This here is the Hattie Weber Museum of Davis, which used to be the Davis Library decades ago. It also used to be in a different location, but was moved to the edge of Central Park also decades ago. Buildings have a habit of moving around in Davis. I’ve only ever seen it happen once – in the dead of night, walking home in the darkness after an evening of sketching and beering, there it was, a house suddenly sprouting large legs, not unlike those of a chicken, and rising up and walking several blocks down the street. No, it didn’t happen like that, the legs were more like a turkey’s. Actually it would be cool to imagine them doing that. The building I saw move was on Third Street, and was being moved down on a trailer behind a big truck. It was a long time ago, my memory might be playing tricks, as it does, it might have been on the back of a turtle. Anyway, some buildings have moved about here in Davis, the Anderson-Hamel house on the corner of F and 7th used to be down on 2nd Street, and the Tank House up at Impossible Acres farm used to be next to the Varsity Theatre, among other places. This building used to be on F Street, moving here in 1988 to become the museum. Enough history mystery, I drew this recently, as a piece for the Pence Gallery’s annual Art Auction. This year the Art Auction (which has an incredible logo, by the way) will be completely online, so I will miss the usual event, I always like to go and bump into art people I know, and have some delicious wine and food. The Museum itself is interesting (here is the website: http://dcn.davis.ca.us/~hattieweber/) and is named after the first paid librarian in Davisville, Harriet Elisha Weber. I’ve not been in there in a while, but I remember they used to have a school bell outside that my son used to like ringing. One year when my son was little we came in to do an easter egg hunt, and while looking for easter eggs he spotted one of my drawings in there, which was a surprise, and a big honour. It was nice to be out drawing again in Davis, something I have not been doing much this year at all. although I didn’t do that much – just the basics, the outlines in pen, and then cycled home to add the details and the paint. I wonder if I’ll ever get back into the rhythm of going out drawing regularly, as I did when I was at the office every day. Of course this month the air has been too smoky to be outside, although it is improving. I cannot believe it is nearly September already. This year, this damned bloody year.
Taking a break from the GB66 sketches to post one from Davis. I have not been drawing much lately. It’s been hard to get into the rhythm again, and it means leaving the house which there isn’t as much of lately. As I speak we are in the midst of a massive heatwave, expected to hit 111 degrees tomorrow. I’ve pretty much stopped drawing the inside of the house, that part of the pandemic story concluded, or rather I’m just bored of it. In the past I’d go out at lunchtime from my office and draw campus, but I just eat lunch in the living room now and watch Serie A goal highlights on YouTube, before moving a few feet back to the work desk. I was going to do another big virtual sketchcrawl, filling a whole book again, probably around France, but it’s a daunting task and makes me sad I can’t travel in real life right now. I haven’t had this many breaks from sketching in years. Still, I’ve been doing some here and there. A few weeks ago I cycled downtown on a Sunday or a Saturday and drew Newsbeat, the little newsagents on 3rd Street I love to go to. A proper local shop. I go there for my BBC History magazines and a cold bottle of Calypso. I have wanted to draw it for years but it’s not an easy sketch, usually tucked away on the shaded side of the street. I drew until I was uncomfortable, masked up and standing under a tree on the kerb, and the biked back home.
There’s a new building on campus. I might not have been on campus much the past few months, while working from home, but I cycled in recently a couple of times to see what’s going on – not a lot – but this new building is going up next to the Silo. It will be the “Teaching and Learning Complex”, or “TLC”. Unsurprisingly this isn’t on the Med Centre because staff there wear scrubs and the TLC don’t want no scrubs. Right, obligatory TLC joke out of the way. It’s always fun having a bit of construction to draw, because you know it’s something new and interesting that will look different next time. Also it is something new in a familiar location. This was a parking lot. The one above, I drew on the way into the office one lunchtime, but the one below was done last Friday after being in all day and finishing early, but by that time of the afternoon, about 4pm, it’s getting way too hot. I stood in the shade, but I walked home afterwards very much in the sun and I wish I’d brought my bike, but oh no, gotta get my steps in, gotta walk. I have been running a lot lately, slowly building up my speed and instances, very slowly but every bit of progress counts. I ran my first four mile run on Sunday, felt a great accomplishment afterwards, and took a rest from the running today. I have to run early in the morning, but too dry and hot later on. Davis in the summertime.
