the bones of the blue whale

NHM blue whale 2018 sm

Back in February, I went back to London for a very short (unexpected) visit. I was down in Devon for a few days, and then back home in London for a day before heading back. For my one day in London, there was only one place I wanted to go – probably my favourite place, the Natural History Museum. It really is the best. I want to spend all day there some day, just drawing, drawing and drawing a lot more. I got a late start on this day, partly because, hey, nice to get a lie in after a lot of busy busy, but also because I’d spent the previous night with friends in Camden Town, after a long journey back from the South West of England. So I made it to the Natural History Museum by almost lunchtime. It was the first time I have been there since Dippy moved out. Dippy was (sorry, is) (if you call being a skeleton of an extinct animal present tense) (I say skeleton, it’s only a model) moved out last year to go on tour around the country, and make room on the ground in the Hintze Hall for more fancy events. Dippy was a Diplodocus, by the way. I realize I’m making Dippy sound like a House Elf. I sketched Dippy’s rear end back at the end of 2016, shortly before Dippy’s departure. Dippy was replaced by the large skeleton of a Blue Whale which now hangs majestically from the ceiling, the largest mammal in the world. I really wanted to sketch it. I don’t know if the Blue Whale has an inventive nickname yet, Bluey or Whaley, but I look at it and imagine I am one of the Avengers, facing down against a Chitauri space vessel. Well, in my head obviously. I’m not standing there doing Hulk impressions. I sketched from above, from one of the staircases in this most magnificent of London buildings, the sort of building that makes me really wish I had never left, that makes me so proud to be a native of a city that has such a place just right there where anyone can go and learn every single day. Sorry Davis, your bike museum is fine, but my heart is in Albertopolis. So, I drew Bluey the Whale from above and always intended on adding the colour, the browns and golds with purple tinted shadows of the museum, contrasted with the pale luminescent blue of the skeletal whale, but my friend Simon arrived and I didn’t want to keep him waiting about while I faffed about with the paints, so I left it as it is. We went around and looked at all the dinosaur skeletons and stuffed animals, and he expressed his grief at the removal of the much loved national treasure Dippy, which made me laugh as he’d just told me he hadn’t stepped foot inside the museum in well over twenty years.

NHM mantellisaurus 2018 sm

I did draw one dinosaur though, the one above. “Dinosaur” the sign called it. Thanks, but isn’t this, you know, Iguanadon? I know it is. They have moved everything around in there since my last visit (just over a year before) but I know my NHM dinos. When I was four or five I went there with school and was the resident dino expert in my class, counting vertebrae, knowing all sorts of things I cannot remember now (though I still have a couple of my old childhood dinosaur books, themselves relics of a past scientific age). It turns out this is The Dinosaur Formerly Known As Iguanadon, now renamed Mantellisaurus after its discoverer, Gideon Mantell. I wish I had discovered a dinosaur, maybe I could have one named after me. Scullysaurus has a nice ring to it. I don’t know what I’d be doing to discover a dinosaur, I don’t exactly go out digging in the rocks, but I might find one in a park or an art shop. It wouldn’t need to be a ‘saurus’ either, I would take a ‘dactyl’ or a ‘docus’, even a simple ‘don’ like my old big thumbed friend Iguanadon here. Maybe Pteranodon was named after a Pete but they mis-typed his named, we all do it, I’m always typing Ptee or Pere, to the point my autocorrect has given up and says I can be called whatever I want.

South Kensington Books 2018 sm

We were done with the museum, and it was dark outside already. I could have spent hours longer in there, but I had to get back to Burnt Oak as my family wanted to take me out for a curry (I was flying home next day), so Simon and I walked down to South Kensington and into the little shops there, and I did one last sketch, of South Kensington Books. Small independent bookshops are among the best things in the world, because I am the sort of person who says so, having worked for a couple over the years. I want to draw all of the old bookshops in London, while they are still there. Actually not a day goes by when I don’t miss London, this London, not the crowded working rainy expensive irritated London, but my London, the one I spent my teenage days looking for on Saturday afternoons with a travelcard. I am glad to have had an unexpected afternoon there, a last minute very short trip, but it reminds me how much I really miss it.

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the all-new all-different MU…

MU Aug 2016
Okay, we’re at the halfway mark for Manchester sketches so I thought we’d bring it back to Davis for a bit before resuming the symposium story. This is the current state of the Memorial Union at UC Davis – the shiny new bookstore is now open, but the rest is still under a lot of reconstruction. The UCD Bookstore by the way does stock my book, if you’re interested! the renovated and revamped MU is expected to reopen in December, I can’t wait to see how it finally looks. My son for one is eagerly anticipating the reopening of the bowling alley; he had his birthday there last year and has missed it terribly. Once it’s all done, I will sketch the end result. More change at UC Davis!

