compassion corner

Compassion Corner 050323 sm

This past week has been a very difficult time for our community in Davis, and this is a difficult local news event to write about here. This is the ‘Compassion Corner’, where 3rd Street meets C Street, so called because of the Compassion Bench, a colourful ceramic bench built about a decade ago at the place where David Breaux, known locally as the ‘Compassion Guy’, would stand and talk to people about compassion, empathy, understanding. He had this idea, to bring awareness about compassion to people, aksing them to write into his notebook what they felt compassion to be. I passed him many times in the street over the years; I never spoke to him myself. On the lunchtime of Thursday April 27, we all got a notification on our phones about police activity in Central Park, and to avoid the area. That was very unusual. I didn’t discover until later that evening that a man had been murdered, and it was David Breaux, found on a bench in the park. He’d been stabbed; we didn’t know when, or any of the circumstances. He was 50. The community was in shock, David was well loved.

Two days after David’s murder, on Saturday evening, our phones went off again, this time there was a ‘disturbance’ in a different park, Sycamore Park. A 20 year old UC Davis student, Karim Abou Najm, was cycling back from an undergrad awards event when he was attacked with a knife, and died at the scene. Witnesses saw the person who did it escape. The city was in shock, people were anxious about being out at night, though it wasn’t clear the cases were related. Then on Monday night our phones went off again at about 1am, another knife attack, this time a woman at a homeless camp near the train tracks; the victim, a woman named Kimberlee, survived; witnesses saw the suspect escape. The police searched everywhere, the FBI were called in, and the community was in a state of alarm at the thought of a serial killer among us. This was a very real situation, nobody knew what would happen next. In an effort to discourage people from being out after dark, UC Davis announced that classes after 6pm would be held remotely, while shops and restaurants downtown all started closing by 8pm.

I went down to the corner of 3rd and C on Wednesday to look at the tributes laid out for David Breaux at the Compassion Bench. There was a news reporter there with a camera, wanting to talk to people who knew David. I said I didn’t really want to say much, not having known him myself, but I’ll be sketching the tributes. I realized I had actually forgotten my pens, left them in my office; none of us have been really sleeping much this week, and my mind was really not 100%. So I went to the Paint Chip and bought a new pencil and pen (a Micron 05 in sepia, not my usual pen these days but still nothing like drawing with a fresh micron pen). As I sketched, people stopped for a while by the bench, some leaving tributes, others just deep in thought.

Compassion Corner 050323 smR

I was going to draw just the bench itself, but decided to draw the whole scene as a panorama. It was important to show the context, show this place in connection to the city around it, a street I have drawn so many times. The same day I was sketching this, it was announced that a person of interest had been taken into custody by police following a report of an individual matching the witness description, right down to the actual clothes worn, who was hanging around at the site of the second murder, where many tributes had been left. The next day, police announced that an arrest had been made, and that the suspect was a 21 year old male who had been expelled from UC Davis the week before, two days before the horrifying murder of David Breaux. The city and campus breathed a collective sigh of relief, but there remain feelings of sadness, exhaustion, shock. It’s difficult for me to fully understand it all. The Davis Enterprise has been doing some amazing reporting on the case, the journalist Lauren Keene always does a great job at keeping us informed: David Breaux spoke to everyone about compassion, and his message is being more widely heard now, at a testing time.

Compassion Bench Empathy

You can learn more about David Breaux’s compassion initiative here: Last Sunday a large group gathered to pay tribute in a vigil

For Karim Abou Najm, hundreds attended a service for him at UC Davis last Friday afternoon. I know faculty who knew him, and he had a bright future, taken from him. However he was a great inspiration as well. A special fund has been set up by UC Davis in his name to raise funds for Undergraduate Student Research Awards. You can learn more and donate to those here: .

i feel as though, you ought to know

Hart Hall UC Davis

And a few more from the UC Davis campus. It will be nice when I get back to the sketch-scan-post all in the same day (or at least same couple of days) routine like I used to have years ago, but I always let the scanning build up, especially when I have had some trips. We were in Chicago during Spring Break, and then I was in Berkeley for a conference, but I finally got around to scanning and editing all of my recent sketches this past weekend, no mean feat. Yet I’ve not been sketching every day, perhaps because I didn’t want the to-be-scanned pile to get bigger. Also, not been too inspired by Davis, although I still find things to draw on campus during those lunchtimes. Above, the final page of Sketchbook #45, a place I have drawn many times but it never gets old, Hart Hall. Hart Hall never seems to change. This was about when the allergies were starting to kick up again, as the blooms starting blooming-well blooming.

