long walks, conversations and cocktails

SF Palace of Fine Arts
I usually sketch standing up, except when I sit down. On this occasion, I had just walked two and a half miles from Fort Point along Crissy Field and over to the Palace of Fine Arts. I needed a rest. I sat on the grass in the shade. The last time I sketched this building was in about 2007 I think. Yes, a quick look through Flickr and here they are. It’s a nice spot that I evidently only go to every twelve years. See you in 2031.
palace of fine artson a bench

I walked down Chestnut and had a delicious lunch at Squat and Gobble, before jumping onto a bus and heading to my favourite part of the city, North Beach. I usually sketch standing up, but on this occasion I brought my little lightweight fold-up stool with me. At least two people stopped while I was sketching just to take a photo of this little stool, and enquire as to where this mystical object could be purchased on the wild realm of the internet. It was about $15 on amazon, a no-name brand, it is super light and fits into my small bag and I haven’t yet fallen off of it. I have lost weight recently which helps. Anyway I found a little nook beside a church on Columbus and drew the Italian deli Molinari, another favoured sketching subject of mine.

SF Molinari

Yes, there it is below, as sketched back in 2014 from an entirely different angle. On that occasion I pretended to be a traffic warden for an older lady who wanted to park her car there while she popped in to get some cheese or something, she said that if I looked like a warden then other wardens wouldn’t give her a ticket. I’m just there with my sketchbook so I’m like, yeah fine, but no other wardens came up and ticketed her.

SF: Molinari

On this occasion though, on the other side of Columbus, I had several non-stool based and non-traffic warden based conversations. One was with an old student from our department who happened to be walking by with her son and her sister, that was a nice surprise. There was another couple who were late for early dinner, and I used the power of the internet to help them find their restaurant, like a street wizard. There was an older fellow who I thought was homeless, who came and sat next to me for a bit with his big bin-liner, and it turned out he too was an artist, and showed me his incredible location drawings of North Beach (this is what was in his big bag), including Molinari sketched from the same spot (but in greater detail). I was very inspired. We talked about drawing out in the street, I told him about my attitudes toward urban sketching, it was a very nice meeting. And then after that I chatted with a monk, in full monk’s robes, who worked at the church next to where I was sketching, and he showed me a sketch of the church someone else had done for their newsletter, and we talked about San Francisco’s trees being different from the ones in Davis. Sometimes it is nice to talk to people in the street in a city like this.

SF Jackson St

I moved along, and down into Chinatown. I wanted to draw one specific row of buildings in Jackson Street. I didn’t have time to draw it all so I captured the essentials. I got enough. When I say I didn’t have time, it’s because I wanted to factor in time in the rest of my day to hang out at an old North Beach drinking establishment that I have never before been into, the Comstock Saloon.

SF Comstock Saloon

This old bar is beautiful, and they are very good at mixing their drinks here. For this reason I wanted to have a couple of cocktails. Now I usually stand when I sketch, but here I wanted to sit. I sat the bar, wrong angle to draw. I sat at a seat by the window, with a barrel for a table, again not super comfy. So I sat at a taller table, excellent angle. However I felt very conscious that people coming in might want to sit at that table, which is better for two or three than for one. I don’t know why I felt so conscious of that here. It felt like a nicer place. Also, I noticed that occasionally some of the tables would have a little ‘reserved’ sign on them, which I think was to deter single patrons from using spaces that a pair or trio might use. So, I drew very fast, and then just relocated myself to the bar. The staff were well dressed and clearly professional barmixologisters or whatever the phrase for them is. When it comes to mixed drinks I am clueless and need a list. I had an absolutely amazing daiquiri, totally beautiful after a day of sketching. The second drink I had was a Mint Julep I think, it was less to my taste but nice nonetheless. You can taste quality. The best mixed drink I ever had was in Hawaii, the Monkeypod Mai Tai, and it was amazingly fresh. I feel a bit posh drinking anything that isn’t beer, or Pepsi Max, or a cup of tea. Libations libated and sketches sketched, I walked back to the Amtrak bus and took the long journey back to Davis. I felt a bit more creatively refreshed, San Francisco is good for that.

