a tower shining bright

UC Davis water tower
This is the UC Davis water tower. I have sketched it before, but I don’t mind rehashing old material. I’ll happily tell the same jokes many times over to the same people, over a period of many years, as anyone who has read any of this sketchblog can attest. You might think that I’m sketching for a new audience, maybe someone hasn’t seen one of my sketches of the water tower before, and here’s a new one, but no, it’s really just that after 13 years in this town there isn’t a lot else to draw, so you draw things again. Different times of year, things look different; different times of my life, I see different. Let’s not think too much about it. Cezanne never worried about that when he was painting Mont St.Victoire over and over. Well he probably did, and if I had stayed in Aix-en-Provence myself beyond 2002 then I too would be on about my hundred-and-fiftieth drawing of it, and the Rotonde, and the Place d’Albertas and all the other corners of town that might lose their charm. I’d be dreaming every day, while wandering among the ochre stone and narrow cobbled streets, stepping over dog poo, cigarette butts and dried-up wine, wishing I was somewhere far away and different, like some American college town where they have fire hydrants and falling leaves, wide streets and bicycles, huge continent-crossing trains in the middle of the night, where smoking is banned pretty much everywhere and fresh milk isn’t hidden away like some unloved cousin. Sorry Aix-en-Provence, I love you but I married Davis. I came to Davis 13 years ago, and this water tower was the first thing I ever saw of the town, sticking out above the flat valley like a giant sputnik. It reminded me a bit of my first memories of France actually, when we would visit northern France on school trips, and the most striking thing about the French countryside were the distinctive water towers. This water tower has always for me been the symbol of Davis, more than the bike or the frog or the eco-conscious beard. It’s worth a few sketches I think. I drew this one at the start of November one sunny lunchtime, stood on the banks of Putah Creek, adding the paint on site because everything was such an attractive colour. The sky was a clear and breathable blue. This was before the horrible wild fires up near Chico, that brought havoc to the area and covered northern California with a hazardous smoke for two weeks, even closing down the UC Davis campus. As of last week the rains have finally come and the fresh air is back, meaning we could go back to work today. I didn’t sketch during that whole time; I went to Portland a couple of weeks ago to teach a workshop (I’ll write more on that later), and have been on a bit of a sketching hiatus since. Everyone needs a break. But I’m getting back into it. It’s end of November, advent-calendar-making season, and I have to get that done first. There’s a sketchcrawl in Davis this Saturday (see Let’s Draw Davis) and I’ve got a bit more Walker Hall to sketch, but the rains are coming back…

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never mind the lovelocks

arboretum bridge with padlocks
And so August began, and a new sketchbook was opened. I bought a softcover Stillman and Birn Alpha landscape book from the UC Davis bookstore – I do like that paper a lot, and the softcover is slightly smaller than the hardcover making panoramas a little faster – more on those later. However it is a bit more difficult to hold in the way that I hold my sketchbooks, trying to keep them flat and sturdy, but it’s not impossible. The dark red cover is very nice. It was the first day of August, my sketching muscles were twitching, the weather was unbearably hot, my inbox was overflowing. On this particular lunchtime I took myself into the Arboretum and sketched one of the bridges over Putah Creek. This one has a lot of those padlocks attached to it. You know the ones, like on that bridge in Paris, the one which got so overrun with these ‘love-locks’ that they were worried the weight would drag the bridge into the Seine and they were removed. There are a few such love-locked bridges in the Arboretum. So if you are unfamiliar with the concept, what people do is they carve their initials or their names into a padlock, and then attach it to a bridge, so that they can come back some day and say, oh look it’s still there, amazingly. Or they can come back with a future girlfriend/boyfriend and say, “no, that isn’t me, that’s another person with the same name/initial.” Or, more plausibly, they can come back with a future boyfriend/girlfriend and say, “yah, this was probably me, I don’t remember, this one too, and this one, you don’t know them, they went to a different UC” to which the boyfriend/girlfriend can roll their eyes and say “yeah right, you put these here yourself”. You get the picture.