On Saturday morning we held our first “Let’s Draw Davis” sketchcrawl since the pandemic sent us all home, our most recent one being on February 29th. It was a socially distanced crawl, masked up and stood out of the way, down at the UC Davis Arboretum. It’s been a while. I felt uncomfortable being out sketching, but when I arrived our group was not too big so it was nice to see people. However seconds after parking up my bike I got stung by a wasp! Right behind my ear. That has never happened to me before, not even on those hot June days in the garden back in England, but they finally got me now. So I was in a bit of pain as I introduced the sketchcrawl from behind the veil of my face mask. I was wearing a mask with one of my sketches on it, from Porto. Above is the view from the path of the Redwood Grove.
Above is the richly decorated underpass that goes beneath the train tracks. When I lived in South Davis I would take this route every day on my bike, but it has been years. it was not so colourfully painted back then, but it looks very nice now. It was hot while I sketched, and my head was hurting a bit, probably due to the wasp sting that was still throbbing a bit.
Above, a few grapes hanging down from the Gateway gardens. Below, there were some turkeys passing through with a bunch of young poults, so I quickly sketched some. The bird on the right is a Green Heron, though I thought it was a Kingfisher due to the colouring, which reminded me of Kingfishers back in England, which to be fair I’ve also never seen. I was told it was a Green Heron so I am glad I waited to write that down. It was incredible – it would extend its neck to double its body length like Mister Fantastic or something. I expected another bird that looked like Doctor Doom to come along and fight it and call it “that fool Richards”, or a movie studio to come along and reboot it unsuccessfully. Still it was a fascinating creature.
Speaking of fascinating creatures, here is that wasp. I didn’t know exactly what had stung me because I didn’t see it, but when I went back to get my bike, one of the other sketchers Bill Lum came with me to identify it, to see if it were a wasp, a yellowjacket, a bee or maybe even a murder hornet, at least that is what I was thinking. He noticed that there were plenty of them over some of the bike racks, and they had built nests inside – putting my bike on one had disturbed it, so it had stung me. As he got close, one of the little bleeders came out and stung him too! So, we had to be careful. I held my sketchbook up as a swatter, and carefully extracted my bike from the wasp danger zone. Gently does it. I managed to do so without getting stung again. The sting was not particularly bad, and went down by the afternoon. I’d never been stung before so it was a first experience, nature’s way of telling me it’s not time to go sketching outside yet.
Bill took a photo of it, and identified it to be a ‘paper wasp’. So naturally I have spent the past few days trying to come up with paper wasp jokes, none of them any good, at least not on paper. So not a yellowjacket, not a murder hornet. Very interesting to draw though!
This is a familiar building. It was the first sketch I drew downtown in three months, and I felt awkward out there drawing after such a long time. I still do to be honest; we have a sketchcrawl coming up this Saturday and I’m nervous about it, although I’ll be wearing a mask with one of my sketches on (see those here!). I was masked up standing on the corner wearing this, I could hear that screeching violin music coming from a block away making me wish I’d worn earplugs as well as a mask, but it was a comforting view to draw. The Varsity Theater always reminds me of first coming to Davis, working across the street at the bookstore, doing some of my earliest Davis drawings of this 1950s exterior. The last film I saw there was Jojo Rabbit, one of our favourites, and in fact after cycling home from sketching this, stopping off in the Co-op to get some cheese and wine on the way, we watched another of Taika Waititi’s earlier films, “Boy”, which was brilliant and crazy. We’ve been on a Taika movie marathon lately, not a bad way to spend time at home.
Ok, since I’m posting month by month to play catch-up, here are a bunch more sketches all from February, from Davis (downtown and campus this time). I’m still not going out and sketching at the moment, even though I can, I’m just not for some reason. This week I have been drawing Northern Line tube stations with a limited palette of three colours, one of which I can’t pronounce, one I can’t remember, and the other one I just like having fun with the name. You’ve got to have fun with language in a pandemic, although in my case it’s more like a pun-demic. I have to wear a mask indoors so nobody can hear the dad jokes.
Right, back to the drawings. Above is Davis Community Church. I like drawing this building, especially when the trees are a bit leafless. I drew this building first back in 2006, and I remember not being super happy with the outcome but thinking, you know one day I’ll think this will look good. I never did, to be honest, but I’ve drawn it a few times more when I have been much happier with it, and I really like this one. I drew it again, below, uncoloured and from the front, more quickly over a lunchtime, but I was not super bothered with that one so just left it.
