The South Bank Show

South Bank Feb2019
Every time I go back to London, my family members have grown older, a little bit. With the adults it’s slower, less noticeable, while with the children it’s a much more visible change. I am now the classic “look how tall you are!” uncle. My uncle jokes are also the best uncle jokes in the world. I too have grown; not taller, rather I have encroached into traditional green belt lands. See, uncle jokes. London on the other hand changes faster than I can think. When I left in 2005, the Gherkin (aka ‘the Erotic Gherkin’) was still the new shocking addition to the City’s skyline, pointing like a stubby fishnet bullet at the sky. The older NatWest building still dominated the Square Mile, sufficiently far from the unchanging dome of St. Paul’s (though that too has changed since I left, having been scrubbed of its layer of grey pollution-particles, so much it now gleams as Wren intended). One by one newer buildings started to be approved, all with their pre-approved nicknames: the Heron, the Walkie-Talkie, the Cheesegrater, the Shard, the Dodger’s Kerchief, the Ocelot Spleen, the Snood, and of course the Wizard’s Winkle. I might have made some of those up but you would be hard pressed to figure out which. London’s skyline is starting to resemble less a city and more a manual of Yoga positions. I don’t even know what some of the new ones being built are called (if only there was some way of finding out, some kind of instant source of all global information right at my fingertips!), but change is a good thing, I suppose. I never wanted London to stand still and miss me after I moved away, I wanted London to enjoy its life, meet other buildings, move on.
View from Tate Modern Feb2019

It was a lovely day when I went out sketching on the banks of the Thames. I miss the Thames more than I miss any part of London. I don’t have a Thames here in Davis. I used to come down to the Thames to have a look at it, and contemplate, and be pensive. Sounds stupid now I say it like that. You know like in films and TV shows when the main character has a lot on their mind and they go and look at the Hudson River or stand on the pier at Coney Island (all films and TV shows are set in New York), that was me, coming to the Thames, standing on the South Bank near Waterloo, looking at the Thames. I think I just like watching water move from left to right. Maybe it reminds me of the old Thames Television screen, which would come on just before Rainbow, and I always liked Rainbow. Geoffrey out of rainbow died recently. I met him when I was a kid, at Brentford’s football ground, he drew me a picture of Zippy. It wasn’t a super detailed picture of Zippy but I could tell it was meant to be Zippy. Unless it was meant to be a picture of himself and I misinterpreted it, or a picture of me. Either way, I always wondered what Zippy would be like as a modern-day politician. Yes, it is extremely easy to imagine that isn’t it (it’s even easier to imagine Bungle). When Boris Johnson became Mayor of London years ago I drew a picture of Zippy with Boris Johnson’s hair. A few years later, Johnson and his friend Joanna ‘George’ Lumley, had this crazy idea of building a new bridge across the Thames, right at the spot where I drew the sketch above. It was to be a ‘Garden Bridge’, covered in trees and plants and closed at night and on special corporate events such as when Rod Jane and Freddy would need to perform their Greatest Hits. If I recall, the plan was to build it “up above the streets and houses, everyone can see it smiling over the sky”. Being pedestrian only, it would not alleviate traffic, It would require cutting down scores of trees on the South Bank as well as blocking the view of the city with all its Yoga-position skyscrapers from much of the South Bank and Waterloo Bridge. Change is a good thing I suppose, but this was a change that really didn’t need to happen, at least not right here. When the pedestrian Millennium Bridge was built, it was visually unobtrusive and also in a place that had needed a crossing connecting St Paul’s with the new Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe (I well remember the circuitous routes before). Also, it wobbled, meaning those crafty Cockneys could re-christen it the ‘Wobbly Bridge’, calling it that for many years even after the Wobble had been fixed and the joke had really lost its steam. The Garden Bridge was an expensive vanity project that probably wouldn’t even wobble. In the end, after millions being spent and many Bungles, the Garden Bridge was finally scrapped. I’m glad, and I think Geoffrey would have been glad too.

