(3) Camden Town, (4) Soho and (5) The City of London

GB 03-05 sm
I may have spent too long in London on this virtual journey, not leaving space for some other places along the way – your Southamptons and your Swindons, your Leicesters and your Lutons – but in my defense I am from London, so I don’t mind being London-centric, and also I didn’t see anything I wanted to draw in those places, although if I went in real life undoubtedly I’d feel different, except in Luton. London is so big and diverse though, and I was still looking at places that meant a little to me. The next stop was in Camden Town, top left in this spread. This is Camden High Street, the point where the railway bridge crosses the famous Camden Market. Camden Lock itself is around the corner from here, where the Regents Canal cuts through on its way from Little Venice to the Docklands. I come out in Camden almost every time I come back to London, as it is easy for me to get to and all my old favourites are there, even if they aren’t really my favourites much any more. Many memorable (and a fair few unmemorable) nights out round here over the years, with the usual lads. A long time ago late nineties early noughties I used to go to the Mixer with my mate Tel and we’d play pool, or rather he would play pool and I would sit there watching him win game after game while I chatted to people. It’s what I like about the pubs in Camden, you always get a conversation. Not always an interesting one but you meet some characters. Me and my mate Roshe would always get into long drinky conversations with interesting people in Camden, like the fella we met from Sweden a couple of years ago late at the Hawley who was in London to take photos of the Cure. Camden has too many memories to count, but I still think it’s a mess. It’s supposed to be, long may it be.

Right that is enough of Camden, time to go into town and go to Soho. Northern Line maybe, or just jump on the bus, end up on Frith Street, go to get a coffee at Bar Italia. Now it must be pointed out, I don’t drink coffee, I don’t like it at all. Yet the only time I had a coffee drink that I liked was right here at Bar Italia, a cappuccino at about 3:30am, and admittedly it was in about 1996. That is in the twentieth century so yeah, it has been a while. You might know Bar Italia from the last song on Pulp’s Different Class. I used to come here for a little while back in the mid-nineties when I was briefly going out with a girl from Perugia, she worked at a Soho amusement arcade and we would usually meet up at midnight to go to clubs like St Moritz or the Wag, and then with some other Italian friends we’d go to Bar Italia while the sun was coming up, before I’d get my Night Bus back home to Burnt Oak from Trafalgar Square (often getting home and not even sleeping before heading into work at the Asda coffee shop next morning – I really had so much energy when I was twenty). That summer reminds me of 1996, the Euros, that Gareth Southgate penalty miss, seeing the Pistols at Finsbury Park with my uncle Billy, going to the Hellfire Club on Saturday nights with my friend Andrea from Hungary, working at Asda on weekends, and ending up at the end of the summer on a bus to Germany to spend a year which lasted three weeks. Memories that I’m pretty sure happened but all blend together like old posters pasted on top of each other on an old wall that was knocked down years ago. You know when memories of people and places vanish but jump out again in dreams years later? Time to leave that cappuccino behind in Bar Italia and get out of Soho now.

The final sketch in this spread is at Bank, right in the heart of the City of London. The City of London is its own thing, an area known as the Square Mile that has a degree of independence dating back to the twelfth century. Like, we in London distinguish “London” from “The City” but it’s a real distinction – you see statues of silver dragons marking the entrances into the City, it is managed by the Corporation and governed by the Lord Mayor, and if the reigning monarch wishes to enter the City they must attain permission from the Lord Mayor. They also have their own police force – Greater London has the Metropolitan Police, those bobbies from New Scotland Yard, but the Square Mile has the City of London Police, which have distinctively different police constable helmets with little crests on them. The location of this sketch is right next to the Bank of England (left) and Mansion House (unseen on the right), looking towards the Royal Exchange, and a whole load of skyscrapers, new ones going up all the time. This skyline has grown increasingly spiky since I left England, like the City is going through its experimental haircut phase. There’s an open-top bus. The thing this junction reminds me of most are my days as an open-top bus tour guide twenty years ago, I loved going through this are, so much to talk about, and on a weekend when there was no work traffic you had to get those facts out quick, no time for rambling. Mention the grasshopper on the weather vane, talk about the Lombard bankers, catch your breath because the Great Fire is coming up and then you’re at London Bridge. Of course if it’s Thursday afternoon and traffic is crawling you can really start telling stories.

