After a very long time, I finally went on a train. On public transportation, first time since the start of the Strange Times. It was a big step. California is Opening Up, I’m all vaccinated, and I needed to get out of Davis for the day. So, I took the train down to Oakland, a city that I’ve never actually been to. Amazing isn’t it, I have lived here for sixteen years and yet never been to Oakland. Well I say I’ve never been, I’ve been through it on the BART many times, and I’ve been to the airport once. On the very first trip I took to the US in 2002 I even went to watch the Oaland A’s. I have never been to Oakland proper though; I will post the sketches another day. For now here is the sketch I did in red pen on the Amtrak train to Richmond (I got the BART after that to Oakland). This was the very last page of the Moleskine sketchbook (Sketchbook #39). I liked it do much that a week later I went back on the train, this time heading for San Francisco, where I spent an overnighter exploring and sketching. Another post for that. I opened a brand new Moleskine sketchbook (Sketchbook #40) and on the first page I drew the purple pen train sketch below. People wore their masks except when drinking or eating; the group in front of me here were all cyclists. The trains are never particularly busy when I get on them so it felt quite normal really, and I was I admit delighted to be on the train again. It’s been two years since I had my last sketching day out in San Francisco, amazingly. Every time I travel I think, I’m not going to draw the train again am I, but then I’m there and I think, yes I am actually. Here’s the album of most of my in-voyage sketches (planes, trains and…other trains): https://www.flickr.com/photos/petescully/albums/72157671776646978
Ok…this one goes back a while. Back to March, in fact. In my defense, I only got the sketchbook back recently, so I could not write a post about it at the time. Well I could have, but stories without pictures? I was invited by Prof David Del La Peña of UC Davis to take part in a special sketchcrawl, which was to be part of the annual conference of CELA (the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture) in Sacramento. The sketchcrawl would move from midtown Sac and end up in Davis, linking up by train between the two. I joined them after lunch in Sacramento, and we were given accordion Moleskines to draw a series of fast sketches in, on location, at various spots about downtown. Also in attendance was Chip Sullivan, who I was not familiar with but he is very well known as a sketcher and educator and knows James Richards well. So I started off by drawing him and David near the conference center in midtown.
“Where Are We Going” it said on the sculpture near K Street. Well it turns out we were going down to the Cathedral, and I sat behind the large open angel wings of a statue. I remember drawing this Cathedral (Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament) years ago, 2006 or 2007, back when Pyramid Brewing was right behind, and California was so new to me. I remember trying to draw the Crest back then as well, the classic movie theatre a little way down the street. As we stopped for a moment to mention something about sketching I drew the sign, taking just a few minutes, before we moved on.
And then we moved to the newest part of downtown, the area around the Golden One Center, the massive basketball arena. We saw Paul McCartney there a couple of years ago, an amazing show, one of the first performances held at the stadium. Macca sang for three hours and was incredible. I remember when this was part of the downtown mall, I would come here occasionally, but it is long gone now. You’ll notice I decided to deraw in pencil that day. I find that in those accordion moleskines I find drawing in my usual pen to be frustratingly difficult. The paper, the size of the page, the fact that it’s flopping all over the place, plus the extremely limited time in each spot – so I just went with pencil, which moves so fast across the page, and splashed on watercolour when I could. It was a sunny day with great clouds.interesting shadows, but cool enough for scarves. My favourite weather. We walked from there over to the Crocker Art Museum, not with much time to do a larger sketch (such a tight schedule, and distances to cover!) but enough time to pop into the gift shop. Oh but I did get a sketch, of another sketcher in a red coat. And then we went to old downtown…
Old Downtown has lots to sketch, I really should go sketchign there more often. This time I decided to draw some of the fire hydrants, one with a yellow cap, one with a green cap. This was followed by fast sketch of the Pony Express statue, before we walked to the Amtrak station.
