ten years later

6th and D Davis Oct 2018
On a corner of Old North Davis is a house I drew at the end of a crisp sunny October day in 2008. I remember I left work early that day, and cycled up beyond 5th Street, still then a fairly unknown country for a South Davis-dweller such as me, to the Old North neighbourhood, looking to capture some of its old America charm with the autumnal leaves. That sketch is below. I then posted that sketch on the brand new website called ‘Urban Sketchers’, on day 1 of the blog, for which I was to be the ‘Davis’ correspondent. The header of Urban Sketchers upon its launch featured one of my sketchbooks with sketches of San Francisco. In those days Urban Sketchers, the brainchild of Seattle-based sketcher Gabi Campanario, online sketching friend back when our online sketching community still seemed pretty small, had a few correspondents from around the world but grew fast, issuing a Manifesto and encouraging communities of sketchers to get together and draw their world, or rather ‘see the world, one drawing at a time’. It launched on November 1st, 2008; a decade later Urban Sketchers (USk) is absolutely huge, with countless regional ‘chapters’ globally, many many workshops and gatherings, and the annual International Urban Sketching Symposium, which started in Portland in 2010 (with around 80 participants) and was most recently in Porto in 2018 (with around 800 participants!). So, to commemorate my first post on that first day, I went back to that corner of Old North Davis, a much more familiar district to me now, being on my way home, and sketched that same old house, above. The tree in front has gone, though another younger tree has sprouted up just behind the fence. Obviously in 2008 the leaves turned orange a little earlier than this year. My son was just a little baby. George W. Bush was still president; Barack Obama would be elected a week later. Spurs had just sacked their manager Juande Ramos (after our worst ever start to a league campaign, 1 point in 10 games; think about that, when we’re complaining now about having only 21 points from 10 games) and replaced him with Harry Redknapp. How times have changed. Me, I’m still drawing the rise and fall of trees.

D & 6th, davis

You can see the post I put on Urban Sketchers today at: http://www.urbansketchers.org/2018/11/a-decade-on.html

class of 18

A St Oct 2018
This is another view of A Street in Davis. When I say ‘A Street’ I don’t mean ‘a street’, I mean obviously it’s ‘a street’, but this is ‘A’ Street, like when you emphasize ‘The’ and pronounce it as ‘Thee’ like it’s the only one you need to consider. Ok enough of that. I have sketched this scene before over the years but not looking quite like this. That textbook store has been closed for ages, but that ‘Class of 18’ graffiti is new. Unless it’s from 1918 which it isn’t. Bit of roadwork going on here, a few bins. A lunchtime sketch drawn after a meeting. This will look different next time I draw this corner.

sketching the sketchers at uc davis

LDDOct18 Robert & Misuk
Last Saturday was the latest edition of the monthly Davis sketchcrawl “Let’s Draw Davis!”, back after its summer hiatus. The next one will be mid-November sometime. We had a good turn-out, and I started it off by inviting everyone to draw each other in a ‘portrait party’. Sketching sketchers is fun. I wanted them to be five-minute people sketches, quick as possible, and for the most part they were, but there was a lot of conversation. Did a LOT of talking! One person I was delighted to meet was Robert Regis Dvorak, who I had not met before and is a real art inspiration to talk to. It seemed like everybody (no exaggeration!) had been to one of his workshops over the years, he’s a really well known figure and art teacher. I should read his books sometime. He runs workshops and sketching tours all over, not just here in California but around the world. Nice guy as well. It was also a pleasure to meet and speak with Misuk Goltz (I thought she told me her name was Misuka when I was talking to her but others told me it was Misuk Goltz), she is also a well known artist. I was writing down things they told me but forgot to write that she was about to go and spend six months in Mongolia with her husband, which sounds really interesting.
LDDOct18 Cindy and Alex
We were in the study lounge of the Memorial Union, which has lots of places to sit and sketch others. I was trying to flit about and speak with different people. Above is Cindy, who I was initially sketching with her head turned to the side (hence the hair outline over the face) but changed when she changed view. Next to her is Alex, who works in video, and we talked a bit about stop motion animation. I’ve been doing some of that again lately. Maybe I’ll show you some, though it’s not showing-in-public-worthy just yet.
LDDOct18 Lynn
LDDOct18 Dawn
LDDOct18 Jay
Above are Lynn Cohen, who I had actually met a few years ago when she bought one of my drawings at a show, she was very friendly and wore pants decorated with prints of her own sketches which was pretty cool. Then there was Dawn Pedersen, who wore a t-shirt from ‘Sketch-Con’ which is an event happening in Pasadena, I had never heard of it but it’s from Danny Gregory and Sketchbook Skool. I know a lot of the instructors in Sketchbook Skool and I’ve not met Danny in person but corresponded with him when I was in one of his books (An Illustrated Journey), so it sounds like something I’d like to go to, however I am coaching a team at a soccer tournament that weekend so can’t make it. By the way, our team which had started well lost 12-2 last week and 9-1 today, oh well. The last person I sketched there was Jay, who had a pocket full of Micron pens.
LDDOct18. AJ & Rick
Above are AJ Tauber, who is part of the Oahu Urban Sketchers (and has been to the Davis sketchcrawls before), showing us her sketchbook at the final gathering; I sketched this one super-fast. There is also Rick Karban, an entemologist at UC Davis who had recently been in England at a sketching workshop from Roisin Cure. He was interesting to talk to, particularly from the point of view of someone who’s been in Davis a long time now and seen all the changes.  And finally, below, Freeborn Hall, which I sketched while chatting to sketchers at the MU. I had to draw at least one building, but I sketch so many UCD buildings (as regular followers will probably have noticed) that there was no rush for me to sketch a few more, sketching and chatting to people was more fun. I always get that feeling though after talking to lots of people, I hope I didn’t talk too much nonsense. Especially as I was encouraging people to write down what the people they were sketching were saying. Be careful what you say, it’ll end up in the sketch!
Freeborn Hall UCD