I sat on a bench by the Thames and drew in the sunshine. It’s one of my favourite spots in the whole world, even with the growing metropolis sprouting up across the river. A man stopped to have a look at my sketch, enthusiastically asking me what I do with them. “I colour them in,” I said, and he laughed. People often ask what my sketches are for, which is a fair question, since they could be for sale or to make into postcards or maybe I am out looking for views to dismantle with expensive vanity projects, but the answer is always the same – it’s because I love to draw. I just love drawing, so I have to just keep drawing. This city is worth drawing and drawing and drawing, and then drawing more. This city changes so quickly. After this sketch, I went to the Tate Modern and up to the tenth floor of that new building next door, to sketch the City from above. That is one of my favourite new viewing spots in London, although the crowded elevator means you need to book some additional vacation time if you want to go up there. I decided to colour in only the sky and the river, leaving the city itself uncoloured like in the opening credits of a certain TV show I used to watch as a kid, the large tower of Tate Modern in the foreground. Tate Modern used to be Bankside Power Station, designed by the same guy who made the phone box (I’ve talked about him before). I love listening to tourists talking to each other when visiting London, hearing their enthusiasm for the city. As I looked out over the skycrapers I though about the previous times I had sketched it, and as I sketched I thought that this would be a very good point to include some of those older sketches in this part of the blog post. I hope you have enjoyed this little trip to the South Bank with me. Next time I go back, it will look different again.

take me down to the riverover the thames to cannon street
by the banks of the thamesSt Pauls from Tate Modern
Waterloo panorama
The River Thames

How Topical

Topic bar
I was in England, and I remember saying to someone, “Topics. You never get those any more.” I went into how I used to love Topics, a chocolate bar full of hazelnuts, and how you never see them, and then into how most regular american chocolate just isn’t as tasty as British chocolate bars (seriously taste the difference between a British and American KitKat), and how much I miss the sheer variety of British sweets, and Topics are one of those things I used to love as a kid but cannot find in England now (like Pacers, remember those?). I realized I was sounding like a one-man Facebook group, “remember this thing from the 70s, don’t get those no more, remember this other thing from the 80s, don’t get those no more, the kids all eat iPhones and talk in txtspk, everyone’s obese now, not like in my day when we ate Lion bars all day and nobody went on about health and safety” and so on. And then they said, “no, you can still get Topics, they sell them in the Pound Shop.” My face was like, WHAAAAA? It was like a cartoon when the eyes poop out and the tongue rolls out and around the corner. But I think I saved myself by going, oh yeah, I know, I was being, er, ironic. I totally wasn’t. I had no idea Topics still existed. I went straight to the Pound Shop, and found a four-pack of Topics. I handed over my quid, and was the proud owner of what I had thought was an extinct species, namely Topic bars. I was not alone in this assumption. Just a few days later I was listening to a football podcast and one person said to another person, “Topic bars, do they still make those?” And the other person said, “no, I don’t think so.” WELL THEY BLOODY WELL DO! I wanted to tell the world. “TOPICS – ALIVE AND WELL IN THE POUND SHOP IN BARNSTAPLE.” But would the world believe me? Would it be like those people who reckon Elvis Presley is alive and works in their local chip shop? Would I be considered as a Topic Bar Conspiracy Nut? “The government man is coming to take away your Topic bars! They may take away our lives, but they’ll never take our Topics!” This Topic was a bit small though, a bit on the scrawny side. Which I was ok with, because it’s smaller I can eat four times as many.

