“People called Romans they go the house”

Piazza Navonasm
While I love an early morning when travelling, I also like the night. Depends where though – I’ve never really liked Venice at night, but Rome’s piazzas, lined with warm streetside cafes, are a pleasant place to be. I didn’t go to the Trevi fountain at night, that was crazy enough during the day that I didn’t want to spend too much time there, but Piazza Navona, a short walk from our place, was much more pleasant. Doing as the Romans do is the thing to do, so I went to a cafe and bought a beer and sat on a bench near the fountains. Actually it was mostly French students doing that, but I assume they were doing as the Romans do. Actually what is funny is that since I was there, the Mayor of Rome has brought in a new local law forbidding people from drinking alcohol in those public squares and places after 10pm at night, effective July. So the Romans aren’t doing that now. We also noticed that, during the day, anybody sitting down on steps or by fountains and monuments and eating anything, even a gelato, were being quickly moved on by local wardens. Apparently this was a new law as well, enacted just a week before I got there in June, and you can get big fines for breaking it, a fact completely not signposted anywhere. I sketched the above scene, as best as I could see. Piazza Navona is in the shape of the ancient Stadium of Domitian, which used to stand on this spot in Roman times. Well I suppose these are still Roman times, this city being still called Rome. It is the Eternal City after all.

Rome People sm

A bit closer to home now. Right outside the front door of our apartment, which was itself about 120 steps up four steep flights, was a little trattoria/bar in a narrow lane just off the Pantheon. On our last night in Rome, after la famiglia had gone to bed, I walked down the stairs and sat at a table with a beer and my sketchbook, drawing Rome at night. The street is Via della Palombella, and that church, which has a stone head of a stag on top, is called Sant’Eustachio. The little Piazza before it is called, of course, Piazza Sant’Eustachio, and the cafe of the same name just across he street is where I would get my pastries in the morning. There were people strolling about, as they do, tourists and Romans on their nocturnal promenades. I sketched some of them (above), Romans going home. “Romanes eunt domus“.
Via Della Palombella sm

“Silenzio! Grazie!”

Pantheon sm
I expected more cats. I had never been to Rome before, but I had always heard that there were cats everywhere, lounging among the ruins and darting between the columns. I remember in fact my first trip to Venice, seeing lots of cats around the doorways of churches, presumably looking for the church mice. But I didn’t see any, not a single one. I must have spent all my time admiring all the amazing ancient architecture or paranoidly perusing all the people as potential pickpickets, or maybe some alternative alliterative activity, but I found far fewer felines than foreseen. Funny, huh. I did see two dogs though, who ended up in this sketch of the Pantheon, which may be one of the most amazingly built and well-preserved building s of the ancient world, and it was right next to my apartment. I could see the top of the dome from my bedroom window. The Pantheon – which translates to “all the gods” – was built by the Romans around 125 AD, on top of a previous Pantheon which was destroyed by fire. The reason it is in such great shape and is so well preserved from ancient times is that is has been in pretty much continual use since then. After the Roman Empire became Christian, this great pantheon to all the Roman gods and goddesses – Jupiter, Mars, Juno, and so on – was eventually converted and consecrated into a church. The ancient dome itself, however, is one of my favourite pieces of architecture. The Romans were experts at concrete to a level that we have been barely able to match since, and they built this massive and perfect structure out of an especially light but strong mixture.  It is still the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world.

I like to sketch early in the morning on my trips to other countries, especially in tourist-big cities like Rome. So I woke up before la famiglia Scully, went out into the bright morning, and sketched the Pantheon from across the Piazza. Morning people were out and about, delivering goods to cafes and stores, jogging in groups and lycra, the occasional jetlagged tourist out with a camera and a coffee to go (don’t eat or drink on the steps of the fountain though, they will move you on), or locals out for a morning stroll, stopping to chat with other locals about the daily news, calcio, dogfood, I don’t know, however conversations work, I’m not good at them. This was one of those sketches that, yes, I enjoyed sketching this building, I’ve always wanted to go there, but what I remember is the experience more than worrying about the finished product. This sketch then becomes a record of me spending a little time watching Rome, seeing how it works. As you can see from my description I clearly understand it fully. (Shrugs shoulders). After this, I found a local cafe and brought lovely Italian pastries back up to la famiglia for breakfast. I love Italy in the mornings.

