I was in the office this week, campus is still closed but I had a lot to do there, preparing for the new academic year. At the end of the day, I got to enjoy Chancellor’s Colloquium Distinguished Speaker Series, hosted by UC Davis Chancellor Gary May, with special guest presenter Gary Younge. It was titled “Going Viral: Race, Racism and Rebellion in the Midst of a Pandemic”. The talk was presented remotely from England, and so I watched in my office and sketched my desk and the laptop while it was on, using my iPad. I really enjoyed it. The live Q&A afterwards with Chancellor May and Gary Younge was cut short unfortunately due to loss of connection. It has been a long time since I drew my work desk, in fact I don’t think I have drawn it since moving offices. When I’m on campus I usually keep the drawing space and the work space separate, even though I’ve not been working from this desk regularly in several months now due to this damned pandemic. See if you can spot my Baby Yoda hand sanitizer.
We’ve been having a heatwave in northern California over the past week or so, with temperatures hitting up to 108 degrees at the weekend. And then came some storms, at first bringing some drops summer rain, but mostly they brought hot winds and dry lightning strikes. Lots of them – one night was constant rumbling, low rumbling mostly, with flashes echoing in the sky. It kept me awake, fascinated by the electrical storm but nervous about what it might bring to this big dry state. Fires did break out as we could see from the thin layer of smoke in the sky next day, giving everything a dirty orange hue, so I drew from the dining room table before dinner (above). This is where my desk is now, I’ve moved back down from upstairs, much to the annoyance of my cat who has gotten used to sleeping the afternoons in my desk chair. I am not sure I like being closer to the kitchen again, closer to the snacks, but I was crammed into a small space in the bedroom for quite a while and needed a change. I’ll go back up again at some point, if I get bored. I coloured this in using some new fancy Daniel Smith paints, which I’m not really used to yet. Wednesday morning I went outside to cycle to the office, and while there were blue skies, the air smelled dense with smoke. Ash was falling everywhere like snowflakes, and the sky away to the west was filled with billows of dull grey. This was the LNU Lightning Complex fore, which is around Napa/Vacaville and now beyond, a terrible and huge fire that even jumped across Interstate 80 cutting off the freeway. Evacuation zone has gone up as far as Winters, next town over, which is a lot closer than any other fire yet. I didn’t cycle any further than the next block, I went straight back home, and stayed inside. Ash has been falling ever since, and the house is generally filled with that orange/ochre light, turning red as the sun sets. Above is a sketch I did of one of the cats, Whiskers I think, on his high perch by the back door, while the dirty air outside casts an alien glow. This was done on the iPad. Cat don’t care, he sleep. Below, this was a quick sketch of the sun in the sky outside our window, looking like a sore red boil. We’ve had lots of wildfires in California the past few years, and fire season is long and scary, and our skies have been blanketed in unhealthy and hazardous smoke, especially a couple of years ago. But this is the closest we’ve had a big fire that I can remember since I’ve lived in Davis. We packed some bags in case the evacuation zone increased, not a bad idea, though given our location it’s pretty unlikely. Lots of people have lost their homes, and some historic state parks have been seriously damaged by the fires. And more dry lightning is expected over the weekend. The firefighters do an amazing job, they are real heroes, I just hope it doesn’t get even worse.
Yesterday afternoon, clocking off a little early after the smoky air gave me a headache, I sat on the couch watching Agents of SHIELD until dinnertime, my son played on his device, so I sketched him, that awful sky washing in. Step outside and it’s choking, like being in a north London pub in the 90s, I feel like putting the Charlatans on the jukebox and buying a pint for under two quid, then getting some cheap fried chicken and falling asleep on the night bus. My throat is dry, and the ash keeps floating around outside. So when my Apple Watch scolds me for not having my exercise ring further along than usual, I’m like, not now, Apple Watch, not now. There’s a global pandemic on, and it’s election season, and now the world’s literally on fire.
If the flood has done one thing, it has cut my commute time down by quite a few seconds, now that I don’t have to go downstairs but just roll out of bed to the desk next to my bed. I’ll still be late, but I do work at all hours these days and nights, what even is time. This was the desk where I did my Lego animations (I have a number of lamps, there’s one on the desk with a yellow gel filter hanging from it); despite all this time at home these past two months I haven’t done a single bit of animation. I am still drawing that sketched virtual tour of Britain, I have just reached Sunderland so I’m getting close to the end. I’ll scan it all in one go. I drew this before I moved the bookshelf and a bunch of other downstairs stuff up to my bedroom, so I’m feeling a lot more cramped in here now. But it’s working for me ok. I have my books close to me, although I should find a way of putting them behind me like all the cool people do in their Zoom calls. Actually I have been rotating virtual backgrounds for Zoom, although sometimes half my body disappears when I move, making me a floating head, like Holly from Red Dwarf. I usually have a sketch of my room as a virtual background.
