towering over our heads

UC Davis arboretum Here’s another sketch of the UC Davis Water Tower (one of them anyway) in the Arboretum, this time with a very spring-like feel with the redbuds glowing. The first day of March 2022, which means we are nearly two years on from that day in March 2020 when we all stopped, and then carried on in a different way.

ickle bit of pink

UC Davis arboretum

The Redbuds are out. This is in the Arboretum at UC Davis, the section closest to where I work is the Warren G. Roberts Redbud Collection, which blasts into life at this time of year. Here’s a little bit of info about it: https://arboretum.ucdavis.edu/warren-g-roberts-redbud-collection. The Redbud is a native Californian plant, which grows in the foothills. I sketched quickly. A lot of people in the Arboretum that day, seemed to see many people I know, or who knew me without me knowing (or recognizing) them. I do sometimes get a “hello!” from people who I’ve obviously met before but don’t recognize (either due to the masks, my legendarily bad eyesight, or just that I never recognize anyone), so I always just say “y’alright, how ya doin’?” back, and let my slow mind catch up with who it might have been afterwards. This happened just last night on the way out to the soccer practice field, I got a “hey Pete, been a while!” from someone but for the life of me I don’t know who it was, I just waved a “yeah man, good to see you!” although I couldn’t actually see them. My phenomenal lack of being able to recognize people goes back a long way. Back in the 90s, I was up in Yorkshire visiting a friend who happened to work in a nightclub, so after arriving on the late bus from London I went by there to wait for them to finish and I spotted one of their friends, who I had met the previous time I’d been up there, Bertie I think he was called, drinking with a couple of other lads. So I went up and started chatting, “how’s it going, good to see you, yeah I had a long journey up here, six and a half hours on the bus, not very comfy, bit cream-crackered now,” the music was loud so it wasn’t easy to hear each other, I anyway after about ten minutes he says to me, “who are you though? I don’t actually know you.” Because it wasn’t Bertie, he had no idea who Bertie was, or who I was, or why I was talking to him about the state of the seats on the National Express. I just went, “oh, you’re not Bertie, sorry!” and went off to hide forever. I might have done that thing where I take off my glasses and rubbed my eyes like in a cartoon. To be honest I probably wouldn’t have known Bertie if he’d jumped out of a big cake. I don’t even remember if he was really called Bertie, he was probably called Bobby or Barry. Anyway, I’m not great at recognizing faces, so if you do see me and I look a bit nonplussed and give the random “hey, how’s it goin” response, that’s just my terrible eyesight and memory, nothing to worry about. I’m too busy focusing on the pink trees anyway.

UC Davis arboretum

maybe the dreams that we dreamed are gone

Arboretum UC Davis

This is another lunchtime sketch from the UC Davis campus, this time down at the creek in the Arboretum, looking towards King Hall and, well, Mrak Hall, back there somewhere. You can just about make it out. It has been a while since I drew from this shaded path by the water, but it used to be a regular sketching spot for me, and I’d come back every year to draw as the scene changed. It looks a little bit unrecognizable from the very first time now. Believe it or not, the sketch below was drawn from the same place, over fourteen years ago. Obviously my drawing style has evolved a bit since 2007 but you can see how much things have changed in this view.

mrak, seen from the creek

I know, I do a lot of these types of posts. Here’s a drawing of somewhere on campus, and here’s what it used to look like years ago. I never imagined being here this long. I’m not sure what I imagined back in 2007, but here we are still in Davis, tracking the changes. And for those of you “why don’t you put people in your sketches, blah blah blah” folks, look, there is one person in each of these two drawings, although the newer one is more of an anthropomorphic scribble. It’s probably not the same person, but maybe it is, after all, I am. They have gone from jogging along that path to walking across the grass, into the shrubs. I’m still drawing into a Moleskine, trying to interpret the world into ink lines and watercolour blots.