I do like drawing churches though. I’m probably one of the most unreligious of people I know, but I love a good church building, in fact most interesting looking religious buildings. I’m kind of specifically obsessed with cathedrals, and want to do a sketchbook tour (a real one, not a virtual one) drawing loads of them, inside and outside, and I don’t know that I’d ever get bored of them. I remember the very first time I went to Notre Dame, in Paris, and feeling the ancient cold stone, looking up in wonder at the massive rose window, sensing the years of stories. I mean I don’t get that feeling obviously from the Davis Community Church building but it’s interesting in its own way, and I like to stop and draw it every now and then.
Let’s take a stroll back over to campus. This is the Plant Sciences Building at UC Davis. They are really good at what they do there, and what they do is plants. Specifically, the science of plants, or Plant Sciences. Ok I am not a plants person, I don’t know my onions. I studied medieval English, and before that Drama and French. We have established in the previous post that I love science, but only in a kind of “cousin you only see every now and then” kind of way, I don’t remember science’s birthday until I see people on facebook saying happy birthday to it. Biology was not my interest, despite me getting ok grades in it (for my class anyway). I do remember one homework set by my biology teacher in which we had to describe to aliens who had just landed on earth what the difference was between an animal and a car, why one was alive and the other was a machine. My answer was short. “It’s a bit like your spaceship.” I said. My teacher didn’t give me a good grade for that. But the thing is, this was clearly a vastly more advanced civilization, being able to get across space like that when we couldn’t even get the high-speed rail link to the channel tunnel right at this point. If anything they could tell us what the difference is, and a whole lot more. I don’t know, I’d be a bit suspicious of these space aliens asking suspicious questions, I don’t think I’d want to tell them all that much. This homework was from like, 1990, and I’m still thinking about elaborating on my obviously wrong answer. I think that’s where my science career ended, and also my sci-fi writing career.
And then there’s these buildings. I don’t know what they do, but there is some construction going on opposite. One of the things that happened to me in February, I went to the emergency room on my birthday, as I had picked up some sort of infection in my nose, which looked terrible and was very painful, but thankfully got better with lots of medicine. I keep forgetting about that now with all the global pandemic we’ve had since, but that was my first trip to the doctors in a decade so it felt like a big deal, and made for an exciting birthday.
This one, on the corner of 3rd and University, might be my favourite sketch of this whole period. Very springlike. I was getting over that whole nasal infection thing, and I had a spring in my step (people kept bouncing into my door) (sorry, dad joke alert). This is another corner I have returned to many times over the years. It used to have a telegraph pole with shoes hung over the lines. Now (out of shot) there is an obelisk made of bike arts.
And finally here is another spring-like sketch, this is a house near campus I have always thought was one of the prettiest in town. I only drew a bit of this one on site though because I was in a hurry, so I did all the colour and half the drawing later on. There was a “Bernie” sign on the tree, presumably for Sanders, I don’t think it was for Bernie Winters. Remember Bernie Winters? He had that massive dog, a St.Bernie-Winters I think it was, I think it was called Orbitz. Anyway this is a beautiful little house, there are some lovely little houses in this town, and as I’ve been exploring more on my walks and my runs in Davis I’m seeing just how many lovely houses there are.
February was a long time ago. Today is Born on the Fourth of July here in the US, and so Happy Independence Day to everyone. We are watching Hamilton tonight! And tomorrow morning, I’m also watching Lewis Hamilton, because my beloved Formula 1 is back…
January still, but this time in the non-campus world of town.Was it cold this day, probably, I can’t remember. Might have been too cold for me to bother colouring in. Except for those two bits of yellow. This is E Street. One day Davis will get around to naming its streets after actual things and not just alphabet letters. Maybe not people though, you never know if the name will need changing later if said person turns out to be a colossal scumbag. For example I’m surprised Savile Row in London is still called that. It doesn’t matter it’s named after a different Savile, just fix it anyway. Best leave E Street as it is then. Or name it after e-name concepts such as “Evolution”, or “Emolument”, or “Epidemic”. Perhaps rather than make it permanent, it could be symbolic and on a rotating basis, so it will stay “E Street” in all the addresses and publications and maybe most of the street signs, but be given a new name each year, named after some prominent figure of the day. I can’t think of any personally because nobody’s name begins with “E”. “Eddie the Eagle Edwards Street” maybe. Anyway it’s just a thought, and a bloody good one. Actually no, it favours those with names in the early letters. You see a lot of “A” Streets or “G Streets”, not so many “W Streets” or “Q Streets”. Not saying they don’t exist in bigger cities but basically what I’m saying it that Davis with it’s lack of a “P Street” and an “S Street” is unlikely to be temporarily renaming any streets after me any time in the future, so time to give up on this wild and crazy dream.
