(29) Menai Bridge, and (30) Conwy

GB 29-30 sm
The last of the Welsh trilogy brings us right up to North Wales, although I wish I’d made space for the interior. I had to weigh up whether I needed to include Wrexham, but later on leave out Sunderland? It’s a weighty issue, and I’d only be including Wrexham because they knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup that one time. I really enjoyed this spread though, I hope it shows. It was a very enjoyable virtual journey, very peaceful. It was still a couple of days or so before our flood, when I was still at the desk downstairs, and so it’s funny that two bridges ended up on these pages. Or not. But I imagined myself walking these areas, like Tony Robinson in that TV series I have watched a lot of lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about walking the UK, planning out hikes, right down to deciding which walking poles to bring. Of course I would need to factor in sketching time, so each walk would take a lot longer, but I draw pretty fast, and can always do half and finish the rest at the local pub in the evening, listening away for accents and dialects. I studied the history of the English language, and one of my popular-academic linguistic heroes lives up this way, David Crystal, on Anglesey. I have read many of his books, and I’ve always wanted to meet him and talk language and its history and future with him.

So, let’s have a butcher’s at the first drawing then, this is the mighty Menai Suspension Bridge, which crosses high above the Menai Strait that separates the mainland from the island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn in Welsh). The bridge was built by the great civil engineer and architect Thomas Telford and was opened in 1826, and the road that goes across it is actually the A5 – the very same road that links up what we call Watling Street, although that Roman road did not come out this far, although in that Watling Street book I started reading the author does continue past Wroxeter and up to Holyhead, but fails to talk about this amazing bridge. So technically this links it up with the first spread of the book. Now, this sketch was drawn on the Anglesey side of the Menai Strait, so technically it is not on the island of Great Britain – exception to the rule – but you can see the island of Great Britain in the drawing so no rules broken. The name “Anglesey” is likely of Viking origin, but the best place name on the island is unmistakably Welsh: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. It means “Stmaryschurchinthehollowofthewhitehazelneartotherapidwhirlpoolofllantysiliooftheredcave”, which is easy for you to say. It’s where you go to take a picture of the train station sign using panoramic mode on your phone. I have to go there.

It’s North Wales, so another castle was needed, and I like the one in Conwy, mostly because Caernarfon would mean backtracking again, and I’d already done that, or putting the first sketch on the bottom of a spread, and I had done that already. I’m trying to make the book interesting to pick up and look through. Not that I have any interest in publishing, this is just a curio to bring to events in future, but it’s good to mix it up. I get it right a few more times, and less right on a couple, but mostly I’m very happy with the spreads from Wales onwards, and this one more than most. I love a bridge, I love a castle. So for Conwy I needed to find a good angle, and so I went across the River Conwy and found a nice spot next to a little cottage, I can imagine standing here sketching, maybe with the brolly sticking out my coat, saying hello to a local old fellow who passed me by, and nodding while I pretended to understand what he was saying to me, and complementing him on the beautiful countryside as if he was personally responsible for it, and him telling me something about how when he was a kid he’d catch cockles and cook them up for breakfast but that his grandkids just want to listen to records and go to London and work at desks, but they come back for Christmas and they always want cockles for breakfast, but I’m a bit old to get out there now with my back the way it is. Nice chap, this completely imaginary passer-by. Now the castle itself is another one built by Patrick McGoohan from Braveheart, and it is a World Heritage Site. It is a proper example of a proper castle, one that if you have kids and they like castles you should take them to this one.

There’s a lot more in North Wales to draw – coastal towns like Llandudno, which always reminds me of Neville Southall, the great Wales and Everton goalie (and a great follow on Twitter), the peaks and valleys of Snowdonia, and resort towns like Rhyl to draw caravan parks, chalets and chip shops. But as it is, we had to get back to England, to the Midlands, to draw yet another bridge – the very first one made of cast iron…

