B.A. Ruckus

SFO waiting in line for over two hours

I’m still in not-scanning-my-drawings-quickly-enough hell, but it’s time to catch up with this past summer’s travel fun. I went to England, France and Belgium earlier in summer, to attend my brother’s wedding, spend time with my family, take my dad out for his birthday, ‘experience’ the (now-dead) Queen’s 70th Jubilee, then escape the (now-dead) Queen’s 70th Jubilee and get some quality sketching time in Lille and all over Belgium in rain and sun and cloud. One trip back over to the home countries is not enough for this sketcher, so in July we took England and France trip #2, this time with my wife and my son. Or rather, just my son at first, as my wife stayed back for a few more days to care for our sick cat. So, my son and I went to San Francisco airport to catch our plane to London. We got there well early, had a nice dinner, played some MarioKart on our 3DS devices, iPads well stocked with Ghibli films to watch on the journey, and sat and waited to board our BA flight. Right as the boarding time came up, we were still waiting. A few whispers, I don’t think we’re getting on this plane. Then as we were preparing to board, it was announced the flight was cancelled because, get this, the tyre had been damaged upon landing, and they did not have a spare anywhere at the airport that fit that plane. It was a particularly big plane, double-decker. So, they said, they have to have a new tyre sent up from LA on a big truck. We ain’t flying tonight. Lots of confused people. We waited to get our bags, we waited in line for information as to whether we could board another flight, but no can do, they had already cancelled a flight earlier in the day because Heathrow wanted fewer incoming international flights that week due to staffing issues. Now I am usually travel lucky, as you know. Things usually work out. So to have my flight cancelled when travelling with my son was not ideal, but we made the best of it. My wife was able to find us a hotel quickly nearby to the airport (too late to go back to Davis), while we waited to see if BA could fly us the next day. It wasn’t cheap, but thankfully BA covered the cost. And there we stayed, me and my son sitting in the room playing our ukuleles, racing each other on MarioKart, watching Disney Plus shows. We went back to SFO the next day for many more hours of waiting. They were able to finally get our flight scheduled, although we still had to wait in a very long line of about 2.5 hours to check in. I recognized many of the faces from the previous evening’s lines. Some people from Ireland who had long missed their connecting flight, a few English people, and loads of people from Scotland, specifically Aberdeen, so I spent a lot of time listening to the Aberdonian accent which is a pretty nice accent. It seemed like spending one more night in San Francisco was not necessarily the worst thing in the world, although drab hotels near the airport aren’t exactly Mai-Tais at the Fairmont. That line was long, slow and exhausting. My son went and sat on a bench and read his book, played his 3DS, watched his iPad. I sketched a bit  using a blue brush pen from Belgium, see above. Had to document the experience. I also played my 3DS, read a book, listened to a podcast, anything to pass the time. Eventually, we checked back in. We went to security. We had another dinner at the terminal. And finally, we made it onto the plane. It took another couple of hours to take off, but it took off. Our section was not crowded; I think several people may have found another flight. Our seats were nice, and it was exciting to land back in London, finally, very very tired, and see my mum. My son was happy to be back in London again after over three years since the last visit, and we got a travel story to tell. It all worked out in the end.

flying south for spring

We went to Southern California, for a short Spring Break vacation away from the rainstorms we’ve been having. Tell you the truth, we thought it might rain in Southern California too, and were taking a bit of a chance staying right by the beach with a nice pool, but dangit it was a chance we were willing to take. Besides, our last night there would be at Great Wolf Lodge, an indoor water-park forest themed resort for the kids which would keep us out of the rain and yet still, oddly, soaking wet. As it turned out, the weather was gorgeous and sunny, so there was plenty of beach time and outdoor pool time in Huntington Beach (meanwhile, Great Wolf Lodge was a bit of a let-down, so we ended up going to the cinema). But first, we had to get there. I sat in the row behind la famille, so I sketched and listened to podcasts. We flew JetBlue into Long Beach. When we landed, I saw something which was just, well, WOW:
Long Beach Airport Doggy Hydrant

