It’s February, the birthday month. I don’t really do a lot to celebrate, I don’t have parties or anything, don’t really have enough of a social circle for the sort of nights out I used to have when I was younger, now it’s more a quiet meal with the family, a pint of beer and some cheesecake. Now this sketch, done on the first day of the month at the UCD Arboretum about a minute from my office, was not meant to be metaphorical of birthdays but in that great way you can retrospectively attach meaning to anything, this is a bridge, signifying crossing from one time to another. Weak I know. On the far side though is the Robert Mondavi Institute of Food and Wine Sciences, which includes the Beer lab, so I supposed that signifies celebratory tipples in some way. There is a STOP sign, which must mean I need to stop and assess myself, and there is a yellow sign for a roundabout, which of course as we all know signifies the Circle of Life, obviously, that one’s obvious. The path, well part of it falls into shadow which of course means the path is not always clear, and then of course there is the Creek, and that one is easy, it signifies my creaking body as I get older each day. I had no idea there was so much semiotic depth to my sketches! I wonder what all the fire hydrants mean? Actually don’t answer that.
Recently, for our anniversary, my wife and I took a couple of days down in the City. That is San Francisco to you. We stayed at the Fairmont Hotel, which is an old San Francisco spot of legend up on Nob Hill – it was here that Tony Bennett first complained to lost and found about losing a vital organ, through the medium of Croon. I’ve always wondered, is that song supposed to be a metaphor, or did he actually leave his actual heart lying around? And his other city based songs, is Chicago really just a tantrum-throwing two-year-old? I don’t know, Tony. I love San Francisco though, it’s honestly one of my favourite places in the world to be. I did leave a shirt there once, hanging in the closet in the Hyatt. Above, Crissy Field, out near the Presidio. We went to the Walt Disney Family Museum, very interesting.
Our room had absolutely stunning views over the City. As the sun went down, before getting ready for dinner, I sketched a couple of the views – the peak of the TransAm Pyramid, golden in the sunset light, and Coit Tower, up on top of Telegraph Hill. I wish I were rich, I would just live in San Francisco for ever and ever and ever. It’s a city that is pricing people out though, so I don’t think drawing a few pictures and writing a few books is going to get me to San Francisco. When Tony Bennett sang that song, he was actually talking about having to farm out his own organs just to cover the rent. Ah, perhaps it’s for the best. One of the things I love about San Francisco is getting to visit it – it is so utterly different from Davis in every way, it’s always a nice change of scenery.
I have sketched this big old church before, Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill. I did their Christmas Concert program a few years ago. Since we were staying so close I wanted to get a Sunday morning sketch of it in. I didn’t have a lot of time, so I drew in my new purple Leuchtturm sketchbook that I got in Manchester.
After that, we went to ZineFest, and that was kinda fun. Actually probably enjoyed it more in previous years, I found fewer gems this time around, though I still spent on a few zines. I tended to buy some of the really random ones. We got the Muni back down to Union Square for a little bit of shopping; I bought some underpants at Uni-Qlo, I really like their underpants. I realize you don’t need to know that, but I’m just saying for those of you who also wear underpants (a good deal of you, I suspect), that Uni-Qlo do make really comfy ones. While my wife continued shopping, I sketched Tad’s Broiled Steaks outside, an old eatery on Powell Street. Always wanted to sketch this place, though I don’t of course eat steak. And there you are, San Francisco again. I want to go back!
For the first sketch back in London I wanted to draw this stretch of the River Thames again, looking out towards Waterloo Bridge. Last time I sat on Hungerford Bridge (a little bit further toward the middle, drawn to include the then-brand-new Shard) the skyline looked different. New skyscrapers keep popping up, all in fun zany shapes like some ten-year-old invented a futuristic robotopolis. They all have funny names too, the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater, the Walkie-Talkie, the Spaghetti Western, the Cordless Kettle, the Balrog, the Gelfling’s Prophecy, all very silly names. Ok some of those may not exist yet. The oldest structure in this sketch is actually Cleopatra’s Needle, on the left there, at about 3500 years old (placed here in the 19th century). Its twin is in New York, you can apparently use it to teleport between the two cities but they don’t like to tell anyone (see previous posts for feelings about Translatlantic travel). Ancient Egyptians used to smirk at the silly nickname too, also making fun of Thoth’s Sewing Machine, Rameses’s Hat-Stand and Mark Antony’s Hypodermic Syringe, and so on. Anyway, I sat on my uncomfortable little stool (now retired) and sketched for two hours straight, as London in the Summertime started up around me, tourists, day-outers, amblers all looked around and marveled at the view. Now if the proposed mess of a project the Garden Bridge gets built this view will be spoiled. I believe the Bridge would go just beyond Waterloo bridge, but with trees poking out of the top of it the views down river would be compromised somewhat. Not a fan. Might be useful elsewhere, but not there. It’s a folly of Boris and Lumley. We’ll see if it actually gets built. If it does, expect more cranes, more changing views, and more sketches along the ever-changing, ever-constant river. I do love this river.
Here are the last couple from my day in San Francisco, and these are the bridges. Above, the view of the Golden Gate Bridge as sketched from Telegraph Hill. There are always a lot of tourists around the base of Coit Tower, and on this day the clear views of the Bay were incredible. Isn’t San Francisco beautiful? It’s amazing. I love drawing cities, and as cityscapes go this is iconic.