Amsterdam Afterwards

Amsterdam Herengracht bridge Sunday sm
The Symposium finished, people went there separate ways, some together, some sticking about in Amsterdam, and I decided to have a lie in and a late start for a day of wandering and sketching some of the parts of the city I hadn’t explored much yet. My family were arriving in town later that day so I had a lot of time for some more sketching before the full-on tourist part of the trip started. The temperatures had dropped, the skies started to cloud up a little, it was still busy out but I finally had a bit of headspace. I walked over to Herengracht and sat down by the canal to draw this bridge. I saw a few other sketchers here and there, nobody I knew, but we know we’re all in the sketching family so there’s usually a nod of respect.
Amsterdam Leliegracht and Keizersgracht sm
I really like this particular junction at the corner of Leliegracht and Keizersgracht. Amsterdam has a lot of charm. I think I didn’t love Amsterdam, overall, it felt a little stressful with the tight sidewalks and cyclists, the tourists and the partygoers, and the dirt, far too many cigarette butts on the ground, but there is no denying Amsterdam is still beautiful, and so unlike many other cities. The first time I came to Amsterdam in the summer of 1998 I had the same impression, though I had also spent all night on a train from Berlin. There is so much to search though, no shortage of places to explore. I mooched around bookshops, tried samples in cheese shops, got lost in alleys and small squares, or as lost as my map-enable apple watch would let me. This side of the city west of Damrak is full of postcard views and long canal vistas. I knew I’d come back so I wandered back toward the Centraal Station area (perhaps my least favourite station area), had a look around the football-themed store Copa (perhaps my most favourite store in Amsterdam), buying two pairs of socks, one which features Diego Maradona doing the ‘Hand of God’ in 1986, and Zidane headbutting Materazzi in the 2006 world cup final, and went to meet up with my family. The next couple of days here would be doing more of the tourist stuff – a boat trip around the canals, Anne Frank’s house, the Van Gogh Museum, and a change of hotel.
Amsterdam Graffiti Fish Stand sm
Here are a couple of sketches I did near the Centraal station. Teh lamp-post thing below looks like some kind of city warning against public drunkenness.
Amsterdam Lamp-post sm
Amsterdam Spui sm

I didn’t sketch as much once the family arrived, just a few here and there, I think I had earned the break. Above is a quick one I drew at Spui while eating Flemish Frites (see below, they were delicious). I can’t reiterate how much I love the frites over here, they do taste delicious.

I did try to do a quick sketch of the tall houses at Damrak one evening, just to mess about with some of the new materials we were given at the symposium.Not my usueal sketching but fun to mess about.
Amsterdam Buildings Damrak sm
Amsterdam Buildings in Blue sm
Below, I drank a beer called “Bastaard” by Hertog Jan while we had an Indonesian meal at Kantjil by Spui. Sketching with pencil can get messy as you can see by the filthy page.
Amsterdam Kantjil beer
And here is one of the little tiny toy cars they have here in Amsterdam to get around the super narrow streets. I never did sketch one; I asked Lapin who loves to sketch cars if he was going to add one to his collection, but even he said no, that’s no car. Look at it, it’s like something from Richard Scarry. I expected another one to come along looking like a big carved out apple , and a pencil and a banana.

IMG_4512

I did change hotels when my family arrived, moving from the Grand Amrâth to the Doubletree, which my wife had booked (she got a really good deal). It was a nice hotel for sure, very modern, with amazing views over the city, but zero of the character of the Grand Amrâth. But these views! I had to sketch it. I did go up to the rooftop lounge to look over the city, but I did not want to sketch up there, it wasn’t really my thing to hang out there. The Doubletree hotel is right across the canal from the Grand Amrâth so we could see the whole building in all its glory from across the water, and I would get up for a run past it, and some of that lovely fresh juice from a nearby supermarket. I miss all the nice juices and foods from Holland. I would like to come back and explore more of the Netherlands. The Dutch people I met at the symposium came from all over and there are so many places I know not that much about. Aaargh, the world is so big, there is so much I want to see before I’m done. I want to see it all, and sketch it all.
Amsterdam View from Doubletree sm
But I was done with Amsterdam, we all were. Time to move on, time to go back to Belgium and eat some more frites and waffles. But the heatwave wasn’t done with us yet. We went to get our Thalys but of course, there were cancellations and delays, hung over from the travel chaos a week before. We waited and waited, a few hours with hundreds of others, until in the end a Thalys came and everyone was lucky to get on. But we had first class reservations (a good call as it turns out, for very little more cost) and so I was given a couple of free Belgian beers (a couple of cans of Leffe Blonde) in our carriage for the journey. It was all a bit stressful at the time, but I’m usually travel lucky, it all works out in the end. When life gives you lemons, draw in your sketchbook and be patient, and life will eventually give you Leffe. Onwards to Brussels!
Amsterdam Waiting for Thalys sm

Alive Actually, Amsterdam

Amsterdam Shari Blaukopf Workshop sm
When I posted my sketches from Porto in 2018 every post had an alliterative “p” title, and I am doing something similar for Amsterdam, but making far less sense. I could put more thought into it, but that would not be indicative of how my mind was completely melted by the heat there. I was all over the place. Some people go to Amsterdam and do that on purpose of course, through other means, but for me it was just the heat making me feel continuously confused. Also the streets – I love bikes and am a cyclist myself, but wow they are everywhere in Amsterdam, and sidewalks are super narrow. When it is busy it feels stressful. On the second morning of the symposium though I felt quite good, raring to go, I had even got up and had a run around the emptier morning streets, before I marched along to the Zuiderkerk to meet up with my workshop group, chatting away to people I hadn’t seen in a year, today was going to be great. However I had mixed up which workshop I was supposed to be doing, thinking that I was in Ian Fennely’s class. When it came time for roll call though he made it very clear my name was not on the list for the workshop, “no, you are not on the list.” Ok, I’m not trying to sneak in, maybe I wrote it down wrong. Turns out I had got my days mixed up (first sign my mind was not functioning at capacity), and that I was going to Shari Blaukopf’s workshop. That cheered me up as I was really looking forward to her class on sketching boats, which is why I thought I had selected it to save for last. She is an exceptional watercolour painter and I of course am not a painter, though I use watercolours to colour in my drawings, I am all about the lines so I really wanted to learn from her, and while my results weren’t where I wanted them to be, I came away with lots of new knowledge and wanting to try some new things – such as drawing with brush pens.
Amsterdam Shari Blaukopf Workshop 2 smAmsterdam Shari Blaukopf Workshop Ship 1 sm