I sat with a couple of the people attending the conference, Penelope and Tatyana (I think one came from Texas, another from California, but this was in March and my memory has faded). It doesn’t take long to get from Sac to Davis, but there was a table and a defined amount of time to sketch. You can see from the window that the Causeway was still full of water, after all the rain we got last spring. I have sketched the inside of Amtrak trains a few times before.
And then we got to Davis, with just enough time to draw that iconic and sketchable Davis building, the Varsity Theatre on 2nd Street. And then we relinquished our sketchbooks, and walked back to the UCD campus.
The books were shown at an evening event during the conference, I was unable to go to it, but it would have been fun to see how everyone else interpreted the afternoon. Everyone sketches at different speeds and with different amounts of detail; I consider myself a fairly quick sketcher but it was hard to keep up! My feet were pretty tired afterwards, and I needed a good rest that weekend.
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.
This is a bit different. I drew this from the window of the Amtrak and didn’t use pen, just paint and a bit of pencil, speeding away from Davis across the delta to Richmond. I haven’t got my scanner so I took a photo, hence the ‘no-scanner’ look to this. We had huge storms in California, really heavy downpours and strong winds, causing flooding in a lot of areas. The lands around the Delta were pretty bepuddled, and the dramatic skies in between the two rounds of the storm were something to paint. It was a stress-reliever to to this, it always is.
Saturday afternoon and I needed to sketch more. Yes yes I have drawn everything in town and want a new perspective on the same things, I am not feeling super creative right now though, and finding little comfort in the usual sketching, i suppose I am just in need of another long journey somewhere far away with lots of interesting streets and angles, somewhere like Porto for example (but maybe without the tired legs). There are still views to discover here though. I have drawn the Amtrak station before, of course I have but never while stood behind that circular fountain feature outside of Tres Hermanas on 2nd St. So that is what I stood and drew, while listening to a History podcast (two guys talking about the extraordinary history of ordinary things, such as the ‘history of the lean’, or the ‘history of clouds’, a really fresh perspective not only on history but on observing the world and universe itself – the sort of thing I should really be thinking about more, in fact you might say it has inspired me to think more like that, or rather, it’s inspired me to do that tomorrow. Next week). I needed a panorama. I must say I am using the softcover Stillman and Birn ‘Alpha’ landscape sketchbook and, while I do love the paper, I can’t wait to be done with this book. The softcover is starting to bug me. I need the hardback again. My next cued-up book is another Seawhite of Brighton book, then I’ll likely use the hardcover Alpha again. The softcover is fine if I’m sat at a table, and its slightly smaller scale means I can draw a panorama more quickly than in the slightly bigger hardcover. The way I stand though, it becomes awkward keeping it open, especially as I get further into the book. So, I’m looking forward to finishing it, which means I need to draw a lot more.
I’d really like to publish a book of Davis panoramas, that’s my intention. I’ve not worked that out yet, but I do have quite a few already. To see this one more closely, either move your face really close to the screen, or click on it and a larger version will pop up.
Just before Christmas I went down to the city (San Francisco) for some pre-Christmas sketching, and to spend money shopping for last-minute gifts. Well, one last-minute gift. And it was from Tiffany’s so it was less ‘last-minute’ and more just ‘minute’. Well, maybe not that small. I walk in there and I say, look, I am a man and utterly clueless, I don’t even know what a Tiffany’s is, I actually thought you sold cakes, and they are like, absolutely sir, don’t worry, you are not alone, let me help. And they were very helpful. But you don’t want to hear about my complete cluelessness when it comes to shopping for things that aren’t made by Nintendo or Lego (hey, I feel sophisticated when I buy myself a new jumper, like I’m a style guru or something). You’re here for the sketching, and that’s what I do. Actually it’s not all I do, I’m also really into history and language and writing, and I totally love football (soccer) and spend ridiculous amounts of time obsessively making spreadsheets of football stats you don’t need (for example, the most worn kit make since the Premier League began is Umbro, also the most successful in terms of games won and equal on titles won with Nike, but Nike has a goal difference of +1316 compared to Umbro’s +341 (compared to Adidas whose goal difference is +480 – you really don’t need to know all of this, but this is the sort of stuff I think a lot about) (I do work for the Statistics Department, it kind of rubs off on me). Anyway, the sketching. I used a new Palomino pencil that my friend Terry in Japan sent me (I thought palominos were horses) (I should tell people, this pencil was sent by a pal o’ mine) to draw the Amtrak train scene above, because you have to draw on the train.
