skill and stamina and luck

warlock of firetop mountain

A couple of older digital drawings I did back in the summer time that I don’t think I ever posted, but now’s as good a time as ever. The drawing above is of ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain‘ by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. I got this book for my eighth birthday as a present from my big sister, and not only do I still have it but I still have all of my old Fighting Fantasy gamebooks from when I was a kid (see below). 2021 was the fortieth anniversary of its publication, and my one is one of the great editions with the famous green spine. If you have never played an adventure gamebook, “you are the hero”/”choose your own adventure” style, these ones were very cleverly formatted – almost always 400 entries – with a simple but effective gaming system. You don’t have overly complicated D&D style numbers, this is single player, two six-sided dice like everyone could get from their Monopoly set, you roll for a score for Skill, another for Stamina, another for Luck, and then you just get on with the story. You have provisions, you have some gold, and you have an ‘Adventure Sheet’ where you can list equipment that you pick up along the way – your sword, a few potions, the odd jewel, maybe the occasional scroll with important clues. As you go through the story you have to make decisions – go left or go right, stay at the inn or sleep in the woods, sneak past the orc guards or steal their keys, turn to 239, that sort of thing – but you also have to fight. It’s called ‘Fighting Fantasy’ after all, though running away is sometimes an option. Fighting is done on the roll of the dice and you might lose ‘stamina’ if your opponent gets hits on you. That opponent might be a Goblin, a Dragon, a a Giant Bat, anything really. In this book you have to go on an adventure to go and beat up a wizard – the Warlock of Firetop Mountain – there’s a fantastic colour hand-drawn map in my edition which very much informed how I like to draw maps later in life. The illustrations in these books was one of the things I liked the most, especially the heavy-lined drawings found in Caverns of the Snow Witch, which was always my favourite (along with Creature of Havoc), although I left my original copy of that back in London with my nephew (I’d like to get it back to go with the set some day). I drew this on the iPad with ProCreate, and posted it online, and to my amazement I was then sent a message by none other than the author himself, Ian Livingstone! And he said he liked it. I was fairly gobsmacked.

Or I should say ‘Sir Ian Livingstone’ – he was knighted in the New Years Honours list earlier this month! That is a great achievement and recognition for all his many years of pioneering work in the British gaming industry. He co-founded Games Workshop along with Steve Jackson and has done enormous work in the video gaming world. He did ask if I’d be drawing Forest of Doom next (that one has a great cover of a shape-shifter), but instead I showed him my bookshelf drawing from the previous month. There you can see what remains of my collection of Fighting Fantasy books (I don’t have a complete set, and two or three of mine are missing such as Caverns of the Snow Witch and Citadel of Chaos) (though I do have a copy of Caverns of the Snow Witch in French). After getting that first book from my sister, I would usually seek out these books in the local library, but then I would find them in the bookshops, but if I couldn’t afford to buy many books I would go to second hand bookshops all over the area to scour for copies of them. I displayed them proudly on my shelf at home, and on my windowsill, which didn’t help with the spines getting a bit discoloured. Although that is now a funny story, I assumed that the slightly different shades of green on all these books was due to some being in boxes in old shops, or left in the sun on my windowsill, but it turns out that it was an issue with the publishers; Sir Ian actually told me that himself, it used to annoy him that they’d be inconsistent with the green, and he appreciated that I’d captured that in my drawing! I would share the books with my friends at school, and we would get together and create our own games, using the same Fighting Fantasy gaming system. I would typically come up with the story and the setting (because I loved to draw maps and create worlds) rather than use anything pre-designed, and I created an entire world to set the stories in (it was called ‘Landica’; the name actually came from an attempt when I was 12 to create a new language called ‘Landic’ – this is what I was like at 12 – though I didn’t use the language in the games). Some of them were fun, we would use the big multi-coloured dice I would find at gaming shops, I still have many of the ones I got back then, kept like coloured plastic gems. We never did play more complicated games like Dungeons and Dragons or Warhammer, and I regret that a little, but I always liked to keep it simple. I was always a bit intimidated by Dungeons and Dragons if I’m honest, but I obsessed over the world of Fighting Fantasy, spending ages drawing swords and orcs and maps. I did write two full (though not super long) single-player gamebooks, hand-written and long enough to fit into a classic school exercise book: ‘The Sorceror of the Swamp‘ and ‘Trek to Terror Tower‘. I filled my world with places named after obscure languages (my other obsession, looking up all of the languages of the world), or constellations, or even interesting foreign surnames I’d heard. It was a fun creative time, but I was always frustrated with myself for rarely completing ideas. I tried many times to write longer, more complicated and intelligent stories, but that’s me all over, a million ideas, only so much time. But a lot of reading, a lot of imagination and inspiration, and a lot of fantastic memories.

