Berkeley time

Durant Berkeley 041623

In mid-April, I went to a conference in Berkeley, the UC-AMP conference (standing for University of California Administrative Managerial Professionals, me being a manager type these days). It was actually one of the better conferences I’d ever been to and I sketched a lot; I’ll stick the conference sketches in the next post. I did take the chance to sketch a bit more of Berkeley though, a palce I’ve drawn a lot over the years, but don’t go to as often these days. I was also starting a new sketchbook, one I’d never actually used before, a Fabriano watercolour book. Same general size and format as my other sketchbooks (that roughly 5.5×8″ size in landscape, slightly bigger than my watercolor Moleskines, smaller than the Stillman & Birn Alpha, but about the size of the Seawhite of Brighton books I used to use). The paper was a bit coarser, a bit thicker, and this would be an experiment. Basically, I was having a bit of trouble getting hold of the usual watercolour Moley, noweher seemed to have it in stock, and so on a whim I tried this. It was ok, I didn’t really love it, the pen had to work a little harder, but the paints too did not always act in the same way as in the Moley, in a way I can’t really describe but never mattered when using similar Fabriano watercolour paper at home, but out on the streets seemed to be a bit different. Paper matters, and I’m fussy. (I’ve actually finished the sketchbook now; while still not my favourite, I got used to it and got around it by washing the pages with a light sheen of watercolour paint ahead of time, making it much easier to work on, a preparation I never had to do on the nice Moleskine pages). So, I stood outside the Berkeley Games shop on Durant, just off Telegraph, and drew the colourful scene ahead of me. That games shop is massive. I have a friend in London who has in recent years become a massive serious board games fan, and would love this place. The weather was warm, cooler than Davis of course, with a lot of characters about the streets. I’m less into Berkeley than I used to be, as a place, largely because of some of the people that roam about making you feel uncomfortable. Shortly after leaving the BART station I was yelled at by a random wild-eyed guy who started following me, asking if I work for the university, and telling me in a shower of expletives that they have been following him and monitoring him and what he would do to those people and their families and their children, which wasn’t very nice in the middle of the day. Another guy sat on Shattuck started yelling at me recently when I was with my family because I was wearing an Adidas hat and he didn’t like Adidas, and that because I wore Adidas I was a Nazi, and then kept yelling “That guy’s a Nazi!” at me as I tried to cross the road, doing my best to ignore the weirdo. Try that in Burnt Oak, mate. People out there getting aggressive and bizarre, you have to ignore, but it doesn’t make it feel like a nice place to go. Still, Berkeley is Berkeley. I finished up and went back to the hotel where the conference was taking place, to attend the reception.

Tupper & Reed Berkeley

After reception food and chat, and a little wine, I was a bit full to eat dinner but still decided to head out to find a historic bar called Tupper and Reed. The evening activities for the conference the next day would be either (a) attend a baseball game, which I did, or (b) go on a bar crawl of Berkeley, that classic Monday evening activity. One of the places they would go though was Tupper and Reed, an old wooden bar on Shattuck that’s about a century old. Described in the conference materials as being like something out of Harry Potter, all brick and wood and presumably wizards and dark magic, “and they even have a beautiful retro record player sitting at the far end of the bar!” (just like Harry Potter, eh). It was built in 1925 and is quite nice, has a lovely old fireplace, though I have to be honest, it felt a little clean. Nice enough. People seemed cool, it wasn’t too crowded and the staff and patrons were friendly. There were some people playing pool, and the music was right up my cup of tea, 90s and 80s stuff that would probably have been on my Walkman back then. This is though primarily a cocktail bar, and so they had some very fancy cocktails. I decided to try one called a ‘Flying V’, because of the guitar themed name, and I think it was nice, but I could not drink very much of it. I mostly drank the bottle of tap water I got to go with it, bit too strong for my liking. Still I got a decent sketch out of the evening, and went off to bed. My hotel was very close by, and I was up on the 16th floor.