Now I haven’t sketched around SoMa in about ten years, so I went to the Museum of Modern Art for a little inspiration. I was mostly inspired by the entrance fee to maybe go and do some sketching outside instead, but not after spending a lot of time in the gift shop. They have the best stuff. I sketched outside in Yerba Buena Gardens, which is always a nice place for people watching (I love that phrase, I never watch people, they’re not very interesting). Fun fact, Yerba Buena is the original name of San Francisco, being renamed after the local mission in 1847.
Now this unusually shaped building is part of the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and I could tell before looking it up that it was designed by Daniel Libeskind, as those diagonally turned buildings are somewhat of a signature of his. It reminded me of the building he designed on Holloway Road in London, I used to go past on the bus. London Metropolitan University, that’s it. This one is much more dramatic. As I sketched, a rather shouty man, tailed by a police officer on a bike, wandered past yelling some angry gibberish at the world, with the cop shadowing him all the way. I didn’t add any paint, but moved on, as I only had an hour or two of daylight left.
I was near Union Square by now, and so I stood just off the Christmas shopping masses and sketched the signage of John’s Grill. I don’t know who John is or what his grill i all about but they appear to specialize in Jazz, cocktails, steaks and seafood, and have been around since 1908. Well done Pete, you have successfully read words, pat yourself on the back. I really liked that tall building in the background, on Market Street, and I used a grey pen to sketch it. San Francisco’s slightly damper air gives a muted, softer feel to its colours and lines.
Yes, I have posted it before but here it is again to round off the daytrip. It’s the big Christmas Tree in Union Square. It was busy, lost of people stopped to take pictures with the tree (a lady sitting nearby was asked many times by people to take their photos, she was very obliging; nobody asked me, I was sat above, my head buried in a sketchbook). I did draw a couple taking a selfie though because that’s the thing nowadays, actually people have always done it even with their old cameras but it didn’t seem to offend grumpy people as much. Seriously, people who get irritated by people taking selfies, get over it. I know the standard response to that is “seriously, people who get irritated by people who get irritated by people taking selfies, get over it” but if you start down that road you end up on a continuous looping paradox of nonsensical arguments (aka Twitter) (or aka everywhere these days). Anyway, after this sketch, the sunlight fading faster than fog in a funfair, I switched into hapless Christmas shopper mode and spent the rest of the day making the wallet a bit lighter. And then I caught the train back home to Davis.
At the start of this month I took a couple of day off from sketching Davis and went to San Francisco for an overnighter. I took the train down as you do, the Amtrak to Emeryville, followed by the Amtrak bus over the Bay Bridge. And because I’m on the train for an hour and a half I have to draw it, even though I’ve drawn it before about a million times. In fact you know what, I was going to tell you about my trip to San Francisco but I’ve decided I’d rather bore you with a bit of trainspotting. Here are my other Amtrak sketches, or as many as I could find, the story of sketching just to pass the time. Training in perspective.
And that is quite enough scrolling through train sketches for today.
I haven’t posted much lately, though I have a lot of sketches to post. It’s not because I’ve been travelling (and I have), it’s not because I’ve been busy (though I have), it’s not because I’m rather lazy (yes I am), it’s not even because I’m so mentally exhausted from all the news in the world right now (yes we are). No the real reason is that I have a pile of stuff on top of my scanner that I couldn’t be bothered to move to scan anything. You know how it is, I’ll just put this magazine here, oh and these books, this jumper, oh and all my mail, and this Lego, a pencil case or two, the car, a turkey and all of my family, all piled up on top of the scanner, so moving it off of there and finding a space for it takes too long, so I’m behind on my scanning. This week I finally sat down and moved the actually-admittedly-quite-small pile off (not reorganized, just moved) and scanned the remaining sketches from the last sketchbook, Seawhite #5. First up, sketches from my Memorial Day trip to San Francisco. I didn’t go there with any real purpose other than a need to get out of Davis for the day. The family were out of town visiting other family, so I hopped onto a train down to the Bay, sketching in the Amtrak as I went (above). I probably don’t need to do any more of those train sketches but I still do it, and it looks nice.