Pantheon INT sm

From the outside the Pantheon looks fairly small, ancient yes but otherwise not a particularly special building, but the interior is what really excites all the senses. Seeing that ancient dome from the inside, wit the large perfect oculus in the centre, pouring in light, is just as exhilarating as I expected. We went inside much later in the day, after the doors had opened. Outside tourists and locals mingled, street performers danced, a large choir sang “Fading Like A Flower” by Roxette (a song I never hear in America but used reminds me of those European trips I took as a teenager). We were tired from a morning spent in Ancient Rome (the Colosseum was incredible!) and an afternoon down at the Gladiator School outside the centre (by the way, families visiting Rome, do not bother with the Gladiator School, an immense waste of time and money). I had been preparing to sketch the inside of the Pantheon for a long time, studying how other sketchers had tackled this amazing building, even going as far as drawing lines on a sheet of plastic to help visualize things, but I forgot the plastic and it wouldn’t have helped anyway. Better to trust my own eyes. I did not do a complete sketch with all the details but stood there drawing while la famiglia walked around and looked at things. I would have liked to have added a touch of paint and shown the circle of light coming in from the oculus, but we were tired. It reminded me a little of the Crystal Chamber, the Great Conjunction, the Skeksis and the Mystics combining into the UrSkeks, and why does everything remind me of the Dark Crystal? Seriously. It was busy in there, but I did see some of the royal tombs, where a couple of the previous Italian kings are buried, as well as that of Queen Margherita of Savoy, after whom the Margherita pizza is named.  My son had one of those the night before, and I ate lots of them when I was a kid on my first trip to Spain. But best of all were the announcements telling people to be quiet. The noise level was getting a little too cavernous, so a very loud “SHHHHH!!!!!!” played over a speaker. Everyone stopped dead in their tracks, eyes open, utterly silent, and then the same voice spoke “SILENZIO!”, followed by a pause, and then “Grazie!” It was a surreal experience and everybody stayed silent for a good while after that. As the chatter slowly grew, a few more less scolding messages of “Silenzio” came out in various languages from time to time. Each time, the chatter grew again. I thought back to my old junior school dinner hall, when the noise of chattering kids would echo around those hard floors, and this one dinner lady with a massive booming voice would bang this huge metal spoon against a table, banging so hard that the spoon was all bent, shouting “SHUUUUTTUUUUPPP!!!!!!!” I guess Rome does things a little different than Burnt Oak, but I expect the sentiment is the same.

round our way the sun shines for ya

Davis Community Church

Before I dive into the Manchester posting I thought I would jump back to the present day (Manchester was like less than two weeks ago) and show you some of what I’ve been doing since I got back. Here is Davis Community Church, on 4th Street, sketched while squeezing the curving perspective lines to fit the image in. In truth I wasn’t actually squeezing them – this is how they looked from where I was standing. As you get closer to a building those parallel perspective lines to curve more. I have wanted to redraw this building for a long time so this was a fun way to do so; after taking Paul Heaston’s workshop in Manchester I realized I need to squeeze in those perspectives even more, to get the bigger picture. I had just gotten my hair cut (finally! it was too long while I was in Manchester, too long for me) and the weather was hot but not bad. My body was aching and tired still after my trip back, my back being still a bit stuff from the cramped journey across the Atlantic. Although I complain there’s nothing left for me to draw in Davis, it’s still nice getting back to the old familiar streets.

Sketching Wren’s London – 2016

wren's city sticker
On Sunday July 24, a lot of us gathered outside St.Paul’s, and then dispersed and sketched Christopher Wren’s London. It’s the second time I have run a Wren-themed sketchcrawl, and the fourth themed ‘crawl I have hosted in London since 2012. I’m already thinking of themes for next year! As in the past, I created special handouts which included a hand-drawn map showing all of the Wren churches (and other buildings) within the City boundaries. There are a couple of Wren’s City churches not showing, only because I didn’t stretch the map far enough north, and of course it shows none that are outside the Square Mile; perhaps we’ll sketch all of those next time! Here is the map:

Sketching Wren's London Booklet MAP

We started at 10:30am outside St. Paul’s, and I gave a little historical introduction (see this photo by James Hobbs!) talking about London leading up to 1666, starting with the beheading of Charles I, which many English people believed had brought a curse upon them, manifesting in the year of the beast, 1666. That was the year of the Great Fire of London; I won’t tell the whole story here, you had to be there. We were joined by a good number of people from around the world who were in England for the Symposium, including my Portland sketcher friend Kalina Wilson (Geminica). I met a lot of great new people that day too, as well as old friends. It was very international – in addition to the UK and the US, we had sketchers from Singapore, Hong Kong, Italy, France, Pakistan, Luxembourg, China, This was day two of London’s Urban Sketching pre-Symposium, and it was a little cooler, and a lot calmer than the previous day in Trafalgar Square. I do like the City on a weekend.