A doggie-themed fire hydrant!! It was in a little fenced off grassy area designed for pets to go pee-pee. Now as someone who sits sketching hydrants and getting t know them quite well, I’m always one to roll eyes at the boring tired cliche of dogs weeing against hydrants, but this is just amazing. Except actually I really hope dogs don’t wee against this one, gross. But isn’t this the best hydrant you’ve ever seen? I never thought I’d see one so cool. Another one to add to the collection.
Long Beach Airport

Here is another JetBlue plane, which I sketched while waiting to board for the flight home. I’ll post the beach sketches later, just imagine them (yellow at the bottom, light blue at the top). This one was drawn, like the top one, in the dark blue uni-ball signo pen, it looks really nice on the paper. I have quite a few planes in this sketchbook now, and with those wings you have to draw them over a two-page spread. You can see where the page break is. I spend a lot of time in airports, on airplanes, up in the sky. I remember being a kid and being terrified of the very thought of flying (despite being obsessed with air force jet planes), I was so scared of planes that I would not let anyone else in my family fly. When I was six my older sister was going away somewhere, a school trip to Germany I think, and I wouldn’t let her leave the house, cried my eyes out, I was hysterical at the thought of her flying. She eventually went, and I’m glad she did, because from Germany she brought back this amazing stuff called ‘Nutella’ I had never seen before, and started my lifelong love of this mysterious ‘Nutella’. When I was 10, my family finally convinced me to fly, and I got in my first ever plane, flying to Ibiza off the coast of Spain. They took me to see the pilot in the cockpit (it was the 1980s, they probably would have let me fly the plane), and I’ll never forget the pilot asked if I wanted to see out of the window, and I said yeah, and so he just tilted the whole plane sideways! I thought that was cool, but everyone back int he cabin were freaking out a little bit. After that, I was fine. No idea how many planes I’ve been on since. I don’t really like flying, but it’s more that I don’t like the hassle of airports, I’m not a fan of taking off and landing, but the bit in the sky I’m totally fine with.

here am i sitting in a tin can


I think I still have some Lisbon sketches (and a few London ones) yet to show you but in the meantime I’ll fast-forward to the air-travel. I sometimes wish that airports would only happen to other people, or that heathrow airportteleportation devices could be invented a bit more quickly. Until that happens, air travel is the only way I’m getting around the planet. So be it.

I must say that I actually enjoyed flying with US Airways. The planes were comfy with lots of leg-room (better than Virgin, BA and United), even on the domestic flight. I had to change planes, sure, but there are worse places to change than Philadelphia airport, and I was able to fly back into near-to-home Sacramento rather than the miles-away San Francisco.

A word of warning to any flying urban sketchers though – occasionally, just occasionally, your micron pen will burst in mid-air leaving a splat of pure black mess all over your page (and all over you if you’re not careful). I left the mess on there, and in fact blew it about a bit to make an interesting shape, and just drew around it (see top drawing). It just adds to the atmosphere after all, though it looks a bit like a Dementor is serving the coffee.

Prior to getting on that flight, I sketched the last page of my London/Lisbon moleskine, a drawing of the plane itself. and what should be in front of it? A day-glo fire hydrant! since they’re unusual to see in England I was happy to have spotted it. I feel a bit like Bill Oddie sometimes, if Bill Oddie liked fire hydrants and had red hair.

I tell you one thing about Heathrow, for some reason Terminal 1 no longer has a football shirt shop. I was looking for ages for that, and had to make do with looking at William & Kate mugs at the Harrods shop, toy underground trains at the Hamley’s shop and what seemed like one of the last chain record stores in Britain, Heathrow’s branch of HMV, where I picked up (appropriately) the Rocky box-set on dvd for like eight quid. Philadelphia airport has Rocky t-shirts and Clubber Lang shot-glasses and stuff, but didn’t have that, so round one to LHR. 