I went around to the other side of Telegraph Hill to a quiet spot on Vallejo that I have also sketched before, about eight and a half years ago. The view has not hanged much (though if you could see beyond Treasure Island to the Oakland side of the Bay Bridge, it is now completely different – the old bridge has been almost entirely removed, with the new spacious modern bridge taking its place. This view however shows the classic San Francisco side of the Bay Bridge. This hill is so steep that it’s quite a climb to get up here. I couldn’t imagine living up here (what a view if you did!). Below, the first time I sketched this. I stood a few steps down, closer to the tree. I’m told there are green parrots in Telegraph Hill, flying free and wild. Telegraph Hill was known by the Spanish as Loma Alta, and later called Goat Hill by residents. It became known as Telegraph Hill due to the large semaphore tower erected in 1849 that would act as a signal to the city about which types of ships were entering the Golden Gate.
This is Caledonian Road in north London, more commonly known as The Cally. It’s been called the Cally for ever, but they felt it necessary to write it in big bold letters on the railway bridge in case people forgot. The Cally is not the area of London where I am from (I grew up in Burnt Oak), but is very much my Dad’s manor. He grew up around here, living up the near the Nag’s Head in Holloway. When I was a kid my dad would occasionally drive me over here when he had to visit his mates or my uncles, who still live locally. I remember him driving his Citroen full speed around narrow streets, shouting the ‘occasional’ swear word, his tools rattling around the back of the car. I was always scared of this area to be honest, it seemed a lot more dangerous than my neighbourhood (and I’m from Burnt Oak!), so even as an adult I never came down the Cally, except passing through on the bus from Crouch End, where I lived before moving to California. My dad moved from here in the 70s, and I knew several other friends in Burnt Oak whose mums or dads had ’emigrated’ from Holloway. This is still a pretty rough area, despite the trend of Islington gentrification. A couple of months ago though I had to come here for a meeting with a publisher (news very soon!), and so I just had to sketch the place. Actually, I think this would be a very interesting place for a sketchcrawl.
This is HM Prison Pentonville, the ‘big house’ which casts an imposing presence over Caledonian Road. Pentonville was opened in 1842 and has had many famous residents, such as Éamon de Valera, Dr. Crippen, John Christie (and Timothy Evans who was wrongly hanged for Christie’s crimes), Oscar Wilde, and George Michael. I sketched it from a cafe across the road called, appropriately, the Breakout. Condemned inmates were executed here at Pentonville until 1961. Prisons are horrible places.
From the Jail house to the Free House…this is actually at the back of the Breakout Cafe, which looks like it was built in the space of a closed-down pub. This is part of the old pub signage around the corner from the Cally on Blundell Street. My dad actually went to school on this street, though the school is long gone. I wanted to colour this in, but left it as it is.
Now this last one, my pedigree chum, is not on Caledonian Road or even anywhere near it but I’m including it anyway, because it was my last sketch of the day (and of my trip to London, unexpectedly). I got a bus that went all the way down the Cally to King’s Cross, because I still had some of the afternoon left to kill (actually to sketch, just sketching, no killing goin’ ‘ere guv). I was going to meet my mate down in Farringdon for a beer before we were meeting another mate later for another beer. It was an ‘ot summer’s day in London. Rather than get the bus the whole way I stopped in King’s Cross, thinking, oh I’ll just draw St. Pancras, no biggie. Piece of piss. There was definitely a lot of that about. After ignoring a very drunk woman shouting “Oi! Chris Evans!” at me I picked a spot opposite the magnificent St. Pancras International Station and decided actually, no, this is too big and too complicated, and life is too short to stand around King’s Cross drawing the same window over and over again until your hand hurts. Sorry St. Pancras, some other time perhaps. I wandered in a vague southwards direction (the back streets of this part of town are a little uncharted to me), and sketched this pub, the Queen’s Head, on the way. As you can see, I miscalculated the length of the sign when writing the pub’s name in there and so the word ‘Head’ is squashed up, and this is something I pretty much never do. At the end of a trip full of complicated and pretty well-thought-out sketches, I took this as a sign to say, yeah let’s call it a day, and go and have a beer. Until next time, London, until next time!
I don’t think I’ll be putting these Strasbourg sketches on my sketchblog in chronological order necessarily, but perhaps thematically. ‘Down by the River Ill’, which is the theme for this post, will overlap with at least a couple of other posts, but c’est comme ça. There’s a lot of river in Strasbourg (unlike Aix, which doesn’t have one). The centre of Strasbourg is built around the river Ill, primarily on a big island in the river (the ‘Grande-Île’, or ‘Big island’). The Ill meanders into the great Rhine river, which flows by many of Strasbourg’s western suburbs and provides the border with Germany. Strasbourg by the river Ill is very pretty, and a popular place for people to sit on the embankments and just relax, and read. Or sketch! The church above, however, I sketched from a tram stop located on one of the bridges. This is the Eglise St. Paul, which dominates the spot where the river Ill is joined by the short river Aar. The Eglise St. Paul was built in the 1890s, when Strasbourg was part of the German Reich (in the territory of Elsass-Lothringen, or Alsace-Lorraine). The bridge is the Pont d’Auvergne.
This second sketch was done earlier in the day, while sat on Quai Finkwiller next to the Pont St. Thomas, on rue Martin Luther. I had just spent a couple of hours sketching a wildly detailed scene in Petite France, and was on my way to sketch the Cathedral. The pink flowers were beautiful against the green railings of the bridge. Below me, a man fished with his long line. I met one other urban sketcher while drawing this, Rene Fijten from the Netherlands. I had met him the evening before at the Urban Sketchers France meetup, having followed his amazing work for years, and it was an absolute pleasure to finally meet him in person. I found him sketching nearby a little while later. If you don’t know his work, you really should check out his sketchblog.
This final sketch was made down by the Pont du Corbeau, at the end of a long first day sketching Strasbourg. I was on my way to meet up with the French urban sketchers at the Cafe Atlantico, further up the river, and found this stretch of the Ill too sketchable to resist. I could spend days just sketching along the river. I never did do my two-page river panorama (I did give it a go), but I might save that for a future trip.