knowing just where you are blowing

rice lane downtown davis

Well it is 2022 now, I suppose. The number at the end of the year changed a bit. Due to general busyness (and a few technical issues putting me off of scanning my sketchbook) I’ve not posted in a while so will make up for that now. I have also not drawn that much lately, December was a big slowdown in terms of my sketching output. Ah well. So it’s time to just catch up by posting these sketches from late Fall, when bright orange leaves were still on the trees and in the streets (long since blown away). Above is Rice Lane, which joins up B and A Streets near campus. I did this over a couple of days, so some of the leaves may have moved about a bit overnight, who knows. I was listening to a Terry Pratchett audiobook while drawing. I remember that because that’s what comes to mind when I look at my sketches, the sounds in my ears. Those are the things you don’t see. You’ll never look at a sketch I did of, say, Community Church and think, this puts me in mind of the Great Vowel Shift, but I would because I was probably listening to a podcast about that when I drew it. Associated sounds are personal. It’s good when visiting new places to keep the earphones out and listen to the city itself, the crunching leaves, the traffic, the language of the passers by, the sizzle of a hot dog, whatever. If I’m just here in Davis where I always am I want to listen to stories through my headphones, I already know what Davis sounds like.     

D St, Davis

Above is somewhere on D Street. I have long said we should rename the lettered streets to something more memorable, maybe something to do with university subjects, like Anthropology Street, Biostatistics Street, Chemistry Street, and I guess D would be Design Street? Drama? Then I thought in the spirit of fraternity / sorority we should rename them with Greek letters, so Alpha, Beta, C would have to be Gamma confusingly, but D would automatically be Delta. You don’t want to be Delta. Well now it’s Omicron that’s everywhere. This pandemic, it’s never going to end. I’ve been a bit depressed about it all lately (me and you and everyone else) and now the new year is here it’s like, oh, 2022, it’s going to keep going isn’t it. On and on and on. We will run out of Greek letters for variants, we will need to start using the NATO phonetic alphabet, you know, Foxtrot, Charlie, Bravo, those ones. Except Delta would still be Delta, and who would want to say they caught the ‘Mike’ variant? It gets a bit problematic that alphabet.  Or maybe Father Jack naming scale? The ‘Drink!’ variant, followed by the ‘Feck!’ ‘Arse! and ‘Girls!’ variants. No, that might be problematic too. That would be an ecumenical matter. You can’t use the Care Bears scale (“Tenderheart”, “Love-A-Lot”, “Grumpy”) though I’d like to see that scale used more for weather (“Hurricane Funshine”), but I could see the Transformers scale working (the “Megatron Variant” sounds terrifying) though maybe not the He-Man scale (really, the “Fisto Variant”?) I’ll leave naming conventions to the experts.

alphi chi omega davis

Speaking of Greek letters, I drew this Alpha Chi Omega house on C Street (we are back to regular alphabet for street names then), in mid-November. They are a pretty old women’s fraternity, dating back to 1885 in Indiana, that’s a long time. I have drawn this building before, because I date back to Davis in 2005 and that’s a long time for a sketcher. I remember when I first came to Davis, I was a little bit fascinated by all the fraternity and sorority houses, with those big greek letters outside, because this whole ‘panhellenic’ society thing you get at universities here is pretty alien to me, we don’t have those at British universities, at least not to the scale they have here. They would have their big Rush periods with their big dress up events, and their hazing (though I think there’s much less of that nowadays), but I was already well beyond student age when I came here and I just kept getting older, so anything the youthful did looked a bit alien to me. So I just occasionally draw the big old buildings with the big mystic-looking letter combinations on the wall. Sometimes there will be lads playing beer pong outside. I daresay these buildings hold a lot of memories for people.

shields library uc davis

And this last one, another from November, a little bit more autumn colour but not much, standing outside Walker Hall and looking towards Shields Library. I used to spend a lot of time in Shields when I first came to Davis, because my default mode was sitting in big quiet libraries looking at books (usually about language). I’d finished my Masters not long before flying out here (I had handed in my MA dissertation – about the relationship between the English and French languages within England in the late Middle Ages – a week before emigrating; my wife had originally set the leaving date for the day after I handed it in, but I’m really glad I had a week of non-library time before flying off, time to say all my bye-byes and party a little. I’ve lived in America ever since.) This library was the only place I could access the internet at first, so I would send my long emails home from here, update my old blog, and start looking for jobs. I was still a bit shell-shocked after moving countries so coming to the big Shields library felt like finding a little bit of familiar me-space, and even after I started working on campus I would come here at lunchtimes and try to translate some old Anglo-Saxon texts, most of which I’ve forgotten all about now. It’s 2022 now, I suppose…   

autumn in davis

B & Ovejas, Davis

Post #2 about all the autumnal colours that painted Davis streets in late November to early December. It was like a fall extravaganza. Above is the corner of B and Ovejas in north Davis, the streets over here were looking ridiculously autumnal, like you get in an American rom-com set in the suburbs. A lot of Davis looks a bit like that, I guess. I don’t really watch American suburban rom-coms. I’m not even sure what rom-com stands for, probably some futuristic tech from the 80s.

