panoramas and poor air

hart hall panorama UC Davis
At the start of last month I opened a new sketchbook and had a burst of post-symposium “gotta-sketch-it-all”. What I wanted to do were more panoramas, however they take a long time and I wanted to go more quickly. Having been a big fan of Vincent Desplanche‘s work since meeting him at the USk France Rencontre in Strasbourg in 2015, I’ve wanted to try more pencil and watercolour panoramas. I had a bunch of new Palomino pencils my friend Terry sent me from Japan, which I wanted to try out as they are darker and softer than the usual H pencils I use occasionally. So I drew a bunch of panoramas over lunchtimes or after work or weekends, adding the paint on site, and I have to say that it was a quicker than the long pen ones but still felt time-consuming. For one thing, the pencil smudges a bit more, even after being coated with watercolour wash. That said, I really like the pencil and watercolour and it was fun to draw these. Here are three from campus. Above, Hart Hall, one of the more interesting looking buildings on campus. I have drawn it a few times before.

UC Davis MU terminal

One of the other details about this summer is the terrible air in California, brought about by all the huge wild fires. California is hot and dry and the fires have been really bad the past couple of years. This summer the fires made the air thick and smoky for weeks on end, as you can see with the two sketches above and below. The one above was sketched at the Memorial Union Bus Terminal on campus. I had walked across campus to drop something off at the International Center late one afternoon, and was going to catch the bus to go home, so I sketched this at the bus terminal while waiting. The air made me feel so physically sick that I had a huge headache and a nasty sore throat. This was one of the worst air days I’ve experienced here. One thing that often happens here in summer is on the very hot days we have ‘Spare The Air’ days, when riding on buses are free. I think this year we had eighteen spare-the-air days in a row. In the sketch above there is an ironic sign – we are a smoking-free campus (good), and the sign reminds us we are 100% smoke and tobacco free. Well, not so much on this day.

UC Davis Silo food trucks

The one above was sketched on the next day at the Silo. The air was still bad, but felt significantly better. Why go out and sketch in it? I still needed to sketch, and this is where I come to eat. This one was an easier and quicker sketch, not really too much detail, just a fun piece of perspective. The food trucks and the large sloping shade thing were added last year to the redeveloped Silo area. I have a few more of these panoramas to post, sketched in downtown Davis.

and the moment will come when composure returns

Haring Hall (rear), UC Davis
Here’s one from Davis. To say I’ve been busy lately is an understatement. Yeah yeah we’re all busy, aren’t we, but I’ve been excessively busier than usual and my email inbox overfloweth too, so I’m trying to catch up there. I’ve not been sketching as much. I’m told that it is “Inktober”, but I’ve only just realised that it’s “OCTober”. October… yet the hot, hot weather has not gone away, not yet. However on one particularly galling day I just had to find a quiet spot at lunchtime and sketch. Admittedly the bus terminal at the UC Davis Silo isn’t exactly a quiet spot but I was too exhausted to go searching for somewhere more serene, and I didn’t want to sketch the Arboretum. I sat at a bus-stop and listened to my iPod (in fact I’ve been listening to “Rachel and Miles X-plain the X-Men”, a really fun and informative podcast about the X-Men universe). This is the back of Haring Hall, UC Davis, and well, that’s about it really. One of those lunchtimes where I just needed to sketch something different, though in Davis, I often feel like I’ve sketched everything.