Shari encouraged us to bring along brush pens and do some quick sketches of the boats with those. Of course I also drew her talking about the boats. Drawing in brush pen is not something I do a lot of – I realized that drawing people is super fun, especially adding a little watercolour – but those dark shapes and thick lines of the black and white boat drawings really helped to focus in on the values.

Amsterdam Shari Blaukopf Workshop Ships 2 sm
Drawing boats is good practice for perspective, and really good for shading and value. I don’t get much opportunity to draw boats in Davis, only when I go down to the City. Amsterdam harbour is the perfect place for boat sketching. Oh, except when it is very sunny, pushing midday and there is little shade. I was getting thirsty, so I walked over to NEMO (a huge building, very easy to find), which is a big science museum, to get a drink. I had to go to a cafe on the actual roof, climbing up these huge steps, and when I got to the cafe I couldn’t decide in my overheated mind what to get, so I think I got two types of fresh juice, one might have been a smoothie, and some fruit, and some water as well, and it still didn’t feel like enough. I think I was getting a bit of heat exhaustion. I carried on with the workshop, drawing the scene below, first with the brush pen (which I liked) and then just with watercolours (which I liked less).

Amsterdam Shari Blaukopf Workshop Ship 4 sm
Amsterdam Shari Blaukopf Workshop Ship 3 sm
My colours seemed dull. Shari suggested that perhaps my paints were a bit too dry, and that dulls the colours I would get. I didn’t quite understand, because they were wet, I was using water (I’m so thick), but I learned that if I had ‘wet’ paints, that is, paints from a tube and not dry in the pan, my colours would be a lot brighter. I got to experience that later in the day when Donald Saluling let me use his paints, and I could instantly tell the difference. I don’t really try a lot of different paints out, so that got me thinking maybe now is the time to invest in a bunch of tubed paints, maybe some nice Daniel Smiths or something. I’m so scared of that, but I think now’s the time to start being a bit bolder. (Fast forward to March 2020, I still haven’t bought new paints but I am using an iPad now and I can get way bolder! In a funny way this class really helped me think about digital sketching). Shari also showed us some very interesting travel paintbrushes too, and I have since got some of those, but of course haven’t yet tried them out (because as I have said before I like to let paintbrushes sit there for half a year before I pluck up the courage to actually use them for anything).

Amsterdam Harbor sm

When the workshop was over, I decided I needed to draw a couple more boats before I had lunch. My hotel was only across the street, so I found some shade under a tree, and cooled off. This was a nice way to end the first part of the day. But it just kept getting hotter. After a rest, I grabbed some more nice juice and a sandwich from the Albert Hein supermarket, and headed out to the sketchwalk taking place at Spui. Clearly my forgetfulness was taking control because I totally forgot to attend Rita Sabler’s sketch demo. When I got to Spui I found the sketchers, and was meeting up with another Portland sketching friend Kalina. The heat was hitting me hard now, I was sweating and sluggish. And then I realized I had forgotten my paints. I wanted to spend the rest of the day painting watery scenes, putting into practice what I learned in the morning, but my watercolors were sitting on my bed at the hotel. Aargh! I saw Gerard Michel sketching on Herengracht and joined him for a bit. I then found a green Citroen and sat in a small gap next to a bike and tried to draw it. I spoke to a guy from Ohio and a woman from Germany who were also sketching it. There were so many sketchers everywhere. That’s how it should be. The heat was getting to everyone, but still we soldiered on, filling our sketchbooks. I added some colour later to this, if you are wondering.
Amsterdam Green Car sm

I also added the colour later to this, but this was a scene I was determined to sketch, but in no real state to do so. This was the moment in the Symposium when I think the heat battered me the most. I really should have just been doing something else, maybe sitting inside a dark cafe with a cold cold beer. Beer did not sound that good to me right then though, my head was already a barrel filled with porridge. This by the way is at Herengracht and Leidsegracht. I should like to come back here when it is cloudy. Again, I added in the wash later, to reflect some of my mood.

Amsterdam Herengracht bridge sm

This is what it looks like when you look through that bridge, and through a whole load of other bridges.

IMG_4228

But my head could not handle such views. The bridges could have gone on for ever and ever. I needed some water, but then I found a cafe called Joe and the Juice. It was cool inside, and I liked the names of the drinks. I decided I needed a refreshing smoothie called “Stress Down”, that name just stood out to me. It was made with Aardbei, Gember and Framboos, which I determined was Strawberry, Ginger and Raspberry.

