sitting in an english garden waiting for the sun

mum's garden in burnt oak

I always get up early on my first morning back in Burnt Oak. Often I will go and sketch in the kitchen, listen to the news, have a cup of tea. It was pretty gloomy out, so I looked out the window and sketched the back garden. Later on, it would rain, and rain hard, and we would be out in central London getting drenched, but at this point it was just overcast, a typical changeable English summer.

garden gnomes

I drew these the next day, in the rain. This gnome has slept in that garden since I was a kid, and though his paint has peeled away, he hasn’t woken up yet. These were drawn onto a postcard which I sent to my son. I sent him postcards nearly every day, each with a drawing on them. I must say, this is very much the English palette. While Lisbon has a lot of yellow and blue, London has its greeny grey and brown.

some things change, some things stay the same

vipins, burnt oak

This is Vipins, a stationery and card shop in Burnt Oak, north London. It has been there all my life, and I swear it hasn’t changed a bit. they even have the same stock as when I was a kid. I used to go in there all the time for pens, notepads, card, glitter, pritt stick, rulers, cartridge pens and so on. I still pop in there whenever I’m back, and sometimes find unexpected goodies. This time I found a mini clipboard, which has the clip along the side rather than the top, and fits into my bag. It’s perfect sketchbook size, handy for when I’m trying to hold onto my often awkward watercolour moleskine. I guess it’s used for Bingo. Anyway I decided to try it out straight away (it was Christmas Eve, still snowy, I had just got my hair cut at Syd’s barbers behind Woolworths – er, behind where Woolworths used to be, I mean), and so I stood outside Vipins in the cold and sketched for fifteen minutes, standing up. The clipboard was brilliant. It really helped whne standing to sketch, and being small it was still discreet. I popped back in to show Mr and Mrs Vipin, they were pleased with the sketch. This is a very typical Burnt Oak scene I’ve known my entire life, and I need to sketch these whenever I’m back, because the area keeps changing so much.

Incidentally, today’s my birthday. I share it with Charles Dickens (I always hated our joint birthday parties). I sketched San Francisco yesterday as a birthday present to myself (though I forgot my little clipboard). I’ll show you at some point.

oh i wish it could be boxing day every day

boxing day in burnt oak

With this very busy January, I’d almost forgotten I still have loads of sketches from London yet to scan and post! So to warm your winter cockles (what is a cockle? is it a muscle?)* here is a sketch I did on Boxing Day at my mum’s house in Burnt Oak, north London. Boxing Day (for those who are unaware) is the day after Christmas. On the TV there is Alec Guinness playing Fagin in Oliver Twist. That’s a great version, that, and the guy who played Bill Sykes was truly villainous. Plus it has the dog from the Target adverts in it. Alec Guinness as you know went on to train Luke Skywalker in the art of picking a pocket or two.

*before you correct me, I do know what a cockle is. It’s a type of male chicken. 

beneath whose chilly softness

snowy norwich walk (from the window)

As soon as I had finished sketching in the snow to close out Moleskine #6, I went inside and opened Moleskine #7, got myself a cup of tea and some Quality Street, stood by an extra warm radiator and looked out of the window. I sketched the other side of the street where I grew up, from my old bedroom window. After freezing my fingers off outside, this was an excellent way to spend the rest of the afternoon, while my son napped.

a warmer view

snow is falling, all around us…

snowy norwich walk

This is Norwich Walk, the street where I grew up. On this very block in fact; my old bedroom window is on the third house from the right.  I’ve never seen so much snow in London, as fell on my recent trip. It was on the Saturday morning a week before Christmas, and despite a little fall of snow the day before, we decided to take the short trip to Colindale to visit the RAF Museum. I wanted to draw old planes. In Burnt Oak, carol singers stood outside the station singing Christmas songs as snow fluttered down like a picturesque postcard (without the picturesque of course; it was Burnt Oak tube station, not one of London’s nicer spots). Then our bus stopped due to ice on the road, and we got out and walked across the estate. As we did, an absolutely massive amount of snow pounded down upon us. We were walking snowmen by the time we finally snowy pillar boxreached the musuem, which had just decided (wisely) to close. The buses then stopped, as did the tube, and cars were quickly becoming buried beneath feet of snow. Thankfully my dad managed to dig his car out and came to rescue us, though the roads were treacherous, and we had to crawl along. Snow was coming down in ice cubes. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see those little paper umbrellas too. We got home, and warmed up, and then I went straight back outside with my little sketching stool to fill the last page of moleskine sketchbook #6 and freeze my fingers off. The snow had just stopped falling, and I had to capture this before it all vanished (little did I know it wouldn’t vanish for another week and a half).

Passing locals must have thought I was a nutter (those that have known me all my life knew it for a fact…). I quickly sketched the pillar box I’d drawn two days before, and then drew the street panorama. I gave up halfway through, my fingers freezing off, but then decided to soldier on, finish the block, and I’m glad I did. My micron pen didn’t give up so neither would I. Thankfully snow isn’t hard to draw. I added the paint when I got home.

So this is the last page of this sketchbook, which was started on a very hot day in southern Oregon on the fourth of July, and finished in freezing cold London in December. I did a good bit of travelling in this book, and you can see the whole journey on my flickr site: Moleskine #6 

from pillar to post

pillarbox at top of my road

And so onto my sketches from London. Not having any fire hydrants, it was obvious I would have to sketch soemthing even better – the post box (or pillar box) at the corner of the street where I grew up. I got up early (as jetlagged travellers do) and sketched it as Burnt Oak locals passed thinking, ‘nutter’. This dates from the reign of King George V (hence the GR cypher on the front) and is of the standard pillar box design. I drew this more than once – the second time it was covered in snow…

oh, the weather outside is frightful

sketching burnt oak in the snow

So… as you may have gathered from my non-posts this past week, I am away from rain-sodden California to lovely London, where I’ve had a week without any rain whatsoever.

Oh, but we’ve been having the worst snowy winter weather I’ve ever seen here. Many days after a sudden blizzard, the snow is still here there and everywhere, tough it hasn’t stopped me from getting out there with sketchbook. Yes, fingers freezing off and pens giving up the ghost doesn’t get in the way of this urban sketcher. Not two months ago I was sketching in hundred degree weather heat. Thing is, I grew up with snow lasting only a day or two before sodding off, and always tell people about our comparatively mild winters, but now it seems the snow comes earlier and stays longer, and the disruption is magnified. Naturally, Britain fails to cope, as the absolute madness of Heathrow attests. I’m glad I came a few days earlier than I would have. I just hope we can get back…

HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge

These are a couple of photos of what I have been out sketching though; the top one being the street where I grew up, about an hour after the biggest blizzzard I can remember here. I’m sure people thought I was a nutter sitting out there freezing, well they’re right, but urban sketchers are tough beasts. My fingers took a battering in the second one too, sat down by the River Thames, looking out at HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge. My toes were frozen too. I warmed up with a nice chicken and mushroom pie. That’s one thing Britain can always get right!

But boy, is it cold…