i am a passenger, and i ride and i ride

the N5
Been a busy, busy week, with barely a moment to think. Januarys are hectic, and I’ve not had time to do any urban sketching this week. Here though is part of something I have been doing, a panel of a comic. This – not drawn from life – is a scene familiar to so many, waiting for the night bus. To those who don’t know, the night buses in London generally start at Trafalgar Square and then go all across the city, to the ends of the earth, ferrying late-night Londoners in varying states of tiredness or drunkenness or both back home when the tube has stopped running. The N5 was my bus. Back in the olden days, before the north side of Trafalgar Square was pedestrianized, I waited there for the N5, waited and waited until sometimes it was light, in the rain or the cold, with crowds of people or just a few stragglers (but usually with crowds, London at 4am on a Sunday morning is a busy bloody place). More often that waiting would be around the corner, one stop from the beginning, where the fried chicken shop was on Charing Cross Road. Some nights, the N5 just would not come. This was the old days, before Mayor Ken put lots more buses on the street, when you could wait two or three hours for a night bus that should have come hourly. Sometimes there would be one or two other buses, different routes, at your stop when your N5 finally came, only for the N5 to not bother stopping because nobody hailed it down (due to not actually being able to see it coming) – oh those were frustrating days. When I used to go to the Hellfire Club in Oxford Street, it was taking a chance getting on the N5 at Tottenham Court Road because it was usually full up by that point. Going out in Camden was worse, because that bloody N5 would always be absolutely jam packed by the time it reached Camden Town, and you just had to wait for the next one, that was all there was to it. The bus stop was outside the Black Cap, and opposite a 24 hour store where they sold cans of Pepsi Max and really bad sandwiches. Sometimes the N5 would decide inexplicably to stop in Golders Green, about halfway home, meaning another hour long wait and more time spent browsing bags of crisps in a 24-hour store, if it was even open. The most common habit though, and I know that all of you late-night Londoners out there have done this at some point, is the classic fall-asleep-and-wake-up-at-the-end-of-the-line move. Hey, it’s a long journey, and I can fall asleep on a five minute bus trip. My end of the line thankfully was only a mile or so from where I needed to get off, admittedly involving a walk through deserted car-park and dark alley and a walk up the Deansbrook in the cold. That was the N5 – when I was studying in east London and would get the N25 from Mile End to Trafalgar Square, well let’s say when I fell asleep the bus would just turn around and go the other way – one time I ended up in Essex (that’s nothing, once I fell asleep on the wrong train out of Brussels and ended up going into Holland). Those days are long gone – though that night a couple of months ago when I got stuck waiting for the Yolobus in Woodland after the Art Farm event certainly brought all of these adventures back to me (except in London, we do have streetlights).

The night bus, aah, we’ve all been there. Except if you aren’t from London or a big city which has them, in which case you probably haven’t.

and if a double decker bus…

bus #17
Another London expat* living in Davis, one of the old red double-decker buses imported here back in the 1960s. Oh, they make me feel nostalgic these buses. Of course we don’t have these types any more in London, except on a few touristy routes. I haven’t seen the new Boris bus, though I’m sure it’s as clumsy as its master. Riding on one of these here in Davis though makes me particularly nostalgic for London buses, because the nice modern accessible ones we have now in London don’t bump around quite so much as these cranky old machines. It’s a joyride, let me tell you, and if you have an upset tummy you may want to bring a bag. The funny thing about these buses is that coming from the UK the exit door is not by the pavement/sidewalk, but in the middle of the road – when you get off, the young conductor will stand in the road with a big flag to make sure the cars and cyclists don’t hit you. If only we had such a service in London!  Still, the conductors here don’t like it if you walk down the stairs of the bus before the bus comes to a complete halt. I did that, in anticipation of my stop, and was met with a very flustered young conductor convinced I was about to fly off the bus at any moment to a messy and litigious death. I grew up on these sorts of buses and could happily swing down the stairs and leap into the street à la Charing Cross Road, but I know that folk over here are much more cautious about stairs on moving transport so I understand their worry. When I was an open-top bus tour guide on the streets of London a decade ago we too asked people not to walk down stairs (or jump from the bus) while it was moving or not at a stop, not only for our insurance but also because many Americans just aren’t used to it (the insurance was the main reason though). I remember being surprised at how many American and other tourists had never set foot on a double-decker before, and were not sure even how to get upstairs, even assuming these buses had lifts. On once occasion I cheekily joked that the luggage space beneath the stairs was the elevator, until one man actually took me seriously and tried to get inside and asked where the button was. That actually happened. Oh, the giggles we had in the pub afterwards.