I stopped into the Ferry Building and sketched the view from a little winery/cafe place. I really like it inside the Ferry Building, plus it’s like a middle class theme park. Cheese-tasting, Sur-La-Table, Oysters, Soap, Wine, it has it all. I had no plan of action for sketching the City that day, I just needed to be somewhere with different streets, yet familiar streets, and see where they took me, but as it turns out I unexpectedly ended up following a similar path to the sketchcrawl I did back in November 2007, nine years previously, starting at the Ferry Building and ending up at Rogue in Washington Square. Spoiler alert for the end of this post.
I drew a fire hydrant along the Embarcadero. These ones are interesting, they have this weird handle on the front, they look funny. This model has been on my sketch-wish-list for a long time. Hey I like fire hydrants, ok. A lot of joggers jogged by, as they do.
I got a bite to eat at a food truck and sat on the side of the road eating it, like you do. It was curry, it wasn’t cheap. It is designed less as real authentic street food and more as a way for local techsters and moneyboffs to grab some real authentic street food and pay more than in a sit-down restaurant. The city ain’t cheap. I walked up Broadway, a steep bustling thoroughfare leading to Columbus, where the old raunchy nightspots and strip-clubs are found. I was more intrigued by the angle of the sloping streets (“I only read Playboy for the Articles”…”I only go to the Red Light District for the Angles of the Sloping Streets”) (side note, I’m reminded of when someone told me they “only read the Daily Mail for the TV Listings”, so I said “I only read Breitbart for the Cereal Ads,” but enough current affairs). North Beach has some epic hills. If you want to practice the way perspective interacts with steep hills this is a great place. Lisbon too. And anywhere with hills. When I was done with this, I walked around to Columbus and certainly not up those steps.
I did pop up Green Street, and saw to my pleasure that music store I sketched back in 2007, if you remember that far. Here it is on Flickr; I like my comment that I would draw it “Some other time, definitely”. Well I kept my promise to my 31-year-old self! It’s pretty much the only promise I kept to my 31-year-old self but there you are. I did go inside this time – it really is crammed with stuff! Loads of old tape-decks and video players, as well as a guitar shaped exactly like an axe. I didn’t colour the outside in this time; maybe some other time. Definitely.
So just like in 2007, when I met up with sketchers at the end of the ‘crawl for a beer at Rogue Brewing, I did the same this time, except without the other sketchers, just by myself. I sketched the bar in purple, using a bit of blue and pink, and white gel pen. And then it was back to the BART, back on the Amtrak, and straight to the couch to watch TV. It’s always nice having a day in the city.
Recently I went to Santa Barbara for the UCAAC (University of California Academic Advising Conference). I took the train down from Davis, an 11 hour journey on an Amtrak which didn’t have wifi, but did have amazing views. For an eleven hour trip it went by quite quickly. Zipping past the ocean, I even saw some whales, poking their heads and their tails out, an exciting sight. I spent at least half of the trip in the observation train, which was bright and roomy, and so I sat at a table and sketched. What else would I do? Sketching on trains is a good way for you to practice perspective. Also to practice steadying your hand while everything is bumpy. I caught the train at 7am, the first time I had taken one of these Coastal Starlight trains in California. They go right down from Seattle to San Diego, passing by many cities on the way. There were people who were making the long trip, a few interesting characters, and the announcers on the train liked to give the occasional piece of commentary. We crossed the Delta, went down the East Bay, through the Salad Bowl, horseshoed around a massive prison outside San Luis Obispo, paraded down the rocky coast before finally reaching the palm trees and beaches of Santa Barbara. It was a big ol’ train, a goliath on the move. I’d take the trip again. I did another on the less-lengthy train journey between Santa Barbara and Burbank Airport a few days later, sat in a regular seat. I’ll post my Santa Barbara sketches next, as I’ve finally started scanning them. Santa Barbara has a lot of red tiled roofs.