Bedroom iPad 073021

And yet, as you can see right above this collection of gamebooks, on the top shelf are my sketchbooks. These are The Sketchbooks, the main landscape format ones I use, a collection of Moleskine or Stillman & Birn or Seawhite of Brighton, going from number 1 – 40 (some of them are facing a different direction). You can see all the contents of those on my sketchbooks page. Those books go back to 2007 and represent quite a lot of creative output, so I guess I do occasionally complete artistic projects huh. Though my life’s sketching work is never really finished. That quest does not end here…

don’t you know you might find a better place to play

Living Room 053020 sm
Well the living room is all back to normal now I suppose and people are starting to go outside again, places are starting to slowly open up once more, and 2020 is starting to settle down into – no, no, this just in, 2020 is still a diabolical disco of dumpster fires mixed up with a party of poopy diapers dancing around a carnival of crap. 24 hour mental anguish, thy name is 2020. I’ve been feeling the weight of the world lately, the missing life in this bleak year. I can’t take any more news, or opinions, or anger, or politics, or lack-of-context-and-nuance-this-person-has-said-this-one-thing-so-scorch-them-from-the-earth, or this disease, this bloody disease, still racking up the numbers and not caring one jot about the angers and opinions of us puny humans. And the second half of the year will bring an election upon us, so no more watching TV shows with advert breaks in our house. But, small but important comforts – we have our living room back, and we can lie on the couch avoiding the news and turning off social media (ha! as if) and watching Shakespeare and HGTV and the Bundesliga. Football, football, football. The Premier League is finally back next week too, to give my mind a rest from all the real chaos and anger in the world, though speaking of which when is Tottenham’s Amazon show coming out? That will be a feast, though probably painful for such an avid Spurs fan as myself, given the season we’ve had. Formula 1 is coming back too, and not soon enough. I have watched so many old races. I rewatched the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix last week, oooh I had forgotten how crashorrific that race was, but also that they could just jump in the spare car and carry on! I miss watching F1 in the 90s though, I was well into it then. I’ve enjoyed the Shakespeare too, I’ve decided I want to build a Lego version of the Globe and put on little animated versions of the plays. I really liked the Globe’s production of the Merry Wives of Windsor, the silly performances really working with the crowd, and I watched the Donmar’s Coriolanus with Tom Hiddleston, that was good, though I admit I never finished it because it was long and I wasn’t really into it, I just really enjoyed the staging and the occasional Hiddleston histrionics. I cant wait for all the plays and movies and everything about this lockdown period, the COVID age, the Coronavirus times. I’m kidding, I definitely am not looking forward to those things. I’m also not looking really forward to the many ways they will restage Shakespeare as set during the time of lockdown, though you could have some fun with it. Shelter-In-Place-Shakespeare, the Social Distancing versions. The Merry Wife of Windsor, The One Gentleman of Verona, Romeo, and Juliet (staged as two separate plays – actually that might work really well) etc etc and so on. It’s not limited to Shakespeare. There’s Six Characters In Search of a Zoom Host (Pirandelli), Abigail’s Google Hangout (Leigh), the Caucasian Social Distancing Chalk Circle (Brecht, I’m stretching that one a bit, but he was into his Verfremdungstechnik so he’s fine with a bit of distancing) and of course Six Degrees of Separation (Guare, which speaks for itself). It’s not just with Shakespeare that I’ve been getting through this time, I’ve also been running a lot more than usual. It helps when I’ve got a head full of news, when the world seems too much, running and running and running is a good way to shake it off. And if you think “hey that’s very healthy of you,” I’m here to tell you that donuts are a good way as well.
My son's bedroom 052820
And here’s my son’s room, it’s very much a not-quite-teenage boy’s room, it’s also where he’s been doing all of his distance-learning schooling (until this week – he just left elementary school and will start middle school at the end of summer, in person we hope) Sure his room is not exactly tidy, but it’s considerably less messy than my room at the same age. I think at that age I may have still been sharing with my brother, who had on and off times of living at home (he’s ten years older than me). I remember we had bunkbeds and he would come home at all hours and he’d be sat on my bed playing Donkey Kong. He and my uncle would play tricks on me, such as holding my arm down the side of the bed and writing rude words all over it and sending me downstairs, haha. I remember he used to kick the bottom of my bed from below for a laugh, until one time it actually collapsed in on top of him, and that was a laugh, I still bring that one up. Fun times! One time I thought I’d play a trick on him and set up a trap above the bedroom door, I placed some empty bottles (plastic, not glass) above the door so that when he opened it they would all fall on his head. The problem is, he didn’t come home that night, I think he crashed at a mate’s gaff, and so my mum came in in the morning to wake me up, the bottles fell on her and broke her glasses. Whoops! As you can imagine I was in big, big trouble. I think the neighbours were woken up by the shouting, I mean the neighbours in the neighbouring counties. My brother laughed so much when he found out, he still brings that one up. Fun times! I used to draw that bedroom too, years ago. I wonder if I can find any old drawings from back then, probably. Well, these are the last ones of the house I’ll be doing for a while, now I can sketch outside when I need to. Thing is, I don’t know that I have missed sketching Davis much. I’ve drawn it so much already. Who am I kidding, I say that all the time and yet I always find things to draw! So in the next few posts, I’ll show some of the Davis sketches I did in the earlier part of 2020 before we were all ordered home. I miss the old outside world, as it was. But at least we have the living room back.