This bus says it goes to London Bridge Station, but really it just goes to and from UC Davis. Another bus states its destination as Golders Green Station, which always makes me smile. I wonder to myself what people here imagine Golders Green to be like (it’s quite nice actually, could be worse). Another bus is the ‘142’, which was a bus I used to catch to Edgware School from Burnt Oak Broadway whenever I felt the need to make an unnecessarily rowdy bus journey; I usually preferred walking, it took longer but was much less psychologically damaging.

I drew this in micron pen and watercolour; obviously I didn’t draw the bus while it was moving, I am not that quick, so I drew it from a previous sketch and some reference shots I’d taken. The background (what there is of it) was done on location on E Street (while a man stood staring warily at me from across the street, obviosuly convinced I was drawing him from great distance, hiding behind a bus). It is partly an urban sketch then.

*(I never liked the word ‘expat’, for some reason it always made me think of some sunburned fish-and-chips-gobbling union-jack-hankie-on-head-wearing football-moaning hooray henry, until I realised that actually is me, pretty much, except for the hankie, and I only ever got sunburned a couple of times, and I almost never eat fish and chips. I do moan about the footy though.)

the (slightly scary) wheels on the bus

sketchcrawl 34 yellow bus

Also from last Saturday’s sketchcrawl…after lunch at Crepeville I found that big yellow ex-schoolbus (if ever it was a schoolbus? I’m not so sure) that I have seen around Davis for ages. It was on C Street, and so I crouched nearby and put it in my Moleskine. As I was sketching, a lady walking by with her dog stopped and asked me if I was that guy who drew the picture of the Dairy Queen. Yep, I did!

This is a slightly peculiar bus. Obviously it’s privately owned, you’re not going to see it out picking up fares, and there is a Viking helmet in the front window. But look at the spikes on that wheel! They really are that big, like something out of Ben Hur or something.

Funnily enough, I think I have drawn this bus before. If it’s the one that used to be parked out near the PG&E plant just east of downtown Davis, then I have; here it is.

squeezy jet

luton to lisbon
And so, I went to Portugal. After days of rain and crowds in London, it was nice to see some clear blue sky upon landing at Lisbon’s nice and modern airport. I had to first go through the mess that is Luton airport though, which seems to run on the ‘people will put up with anything’ theory (such as making people pay just to drop people off). Eventually though I was on my very orange Easyjet and flying away from England, excited about all the sketching yet to come. As ever I had to draw the view on the plane, but I had no window seat so couldn’t draw what was outside. I used my orange micron and I like the results. As I drew, attendants went up and down the aisle over and over again trying to sell goods and nonsense. Easyjet flights seem to be run by Del Boy Trotter, and it’s not as if they’re all that cheap like they used to be. Still, it got me to the actual Lisbon rather than a hundred miles away, so I’m happy. 

When I arrived in Lisbon I got myself a Lisbon Card (useful if you have time to visit all those museums and sights, a bit of a big waste of money if ultimately you don’t get to do that), and hopped on the very convenient AeroBus straight downtown. As I was sketching on the bus (below), I met a woman who teaches at a London art school and is also an art critic for various national papers, in Lisbon to cover another big art exhibition. I told her about the Symposium, and she popped by a couple of days later to meet with the organizers and the sketchers. for me, this was my first sketch in Lisbon, so I had to make it colourful! I’m getting used to whipping out the waterbrush and paints on public transport now, it’s pretty compact!

