some time at UC Davis (summer 2022)

UCD construction panorama 081122 sm

As we catch up from last summer, here are some of the things I drew on campus. There was a lot of work done on the roundabout junction between the Silo, Chemistry and Bainer, so I stood behind the wire and drew the construction machines and the workers putting the street together. The standing stones in the foreground on the right have been there for ages, I’ve drawn them before, I’ve drawn everywhere before. It’s interesting to draw the in-between moments of these places, as they go from looking one way to another.

UCD Bainer pano Aug2022 sm

The next view is very close by, from a different angle, where there’s no work going on, and it hasn’t changed in years. I drew this one pretty fast; it was the difference in the high-summer greens that made me want to put it to paper.

TB UCD 082622 sm

Another one drawn on a super hot day while stood in the shade, this is an old campus building called TB-9, which sounds like the name of a protocol droid in the Star Wars universe, but TB stands for ‘temporary building’. I mean, astronomically or geologically it is temporary, as are well all and all our thoughts and fears and politics, but in this case, the building was born in 1958 and is now on the actual National Register of Historic Places, no less. So it’s probably not going anywhere, but it might tempt fate to call it ‘Permanent Building 9’. If you want to know more about this building, check out this article: https://www.ucdavis.edu/curiosity/news/historical-highlights-uc-davis-department-art-and-tb-9-1958-1976

UCD 082222 sm

This next one is primarily about the cacti in front of the Student Community Center, looking out at the Silo area. Another hot day, they all blend into one now. What even happened last August? It feels so long ago already.

UCD SSS lobby 090122sm

A week or so later, while it was a sizzling 102 degrees outside (in the weeks that would follow, 102 would feel like a bit of an ice age), I sat inside the Student Community Center and ate lunch, and drew the lobby area. Among other things this building is home to the UC Davis Cross Cultural Center, and there are colourful murals inside. We hold our annual department holiday party here too.

silo 092722 sm

And finally, the end of September, summer was over and the new Fall quarter had begun. So everyone was back, and we all got busy again, and the Silo area had new blue and yellow sun-shades over the tables. The academic year started. I still have a bunch more sketches from summer to post, from Davis and a few other places, and some from Fall too, but this was the summer on campus. Most of the staff in our department worked remotely except for one day a week, so I was there by myself for a lot of the time, but it’s nice when there are more people about again giving the campus its life, with all the students rushing about and bikes everywhere.

saturday last summer

davis farmers market 082722 sm

Still with Summer 2022. Right now it is a sunny but cold January Saturday, right after lunch (which I’ve not eaten yet; it’s not that long after my late fried-egg sandwich breakfast, after a late start this morning), at the end of a pretty busy but also pretty unsatisfying week. I’ve done a bit of sketching this week, not much but more than I’ve been doing. The tip of my middle finger has a band-aid on it, I picked up a cut somehow this morning, and so typing is a bit messier. I just took out the trash. I’m listening to the Boo Radleys for a bit of mid-90s-ness while my wife is packing up some of my son’s old things to take to the Goodwill. The cats are doing whatever the cats do, chasing each other around the house. I keep thinking, it is a nice day, I should be outside sketching, but well, Saturday in Davis and like, what do I want to sketch? Not that much. Our little backyard is getting a bit overgrown after the massive storms, but I’m not feeling up to going out there with gardening tools, I’m not up for the black widow fights today. It’s too late to go down to the Farmer’s Market, and I don’t really fancy being there anyway. I did draw this panorama there in the summer though, underneath the big metal shading, as many people went by (I was counting the different football shirts; there was a guy in a Tottenham shirt, big respect, but with ‘Ndombele 28’ on the back, which was a bit hopeful of him). I wanted to draw the perspective, but also the people, and then mix it up with some paint washed over it. It was a very, very hot day. There’s always a lot going on in a Farmer’s Market sketch. Well, not that much, I suppose, just people walking in that slow Farmer’s Market way. It’s good observation practice though. I’m not always that much of an observer, despite being an urban sketcher for all these years. My eyesight’s not great, and I daydream, so if someone I know walked past, I probably wouldn’t recognize them. Many of the people I draw tend to be a mash-up of different people – I’ll draw their face and they are gone, so I add the next person’s shirt, and so on, like one of those books you had when you were a kid. I don’t make things up though, I try to draw the people I’ve actually seen, so it’s representative of who was actually there (otherwise everyone would be in a Spurs shirt of different eras, all looking a bit like Glenn Hoddle). That guy with the ‘tache on the left though looks a bit familiar, like maybe he has the face of an old teacher from school. The posting of last summer’s sketches continues, but I should get on with some new sketches; I should eat lunch first. Saturdays don’t grow on trees you know.

