weekend in LA

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Early last month I flew down to Los Angeles with my friend Roshan who was visiting from London, for a boys weekend to celebrate his 40th birthday. I didn’t do much sketching; it was a short trip and we mostly did tourism and, well, the pub. One or two pubs! A good old few pubs. I do find it harder to sketch when travelling with non-sketchers, (not for any fault of their own, I just struggle to concentrate) but I did manage a few sketches, including the in-flight drawing above. We stayed downtown at an awesome hotel with a great view, I only grabbed a couple of quick sketches of it, but we were really close to the LA public library (which I have sketched before, years ago).
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And of course, one fire hydrant. It wasn’t a 2am hydrant sketch (like on previous LA trips) but the library is once more in the background!
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And I got a few quick people sketches down at Venice Beach, of dancing roller-skaters. I would like to go back there on a sketching trip someday, there is always so much to draw around there. I really like LA.
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on the tracks and in the sky

Roma to Venezia
And so we left Rome on a fast train from Termini station, speeding through the Italian countryside (and what countryside!) on one of the nicest trains we’ve been on. I once spent a summer travelling Europe on the trains and this was nicer than all of those as well (that was in 1998 mind you, and most of them were overnight trains in central Europe). It took us over 3 hours to reach Venice from Rome, stopping in Florence on the way (but not getting out and looking around, we’ll save that for next time). My son was proudly sporting his brand new AS Roma shirt that he bought with money his Nanny in England had given him (it’s by far his favourite souvenir from Italy!) (when I say Nanny I mean my Mum, not a Nanny like in someone who looks after kids for a living) (international translations here). I wore my Sampdoria shirt so we were the Serie A Boys. The Calcio Kids. On our way out of Italy, flying back to London, we were both wearing our Tottenham Hotspur shirts and the border guards immediately called out to us with big smiles, “Eh, Harry Ka-ne! Totten-ham!” We had to wait while they looked up something, it turns out they were just trying to look up the name of Tottenham’s stadium, but were confused to see that it was now Wembley. They were very excited about Spurs.

Speaking of airports, while I am showing you my in-train sketch of Trenitalia Frecciarosso 1000, here are the other transport sketches from our summer trip. First off, Oakland to Gatwick, which started with a 3.5 hour delay, which was fun. On mt left was a woman who when I first got on board hurriedly picked up a bunch of items from my seat before I sat down, I assumed they were her things. Then when she just sat there holding them I asked, are those mine? (Blankets, headphones) “Yes, I picked them up for you,” she said, “and you are lucky, I don’t usually do nice.” Which was an odd thing to say to a complete stranger. She was British. “Ok, thanks,” I said, taking back the blankets in a bit of a puzzle. I’m not really one for conversations with fellow passengers. I noticed as we sat on the runway she was reading through not only the Daily Mail but also the National Enquirer, which I’d never seen people actually read before, so you see something new every day I suppose. We were in Economy Plus – these BA flights from Oakland to the UK are so much cheaper than we usually pay that we upgraded for a bit more legroom – but still it was a long and hard-to-sleep-on flight. I did at least get my sketch in. I had time…
Oakland to Gatwick

We flew Ryanair to Italy, from Stansted to Rome. As you may remember I call Ryanair “Difficultjet”, and this time the difficult bit was that they don’t let passengers from the US (or non-EU at least; good luck Brits, in a few years) use paperless boarding passes, unlike for example Easyjet, who do. Which means if you are travelling and need to print your boarding pass a day ahead (because you have to check in online nowadays, no other choice) and don’t have access to a printer, as we didn’t, you have to pay loads of money to Ryanair for them to print it out for you, at least fifteen quid a ticket. So that’s annoying. In the end we did find someone with a printer, but most travellers wouldn’t necessarily have that option. Otherwise though I don’t mind Ryanair, they fly to a lot of places and are cheap. It was exciting flying over Belgium, Germany, Austria; my son asked if he could check these off and say he’d been there now, but no, flying over is not the same as being somewhere. If it were, then we’ve been to Greenland loads of times.
Stansted to Roma
Venice to Luton was on Easyjet, which was pretty easy. My son’s hair in this sketch looks red like mine, bu it really isn’t, it’s more light brown/blond. However my paints were very much stuck in the Easyjet colour scheme. Boy we were tired after that trip.
Venezia to Luton