Temple Bar

In 2014, I sketched seven Wren buildings in one day, and my ambition was to sketch more. However, you sketch what you can sketch, and I’m pleased to say I at least matched my previous haul. I did use more pencil while sketching than usual, something I am doing more. First off though I sketched the Temple Bar gateway in pen. This was originally down at Fleet Street at the entrance to the City but removed many decades ago, only to sit languishing in Theobolds Park near Cheshunt. It was restored and placed next to St. Paul’s just over a decade ago, forming the entrance to Paternoster Square. It was from that still-shining-new plaza that I sketched St. Paul’s itself. I have always struggled with the great domed cathedral from this angle but that’s ok, you have to draw St. Paul’s.

St Pauls Cathedral

Next up, a couple of neighbours to St. Paul’s. First of all, St. Augustine’s Watling Street, largely destroyed in the Blitz. I sketched this in pencil from the gardens of St. Paul’s churchyard while talking to my old friend from high school, Joan Uloth (check out her Instagram) and Beliza Mendes from Luxembourg. I really want to sketch Luxembourg, I met more Luxembourg sketchers in Manchester.
St Augustines
Then I sketched St. Nicholas Cole Abbey, which is visible across the street (now that the building that was in the way has been demolished, that is).
St Nicholas Cole Abbey

This one was sketched across a busy street, St. Benet’s Paul’s Wharf, the church where they hold the sermons in Welsh.

St Benets Paul's Wharf

Ok this next one was sketched from an angle and with the very loud and quite chaotic bells ringing. St. James Garlickhythe (haunted by “Jimmy Garlick” who sounds like an old washed up musician from the early 70s). I did the old paint splatter thing because the great Tia Boon Sim from Singapore was on the sketchcrawl and I’ve always been inspired by her paint-splatter styles. It seemed appropriate given the noise of the bells!

St James Garlickhythe

My final sketch was of the neighbour to St. James, which is St. Michael Paternoster Royal. What I loved about this crawl was that wherever I went there would always be at least one or two other sketchers there busy plugging away. This by the way is the church where legendary (but historically very real) Mayor Dick Whittington (he of the cat and the pantomime) was buried. Nobody knows where his grave is now though, but while Wren’s tomb says “Look Around You” I presume Whittington’s tomb says “Look Behind You”.
St Michael Paternoster Royal

And then we met up at The Monument, to look at each other’s sketchbooks. Of all the people that made it to the finish (and quite a few did not; I checked the number of maps given out and I think we had around 80 participants total), we got together and I read out the names of each Wren building, asking sketchers to raise hands if they had sketched it.

You’ll never guess – we sketched ALL OF THEM. Every single one! Great job, London sketchers!!!

Here are a few photos from the end. You can see more at Urban Sketchers London (JAmes Hobbs has posted a nice set “In Wren’s Footsteps“) and on this Flickr set “Sketching Wren’s London“.

Afterwards several of us went to a pub near Borough Market for a post-sketchcrawl-pint. I sketched two sketchers, Rachel and Jimmy…

jimmy and rachel

And here is the final group photo at the base of Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire! Can’t wait to sketch with Urban Sketchers London again in the near future. So nice to meet so many new sketching friends.

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Oh, and everyone got a sticker!