hitting the deck

Wyatt Deck UC Davis

Wyatt Deck, in the UC Davis Arboretum, is going to be refurbished. Or is it Remodeled? Or Rebuilt? Renovated, that’s the one. I couldn’t remember my “re-” word. At least it’s not “reimagined”. That’s the buzzword right now, everything is being “reimagined”. Russell Boulevard in Davis is being reimagined. The workplace is being reimagined. I’m half expecting all those celebrities from that awful video last year, when the pandemic was only a couple of weeks old, to come out with a sequel, “Reimagine”. That was terrible wasn’t it, an early embarrassing low. But while the world is reimagining reality, Wyatt Deck is being renovated and the fences have gone up already. I’ve drawn Wyatt Deck before, a few times, we’ve had sketchcrawls here. I did a two-page panoramic in 2014. This renovation will be a long project, with the two decks actually being demolished and replaced by Winter 2022. According to the Arboretum’s website, the original redwood boards are rotten and may be unsafe, and it’s not particularly accessible by modern standards. So, renovation it is. I do wish I had come in for a longer last sketch, but I always have that one from 2014 and now I have this one with the fence, which tells its own story. It’s been here for over 50 years, and is named for Fred S. Wyatt. In fact when it first opened it was called ‘Wyatt Snack Bar’. Nearby is Wyatt Pavilion, which I drew in 2016 for the UC Davis Magazine’s Art Map (it used to be a livestock judging area located over near the Silo, but was moved here and converted into a theatre on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth; actually I went to see Richard III there in 2013). Anyway, I came down here during lunchtime when I was on campus this week (working from home I still have to come down to the office a couple of times every week; we’re planning on a full return in the Fall, but we are ‘reimagining’ how we all do things, so we’ll see what it looks like). I needed to sketch. I think I missed the window for most of the colourful plants that burst out in March and April but the weather is getting warm and May is knocking on the door. As I write, here it is; welcome in, May, it’s nice to see you. The past week was a bit crap for me, and I was feeling pretty down on Tuesday, hadn’t been sleeping much. People, again it’s people, they make things so stressful. Sketching helps, a bit. Just being on campus does too, over the past year it’s felt like a familiar place of retreat, not simply a place of work, somewhere I’m genuinely part of. So I drew this, a beloved old place I always liked going to, for the last time. And I made sure to include the fence in the foreground going right across it. A beloved old place I always liked going to, I can see it but I can’t go to it. I mean, there’s a story right there. Isn’t there just. I’d really like to get back to England some time soon, to see the family, but I can’t. This pandemic, man. I’m vaccinated now at least, but the stress involved in flying for eleven hours, and then there’s long waits at Heathrow, plus self-isolation, quarantine, and then nothing being like it was, and that’s before the emotion of family stuff. A lot of people I know have passed away since I was last there, and the world is a different place. Fences are up, more than I’ve ever known. But there is hope. We will be back on campus this Fall, we’ll make it happen, we’ll all do our part. Things will be different. Hey, that’s the point of life isn’t it, change. Eventually, the solid old wood beneath our feet starts to get rotten, things that we thought worked once need updating for a new inclusive way of living, new places are imagined, new stories not yet written. It’s going to be ok. I think it’s going to be ok.

over the creek

LaRue Bridge UC Davis

While I’m only going to campus once a week it’s still good to track the changes going on. This bridge near my office, where LaRue crosses Putah Creek, reopened recently after a long and necessary update. So on one of those very windy days we had recently I walked over and drew it. The Robert Mondavi Institute (RMI) of Food and Wine Sciences is in the background; they have a whole beer lab, and their own research vineyard. The wind was blowing so I drew as quickly as I could and painted it in later. It was so windy I didn’t even listen to a podcast. In my last post I mentioned about all the things about podcasts that make me turn off, but didn’t mentioned what I am listening to most these days. So here goes, my current podcast list, good for listening to while sketching. I like it when a podcast is roughly 50 minutes – 1 hour long as that’s a good time for a full sketch, unless it’s a bigger more complicated one or a double-page panorama. So in no order:

(1) Adam Buxton Podcast (very funny, he did a really fun one with Paul McCartney recently but I love his specials with old comedy mate Joe Cornish); (2) You’re Dead To Me (presented by Greg Jenner, historian from Horrible Histories, another one where I really love his enthusiasm and voice and his guests again always provide a good balance for the listener, he always has a historian and a comedian and they illuminate any subject colourfully, it’s definitely a highlight when this podcast comes out) (3) Guardian Football Weekly (I really like Max Rushden as a presenter, and he makes a good-natured balance to the dour but hilarious Barry Glendenning, the grumpy wit Barney Ronay and the scholarly Sunderlander Jonathan Wilson), the only thing is I think I actually enjoyed football podcasts more last year when there was no football, and they found more interesting ways to talk about the game in general rather than analyzing the endless mill of games we have now, and I can tell they want a break from this season; (4) Totally Football Show (with James Richardson, formerly of Football Weekly but best known for Football Italia on Channel 4 in the 90s, which us 90s lads all have fond memories of, and I really love the special Golazzo podcasts he does about the great characters and teams of Italian football); (5) Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men (I’ve been listening to this for several years now, as they walk us through X-Men comics history,  over 300 episodes in and they have reached the late 90s and even if I am completely unfamiliar with the stories or characters they are talking about, I can’t help but be drawn in by their enthusiasm and knowledge, and audibly they make a perfect conversational balance with each other, I could listen to them both talk all day); (6) The Infinite Monkey Cage (with Brian Cox and Robin Ince, science based and with a mix of science people and comedians saying funny things (or trying to) after the science people have said the science stuff; (7) History of the English Language (Followed since episode 1, this one is right up my alley as a fellow history-of-English enthusiast); (8) Travel with Rick Steves (I like Rick and his friendly nature, and there are always a lot of interesting stories from the guests about the various places or themes they focus on, but he did lose a bit of travel-cred when he kept referring to Windsor Castle as “Windsor Palace” in one episode); (9) Join Us In France (this is presented by a French woman who lived in the US for a long time and talks about all different areas of France and French culture, and I’ve discovered a lot of places I would like to explore by listening to this); (10) Checkered Flag Podcast (This one runs during the Formula 1 season and is really just a review of what happened that race weekend, but it’s always quite fun even if the hosts tend to sometimes wind each other up a bit much). I also listen to “History Extra Podcast”, “History of the 20th Century”, “Revolutions”, “Formula 1 Beyond the Grid”, “Nessun Dorma” (about 80s/90s football), “Zonal Marking”, “Talking Comics”, “Full of Sith” (Star Wars related but the voice of one of the hosts annoys me a bit so I don’t listen often, but I love that they love the prequels), “Dan Snow’s History Hit”, “Shakespeare Unlimited”, “Grounded with Louis Theroux”, “In Our Time” (with Melvyn Bragg), “Listen Up A-Holes” (Marvel Cinematic Universe reviews, though I tend to skip past some of the long-winded stuff), “Star Talk Radio” (though Neil DeGrasse Tyson isn’t as funny as he thinks he is, nor is his comic sidekick, he does know his physics), “The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry” (science), and quite a lot more that I listen to occasionally. But I also just listen to music, and we’re not getting into that here. I’m thinking of starting to listen to audiobooks more as well, I do like a good story. 