Where’s this? First Street, along there somewhere. Drawn from the shaded trees side of the street. It’s a busy road. I’ve drawn most of the buildings along that side of the street. First Street, Second Street, maybe these need a rename. Name them after things or people that rhyme with the ordinal numbers. So “Damien Hurst Street” for example. Then, well we’ll come back to Second Street. “Thora Hird Street”. “Terry Christian Out Of The Word Street”. We’ll come back to Fourth Street. “Biff McTannen Street.” This doesn’t work, forget all of this. Let’s just say 1st, 2nd, 3rd Streets and don’t worry about it.
And this sketch has a bit of colour. It’s the Cal Aggie Christian Association, as drawn from the edge of the UC Davis campus. On Russell Boulevard. Named after Russell Brand, you might think, but in fact they rename it annually after different Russells: Russell Brand, Russell Harty, Russell T Davies, Bertrand Russell, Russell Crowe, and of course Russell Grant. Mid January, sunny Davis. We had a much less rainy year this year than last winter. This meant we had far fewer soccer games cancelled, hooray! Until mid-March came along and the global pandemic situation tore everything up. I think this was all of the non-campus sketches I did in January, it was nearly six months ago now.
Social distancing. Masks. Second wave. Spike. Testing. Contact tracing. We’re entering that odd phase where things are reopening, kind of, but we aren’t all in the same sort of ready yet. I know I’m not particularly ready for the world yet, but I don’t know if I ever was. This next few months will be hard. Still staying in, working full-time from my bedroom, yet occasionally having to be around groups of people for various things (such as youth soccer tryouts), everyone having different levels of social comfort, and different expectations, it’s a bit uncomfortable. But I will get back out with a sketchbook. I’ve already started, but working from home I’m less inclined than when I work at the office, because I can spend lunchtime on the couch watching the restarted fake-crowd-noise Premier League. I’m teaching my son French too, which is fun, as my French is very rusty. I suppose absolute beginners French I can still just about handle, although I told him to learn the French numbers rather than the Belgian ones, even though the Belgian numbering system makes more sense and is easier to remember. Come on, ‘nonante-neuf’ is easier to explain than ‘quatre-vingt-dix-neuf’. This will be a summer without travel to places where we can practice it though, so no real-life ordering pains-au-chocolat for breakfast at the boulangerie. I thought about using Tricolore to teach him, you remember Tricolore, the textbook we all used at school, where we learned our way around La Rochelle. In the end I went with another simple book, and I’m also creating a bunch of handwritten exercises on my iPad using cartoons of cats that I am drawing. A cat called “Ronron”. I think I’m enjoying it the most, but then I loved learning new languages as a kid, this whole idea that other words and ways of thinking existed beyond just the ones I experienced. German is still my favourite foreign language that I learned, and I’m getting back into learning Italian, which I did a GCSE evening course in while we still lived in London. Enough about language. I’m still watching Shakespeare at the Globe on YouTube, the Midsummer Night’s Dream production was funny, as was the Merry Wives of Windsor, one bloke in both was Pearce Quigley, he was very funny and his comedic northerner style of performance worked great in that intimate Globe setting.
But back to Davis. I suppose I should post here my pre-Covid sketches, of which there are plenty. I may be totally slowed down on the sketching front now, and officially months behind the same point last year, but I started fairly furiously. However I will just post one here now – the Old City Hall, Davis, also known currently as the City Hall Tavern. Well I say currently – it was announced recently that this bar, along with the longer standing restaurant Bistro 33 on the other side of the building, will not be reopening. I’m sure the coronavirus is partly to blame, but the building did get new owners recently and the lease for the restaurant and bar was expiring anyway. Still it is always a shame to see local businesses close. I have drawn the building many times, and I’ve drawn inside the bar a few times too, although it’s been years since I ate at the restaurant (I liked their creme brulee). I wonder what it will be next. Knowing Davis, a frozen yogurt shop. Or another bar and restaurant. I do know that it used to be a police station, and a fire station, and this part was used as a gallery space when I first came here. Oh and of course it was the old city hall.