TLC UCD 022123

This was a windy lunchtime in February. What do draw? Well I stood outside the Teaching Learning Complex (which you’ll remember I drew a lot as it was being built) and drew the view towards the Silo area, I like all the triangles of that building. I like this sort of view, I can do different shapes, values and textures, though I always have to make sure I have enough elastic bands to keep my pages down when it’s windy.

Walker Hall and Shields Library UC Davis

Finally, another building I have drawn a lot is Walker Hall, which I sketched throughout its whole reconstruction into the Graduate Center. So many times over the past several years did I stand on this spot looking across toward Shields Library in the background, and this would be a building site, I would be poking my head over a fence with some bins in the foreground and some trucks scattered around. Not any more! Except on this day, as I sketched a Facilities truck came along and decided to park right in front of me, blocking the specific view I was drawing. I couldn’t really see over it, so I just though ah well, and came back the next day to draw the rest. This is a really great part of campus now. I think on our graduate open house it poured down with rain making a tour very difficult, if not impossible, but if I were touring graduate students now I would make sure they came to this place, to see this amazing new facility we have for them. And then there is the great Shields Library, which was the first place I spent much time on this campus, before I was working here (my wife was already an employee) I would come here to read books on medieval language, spend time in the computer lab writing and updating my blog (before it was a sketchblog, when it was just a here-I-am-living-in-America-now blog, the old 20Six one before I switched to this WordPress one). I don’t suppose I thought much in those days that I would still be here now, and sketching these same places, watching them and recording them as they changed. It’s not my actual job, but I feel like it kind of is my job. One day, these places will look different again. Though maybe not Hart Hall, that never seems to change.

another view of the MSB

MSB UC Davis

This is the Mathematical Sciences Building (MSB) at UC Davis, the building that has been my work home since I joined the campus along time ago. I wanted to draw a new view of it, this time slightly set back from the street (California Avenue; it was called Crocker Way when I first started), stood outside the entrance to the Earth and Physical Sciences Building (unseen to my left), which was not even there when I first started. Also missing are some trees, the largest and most recent to leave this earthy realm fell in the massive new years eve storms, along with hundreds of others trees. It’s left quite a gap, it provided some good shade in the summer for those sitting outside, although we still have the big wide spread tree you can see there that will keep us cool. I have drawn the building in panorama a few times over the years, we use those on our mugs and stickers and Stats department website, though each new drawing there is another tree missing. Be nice if this building were just a little bit bigger though, so we could have more office space. The perennial problem. The winter storms and rain look like they are finally over now, here in late April, and suddenly BAM it’s summer. It will be 90 degrees most days this week. The allergies have kicked into full gear, as always happens when the heat cranks up, but with everything being watered so much this year there has been a lot more growth, so the pollen is through the roof, as it were. I had to stay home today, the allergies were so bad that I didn’t actually sleep at all last night. At 5am or so I messaged work to say I wouldn’t be in and then worked from my bed until I eventually fell asleep around 7am, though not for long. Stupid allergies. I also saw that Spurs sacked their interim manager today, Stellini, the Tottenham merry-go-round continues, not so merry after losing 6-1 to Newcastle. But back to the MSB.

Below is another panorama sketch I did last month, inside the MSB Colloquium Room, at a mini-conference we held in honour of our emeriti faculty. It was really great having our eminent retired professors back, I’d not seen some of them since before the pandemic, and we had several presentations by our younger faculty, such as this one by Asst Prof. Mina Karzand. I’ve been with the Stats department a long time myself now so I gave a little speech as well with my memories and moments with each of them, and thanking them for establishing a welcoming culture in our department that we’ve tried to maintain. It was a nice event, and so I had to sketch it.

