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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s Fall. Autumn. So the leaves are all changing. You expect that sort of thing. Hey, you might remember I sketched this scene (from a different angle) only a week or two ago when it was all still green (actually I left the trees white I think, so that doesn’t work), I didn’t even compeltely colour this one in, but it was so peaceful and colourful. The scene below, sketched last week in the Arboretum, was also colourful, but there’s only so much time to colour everything in. It wasn’t that colourful I suppose.
While walking in the UC Davis Arboretum earlier this week, I was greeted with an unbelievable sight. The entire creek and Lake Spafford was a bright, grassy green. It wasn’t the water itself, rather the green stuff floating on the surface. It wasn’t a sickly green, rather a very healthy looking green. It looked like the fairway of a golf course. So I did a quick sketch, which is below. You can see it in the sketch above as well, though in patches the water is visible and reflected the sky. Those scribbly dark areas are shadows.
Just a little green. Or a lot of green. Anyway, the arboretum is a lovely place right now, with leaves turning autumnal colours and the change in the weather (pushing 90 a week ago, pushing 60/70 now). Ok, so back to the top sketch, this is a scene that I’ve sketched many times over the years. I watched this view change over the course of a few years, once per year, until it settled upon the current look, when I got bored and stopped. You will remember, I have been in Davis ten years now, and it’s not a big place, things will get sketched multiple times. This is King Hall, with Mrak Hall in the background. This used to be a view of Mrak alone. Here are the sketches; I really do feel like a sketch historian now…
Coming next: a new sketch of the Bike Barn, which I have sketched about two million times…