UCAMP23-View from hotel sm

And what a view that was! You could see the Golden Gate Bridge from my bed. I woke up early before the conference, and did a drawing of the view. I went back to add a bit more at various points but I had to get this view down. I love a high-up view. Remember that one I did in San Francisco a couple of years ago, from the Hilton Financial District? In enjoyed that. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, putting these scenes together. I decided against putting all the windows in that building opposite, just a suggestion, you can imagine the rest. I did have a conference to get to though, which thankfully was only thirteen floors below in a fast elevator. It was so nice having everything take place in the same hotel. The previous UC Berkeley hosted conference I went to, in 2017, was a bit more spread out about the campus, which was a bit more tiring. I also did not stay overnight, but took the early train down and back again in the evenings, so it was pretty tiring. This was better.

UCAMP23-Wellman Hall

That said, after the workshops and talks were all done, I did go out and explore campus a bit more, because there is always something to sketch. There was a walking tour of campus for many of the participants, but I decided not to do that, and stood outside the magnificent Wellman Hall with my awkward sketchbook. At one point the tour group passed me by. It was a little breezy, and the pages kept flipping up because I only had one elastic band with me to hold them down. The shade of the tree I was under also kept moving, deliberately I assume, in an effort to annoy me. Plus this paper just wasn’t quite right, was it. I hope nobody on the tour heard me swearing at the universe. In the end i took a photo of my sketch and posted it on my Instagram, and remembered to include the conference hashtag because they’d said to do so. Well I’m glad I did; this unexpectedly won the conference’s picture competition!!  They announced that on the last day, to my surprise. Apparently I win free registration to next year’s conference, in Riverside, and I was already looking forward to going to that so that was a nice prize. But yes, I did kind of fight with myself to draw this one, and I was pleased to go and sit down for a bit in the shade afterwards.

Amoeba Berkeley 041823

On the last day, after the last speeches and talks, I took a last stroll up Telegraph, firstly to find that place that does the Belgian waffles my son really likes (I had to send him a picture of one and of course eat one myself), and do another sketch, this time of Amoeba Music on Telegraph. I remember the first time I went to Amoeba, it was the one on Haight, back in 2002. I first came to this one in 2005, right after we moved to the US, when we were checking out Berkeley as a potential place to live. My wife was interviewing at UC Berkeley (if memory serves she got the job, but had in the meantime accepted a position in Davis, and so that’s where our lives ended up, the rest is sketchbook history). I loved a record store, and if I recall correctly I bought a Paul Weller CD here. I chatted with a nice guy for a bit while I sketched who works for the Telegraph business association (we talked a lot about Lego), and it reminded me that this is a thriving little community here, that people are rightly proud of. I’m glad to see Amoeba still doing well too, though I didn’t have time to go in and look around this time.

I did pop into a little art shop that I had been into before though. And what did I get in there? A new watercolour Moleskine sketchbook. Having been a bit back ordered online, and not in any of my local shops, they had one here, and for a good price too (ten bucks cheaper than listed on the Moleskine site). But of course because I have a policy of not starting a new ‘primary’ sketchbook until I have finished the current one, I did not abandon the Fabriano one, and used it all the way through my recent London trip (the sketches of which I’ll probably post in about 2028, I did so many), and just started the new book last week, at the Victoria and Albert Museum of all places. So it all worked out.

Chicago high and low

Chicago Skyline from Hancock

I know what you’re thinking. This isn’t finished. And you’re right, this was all I could sketch at the time. I might have finished it later, but I didn’t. It’s the sort of view I might do a drawing of, on a bigger piece of paper, to test my drawing patience, but this one was drawn pretty quickly from the 94th floor of the John Hancock Building (sorry, it’s not called that any more), which might not be the tallest of Chicago’s big skyscrapers, but it was still pretty damn high up. The view made my knees go all trembly. That slightly wobbly line, that be the horizon, that be the eye level. So you can see that the two taller buildings in this view are the Sears Tower (sorry, the Willis Tower) and the Trump tower (yep, still called that). Our hotel room on the 16th floor was low down and quaintly street level by comparison. It was down there somewhere, we could see it. On the same observation deck there was this ‘ride’ where the windows would move outward from the building so that you appear to be hanging suspended over the city. Needless to say, I didn’t do that. The view didn’t look quite real. Buildings that had towered so far above us at street level as to be hard to grasp, were now some way below us. It was a bit like when I’d play Spider-Man on the PS4, except nothing like it. That is a great game by the way, as is the Miles Morales follow-up. When I’d sketched just about enough, we got the elevator down.