From here, I probably should have moved beyond London on the virtual tour, to give myself a few more spots for your Blackburns and your Bradfords, your Warwicks and your Weymouths, but not wishing to appear North-London-centric I went east to Stratford, and then south-east to New Cross, then south to Tooting, before finally finding the road to Kent, like a Chaucerian wandering about lost, unable to read a map written in the French of Paris when all I know is the French of Stratford at Bow. Dammit I was saving that joke for the next post, not that anyone will understand it. All will be revealed, I’ll see you at Stratford Town Hall…

san francisco, one morning in february

the golden gate bridge, from telegraph hill
First post in a few days, but I’ve got some drawing done… I went to San Francisco on Saturday for a whole day of sketching, because the weather was nice and it was nearly my birthday (in fact it’s today). The first thing I did after arriving at the Ferry Building was head straight up Telegraph Hill. Well no, the first thing I did was buy a walnut brownie, as I always do, but then I went uphill. I wanted to draw a big panorama. the problem is, unless you go up Coit Tower itself (and why would I do a sensible thing like that) the good views are mostly broken by trees. For the sketch of the Golden Gate Bridge above I had to stand on a wall besides quite a steep shrubby slope. But what a view! And no morning fog. the bay bridge from telegraph hill

I did much the same for the second one, looking in the other direction. That’s the Bay Bridge, with the Ferry Building in front of it, and the financial district overshadowing it. These were drawn in my Stillman and Birn sketchbook, the one I got from the Lisbon Symposium, but only just started using. It was very nice too. Watercolouring will take a little getting used to after so long with the watercolour moleskine (you can’t lay it on quite as thick) but it’s pretty nice with the pens, so far. These were done with a micron 01. More SF sketches to come…

flits from shop to shop just like a butterfly

fillmore street, SF

It was so warm and sunny on Saturday in the City. We went up to Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill (and like a nob I forgot the camera) to see the Labyrinth, before heading over to Fillmore Street to have lunch and look around the really cool shops they have there. My wife like ‘Seconds to Go’, a cool second hand store that is in the drawing above, and I loved ‘Paper Source’, a great store stuffed wit many different types of paper for all purposes; I bought some cardstock to make some cards of my drawings. They were very friendly in there. 

I sat on the pavement outside Crepevine (where we had eaten lunch) and sketched the colourful street ahead of me. It’s a cool part of a very cool town. There are so mnay different neighbourhoods here. I could draw San Francisco for ever.

Also blogged over at Urban Sketchers.

my fair lady

I painted the ladies again. Well I drew them first. San Francisco’s famous old houses, sloping down Alamo Square, with the City in the background.

painted ladies again

The last drawing I did of the Painted Ladies was in sepia. I added colour this time. They are supposed to be colourful after all. This will very likely be for sale on my long-time-coming Etsy shop which is of course not yet ready. Keep your ears peeled.

I do love these buildings, but now when I see them I think of that awful Sleep Train Mattress Center commercial on TV (“a ticket to a better night’s sleep”), which uses them (or near approximations).  the thing about those commercials is they always do these special holiday greetings for events throughout the year. They use the standard American commercial ‘Happy Holidays’ line at Christmas, fair enough. For Easter, however, they used the over-generic “Happy Spring”, Easter being a bit religious for them (though I can go into how the word and the bunny and egg-hunting have absolutely nothing to do with Christian religion). And yet, throughout March, they constantly wish you a Happy St.Patrick’s Day. Which is wierd, because that is a religious, Christian event (or at least it is in Ireland); it’s named for a saint. Sure, it’s an event for the Irish – though as we know, everyone wants to be Irish on March 17, so they can pretend to be an Irish sterotype and pretend they like Guinness (I’m London Irish, and I can’t stand Guinness). It’s just funny how ‘Christmas’ and ‘Easter’ are seen to offend on religious grounds in the eyes of commercial-makers, yet the saint’s day of a very Catholic country is not. Just an interesting observation. Anyway that’s what crosses my mind when I think of those adverts, and now, by association, these buildings. But I still love them, whatever holiday it is.

here’s another sunday morning call

eddie rickenbacker's

This is my 200th post on petescully.com, thus my 800th in total since April 2005 (including the ones from the previous incarnation). That’s a lot of scullybloggery, and a lot of drawings (though not all of it was drawing, of course). And so, more from San Francisco, the efforts of last weekend: a triptych of pen drawings around SoMa, the area South of Market. On the left is Eddie Rickenbacker’s cafe/pub place, a really cool place with loads of motorbikes all hanging from the ceiling. This was the last I drew, before racing to the bus / train back home.