And so, it’s time to start catching up with 2020’s sketching posts. This one was done in late February, back in the golden age of being able to crowd together in close proximity to other humans, not knowing any better. This was drawn at the Avid Reader bookstore on a momentous occasion, the moment ownership of this long-time Davis staple passed from Alzada Knickerbocker to the Arnold family, a local family here in Davis. I of course had to go along. This was the first place I worked in America, Alzada was my first boss. I had two jobs here at first, partly working the store, and partly being the shop’s bookkeeper (which was the same job I did for a small independent bookshop in England before I moved out here). It was only part-time but it got me started, and shortly afterwards I started working full-time for the university (in the same department I am still working in), but I remained here on Saturdays and a couple of evenings per week, working at the little desk under the stairs behind a pile of Ingrams invoices. I hadn’t worked there since just before my son was born, so it’s been a long time, but I always popped in to say hello. I have been back in my official capacity as artist a few times to give talks or exhibit sketches. It was nice to go in and see Alzada off after all these years, and welcome in the new owners. I was surprised to see one of my old drawings of the shop in a frame on display at the counter, a piece of the history there. Unfortunately in less than a month the world was hit by the coronavirus and everything closed up, but they have been doing business and recently opened up again to the public, albeit with all the social distancing rules. But look at this, a crowded shop, with wine and sandwiches and people looking over my shoulder; we didn’t know, though we were being warned, but it wasn’t yet real to us. I had already been to hospital that month though – a couple of weeks earlier (on my birthday in fact) I was in the emergency room with a nasal infection that grew rapidly, and thankfully got under control within about a fortnight, but was pretty painful (as well as unsightly). In the hospital, which was pretty busy even pre-Covid 19, everyone was asked to disclose where they had travelled in the past few weeks, and hand sanitizer was doubled up, but this was still the pre-mask time, and since I was not contagious I was free to go to the soccer tournament the next day, full of people in close contact, seems hard to imagine now. I was heavily tanked up on medicine though, and exhausted much of the time, but our under-12 team did well and came third overall (though I think we had a good shot at winning it, we just missed out in the semi-finals in high winds to the team who eventually won it; still, a third place medal was a good finish). Our season was put on hold in mid-March, and eventually cancelled, including the Davis World Cup tournament which I was on the organizing committee for (I had spent a long time designing the logo! I’ll have to reuse it next year). This year has been a shame. But I am glad to see the Avid Reader is still going through all this, and wish the new owners the Arnolds all the very best in keeping this shop at the heart of the community, as well as wishing Alzada the best in a well-deserved retirement.
Yesterday I went downtown for the first time in three months, joining the Black Lives Matter march from Community Park. There was a sizable crowd that seemed to increase by every block, all wearing face masks (I social-distanced as much as possible – this was the most people I have been around since the shelter-in-place began), with many hand-drawn signs in support of justice for black people recently killed by police officers, particularly George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Cars and buses honked in support as they went past. We marched down F Street, and I tried to sketch as I went, but that was actually very difficult, all I managed were some scribbled figures, so I added in a lot more details and signs later on from the pictures I took. We circled round to Central Park, before circling about the downtown streets. The crowd then went on to march outside the Davis police station, though I ended up staying downtown (I stopped into the Soccer and Lifestyle shop, now open to the public again, to see how they are doing – the shelter-in-place has been very hard on small businesses). I’m so glad I went along on the march, it was very heartening to see so many – young, old and those of us in the middle – out expressing their voices in support of our black friends and neighbours. Yesterday afternoon, the Davis police chief announced a change in their use of force policy, a very positive step. This past couple of weeks have been a big moment in this country and the constant shock news has been often very difficult to process. It’s been emotional for everyone, feelings of anger and sorrow, on top of everything else this year is throwing at us. Marching even for that short while, just being around people again, and hearing so many voices speak out in solidarity with the black community, was the right thing to do.