Chicago Kinzie St Bridge

We did spend some time up at Lincoln Park, going to the Zoo, eating the most incredible corn dogs, wandering about a bit looking for a record store my guide book had told me was amazing (only to discover it had closed a while ago; well of course it had, a record store, in 2023? Why it’s next to the penny farthing store, just past the monocle repair shop). So we got the ‘L’ (the Elevated train) back downtown, feeling very much like we were in the Chicago from the films. One of our favourite films set in Chicago is High Fidelity, the one with John Cusack from about 2000. For me and my wife, that film may well be responsible for our whole relationship (to paraphrase the film). Well sort of; we both talked about it a lot when we first met, so I lent her the Nick Hornby book (set in north London of course) which was one of my favourites, and then we started going out. So it kinda is, actually. We were therefore excited to see sights we had seen in the film, such as the Kinzie Street Bridge, sketched above. It was about a 15 minute walk or so from our hotel, and I remember it in the film when Cusack’s character Rob was giving some monologue to the camera, although I think there were fewer big glassy buildings behind it then. When my wife and son went back to the hotel, I stayed to draw the bridge. I was listening to a fascinating Chicago history podcast, several episodes about how things in Chicago have often changed their names, and despite said things only being named something for a relatively short time, locals would refuse to call it by its new name for many decades longer than it had the original name. A bit like people who keep saying ‘Baby Yoda’ instead of ‘Grogu’. I did learn a lot about Chicago’s history and places though, and wished I had a lot more time to explore, but I would probably get tired, and like that record store, the places I’d be looking for might already be gone. Story of my life. Still I was very happy to have some mild weather for a moment to spend time drawing a bridge.

Chicago Theatre sign sm

These next few are from the afternoon of the next day. I have some others from the morning of the next day, but those involve dinosaurs and I’ll post those next time. We found the big Chicago Theater with its bright red sign, and I stuck around to sketch it. Eventually it started raining, so I stood under some shelter and sketched Chicago people in my little book, using a brush pen. As I sketdched, one lad came up to me and asked if I had a disability. I laughed, strange question, no I just like to draw in the street. It turns out he was asking about the way I hold my pen. Ah. No, always done that, but thanks for asking, I guess. I mostly drew people coming out of the Metra station (yes that’s ‘Metra’, not ‘Metro’, that’s basically the Subway).

Chicago people 1 sm Chicago people 4 sm Chicago People 3 sm Chicago people 2 sm

I also drew this fire hydrant, a few blocks away beneath the L. Standing under the ironwork of the L, with the train rumbling above me and the traffic rushing by beneath, I really felt like I was in Chicago like you’d imagine it. Not far from here there are those busy roads that are just underground, beneath the other roads, that make me think of the Fugitive, which we had watched not long before our trip.

Chicago Hydrant 3 sm

Before heading home, and to get out of the rain for a bit, I found a very cool pub with a bit of a Belgian beer theme. Monk’s Pub was the perfect stopping off point, and good to sketch. I had one pint, and drew fast. I listened to a couple of older lads next to me talking with some passion about baseball. Monk’s was warm and welcoming, but I had to get back to the hotel to rest before dinner, so I waited for the rain to ease off and walked back.

Chicago Monks Pub sm

another san francisco day – part 2

Caffe Trieste SF 021823 sm

It was a busy afternoon in North Beach, San Francisco. I had already sketched a lot, but was still going. I sat outside Caffe Trieste, a historic old cafe once frequented by famous beat poets, musicians, actors, artists. Coppola wrote a lot of The Godfather while drinking coffee in here. I’ve sketched outside here before. I have never actually spent any time inside; I don’t drink coffee, and the line was always a bit long for me to figure out what else I might want; another time. I hear they make pastries. The cafe was opened in 1958 by Trieste native Giovanni “Papa” Giotta, who died in 2016; he was known as the “Espresso Pioneer of the West Coast”. I went to the city of Trieste in north-eastern Italy back in 2001, an interesting place, very close to the Slovenian border.