It was a slightly damp, grey morning, and I had aborted one drawing made post-doughnut-breakfast in North Beach (I’ve finished it since at home) due to a brief spattering of rain, so I went to the shops instead. Well, Virgin Megastore – not often these days after all that you can do that. And I found that this one too was closing down, with everything on sale. All of the others back in the UK changed to Zavvi a couple of years back, and then suddenly went bust at christmas with the downfall of Woolworths (its distributor). Great shame. when I was a young teenager, going down to that huge Virgin at the corner looking up stockton (yellow)of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street was a weekendly ritual, a place where I could find anything I could possibly want. I would spend hours there. So it was a little sad I guess going to one for the last time. Perhaps we are seeing the end of the big chain record store. The irony is that, for now at least, a lot of smaller independent record stores are still about and outliving the chains nearby, over here at least. Tower Records (actually a local store founded in Sacramento) closed down a couple of years ago; yet the independent Armadillo records across the street in Davis stayed open. In fact where Tower used to be is now a newer independent record store called Dimple. The fall of the global chains may actually benefit smaller stores. 

But back to the drawings. I sat opposite Virgin on Market St and sketched the final days of the store, but hidden behind a lamp-post, while looking down Stockton to the tunnel which slices through the hill in the distance, its daylight pushing through like a magic door into another world (yes that’s the best simile I could muster up, but hey I’m tired, I’ve had a busy week). There were a lot of people out shopping, helping the economy. I wondered, if we are shopping only for the greater economic good (as we’re told we must) rather than to get a bargain for ourselves, whether we should in fact shop at places we know are closing down since it doesn’t help them much in the long run? Is that how it works? But I’m no Adam Smith, so I just bought the latest Mojo magazine at 40% discount and was SOMA, san franciscowell happy.

I wandered around SoMa, down to Yerba Buena gardens, and drew the SFMoMA and its tall neighbours before popping by the Cartoon Art Museum. Here’s an interesting thing: Yerba Buena was the name of San Francisco before San Francisco.  It’s such a cool city, such a great place to sketch, but I was feeling anxious to get home, tired, exhausted from the hills and the pressure I put on myself to draw everything. I think it showed in the previous day’s efforts, a lot. I nearly didn’t do any more drawing at all, and considered putting away the sketchbook and pens for a fortnight or a month or so to refresh my thoughts. But I was pleased enough with these three (especially the first and last) to get me a little way out of that particular mental rut. Here they are all finished, with the wash added later on. The sketchbookery continues unabated…

south of market triptych

la vie est belge

eurostarA few days after Christmas, a friend and I went over to Belgium, where I used to live what feels like a lifetime (but was less than ten years) ago. I spent a year in Charleroi between 1999 and 2000, my time there culminating with the now infamous visit of the chair-throwing England fans. It was a year that has shaped a lot of my imagination, though I did little but eat frites drowned in sauce, drink and learn about beer at la cuve à bière, and play the guitar (writing songs about this, about that). That is, however, the life. We took the early Eurostar to Brussels, and walked around the busy post-noel streets, surprised to find that there was no rain whatsoever – I nearly didn’t recognise it in the sunshine. I like Brussels. I drew at the Grand Place, crowded, touristy, disgustingly ornate, but necessary for a budding urban sketcher to draw. I wasn’t going to seek out the urban grit – we were going to Charleroi later that evening, and there would be plenty of that.

it's a lovely place

le luxembourg, charleroiI stopped in a shop I loved when I was living there: Grasshopper, an amazing store that sells all sorts of toys and books. I wanted to buy some French board books for my baby son (decided not to go with teaching him Flemish just yet). However, while I was sketching, I must have put them down and forgotten about them (very unlike me*). I went back to the store and bought some more, and asked if anybody had returned them. Non, they told me, ils sont bye-byes. Yeah, cheers.  So, we took a very modern double-decker train south to the city of Charleroi, and while Roshan napped in the hotel, I ventured out into the freezing dark evening to do some night-time pre-pub sketching, and drew Le Luxembourg, a place which although very pretty, I have never actually entered. While drawing, I kept my eyes on the shadows for, er, shadowy people,  happy to be back in my old town.

*I do tend to lose things in Brussels, though. I lost my favourite top here once, in 1999. I wrote a song about that too. It was white with thin black hoops. If you find it, let me know; it might still fit.

jingle all the way

in the globe at moorgate

Twas two nights before Christmas, and all over the City, nobody about, not even a mouse…

Well there were a few post-work revellers lingering in the Globe pub in Moorgate where I met my friend Simon for a bit of late-night nocturnal urban sketching. I did this quickly in the pub before he got there (so that I was one sketch ahead, you see; we’re very competitive). We wandered off through the deserted streets,guildhall at night far from the madding crowd, and sketched in front of Guildhall, which remarkably I had never been to before. It was fun. It was dark, but the buildings were lit and there was a soft mist in the air. Do you know, it has’t rained once since I have been here? Considering my last rain-soaked trip in the summer, it is remarkable (while in California right now, rain rain and rain; “ha-ha” as nelson would say). We then wandered off in search of a pub that was actually open, and found one that was old and did Fuller’s beer, and we chatted and chatted away. I do miss chatting with my best mates.