fifth street on a sunday morning

5th St Panorama July 2016 sm

Carrying on the series of street panoramas going from 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and now 5th. This is Newman Chapel on Fifth Street, Davis, on the corner of C Street. I have drawn it before, a few times. But it is nice so it is always worth drawing again. If you live in Davis and are at a loss for something to draw, just come and draw Newman Chapel, it’s small and simple but pretty, and the light is usually good. I sat opposite on a nice Sunday morning on Independence Day weekend (it was the 3rd) (by the way I hope you had a fun Independence Day everyone in America! I just want to know, why do you have to have fireworks on a date when the sun goes down so much later than on the rest of the year? Could you not have declared Independence in, I don’t know, mid-October, or some time in April?* Then you can have fireworks at a decent hour and tired kids can get to bed a bit earlier, I’m just saying, it’s just a suggestion America, it’s too late now but any other countries wanting to declare independence should probably consider this. Just think of the children, the sleepy children!) (Actually I bet Jefferson and co did take the daylight thing into consideration, thinking “well, we don’t have electric lights and stuff so let’s have Independence Day on a day when people can celebrate in as much daylight as possible, yes that makes a lot of sense actually, and schools are out so kids can stay up as long as they want, what is a firework anyway,” that’s what Jefferson and co thought. It’s worth pointing out that schools are indeed out over here by this point, unlike in Britain, which I’m sure factored in the whole Independence thing too, “we’ll finish school when we want!” I’m sure the politically powerful Summer Camp Lobby had a say in matters as well, arguing for longer summers. I’m digressing well off topic here but can I just say, summers off school are very long over here and figuring out what to do with the kids all summer can sometimes be a challenge. We watched the fireworks in Davis from the Green Belt with all the other families in our neighbourhood, all the kids running around in the dark with their glow sticks, it was like a rave for very small tired people. The firework display itself was at Community Park, just opposite, but we avoided the throng of people over there who went to listen to live music and a poetry reading by the Davis Poet Laureate before the big firework s went off, staying in our little Green Belt park. It’s a very family atmosphere. Davis is a very family town.

This was sketched in the Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook #4, all ink done on site and coloured in later when I got home (after going for food and drink at some friends’ house).

*I just need to point out that in fact Independence Day should have been in April, it was signed 7/4/1776 right, which technically should be the 7th of April (think of Oliver Stone’s famous film ‘Born of the Seventh of April’), meaning you could have had fireworks after dinner and then got the kids to bed and still had time to watch a movie, but for some reason it isn’t. That’s fine, I totally prefer July anyway.

st clement dane

St Clement Dane
The last sketch from London. I was there for two weeks, but I didn’t sketch as much
as usual. Perhaps on my next trip I will get more done – the International Urban Sketching Symposium this year will be held in Manchester and I do hope I can go. Early-bird Registration opens on January 30 ($415 though, may have to sell a few drawings first!) If I do go, I will try to organize another themed sketchcrawl in London on the weekend before, maybe on the Sunday. We will see. London Urban Sketchers are holding one on the Saturday before (they like to set out the year’s “Let’s Draw…” sketchcrawls in advance), so I’ll try not to clash. I do like a themed sketchcrawl, and back in 2014 I did organize one called “Sketching Wren’s City”, which went from the Monument down to St. Paul’s, taking in as many of Christopher Wren’s buildings (mostly churches) as possible. I provided everyone with a hand-drawn map and lots of information; it was immense fun, and we topped it off with a visit to the Old Bell Tavern on Fleet Street – also designed by Wren.You can see the sketches I did, and find out more about the sketchcrawl here.

One Wren church we did not make it to (being just outside the City borders) is this one, St. Clement Dane. I used to pass by here every day when studying at King’s College, and it’s in an amazing location, on a traffic island at the intersection of Strand and Aldwych, just where the traffic turns to down towards Temple Station and the Embankment. Further down Strand behind me is another church on a traffic island, St. Mary-le-Strand, known to taxi-drivers as “Mary-in-the-way”. St. Clement Dane’s is more famous – its bells regularly play out the tune to “Oranges and Lemons”, after the nursery rhyme that mentions St. Clement’s, although it’s possible that the church in the rhyme is actually st. Clement Eastcheap. St. Clement Dane dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, and though the ‘Dane’ part of the name also dates back this far, it’s not exactly certain why, though this church was located at the very edge of the ‘Danelaw’, the large swathe of England ruled by the Danes. The current building, designed by Wren in the 1680s, was gutted by bombs in World War Two and restored in the 1950s. The large statue in front is William Ewart Gladstone, the former Prime Minister. Behind him are two more statues, of prominent Royal Air Force chiefs Hugh Dowding and Arthur “Bomber” Harris (unseen). This church has long had connections to the RAF, and contains many memorials to fallen airmen. Behind the church is a statue of Dr. Samuel Johnson, writer of the first English dictionary, who lived nearby off of Fleet Street. And just visible behind St. Clement’s are the Royal Courts of Justice.