Last year at around this time I Amtrakked it down to San Francisco to sketch North Beach, and as I mentioned in my last post that’s what I did again a couple of weeks ago. Now last year I spent some time sketching the bars and cafes of the area, so that’s exactly what I did again this time. Above is Mr. Bing’s, a little cocktail dive that I’ve always wanted to go and have a drink in but have never plucked up the courage. Well, I’m not here very often. I have always wanted to sketch it though, so it was the first thing I sketched that day, while eating an early-lunch panini at the cafe across the street. North Beach has those little green white and red bands on the lamp-posts to signify that this is the Italian neighbourhood, but just on that corner there you can catch a glimpse of a Chinese-themed lamp-post, as that is the border with Chinatown.
This is Caffe Trieste, a little further uphill and around the corner from here. Caffe Trieste is an old San Francisco favourite, in business since the 1950s and popular with the artists, musicians and poets of the area. As a passing Big-Bus tour-guide (not on the bus with walking with a group) mentioned, this was a regular haunt for the famous Beat poets, such as Kerouac, Ginsberg, all the Beat poets. The tour guide (who I sketchd quickly, right) felt obliged to read some Beat poetry outside, I couldn’t understand what it was about though. It’s not just the Beat poets who sipped espresso here, apparently Francis Ford Coppola wrote much of the screenplay of The Godfather here. I never went into the Caffe (I don’t drink coffee, nor write poetry) but I would love to sketch the interior some day, soak in the beat-lit atmos. Did you know, Caffe Trieste was probably the first Espresso house on the West Coast? Its founder, Giovanni Giotta (Papa Gianni) came from Istria (near the city of Trieste; I’ve been there, nice place) in the 50s bringing a little piece of home with him.
I was feeling pretty Beat myself after all this sketching (do you see what I did there? Did you see that? Read it again) so as the Sun was quickly dashing westwards I chose to do my next sketch from the comfort of a pub table. One of my favourite haunts in the City is just around the corner from here, Specs, an interesting North Beach bar with walls and ceilings full of memorabilia and stuff to look at. I do love this place. Last time I was here I sketched a panorama of the busy bar area and was one of several artists dotted around the pub, unconnected but just doing what we do. I sketched over a couple of pints, listening to conversation, people watching, dreaming of anything. That might have been a Beat poet in front of me, perhaps a young Beat poet, I wasn’t sure. A young lady shared a laugh with a silver-haired man at the bar (I sketched them too, below), while a group of British fellows unseen to the left enjoyed a weekend pint while reminiscing about San Francisco in decades gone by. Or they might have been talking about something else, rugby or something, but I hear what my ears choose to hear. I like Specs. Years ago I came here with my friend from England and played chess and got drunk and laughed and did impressions of Brick Top. I like Specs.
I have another post of sketches from that day – stay tuned. So, do you remember when I posted my North Beach sketches last year, over two posts? One of the posts (“Leave the Pen, Take the Cannoli“) got a ridiculous number of comments, 223, possibly my record. The second post (“A Bright Centre to the Universe“) got a very respectable 11 comments, which is pretty good, but clearly not quite as good as the first. I actually prefer the drawings in the second, but according to everyone else the first post is more than 20 times better, but that’s fine. Anyway on that note I will leave you with the chronologically-out-of-place first sketch of the day, which I did on the Amtrak at around 9 in the morning. The train from Davis was crossing the Delta, with the golden brown landscape dashing by in the chilly morning sunlight. It was even colder when I got back to Davis, cycling my bike home in the near-freezing dark. It’s a long day out, sketching in the City.