3rd and D, Davis

This was downtown, corner of 3rd and D, when the trees on 3rd turned red with rage. Things were still a bit open here, with Cafe Bernardos and other places having their outside seating for the COVID age, but I don;t know what it’s like since we went into a stricter purple tier, they told all the restaurants to be take-out only for the time being. At this time though there were a lot of people still about, enjoying the Fall colours, just before Thanskgiving. We had a Zoom Thanksgiving with family, played Scattergories. Same with Christmas, except for the Scattergories, we just opened presents.

International House, Davis

Above is International House, corner of Russell and College Park. It was a warm day when I sketched this, with the sun on the back of my head (kept my hood up). International House does lots of things for the international community here in Davis, including organizing the International Festival every year to promote cultural awareness and global appreciation. I’m well into that. It looked lovely on this day. The adjoining street College Park looked gorgeous too. This is one of the most stunning streets in Davis in my opinion (it’s more of a big ring than one street) with amazing houses, including the UCD Chancellor’s residence. I’d love to draw most of these houses, I do feel a bit self-conscious sitting outside one though, so have never sketched them. I did do the drawing below though, but this was mostly done at home. I did a very quick sketch outline from a spot in the road next to a pile of leaves, but then drew the rest from a photo with the fountain pen and the watercolours. Caught the feel of the street I think.

college park, davis

The one below I drew and painted standing right there, a street near my house right on the north Davis Green Belt. The houses here are nice too, if not quite as grand as College Park, still very pretty. I love living near the Green Belt, but in November it was more the orange red yellow and brown belt. This one didn’t take too long, just under an hour, a lunch break while working from home.

north davis 120320

And the one below was down on D Street, in Old North Davis in the block off of 5th, near downtown. The trees were mostly brownish orange, I didn’t draw or colour everything because I was getting a bit stiff from standing, the light was starting to go, I thought I might finish later but I never did, this was enough. This was pretty much the last of my autumn sketches for 2020, a little period of excited energy that has now faded away with the leaves. I’ve not sketched much in December at all, in the run up to Christmas, as the stay-at-home orders got tighter and the days got much shorter, and I just didn’t want to leave the house at lunchtime. Maybe I will today. I still have a bunch of different coloured autumn leaves I collected while cycling around town which I intended on drawing, like some sort of botanical artist (I am in awe of botanical artists and really should try more of that myself), but they might all be too crunchy and dry now. I took a lot of photos of colourful autumn Davis too, but it’s the sketches that make me really feel the season. Now it’s winter, which in Davis means, well not exactly American rom-com suburbia, which would be snow. No, for us it’s just colder than Fall, with fewer leaves on the trees so you can see the buildings clearly (great for sketching shadows!), with more bright skies than overcast ones, a bit of rain but not like back in England, just enough to close the soccer fields. I should like to do a book about Davis (ha, been saying that for ten years), but maybe one where I go through the months of Davis, and show what the town looks like in different seasons. “The Year in Davis”. I don’t know. I also want to do one just of panoramic drawings of Davis streets. I have ideas but then never finish them off, I just like to keep drawing. Better get back to it then.

D St Davis

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)

Portland’s Autumn

pdx saturday market

In November I went up to Portland, Oregon, to teach one of the 10×10 Urban Sketchers workshops, on Interior Perspective. I was invited by my friend Rita Sabler (the excellent Portland reportage sketcher), and it was as always an enjoyable visit to one of my favourite cities. I only ever seem to go these days in dark November, but this time it was not rainy at all. It was very colourful in fact, with the autumn leaves out in full force. I tried to capture as much of that as possible in my out-and-about sketches. Above, Portland’s Saturday market, with the Skidmore Fountain in the foreground. I sketched this fountain in 2010 at the first USk Symposium, on a Saturday morning perspective sketching class with Frank Ching. That was the moment I always look back to when I really gave up my inhibitions about drawing in public; rather than find a place to hide and be invisible, better to sketch openly and not worry about being ‘in the way’, become part of the place. On this day, I was able to observe the market as some stalls were still setting up, and as people passed by I got a real feel for the character of this quarter of Portland.