IMG_4242

Honestly I have no idea why that combination worked so well, but it felt like a complete power-up. Like in a computer game when you find a floating heart and it restores your health. My sluggish mind and drained body suddenly felt much more energized, and I went outside, pulled out the brush pen, and immediately drew the sketch below, which I really enjoyed.
Amsterdam Keizersgracht street sm
Finally feeling a bit better about my sketching, I went back to Spui and was finally ready for a beer, I met up with Kalina and we met Donald Saluling (first time I had met him in person), and we sat outside a bar filling the early evening with chat and good times. Even on hot days like this, it’s good to all be alive.

IMG_4251

Long post this, could have been two. But it’s all one story. The next posts will be really much shorter. Or maybe longer. That day’s sketching was not over, and I did manage another brush pen sketch at a brown cafe, but I’ll save that for another day.

looking over liège

Liege hydrants
I took the train across the linguistic divide that cuts Belgium in two and landed in Liège, a city I had last visited in the final months of the twentieth century. I was going there for exactly 24 hours, to visit my long-time urban sketching friend and art hero, Gerard Michel, and also sketch with some other Belgian sketching friends. Liège is a fairly big city, larger than I remember, and the architecture is very Walloon, lots of brick houses and steep hills. Gerard and I went for a morning walk around his neighbourhood, up steep paths and down long stairs, overlooking rooftops and spires and trees and the great river Meuse. Liège is a lively city, with a lot of atmosphere, a university city, and a very sketchable one, but in a different way to Ghent. We met up with Fabien Denoel, who I’ve known and followed since Barcelona 2013, and Chris Damaskis, as well as Danni Hoedamkers whom I had sketched with in Ghent, and Martine Kervagoret, visiting from Paris on the way to the Symposium, whom I first met back in Lisbon 2011 I think. We sketched up at the Terrasses des Minimes, overlooking the city, and it was very peaceful. I have seen many of gerard’s skethces from up there, as well as Fabiens, but also Lapin’s Florian Afflerbach’s, Nina Johansson’s, all the great sketchers who have visited there before, so I knew this scene well already, and I’m glad to have sketched it myself.
Liege rooftops des Minimes
I liked this picture of an apple that I took too.

IMG_3733

We walked into town for lunch, going to an old Liègeois cafe called Chez Stockis / Cafe Lequet, near the banks of the Meuse. We sat and chatted in French (I am very rusty), looked through sketchbooks, had cold beer and ate very local food. Most people had these things called ‘boulots’, which are these large meatballs (I don’t eat the meat so I didn’t have those), but I had Tomates Crevettes, which were these little shrimp sat on a big tomato, with frites. The cafe is old and a local favourite, but I heard that it would be closing. In fact I think by now, M. Stockis has closed up for the last time, though the cafe may still be going on (there’s a FB page). The patron, Guillaume Stockis, is there in the background of the sketch below (which is of Fabien Denoel). On the ceiling is hanging the marionette of Tchantchès, a local Walloons character dating back to the 19th century, dressed in his traditional miners’ clothes. You can learn about him here, if you can speak Walloons. This here is the heart of Liège.

Liege Cafe Lequet sm

IMG_3751

After lunch we walked across the Meuse to the Outremeuse neighbourhood and sketched at the roundabout of the Rue Pont St Nicolas. It was getting hot, the heatwave was coming in, and regular cold drinks were necessary. I sat next to a Friterie – the Friterie Tchantches of course – and drew as best I could. I also wandered about a little, as I had learned (from one of Gerard’s sketches) that the best waffles in Liège were at a place just across the street. Sadly it was closed, so I had one from a chain nearby, which was not as good. The waffles of Liège are a bit different from the waffles of Brussels, usually smaller and rounder, and they remind me of that Belgian film Rosetta, which I saw back in 1999 when I was in Charleroi, a story about a young woman in Liège who at one point works in a waffle truck.

Liege Outremeuse

Going back a few hours, the sketch below was the view from the guest room at Gerard’s house, I had woken up early (jetlag), and needed to practice the sketching. The bells at the local church were playing Bob Dylan, Blowin’ in the Wind, which always reminds me of when I lived in Belgium, when I listened to Bob Dylan a lot, and that was the first song on the CD I had bought. I would listen to that when looking out over the rooftops from my 13th floor room, so perhaps this was the universe welcoming me back to Wallonia.
Liege view from window
And as you know, I like to draw fire hydrants, so I drew three of them in Liège. And here also is Gerard, on the steep Montagne de Beuren, showing me the spot where he had once drawn a spectacular 360 degree picture of the whole scene – he gave me a print of it a decade ago, I do love it. It was funny seeing the real place in real life.
Liege Hydrant OutremeuseIMG_3719

Here is Gerard’s sketchbook, and as you can see I show up in it twice! A huge honour. I’m wearing my 1984 classic Belgium shirt, crouching over my book as always.