But then again, when out sketching, usually I prefer to listen to the sounds of the environment around me, particularly if I am in a big city or somewhere new. The sounds make their way into the sketch. In this one though, it was the sound of the wind telling me to leave it for now and finish it up later.

it’s a wonder fall life

wright hall uc davis

Last month the leaves in this town just exploded in all sorts of colours. When I say all sorts I don’t mean blue or white or mauve, but most of the other colours in the spectrum were represented there somewhere. My paint box was jumping up and down for me to get outside and put some of this into my watercolour Moleskine. Happy to do so. It was a short period when I couldn’t wait to get outside. Right now, on the Sunday after Christmas, I don’t want to leave the house, or get dressed, but that’s normal. We’re still working from home, though on vacation this week (officially it’s curtailment), but I still have to go to campus every so often to do stuff at the office, and get to take free weekly COVID tests now too. So coming onto campus I took the time to catch some of the colours there. Above is the view of Celeste Turner Wright Hall (drawn it before) which is one of the most gloriously autumnal spots on campus. You can see Robert Arneson’s Eggheads there still arguing beneath the leaves, like Bert and Ernie. These colours bring me a lot of joy. Without sounding like some sort of uplifting Netflix show host (something I have never been mistaken for), it’s good to focus on things that bring you joy. For me, interesting chord changes in songs, the smell of a French bakery, the sun setting over a city as seen from a train, Tottenham beating Arsenal, but nothing quites matches the joy brought by bright colours of autumnal leaves.

UC Davis Arboretum

I drew the above fairly quickly while stood on a narrow bridge in the Arboretum. There was no way I could really catch all the sensations of the colourful leaves, but also quite a few people were crossing the bridge and stopping to take photos. I stayed as socially distanced and masked up as possible. A lot of people were having photo sessions in the yellow gingko trees nearby, as they were dumping their leaves. I bet that gives the trees a lot of joy, the feeling of dumping their leaves at the end of a busy year. I know how that feels. I wonder if the trees know about our pandemic this year? Actually, no I don’t wonder that. I know scientists have discovered that trees do feel and communicate, in their own tree-like fashion, but they probably don’t check the internet or read the papers (probably a sore subject too, paper), and probably haven’t noticed all the masks or social distancing any more than I’ve noticed what the mayflies did this year. They didn’t have to read retweets of all of Trump’s endless rage tweets. They’ve never used Zoom. They also didn’t have to watch that ‘Imagine’ video. But they do get to that point in the year when they are like, right here goes, here’s all the colours, there’s all the leaves, see you in the spring dudes. I like trees, they do their thing. That said I also like things like wooden chairs and guitars and paper, so the trees probably don’t like me back.

Silo UC davis (sunny)

Above and below, the fiery trees around the Silo. They really blazed a bright reddish orange for a bit, before throwing off the leaves in a tantrum, all at once. When I drew the scene below it was rainy, a rare occasion here, but I stood under a tree and drew what I could, adding the rest in when I got inside. I’m glad for rain, after the year we had. For a lot of trees, the blazes have not been metaphorical. This years fires have been awful, we lost a lot of trees in California and beyond, some very ancient. The trees had their own really bloody rubbish 2020. But when they make it this far, beating the fire season, and bursting into displays of colour as an expression of boundless life, it’s like they are sticking a huge two branches up at the deadly seasonal fires; they made it to the end of the year, long may they make it beyond. Drawing these colours brings me joy, no doubt, and I’ll post the other ones I did in the next post. Just before Christmas the UC Davis Staff Assembly sent out a message to all staff thanking them for their efforts with remote work this past year, and included a link to some of my campus views to have a look at, in case (like me) they might be missing campus. And I am missing campus. I can go whenever I want, it’s only ten minutes bike ride down Oak Street for me, but it’s not the same. So much is closed, so few people are around, the campus atmosphere just isn’t there right now. But it will come back. I can’t see it happening that quickly, and even when it does it will inevitably be gradual for a lot of people, something I’m very sensitive to, but we will come back, things will return. That’s something that will definitely bring some joy.