City Lights SF 021823

I stood on the corner of Columbus and Broadway, outside the Condor, and looked across to City Lights Books. Behind it to the left, Vesuvio. I’ve sketched this spot a number of times over the years, it never gets old. This area right here might be one of my favourite places on earth. City Lights is pretty famous, though not actually very big, and again has a long history with the beat poets. I must admit I’ve not really read any beat poetry. I’ve heard of all the names and nod knowingly whenever anyone reels them off, but I’ve not actually read any. Maybe I should, perhaps it will mean something, but I always imagined it as someone reading poems while someone else does beatboxing with their hand over their mouth, imagining something like a rap version of Wordsworth, “I wondered lonely as a cloud, yeah”, but it’s probably not that at all. I like poetry, I did well studying it at college, though I’m not sure I could do it myself, and I don’t like poetry enough to actually spend any time with it. I’m like Facebook friends with poetry, I’ll ‘like’ it but pretend to be busy if it wants to meet up for a coffee. Still, I had a look around the poetry room upstairs and nodded thoughtfully at all the titles. There were people sat reading as you’d expect; I thought one of them was Maggie Gyllenhaal sat reading a book by the window, but I never recognize famous people so it probably wasn’t. Although I did see Robin Williams once at the Farmers Market a long time ago (come to think of it, it was my wife who saw him, and I just went “oh yeah! wow.”). I thought I’d better actually look for that Paul Madonna book that was mentioned in the previous post. His first volumes were published by City Lights after all, but I couldn’t find it in here (I think they didn’t publish this one, but likely it was just sold out). I did pick up another book though, “Spirits of San Francisco” written by Gary Kamya, and illustrated by Paul Madonna, and took it across the street to read at one of my favourite bars, Specs. Read about San Francisco stories while sat in a place full of San Francisco stories.

Specs SF 021823 sm

It was however too dark in Specs to read anything. I love Specs. After a day on my feet, this is the place to stop and rest them, with a pint or two of delicious Anchor Steam, the proper San Francisco taste. It’s full name is Specs 12 Adler Museum Cafe, and it was founded by Richard Simmons, nicknamed ‘Specs’ due to the big glasses he wore. I took the seat closest to the window, underneath the orange lamp-shade. Still too dark for my weak eyes to read, it was barely light enough for me to draw (once upon a time, maybe wouldn’t have been an issue) but I was going to draw anyway. I had sketched a lot that day, this was a tired end of the day sketch, and one where I couldn’t really see colours on my page too well so I bathed it in a wash made up of the colours I could see. There is so much to draw in here, and I have done it before. I listened to the conversations of some people sat nearby, one older fellow was a music photographer or journalist telling stories about musicians from over the years, it was interesting. There are always interesting local people in this bar, I remember coming here once and sketching a panorama on one busy evening about a decade ago; the elderly barman that evening (who may have been Specs himself? Probably wasn’t) passed me a free Anchor Steam and told me that this was a place full of artists; away to my right a guy was oil painting on a canvas, behind me at the tables there was an older woman busy scribbling drawings in charcoal and pencil; I was definitely not alone. You never run out of things to look at, and sketch, in Specs. One of my most fun evenings in the city was spent here about thirteen years ago with my friend Simon, visiting from England, where we played a drunken game of chess in there and told silly stories. It’s still my favourite bar in the city, and this was the first time I’d been in since before the pandemic; so glad it’s still there.

Speaking of artists, back to Paul Madonna: I ordered that third All Over Coffee volume (“You Know Exactly”) online and have been enjoying going through all three volumes a lot. Here is a book review of it on KQED. I learned shortly afterwards that he had been in a really bad accident towards the end of 2022, when a driver going the wrong way collided with his vehicle in San Francisco and left the scene, leaving him severely hospitalized and lucky to be alive. I met Paul and his wife Joen in 2016 at the grand opening of the Manetti Shrem gallery in Davis, but I’ve been inspired by his work ever since seeing that first volume in a shop window in Berkeley in 2007 while on a sketchcrawl (when I was drawing a lot with purple pen, if I recall), and immediately getting excited about the linework and detail, as well as the subject, which was every corner of San Francisco (but erasing the people and cars, as I’d been doing). I still love his work, as it has developed over the years, and it reminds me to keep trying to look at the same places again in different ways. So it was a shock to hear of his awful accident which has prevented him from working, though there was an update in the past couple of weeks that he has finally been able to go back to the studio. There is a Gofundme fundraising page set up by the San Francisco Public Library to help Paul during his recovery. I really hope that he has a full recovery soon, and can continue to share his inspiring art with the world.