(By the way, he ended up sketching more than I did)

But I have plenty more sketches I have been doing on this trip which I haven’t yet scanned…

right through the very heart of it

the empire strikes back

The final bit of urban sketching done in New York (I also took a lot of photos for reference drawing later, but you can’t beat being there on the streets tasting the air). Here I am just off Washington Square, looking up Fifth, indeniably NYC in November. I never went up the Empire State. Always thought it would be better to gostart spreading the news up the Rockefeller anyway, because at least from there you can see the Empire State – I love seeing that building. I also adore the Chrysler – it’s one of those buildings that when you first see, you cannot stop taking photos of it. It could be the most beautiful modern building in the world (and I say modern meaning in the past 100 years). I sketched it from the steps of the New York Public Library, itself a fantastic old building (but not one with baby changing facilities, I might add).

One of the things I love about New York is that you always feel a little like you’re on the set of Ghostbusters. Things are so familiar. And not just Ghostbusters, but any of the million or so other movies or shows that have been set here. Not a feeling you get strolling down Edgware High Street.

I still hadn’t eaten, which is not a good thing (and surely an impossibility in the big apple), and as I previously mentioned, I wanted something ‘New York’. But then I happened across a little Belgian place, the BXL Cafe in narrow 43rd Street, which called me in to taste some Maredsous beer and some absolutely amazing moules frites (better than I have had even in bxl cafeBelgium, I might add). I drew the place (right) in copic and faber-castell brush pens; trying something different for a change. Overheard some Scottish women talking about shopping for their kids, sounded like they had saved up a long while for this trip, and I felt sorry for them because the pound has absolutely plummeted this past couple of months. I overheard a lot of British people in New York – more than I did New Yorkers – the place is choc full of them. Probably why I felt at home.

Came back down again the next day, with my wife and baby, to go to Central Park and see the amazing fall colours. We ended up getting a little lost on the Subway, which is enormous fun with a stroller by the way, and sitting in a cafe off Sixth trying to feed the baby (while overhearing, of course, English people). And I finally had cannoli, something definitely New York, and it was good. New York is good. Can’t wait to go back.

the sad songs of doom and gloom

manhattan bridge
With the raining coming down in meows and woofs, I took the Subway to Brooklyn, down under manhattan bridge overpass (I believe this area of town is named after a disney movie but I forget which). Too rainy to sketch. I took a lot of lovely photos from the shores of the Hudson, looking across at the grey fog where Manhattan should be. On my way back to the Subway however I remembered my friend Simon, sketching in the downpour on the South Bank in London back in May, newyork2008062-blogand said to myself I could not leave without one sketch of these amazing views I may not see again for a long time. As I sat on my stool, the rain stopped, and I drew the Manhattan Bridge above – it really does make all the difference, actually sketching on location, than later on from a photo, and I’m please with the result (and yes I counted all the details as I was drawing them).

I went on the the Lower East Side. I got a big messy sandwich from “tiny’s giant sandwiches”, and ambled around in the fading light looking for some urban to sketch, and there was lots. It felt like I was in London again, in Holloway or Camden or Whitechapel, or maybe even Soho, with the narrow grid streets. Chose a street corner that is home to rosario’s pizza (my wife’s maiden name) and sketched in the dying light, the rain now passed but the streets still wet and shiny.
rosario's pizza

I walked around in the dark streets taking in New York City at night, this big far away place from the movies and the album tracks, and then got the Subway to Union Square area, stopping off in a cool art lamppost-nightstore and a great kid’s bookshop (to pick up a board book for my book-loving nine-month old; he’s very literate and loves a book he can really sink his two bottom teeth into). I was looking for Pete’s Tavern, apparently the oldest bar in the city, and I thought it might be good for some interior sketching. Fat chance. Sure, nice old place, and I got a Brooklyn Lager, but the bar area was very busy while all the tables were empty, reserved for some work thing happening later on. Annoying; my feet hurt. Pete was not amused by this (it’s for this reason I never reserve tables in pubs, I hate to be that person). So I sodded off, back to Long Island.