IMG_3770(Edited)
After sketching the roundabout, I walked down to the shade beneath the bridges crossing the Meuse. There was a smell of wee. The footbridge is the Passarelle Saucy, and I think I remember this bridge from that one time I came here twenty years ago, but I don’t remember it being called Saucy. What a brilliant name for a bridge. And no, I won’t be doing any sauce or saucy based jokes here.
Liege Passarelle Saucy
We crossed back over the river, walked about the city-centre a bit, before stopping off at the Place St Denis to draw the side of the church there. The weather was really getting hot by now. Gerard’s son Antoine joined us, I’ve met him a number of times. It was nice having dinner with Gerard’s family at his home the evening before, he made a really delicious chicken meal. I was delighted to take a look at his sketchbook room, his inventions, and we looked through a large map book of 17th or 18th century Belgium with Fabien, scouring it for every village; a small country with a big and detailed history. Belgium has only been the country of Belgium since 1830, but every area has a long hisroty, often of being ruled by some foreign power like the Habsburgs, or the French, or the Dutch, or the Spanish; Liège for many years was ruled by the Prince-Bishops of Liège, the princes-évêques, and the next time I am here I will draw the magnificent palace that still dominates the skyline. This is also, possibly, the city of Charlemagne’s birth, though nobody knows for sure. It might be Aachen, which isn’t far away, and was his capital. The city I was in the day before, Ghent, was the birthplace of another great Holy Roman Emperor called Charles, whose name lives on in one of my favourite beers, Charles Quint (Kaizer Karel).
Liege Sketchers
The Church of St.Denis dates back to the late 900s AD, founded by someone called Notker of Liège. I added the colour later on the train out of town. I spent exactly 24 hours in Liège. We all went for a cold beer in the city square, before Gerard took me to the station, the phenonemally futuristic cathedral of Guillemins, and I just made it onto a train to go back in time to Charleroi. A la prochaine fois, Liège!
Liege St Denis

skyscrapers and the golden gate bridge

Embarcadero and Mission SF
Perspective, detail. I like those things. I arrived early in San Francisco, and found a spot on the Embarcadero looking up Mission Street. I remember wanting to sketch this view years ago when I used to wait for the Amtrak bus here, the only that no longer stops there, but I am glad I waited a few years as there are way more buildings to sketch in the background now. I went to the Ferry Building, but the place which sells the nice bomboneri and cannoli I like so much was no longer there, sadly. So I got a travel book to read on the train at Book Passage. Reading doesn’t make me fat, though it weighs down my bag a bit. Actually the book I got that day, a collection of travel stories, I also took to Europe with me and read some while on the rails, but I left it on a bookshelf in a hotel in Brussels for someone else to enjoy. I was being weighed down, so had to get rid of some unneeded items. The stories I kept in my head, however I don’t really remember that many of them now, except for one, about a couple staying at a hotel in Tierra del Fuego or somewhere, and the electricity all went out, so they took that opportunity to engage in a little bit of what used to be called ‘how’s your father’ back in the 50s, only to be embarrassingly interrupted by another family coming into the wrong room. That’s all I remember. There was another story about a music writer travelling to Prague who got taken for a ride by a local who had an automatic gun, but let’s get back to my own less-interesting stories of travel shall we. I stood at this spot in San Francisco and drew this picture, and then went somewhere else. There, that’s the whole story.

SF Golden Gate Bridge

I ended up at Golden Gate Bridge. I haven’t been there in ages, not to sketch anyway. It was a nice day, a bit windy, much cooler than Davis. There is something about standing somewhere so iconic and impressive, you feel really lucky to have this within reach. I remember when Magneto used it to get his villainous brotherhood from the north bay over to Alcatraz, all because his friend Juggernaut said he couldn’t swim. I mean a boat would probably have been easier but the Master of Magnetism does like grand gestures. Shame he lost his powers before he could help rebuild. I do like X-Men: The Last Stand, despite the clumsy script. But “Charles always wanted to build bridges!” is a classic cheesy line, even for him. He just couldn’t think of a suitable line for a boat. “Charles would be ferry impressed!” Enough X-Men chat. Actually I am reminded of when, in the comics, Magneto (him again) used his powers to prevent an earthquake in the city, and also when he sat up on Mt Tamalpais nearby and went deep into his powers to project them into space and rescue Kitty Pryde from the big planet-bullet thing, oh comics. Anyway, the Golden Gate Bridge. I included Fort Point down below because that is where I was headed. I have never been to Fort Point before, a building that predates the bridge itself. It was built at the height of the Gold Rush, to protect the Bay and as a formidable naval defense for the young United States. I enjoyed it in there, I didn’t sketch any of the cannons but I liked wandering about and peering through the small windows in the thick brick walls, and catching glimpses of the bridge. It was a lovely day, lots of sunshine, but super windy. I sketched up on the roof there, before climbing down the steep narrow staircase that made me feel a bit nervous. I got down, and then took a nice long walk along Crissy Field. More to come…