Silo UC davis (rainy)

sketching the birds and getting stung by a wasp

LDD 071820 Arboretum
On Saturday morning we held our first “Let’s Draw Davis” sketchcrawl since the pandemic sent us all home, our most recent one being on February 29th. It was a socially distanced crawl, masked up and stood out of the way, down at the UC Davis Arboretum. It’s been a while. I felt uncomfortable being out sketching, but when I arrived our group was not too big so it was nice to see people. However seconds after parking up my bike I got stung by a wasp! Right behind my ear. That has never happened to me before, not even on those hot June days in the garden back in England, but they finally got me now. So I was in a bit of pain as I introduced the sketchcrawl from behind the veil of my face mask. I was wearing a mask with one of my sketches on it, from Porto. Above is the view from the path of the Redwood Grove.
Davis Underpass 071820
Above is the richly decorated underpass that goes beneath the train tracks. When I lived in South Davis I would take this route every day on my bike, but it has been years. it was not so colourfully painted back then, but it looks very nice now. It was hot while I sketched, and my head was hurting a bit, probably due to the wasp sting that was still throbbing a bit.
LDD 071820 Grapes
Above, a few grapes hanging down from the Gateway gardens. Below, there were some turkeys passing through with a bunch of young poults, so I quickly sketched some. The bird on the right is a Green Heron, though I thought it was a Kingfisher due to the colouring, which reminded me of Kingfishers back in England, which to be fair I’ve also never seen. I was told it was a Green Heron so I am glad I waited to write that down. It was incredible – it would extend its neck to double its body length like Mister Fantastic or something. I expected another bird that looked like Doctor Doom to come along and fight it and call it “that fool Richards”, or a movie studio to come along and reboot it unsuccessfully. Still it was a fascinating creature.
LDD 071820 turkeys and green heron
Speaking of fascinating creatures, here is that wasp. I didn’t know exactly what had stung me because I didn’t see it, but when I went back to get my bike, one of the other sketchers Bill Lum came with me to identify it, to see if it were a wasp, a yellowjacket, a bee or maybe even a murder hornet, at least that is what I was thinking. He noticed that there were plenty of them over some of the bike racks, and they had built nests inside – putting my bike on one had disturbed it, so it had stung me. As he got close, one of the little bleeders came out and stung him too! So, we had to be careful. I held my sketchbook up as a swatter, and carefully extracted my bike from the wasp danger zone. Gently does it. I managed to do so without getting stung again. The sting was not particularly bad, and went down by the afternoon. I’d never been stung before so it was a first experience, nature’s way of telling me it’s not time to go sketching outside yet.
Paper Wasp
Bill took a photo of it, and identified it to be a ‘paper wasp’. So naturally I have spent the past few days trying to come up with paper wasp jokes, none of them any good, at least not on paper. So not a yellowjacket, not a murder hornet. Very interesting to draw though!

Wowee! Maui!

Ho'okipa Beach Maui
After Christmas on Hawaii, we flew one island to the  west to spend New Years on Maui. What a beautiful place! It’s pretty spectacular. I still can’t believe that 2020, the most rubbish of years, started for us on this tropical paradise. It’s like we used up all our good year points in one go just by being here a few days. Well it was worth it. We stayed at a beautiful resort – the Grand Wailea – enjoying the pool and the beach and the amazing scenery. On the second-to-last day of 2019 we drove over to the east side of Maui, along the Road To Hana. The Road To Hana is a famous winding road alongside spectacular coastline and tropical jungle. Near the start of The Road we stopped at the beautiful Ho’okipa Beach to watch enormous waves. I mean, look at that view. It’s one of the most jaw-dropping places I’ve ever been. I love watching all the surfers, though even these waves were pretty wild and not for the faint hearted. There were a few sea turtles lounging on the beach, this is a well-known spot where the honu hang out.

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We returned there on there way back, and saw many more, majestic creatures. I also drew this coastguard’s hut, typical of those along the ocean fronts here.
Ho'okipa Beach Lifeguard Hut Maui

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So the Road to Hana was full of twists and turns, like a twisty turny thing, and we actually only made it about halfway before it was time to turn back. This being December it would get dark before we could return if we went all the way to Hana itself, so we’ll save that for a future visit. However we made a couple of other really fun stops along the way. Firstly we stopped at Twin Falls, hiking a little way to see some interesting looking waterfalls along a river. I loved the sound of the bamboo trees knocking together in the breeze. We had fruit smoothies and coconut at the farm shack afterwards.