sacramento station

Sacramento Amtrak Aug2022 sm

In August I took the morning off work and went to Sacramento for a small medical thing, my wife drove me there. It took a little longer than expected so I had to get the train back to Davis, but there was quite a long wait for the train (so I ended up taking most of the afternoon off too), so I sat outside the station in the shade of a big tree and tried to draw the old Sacramento Valley Station, which I’d never drawn before. It’s a grand old structure dating from 1926, and is the end of the line for the Capitol Corridor route which goes down to the Bay Area. I had quite a long wait (there were two hours between the train that I had missed and the next one) although it’s a bit of a schlepp to the platform, takes a decent ten minutes to walk. Ok maybe a couple of minutes less but you have to hurry. I did add the paint and some of the window shading later though. I like to draw train station exteriors, I’m building up a collection of those as well now. One thing I love to do is travel by rail. I often dream of taking one of those really long train trips across the country, the ones that take several days, but who has the time for that now. The closest I did was the long train ride down from Davis to Santa Barbara, which was on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train, the epic journey from Seattle to Los Angeles. That was a fun experience, though I wasn’t an overnighter unlike many others. You can see the post from that trip here: https://petescully.com/2016/05/19/rails-whales-and-tales/. There are many train journeys in Europe I still want to take as well, like that steam train in Scotland through the Highlands, and I’d really love to take that bullet train across Japan. I just like trains.

painting the room in a colourful way

UoB Davis pano Aug2022 sm

Here’s something you don’t see much from me any more – a sketch from a Davis bar. Back before the pandemic I enjoyed going to an interesting bar in Davis and sketching a complicated scene with a slow beer, and I have a good backlog of those. In the past few years, much less so. One of my favourite places to go to randomly sketch with a beer, De Vere’s, closed down last year. University of Beer, which I have drawn numerous times since it opened in, what 2014? The year before? They focused a lot on its outdoor seating during the pandemic times, as did many places. I did go there one evening last summer though, not long after we got back from our summer trip. I was thinking of this thing where I draw a scene and then splash lots of colourful watercolor over the top, a bit like with that sketch of the Black Heart in Camden, maybe with some areas masked over with the paint masking pen, and I wanted to try it out on an interior. University of Beer is usually interesting to sketch so I went there. It was pretty quiet in there. Those few people at the bar were not there too long, there were some other people at one point, but mostly it was empty, with the few people there staying in the outside seating. There were more staff than customers, but the staff were friendly and said they liked the sketch. It had been a while since I drew a bar interior in Davis, and I don’t think I’ve drawn one since (although I did sketch a couple in San Francisco one day in September when it was really hot). I went with using a rainbow of colours, although it really was pretty colourful, though still reasonably dark for a bar. You never want it too bright, a bit atmospheric but able to see the page. Still with so few people it felt a bit cold, despite being very hot outside.

4th and F Davis pano Aug2022 sm

Earlier that evening in fact I did do a sketch outside, stood on the corner of 4th and F, looking out at that Chinese restaurant (Silver Dragon? I’ve only been there once and can’t remember if that is still the name, but it’s usually quite busy) and the Wells Fargo bank. This one I left uncoloured, it felt better like that. My foot was hurting a bit as I stood and sketched, so I was looking forward to stopping off somewhere and sitting down with a cold drink and my sketchbook. I think I was most excited though about doing that paint thing, and this wasn’t the right drawing for that.

