still climbing the mountain

The Barn UC Davis

This is ‘The Barn’, a building on the UC Davis campus, I have drawn it before, I have commented on its simple name before, I’ve done it all before. I like the regularity of it all. At the same time…well, you know. I just like to draw. It’s ok to draw the same thing over and over. Look back at Cézanne’s sketchblog from his years in Aix-en-Provence, another city I have spent time in. “Got up, had a little walk down to Cours Sextius, walked past the Dog People, got a Pepsi Max from the Petit Casino, and then drew Mont St. Victoire YET AGAIN. But I’ve never drawn in on a Tuesday before, so. Be nice if they built some more mountains near here that I could draw TBH. Time for a Poulet-Frites. Hope I don’t step in Dog Poo again.” I’m sure he said all that. I was in Aix from 2001 to 2002, I met my wife there. I loved a Poulet-Frites. Stepping in Dog Poo was a common occurrence. ‘Stepping in Dog Poo’ was my ‘Mont St. Victoire’. What if we had decided to stay there, instead of moving to Davis? Instead of The Barn, you’d see a lot of drawings of that fountain with all the dolphins on it. I would speak better French though, probably. I have never picked up a Californian accent. One thing about The Barn, it does resemble the shape of Mont St. Victoire, a little bit. Well, it’s triangular.

I climbed Mont St. Victoire once. Twice actually, if you count the second time I did it. The first time I got all the way to the very top, where it is very windy, and climbed it alone. The second time I got the the almost-top, but let my friend Simon do the last few meters, while I just waited at a pretty nice overlook. It’s pretty high up. It’s a good achievement, climbing a mountain, especially a famous one that a famous artist has painted loads of times. I wouldn’t mind doing it again some time. 

This Saturday I’m going to run the Davis Turkey Trot – not quite climbing a mountain, but it feels like an achievement. I always look forward to the pancakes afterwards. And the shower, and the rest, and the day at home relaxing. When I relax, I do big projects. I’m currently making this year’s Advent Calendar, it’s going to be different from previous years. I’m painting Studio Ghibli characters onto plastic baubles using acrylic, which I’ve never done before, but I’m already done with that part of it. Next I need to decide how I’m going to assemble them, what goes inside each one, where I will put it in the house, and how it will go with all the previous years’ calendars. I always say, this year will be the last one I make. I was feeling pretty down yesterday afternoon. I’m not sure why, just that time of existence. Maybe I was thinking about London, I’ve been thinking about London a lot lately; I know someone who is going there for Christmas and he asked me for some London tips, so I basically wrote a two-sheet guidebook with illustrations, I can’t help myself. So, I’m missing London. Feeling a bit overwhelmed with work and soccer coaching and just getting up and down sometimes too, like I need a sketching trip. Tired of the pandemic, tired of worry, tired of my glasses steaming up over my mask more on these cold mornings when I go inside, just for the first few minutes but enough for me to feel a bit lost momentarily. When I was outside yesterday lunchtime I saw an older woman down the street take a call on her phone, sit down, and start bawling her eyes out on the phone, it must have been some bad news. That affected me too, whatever it was I felt so bad for her, but just made me think we’re all that phone call away from the same. You start thinking about everyone in your world, all over the world, and how far away you put yourself. I couldn’t wait for the day to be over so I could get home, and get painting again, and just sitting down and focusing on painting very small details onto a little plastic ball while listening to a talk by Brian Cox about the Universe or something, well it made me feel alright again, for a bit. I’m looking forward to the run this weekend though. It wasn’t that long ago that I couldn’t run at all, so it feels good to run a 5k race, especially since I’ve not done an organized race since before the pandemic. But mostly I’m looking forward to the pancakes afterwards. 

you know the place where nothing is real

The Barn UCD

It was hot, my allergies were making me tired and irritable, I needed to sketch at lunchtime. So I went outside, where it was still hot, and my allergies were still making me tired and irritable, but at least I got a bit of sketching in. This is The Barn at UC Davis. The rose bush in the foreground looks a bit like ice cream with strawberry flavoured sprinkles on the top, but that’s all I wanted to do, and I quite like that it looks like a massive pile of cold food on an already hot day. As of yesterday though the hot weather has put on the brakes and some rain has come, much needed but I hope it stops because the Davis World Cup is coming next week, and we need the fields to stay open…

tree’s last stand

The Barn UCD pano Jan18 sm

One damp grey day last month I ate my lunch and went over to The Barn (an old building on the UC Davis campus) to draw, surprise surprise, a panorama. I approached it in the following way. I mapped out the scene with a few light guidelines in pencil, so that I could be sure to fit the whole building in, and then went straight into pen with the drawing itself, drawing the large, heavy leaning tree. I started there. I knew my lunchtime was short (I had eaten at Shah’s Halal food truck by the Silo, spicy chicken over rice, so good) and that this would take more than one lunchtime. Normally I would draw the front of the building first but it’s always easier to draw on the left page when standing, back to the wall, holding a landscape-format sketchbook. For some reason I always struggle a bit more sketching the right page while standing. So I drew the big tree, it was just too interesting. I did the tree, left the rest, went back to work.