I stood on the edge of the traffic island and sketched, as the day started drifting away. Days are so short in London winter-time, and I had to get back for dinner. Goodbye London, until next time.

it is like a finger, pointing away to the moon

Rue Merciere and Strasbourg Cathedral
It might be my favourite building in the world. And this year, 2015, La Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Strasbourg is 1000 years old.

The day I got back to London last month, I was looking for some drawing pins at my mum’s house when I happened upon an old badge that was mixed in with them. It was a small metal badge of Strasbourg Cathedral, which I must have bought on my first trip there, and has been sitting in a drawer at my mum’s for years and years. What a coincidence, as I was shortly going to go back there. Strasbourg might have a European parliament building, and lots of pretty timber-framed buildings, but it is a city dominated by its massive cathedral. It sits in the centre of the Grand-Ile with its single solitary spire pointing high into the heavens. It can be seen for miles around. Locals told me that if ever I were lost, I should just look up and find the cathedral. Of course that only really helped if I were going toward the cathedral, so on this trip I booked a hotel right next to the thing (the Hotel Cathedrale, I recommend it). It was the scene above, the view down the tourist-trail of Rue Merciere, that I longed to sketch. I was stood almost in Place Gutenberg, where stands the statue of Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the printing press right here in Strasbourg. I stood there mid-afternoon, and because my hotel was just around the corner I took a break halfway through, and went back to do the rest. I had promised myself that I would sketch the cathedral at least three times, from three different angles, and so I did. I love this building.
Strasbourg Cathedral
In 1997 I came to Strasbourg with my oldest friend Terry. We came on an overnight Eurolines coach (remember taking those, in the days before budget airlines? Yeah those days are thankfully gone). I remember that it was the day after Princess Diana died (it was funny, French people kept asking us how we were doing, all concerned like, and we were both like, um, we’re fine, thanks, not realizing all the national weeping nonsense going on back in England). As we approached Strasbourg, I could see the huge spire in the yellow dawn mist towering over the city, and it was an image that stuck with me, like an illustration from a fantasy novel. Its shape is so distinct. It looks like it is missing a spire, and in fact it is – the second steeple was supposed to be built, but was never constructed. I was told many stories about this cathedral, how for several centuries it was the tallest building in the world, how during the French Revolution the cathedral was covered up with a giant cap to save it from those revolutionaries who wished to tear it down. In the sketch above, you can see how the rear is also covered over, but this is just renovation, not revolution. I had a nice time sketching this one. Several of the Belgian sketching group were there too; Gerard Michel (the cathedral expert, my inspiration) was gathering a crowd of onlookers. As I sketched, a group of young schoolchildren were gathered in the plaza (which was not as nice and open as this the last time I was here), and several times they sang La Marseillaise, which echoed off the grand building beautifully. As well it should – for as much as Strasbourg has been swapped between the French and German realms, that national anthem of France was actually composed not in Marseille, not in Paris, but right here in Strasbourg.
Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Strasbourg, and Maison Kammerzell
The sketch above is the pre-breakfast early-morning drawing. My hotel being where it was, I just had to roll out of bed, grab the large sketchbook, and stand out in the Place de la Cathedrale before all the tourist shops opened. I said ‘bonjour’ to a few people holding machine guns, as you do. The cathedral is being well guarded by soldiers, walking about the building at all hours. It’s not a scene that I’m used to, but I’m not unfamiliar with in France (I remember years ago walking past a large cadre of soldiers on the Paris Metro, their fingers on the triggers of their automatic weapons), and it’s a reminder of the terrorist dangers that France has had to deal with this year. I stood next to the 15th century Maison Kammerzell, which I drew in the foreground in black ink, and drew the cathedral in brown-black ink. This is a famous shot. I started this at about 7:30am, but by 9:00am I was getting hungry so I stopped there, and went for a pain au chocolat at a boulangerie  around the corner. It was such a delicious pain au chocolat that five minutes later I was back there asking for another. The woman in the bakery gave me such a dirty look when I came back and for a second one, as if to say “why didn’t you just buy two the first time?”. At least I got that much. On two other occasions that day (in FNAC and in Librairie Kleber), the shop assistant serving me barely acknowledged my existence other than holding out a hand for my money, looking away in another direction. But then I also had many occasions where I was helped by super friendly (and above all patient) people in shops and cafes.
Strasbourg Cathedral & Maison KammerzellAnd so, the Cathedral celebrates its millennium this year. I didn’t realize this before I came to Strasbourg, so it was very good timing. Later this year they are having lots of celebrations and events. The picture below, taken from a display outside the cathedral, shows the history of its construction. As with most massive building projects in the middle ages, this took several centuries to complete. It stands at 142 metres tall (that’s 466 feet). It doesn’t sound like much when you put it like that. The first stone was laid by Bishop Werner von Habsburg in 1015. One of the most prominent architects involved was Erwin von Steinbach, who died in 1318, and the cathedral is one of the best examples of high Gothic architecture.  DSC04824