the bedroom days

bedroom office
A couple more on the iPad drawn in the bedroom, or the Bedroom Office as it now is. Both drawn before we got our living room back (which was over the weekend, hooray!) so this was also the dining room and watching tv room. It’s also where I draw and write (haha, I hardly ever write at the moment), and it would be where I do my Lego animations but I’ve not done those in a while either. I felt like installing a running track around the bed and using it as a gym too. With all stuff from downstairs shelves all over the floor it would have been more like a hurdle track. Ah well, it’s where we are right now. I notice from some of my fellow sketchers in Europe that things are slowly beginning to open up there, and I think that they will here too soon, but extremely cautiously. Well most of us, some aren’t. I also can’t wait for the shelter-in-place to be over, because then the walking and running paths around here might not be so busy, people might stay in more. I don’t know, I want to go places, get on a train and wander about the City, but I don’t know how we’ll all feel. I have a nice mask. Lately I’ve been obsessed with the idea of going on week-long hikes along the national trails of England, as if that should ever happen. I used to think about that sort of thing when I was young but never got around to it, except my time in Cumbria when I was 17 doing the Outward Bound thing. In the meantime, stay at home, it’s very hot outside again in California. These two sketches were done on the iPad, sat on the bed, the one below while watching Revenge of the Sith (I do love ‘Sith’, one of my favourite films), the one above while monitoring an online seminar/workshop for our department. The bookshelf was moved from downstairs during the flood but I am going to keep it there as I like having books close by my bed. I have already moved the dvd shelf downstairs and replaced it with my old collection of Fighting Fantasy books. And right now, I’m watching the Bundesliga, as football has returned to Germany, albeit in empty stadiums. Unlike the quiet first round of games, the Dortmund-Bayern game has crowd noise pumped in, and the tv cameras are angled to show as little of the empty stands as possible. I’ve watched so many old World Cup games lately it is nice to watch some actual real new games. I feel like a teenager again, when I would rarely leave my room, just stay in there drawing and watching football or Star Wars or reading. Still on top of the recent flood which left us without a living room for a month, one of the cats got sick and was in hospital a couple of times, he’s recovering now the poor thing, but he did wee all over my side of the bed one night. Go home 2020 you are drunk! One thing all of this disruption and time at home has given me is time to go through things and organize stuff, get rid of what I don’t need, and one day I might get started on that.
in the bedroom

In the meantime I’ll draw round the house. Tomorrow our local sketching thing Let’s Draw Davis will have a virtual get-together, less of a sketchcrawl and more just the show and tell bit, showing what we have drawn while stuck at home during this whole thing. I had an idea over the weekend that I might put a video together of my stay-home sketches, and the I thought I could do a series of YouTube videos giving a tour of Davis through my sketches, focusing on a different area or theme each time, make about 8-10 of them. Summer project.