You can see what some others sketched by visiting the Let’s Draw Davis Facebook group page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/383785982124525/


bum bum

bum bum and shields library, uc davis
This is another scene from UC Davis, showing the side of the huge Shields Library, with the metallic sculpture called “Bum Bum, You’ve Been Here Before”, which is by the artist  Tio Gianbruni. I don’t think it’s ever appeared in any of my campus sketches before. There’s a lot of public art on campus, many sculptures. We’re a campus with a rich history of sculpture. ‘Bum Bum’ is found near the Arts Annex. I drew this in dark green pen. I like the dark green. Those red flowers make it feel like Spring, but it’s very much Fall. Mornings are getting cooler, though daytimes are still very much sunny and in the 80s. Shields Library is named after Peter J Shields, son of an Irish emigrant and Gold Rush rancher, who was one of the founders of UC Davis. When I first moved to Davis, before I was working at the university, I would come to the library and read medieval language books, riding on the back of my recent studies in the subject, though I never carried on. Shields is massive. Lots of places to read in peace. I miss spending hours on end in university libraries, doing research as best I could. My undergrad was spent in the large library at Queen Mary in London, which was always busy but had a great video library section (I did a course in German film). My Masters was spent mostly in the quiet corners of the Maughan Library on Chancery Lane, one of the main libraries for King’s College London, and I spent many hours every day there (though my best friend worked on the same street and there was a pub right across the road). I also spent a great deal of time in the medieval literature corners of the huge Senate House library, the central library of the University of London, near Russell Square. That really became a home from home while writing my MA dissertation (about the antagonism between English and French in the middle ages). In addition to Middle English and Old French I studied a fair bit of Old English (particularly the alliterative poetry, much of which I’ve forgotten now), Old Gothic (Wulfila and his bible), Old Saxon (the Heliand), and Old High German (Althochdeutsch; I did read the actual Abrogans, the oldest thing in German, at the beautiful Stiftsbibliothek library at the Abbey of St.Gallen in Switzerland) (I love telling people that) (makes me sound clever). Now, I draw pictures, and remember library time and dictionaries of languages I never learnt properly.

ich liebe dictionaries

swedish berlitz dictionary

I don’t remember how old I was when I first discovered foreign languages. My older sister went on an exchange visit to Stuttgart, Germany, when she was fifteen, so I would have been around six years old when she came back, introducing me to Nutella, and to the German phrase “ich liebe dich”. Although I went to a school full of kids from different countries, if I ever heard other languages it would have been as an impenetrable barrier, not something that I could actually learn. Thanks to my big sister and her travels, I now knew a foreign phrase and could say it, “ich liebe dich”, “I love you”. She probably learned it from a boy that she met. I like to think that “ich liebe dich” was a good place to start.

I didn’t really think much about foreign languages again, until I got the Mexico 86 Panini World Cup sticker album. As a ten year old boy, I was obsessed with football. It’s all I would talk about, think about, dream about (I was pretty much over Transformers by this point). Swapping stickers on the school playground was the highlight of the day. What I really liked about the Mexico 86 Panini World Cup sticker album, apart from all the funny names and wacky beards (I’m looking at you, Hungarian goalkeeper Peter Disztl), was that there was a list of every country, even those who did not qualify, in its own language. It was a list of exotic lands like ‘Deutschland BRD’, ‘Magyarország’, ‘Shqipëria’, and the confusing ‘Helvetia’. Some were almost like the name in English, just a little different, such as ‘Brasil’, ‘Turkiye’, ‘Italia’, ‘Danmark’. The countries themselves were not alien to me. I had been reading Atlases since I could read, and used to draw maps of the world for fun, but seeing them listed in their own languages was mind-blowing. And then, in the middle of the World Cup, my family and some of our neighbours all went on a package trip to sunny Spain.