‘ighgate

"Suicide Bridge", Archway

On my full last day in London, I took the tube down to Archway to meet my cousin Dawn for some sketching around Highgate. This was my old neighbourhood before we moved to the States., and I still love it around there. I used to live on Hornsey Lane, a few doors down from the bridge above, Archway Bridge. Of course, this bridge is better known as Suicide Bridge. Unfortunately, it’s a name more commonly earned than I realised before I lived up there. Dawn (who also lives nearby here) and I sketched beneath the bridge, beside the busy Archway Road, where the 134 bus charges down on its way into central London. Because I lived higher up Highgate Hill I would not come up this way much, so it was fun to come back and explore a bit more. We popped into one store full of second hand stuff and I saw (but did not get) a full set of Worzel Gummidge dvds. We grabbed a sandwich at Tescos (I love that about England, proper normal-size sandwiches everywhere, not the doorsteps you get over here) and sat opposute the Jackson Lane building, an arts centre not far from Highgate tube station.

Jackson's Lane, Highgate

We walked around inside there, and I picked up leaflets for events that of course I can never go to, but I’m always dreaming of us all living in Highgate again some day. It’s my favourite part of London, along with Crouch End. We walked further up to Ripping Yarns, an amazing antiquarian bookstore stacked to the brim with wonderful books. Hardly enough room inside to turn around. They specialize in old children’s books but also have lots of other books as well. We spent a lot of time in there, I was looking through many of the old annuals, Roy of the Rovers, the Beano, Topper, all those I used to have on my own shelves. I did pick up an interesting (and slightly quirky) little book, The Observer’s Guide to British Architecture; it’s quite hilarious in its description of Saxon building practices, dismissing them as “primitive”, “uneducated” “crude”, complaining that “they built their churches piecemeal like children playing with bricks”. It does give a comprehensive history of architectural methods with nice little illustrations so it’s a great find, plus it has that old old book smell.

We sat opposite the bookshop and sketched it, and then it was time to go. It was lovely spending time with Dawn and you should check out her incredible work on her Flickr site.

Ripping Yarns, Highgate

I had a few more things to do in London, no more sketching unfortunately (I bought an Ireland  football kit for my son), but this was the day that the Duchess of Cambridge was in labour so lots of people were hanging around waiting anxiously for the big news. I was already home packing my suitcases when the as-yet-unnamed heir to the throne was announced. The next day we flew back to America. I still have to post my Barcelona sketches; those are coming soon…

illustrating journeys and urban sketching at the avid reader

at the Avid Reader, June 8th Last Saturday evening I was fortunate enough to give a talk at my local bookstore The Avid Reader about travel journals, urban sketching, and Danny Gregory’s latest book ‘An Illustrated Journey‘, in which I have a chapter. I gave a talk there last year about ‘The Art of Urban Sketching‘, and I have always liked that store – it was the place I first worked, years ago, when I came to Davis. I had a little office under the stairs.

Saturday was also the hottest day of the year so far, in fact probably the hottest ever recorded on that date in Davis – 109 degrees Fahrenheit at one point we saw, and that sort of heat will drive you bonkers. So big thanks to all who braved the heat and came out to hear me talk!

An Illustrated Journey & the Art of Urban Sketching

The two books. USk spotters: see also my ‘Lapin’ pencil case and ‘Paul Wang’ Moleskine

Ramble on more like. I had a plan, not a script exactly, but you know how it is, once you start talking about this subject you go off in all directions. That’s how I travel, funnily enough. We had a good turn out, I counted about twenty people. Here is store owner (and my old employer) Alzada Knickerbocker introducing me.

Talk at Avid Reader June 8th 2013Talk at Avid Reader June 8th 2013

I prepared a big board of sketches to show people during the talk, so I wouldn’t have to keep scouring through sketchbooks to find the example of that one bridge I sketched that one time, and so on. I enjoyed making this, but I accidentally put one image on there twice (doh!).

Talk at Avid Reader June 8th 2013
For each of the attendees I also made something special – a micro-sketchbook, only 3″x4″ big and eight pages long. I cut up a load of different paper, mostly Strathmore drawing paper, but also some thinner Canson paper, some watercolour paper, some squared paper, even a few grey tinted sheets. I also cut up a whole bunch of those brown Chinese envelopes I like to draw on, the ones I get at work from all the graduate applications I deal with. I stapled them together, stuck a little ‘Pete’ sketch on the front and voila, micro-sketchbooks. I made a whole bunch, and I will probably give out the rest at the next sketchcrawl, or bring them to Barcelona.
micro-sketchbooks

I had a lot of very good questions at the end, most of which I was able to answer without going into too much of a tangent. I hope. I wanted to get across the message that sketching is for everyone, accessible and approachable and doable, and that the important thing is to use sketching as a tool to observe and build a relationship with the place in which you exist. Location sketching, especially when travelling, is much more rewarding as documentation of your travels than drawing from a photo later on. When you sketch on location, you are in effect having a conversation with a place. When you’re not together, it’s not really much of a conversation.
Talk at Avid Reader June 8th 2013

I enjoyed my conversations with everyone who came on Saturday and met some interesting folk! It was nice to have a few familiar faces there too for support (including my very supportive wife, and my young son who sat quietly to the side drawing the whole time, good lad). Thanks also to Alzada and the Avid Reader for inviting me to speak again.