Whenever I see these ‘love-locks’, my inner Severus Snape always comes out, curling his lip, “Hoooow … Romantic. Ten points from Gryffindor.”

eh eh, calm down, calm down

Arboretum April 2018 sm
This was two months ago now, more than that, but the view probably hasn’t changed so much. That’s Mrak Hall across the water there, occluded by the trees, while I am in the Arboretum of UC Davis, in the shade. This year is whizzing by. The news every day is just an endless stream of avoidable depression, the inbox a constant flow of to-do-nows, and the sketchbook is a little less used than last year as I struggle to fit it in (not to mention finding new things to draw). Spots like this are a great escape. I don’t know what it is about the calming effect of water. I used to love to go and look at the Thames, that would be my escape back home. The year I spent in Belgium would often be a struggle to stay motivated, and I remember one day going to the coast, and watching the sun set on the beach at Ostend, and feeling generally mentally restored by the North Sea, just by looking at the silvery waters, just looking. Of course then I got a train to Antwerp and spent the rest of the evening exploring old watering holes, which was restoring in its own way. I did a lot of exploring when I lived in that small country. I wonder if ducks do that, if they ever get really stressed out by being a duck, to they go and just look at a field. The world is moving along so fast. These colourful flowers may well be gone now, and the summer heat is already starting to pour across the valley. Look for the good while it is still there, and feel it, and remember it. Right, that’s done, now back to work.

among the redbuds

Redbuds Arboretum Mar 2018 sm

And all of a sudden, two months passed and I didn’t post a thing. Perhaps I just really liked that sketch of the Manetti Shrem; whenever I would give out my little Moo card recently, I always thought, oh the past is old now but yeah, great sketch, I liked that one. I have sketched a lot since my last post (which was dated March but in sketching time zone it was still only January). My computer broke, so I took that as an opportunity to be really lazy about scanning my sketches regularly. Now I have a new machine the time has finally come to sketch the backlog. I’m going to break chronological order though, even sketchbook order, and post for my return to the sketchblogosphere this opening illustration of the latest Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook, the bright pink redbuds in the UC Davis Arboretum, with the Water Tower behind the tree. Those redbuds are gone now, but that colour is a powerful opening line to this book.

Now, in the middle of May, my seasonal allergies are going haywire at the mere sight of foliage. Seasonal allergies are the most boring thing ever. For me, very little really works, other than staying insulated in my office. However since I do have to coach soccer, and I also have to get out and draw from time to time, and also cycle from home to work, exposure to the outside world is, regrettably, necessary. It is boring though, having allergies. Boring, because everyone has a solution you haven’t tried. “Mm, yes, thanks, yes,” I nod, trying to find the facial emoji for “I am pretty sure I didn’t ask you for a cure”. Boring, because there is so much sneezing and never enough Kleenex. It’s funny how sneezing is automatically asking for a tissue. Sneezing is not however asking for a blessing, so come on world, let’s stop doing that. “Bless you.” says random person after sneez one. “Bless you!” they say again after sneeze two. “Oh, bless you,” they say after sneeze three, the concern creeping into their voice. They no more want to continue the blessing than I want to receive it. They have now locked themselves into a trap of politeness, like someone holding the door open for you when you are that bit too far away, they stand there expecting you to walk faster because they are holding the door for you, and even though you weren’t actually going to go through that door but turn and go another direction you feel you have to go through the door and pretend to be doing something in that building, you stand there looking at your phone like you are trying to remember the place you are pretending to look for, and you have to wait for them to leave the vicinity before creeping back outside the door and going the other way (that’s never happened to you?) “Bless you again!” they say on sneeze four, as if to say look, you’ve had your fun, nobody sneezes this much on purpose, and I’m not made of blessings. “Wow, hahaha!” they say on sneeze five and you want to vanish into a portal as you fumble for the dry half of the tissue in your back pocket. On sneeze six they raise their eyebrows, as if saying an internal prayer for forgiveness because they are refusing to bless this clearly sick individual who cannot stop sneezing. On sneeze seven they are ready to fight you. On sneeze eight you are obviously dangerous and they get their phone out, either to tweet about you or to call the police. On sneeze nine they dial, but this time they dial the Guinness Book of Records. On sneeze ten you’ve gone viral, the world’s media shows up and talk shows are discussing whether you are just a crisis sneezer, sneezing for attention, or whether you are the first victim of a new epidemic that will soon sweep the nation if we don’t vote for tax cuts for pharmaceutical companies (oo-er, little bit of politics, mrs thatch, mrs thatch). On sneeze eleven you’ve sold the advertising rights to the space between sneezes, mostly to those same pharmaceutical companies who offer allergy products with names like Zqxywfyl or Snotadrine. On sneeze twelve you’ve received so many blessings that you can officially be listed as a religion on the Census form. On sneeze thirteen – seriously thirteen sneezes? – you’re already appearing in sponsored ads at the bottom of websites with titles like “whatever happened to sneezing guy”. On sneeze fourteen, nothing happens. Everyone is calm and has just accepted you have allergies and will sneeze a lot. Everything is quiet. And then someone says, “I take local honey, that always works for me.” Which is code for “if you ever sneeze again, I swear I will end you.”