Gerard and Belgian sketchers

Gerard Michel and other sketchers from Liege, sketching Strasbourg cathedral with an audience

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The massive rose window, photographed from the inside

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The view of the cathedral when I arrived in Strasbourg in the early hours of the morning

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Here’s that metal badge I bought twenty years ago (and found again last month), along with the USk France 2015 badge.

over the ill and far away

Eglise St Paul, StrasbourgI 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.

Pont St Thomas, StrasbourgSketching by the Ill river, Strasbourg

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.

Pont du Corbeau

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.

to live your days in the sunshine

Davis Community Church sketched from Central Park. Click to make big.

Davis Community Church sketched from Central Park. Click to make big.

Last Monday was Presidents Day here in the U.S. It is also the celebration of George Washington’s birthday, which is actually a week earlier than his actual birthday presumably because everywhere was booked on the 22nd so it was easier to have it on the three-day weekend before. Of course while we’re pondering over the first president’s birth certificate you’ll notice he was born in a different country. News pundits didn’t really care so much about that back then. But anyway it was Presidents Day which meant a day off, which meant an afternoon sketching. Well, a couple of hours anyway. My son was playing with his friend in the new playground in nearby central park and I stood in the shade and sketched a panorama of Davis Community Church, from the side. It’s only this time of year you can really see this view because those trees will soon be getting their leaves. I sketched in the Seawhite of Brighton book, and I coloured it in a few days later at home. The weather is gorgeous here in Davis right now, t-shirt weather, low 70s, sunny. In the rest of America however, the picture is very different, unbelievably cold, so I’m sending you a little bit of our Davis sunshine.

Now, I have sketched this scene before, but a long time ago. August 2006 to be precise, as shown below, sketched from a little further up the road with my first Davis bike in the foreground. In those days I preferred to sketch just with the paint, which I don’t do any more, but I like the effect. This is one of my earliest Davis sketches, sketched in a WH Smith cartridge paper sketchbook.

The same building sketched in 2006

The same building sketched in 2006

sketching wrens’ city…part two

St Mary Le Bow sm

The Wren sketchcrawl continued… we had a lot of sketchers from all over on this sketchcrawl, and after finishing St. Stephen Walbrook I bumped into international-travelling urban sketcher Sue Pownall, and we walked over to St. Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside. The approach to this old church up the narrow Bow Lane is lovely, although the buildings are now modern you can just use a bit of imagination to fly back through the centuries and picture the narrow timber-framed houses leaning into each other over dirty streets, the sound of the Bow Bells echoing through the dark, bustling lanes. Yes, this is the church of the Bow Bells; the tradition is that a Cockney, a true Cockney, was born within the sound of the Bow Bells (and not Bow in East London as many wrongly believe), that is, within London. Cockney is synonymous with all Londoners now, London being much bigger than in Dick Whittington’s day, though of course he famously heard them from up on Highgate Hill, calling him back to his destiny as London’s Lord Mayor. You know the story. There’s a statue of his cat on Highgate Hill, near Whittington Hospital, but that’s far from here. The Bow Bells were important to London not because of fanciful stories and cockney categorization, but because in the middle ages these were the bells that rung to sound the curfew, and the closing of the city gates. If they rang and you were outside the city, you spent a night sleeping in the filthy gutters of Southwark or Finsbury. These days you can just get a Night Bus, and it’s a similar experience.

Those bells and the old church of St.Mary-le-Bow were burnt to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666, so Sir Christopher of course got to work building a new church, this one above. Well, kind of – it was destroyed again by the Nazis in the Blitz, but rebuilt after the War. I just drew the spire, time being of the essence, but it was a nice little courtyard to be sat in.