but now these days are gone

EOP building from Olsen 011023

I have not done a lot of sketching yet this 2023, much less than in previous Januarys. I think there are a few reasons. The weather was awful, with all those storms, which felled so many trees. Normally I’m like, well yeah but I’ll still draw, but I haven’t as much. Secondly, I’ve been busy with work. Yeah but normally when I’m busy with work, my sketching output increases, and January is always busy, but I’ve been feeling a bit more stressed and a bit more tired. I guess when you slip out of day-to-day sketching even for a week or two it’s harder to slip back in, I always like to have ‘runs’ of sketches, it takes the pressure off that first sketch. Sometimes I lose confidence in sketching how I want to, even though I draw fast. I’m getting that thing where in my lunchtime I will be like, do I have enough time now to draw? Is this enough time to get something done that I actually like? Usually when I run out of time, I’ll just finish off later, but I am finding that I’m becoming the king of finish-off-later. Then there’ my ageing eyesight; for some reason, sketching outside, normal light, I’m still fine, but I find it a bit more irritating drawing at the desk at home now, I have to either get my face close to the page with glasses off, or sit way further back, and indoor lighting just doesn’t seem to cut it (I know I’m getting to the point where bifocals would probably help with that, but for some reason they always remind me of those school secretaries you used to get who would peer down at you for being late or send you to talk to the head; I thought it was just me that imagined this imaginary character, but then my Mum said the exact same thing when she was talking about bifocals; funnily enough we did go to the same school, some decades apart, but I doubt that this imaginary school secretary with bifocals was actually there either in the 80s or the 60s. Maybe it was someone we saw on TV). Anyway I don’t mind my bad eyesight when sketching out and about, because that’s part of the view, but when drawing at home from a photo (more so than the finish-odd-later thing, where I’m finishing off colours or leaves from memory anyway) I have to shift my focus a lot more. I don’t know, “fortyitis” my optometrist called it. I actually had to look that up, thinking it was a real condition. So I’ve not been doing any desk drawing at home either. And then there’s the weekends – I really really want a day out sketching, down in the city maybe or somewhere else completely (…London?…), but for one reason or other I’ve not been able to.

I also, well, get a bit bored of drawing Davis. I know, I’ve been here before. I always find something else to draw, some other way of looking at old things. It’s just I’ve been finding it hard to stay motivated to keep documenting the same place, when I really need to get out and travel more. I think posting my sketchbook from the summer of 2022 this past couple of weeks has not helped with that, it’s just made me yearn for more travelling and sketching. Looking at other people’s sketches online, while usually a massive inspiration, has also made me feel frustrated for not being out sketching interesting places more. The Urban Sketching Symposium is finally back this year, and while I was super excited about it, I then made the (possibly stupid, surely regrettable) decision not to go. It’s in Auckland, New Zealand, a place where I’ve wanted to visit since I was a teenager at school. When I was 13 or 14 I had a pen-pal in New Zealand actually, in Lower Hutt near Wellington – though I can’t now remember their name, I remember they did send me a letter once inside a plastic bottle, that was sent through the post across the world to me in north London. Our school had this scheme where they would arrange pen-friends for students in different countries, and I loved writing letters across the world. I had one in New Zealand, another in Koblenz in Germany, another in Naples in Italy, and another in Vienna, in Austria, who I was pen-pals with the longest. I never met them in person, but it was a fun way to learn about people in other countries at a young age. These days it would be harder because it’s so much easier, with email and social media, it would probably be nowhere near the same. Anyway I’ve still never been to New Zealand. It’s in April, which is an awkward time for work when it can be busy. I also feel somewhat overwhelmed by the large symposia these days – they are such huge events now that I sometimes just want to wander off on my own anyway. I really enjoy meeting new sketching people and talking sketchbooks and styles, and I always love hanging out with those sketchers I’ve been meeting with since that first one back in 2010, the originals. I still get shy though, and I never feel quite confident enough though to propose teaching a workshop, or even a talk, so I just lurk about with my sketchbook drawing as much as I can, always obsessing that I have not yet drawn enough, I need to get more, to ‘catch up’.

So this drawing above was done on one lunchtime where I was like, no come on Pete, you really do have to draw, it will help. And it did, and there was no ‘finish-off-later’ to fall back on. It was on one of the off-days when the storms cooled off and the rain stopped a bit, but I went up to the second floor of Olsen Hall and draw the EOP building at UC Davis shielded away from any possible rain interruptions. This old tree is still there, with its large bulging bit in the middle. And I tell you what: I will -WILL- draw today. Especially when things are stressful (and are they!) I have to remember that the place I go to put that stress is a little 8.5″ x 5″ book with a nice blank page. Whatever comes out, comes out, even if it is the same old thing I’ve drawn a thousand times. Hey, that thing I draw might not be there next time I draw it.