Gradieu

Davis Grad 063019
A couple of weekends ago, at the end of the month of June, the Davis Graduate – known popularly as ‘The Grad’ – closed its doors for the last time. The Grad had been a Davis staple for decades. I mean, actual decades – it opened in 1972, meaning it is older than me. It’s a popular night-out dancing spot, and lots of people came here to watch sports in the daytime on one of the 467 TV screens (ok not that many but as you can see above, they have them all over the place, big and small). I remember coming here years ago early on a Saturday morning, before we had the Premier League in our cable package, and watching Spurs lose against Sunderland back in the bad old days when that would happen a lot, and you would get a little portable speaker to put on your table and just look toward whichever screen had your game on, while others watched Hockey, Golf, Curling or something even more obscure like West Ham. I have to be honest, I never really liked coming to the Grad, partly because every time I’d come to watch Spurs we would lose to some terrible team, but also because I could never feel that comfortable with those big wooden tables and benches and the screens all around, the food orders being called out over the microphone, the long line for the bar, and the lack of windows – when you walk back outside into the hot Davis brightness it’s a jarring feeling. On the few occasions we came here to watch World Cup or Euro matches, there was usually a big and noisy crowd, and the space always just felt awkward. So I never really came here that much, and I never came in the evenings when they would have their dance nights, because if I felt awkward when there was just sports and drink, adding dancing into the mix was never going to make it more appealing to me. However, I knew how much people loved the place, and when I first came to Davis people would always tell me I should go to the Grad, even people at other bars would say the same. I know someone who DJed there who has many fond memories, and I dare say that students over the years have as many great memories of the Grad as my old QMW cohort has of the Drapers Arms on the Queen Mary campus in Mile End (who am I kidding, we don’t remember anything…). I did sketch here a couple of times over the years, the last time being on a Sunday afternoon in 2013, when I draw a 1.3 page spread of the bar, while Marseille played Monaco on a screen next to Judge Judy. So on the very last Saturday of the Grad I came back, and sketched the scene above. My feelings about the Grad had not changed much, I still felt a bit awkward and closed-in, I had only the one drink because the line at the bar seemed really long (I didn’t mind that, I’m still on a diet), but there were lots of people there of all ages enjoying themselves and conversing. Lots of baseball caps. People playing pool away to my right, people eating burgers and fries, people drinking cold beer. I did sketch the outside one lunchtime a couple of weeks before, after I had heard that the Grad would be closing down. I stood in the shade of a tree on a very hot day, and this place was awkward to sketch even from the outside. Although I never went there very often, I am sad that the Grad is closing. This whole University Mall area will be redeveloped, a little bit of the old character of Davis will be lost, another drinking spot confined to the history books.

Here’s a good article in the UC Davis magazine with some old photos and memories from former students: https://magazine.ucdavis.edu/the-graduate-closes/
Davis Grad 061819

it wasn’t to be, this time

spurs champions league final living room
It felt like a World Cup game. I don’t want to talk about it. I’m just glad we got there, we really shouldn’t have even made it out of the groups. That quarter final against City with the late VAR screen ‘no goal’, that dramatic late goal at Ajax after being three down on aggregate, the fact we didn’t have a home stadium until late in the season, the fact we never bought a single player in a year and a half, it’s a whopping great achievement getting to the Champions League final, our first ever one, my beloved Tottenham Hotspur. It was a wild ride. The final itself was killed off by a dubious penalty decision in the first 30 seconds. Liverpool sat back and soaked us up easily, but both teams looked like they hadn’t played for three weeks. I had all of my Tottenham shirts, which number a good many, hung up around the house like a museum of football kits. I made a couple of banners of all the old home kits, we played the old Spurs music and watched old Spurs videos all morning. I never thought we’d actually win it, years of watching real World Cup games has taught me enough of that, but Liverpool have won it enough times. It would have felt better to lose to a non-English team really. Oh well. We can say that Poch should have done this or Harry should have done that, but at the end of the day it’s a football game and one wins, one loses, and there you go. That’s life. I had always said that if Spurs win the Champions League I would put on all of my Tottenham shirts at once and run around Davis singing Chas and Dave. Well the weather was in the high 90s so at least I didn’t have to do that.
uncle vitos

I had a walk downtown that evening though, minus all the shirts, minus the Chas or the Dave. I just needed to sketch and have a pint, and hopefully it would be somewhere that wasn’t showing a replay of the final. I stopped into Uncle Vito’s, who were showing golf, and sketched the above before walking home. Oh well. At least Arsenal lost their final too (unfortunately it was to Chelsea), but that means no North London Supercup. Some other time maybe.

Sketching Sudwerk

Let's Sketch Sudwerk p2
Last week I was invited to lead a sketching event at the Sudwerk Taproom in Davis. Now I used to go to Sudwerk in its previous incarnation, as a restaurant and beer garden, and I sketched it a few times. The restaurant is closed now, and the current owners operate a popular tap room  with am interesting rotation of beers, but still keeping the old Sudwerk classics like the Marzen, which I always liked. No longer sold in big litre glasses though, but my diet (see previous sketch) probably means I should lay off those anyway. We had a number of other sketchers there with us, it was a nice relaxing evening, I gave some tips on sketching places like this, and I drew a few of the things that I saw about there. It was a nice evening!
Let's Sketch Sudwerk p1