arrivederci, uncle vito’s

Uncle Vitos 022223 sm

This here is – or rather, was – Uncle Vito’s Slice of NY, a New York themed pizza place in Davis. I had just had lunch at Raisin’ Canes (a fried chicken shop, nothin’ to do with raisins), and I stopped to sketch this corner. It started to rain as I was drawing, so I moved slightly under the awning of Peet’s Coffee (nothin’ to do with Pete, who doesn’t drink coffee). Uncle Vito’s opened in about 2009 I think it was, I remember there was a small Chinese restaurant here before I would sometimes eat at during my break from work at the Avid Reader bookshop on Saturdays, “Wok’n’Roll” I think it was called. Long time ago. Anyway I went into Uncle Vito’s a few times over the years, only once for pizza (I had a ‘thai-style’ pizza and it ended up being covered in nuts and nut sauce, it wasn’t so good, but their regular pizza looked nice but that put me off a bit) but I did like their massive massive portions of garlic fries. Usually I would just pop in for a beer, as they had a nice bar, good beer, friendly people and always something to sketch. Behind the bar they had one of those lampshades with the fishnet-stocking legs, from the much-loved film A Christmas Story. By the way, I really enjoyed the newer one that came out this last Christmas, A Christmas Story Christmas, that was really fun. It’s a shame this place closed, that pandemic did it for so many places. Still, I have the sketches. Here are the bar sketches I drew in here over the years.

uncle vitos uncle vito's, davis uncle vito's, davis uncle vito's

take a seat on G Street

G St Davis 101522 sm

The catch-up on my 2022 sketches goes into October; this panorama of G Street was drawn on a Saturday afternoon in mid-October on a hot Fall day, sat on the kerb (that’s ‘curb’ to Americans) until my body hurt. I used to be ok sitting on the kerb, but these days I’m so used to standing while sketching that I don’t like sitting right on the street as much, so I ‘curb’ that activity. I don’t even bring along the little fold-up stool like I used to, though I still have one that’s nice and light to carry. I have this idea, not so much in Davis but in other places (London for example) where you might get hassled by a busy-body who thinks you shouldn’t be there on the street near their place, their office or their shop, and try to move you along. It’s rarely happened, though I’ve heard of it and it did happen once in London to my friends who were sketching in the city of London with me on a Sunday, they sat down to draw a church, and a security guy inside the office building next to us came right out and tried to move them along for, I’m not sure what, blocking the view from the window? It was as far as they were concerned their sidewalk (not actually true, they were on the public right of way), and it didn’t matter that they were obviously just drawing the church, this guy wanted them to move. I was standing; he didn’t talk to me. I have heard of other sketchers and artists being moved about by busybody street security guards who like to overreach, even when standing. So maybe that’s one reason I don’t like to sit when sketching? Not really; I usually know my rights. The main reason is I get a better view when standing, and usually if I sit, the worst thing that will happen is a car will park in the way and block my view. Well on this occasion, I did feel like sitting down on the kerb. This section of G Street has been informally pedestrianized since the pandemic, when the restaurants along here were forced to take their businesses out onto the streets – go to the kerbs, or curb your business, I guess. It’s pretty much stayed that way, so on these balmy summery afternoons (in October) it’s usually full of people, drinking outside the University of Beer or eating outside Woodstocks. On this day it was not super busy, but still pretty vibrant. I sat on the kerb (with some subconscious trepidation, obviously) and drew the view of the Kathmandu Kitchen, the G Street Wunderbar, and the sushi place in between whose name I forget. I went to that sushi place once, back in (wow) 2006, when my friend Terry visited (he likes Japanese food; he lives in Yokohama now). My only memories are that you had to go into the G Street Pub (as it was called then) to use the toilet, and also Terry asking if I’d heard of ‘Teriyaki’ before and me pretending I hadn’t so he could explain it. I think I’ve only been to Kathmandu Kitchen once too, maybe in 2006 or 2007? I remember we weren’t that impressed, comparing with the similar foods we would get back home in London, and so we never ate there again, though I keep thinking we’ll try it again some time. Finally, the G Street Wunderbar. I’ve not been there in years; I always associate it more with live music, or loud music, and young people, or loud people, just a different vibe from the regular pub feel of De Vere’s (may gawd rest its soul). I’ve sketched it a few times, first when it was the old G Street Pub, and one time about ten years ago, during a particularly busy Spring Break week, when I really needed to draw a complicated curvilinear panorama, I came here and sat in the middle of the bar and drew all those bottles, while the bar light around me changed colours and people filed in taking shots of whatever and talking. That sketch is below. I really loved a bit of curvilinear then; I need to do more of those, I enjoyed looking at rooms in that style. That’s why I’d sit in the middle of the bar, to get as central a view as I could. You have to be a little bold to do that, when your instinct is to hide away and be unnoticed. Perhaps I could have approached the sketch above in this way; if I had, I might have to have sat right in the middle of the road, to get a more close-up view, and let my vision of the buildings curve naturally. Which is a thing I can do, since G Street is closed up. Actually I always let things curve, even if only slightly, although in the above panorama my awkward seating contributed to the curviness having a little bit of wonkiness (more ‘curbilinear’ than ‘curvilinear’) (or ‘kerbilinear’). Right, new new year’s resolution (my birthday was last week so it’s a new year for me anyway), draw more curvilinear interiors and exteriors again, like I used to a decade ago.