un p’tit peu plus de Paris

Paris Seine panorama sm

Here’s the final batch of Paris sketches from last July’s visit. We really covered a lot of ground, but there’s a lot left to explore in future years. The thing about travel, I want to go everywhere. Well, maybe not everywhere, I don’t really fancy places like Swindon, or Fallujah, or Minsk. I’m sure they have their charms, but they are a bit further down the wish list. I feel like you could explore Paris forever with a sketchbook. The above panorama was another morning walk across the Seine, pre-breakfast, I had a bit of time. I did most of the linework there and then, but had to add in that truck and a lot of the windows later, as well as colour it in. My tummy was rumbling, you know. This is the Pont au Change, looking across to the Île de la Cité and the impressive Palais de Justice and Conciergerie. This is the heart of historic Paris right here. Right next to where I sketched was a stone marker that said on the 19th August 1944, Jem Harrix, ‘Gardien de la Paix’, died for the liberation of Paris. Harrix was a fighter in the Resistance, although I couldn’t find out much more than that. I walked off to get the usual selection of morning pastries, and got ready for our day of sightseeing.

There was one day where we visited the Musée D’Orsay. My wife had been telling me about the Musée D’Orsay for years, she loved that place when she first visited it back in the late 90s. It really is one of the most impressive art museums in the world. Built into the building of a train station, which features giant clock faces that you can look out of to heart-stopping views across Paris. I loved seeing all the paintings by your Renoirs and your Monets, and enjoyed all the sculptures by your Rodins and your Degas, but it was the architecture of the space itself that inspired me the most. I would love to go back; you can never spend too much time in a museum though, because museum fatigue is a real thing.

Musee DOrsay sketches 1 sm

While taking a sitting down break, I sketched some of the sculptures quickly. It looked like a couple of them were almost doing a ‘Brucie’, that is, the Bruce Forsyth pose. More on the Brucie in another post perhaps, but it’s become one of those traditions now that when I go somewhere, I get a picture of me doing a ‘Brucie’. I got quite a few Brucies on this trip. I even got a Brucie at the Louvre in front of one of those massive paintings by David, though it was too crowded for a Brucie in front of the Mona Lisa. I got a Brucie at the Eiffel Tower, a Brucie at the Mont St Michel, a Brucie by the Seine, a Brucie in front of Van Gogh. You can only do one at each place, you don’t get nothing for a pair, not in this game. Anyway, I thought Rodin’s ‘Penseur’ had a touch of the Forsyth about him. This sculpture is from 1881! That’s a year older than Tottenham Hotspur. Rodin probably won more trophies too, yeah yeah.

Musee DOrsay Rodin sm

After leaving the museum we went down to the seine and grabbed some lunch by the river, some Breton food. We didn’t stay too long in our seat though, as were were harassed by loads of wasps. Big horrible wasps too that wouldn’t take buzz-off for an answer, and made me spill my drink. I was going to ask to see the wasps’ manager and complain about their behaviour, but it turns out wasps don’t care about your stupid lunchtime and just want to get all over everything you are trying to eat and threaten you with their stingers. They know you’ll give up, and they were right. So we gave up, and walked through the city towards the Eiffel Tower. I’m not sure why we didn’t get the bus, but we thought the walk would do us good. it was a nice walk, but our feet didn’t half need a rest by the time we reached the Champ de Mars. We took a good long rest there and enjoyed the view and the pleasant wasp-free weather, and sketched the scene below. We walked closer to the Tower, recreated a photo we took of our son ten years before, and crossed the Seine to walk up the Trocadero (where I managed to sneak in a quick Brucie). We didn’t go up the Tower this time. I’ve been to the top before. What is interesting is that nowadays it is not possible to just walk beneath the Eiffel Tower, you are rerouted around it, which is disappointing. I do love the Eiffel Tower though, as far as iconic buildings go, this is up there in the top three.