stats mini-conference 3-1-23

E Street between 1st and 2nd

E St pano March 2023 sm

Sketchbook #45 really took a long time. Or should I say, is taking a long time. Even though I have officially reached the last page now (and started sketchbook #46 last Sunday) I still have a couple of sketches from a recent trip to Chicago that I need to add some finishing touches to before scanning. Sketchbook #45 went from October to April, which is an unusually long time for me to fill a sketchbook, even longer to scan and even longer to post them all. It’ll be done soon, I promise. I try to work in a linear fashion. These sketches were all done in March along the same block of E Street, Davis. I’ve drawn all these things before, of course I have. I don’t think I ever draw a panorama of the particular stretch of E Street, from that angle, but now I have. I stood slightly in the street off the sidewalk, right next to the outdoor seating area of one of the small cafes along that row, and had to actually come back the next day because while sketching, a huge delivery truck parked in front of me blocking the entire view. Below, Orange Court, just across the street, another place I’ve drawn before many times. That’s where my favourite restaurant in Davis, Sophia’s Thai Kitchen, is found. I like their bar too and would go there about once a year (I don’t get out that much) to sketch it and try a ‘Lava Lamp’ cocktail. These are pretty typical Davis drawings for me. Maybe they could have been done by AI, as all the kids say now. You hear so much about AI these days, AI bots sourcing/scouring and stealing/recreating people’s art into something ‘new’, and then there is ChatGPT which has exploded everywhere suddenly, I’m hearing a lot about it in the university setting where I work, both negative and positive (I work with people very involved in machine learning). All that modern stuff these days, our new robot overlords. Differentiating between genuine writing and AI-generated text is getting harder, even though there are programs designed to catch people who use it, even those programs are getting it wrong by flagging up real writing as looking like it was AI-generated. In the past it was easy: if you were a human you would say “yes” or “I dunno”, while a robot would say “affirmative” and “does not compute”. I wonder if anyone would notice the difference between the real me writing and an AI mimicking me. I like to think there are enough things in the way I write and draw that make me recognizably human. An AI would probably include too many fire hydrants and references to football shirts. But then, these things are not the only way we present ourselves, we don’t only live in this global digital universe setting. There’s no AI that can actually show the real sketchbook, with the greasy fingermarks around the edge of the pages, or have a conversation with me where I get over-excited about paints. An AI cannot tell what I was listening to, or the smells in the street, or genuinely recreate that smudge on the paper where my brush slipped because a gust of wind blew my page at the wrong moment. Embrace the real.

E St orange court 031823

That said, I like the drawn mechanical stuff. I have drawn these pipes (below) before, many many years ago, located at the back of the former Uncle Vito’s. It was a day when I needed to sketch, I went out and thought, yes this will do. You can imagine these pipes being part of the robot overlords snaking their way around the world. Who knows. Maybe we are too worried.

E st Davis

the mustard seed and the cloud forest

D St pano Feb 2022

This is D Street, Davis. There is a big gap of nothing to the left where I couldn’t quite be bothered to draw the car that was there. It moved and became a different car, and well, I just didn’t want to include it. I drew it over a couple of visits, fully intending to draw it in full colour because the colours were quite nice, but ended up only keeping the red because that’s what stood out most. Your mind will fill the rest in. If that sounds like a Jedi mind-trick, it is. The British phone box outside the Mustard Seed (a fancy and not cheap restaurant which I last went to with my wife for our anniversary in September, and was pleasantly surprised to find they had one of my drawings of that very phone box on the wall) was also one of the first things I drew in Davis, if I remember rightly. That summer of 2006 when I started really filling my sketchbooks, I painted it, no ink drawing, and it made me happy. A little piece of home, like the big red buses, here in my new home. When my son was very little we would come by here and pretend that the phone box was a rocket ship taking us to the moons of Saturn. Then it got chained up so people couldn’t use for interplanetary space travel any more. This being a panorama you will need to click on the link (takes you to my Flickr site) to see it in more detail. That’s the Cloud Forest Cafe on the left, another popular place that I’ve drawn before. I like the little narrow alleyway directly in the center, there are some cute little places in there, and then it leads you through a (slightly smelly) back alley which leads through to E Street, or if you turn right you get to the rear of the Pence Gallery. This is a nice spot in Davis, it’s no surprise that when important visitors or prospective faculty come to campus they are often taken here.

arrivederci, uncle vito’s

Uncle Vitos 022223 sm

This here is – or rather, was – Uncle Vito’s Slice of NY, a New York themed pizza place in Davis. I had just had lunch at Raisin’ Canes (a fried chicken shop, nothin’ to do with raisins), and I stopped to sketch this corner. It started to rain as I was drawing, so I moved slightly under the awning of Peet’s Coffee (nothin’ to do with Pete, who doesn’t drink coffee). Uncle Vito’s opened in about 2009 I think it was, I remember there was a small Chinese restaurant here before I would sometimes eat at during my break from work at the Avid Reader bookshop on Saturdays, “Wok’n’Roll” I think it was called. Long time ago. Anyway I went into Uncle Vito’s a few times over the years, only once for pizza (I had a ‘thai-style’ pizza and it ended up being covered in nuts and nut sauce, it wasn’t so good, but their regular pizza looked nice but that put me off a bit) but I did like their massive massive portions of garlic fries. Usually I would just pop in for a beer, as they had a nice bar, good beer, friendly people and always something to sketch. Behind the bar they had one of those lampshades with the fishnet-stocking legs, from the much-loved film A Christmas Story. By the way, I really enjoyed the newer one that came out this last Christmas, A Christmas Story Christmas, that was really fun. It’s a shame this place closed, that pandemic did it for so many places. Still, I have the sketches. Here are the bar sketches I drew in here over the years.