SF GG Bridge from Fort Point

Afternoon in the Arboretum

Arboretum Redwoods

Last Sunday, we held a Let’s Draw Davis sketchcrawl in the UC Davis Arboretum. It was actually full of people out having photoshoots with family, either the ones with graduating students or maybe because they have lots of family visiting for Picnic Day, or maybe just the parents-and-small-kids photoshoots; all of them were there, mostly in front of me in the scene above. It’s a good spot for it. The Redwood Grove is quite beautiful. Those Redwoods were planted about seventy years ago or so. It was probably my favourite spot in Davis when I first moved here, though I don’t walk down here very often any more. You can almost imagine that you are deep in the Redwood forests, maybe an Ewok or two whistling in the branches. Plus picture-perfect photoshoots. I didn’t draw the people though.

I was photographed myself, in the Redwood Grove, when a couple came and said hello to me, who had met me before at my sketchbook exhibit event a couple of years ago, Brian and Susan Monchamp. Many thanks to them taking this pic of me in action.

IMG-1868

The Arboretum has had a lot of work done over the past few years. The section closest to downtown in particular has been completely renovated. Pathways newly paved, handrails along the creek in the narrowest sections, the Creek itself completely refurbished. I haven’t been here in ages. I drew the bridge that I have sketched several times before. As I sketched, a lady walking past made a big point of going and picking up a crisp-packet wrapper from somewhere up the verge. I mean, that’s good of course, but she did feel the need to announce it vocally to the world, as if the person who dropped it were still around. The day before was Picnic Day, so I’ve always felt that Sunday is ‘litter everywhere’ day. That said, it’s never really that bad, I always expect it to be worse. IT was a lovely Sunday afternoon, at the end of the sketchcrawl we went back to Wyatt Deck and looked at all our sketches. I’ve done a lot of foliage sketching lately, by the way, which I’ll show you in the next post.

Arboretum Bridge

Portland’s Autumn

pdx saturday market

In November I went up to Portland, Oregon, to teach one of the 10×10 Urban Sketchers workshops, on Interior Perspective. I was invited by my friend Rita Sabler (the excellent Portland reportage sketcher), and it was as always an enjoyable visit to one of my favourite cities. I only ever seem to go these days in dark November, but this time it was not rainy at all. It was very colourful in fact, with the autumn leaves out in full force. I tried to capture as much of that as possible in my out-and-about sketches. Above, Portland’s Saturday market, with the Skidmore Fountain in the foreground. I sketched this fountain in 2010 at the first USk Symposium, on a Saturday morning perspective sketching class with Frank Ching. That was the moment I always look back to when I really gave up my inhibitions about drawing in public; rather than find a place to hide and be invisible, better to sketch openly and not worry about being ‘in the way’, become part of the place. On this day, I was able to observe the market as some stalls were still setting up, and as people passed by I got a real feel for the character of this quarter of Portland.

steel bridge portland

I like the Steel Bridge, another one I drew on that first Portland symposium, that time at a workshop with Lapin, I sat between him and Gerard Michel discussing different approaches. I’ve always wanted to return to this riverbank in the Spring when the blossoms are all pink, but coming back in Fall with golden leaves floating down is almost as nice. I did get a bit cold though, and so streetcarred it back to the hotel for a rest before my workshop.

pdx food trucks alder square

This one was sketched at the food carts area at Alder Street, after I had spent a good long afternoon wandering about Powell’s. Powell’s is such a great big bookstore, I could spend forever in there. They had my books, too, which is always exciting to see. I have a tradition now of going to Powell’s and then wandering up here for a big hot dish of Thai food, and I was not disappointed. I sketched across the street, the sunlight starting to fade, the urban greys brightened up by the reddish orange of the trees.

star theater portland

Not too far away, a bit earlier in the day, the Star Theater, with yellowy leaves scattered about. A group of homeless people sat nearby talking and laughing, streetcars rattled past, a slight breeze blew leaves and thoughts past as I sketched. My legs were hurting; I had had a night out before, and a good lie-in, but as each year passes I always forget I need a bit more rest. I spent the rest of the afternoon in Powell’s. And below, of course, an orange Portland fire hydrant, weather-worn and pock-marked.