I was pretty exhausted by the time of my final flight (the sixth of the trip), listening to a young guy in the aisle opposite talking to an older lady about all the places he’d visited in Europe, before putting my headphones on, turning up the music and trying to chip my way through A Dance with Dragons (spoiler alert, GRR Martin fans, I’m still none the wiser on this series; I think the butler did it, but GRR Martin is yet to introduce the all-important butler character who will be more important than all the characters you’ve followed for five books, and then kill him off just as you start to wonder if reading his chapters was worth it…). Anyway, after all this travelling, all this sketching, it was nice to get off the plane and be back with my family again.

i could drink a case of you

red squeaky bag
I thought I’d just share drawings I did of the bags I took with me to Lisbon. You’ll not be interested in the blue suitcase, it’s just a suitcase and is not of interest to the urban sketcher. Here it is anyway. The interesting bag is the red one, which I decided to bring after much deliberation and deciding, as my main sketchbook-shoulder-bag. I have gone through many bags in the search for the right one, and in so many ways this bag (by Eddie Bauer) fits the bill perfectly – the right size, the right number of zipped compartments, and pockets on each side that are just big enought to carry a can of drink (so it doesn’t take space up inside the bag). Perfick. Except for one thing.

It squeaks. It bloody squeaks. It’s the strap, I have tried several straps but for some reason it doesn’t lose the squeak. It sounds as though I have mice in my bag. I sound like a rusty robot walking down the street. Oh well. The bag still worked perfectly for me in Lisbon, though I did get a lot of attention from cats.

blue case

One thing I’d like to point out about suitcases. The baggage carousel at the airport, to be specific. When you get off a plane, and go to collect your bags, you don’t need to stand right at the carousel, with your entire family and trolley and a hundred other bags, you can stand back a little and let other people see the bags. When you see yours coming, you can step forward and pull it off. It’s EASY. But no, people apparently think it’s better to stand practically on top of the moving carousel, thereby blocking the view for anyone else and standing in the way of anyone who wants to pull their bags off (bags which they see only at the very last second, because a crowd of people are in the way). Grumble grumble grumble, dear editor I know, but airports are little enough fun as it is. So please folks, stand about four or five feet back from the carousel at least. Grumble over (can you tell I don’t like airports?).

fly away, pete

It’s going to take me some time to add all the pictures and tell all the stories about the 1st International Sketching Symposium in Portland. I am still ringing with excitement about all the things I learned and all the people I met, rubbing shoulders with 80 other people who ‘get it’, and all the creative ideas that started to explode from my head as soon as got on the plane back to Sacramento. I’ve not been this excited aboout creativity in many years, and am eager to charge headlong into exploring more ideas. However, it’s time to start scanning those drawings and documenting for those of you who weren’t able to be there. Matthew Brehm, in his excellent lecture on the history of sketching as a social activity, called it the “Woodstock of Sketching”, and I agree, it probably was (apart from the drugs, sex and nakedness aspect of course).

Anyway, in linear fashion, I’m going to start at the beginning, Sacramento Airport.

sacramento airport
sacramento airport

I’m not a huge fan of airports, or flying in general. I was when I was younger, but nowadays I struggle a bit with them. Have you seen that film ‘Up in the Air’? Yeah, that guy’s not me. (Apart from the good looks of course; only joking).

On the plane, I sat by the window for the obligatory ‘view from the plane’ sketch. The stewardess brought round sodas and juices to the passengers. I forgot to ask for one without ice (they come in plastic cups rather than little cans, like on Virgin and other flights). When my diet coke came, fully iced, and i asked if it were possible to have it without ice, the stewardess gave me a look like i had asked her to tell the pilot to fly the plane upside down. Still, five minutes later she brought me a diet coke without ice.