time upstairs

upstairs desk 042720
If the flood has done one thing, it has cut my commute time down by quite a few seconds, now that I don’t have to go downstairs but just roll out of bed to the desk next to my bed. I’ll still be late, but I do work at all hours these days and nights, what even is time. This was the desk where I did my Lego animations (I have a number of lamps, there’s one on the desk with a yellow gel filter hanging from it); despite all this time at home these past two months I haven’t done a single bit of animation. I am still drawing that sketched virtual tour of Britain, I have just reached Sunderland so I’m getting close to the end. I’ll scan it all in one go. I drew this before I moved the bookshelf and a bunch of other downstairs stuff up to my bedroom, so I’m feeling a lot more cramped in here now. But it’s working for me ok. I have my books close to me, although I should find a way of putting them behind me like all the cool people do in their Zoom calls. Actually I have been rotating virtual backgrounds for Zoom, although sometimes half my body disappears when I move, making me a floating head, like Holly from Red Dwarf. I usually have a sketch of my room as a virtual background.
upstairs bathroom 050420
So, I’m living in a small corner of the upstairs for now. I get out for a run every day or so, but then it’s back up here to work or draw or read or eat. The internet went down one day, very disruptive for those working from home, or doing anything from home. So I drew my bathroom. Spot footy shirts in laundry basket. I did manage to cut my own hair ok, I did a good job. And then below, this sketch was from a month ago, before the flood, another one playing with the mad pencils on grey paper, this time late at night watching the Formula 1 show on Netflix. That’s Ricciardo there, it was announced this week he will join MacLaren for 2021. If racing or sport ever comes back. Of course the Bundesliga returned this weekend, in front of empty grounds, and I got in a few jokes, “Glad to be Bach” (in the Frankfurt-Mönchengladbach game), “All Quiet on the Westphalian Front” (in the Dortmund game) and I slipped in a “Don’t München the VAR” when Bayern had a goal disallowed today. As far as silly puns this is as good as it gets in these difficult times, these strange unprecedented times, these very confusing times; they may be no “I pity the foal” but I’ll take what I can get.
Bedroom sketch 041520

Bedroom Storytime

bedroom
So, after all of this is over, we are all just going to go back to normal, right? We’re all going to be just fine, yeah? Day one back to work, shaking hands, get the bowl of chips out to share, totally borrow someone’s pen, casually touch the handrail without thinking, all back to normal, right? We’ll all be jumping back into crammed airplanes, crowding into cinemas to watch the latest blockbuster, squeezing in shoulder to shoulder at the local bar? It’s only been a few weeks, or is it a month, I am forgetting, but if this whole thing ever comes to an end, I don’t know what the social and mental hangover will be. As for the very real current events, well those numbers just keep getting worse, and that’s already a lot to think about. I look at the date of the sketch above, March 29, and think about how much worse it has gotten just in the two weeks since then. And yet, while March felt like the longest month, April is already half over and I don’t know where that went. Perhaps because so much of it was in the Current Routine of not going anywhere, and knowing that this will be the case for the next few weeks for certain, as the shelter in place order has been extended until May, and we’ll very likely be here for another month or two. This timeline sucks. Above, I’m on my bed, watching YouTube videos about maths (with Hannah Fry, who being similarly British also calls it maths, which is of course the right way) (actually I pronounce it ‘maffs’ because I’m from Burnt Oak). Maths it turns out is very interesting. I don;t remember it being quite as interesting when my old Maths teacher Blindty was drilling it into us, old-school. It wasn’t really my subject. I liked (surprisingly I know) Art and Languages most at school, though I did enjoy History (except when I was spectacularly not very good at it at A-Level) and English (although I had a teacher who told me I would not pass the GCSE; turns out she was wrong, and I ended up getting a Master’s degree in it). Still, if she saw my writing now she’d probably say the same, and the way I ramble on I can’t really blame her.
view from bedroom

And so I’m continuing to draw the house. I’m also occasionally looking out of the window. We had some great storms pass through recently, dropping a lot of rain and making me feel much better about being indoors. I looked out of the window last Sunday and sketched the view. I don’t spend as much time looking out of the window as when I was a kid, when I’d stare at the sky above my part of north London, but now I mostly see trees. You can see the head of my guitar in the bottom corner. I bought that in December 1996 at Macari’s in Charing Cross Road. It’s my dearly beloved acoustic, but I don’t play as much as I used to. I really should. Should I though? Maybe not. I was never that good at it. I enjoyed music more when I was younger, and had a good ear for picking things up. I let that slide too much years ago, and ah well. It’s funny, while This Whole Thing* is going on we might all feel a lot of pressure to start doing all of these things we should be doing, start playing an instrument, learn a new language, make hilarious quarantine videos with the whole family (people were doing that after like one day, weren’t they?) but there’s so much anxiety I can barely do anything at all some days, except what I usually do, which is work and draw. And drawing really helps. Lately I have started a new drawing project, to fill an entire book with google street view sketches of the whole of Britain. Problem is I am already finding it hard to decide where to draw and what to miss out. The book can fit at most 60-something sketches, so I’m capping it at 66. It’s a mystical number in Britain after all. I’ve just reached Devon. There’s a really long way to go until John O’Groats…