steel bridge portland

I like the Steel Bridge, another one I drew on that first Portland symposium, that time at a workshop with Lapin, I sat between him and Gerard Michel discussing different approaches. I’ve always wanted to return to this riverbank in the Spring when the blossoms are all pink, but coming back in Fall with golden leaves floating down is almost as nice. I did get a bit cold though, and so streetcarred it back to the hotel for a rest before my workshop.

pdx food trucks alder square

This one was sketched at the food carts area at Alder Street, after I had spent a good long afternoon wandering about Powell’s. Powell’s is such a great big bookstore, I could spend forever in there. They had my books, too, which is always exciting to see. I have a tradition now of going to Powell’s and then wandering up here for a big hot dish of Thai food, and I was not disappointed. I sketched across the street, the sunlight starting to fade, the urban greys brightened up by the reddish orange of the trees.

star theater portland

Not too far away, a bit earlier in the day, the Star Theater, with yellowy leaves scattered about. A group of homeless people sat nearby talking and laughing, streetcars rattled past, a slight breeze blew leaves and thoughts past as I sketched. My legs were hurting; I had had a night out before, and a good lie-in, but as each year passes I always forget I need a bit more rest. I spent the rest of the afternoon in Powell’s. And below, of course, an orange Portland fire hydrant, weather-worn and pock-marked.

pdx hydrant

on a colourful day

Davis Farmers Market
I’ve been a bit slow with posting this year. My sketching numbers are down too; but then again, 2016 and 2017 were a little hard to beat for sketch volume! I have a fair number of recent sketches still to scan though, but before we get on with those, here are the two I did on the last Let’s Draw Davis sketchcrawl, which was on a lovely sunny-after-the-rain morning at the Farmers Market. The trees were painted in exciting colours. We had a good turn-out, I talked a bit about drawing crowds and perspective (remembering all the things James Richards once taught me). These trees are almost all leafless now, as we hit mid-December. There were a lot of locals out this day, gearing up for the festive season. Below, sketched from almost the same spot but looking in a different direction, across C Street to the rear section of Davis Community Church.
C St Davis

blame it on the changing of the seasons

5th St Davis
Ah, another big gap in posting. I promise I am busy as well as lazy. I’ve also not sketched as much, though I have been doing ‘Inktober’, that thing where you draw a picture in ink every day of October (interestingly enough I discovered that ‘October’ is originally the month where for 31 days people would use a different southern French word for “yes”, before that it was just called “Tober”, similarly this is how ‘November’ got its name, although it was Nonvember until scribes dropped the nasal almost silent ‘n’, before that it was just ‘Vember’, and no I don’t know where this is all going, I’m running myself into nonsense again, or is that no-sense? Forget all of this, I made it up). Inktober though, you get a list of 31 words and they are prompts to get you drawing every day. Good idea for inspiration. Despite it being October, one of the greatest months ever invented (cheers Rome! I guess), I didn’t do as much outside sketching, and all my Inktober efforts are actually just of Lego minifigures (you’ll have seen these if you’ve followed me on Instagram – where I’m called ‘pwscully’ because someone else is ‘petescully’, someone who has no posts and 1 follower). I’m going to post those up soon, I only scanned them in a couple of days ago. In the meantime, here is a sketch I managed to do on Saturday afternoon after a very long day of AYSO duties. I’d cycled downtown to get a haircut and came away empty-handed (or rather full-headed), as the barbers were packed. Must be haircut-tober or something. So I got a milkshake and sat on the sidewalk at the edge of Fifth Street to at least get a sketch in this overly warm late October weather. I have drawn this scene a few times before, and the leaves are all crisping up into their proper autumnal colours. Mood lately has been tired, stressed, a bit deflated, uninspired. Sketching helps with that.

So does getting a haircut. I finally did a couple of days ago, and Tottenham beat Real Madrid 3-1 in the Champions League on the same day, so those two things have improved my mood massively. Roll on November!