uncle vitos uncle vito's, davis uncle vito's, davis uncle vito's

little red house

6th St Davis

I was walking through old North Davis on the way home when the shadow of this chimney across this little red house on 6th caught my eye and I had to draw it. I have that book about all the old houses in Old North Davis by John Lofland, but it’s in a different room right now and I can’t be bothered to go and look this one up. I do like red wooden houses. They remind me that I’m in America; I wouldn’t see red wooden houses in London, but I would see them in the things I associated with America when I was a kid, which was namely Richard Scarry books, and the A-Team, and I don’t really associate them with the A-Team (unless it’s an old barn that B.A., Face and co have been locked up in, along with a bunch of tractors, and they somehow build a tank and burst their way out, remember they used to do that? We would always play that part of the show on the playground at school). It also kind of reminds me of Denmark; back when I spent a summer in the Danish countryside picking red strawberries, there were many little wooden houses, long and low, many had thatched roofs, some of them must have been red. They would always have the Dannebrog flying from a pole, that’s the Danish flag. But no the main reason it makes me think of Denmark is every time I look at this sketch from the corner of my eye, it the red couple with the pinstripes puts me in mind of the great 1986 Danish kit made by Hummel that was worn at the Mexico 86 World Cup. Always a football kit reference with me. I’ve drawn a lot of the Old North neighbourhood over the years (those are the blocks after 5th Street, up to about 7th or 8th, in between about B and G). It’s a nice little area to stroll. This was on the weekend after my birthday, I must have gone downtown for a milkshake or something.

but things don’t really change

Yeti F St Davis

Here’s one from downtown, the Yeti Restaurant. I sometimes get their chicken biryani, it’s quite nice. It’s on the E Street Plaza. It was my birthday week, and perhaps to fight off the thoughts of getting older, I needed to furiously draw in my sketchbook. So I drew this, but I didn’t eat biryani for lunch. I might have had it for dinner, I can’t remember now.

F St 020723 sm

On my birthday, I went just eats of this spot to where the plaza (‘plaza’, haha; it’s a parking lot) meets F Street, so I looked over to Blaze Pizza. My family like Blaze, and sure it is nice, but it’s a bit thin for me. That’s where Tower Records used to be when I first moved here, then it was Dimple Records, then I stopped buying CDs and records and now music is just, oh whenever, look for it, stream it. Explaining to young people now that a record was not something you bought to be retro, music was actually something you had to look for. That One Way sign looks like it is pointing backwards, but we all know that life is a One Way street and there’s only forwards. So, I had to accept that another year had passed and my age counter clicked again, no point fighting it.

2nd St 020823 sm

And seventeen and a half years after I got here I am still in Davis, drawing the same buildings downtown, the original intention being to fill my sketchbook with the place I was living at the time, and to show those at home what it looked like. Many places have changed in that time. This place on the corner of 3rd and D has not changed much, even that big sign has been there for so many years, and I sketched it a fair few times. I drew it on the day after my birthday, officially know as “isn’t your birthday around now? Happy birthday for whenever it was” day. Time keeps rolling by.

turtle recall

turtle house davis

This is the Turtle House on 2nd Street, Davis. I’ve drawn it before, and passed by it a million times, and it looks like another student house. It’s quite well known in town though as a place for events, bands will play there, bands have lived there I think, I don’t know; there’s a whole page on DavisWiki about the place. Reading that it feels a little bit outside my experience. They have an Instagram page too. Not having been a student here, and having only really worked with grad students and faculty during my time in Davis, there’s this whole undergrad student culture that exists in Davis that I know literally nothing about, and don’t really relate to much. Been a long time since I was a student, and that was in England. So I just draw pictures. It’s an interesting looking building for sure. The turtle is there, hanging above the porch.

another view of university house

University House 020123 sm

Another building I have drawn before. University House, UC Davis, first day of February 2023. I’ve drawn it a few times over the years, from slightly different angles, but usually, curiously, in the winter, February or March. Below, sketches from 2017 and 2013. The first time I drew it, this was where SISS was housed (they handle the international scholars, visas and so on, for the university), but they have since moved over to the big International Center that was built a few years back.

University House, UC Davis

University House was built in 1907/1908 as the house of the farm director when the campus first opened as University Farm, an agricultural research offshoot of UC Berkeley. It’s one of the oldest buildings on campus.

university house