*I realized that “This Whole Thing” is what I have been calling this whole thing. That’s my name for it. I have been writing down a list of some of the phrases I have heard or read. Strange Times. Odd Times. Unusual Times. Extraordinary Times. These Difficult Times. Uncertain Times, Unfamiliar Terrain. Unprecedented Times. Living Through Something Extraordinary. The Current Health Situation. The Current Virus Thing. Twenty bastard twenty. (I made that last one up).

sheltering in place, the first few days

stairs
I really hate 2020, a lot. Like, it can honestly just bugger off. Well, this week Davis announced it will Shelter In Place, then this was followed a day later by an Order to Shelter In Place by Yolo County (yes our county is called Yolo), and this was then followed by the whole of California. So I started this week in the office, ready to pack up any moment, and was working from home by the middle of the week. Lots of meetings by Zoom. Because my wife is also working from home, it’s different from other times when I have worked from home like when I’ve been sick or looking after my son when he’s sick, because I can’t just have Revenge of the Sith on in the background or play David Bowie. It’s all an adjustment. I’ve not quite decided to turn on the camera in the Zoom meetings yet, until I can decide what my suitable background will be. I need to get a selection of clever sounding books and put them on a shelf behind me, either side of my head, so people will be like, wow, maybe he is clever. I have a lot of language books, and the Riverside Chaucer, or maybe I should put my own books – speaking of which, my most recent book was published in CHINESE this week! They sent me a copy. Or perhaps I’ll just put up one of my vintage World Cup posters, that would look more like me. Anyway, now that the whole world of urban sketchers it seems are sketching their houses, I thought it about time I did the same, and drew the living room last weekend. This week I drew a few more. Above, the stairs, drawn late at night while watching videos on YouTube about Star Wars (wow, there’s a lot of utter crap out there). The hanging birds and letters on the wall are from a Happy Birthday message I made for my wife, in Hawaiian. She really likes Hawaii. We would not mind being stuck there right now. There’s my son’s bike, he’s new to riding it, but he loves it, it’s just now with social distancing it’s harder to meet up with friends. And of course, despite living in Davis, the bike capital of America, I still can’t really draw a bike. I don’t care; there’s a pandemic on.
bedroom
Working from home means I can go to different rooms in the house and work. While I do have a nice computer at a desk downstairs, I can also take the laptop upstairs and do exactly the same thing. As it slowed down one afternoon I sat in the bedroom, answering emails and approving this and that, listened to podcasts, and then decided I needed to draw the bedroom. I don;t think I ever have before, the lair of Lego and piles of things, framed pictures and clothes, musical instruments and boxes of records, and all the shoulder bags I no longer use but don’t need to get rid of yet (I just brought one out of retirement that I got in 2007, it fits my new iPad into it so it’s back on the team). That large framed drawing in the middle, that is actually a print of an extreme panoramic drawing from Liège that Gérard Michel gave me way back in 2011. I keep meaning to bring that one into work, it’s too big for that piece of wall so it rests on top of other frames for now. I also have one of a 360 degree drawing from the Montagne de Bueren staircase that he gave me, now I have visited that very place maybe that one should go up here too, I just need to frame it.
kitchen

This is the kitchen, drawn from the dinner table, late at night while (again) listening to podcasts. One thing about working from home more now is that I snack more, which I had in the past year cut out completely (I lost 30 pounds in the last year, though I’ve put a couple back on now). I miss my walking to work, going to the gym after work, and I need to be a bit more dedicated to not snacking at home, but there’s a pandemic on, and the stress of that makes me feel more hungry I think. In this Shelter in Place order though, we are allowed to go out running, as I did this morning, I went on a 2 mile run (I actually was supposed to do a 5k this morning, but the event was cancelled). Most of north Davis seemed to be out too, walking dogs, walking themselves, running, biking, throwing balls to each other, social-distancing I suppose, not really sheltering in place. In Spain they have been using drones to tell people to go home from the park! So, I will run while I can, and I never liked going near people anyway, but I’m not gonna lie, I’d really like to go and sketch at the pub. I’m going to miss that for a while.