And the final flight of the vacation! This was a trip in which we went through SIX different airports (Oakland, Gatwick, Stansted, Roma Ciampino, Venice Marco Polo, Luton) which of course is my favourite thing, I love airports, SOOOOO much. This was a decent flight home. I had no stranger with a Daily Mail next to me (although my son put the brown BA blanket over his head, making him look like a Jedi). This little Miquelrius sketchbook/random notebook, which I’ve had for five years now, has a lot of in-flight travel sketches in now. Lots of Bon-Voyages.
Gatwick to Oakland

war! what is it good for? (absolutely sketching)

Imperial War Museum London
Last month we went back over to London for a few days ahead of our week in Italy, spending time with family and seeing friends. The London visits are more frequent than they used to be, but always seem shorter, never enough time to see everyone we want to see, go everywhere we want to go. We always pack a lot in though, and this time wanted to see some places we’d never been to. One of those was the Imperial War Museum. It’s in Lambeth, and had never appealed that much to me for some reason (because I’m a pacifist peacenik?) which is crazy because I love history, I love seeing old planes and tanks and uniforms and armoury, and I love old London buildings such as this one, which has an interesting history as the old Bethlem psychiatric hospital – aka ‘Bedlam’ (not the original Bedlam location mind you but still, interestingly historical). The grounds are lovely, and there were a lot of people out sketching as well which is always nice to see. I drew the scene above while my family were resting in the cafe.
Imperial War Museum Sopwith Camel

I didn’t do a ton of sketching in there – there is a lot to see, and my son was getting tired (World War I was a lot to take in!) but I did draw this Sopwith 2F.1 Camel. The Sopwith Camel was one of the most iconic early fighter planes for the Allies in World War I. Just imagine Lord Flashheart whizzing around in one of these before landing sausage-side and shouting “woof” a lot. (I really miss Rik Mayall!) I didn’t get much further than World War II, so I would like to go back there some day with the sketchbook. Definitely worth a visit. After this, we walked the short distance to the South Bank and along the Thames.

if ever a wiz there was

hogwarts castle universal studio
Recently we went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which is part of the Universal Studios theme park in Hollywood (well, Universal City). It was a surprise trip for our son who loves Harry Potter (so do we!). It was pretty great, and the butterbeer was lovely. Wands at Ollivander’s were expensive, but really cool – you can cast spells around all the windows and make things move about. This is the second Wizarding World built after the first one at Universal Florida, and has a cool Hogsmeade area. The castle itself is pretty cool, and I sketched it while sipping butterbeer as a chorus of toads sang to my right. Overall though, I think the Harry Potter tour of the original sets at Warner Bros outside London was better, but this was still fun. The ride inside the castle though was utterly mental, a total thrill ride. By the way, I got ‘sorted’ on Pottermore into Gryffindor, which makes sense. My son got Gryffindor as well. My wife however got sorted into Slytherin! So I got her a Slytherin scarf. We had lunch at the Three Broomsticks, and later I had a pint at the Hog’s Head. Oh, I didn’t sketch with a Quill, but I totally would have done.

hogwarts sign universal studio

Oh, this was page 1 of my second Stillman and Birn “Beta” landscape sketchbook (blue softcover). Those are nice. I also enjoyed the whole Simpsons-themed area as well, having a pint of Duff in Moe’s Tavern, getting a massive pink Lard Lad donut, eating chikcen and waffles from Cleetus’s Chicken Shack, popping into the Kwik-E-Mart, great fun. Oh, and here is a sketch I did on the plane down to Burbank in my Miquelrius “Lapin” covered sketch/notebook. .