So yeah, no more bless-yous, no more “my sister-takes-this” cures, please just ignore my sneezing. By mid-June I should be ok. At least when I am sneezing, I am not making loads of dad-joke puns (oh right, except for the “a tissue!” one).

reflections of the way life used to be

king hall from uc davis arboretum sm
This is in the UC Davis Arboretum, that view of King Hall from Putah Creek, with Mrak Hall in the background, that I have sketched before. Look at that Creek! Regular listeners will recall how the Creek has so often at this time of year turned into a pea green soup, but the Arboretum people have been doing an amazing job renovating the Creek (is ‘renovating’ the right word? I’m not a Creek Scientist so I’m not sure how it works). Now the water is clear and reflective, and what a reflection. It was that that drew me to sketch this scene yet again. For years I sketched this every summer, usually around June, to track its changes. King Hall is home to the Law School, named after Martin Luther King Jr, while Mrak is where the University administration resides, named after Emil MRak, the first UC Davis Chancellor. This is the extension to King Hall built within the past decade, but the original King Hall was dedicated to Dr. King in April 1969, a year after his assassination.

Ok, I always do this when I sketch this scene, but here are a bunch of previous years’ sketches.
2015:
mrak & king from the arboretum
2012:
mrak & king halls
2011:
mrak & king halls
2010:
mrak & king halls
2009:
mrak hall... with the law school ruining the view
2008:
mrak hall
2007:
mrak, seen from the creek

I sometimes talk about being a ‘sketchbook historian’, and this is the thing, if you live somewhere, draw it. And then draw it again, and again, and you will have a record of how it changes, a record that goes beyond mere memory, and one that photographs don’t always capture in the same way. On top of that, you can see how your own sketching style evolves, improves, changes, sometimes be design, sometimes naturally and unexpectedly.

lodge by the creek

putah creek lodge uc davis
This is Putah Creek Lodge, in the UC Davis Arboretum, sketched one lunchtime. It’s a short walk from the office. People don’t really lodge there, it’s just a good place for meetings or staff retreats, dinner events and so on. It feels out of the way enough though that you’re not in the bustling heart of campus, it’s a little more peaceful. I sketched in the shade while listening to a football podcast.

counting acts and clutching thoughts…

putah creek uc davis

It’s February, the birthday month. I don’t really do a lot to celebrate, I don’t have parties or anything, don’t really have enough of a social circle for the sort of nights out I used to have when I was younger, now it’s more a quiet meal with the family, a pint of beer and some cheesecake. Now this sketch, done on the first day of the month at the UCD Arboretum about a minute from my office, was not meant to be metaphorical of  birthdays but in that great way you can retrospectively attach meaning to anything, this is a bridge, signifying crossing from one time to another. Weak I know. On the far side though is the Robert Mondavi Institute of Food and Wine Sciences, which includes the Beer lab, so I supposed that signifies celebratory tipples in some way. There is a STOP sign, which must mean I need to stop and assess myself, and there is a yellow sign for a roundabout, which of course as we all know signifies the Circle of Life, obviously, that one’s obvious. The path, well part of it falls into shadow which of course means the path is not always clear, and then of course there is the Creek, and that one is easy, it signifies my creaking body as I get older each day. I had no idea there was so much semiotic depth to my sketches! I wonder what all the fire hydrants mean? Actually don’t answer that.