And so, it’s time to start catching up with 2020’s sketching posts. This one was done in late February, back in the golden age of being able to crowd together in close proximity to other humans, not knowing any better. This was drawn at the Avid Reader bookstore on a momentous occasion, the moment ownership of this long-time Davis staple passed from Alzada Knickerbocker to the Arnold family, a local family here in Davis. I of course had to go along. This was the first place I worked in America, Alzada was my first boss. I had two jobs here at first, partly working the store, and partly being the shop’s bookkeeper (which was the same job I did for a small independent bookshop in England before I moved out here). It was only part-time but it got me started, and shortly afterwards I started working full-time for the university (in the same department I am still working in), but I remained here on Saturdays and a couple of evenings per week, working at the little desk under the stairs behind a pile of Ingrams invoices. I hadn’t worked there since just before my son was born, so it’s been a long time, but I always popped in to say hello. I have been back in my official capacity as artist a few times to give talks or exhibit sketches. It was nice to go in and see Alzada off after all these years, and welcome in the new owners. I was surprised to see one of my old drawings of the shop in a frame on display at the counter, a piece of the history there. Unfortunately in less than a month the world was hit by the coronavirus and everything closed up, but they have been doing business and recently opened up again to the public, albeit with all the social distancing rules. But look at this, a crowded shop, with wine and sandwiches and people looking over my shoulder; we didn’t know, though we were being warned, but it wasn’t yet real to us. I had already been to hospital that month though – a couple of weeks earlier (on my birthday in fact) I was in the emergency room with a nasal infection that grew rapidly, and thankfully got under control within about a fortnight, but was pretty painful (as well as unsightly). In the hospital, which was pretty busy even pre-Covid 19, everyone was asked to disclose where they had travelled in the past few weeks, and hand sanitizer was doubled up, but this was still the pre-mask time, and since I was not contagious I was free to go to the soccer tournament the next day, full of people in close contact, seems hard to imagine now. I was heavily tanked up on medicine though, and exhausted much of the time, but our under-12 team did well and came third overall (though I think we had a good shot at winning it, we just missed out in the semi-finals in high winds to the team who eventually won it; still, a third place medal was a good finish). Our season was put on hold in mid-March, and eventually cancelled, including the Davis World Cup tournament which I was on the organizing committee for (I had spent a long time designing the logo! I’ll have to reuse it next year). This year has been a shame. But I am glad to see the Avid Reader is still going through all this, and wish the new owners the Arnolds all the very best in keeping this shop at the heart of the community, as well as wishing Alzada the best in a well-deserved retirement.
Last Sunday – St.Patrick’s Day – was the day of our most recent “Let’s Draw Davis” sketchcrawl. It was a shortish sketchcrawl, three hours downtown, ending up with a get-together to look at each other’s sketches. This time I included a ‘scavenger hunt’, which was optional, but I gave it a go. It was Ireland-themed, nine things, specific (“an animal sculpture”) or vague (“snakes!”). The weather was lovely, warm and sunny, and lots of people were out. I drew a group of cyclists (a couple of whom I chatted with), focusing on the one of course wearing green.
The animal sculpture was easy, as right there on First Street are two enormous animals, a giant dog made of records and a cat gateway thing, outside the Natsoulas Gallery. It’s not a specifically Irish thing, sculpting animals, but not all the list had to be. The dog is called “Roy” and is a tribute to the artist Roy De Forest, by John Natsoulas and others. Becuase I wanted to show some of the detail, the various coloured vinyl records that make it up, I sketched up close, covering the ‘something musical’ point. I used to have some coloured vinyl records, when I was a kid I would sometimes buy them because I liked the colour, not because the music was any good, and I’m guessing those who donated these probably felt the same. Speaking of not-good music, that awful violin player was downtown again, his screeching echoing down E street. I wasn’t drawing him, no way. Sketching the records was a little bit of a challenge as I don’t like drawing circles (it’s why I hate drawing bikes), but also the sun was beating down, so I added the colour once I got into some shade.
Below is fellow Davis sketcher Alison, who has been sketching Davis much longer than me and who I knew from the very earliest sketchcrawls. She found a great display of Irish books in the window of Logos Books on 2nd Street, so I sketched her sketching those (the bookshop was my ‘something to do with literature or poetry’), and then I drew one of the books myself, a children’s Irish legend book about St. Brigid’s Cloak. I don’t know enough of the Irish legends myself, despite my Irish family I never learned any of that stuff as a kid (my mum just played Wolfe Tones, Brendan Shine and Daniel O’Donnell a lot), in fact it was my son who told me the story of the Red Hand of Ulster back when he was a preschooler (gory storytime!), though I did like reading about the Fomorians and the Tuatha De Danann, Balor and the Evil Eye, that stuff. And I loved hearing the story of the Rock of Cashel and Devil’s Bit Mountain when I went there as a kid (Cashel is full of Scully gravestones actually, that always excited me). And I know about St. Patrick of course. There’s a whole wealth of story and mythology I need to read about.