kearny to columbus and a pint of anchor steam

SF Kearny & Sacramento
I usually head towards Columbus. It’s my favourite street in San Francisco, cutting a diagonal slice across the grid, leading from the Financial District to the Italian flavoured North Beach. I haven’t sketched a lot of Chinatown recently, but my tired feet didn’t feel like climbing up to Grant or Stockton, so I strolled along the flatter Kearny, and stopped a couple of times to draw the scenes above and below. I was on the corner of Kearny and Sacramento, the long slope of the latter blowing dust downhill and into my eyes. Standing a few feet back shielded me from the wind, and gave me a cheeky view of Coit Tower, waving at me like a prize. I had no intention of going that far this time.
SF Kearny St shop
I could not resist sketching the store above. Something about this view just said it all to me. These are the types of scenes I like to sketch the most. I didn’t go into David’s Food store, perhaps David is Beckham, or who knows even Bowie, reborn. Or maybe Cameron, perhaps they have a lot of pork products. But maybe it’s more David as in Goliath, with Goliath being modern expensive San Francisco, and this little food store is holding out against them as the David figure, with long hair that gives him strength, until Goliath finds his weakness in his tendon, I might be mixing up my old stories here. I also didn’t go to Rainbow Cleaners, but I assume that is where Geoffrey would get Zippy, George and Bungle dry-cleaned. This is the silly thing I think about when I sketch. I should be thinking about meaningful pearls, writing travel articles in my head, stories of the smells and sounds of the city, but in reality I’m just daydreaming about Rod Jane and Freddy. At least I wasn’t humming any of their songs! Oh no maybe I was.
SF Sentinel Building

I got myself back on track.This is not the end of Kearny, but it is where it meets Columbus and where it starts getting significantly more mountainous. I have drawn this view before, many times, in fact one of the earliest San Francisco sketches I did was of this building. It’s the Sentinel Building, which has Francis Ford Coppola’s Cafe Zoetrope at the bottom. I’ve not been in there but next time I will. I like Coppola’s films. The Godfather, the Godfather II, all his films.
SF Specs

And finally, time to rest. I left the bright late afternoon and walked into Specs, one of my favourite spots in the city. At first I though it was closed, all the lights were off, but it was just much darker than outside and it took a while for my eyes to acclimatize to the dim lights in there. It’s full of stuff, and a few characters. I ordered a pint of Anchor Steam, took a seat with a view and started scribbling in my book. I read for a little (amazingly I could see really well after my eyes got used to it), reading some of those travel stories, and then drew these two fellows at the bar in pork pie hats. Or bowler hats, I don’t know, I’m not a hatologist. I enjoyed drawing this. It’s very different, much more of a reaction to the low light than a line-for-line interpretation; I’ve done that already. I’ve sat on this seat before, years ago at the end of a night out with my friend Simon, we played chess (drunkenly, he drank whiskey and I drank beer). Seven o’clock approached, the long journey back to Davis beckoned. I really love coming to the city, especially this area. I have plans to do a historical sketchcrawl down here sometime in the next couple of months, I have thought about it for a couple of years now. There is a lot to discover. Just around the corner, for example, on the very next day, March 24, City Lights Books was celebrating the 100th birthday of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, famous local Beat poet and co-founder of City Lights. A hundred years old, can you Beat that!

back at three mile

Three Mile Brewing, Davis
I’ve sketched this place before, it’s Three Mile Brewing in downtown Davis, a small brewery that does some very nice beers. Such as ‘Burnt Reynolds’. There always seems to be dogs in here. There was another one unseen in this sketch, as well as the one that is there. Last time I sketched in here there was a dog in the sketch. Am I now a dog sketcher? I have drawn a few dogs over the years, but I don’t really go for drawing animals much. So, Three Mile Brewing in Davis is named for the old three mile no-alcohol exclusion zone from campus that existed years ago (until 1979!). I like the colour scheme in this room, and it was handy that man wore that jacket providing a balance between the Burnt Reynolds beer and that wall on the left.