Paris Eiffel Tower 072722

We visited the Louvre too, but not on the same day as the Musee d’Orsay. My wife was surprised when I told her that I’d never been to the Louvre, in fact I’d never really been to any of the big Museums in Paris. In fact, none of the small ones either. I’ve not been to Paris that many times, and I usually wander about enjoying the streets. The Louvre was absolutely massive though. It’s big from the outside, but inside it feels even more gigantic. We did see the Mona Lisa of course, in that jam-packed little space (no Brucie; no room). I get it, it’s famous, but it’s not all that. You just have to say that you saw it and be done with it. It didn’t exactly have any impact on me such as when I saw Guernica in Madrid. Still, you got to see the famous thing, and anything by Leonardo da Vinci is worth taking a look at.

paris montmartre sm

After the Louvre, we rested those tired feet by going up to Montmartre and walking around that hilly neighbourhood, getting out at Abbesses Metro station and climbing a ridiculous spiral staircase that went on forever, I thought we’d end up on the Moon or somewhere. Despite being packed with people, I really like Montmartre and had a nice afternoon there in 2019 (see: https://petescully.com/2020/02/02/une-journee-breve-a-paris/). We took the Funicular up to Sacre Coeur, enjoyed the views, despaired at the stupid amount of those little padlocks on all the fences. Seriously everyone, stop doing that. Padlock peddlers walk around selling those little “love-locks” at silly prices. But honestly, are you going to come back in years to come with your spouse and look for your little padlock with your initials on them on that fence with thousands of others and go, yay, we were here before, wow. No, don’t be silly. There was that one bridge over the Seine, the Pont des Arts, where so many of these things had been placed by silly lovers, throwing their keys into the river like idiots, that the city actually tried to stop it, because there were so many that the bridge started suffer damage under the weight. So people, please give up the love-lock thing. Love is all you need, not a bloody padlock on a bridge or fence in some city miles away. Anyway. We went inside Sacre Coeur, I had never been in there before, and it’s really nice. From inside, we did notice that the building is distinctly, um, booby-shaped. We wlaked about the streets and squares, found a very cool shop called ‘Merde’ run by an artist selling his artwork along with lots of things that say ‘Merde’ on it; we got some stickers and stuff. I did a very quick outline sketch of the view of Le Consulat restaurant, but we were ready to go home, so I took a picture and did most of it later on. The Metro ride home was long and sleepy. We were flying back to America the next day, which was an eventful journey in itself. We loved our time in Paris, and I can’t wait to come back again.

Evening Strolls in Paris

shakespeare and co paris sm I like my early morning wandering and sketching when we have family trips away, out by myself when the others are still sleeping. But I also enjoy the evening stroll as well, a good way to work off a long day’s walking and sightseeing. I’m just so keen to explore and to look, and of course to sketch. So much life was within walking distance of our apartment. I ambled over to Shakespeare and Company, the famous English bookstore by the Seine that everyone has heard of. We came by earlier, but didn’t go in because the line to enter was ridiculous. I’ve seen long lines to get into bookstores before; the Livraria Lello in Porto, for example, where you actually had to buy a ticket to go in, it’s that famous; bookstores everywhere on the night the last Harry Potter book came out; and of course, Faculty Books on the Middlesex University campus, where I used to work twenty years ago, there was always a line on the first day of term so people could get their massively overpriced Pearsons textbooks for their Econometrics class. the line for Shakespeare and Company, while moving, was too long for us to consider. It’s not like Shakespeare himself was in there signing copies of Much Ado About Nothing. No, it’s just a really famous bookshop. Loads of famous writers have been involved with this place. Loads of them. Loads. It’s not the same Shakespeare and Company that Hemingway and Joyce are associated with, but it’s named after it, and it’s really famous in its own right. I went back in the evening, knowing it would still be open, which it was, but there was still a long line outside. Well, I thought, perfect time for a sketch. I drew the panorama pretty quickly, and drew people even more quickly. The great thing about sketching people in line is that they will be there for a while, but because they don’t want to lose their spot you never get them coming up to you to see why you are sketching. Not that anyone would, this is Paris, it’s full of artists. I never got to go inside the store, as it closed up while I was finishing up the drawing, but I’ve been in before. I think it was in about 1999, one evening down by the river, came across this shop, there was no line outside in those days. It was interesting, in an old bookshop kind of way. I’m glad I got my sketch this time. I am a sucker for old bookshops, and for new bookshops too. I like the smell of certain French bookshops, very clean and tidy, with so many of those particular books with the white spines, and always with a huge BD (bande dessinee) section.