Flight to Burbank March 2017

a farewell to dippy

Dippy NHM London

Well the New Year is here and I am still posting sketches from November. I know you just can’t get enough of 2016. These are the sketches I did on our brief sojourn back to London over Thanksgiving. It was a week of family fun more than sketching outings (I did most of my UK sketching in the summer) but I managed a few. Above is a sketch from the Natural History Museum. My son really wanted to go there to see the geology exhibits (he loves rocks and minerals) and we wanted to see our beloved Dippy one last time before he is removed from the main hall and replaced with a whale skeleton. Dippy, for those who don’t know, is the giant Diplodocus skeleton in the Hintze Hall. Dippy’s been in the NHM for over a century and has been in that hall since I was a little kid, when I would go there all the time with school or my big sister; I do love the Natural History Museum. Well Dippy is leaving! This very week in fact. They are replacing Dippy with a large blue whale skeleton that will hang from the ceiling. Dippy will go on a tour of the UK (see here for details). My son and I found a seat in an alcove to sketch, but we couldn’t see the whole Dippy so sketched what we could see.

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We also visited the Harry Potter tour at the Warner Bros Studios, at Leavesden, just outside London. We are big Harry Potter fans, and my son read the books and saw the movies this year for the first time so it was an exciting visit to go and see the real sets where they were filmed. We only had time for one sketch (so much to see! We could have been there all day) so I sketched the entrance to Dumbledore’s office while he drew the big pendulum thing. I got a Gryffindor scarf. According to the Pottermore website, my son and I would both be in Gryffindor (my wife got sorted into Slytherin!). We went there with my mum, sister and nephew, and it was a really fun family day, I do recommend it.

Hogwarts Griffin Stairwell, WB Studios, England

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One other place I was eager to visit was the new Switch House at the Tate Modern, the new tall extension to the gallery on the South Bank. It only opened last summer. My son kinda enjoyed the gallery (we saw both my books in the shop! But he was more excited about the tiny Slinky he bought) but was nervous about going to the tenth floor observation deck. When we were up there though he loved it, and again we sat and sketched the view. This is now my favourite spot in London and I will definitely come back with a few hours on hand to do a big detailed panorama. It was amazing there. Here is what I did sketch, of the view across the Thames to St. Paul’s Cathedral:

St Pauls from Tate Modern

The scene below is of drinkers at the very intimate pub off Trafalgar Square, The Harp. I came here with my friend Roshan, as they do good beer; one day I’d like to sketch the whole bar. As it was, I sketched these happydrikers while Roshan popped to the loo. Less-than-five-minute people sketching!

People at Harp pub, London

And here is Burnt Oak tube station, in the area my family live (and I am from. Looking as it has ever done. I was going to finish this, but I wanted to get back and have a cup of tea, and never finished it at home.

Burnt Oak Station

One last sketch, which is of course the in-flight drawing on the Virgin flight coming home. It was one of the newer planes, and unlike in the summer, this time I didn’t get completely squashed up and have a bad back for several weeks afterwards. Which was handy. Farewell again then my London, until next time!

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take a france on me

Ryanair June 2015
This is the inside of a Ryanair flight to the south of France. It took off from Stansted Airport on a warm Thursday morning, bound for Marseille. It had two big wings, it flew in the sky and I don’t need to write in such an obvious style, I’m not Dan Brown. Perhaps I’m nervous because I am finally posting my sketches from my trip to France. It was a big deal to go back to France this year, because I was going back to two different cities that mean a lot to me, but both of which I hadn’t visited in over a decade. Since I moved to California, France has become significantly further away.

I decided a while ago that I was done with the in-flight sketch, that no longer held an interest for me, but since I was off to France to sketch and sketch and sketch, I wanted to keep my pens sharp. The cities I was headed for, by the way, were Aix-en-Provence and Strasbourg. Aix was where I was going first, the ancient capital of Provence in the deep French south. I spent a year there between 2001 and 2002 which ultimately turned out to be a pretty pivotal period (spoiler alert, I met my future wife there, and ended up in America). On the other hand Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, where many people still speak a German-related language called Alsacian, was a trip much further back in time. I first went to Strasbourg twenty years ago in 1995 on an exchange trip between my college and a Lycee there, and totally fell in love with the city (I was a teenager, it was a good looking city). Besides, the 3rd Urban Sketchers France National Meeting was taking place there, and I really wanted to rub shoulders with the French sketching community, and test just how low the depths of my French language skills have sunk this past decade or so (spoiler alert, pretty low). This was a solo trip, a sketching trip, and I was pretty excited. Allez les Bleus!