St Vedast sm

Before going to sketch St.Paul’s (I had this huge panorama in mind…didn’t quite make it) I wandered about to find a less well-known Wren church. I headed to St.Vedast-alias-Foster, up in Foster Lane, mostly because I liked its unusual name. when I got there, the staff were bustling about, preparing for a wedding. Though it looks like Just Another Wren Church (™) from the outside, the inside is quite spectacular, with a beautiful ceiling and a polished hall filled with light. The friendly suited man at the door welcomed me in to look around, and I asked him a bout the history of the church and its unusual name. Apparently in the middle ages this part of London was popular with Flemish immigrants from Arras in northern France, whose patron saint was St. Vedast (from the Latin name Vedastus; in Norman French and Flemish he was St. Vaast). This was corrupted into English as ‘Foster’, hence Foster Lane, and so the church is called ‘alias-Foster’ as a result. He showed me around the lovely courtyard, and said that a sketcher would love to sketch in there, and showed me the history of the parish churches associated with this one, many now combined (the ‘United Parishes’), including one church called St. Mary Aldermanbury which was badly damaged in World War II, and then closed down, with its remains being shipping across the Atlantic for rebuilding in Fulton, Missouri, significantly the place where Winston Churchill made his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in 1946. All historied-up, I went out into the street and found a spot to sketch the tower. I kept it brief, because my next building was so much bigger than all of the others (probably put together).

St Pauls sm

The plan was for a panorama, but I couldn’t decide on a good view, at least not from up close. Besides, the day was pressing on and I wanted to be done before our final meet-up at 4pm. So I stood across the front entrance from St. Paul’s Cathedral, as traffic and tourists rumbled by, and sketched in traditional London grey. It was actually a very sunny day, one of the more pleasant London afternoons. I remember those sorts of afternoons from when I was a teenager, wandering central London’s streets on a late Saturday afternoon, falling in love with the city. In those days St. Paul’s was much greyer, dirtied with decades of pollution and urban grime, but in recent years the grand old cathedral has been cleaned up significantly, and now sparkles white as if new-born. This is Wren’s masterpiece, but its significance to London is much older. For many, St. Paul’s is London. There has been a cathedral dedicated to St. Paul’s on this site, the top of Ludgate Hill (King Lud being an old figure of pre-Roman British legend who may or may not be related to the name of London itself), since St. Augustine brought Christianity to the Angles and Saxons. Not much is known about the early cathedrals, until the fourth incarnation, a huge Gothic cathedral, was built in the twelfth century. That was one of the largest buildings in Europe, but alas, along came the Great Fire of 1666 and in a matter of days it was gone. Along came Wren. As I’ve mentioned before, he had plans to rebuild London including St. Paul’s on his drawing board  for several years before the convenient fire, and for London’s landmark cathedral he wanted not another towering spire but a large Romanesque dome, technologically advanced and rivaling the greatest buildings in Christendom. The wooden model of his first design is still on display, but it looks rather different from the final buiding. This was late seventeenth-century England, not a time to make your premier church look, well, too Catholic. It was shaped like a Greek cross, and the nave was not long enough; it just didn’t look English. Wren went back to the drawing board, and in the end built the Cathedral we have today. It’s hard to think of more ‘London’ building than this. During the darkest days of World War II, when bombs flattened everything around it, the dome of St. Paul’s stood untouched, a symbol of hope for a city devastated. The ‘people’s church’ this was, and probably because of that, it was here that Prince Charles married Lady Diana in 1981 rather than at the traditional Westminster Abbey.

Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014

So it was here that we finished out sketchcrawl, and our journey through Wren’s City. Those of us who were left gathered by the steps of St. Paul’s to look at each others’ sketchbooks. I met some great sketchers for the first time, and reconnected with sketchers I have met with before. I can’t tell for certain (because I didn’t take photos of everyone’s books) but I’m pretty certain that as a group we covered most of the Wren churches from my map on this day. Here are some photos from the end meeting; you can see some more on my Flickr set Sketching Wren’s City.

Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014
Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014
Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014
Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014

And here is the final group shot…spot the sketchers you know!

Sketching Wren's City, Aug 2 2014

Everyone that came and made it to the end got a little sticker that said “I Sketched Wren’s City”. I like making stickers. If you’re interested in following our steps and sketching Sir Christopher’s City, click here to download the little guide and map I handed out on the day: Wren’s London booklet (pdf)

After this, we reconvened at a pub on Fleet Street called The Old Bell, which, by the way, was built by Christopher Wren. Who else! To those of you who came along, it was brilliant to meet you and see all of your lovely work. See you next year! (For…”Dickens’s London”? “Coren’s Cricklewood”? “Pete’s Burnt Oak?”)

Urban Sketchers London