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But I think our favourite stop of all was at a lush tropical arboretum called the Garden of Eden. We spent a good while walking about its paths, enjoying all the colourful flowers and tall bamboos, its sudden vistas of waterfalls or drops into the ocean, its huge banyan trees with knotted roots. The park was designed in 1991 by arborist Alan Bradbury and really feels like a beloved family-run place. Well worth the visit, every second of it. https://mauigardenofeden.com/
Garden of Eden Maui
And this view right here was seen in Jurassic Park (the first one, still one of my favourite films), when they first arrive by helicopter.

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We did have some food before leaving though. Right next door was the smell of some tasty barbecue, so we stopped and had what I can only describe as proper Hawaiian comfort food. Dudes, this was a platter of meats (chicken for me, my wife had the pork) and veg served on leaves on a massive chunk of bamboo, with barbecued banana topped with whipped cream to finish. That banana was heaven, it really was.

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And finally, on the way back we stopped in the small beach town of Paia, for some delicious shave ice at Tobi’s Shave Ice. I tell you, this was the best shave ice I had in Maui. Everyone talks about Ululani’s, but I much prefer Tobi’s.

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I’ll put the rest of my Maui sketches and pictures of food in a different post I think, because this one particular day was Maui enough. Needless to say, we went to a luau, we saw a lot of golden sunsets, played in a lot of waves, had a lot more shave ice, and more than enough cocktails to make up for the fun that would be 2020. Yep, Maui’s very nice.

 

“P’atwin means people”

native american contemplative garden
This is a nice spot in the UC Davis Arboretum, it is the Native American Contemplative Garden. This garden honors the Patwin people. Davis and the surrounding areas are part of the original Patwin land. The garden was designed by Bill Wright, a Patwin Elder, along with his family and students in the UC Davis Native American Studies department, among others. At the end of the winding stonework and path is a small column of rock inscribed with the names of Patwin people who lived on this land and were removed the missions between 1817 and 1836. Around the garden are stones with some Patwin words inscribed on them, such as “Ye’te we” (“Dream”) and “Mi muho” (“You sing”). “P’atwin means people”, as it says on one of the stones. I had never sketched here before, so I came along to sit in the shade and try to imagine California’s past, before the Europeans came along.

The Darling Buds of April

LDD Arboretum flowers April19
The sneezing starts slowly for me each year, and this week it is starting to ramp up. There is always a nice period before the sneezing begins however when I can enjoy the sudden colourful bloom of Spring in relative peace, thinking “you know what, this year I’m just not going to sneeze, everything’s going to be fine.” By the darling buds of May though I’ve turned into Rentaghost’s Nadia Popov. Also, the “are you taking anything for it?” conversation is even more boring than saying “bless you” after every sneeze and then laughing after the fourth, so when people ask me what I’m taking I say “sneezing powder”. I  have seen a lot of floral sketching recently in my Urban Sketching Community’s online feeds, inspiring me to draw more flowers myself; my sudden upsurge in walking everywhere and seeing so many colourful gardens, parks and pathways made me really see this year that Spring is actually quite visually beautiful. So, out comes the sketchbook. Now I wish I knew the names of all the plants, and thankfully the Arboretum does label most of them, but I’m a little bit plant-clueless. All the more reason to sit and really look at them, see how they work.
Arboretum Flowers
The walk to Northstar Park in the north part of Davis has a lot of beautiful flowers.
Flowers on the Green Belt
And here in the Arboretum, I took a stroll through the Acacia Grove, drawing in pencil this time.
Arboretum Acacia Grove April2019 sm
Finally, a tree stump. It was too interesting to leave out. Happy bloomin’ Spring to you!
LDD Arboretum tree stump April19