Paris St Severin sm

We were located very close to the church of Saint Séverin, and having passed by earlier in the day I earmarked that one for a sketch on my evening walk. I drew the rear (the apse) from the busy intersection where Rue Saint-Jacques joins up with the Rue du Petit Pont. The setting sky was cinematic. Restaurants buzzed with life. Nearby at a cafe a lady was belting out Edith Piaf tunes. One of those motorcycle delivery drivers nearly knocked someone over shortcutting up the pavement. It was like being in a movie, and just like being at a movie, I really needed the toilet so I went back to the apartment.

I loved our apartment for hanging out in. My son and I had our ukuleles on this trip, so I would sit by the window strumming to all the noise of the traffic. It was just like being in a Netflix show. Just like when I’m watching a Netflix show, eventually I left the room and did something else. I walked a bit further afield on this night, crossing the Seine twice and heading for the wonderful Hotel de Ville. I’m drawing the Hotel de Ville alright, I said to myself. I love the Hotel de Ville. I’ve always been impressed with it, but I especially love how the summer evening light hits it and appears to turn it different colours as the sun sets. Or at least I did before I tried to sketch it. Conscious of time, I decided to zoom my poor ageing eyes in to some details on part of the roof (it’s a really big building), and draw backwards as it were. I always add the colour last, this time I was like no, I am laying down this golden colour now. A lot of sketchers work this way and they love it, they say it’s the best and you should do it, but here’s the thing – no it’s not. At least not for me. I suppose the technique just doesn’t fit how I draw, or maybe my paints are often a bit dry so don’t always produce the most vibrant colours (I usually prefer the more toned down colours), or maybe I just tried to get the colour I saw and then it bloody changed into something else. The sunlight was slowly slowly oh wait now quickly fading, so I had to draw quickly. I still like it though, it’s a story in itself. It was nice out, people passed by and said “très jolie!” and “bellissimo!” and “das ist so cool!” and “hmm yeah that’s quite nice”.

Paris Hotel de Ville

The Hotel de Ville holds one of my favourite memories of Paris though. In 1998, on the first night of my five-week twelve-country train-trip, after a day walking about Paris I went to the Place de l’Hotel de Ville to watch the World Cup Semi-Final on a big screen in a penned-off area with thousands of dancing Brazilians and chanting Dutch. Ronaldo’s Brazil up against Bergkamp’s Netherlands, being beamed up from the Velodrome in Marseille. I camped in with the Brazilians, of course they would be the most fun to spend this warm evening with. And the the game kicked off, and they were all very quiet, a bit nervous, none of the singing and samba I’d expected. I looked across to the Dutch fans, as you would expect it was a sea of orange, and they would not stop singing. They were having a great old time. The game was a bit tense, not a lot happening, so at half time I decided to switch sides and join the Dutch. The grass is always more orange I guess; a minute into the second half, Ronaldo scored for Brazil. Yet the Dutch kept on singing and having a great time, so I stuck with them. It was a long old second half too. It looked like a Brazil win; ok so, I had a night train to catch anyway from Gare de L’Est, heading to Strasbourg, I didn’t want to miss it. And then, shortly before full-time, Kluivert equalized for the Netherlands. The Place de l’Hotel de Ville erupted in a volcano or orange facepaint. We were going to extra time; I still had time to catch my train, yeah? The Dutch camp was the place to be, momentum was with them, and maybe this would not be Ronaldo’s World Cup after all? Looking anxiously at my watch, it went to penalties. For the Netherlands, it was not to be, as the Brazilian goalie Taffarel pulled off a couple of great saves. As soon as Brazil won, I immediately switched sides again and went back to the dancing samba party, a carnival of yellow wigs and plastic whistles. Everyone was hugging and dancing and cheering (well, not the Dutch I guess) but I didn’t have long to party, I dashed to the nearest Metro and just about made it to that last train to Alsace. This was 1998, Brazil were in the Final, this really was Ronaldo’s World Cup. (Narrator’s voice: it wasn’t). The next day I watched France beat Croatia, at my friend Roland’s house in Strasbourg, and Zidane and Company went on to beat Brazil 3-0 at the Stade de France.