seeking out the ship and shovell

Ship and Shovell, London
This is the Ship and Shovell pub in Charing Cross, a well-hidden mystery of a pub I had never known existed, like a character in a long-running TV show that shows up and everyone acts as if they had been there all the time. I had intended to colour this in, with its bright red barrels and atmospheric early morning lighting, but I never got time and I wanted to show it to you quickly. These days so many London pubs are under threat and you never know how long they will be there. The Ship and Shovell, not ‘Shovel’, but ‘Shovell’. Probably after Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, his picture is in the sign (I didn’t draw him). The Ship and Shovell is found in Craven Passage, right behind Charing Cross Station, next to a tunnel that leads down to Villiers Street – I had never taken that tunnel before, just assuming it plops out unassumingly into Northumberland Avenue. In fact just a short block further is the Sherlock Holmes pub which I have been to. London is a place that is always worth exploring. Around the corner is the house where Benjamin Franklin used to live, which is called the Benjamin Franklin house, I’m assuming that’s no coincidence. I knew nothing of the existence of this pub – it’s not like I know every pub in London – until I saw a photo recently on one of those historic London Twitter feeds that you follow for old photos and stories, some of them are good. Some of them do attract the overly nostalgic commenters, if you get my drift, the “it was better before all the [insert xenophobic descriptive here] moved in” lot. I left several Facebook groups because of that, my reasoning being “it was better before all the xenophobes moved in”. Most however just like to reveal old London’s historic gems. I assumed this pub was long-gone, another casualty of six-quid pints and predatory property pirates, a blurred photo from the sixties, villains and rakes and lost tourists from Nebraska, “Underneaf the Arches”, “Roll Aht the Barrels” and “Let’s All Go Dahn the Strand”, but no, it’s very much still there, hiding away, having a banana. What is most interesting about the Ship and Shovell is that, as you can see, it’s actually two pubs rolled in one, split down the middle by Craven Passage. It’s joined by the cellars, but otherwise may as well be two pubs. As far as I can tell, one side isn’t the Ship and the other the Shovell, though I bet regulars have their preference. It was too early for me to go in and sketch inside. I left the house at 8am so was sketching this by 9, when people were still on their way to work. It was a bright morning, not very cold, and I was glad to have sought out and found this little red jewel. Some day I will pop in for a pint. Or maybe, half a pint in each side.
Map to Ship and Shovell

let’s draw davis on march 17th!

Let's Draw Davis: March 17, 2019
Join us for another sketchcrawl in downtown Davis, California! This one will be a sketch-scavenger hunt too, where I’ll provide a list of things to look for and sketch (optional, you can just sketch what you want!)

DATE: Sunday March 17, 2019
START: 12:00pm, Davis Commons (1st/E Streets, next to Pluto’s)
FINISH: 3:00pm, E Street Plaza, by the clock fountain (if it rains, we will reconvene inside De Vere’s Irish Pub across the road)

We will meet up at the end to look at everyone’s sketchbooks (and get a sticker if you did the scavenger hunt), and then feel free to post your results on our group page at www.facebook.com/groups/383785982124525/

As always this sketchcrawl is free and open to anyone who likes urban sketching. Just bring your sketching materials (and maybe a raincoat..) and an eye to look around at things to draw, and meet other local sketchers who like to do the same!

Oh and it’s St Patrick’s Day so why not draw in green? (I did so on the sketchcrawl last year, a little bit: petescully.com/2018/06/18/like-the-color-when-the-spring-…)

Hope to see you there!!!

– Pete

FACEBOOK EVENT PAGE: www.facebook.com/events/560327291145462/

how to sketch in the rain

St Martins Lane, London
The weather was lovely while I was in England. Sunny, unseasonably warm for February, nothing like the huge storms I had left behind in California. Only one day was different, when some rain showers came down on the Monday, but that was my designated all-day-sketching-day so I was not letting that stop me. It was President’s Day in the US as well, so an official day off. I had my extendable London Underground umbrella and my AYSO soccer ‘Coach Pete’ raincoat, so I put the umbrella into my jacket firmly, rested the top on my head, and it stayed in place, keeping my sketching-zone dry. Totally worked! I’ll be doing this from now on. I drew a diagram below. It’s a little bit wrong though because the umbrella did not poke out of my jacket, I should have crossed that out or something. Ah well, do what works for you. Anyway, after sketching and exploring Westminster, I popped over to Leicester Square/Covent Garden to do some shopping in my favourite spots, and of course more sketching. Above, the view down St Martin’s Lane, one of my favourite scenes of London. I didn’t get the view which includes St. Martins-in-the-Fields itself, but the globe-topped English National Opera is visible.
Rain sketcher
I needed to visit my favourite map shop, Stanford’s. I love maps and travel books and I’ve been going there since I was a teenager, and I got there and IT WAS GONE! But not gone for good. It had just moved. I needed to read the map carefully to find the new location (just around the corner, but even to the well-trained Covent Gardener it can be a bit easy to get lost around there), but I found it and spent some good time looking at maps. I went to a few other places, and then at the end of the day I popped into the Nag’s Head opposite Covent Garden Station for a pint and a final sketch. The other way to sketch in the rain, you see, is to just pop into the pub where it is dry and sketch in there. It’s a good tip. The pub was filling up with tourists, tired after a day of London. They do nice McMullen’s beer here, from Hertford. I chickened out of drawing the detailed tile pattern on the floor. When I was done, it was back into the rush hour tube and back to Burnt Oak for dinner.
Nags Head Covent Garden