“A green object in the street” for me was a street sign. It could have been anything, a tree, a bin, a bike, a bush. I also asked for something more than a hundred years old, and that required a bit of Davis knowledge. I said not to draw my jokes which are all about a hundred years old (including that one). I drew part of the Dresbach-Hunt-Boyer mansion, which dates from the 1870s.
Now ‘snakes’ was always going to be interpretative, as I don’t expect to see a lot of snakes slithering around. We do of course have snakes in Davis but they like to hide, and don’t often go downtown, especially on St. Patrick’s Day, for obvious reasons. I knew there was a green metal snake sculpture behind the Pence, however it is no longer there, so I ended up drawing some metal pipes, and calling it “snakes”, and there you go.
And the last one “DRINK!” is a reference to Father Jack’s favourite word. I had about twenty minutes before the end, so I popped into De Vere’s Irish pub (which was packed), remarkably found a seat at the bar with a great view of the Guinness toucan that had been perched up above the taps. I drew that and had a (quite marked-up) pint of Smithwicks in a plastic glass. I don’t really like drinking Guinness much myself, it’s alright but not really my tipple. And then it was time for the final meet-up with the rest of the group. we had a very good crowd this time around, and I can’t wait for the next one in April! We’ll announce when exactly that is very soon. I have some soccer game rearrangements that are still being figured out, but I’m really in sketching mode this year – I’m already months ahead of my 2018 sketch-count.
I never learned much Irish, except a few choice phrases, so the blog title today is a little bit of Google Translate finagling. I quite like bad translation though, there’s a certain comedic innocence to it. We used to play on that in our multi-lingual theatrical performances back at university. I did have a book when I was a teenager, ‘Teach Yourself Irish’, but it was a ridiculously dry edition and put the language out of reach. I could see how it connected to other European languages, but the orthography-to-pronunciation difference was too great for me to hear it in my head, so I just learned a few words and phrases, mostly ones other people had taught me (so I could say them). None of my family ever knew any Irish phrases other than Erin Go Bragh, Cead Mile Failte and Pogue Mahone, the last one being spelled the way the band did, not the spelling I was taught later by Irish people. None of the Irish people I knew as a kid (who were pretty much my nan’s generation) spoke any Irish words, so even as the historic language of my ancestors I never felt much of a connection to it. If they learned it, it was something they might have had to do at school decades before and forgot instantly, same as I remember very little about Chemistry class except a dislike of Bunsen Burners. I do remember when I was about 12 though being somewhere in rural Kerry, and suddenly everything was in Gaelic, the radio stations, the street signs, actually that was it, the only other things around were sheep and fog. It wasn’t until I was much older that I met someone who spoke it natively, as in at home, and whenever she used it to with us it was usually in song and not to be translated (she was clear about that). So, with the Irish language, it’s another thing that I might get around to learning a bit of now we live in the YouTube era, but might not be that high on the priority list living out in California. Anyway I hope all my Irish friends had a fun St. Patrick’s Day! I certainly did.
Hey, if you want to see other people’s sketches from the day (or post your own from the sketchcrawl, if you came along) you can go to the Let’s Draw Davis group page on the dreaded Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/383785982124525/
To find out when future sketchcrawls will be, our main FB page will show those: https://www.facebook.com/LetsDrawDavis/
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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!
“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).
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.
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.
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.
Mark your diaries! It’s eleven-eleven-eleven next week, whichever date system you use. If you’re in Davis, it’s the 2nd Friday Art About, an evening of art events downtown with music, food, activities and of course lots of art. And (for the second time this year!) I will be exhibiting some sketchbooks and prints at the Avid Reader bookstore on 2nd St. The prints will be exhibited until Dec 6, while the reception on the 11th will be from about 5:30 to 7:00 (after that there is some author event, not sure what). I will be sketching live (a ‘sketching demo’ I guess – code for, ‘i’ll be sketching anyway!’), and there will be sandwiches and wine. If you can’t make it, the sketchbooks will be at the Davis public library until the end of the month, and the prints will be at the Avid Reader. But there will also be an event at the Pence Gallery in December…
See you there!