Keep on sketching!

wrapped up in books

dog eared books SF

“I was a man on a mission.” No, no I wasn’t, I really had no plan to my day, just aimlessly following my nose. I always end up on Valencia Street though, wherever I happen to be. Despite running parallel just a block or so over, it’s quite enormously different from Mission Street. I’m not sure of the history, but I believe that when the hipsters first arrived in America as refugees from the terrible Third Fashion War they set up a safe enclave here, where they could wear ironic hats and ‘shave’ and live free to worship organic coffee without fear of percolation. I do love Valencia though, it is full of little stores packed with kitsch nonsense nobody in their right mind would ever need to buy (but then I feel that way about Target). It certainly has cool bookstores, and as a devout bookstore lover I feel right at home there. This is one place I always stop at, Dog-Eared Books, on the corner of Valencia and 20th. There is so much to find in here, and they are well aware of the importance of a bookstore – scrolling through lists of ebook suggestions on your Kindle or iPad is nowhere near as good for your soul as being physically surrounded in real, tangible books, books to surprise you, to pique your interest, to capture you forever. I completely lost myself in libraries and bookshops for years of my life. Dog-Eared is decorated on the outside with painitings of books, and in the window they have an eye-catching display of hand-drawn obituaries of well-known people who have died recently. I’ve meant to draw this bookstore for a while. I stood outside for an amazingly brief 35 minutes, doing all the linework in explosive speed while stood by a parking meter, and added the colour later on (it was starting to get cold).

the obituaries window at dog-eared books

the obituaries window at dog-eared books

Dog-Eared Books was the last sketch I did on my sketching day in the City. I hadn’t intended it to be, I had wanted to close out the last pages of Moleskine 11, but when you’re done you’re done, and I left it on a high. I popped by the excellent Mission Comics for a while for a mooch, picking up a Thanos comic to read on the train home. They had in their rear gallery an exhibit of art called “Batman on Robin”, and yes it was exactly what you are imagining, and a lot more than that too. ‘Graphic’ is putting it mildy. I finished up in the Mission with, of course, a burrito – but this one was different. It was a chicken tikka masala burrito. I will say that again in case you didn’t quite catch the importance of that statement. It was a Chicken Tikka Masala Burrito. Je ne vous merde pas, as they say. What a combination; for me, that’s like going to the San Francisco Giants stadium and watching Tottenham beat Arsenal. It was at a place on Valencia (where else) called “Curry Up Now”, and oh yeah, baby.  And so that was it. I considered going to North Beach for a beer and a sketch at Vesuvio’s or Spec’s, but forgot that this was the day of the big Chinese New Year parade; we had gotten caught trying to get up that stretch of Columbus on the same day last year and it was rather difficult to say the least. So I just went home. My feet were weary enough.

IMG_1881

wrapped up in books

Powell's, Portland

Powell’s City of Books in Portland is one of the most well known bookstores in America. It covers a whole block downtown, and I went in there on my first night in Portland and nearly never came out again. Books books books, everything you could think of, I was lost in a literary world (well, in my case more of the non-fiction world, and specifically the language section) as soon as I walked through the door. It’s the sort of place I would probably have spent every day of my teenage years (by the way, I spent almost every day of my teeneage years in bookshops, whenever at all possible). The map of the store is incredible, but in my case I still got hopelessly lost. I just kept seeing things I wanted to read. when I reached the section on languages and found the books on philology I nearly started crying. There were titles I have never seen in a bookshop, just sitting there on a shelf in front of me, saying “Go on, Pete, you know you want to spend the rest of the evening reading about Old English and its Closest Relatives”. I didn’t give into book-buying temptation (mostly because I didn’t want to carry loads of books to the pub with me), so I got a Powell’s pint glass and a couple of t-shirts instead. I did find myself getting sucked into their Star Wars section, got a little sidetracked looking through the maps and travel books, and I passed a good deal of time in their zine and small-press section too. I came back on my last day there to sketch the outside, but ended up getting sucked back in and wandering about its colour-coded sections like a mouse in a cheese shop.

http://www.powells.com/

avid reader, avid sketcher

avid reader bookstore, davis

This is the Avid Reader bookstore on 2nd Street in Davis. I used to work here, as the bookkeeper, for a couple of years after I first moved to Davis. It’s a real community anchor, and holds lots of events such as author signings and book clubs, and tonight it will be where I will display my sketchbooks and prints as part of the 2nd Friday ArtAbout. I’ll be there between 5-ish and 7-ish, there will be refreshments, and I will even be drawing stuff as well. I drew this one lunchtime this week, and finished it off this morning (it’s 11-11-11, and I have a day off! Staying in, framing pictures, listening to history and football podcasts and oasis, emptying dishwasher, eating noodles – it’s cold out). Anyway, I hope to see you at the bookstore tonight! My prints will be up until December 6th.

11-11-11 art about event!