I came back two days alter to continue, and THE TREE WAS GONE!!! Totally gone. The place was all cordoned off while the tree-chopper-people finished off chainsawing it up, and I stood there looking at my page like, “but…but…”. I don’t know how old the tree was, but look at it. It was really leaning over. It was an aging ballerina, tumbling in slow motion as time froze around it. I’m sure the tree was older than me. And I had sketched its very last days. This scene no longer looks like it does in this sketch. I carried on drawing the rest of the scene, The Barn itself, the buildings behind, the lines of the bike path. I was going to add paint but, I don’t know, it didn’t seem right. That tree was drawn at the end of its life. I wonder what it was thinking at the time? “I’ll Be Bark”

davis, barn by barn

the barn UC Davis
The Barn, UC Davis. I’ve sketched this a couple of times before, The Barn. The word “Barn” comes from Old English, “bereærn“, which literally meant “barley house”. A lot of buildings on campus look like this as you well know. I needed to sketch something familiar. I feel like I’ve sketched a lot of barns (and former barns) in Davis. Barns and bars. I must confess there was more blossom on that tree now than my sketch lets on. Spring is truly sprung in Davis. Can you believe it’s March already? Of course you can. The days march on as they have always done, but as we get older, each day is relatively shorter than the previous one. Albert Einstein said that, or at least it sounds a bit like the sort of thing he might have said. Lunchtimes feel shorter, at least. Once again I did the colour when I got home.

barn again

the barn, UC Davis
“The Barn”. There are a lot of buildings that look like this on the UC Davis campus, but this is the only one actually called “The Barn”. It was a rainy day (not been too many of those), but there was a brief spot of calm so I was able to sketch this at lunchtime. I added the colour when I got home. It was one of those days where I really needed to get away and sketch something (ah now there have been many of those lately); I’ve felt a bit stressed lately, feel like there’s a lot on my plate, many “to-dos” to check off my list. When I am out sketching, I’m in control of something, and everything else washes away, for a short time. I like being busy though. I have sketched this Barn once before (from the rear, almost exactly two years ago), but it looks like so many others. These old wooden campus buildings that I have drawn over and over so many times, they start to feel like my Mont St Victoire if you know what I mean, Cezanne’s main subject, covered and covered and covered again over the years. This one is actually shaped a bit like Mont St Victoire, in fact. I should know, I have climbed up the thing twice (the Mont, not the Barn).

and death shall have no dominion

covell blvd barn, davis CA
There is an old barn out on Covell Boulevard in Davis, on the edge of town in the flat wilds of Yolo County, weather-beaten and rusty, propped up defiantly like an old tramp. It is a popular icon, photographed and probably painted many times before as if it represents a little slice of “America Lost”, because as you know we don’t need barns any more, we just download all our hay these days. We’ve passed this barn so many times, and for the past couple of years my son has been insisting that I sketch it. I was waiting for the right moment. It’s kind of far away to draw too well, you can’t go an sit right up to it (well you can but you’d be trespassing, and I have this image of Yosemite Sam in farmer’s dungarees chasin’ after me shootin’ away at my heels). I sat across the street near the shops (yes there is a supermarket and a Rite-Aid and all sorts of other shops right opposite, sorry to spoil the image of rural idyll) while cars and trucks whizzed past. It was a nice overcast Sunday morning. And now the Barn is drawn. Can’t beat an old barn. I can’t imagine it is too long for this world, and there is a big housing development happening up in this area in the near future called The Cannery, so the times are a-changing; all things must pass, etc and so on.

impossible acres

impossible acres, davis
Every October, we head out to the north-western edge of Davis to a farm called Impossible Acres. There we try to take a photo of our son as he easily navigates the hay maze, spend a couple of minutes holding a baby duck and stroking a kitten before leaving the animal petting zone to rush back to the corn maze (cost me seven bucks, but holding the baby duckling was worth it), ride around in a circle on the back of a tractor to see, well, fields, and then pick some pumpkins and get home before the young one has a meltdown. Yup, that pretty much sums it up. It’s great out there though, and I always try to grab a very quick sketch if humanly possible. While my son and my wife were lost in the corn maze, I sketched the big barn. You can make out one of the heavily pregnant goats in the picture; there were tiny baby goats, kids rather, wandering about in the enclosure, one was only a day old. Before very long my son came back from the maze and wanted to do some sketching himself. I forget this, now he’s at the age where he needs to draw if I’m drawing, and I always forget to pack his sketching stuff as well. This whole thing took me less than fifteen minutes so I’m happy with the result. We picked our pumpkins (I got a white one, I am thinking ‘stormtrooper’ this year) and went home. Our annual tradition in Davis.

but is it really a barn?

the barn ucd
It’s been (and continues to be) a very busy week. I’ve not even had lunchtimes. So there has been very little sketching, but today, on my late lunch, I just had to get out into the sunny weather (after the massive rainstorm of yesterday) and draw a familiar looking building which in fact I have never drawn before. It’s called The Barn, for some reason, on the UC Davis campus (actually I have drawn that cactus in front of it, fairly recently). This was in the Stillman & Birn gamma book using uniball vision micro and watercolour. Going a week without drawing… that’s tough, man. Nearly forgot which end of the pen to draw with, man.

that old red barn

red barn, south davis

I cycle past this barn in south Davis often; it’s just off the bike path, by Putah Creek winery. I have always like its colour and how the shadows hit it, so finally this weekend I cycled over and sketched it. I love the randomness of the windows, and almost ramshackleness of it’s structure.