AeroBus sketch

the wheels on the bus go round and round

toy bus

Yesterday was Drawing Day 2011. I had intended to do a big complicated many-windowed much-detailed drawing, but never really made the time. I did draw my son’s toy bus though, while he was eating lunch. This is from London and he loves double-decker buses, which he calls “ducker-buckle-bus”. I love the side of the bus, “We Go Everywhere”. And apparently they do – From St.Pauls to the London Eye via Oxford Street and Madame Tussauds? That’s a roundabout route, for sure, but good for the tourists.

on the buses

double decker bus

Here in Davis we have a little bit of London. Unitrans has several old vintage London double-deckers which still ride around town, letting passengers hop off the rear deck into the middle of the road, keeping the ‘charming’ London place-names, exotic faraway locales such as Golders Green, Shepherds Bush and Finchley Road. UC Davis brought the buses over in the late 1960s to start a bus service, and these buses are not in fact Routemasters, but the models which came before. Presumably if Boris gets his new modern (ugly, unnecessary, expensive) Routemasters on the streets, Davis will be able to buy some of the bendy-buses.

There are four such buses left in Davis, dating from the late 40s and early 50s. One, the 1950 model, will retire at the end of the year. Maybe they’ll put it out to stud.

Altogether now… “I ‘ate you, Butler!”

hanging on the telephone


No, this isn’t the magical forest where things from London just pop up between the trees, it’s the MU bus terminal at UC Davis, which has magpied a few British things to make them feel more like Londoners. Also at this terminal – it’s the only place in California where it rains, there are gangs of tabloid hoodies waiting to scowl at you from a distance, and there’s bloody Boris Johnson with his pointless competition for pointless new routemasters. Authentic. Actually no, you can keep those things, we’ll just take the phonebox, the lamp-post and the bus. Cheers.

Hanging on the Telephone… do you remember when Saddam was executed, and there were those guys filming it on their mobiles? I wonder if that song was running through their minds for a soundtrack?

On that note… Happy Thanksgiving!

the day after the revolution

all change

My new post on urban sketchers – that is turning into a great and very productive website.

Today is Guy Fawkes Night in Britain, but not here (and who would want to be seen to be associating with – palling around? – terrorists who target their own country, like Guy Fawkes, anyway..?). No, today is the day after the most important US election in recent memory. Oh yes, we happy, we happy! Can’t quite describe it. Best decision not only for America, but for the world.

But I’m very unhappy about California voting Yes on Prop 8 – the proposition that bans gay marriages in the state constitution by ensuring that it can only be between a man and a woman. The way that campaign was run, as if by having gay marriage your kids were somehow in danger, was offensive beyond belief, and was heavily supported and funded by the Mormon church in Utah, out of the state (dudes, come on, not the ones to lecture californians about marriage).  I fail to see how two gay people being married hurts anybody else, or damages the sanctity of marriage, nor how it threatens the building blocks of society (it only really threatens the blockheads of society) – do they wish then to ban divorce? ‘Protect marriage’ they say – hey guess what folks, men can still marry women if gay marriage exists! Are they hoping then that children will not know about gay people at all now that they officially can’t get married? Are they hoping that by keeping homosexuals as second class citizens that children who may have grown up gay might now be saved? Are they hoping that gay people will now simply go away? Bigotry and discrimination. Why not go further and ban gay people from voting, in case their pro-gay votes damage the electoral system (please, no swing-state jokes)? Perhaps they are worried that if two men can marry each other, the system of marriage and its inherent tax and legal status benefits will be exploited to the point where it becomes a mockery. So, then, such scam or sham marriages never happen between a man and a woman? Complete lunacy.

And while out of state religious groups funded the Yes vote, it was not really about religion, or schools. A great many religious organizations opposed Prop 8, as did the California Teacher’s Association. Oh well, vote lost, now for the legal battles and appeals.

Maybe one day we’ll have a gay president. Hah, you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if we already have had one, at some point in history. Personally, I’d like to see an atheist president one day too. It’s funny, but in the system which cherishes separation of church and state, that option seems the most unlikely.

Anyway…the drawing, today, at the new shiny Silo bus terminal. That Sepia micron 05 again. I quite like it. Wonder how long it will last.