 

Westminster Cathedral, stripes and domes

Westminster cathedral , London
The only rainy day on my visit back to England was the day I dedicated to doing the most sketching, but I don’t mind the rain, and I wanted to explore anyway. A slightly later start than I had wanted (due to waking up super early – jetlag – after a night out seeing an old friend in Borough – hangover – meaning I stayed in bed trying to get back to sleep a bit more, rather than dashing out at 8am to sketch every inch – or centimetre – of the city). I wanted to explore Victoria – the area not the person – and maybe draw a map of the neighbourhood showing people all the interesting things to sketch around there. I haven’t drawn the map yet, and in fact Victoria has changed a lot since I last spent time around there, which was almost 20 years ago when I was a tour guide based out of there. It’s really different there now. I don’t know what has happened to New Scotland Yard but it’s an empty building site now. Lots of modern buildings have risen up. One building I have always been interested in but never sketched nor been inside was Westminster Cathedral. My old tour bus used to swing past this building while I gave a courteous nod to the recent history of Catholicism in England, on the way to (or was it from?) the much more illustrious and ancient Westminster Abbey, further up the road (which is not technically a Cathedral but a Royal Peculiar, our highly knowledgeable tour guide instructor instructed us to say. Regardless, only one of these buildings gave the City of Westminster its name and it wasn’t stripey boy here). I stood opposite Westminster Cathedral, in the light rain, my London Underground umbrella firmly stashed inside my jacket hands-free, sketching in the Stillman and Birn Alpha book. The tower had to be squashed ever so slightly because it’s actually very tall, but you wouldn’t notice unless I tell you, so I’ll keep quiet. I like the stiripes; some of the older buildings around the back of it have similar horizontal stripes either in mimicry or as a survival instinct to blend in; it’s nature’s way. The long name of this building is the “Metropolitan Cathedral of the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ”. Or “No not Westminster Abbey, the stripey one around the corner”. It was built in 1903 out of brick with no steel reinforcements, none of your steel reinforcements, proper brick done properly. The flags waving above the entrance are that of the United Kingdom and that of the Vatican City. The domes and curves brought to mind the St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, but less glitzy. I had never been inside though, and so after a sandwich from Boots (Meal Deal of course – I love the Meal Deals in England) I went in and had a look around. I was very impressed, there was a lot to see and it had a fair bit of glitz itself (it’s the big Catholic church of the country, you need some glitz) such as golden neo-Byzantine mosaics, but most exciting was that for the tidy sum of six quid I could go up the tower.
View from Westminster cathedral's tower

“It’s very foggy today,” said the man in the gift shop who operated the elevator,  “you won’t see much.” Oh I don’t mind that, I said, thinking it might make drawing a bit easier if I can’t see all the details. It was a really good view (for six quid it had to be, but it supports keeping the elevator open so I’m all for it), and the wind did blow some of the rain in towards me, I stood pretty sheltered and draw as much as I could. The growing pattern of skyscrapers in the distance was a ghostly silhouette, dominated by the Shard. The Palace of Westminster’s Victoria Tower stands tall in the middle, and just behind Westminster Abbey you can see Big Ben still covered in scaffolding. I enjoyed drawing this so much. There’s nothing like drawing a city from a high perch, and I did it again a couple of days later at the Tate. If you like perspective drawing this is like a dream job. When I was done, I wandered about the streets of Victoria for a bit more, before heading back over towards the shops of Covent Garden. It’s times like this when I feel such an affection for London, the unbeatable metropolis that can never be completely discovered. I’ve always liked this building but never been in, and now I have.