 

fall or nothing

chemistry buildings, uc davis

When this time of year hits, we get that big explosion of colour before the weather finally comes and washes it all away. Sometimes the weather doesn’t come, and it’s been a hot year, but now the rain has started (well, it’s misty) and the winds are blowing away these bright leaves (well, they’re falling off in a slight breeze) so I’m posting these autumnal scenes from a couple of weeks ago at UC Davis. Above, the view of the Chemistry Buildings, surrounded by red and gold. A very UC Davis scene. Below is the view directly opposite, of Bainer Hall, home of Engineering. Slightly less bright colour but still glowing with the themes of Fall. But in each of these as you will no doubt have seen, two different types of UC Davis fire hydrant, in the signature white and blue. November is gone now, and we’re almost reaching mid-December, and have I done all my Christmas shopping? No, still more to do. What does everyone want?!? I know what I want – for the world to look like this forever! Well maybe not forever, but at least for a bit longer.

bainer hall, uc davis

the changing of the guard

Mrak Hall, UC Davis
Well it is the Thanksgiving Holiday, and by this time of year in Davis the autumnal colours have really exploded into bloom. It happens that bit later than in most parts of America, it seems, and the transition between November and December is when it hits its peak. This is Mrak Hall, above, where the main administration for UC Davis sits. I sat on a bench one lunchtime this week (a more pleasant experience now that the campus is smoke-free) to sketch this view, and I remembered that I’ve sketched it in Falls gone by on a couple of other occasion. Below, December 2010, a couple of weeks or so later in the season. You can see how the red-tinged tree has turned more orange, while the yellow tree has started to thin out on top.

mrak hall in december

Let’s go further back in time to 2007. The same date, December 10th, and a similar rate of autumnalisation (not a word people use, but I just did) though with more leaflessness on the top of the trees (I neglected to draw the leaves on the ground, obviously too difficult for me back in 2007).

back in mrak

That top sketch of Mrak was the final sketch in watercolour Moleskine #13, which was the ‘Art-Plus’ version (and slightly inferior to all the other versions, paper-wise). This bottom sketch was from watercolour Moleskine #2, and the middle one from #6. Time for a new sketchbook!

when it’s raining, it’s raining

rainy november day
Big rain storms rolled into California today. Late November can be a very colourful time of year, when the trees are bright yellow, fiery orange, deep reds, and leaves flutter down on every breeze. When the storms come it blows everything around, meaning what would otherwise be a grey and dismal day was in fact a beautiful, I mean really beautiful stormy morning. I walked to a meeting mid-morning, and could have walked on all day in the rain. The ground was covered in bright leaves, like a dusting of golden snow. I don’t have a window in my office so I can’t gaze dreamily out at the rain (I have to draw a picture of it on my whiteboard), but I can hear it on the skylight, tap-tap-tap, and by lunchtime it was pounding. I couldn’t wait to get back out, find a sheltered spot, and draw the colourful storm while it lasted. I listened to a history podcast about England’s medieval conquest of Wales and drew in the Moleskine. It’s funny, whenever it rains here people are often, oh no, rain, I don’t want to get my raincoat slightly wet in the brief dash from my car to Target, whereas I’m like, oh it’s just a bit of rain, grrr. So I scribbled down this cartoon in my notepad this afternoon. Thought you might like it.
rainy day

autumn at the art center

Davis Art Center
(click on the image for a larger version)

Last Sunday was the November “Let’s Draw Davis” sketchcrawl, in the conveniently-located-across-the-street-from-me Community Park. Since it had been prophesied to be a cold day, only a few of us showed up, greeted by crisp autumn sunshine and blazing fall colours. after a very quick ‘people’ sketch or two I set to work on a panorama. The previous Friday evening I had attended a fun event at the Davis Art Center called the ‘Arty Party’, in which there was lots of drawing, some drinking and eating, and I even won a game of Pictionary, a game I’ve not played in a couple of decades, surprisingly. It was nice to get out and be social and talk to people about art, and in fact they will be selling some cards of my drawings in their annual Holiday Sale (Nov 30-Dec 2), including a recent one of the Art Center. I was talking about how I’d never drawn the building before, because it wasn’t an easy one to draw – trees in the way, lots of angles, it had always seemed very difficult. And then almost as soon as I had said it, I said to myself, difficult, huh? Really?  So I determined to give it another go. I liked my first version – it says ‘Davis Art Center’ on it – but really wanted the panoramic version in my Moleskine sketchbook. I stood in the sunshine for just over two hours (my wife even came by and brought me a sandwich!) and sketched away. I started in the middle and worked my way outwards.
Drawing the Davis Art Center

I didn’t end up doing any more sketches on the sketchcrawl (I popped back home to call my Mum in England and have a cup of tea), but met with the group at the library afterwards, where we all showed off our sketches. In the end I think about eight people came, which was pretty good for a cold day (though it wasn’t cold, really California, really..). Next one will be in mid-December, when it might really be cold…let’s keep drawing Davis!

Finally, here is the drawing of Davis Art Center I started on location before I went to Portland (and finished when I got back), showing the main entrance and part of a sculpture in the foreground. I love this place, they do a lot of good for our artistic community in Davis, and long may they do so.

davis art center