g street wunderbar

A Hot Afternoon in the Mission

SF Mission St 090322 sm

Part two of my day exploring San Francisco last September. I’m writing early in the morning in February, realizing that there were still sketches from 2023 that I had not scanned, including the one above. I was hoping to go on a sketching day down in the City today, but it was pretty rainy when I woke up, so I thought sod it, stay home and watch Spurs (we are currently losing 2-1 to Leicester, and I’m rethinking my decision). It was very hot on that day in September though. I don’t remember the temperature in Davis but probably about 110, it was during that horrible wave of extreme heat we had. San Francisco is usually about 30-40 degrees cooler at those times, the bay area having its natural cooling system off the ocean, but on this day it still felt very hot, and the Mission district is usually the warmest part of the city. A day of walking around, but a day of stopping and getting something cold to drink. I did want to draw this old theatre building on Mission though, I may have drawn it before but I wanted to get all the colour from the street. There were some characters around, music was playing, it was a classic hot day in the City. Mission is very much the main Latin American part of San Francisco and I always look forward to a delicious burrito here, and I love all the little shops and the colourful murals. I wandered about a bit down parts I’d either not been to or hadn’t seen in a number of years. there are changes along Mission, some older buildings gone, but it still feels like Mission. Something about Mission Street, I can’t explain it, but it feels a bit like some streets in London I know, feels familiar while also being completely different. We don’t have palm trees in London, and it’s usually cloudier. It was really hot though, and my foot was already hurting, so I went down 24th and found that old Irish pub I had been to once before (in 2008?), the Napper Tandy.

SF Napper Tandy 090322sm

Spurs are losing 3-1 now, at half-time. Maybe I should go to San Francisco today, but I want to see how we get out of this in the second half. Let’s go back to September. I found the Napper Tandy, nice and shady inside, and got a cold beer (probably an Anchor Steam) and started sketching the bar. there were quite a few people in there, mostly regulars, a lot of people knew each other sat around the horseshoe bar. I remember that from when I went all those years ago, it was a pretty friendly atmosphere. There was live music from a band playing just outside the adjoining bar area, which was a little loud but provided a nice backdrop. I was in no hurry, and was too exhausted to explore more streets for a bit. I stayed for a couple and sketched, making it look greener than it is because of all the Irish stuff, but didn’t got for full colouring in. The music was getting a bit loud and I was starting to feel a bit antsy to explore more of this neighbourhood before the long trip back to Davis.