pdx hydrant

never mind the lovelocks

arboretum bridge with padlocks
And so August began, and a new sketchbook was opened. I bought a softcover Stillman and Birn Alpha landscape book from the UC Davis bookstore – I do like that paper a lot, and the softcover is slightly smaller than the hardcover making panoramas a little faster – more on those later. However it is a bit more difficult to hold in the way that I hold my sketchbooks, trying to keep them flat and sturdy, but it’s not impossible. The dark red cover is very nice. It was the first day of August, my sketching muscles were twitching, the weather was unbearably hot, my inbox was overflowing. On this particular lunchtime I took myself into the Arboretum and sketched one of the bridges over Putah Creek. This one has a lot of those padlocks attached to it. You know the ones, like on that bridge in Paris, the one which got so overrun with these ‘love-locks’ that they were worried the weight would drag the bridge into the Seine and they were removed. There are a few such love-locked bridges in the Arboretum. So if you are unfamiliar with the concept, what people do is they carve their initials or their names into a padlock, and then attach it to a bridge, so that they can come back some day and say, oh look it’s still there, amazingly. Or they can come back with a future girlfriend/boyfriend and say, “no, that isn’t me, that’s another person with the same name/initial.” Or, more plausibly, they can come back with a future boyfriend/girlfriend and say, “yah, this was probably me, I don’t remember, this one too, and this one, you don’t know them, they went to a different UC” to which the boyfriend/girlfriend can roll their eyes and say “yeah right, you put these here yourself”. You get the picture.

Whenever I see these ‘love-locks’, my inner Severus Snape always comes out, curling his lip, “Hoooow … Romantic. Ten points from Gryffindor.”

to warwick and stratford

Warwick Castle
And now for the final part of our recent trip to Europe. I was determined that we’d visit a historic castle, something we don’t have many of here in California (sorry Mr Hearst, Mr Disney, but those ain’t castles). So we hit the motorway (thanks to my mum for driving us) up to Warwick, in central England. I had been there a few years ago, and knew it was a pretty great sight. Warwick Castle is a little theme-y (being owned by Merlin Entertainment now) but as it has a Horrible Histories maze and some fun jousting entertainment that doesn’t matter. Actually, we missed the jousting as it’s not every day (though I did see some four years ago, and it was fun). Warwick Castle is in a beautiful location on the banks of the Avon river, and a historically significant geopolitical spot, being in the middle of the country and therefore an important stronghold for the balance of power. The Earl of Warwick in the late middle ages was known as the ‘Kingmaker’, not without exaggeration. The site of Warwick Castle was founded as a ‘burh’ by the formidable Anglo-Saxon lady Æthelflæd, ruler of Mercia (also ‘Ethelfelda’). She fought against the invading Danes and the Welsh, she was also a daughter of Alfred the Great, and in fact there was a re-enactment of her funeral in June 2018 in nearby Gloucester. When William the Conqueror invaded in 1066, the Normans built a motte-and-bailey castle here on ‘Ethelfleda’s Mound’, and Warwick Castle was subsequently built up over the next few centuries by later lords and earls. The first Earl of Warwick was Henry de Beaumont, from 1088, and the 16th Earl, Richard Neville (who gained the title through marriage to Anne de Beauchamp) was the famed Warwick the Kingmaker, who rose to prominence during the Wars of the Roses before dying at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. There’s a lot more history too, but I was interested in the old armoury. The suit of armour below is actually a child’s armour, likely for ornamental purposes. I sketched the castle above while taking a break with my son, who didn’t want to walk around the dungeons.
Warwick Castle Armoury
We didn’t stay in Warwick, though I’d love to sketch that old city some day. Instead, we stayed the night in Stratford upon Avon at a place called Alveston Manor, a large country house converted into a hotel just a short walk from central Stratford. It was lovely, and I love drawing buildings like that. Stratford is Shakespeare’s town, and they do not ever let you forget it here. We did walk up to see Shakespeare’s birthplace, and walk along the Avon, and I had a huge knickerbocker glory (with extra chocolate) at a local pub. So good.
Stratford Upon Avon Alveston Manor
In the evening after watching France knock Belgium out of the World Cup, I walked down to the riverside as the last mid-summer light faded away, and sketched the bridge below. This was around 9:30pm at night. I decided to walk across the other bridge to get back to the hotel, whcih was a mistake. It was a logn bridge along a road with a fairly narrow path for pedestrians, and lots of cobwebs. During the day the cobwebs were quaint. In the evening they were covered with thousands of busy, chubby spiders, loving their little legs and spinning and completely freaking me out. They weren’t dangerous, unlike the ones in my Davis back yard right now, but so many of them moving all around me was pretty much the creepiest thing ever. I ran as quickly as I could, but it was a long bridge. Yeah, I’m not into spiders.
Stratford Upon Avon

porto panoramic

Porto view from Vila Nova de Gaia

Picture postcard Porto. Pretty, panoramic, picturesque. I could go on. I think I’m most happy with the sketch above, of all the stuff I drew in Porto, this is the postcard scene. It was my free, non-workshop day, no obligations to be anywhere. I slept in a bit longer than I had intended (until almost 9), but my feet were happy for the extra rest. On this day I was heading over the river for the first time to Vila Nova de Gaia. I was interested to explore Gaia, and looking back I wish I had explored more but you sacrifice some wandering time for sketching time, and I really like sketching. The scene above took two full hours, as I added the paint on site (instead of the old colour-in-later thing), and it was beautiful there. I was under the shade of a tree, on a solo bench, and the weather was beautiful, sunny and warm but breezy. Views like this are there to be enjoyed.

