, so the stories will have to wait before I post them here, but I hope you tune back in to catch up with me on my summer travel. It was a journey alright, in a lot of ways, and I definitely learned a lot. If you travel and do not learn, you may as well stay on the couch. But now I’m back in Davis, preparing to get back to work, proper work, I have a couple of drawings I need to draw, a workshop proposal I need to write, soccer coaching plans I need to prepare, maps to draw, sketchcrawls to plan, and explore some other new art-based ideas I had while I was gone. The rest of 2019 is going to fly by.


windows of colour

paintbox july 2019
Ahead of the Amsterdam Urban Sketching Symposium, I decided I needed to deal with my paintbox. I rearranged the colours, took some out, added some in, refreshed them all, and this is my paletter this summer. These are all Winsor and Newton watercolour paints, mostly Cotman but with one or two Artist’s ones in there too. I like using this, the deluxe sketchers box, it fits into my hand or attached to the other page of the sketchbook with a rubber band pretty well. I needed to make a guide to the colours in case I forget, so that’s what this is. This could be a new advent calendar, 24 colours, actually that is not a bad idea. I have some new brushes I just bought as well, bigger than I usually use, so that I can paint on bigger paper for some of the workshops I am taking. I got some 11×14 Fabriano paper, which is not I must say really urban sketching material, being really big an not able to fit into a small bag. However I’m keen try something new, and the big pad of paper just about fits into my gym bag (but it only barely fits into my new suitcase, which is small). This paint set however is very small and compact, and fits a lot of stuff in there, the way I like it.

indian motorcycle at fisherman’s wharf

SF Ghirardelli motorbike

I was in San Francisco a couple of times recently, one with the family (to watch Hamilton) and one by myself (to sketch loads of stuff). On the first one, we stayed over in Fisherman’s Wharf (not always my favourite part of town, but there is lots to see). I only managed one sketch, as I spent a lot of my time playing X-Men vs Street Fighter at the Musee Mecanique. I love that place. Also, it was cold! We were escaping the heat of Davis, but the city was pretty chilly. I drew this one sketch of a very elaborate looking motorcycle parked near Ghirardelli Square. “Indian Motorcycles” is the manafacturer. I was going to colour ir in, but it was cold and I was getting tired standing there. I try to be more conscious of my body saying “time to rest Pete!” these days. Yet I am still keeping up being more active, with the gym and exercising thing. We did go to Ghirardelli’s that evening, and I had this enormous chocolatey sundae thing called a ‘treasure island’ which amazingly did not derail my diet. See, you can diet and still eat massive chocolate indulgences every now and then. This was after I had pizza and beer for dinner. The pizza-beer-chocolate sundae and arcade-games diet – hey, it’s working. Now, the only other sketch I did that weekend was while waiting for ages at SFO for my Global Entry interview. Global Entry is like a fast-pass when I come back into the country. However I had to wait quite a while for my turn, so we missed out on going to Alcatraz. At least Hamilton was really good, very entertaining.

SFO waiting room

“P’atwin means people”

native american contemplative garden
This is a nice spot in the UC Davis Arboretum, it is the Native American Contemplative Garden. This garden honors the Patwin people. Davis and the surrounding areas are part of the original Patwin land. The garden was designed by Bill Wright, a Patwin Elder, along with his family and students in the UC Davis Native American Studies department, among others. At the end of the winding stonework and path is a small column of rock inscribed with the names of Patwin people who lived on this land and were removed the missions between 1817 and 1836. Around the garden are stones with some Patwin words inscribed on them, such as “Ye’te we” (“Dream”) and “Mi muho” (“You sing”). “P’atwin means people”, as it says on one of the stones. I had never sketched here before, so I came along to sit in the shade and try to imagine California’s past, before the Europeans came along.


Davis Grad 063019
A couple of weekends ago, at the end of the month of June, the Davis Graduate – known popularly as ‘The Grad’ – closed its doors for the last time. The Grad had been a Davis staple for decades. I mean, actual decades – it opened in 1972, meaning it is older than me. It’s a popular night-out dancing spot, and lots of people came here to watch sports in the daytime on one of the 467 TV screens (ok not that many but as you can see above, they have them all over the place, big and small). I remember coming here years ago early on a Saturday morning, before we had the Premier League in our cable package, and watching Spurs lose against Sunderland back in the bad old days when that would happen a lot, and you would get a little portable speaker to put on your table and just look toward whichever screen had your game on, while others watched Hockey, Golf, Curling or something even more obscure like West Ham. I have to be honest, I never really liked coming to the Grad, partly because every time I’d come to watch Spurs we would lose to some terrible team, but also because I could never feel that comfortable with those big wooden tables and benches and the screens all around, the food orders being called out over the microphone, the long line for the bar, and the lack of windows – when you walk back outside into the hot Davis brightness it’s a jarring feeling. On the few occasions we came here to watch World Cup or Euro matches, there was usually a big and noisy crowd, and the space always just felt awkward. So I never really came here that much, and I never came in the evenings when they would have their dance nights, because if I felt awkward when there was just sports and drink, adding dancing into the mix was never going to make it more appealing to me. However, I knew how much people loved the place, and when I first came to Davis people would always tell me I should go to the Grad, even people at other bars would say the same. I know someone who DJed there who has many fond memories, and I dare say that students over the years have as many great memories of the Grad as my old QMW cohort has of the Drapers Arms on the Queen Mary campus in Mile End (who am I kidding, we don’t remember anything…). I did sketch here a couple of times over the years, the last time being on a Sunday afternoon in 2013, when I draw a 1.3 page spread of the bar, while Marseille played Monaco on a screen next to Judge Judy. So on the very last Saturday of the Grad I came back, and sketched the scene above. My feelings about the Grad had not changed much, I still felt a bit awkward and closed-in, I had only the one drink because the line at the bar seemed really long (I didn’t mind that, I’m still on a diet), but there were lots of people there of all ages enjoying themselves and conversing. Lots of baseball caps. People playing pool away to my right, people eating burgers and fries, people drinking cold beer. I did sketch the outside one lunchtime a couple of weeks before, after I had heard that the Grad would be closing down. I stood in the shade of a tree on a very hot day, and this place was awkward to sketch even from the outside. Although I never went there very often, I am sad that the Grad is closing. This whole University Mall area will be redeveloped, a little bit of the old character of Davis will be lost, another drinking spot confined to the history books.

Here’s a good article in the UC Davis magazine with some old photos and memories from former students:
Davis Grad 061819