SF Shotwells Mission 090322 sm

Well as I write, Spurs are now losing 4-1 to Leicester; they’ve gone down to City, while should have gone down to the City. The rain has stopped and it’s sunny out now, though I guess it’s still planning to be rainy down in the Bay Area, so I’ll stay at home. I just tidied the kitchen and ate breakfast while watching that Spurs ‘game’ on my iPad. I think the rest of the day will involve playing the bass a lot, and getting further into Horizon: Forbidden West. Anyway, this last sketch from that day in September was another old Mission bar, a historic saloon I had read about called Shotwell’s, at the corner of 20th and Shotwell. I’d never been to this part of the Mission before so it took a little exploring, and by the time I got there I was very in need of a cold drink. I loved this place, it was perfect on a hot sunny day. This saloon has a long history, going back to 1891, starting out as a bar at the back of a grocery shop run by a couple of German immigrants; after the 1906 Earthquake it just became a regular saloon and the lovely wooden bar that is still there was brought all the way from New England. The saloon had many iterations in the following decades, but became ‘Shotwell’s’ in 2006. You can read all about it on their website: I just had the one beer, while some people played pool and darts nearby, while some good music came out of the speakers. Alas, the BART, the Emeryville bus and the Amtrak train were calling, so I slogged through the hot streets for that burrito I’d been thinking about, and made the long trip back to heatwave-stricken Davis. I was planning to run a 5k the next day (some preparation huh), but I knocked that on the head due to a bad foot, the silly heat even at 8am, and just generally being knackered. Can’t wait to go down to San Francisco on a sketching exploration again. Maybe tomorrow.

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.

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

at the black heart

Black Heart, Camden Town

One evening in London, after a busy day helping my brother move my dad into a new place, I met up with a couple of my old London mates down in our old haunt of Camden Town. We met at the excellent rock pub The Black Heart; I got there a little early so I could attempt a sketch, though I didn’t get very far, but I enjoyed adding the paint in like that. I do miss these types of pubs, good music and good vibes, and great company. We went for dinner at the Italian place on Parkway, and on to spend the rest of the night at the Dublin Castle, where else. That place has not changed since I first started going there in the 90s. Camden has changed, quite a lot, but in some ways not at all. The streets are still in the same place, which helps, even if some of the places aren’t. Beer costs more nowadays though (didn’t let that stop us though).

I did draw a quick and shaky sketch on the tube down to Camden from Burnt Oak, the Northern Line (I didn’t sketch on the way home, I was too busy eating my greasy bag of chips I always get from the chip shop next to Camden tube, on the last train back). I do miss London…

Northern Line 072122 sm

A L’Imaige Nostre Dame

Brussels GP Sunset sm After the rainclouds of Antwerp drifted away to wherever they go, I was back in Brussels for the evening. I ate a ‘Quick’ (a fast food they have in Belgium and France that I used to quite like, but tastes awful now) at the hotel, and then headed back over to the Grand Place before it got too dark. there wasn’t time to draw the whole thing yet again, but I wanted to capture that evening sky above the rooftops. Also that big crane. It was nice. I stood on some steps outside the massive Maison des Ducs de Brabant, others were taking selfies. There was a young tourist sat on the cobbles below me, I could see he was trying to open a bottle of Belgian beer he’d just bought, trying in vain. I went and asked a nearby cafe for a bottle opener, they kindly lent me one and I helped the tourist get his bottle open, he looked happy; good dead of the day done. We’ve all been there, when travelling! I remember trying to open a bottle of Fanta on a really hot day in a small town in Denmark with no bottle opener, I was trying to pry it open on metal street signs to no avail. After another long day of sketching I also needed to relax with a nice beer in another centuries-old tavern, so I went back down the little alley where I’d found Au Bon Vieux Temps the night before, but this time went into the lively A L’Imaige Nostre Dame.  Brussels Nostre Dame sm

This old tavern is one of the oldest in Brussels, dating back several centuries, and pretty colourful. There was no way I wasn’t sketching this. I had to find a place to sit with a decent sketchable view, and my table was a little small, but I got a ‘Malheur’ beer (which was alright) and tried to catch the spirit of the place. There was word on the mirror behind the bar that read ‘RastaTrolls’, whatever that means, it reminded me of the kids show ‘RastaMouse’, which was very funny. I could hear there were Americans at the bar who clearly loved this place, from what they were telling the bar staff. Who wouldn’t? It was a friendly place to hang out. I’ve been to some older pubs in Brussels and sometimes they can feel a little sleepy (thinking of A La Becasse), when there are pretty popular places elsewhere (thinking of Celtica, opposite end of the spectrum). I would recommend it here. I drew really fast, and then walked back to the hotel, my last night in Brussels. Next day I was planning to go to Charleroi to draw factories, but it rained a lot, so instead I slept in a bit and went in the opposite direction to Leuven.