So Vila Nova de Gaia. First of all, the boat – there are lots of these old boats along the banks of the Douro, loaded with barrels, each belonging to one of the many Porto wineries that dot the shores of Gaia. Most have English names and origins, as mentioned in my last post, and in fact these boats have a race up the river each year. It’s called the ‘Douro Rabelo Port Wine Boat Regatta’, which may not be easy to say after a few glasses of Sandeman Tawny. the ‘Rabelo’ is what these little boats are called. They are used to transport wine to Porto from the Douro valley. They’re flat bottomed, and that long piece of wood at the back (the ‘little tail’; that’s what ‘rabela’ means in Portuguese) is used to steer it.

Porto view from Vila Nova de Gaia

I drew the one above first, and intended to colour this one in but the wind on top of the hillside got the better of me. It’s a long way up. I had crossed the Ponte Luiz I bridge via the top, sensibly. My plan was originally to cross over here, go down to the riverside, sketch there, look at wineries, come back up and get the metro to the Dragao Stadium, home of FC Porto. I never did that last bit, because I was moving a lot more slowly, what with sketching these complicated detailed scenes. But what fun!! I never get to draw scenes like this back in Davis. Those bridges in the Arboretum just aren’t the same. I must say though, if there is a quick way down to the riverbank I didn’t find it, I took a long way, walking down a steep winding path. That’s why I never went back that way, but crossed the river at the base of the bridge instead (and then took an even steeper trek up the hill in Ribeira).

Now Vila Nova de Gaia has an interesting history, aside from being where the wineries sell their Port. First of all, it is actually a separate city from Porto itself. The hydrants look a bit different for one thing. Now this settlement existed in Roman times where it was known as Cale, or Portus Cale. Yes, it’s from this that we get the name ‘Portugal’, which was originally the large county around this area which expanded during the Reconquest of the middle ages to what we now know as Portugal. The port area was on the other side of the river, now called Porto (or ‘O Porto’, the port).

Cais do Ribeiro, Porto

Here is another rabela, this one moored on the Ribeira side of the Douro. I love drawing that bridge. This was done a couple of days before, during the Sketchwalk (in which I didn’t really take part as a group activity – there were a lot of people – and missed the final group photo, comme d’habitude eh). I did have to rush back to the Alfandega though for the opening reception of the Symposium.

Porto panorama sm

Now this final drawing I am showing also took a couple of hours, and is themed like the others in the it shows the river Douro and the Ponte Luiz I bridge, but this one is even more panoramic, being one of those double-page spreads I like. Click on the image to get a closer view. I really enjoyed sketching this, though I was standing when I did. Before I began I actually did try to sit at a cafe to rest and have a beer while I got started, but the waiter actually refused to serve me when he saw I had a sketchbook. “Are you going to paint here all afternoon?” he said gruffly. “Well I’m going to draw for about half an hour while I have that beer, yes.” “It is not allowed!” he responded with a mean look. “Fair enough,” I said, I mean there were only a few tables on a very narrow strip and I chose the one with the best view, but this Portuguese Basil Fawlty did irk me a little, I was a paying customer, and didn’t intend on being there for long; I had somewhere to be, and I wanted to sit down and have a cold Super Bock. I’m sure he had had many, many, many others doing the same and it irritated him. So I stood around the corner, where there were other sketchers, and I drew for about half an hour, and then went off to see Gabi’s demo, and then came back to draw the rest for about an hour and a half. I never got to finish the colour, and I do intend on adding it, at some point, but for now I’m leaving it as it is. Just imagine the colourful scene. The sound of seagulls, the chatter of tourists, the silent concentration of sketchers, and of course, the completely irritating sound of street musicians, playing ‘Besame Mucho’ over and over and over again. There are a lot of street musicians – you know how much I love those – and they all seem to play Besame Mucho way too much. There was one though that turned up while I was sketching this who wasn’t actually that bad – he didn’t play Besame bloody Mucho anyway – but then he started playing Oasis songs, but really, really slowly for some reason. “stop Crying Your Heart Out” took about eight minutes, as he warbled on “Hooooowwwwllld Oooowwwwooonnnn,” like a tortured coyote. I don’t think this was exactly Fado, but I can understand Saudade a bit more now, the feeling of sadness after listening to these terrible musicians all day long. Maybe that’s why the wait said it wasn’t allowed, maybe he was warning me of the bad music, like it was for my own good. Ok, I’m exaggerating my own grumpiness for amusing effect (that’s my story). Standing and sketching big detailed scenes is one of the things that makes me most happy, and puts me in a ridiculously good mood despite bad street musicians and grouchy moustachioed waiters. I chatted to some other sketchers I had never met when I was done, and then went off to Ribeira square to meet all the other sketchers for Drink’n’Draw.

One more post of Porto sketches to go! So this is the Penultimate Porto Pictures Post.