Anyway with those memories in mind, I walked back to the apartment. A couple of nights before on the TV we had watched England women beat Sweden 4-0 in the semi-final of the Euros (they went on to win it of course!) and the night after, France were beaten by Germany. On this evening though we were just packing for our flight back to the US the next morning. this isn’t all my Paris sketching though, there’s one more post to come…

At the Corner of St. Germain, Paris

Paris Le Corner St Germain cafe

We took the train from Normandy to Paris, where we would spend a few days of Parisian touristing, museums, walking, people watching, and dodging people zipping along the road in the wrong direction on those hoverboard platform things. I like Paris, I really like Paris; I don’t know if I love Paris, but I really enjoy spending time there and it’s a place I love to wander about in. Actually I think I do love Paris. I don’t know; these days if say you don’t love a place it means you hate it, and wow no, I definitely don’t. Give me a chance to spend time in Paris, I’m there man, especially with my sketchbooks. So yeah, I love Paris. It’s just I still feel I don’t know it well enough. I’ve been quite a few times now, but most of my time in France has usually been in other places. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner; Paris is our sister city. It’s pretty great though. We stayed in an apartment just off the Boulevard St.Germain in the Quartier Latin, on the corner of a pedestrianized street and next to a pretty nice brasserie called Le Corner. That is where I would stop off of an evening and sit outside with a nice big cold beer, with the sketchbook, looking out at the Parisians, and if my wife or son were up in the apartment they could just call down out of the window. The apartment was nice, and more often than not we’d get food out and bring it back there, or cook up what we got from the supermarché. As always I would get up early to wander and sketch, and bring back pastries (I think my wife was getting a bit sick of all the pastries). I drew Le Corner, stood outside on the busy street after a day of exploring with the family, while they rested upstairs. That’s the Paris I love, busy not not too busy, vibrant and close by to stuff, and with a little table and a cold beer (or a wine, or an Orangina) always very close by. The sketch below was done on the first evening here, just sat down and drawing the world going by.

Paris Blvd St Germain people sm

We last visited Paris altogether back in 2012, when my son was only four, and we also stayed in the Latin Quarter, though a bit further south, near Rue Mouffetard. We loved that short trip. I was last in Paris in 2019 when I flew in for the day before heading to Brussels, and wandered about Montmartre; we all went to Disneyland Paris at the end of that trip, but not into the big city itself. I went a couple of times in the 90s on short trips, plus of course I went at the start and end of my 1998 European rail journey, and saw some of the World Cup there. I guess I have been quite a few times now, but perhaps because there is always more, I’m always left feeling like I barely saw it. Well, on this trip we checked off quite a few boxes and really saw a lot of the city, so it was a good trip. I’m glad we had this spot to come back to and relax though. While it was a family touristy trip, I still did a lot of sketching, in those moments when we needed a rest.

Paris people rue boutebrie

A Day at the D-Day Beaches

Utah Beach, Normandy

One of the other main reasons for wanting to visit Normandy was to see and explore Les Plages de Débarquement, the Normandy Landing Beaches. My son had been learning about D-Day at school since a couple of years before and had been fascinated by this period of history, and had been reading lots of of books and watching the films and footage. Early in the pandemic we all watched Band of Brothers (which was amazing, but very graphic) so we all started learning a bit more. Of course we all grew up knowing the story, and D-Day was celebrated in the UK every year on June 6th almost more than VE Day. In 1066 the Normans sailed across the Channel (no mean feat by the way, it’s a treacherous body of water) to subjugate England; in 1944 their descendants made the return trip to liberate not only Normandy, or France, but Europe and the free world from the Nazis. One of the great moments in world history, bought with a great many lives. It was an on-off rainy day when we went, and we started out at Utah Beach, one of the more prominent of the landing sites, and one of the most successful. This was led by the Americans, and along with Omaha Beach this will always be a little piece of America in northern France. We arrived and walked out to the wide expanse of the beach itself, and it’s good that it was a more overcast day than we’d had. There was a statue of some soldiers disembarking from a Higgins Boat landing craft (I sketched above, with the Museum in the background. The Museum at Utah Beach itself (https://utah-beach.com/en/) was really fascinating and well worth a visit. I sketched the large warbird “Dinah Might”, a B-26 Marauder, in the expansive hangar. I do love those old war planes.

Utah Beach Plane 072522

Outside, I drew the Sherman Tank guarding the entrance. I didn’t have long to draw this so I did mostly just the outline and a few details and drew the rest on the plan coming home. So many details in those treads, they really were mighty little machines. I didn’t do any more sketching on our tour of the sites, due to time, but we still packed in a few more places on our way back to Bayeux.