I sketched you in a bar down in old Soho

Old Coffee House pub

And so to the last night in England. It was an emotional trip, quick and busy, spent time with family, and friends, and places that I love. The last night there was just mine, all mine. I got back to Burnt Oak and watched old Alan Partridge shows on Netflix while packing my bag, never an easy task after even a short trip, what with all the various books (so many books) and new football shirts (more than one) and Cadbury’s cake bars and packs of Bisto gravy and Topic bars and whatever else I had to get. there was a lot I didn’t pick up. I didn’t get any Daddy’s Sauce, which I adore and am currently out of. For those who don’t know, Daddy’s is a brown sauce very similar to HP but less spicy and just tastes like home. I ate a Pot Noodle for dinner. I have not had a Pot Noodle for quite a long time. They seem a little less satisfying than I remember. I loved them when I was 14. I didn’t intend on ti being for dinner this time, but I left it a bit late to get much else when I finally finished packing my bag and venture back out into London one last time. I had a very early start the next morning and didn’t want to do any last-minute packing. So, I was along in London. I thought I might get some food and sketch an old pub. I wasn’t sure where I would go. London is vast and full of possibilities. I got off the train at Camden Town thinking, I could grab a curry at Masala Zone and then go up to sketch the Steele’s at Chalk Farm. But then at the last second I decided to jump back on the same tube because my head said, “you always go to Camden! Do that another time. London is yours!” So in the spirit of revisiting my youth, I got out at Tottenham Court Road instead. That was always my destination station whenever I would go into London as a teenager. It was right next to the Virgin Megastore – now long gone. It was also right next to the Hellfire Club, where as a 19-20 year old I would jump up and down to loud music with a group of international friends – also now long gone. In fact the station is completely different to the one from the 90s, having undergone a total transformation and rebuild in the past few years. All the old shortcuts are gone, and it’s a large, modern and open station now, not the cramped yellowing ticket hall of the past. I ended up not eating dinner, because I could not find somewhere that I fancied, and I wandered about Soho remembering all the old shortcuts that are thankfully still there. I passed by the Old Coffee House, a pub I have enjoyed a few fun evenings in with friends, one that I have tried to sketch before but at a time without pub-sketching confidence, and I saw through the window that there was a nice seat at the corner of the bar with a perfect panorama sketching view. That seat was mine. I would eat Dry Roasted Peanuts for dinner, hunger be damned.

IMG_0478

You’ll need to click on the sketch at the top of this post to see it in closer detail (it’ll take you to the Flickr site). As I sketched, I tried a couple of different beers, supplied by a local brewer, Brodies. The first was the Piccadilly Pale Ale, the second and third were the Old Street Pale Ale. I did all the ink at the bar, but added the watercolour paint on the plane next morning (my Stillman & Birn ‘Alpha’ sketchbook being exactly the same width as my Virgin Atlantic economy seat). The bar staff were friendly, and the pub was chilled out. Oh except for the bar fight which broke out behind me. I have discovered that I can apparently sketch undisturbed while a bar fight happens around me, looking up occasionally before getting back to work. Now don’t imagine a long Wild-West style mass brawl, it was more of a few seconds of pushing before a quick “break it up, boys”. There was a group of lads out on a jolly, very drunk and celebrating some birthday or other. I say ‘very drunk’ but it was varying degrees of drunkenness, ranging from ‘friendly and convivial’ to ‘barely able to speak or stand’, with a range of performative drunkenness in between. Two of them for example were enacting a bullfight in the bar, another was sat down loudly singing to a couple of ladies (he was one of the louder ones, but actually he had a very good singing voice), and then one lad who would drunkenly go and sit with random people who would grin and nod a lot back before he sat down with the wrong group of people, one of whom got angry at something or other and they started scuffling, a glass broke, the drunken guy was whisked away and I turned to see one offended young man displaying the classic pose of “hold me back, hold me back”. I didn’t see much more because I was zen-posed with my sketchbook, working to a tight schedule, I had a plane to catch in the morning. The kerfuffles were quickly dealt with by the, I must say, very capable and calming pub staff, who’ve seen it all before I am sure. There was none of that macho make-it-all-worse strutting. The large partying group departed, the broken glass cleaned up, the “hold me back” guy went calmly back to his fresh pint, and the evening went on. I’ve always quite enjoyed this pub, in a little corner of Soho near Carnaby Street, and have been here many times with friends, going back to the 1990s, so I was glad to finally get a sketch of the place. Drawing a pub with lots of details inevitably means you get some wrong, and in this case I drew one too many frames on the wall above the main bar area. You won’t notice, of course. I also drew one person twice. He was standing at the bar waiting for a drink, and then afterwards he had his jacket off and was sat with a woman enjoying conversation. His hair somehow went from black to brown as well but I blame the lighting, not my urban sketching skills. The world is as you see it at that moment (and that of course can change by the third pint).

IMG_0481

Seen through the window of a barbers in Soho. A popular night-time photo opportunity.

As it turns out it, I witnessed two bar fights that night. Typical London, you don’t see one for years and years and then two show up at once. On my way back to the station I popped into another old favourite, The Ship, for a quick pint of London Pride. As I was leaving, it seemed a ruck had broken out just outside between two people who had been in the pub, which was being broken apart by excited pub staff, and people were being directed away from it (so that they could stop and watch, as of course you would do). One rutting stag showed us the true meaning of “hold me back, hold me back”, and did some of the best “hold me back” moves I have ever seen, getting absolutely no fighting done whatsoever, while the main belligerent was drunkenly trying to pick up those metal poles that hold up barriers and swing it around like a broadsword. Maybe someone had asked if he wanted to go clubbing and his Google Translate had mis-google-translated. Security staff did that thing where they multiply, and both men were held back, and the audience started ambling off, as did I, because I had a plane to catch. An entertaining last night in London.