Hampstead on a Sunday Morning

Hampstead High St

It was Sunday morning, and my restless nature meant I had to get out of the house and onto the tube. I decided to get off at Hampstead, one of my favourite hill-based places for a little bit of sketching and shop-going. I love Hampstead in the morning. People going out for breakfast, a tour guide bellowing history to a group of Americans outside the tube station, the little lanes off the High Street filled with cute houses. One of my life’s ambitions was that if I ever got rich I’d live in Hampstead, but you have to be really quite rich to do that nowadays I think. The other ambitions are still a place in Highgate and a place in the South of France, along with California of course, and I have at least lived in those places at some point along the way. I stood across the street from the station, putting my uphill perspective games to good use, not quite believing my good weather luck. Another of my ambitions, which I think would make a good book, is to location-draw every single station on the Northern Line, from Edgware to Morden and back up to High Barnet. Hampstead tube station, the deep red glossy ox-blood tiled building on the corner above, is London’s deepest station, regularly publishing philosophy, attending jazz poetry nights, and having meaningfully long walks along the beach. There are no long escalators here, no, you must use the elevators, or ‘lifts’ as we prefer to call them. After all this time away from England my mind’s vocabulary is slowly starting to flip Stateside – only now do I see the ‘Way Out’ signs on the Underground and think, Hahaha, it’s ‘Exit’, you Hippies. After sketching I went to the EE phone store to try and figure out why my unlimited texts plan was given me so far zero texts, only to find that the EE Store was closed on Sundays, because the Dark Ages. (I ended up finding an open EE store in Edgware, but they couldn’t figure out my texting issue, which is another story I won’t go into here, because it’s not interesting). I did get to go to Waterstones and spend money on books, because I can’t help it, and also go the Cass Arts and spend money on Seawhite of Brighton sketchbooks, because I can’t help myself.

The Flask, Hampstead

I did have to get back home though (via an unproductive pitstop at the EE store in Edgware – so I have an unlocked iPhone 8, and I could call and use data, and text other iPhones through iMessage, but for some reason could not send any texts to other non-iPhone phones, even with EE’s unlimited texts plan. I was unable to solve this the entire time I was back. I tried all sorts of settings on the phone, and the EE man in the store also could not figure it out. I didn’t have this problem with my older Nokia last time I was back.) I had to get back to meet my newest family member, my baby great-niece Frances, for the first time. However I did have some time to do a very quick sketch of the Flask pub in Flask Walk. Last time I came here I was ghost-hunting with my son a few years ago. Didn’t find any ghosts (what with the laws of thermodynamics pretty much disproving their existence – thanks a lot, thermodynamic party-poopers). I didn’t sketch much as you can see, and decided to leave it in the completely unfinished state rather than go back and do more, or finish off from a photo – this was too unfinished to do that. Besides, you get just enough with a sketch like this. That easel at the end of the lane, that was an oil-painting artist who I presume didn’t have to go and sort out his EE unlimited texting plan nor meet a new baby. He is unseen though, like a ghost. Also unseen, the ghosts of late morning brunchers, brunching away, many of them lined up outside the cafe to my right, a popular choice for the Hampstead brunching set, which if my ambitions are ever realized I will be one of them, brunching with a little dog at my heels, still sweaty from my jog across the Heath. Can you still afford brunch if you live in Hampstead? Is the existence of brunchers disproved by the laws of thermodynamics? Well they don’t appear in the sketch so you’ll have to make your own mind up. Brunching makes you feel good.

Hampstead Map

I drew a little map in my sketchbook. The colour scheme implies this is all fields, but of course it isn’t. To the north-west is Holly Hill. Up there somewhere among the ghosts and brunchers is the Holly Bush pub, which I have never been to, though I’ve always wanted to, both to have a drink and also to sketch. I’ll save that ambition for some future trip.