It was my first time outside England. I had been to Norwich, which doesn’t look far on the map but actually takes ages to get to, and linguistic differences only stretched as far as my cousin saying “int’ it!” instead of “innit!”. To prepare for this foreign adventure I bought myself a Spanish phrase book from the Salvage Shop in Burnt Oak. The Salvage Shop was the most exciting place in town, you could get anything there. Well they had some cheap phrase books and I spent whatever it was, 50p maybe, and suddenly a new world opened up. It included a smattering of Spanish phrases, but was mostly a word-to-word dictionary. Naturally, my friend and I went through the book looking for the ‘funny’ words. It didn’t include any swear words, more’s the pity, nor any words like ‘fart’ or ‘bum’, but it did include the hugely hilarious words for ‘drunk’ (‘borracho’) and ‘hangover’ (‘resaca’). We knew full well what those words meant in English having observed our parents at parties over the years, and in fact on the first night in Spain, our dads went out and got quite ‘borracho’ indeed, very much ‘resaca’ the next day. In fact my mum locked my dad out of the apartment as a result, meaning he spent the first night in Spain sleeping on the sunbed by the pool.  If any Spanish locals were not familiar with English swear words before that night they were probably quite familiar with them afterwards. Dad would always tell me that those swear words were also a different language, ‘Anglo-Saxon’, and for a few years afterwards I probably still believed that. Apart from ‘borracho’ and ‘resaca’ I must admit I didn’t pick very much else up, except for a few numbers, the Spanish word for toilets (‘lavabos’ and ‘aseos’, because of course we looked those up), and the incredible discovery that some chocolate bars have different names in other countries, such as ‘Raider’ (foreign for ‘Twix’), and ‘Snickers’ (foreign for ‘Marathon’; that will never catch on, I said at the time).

I never did learn Spanish, in fact, despite going back to Spain for every single remaining summer of the 1980s. Holiday resort Spain isn’t really Spain, though, being full of English people getting ‘borracho’, and the foreign language I heard most was usually German, in the swimming pool. When I moved to secondary school though, I finally got to learn a foreign language – French. British people of a certain age will know what I am talking about when I say the words ‘Tricolore’ and ‘La Rochelle’. Say no more. I finally visited La Rochelle in 1998 on a rail trip around Europe and yes, it was exactly as I remembered in the famous school textbooks. French was fun, but in the second year I finally got to learn German. At twelve years old I was becoming a lot more interested in different languages, and I loved German. It quickly became my best subject, but I wanted more. I would sometimes go to the library and look through any books teaching foreign languages, to the best of my abilities – usually “1,000 words in Italian” or similar picture books, not really picking a lot up.

And then I discovered Berlitz phrase books and dictionaries – small pocket sized books with, as far as I was concerned, everything I needed. The first one I bought was a yellow-covered Swedish dictionary, bought from a now-gone bookshop on Burnt Oak Broadway. It cost £2.25. I think I was thirteen, and I’m sure part of my motivation for wanting to learn Swedish was ‘girls’. I just loved the way the language looked, and sounded, and all those little dots over the letters, and the little circle they sometimes put over the ‘a’, and even the word for ‘dictionary’ itself – “ordbok”, which my keen detective mind deduced must mean “word-book”. Around this time I would start to explore London. Sometimes I would get on the tube and go into central London looking for records, but usually, on Saturday afternoon, I would get on a bus and got to Harrow-on-the-Hill, to the bookshop at St. Anne’s, and spend literally hours sat upstairs in the languages section. It would be pouring with rain outside, and I was sat in the corner, reading the ‘Berlitz European Phrase Book’. I wish I still had that book, but I left it with my nephew when I moved to America. I read that book more than any other. It covered fourteen European languages: French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Greek, Serbo-Croatian, Polish and, most exotic of all, Finnish and Russian. The Big Fourteen, as I thought of them. There was no Czech, that remained too exotic, no Romanian or Bulgarian (how excited was I when I discovered how Romanian was more like Italian and French), and Ukrainian was a language I didn’t even realize existed back in the pre-Soviet-demise era. I started spending my Saturday afternoons in the biggest local library, Hendon, devouring their language section, getting out books about Albanian or Afrikaans, drawing little Indo-European family trees, attempting (and failing) to figure out how to pronounce Irish words.

I did German and French A-Levels and ended up studying French at university, where I must admit my progress in languages started to flounder, as it got a bit hard. I was better at drama. I did do foreign language plays though, acting in several productions in German (including Romulus der Grosse by Friedrich Durrenmatt in which I was covered in fake blood with a Luke Skywalker-esque mechanical hand inside a stage built to look like a chicken coop full of feathers) (that was fun). In the end though I got my French degree and was selected to go and teach in Aix-en-Provence, where I continued to be bad at French to new levels, but it’s where I met my future wife, who was impressed at my ability to converse in three languages simultaneously at the pub, albeit not necessarily to the right people. My love of languages took me abroad to Aix which ultimately took me here to California, where my wife is from, and so you might say that in a roundabout way this little yellow Swedish dictionary is why I am here in Davis right now. But that is a bit of a stretch. I still have the book though, and here it is (scroll back to the start). I haven’t done any language learning in a long, long time (though I did get a Masters in Medieval English), but I still love the subject. And I still collect World Cup sticker albums. But I never did learn very much Spanish.  Or Swedish, for that matter.