“Where are you from?” the older guy next to me said suddenly, his wife looking on.
“Britain,” I said.
“People in Britain like their drinks warm?”
“No,” I sighed, “it’s because when I’m done with this drink I don’t want a cup of ice just sitting there.” Well, I don’t, I have nowhere to put it, and I really don’t like swallowing the ice. There’s no drain on the plane. It could get knocked over, onto my sketchbook, or my laptop. No explanation needed.

Apparently there was. “Well, in America,” he announced, his wife nodding, “people drink their sodas with ice in it.”
“No, mate,” I said, “it’s nothing to do with that. I don’t like ice.”
The man and his wife raised their eyebrows. I imagined they would be talking about this over dinner later with their friends, all drinking fully iced sodas, that crazy British guy who just doesn’t understand American customs.

I brought my own bottle of diet coke on the flight back. Some things are just too complicated to explain.

Symposium blog: http://pdx2010.urbansketchers.org/

plane sailing

SMFI took an overnighter to Vegas, to see my Best Man; last time we’d been there together was for my wedding. He plays poker there now, so I flew down for some chat and some beer. Having seen so many other urban sketchers drawing in the airport, on their various trips around the globe, I thought I’d finally get a sketch in (on this one occasion when I’m not chasing my nearly-two-year old son around the departure lounge; oh that will be fun on our trip to London). This is a Southwest plane at Sacramento airport (SMF).


Week Thirty-Five: petescully is Away

I hate airports. Some people see them as places of excitement, full of people travelling all over the globe, every continent and every country coming together in one place, huge metal birds soaring across the horizon, and all of that bollocks. In reality they are inconvenient places packed tight with tired and stressed-out travellers in inappropriate clothing for the climate, families with noisy young children who have to take up the entire row of waiting-area seats with various coats they were never going to wear, soulless security staff who have been trained in the art of humourless arrogance, and shops full of things you really don’t want. Yes I know that’s a glass-half-empty look at airports, but that’s how I see them. I don’t like them.

San Francisco International was actually quite nice. Incredibly modern (lots of glass and white painted metal) with interesting displays of public art. Hardly anybody about, so there was space to breathe, and there was none of that waiting in a queue for a couple of hours to check in. I hate how airlines insist on you being two or three hours early, mainly because I do not ever want to spend any more time in an airport than I have to. It didn’t take too long to get around it, either – some airports are so huge you need to take a plane to get across them. Of course, there are the travelators – which, as Seinfeld once pointed out, people often forget are actually for travelling on, not for just standing there, leisurely passing the world by, ‘look at me, i’m not even walking’.

Usually it is such a relief for me to get on the plane and get off the ground. Unfortunately, United Airlines employ the sardine-method to air-travel, and I was clamped into place with nothing but King Kong for entertainment, on a flight I was expected to sleep on. I didn’t make the journey any worse by actually watching it, so I read a little, listened to some music, tried to sleep and failed. The air-hostesses, their baggy eyes caked in make-up and their uniforms threatening to throw stitches and release unwanted air-pressure, waddled the aisles unsmilingly offering pretzels and sodas and food with less taste than the Daily Star. I watched the map anxiously, passing over the Rocky states, past places with names like ‘Big Baldy Mountain’, across Canada and Greenland, over Iceland and finally into Britain.

And into Heathrow, one of the world’s largest (and therefore most irritating) airports. Baggage reclaim is always fun, isn’t it? It’s like a gamble, did my one make it, or is it in Sydney? And then you start to wish that you’d tied a ribbon to it, because everyone’s bag is large and black and looks just like yours. People pile around the treadmill ready to pounce on any bag slightly resembling their own, pushing other people out of the way in fits of jetlagged desperation. And then a sigh of relief as your luggage comes out; and a smug look on your face as if to say to the others still waiting, “well, I guess I’ll be off, good luck getting your bags back from Australia, suckers!” Yes, airports are really lovely places.