Utah Beach Tank

We drove through towns we knew from the history documentaries, Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, Carentan, Grandcamp-Maisy, imagining what it was like during that horrifying time. We can’t imagine it. We went on to La Pointe du Hoc, a high point jutting into the sea on the other side of the river mouth to Utah Beach, full of German bunkers and artillery that saw a famous battle on D-Day, a victory for the Allies led by the US Army Rangers. We went on to Omaha Beach, a name that brings a bit of a chill. The other main US landing point, Omaha looks like a beautiful place today, but saw some of the most terrifying fighting of the landings with thousands of soldiers killed. Nearby was our next destination, the American Cemetery, at Colville-sur-Mer. This was incredibly moving, I knew it would be but to be there among all those pristine graves, all those names of all those young soldiers, stretching out for what feels like miles, it was overwhelming. 9,388 people are buried there, of which 307 are unknown. The bugle from a memorial service echoed over the stones, and the rain switched on and off. We moved on to Gold Beach, at Arromanches-les-Bains, which was the main landing point of the British forces, spent a bit of time around Arromanches itself, and went up onto the cliffs to see some of the memorial spots. You could still see the artifical harbour installed by the British troops on D-Day to faciliate the landings. We had an ice cream and looked out over the channel.

IMG_8554

We started toward Juno Beach, the main Canadian forces landing point, but the day was getting late so we headed back to Bayeux, which was very close by. That was a day of seeing some of our most important history spots, for sure. We left Normandy the next day for Paris, but we left wanting more, there is a lot more to see and learn about in this part of the world, and it feels like it’s all our history.

Mont St Michel

mont st michel, france

A couple of years ago at the beginning of 2021 I started another Virtual Tour sketchbook, this time around France, a much bigger prospect than my tour of Britain. I only got as far as Le Mans before I stalled, probably because I have now been to France in real life twice since I started it. Still, I’ll get back to it. I didn’t even get around to posting half the drawings on here yet. One of the ones I drew was Mont St. Michel, a place I’d never been to but always wanted to see, and now I have. We drove from Bayeux down to the very edge of Normandy, to the place where it meets Brittany, one of the most beautiful spots in France. Mont St. Michel is a rocky outcrop in the sands of the English Channel (the French don’t call it the English Channel, they just call it La Manche), and a shiver runs down the spine when you first see it out there in the sea, rising like a fantasy island. The tides rise and recede around it, and the long beaches are known for quicksand, but much of the area is made up of salt marsh meadows upon which sheep graze (and get very salty wool). We parked by the visitor’s center, and then there is a shuttle bus ride out there for about a kilometre or so, dropping us off on the long elevated causeway that leads to the Mont. Great place for the photos, and also where I sketched the above (though I actually stood slightly underneath the bridge on the sands, to stay in the shade). It was a pretty hot day, and there is a lot of climbing once you get into the Mont itself. We walked about the narrow winding streets with all the usual kitschy touristy souvenir shops, and made our way up to the Abbey, which was quite a hike. It’s pretty labyrinthine inside, but the views once you get to the windy top are amazing, out over the bay. We couldn’t see England, but I thought I could see the Channel Islands, though my eyesight is so bad it was probably a smudge on my glasses. I did attempt a sketch looking up to the abbey’s spire, with the golden Archangel Gabriel looking back towards France, but it was a difficult angle so that’s as much as I could do. There were many seagulls. Mont St. Michel appeared in the Bayeux Tapestry actually, in a scene where a bunch of people got stuck on the sands. There is an equivalent place in England, in Cornwall actually, called St. Michael’s Mount, which is smaller but still pretty impressive. This place reminded me of Minas Tirith from the Lord of the Rings, partly because I have no imagination, partly because the film-makers were inspired by the Mont when designing it. Picturesque place though, well worth the trip.

mont st michel (top)

We had a nice day out at the Mont, and the drive through the Norman countryside was a big bonus. My phone’s navigator was having fun trying to say all the French names. “Street L-O-Circumflex” was an interesting one it kept repeating for St-Lô. We passed through little villages and down hedgerowed lanes, and near one farm we stopped as there was a little cat in the road that was not in any hurry to move along, so my son got out and gently led it it the side, where it sprawled out expecting a belly rub. We looked out for the cat on the way home, and sure enough there it was again, so this time we parked up and my son got out to say hello again. A little moment we’ll always remember from this trip.