So, I’m living in a small corner of the upstairs for now. I get out for a run every day or so, but then it’s back up here to work or draw or read or eat. The internet went down one day, very disruptive for those working from home, or doing anything from home. So I drew my bathroom. Spot footy shirts in laundry basket. I did manage to cut my own hair ok, I did a good job. And then below, this sketch was from a month ago, before the flood, another one playing with the mad pencils on grey paper, this time late at night watching the Formula 1 show on Netflix. That’s Ricciardo there, it was announced this week he will join MacLaren for 2021. If racing or sport ever comes back. Of course the Bundesliga returned this weekend, in front of empty grounds, and I got in a few jokes, “Glad to be Bach” (in the Frankfurt-Mönchengladbach game), “All Quiet on the Westphalian Front” (in the Dortmund game) and I slipped in a “Don’t München the VAR” when Bayern had a goal disallowed today. As far as silly puns this is as good as it gets in these difficult times, these strange unprecedented times, these very confusing times; they may be no “I pity the foal” but I’ll take what I can get.
So we are still at home here in California, sheltering in place. As it turns out, I’m glad I drew the living room so often when this coronavirus period started, because it looks totally different down there now, I say as I type from the desk upstairs. This sketch is from nearly a month ago – time flies when you’re having fun, huh. The Global Shared Experience is evolving, as different countries and different areas grapple with different rules and reasons. I want things to return to normal but they will not do so just because we want it to. So we carry on. It’s hard to believe it is mid-May already. I should have been preparing for the Davis World Cup next weekend. As it is I’ve been watching lots of old FIFA World Cup games, including the one pictured on my iPad above, Argentina v Cameroon from 1990. A classic game I last watched while getting my hair cut in the barber shop behind Tesco in Burnt Oak when I was 14. This is – was – my desk downstairs, my workspace working from home, and my workspace when doing anything else as well. Bit close to the kitchen snacks, mind. Well, a couple of days after drawing this scene, late on a Friday afternoon, I stood up from my seat and felt a splodge at my feet. There was water coming up through the laminate flooring, getting worse toward the wall, and it was obvious there was a huge leak coming into our house from next door. It’s a good job I was home, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to get all our furniture out of the way in time, and get someone out to do something about it, there was nobody next door. They had some sort of bad leak in there, thankfully it was stopped but it soaked our walls and floor. So, they brought in big noisy air dryers and dehumidifiers to try and dry the place out. I moved that desk, and put the bookshelves in a different spot. We stopped the water getting any further.
I sat up that night with a beer and sketched the view from the couch, while one of our cats lay on the top shelf, not really minding the noise I guess. I drew some of the noisy green machines in our dining area. I set up a new desk area upstairs. A few days later our landlords sent us a large pod to put our furniture into while the floor is torn up, and prepared for more drying of the walls – another week of noise.
Eventually they took away the air dryers, satisfied the moisture had gone, and our living room looked like this. We’re basically living and working in just one half of the house now, not ideal. People have come in and patched up the wall, they’ll be doing more this week, and hopefully giving us a new floor too. So all this has been fun during this already fun time. I’m glad I drew the living room so much now.
The confinement continues. I don’t watch the news, not as much as I should, but I watch the numbers, and the numbers aren’t looking great. So I sketch. I’m really drawing this house a lot. It’s relaxing to sketch. Above, the view from the couch. We were watching Spider-Man Homecoming, which is one of our favourite films. We had just watch the original Tron movie from 1982, which I had never seen before, and I must admit I wish I had not seen yesterday either. It was not just the early 1980s slow computer generated scenery, surely technically advanced for the day (though even as a kid, I remember it looked naff and didn’t really want to see it), but the uninteresting story and barely perceptible storytelling. The only thing I enjoyed about it was that the bad guy was played by Evil from Time Bandits, David Warner, whose voice I could listen to for hours. He actually played two characters, a human bad guy who looked like Arsene Wenger, and an computer-game bad guy dressed like a cybernetic prawn. Other than that the movie was just bats, and gave me a headache. So watching Spider-Man afterwards was much more of a palette cleanser.
Above, this is my desk area. Working from home, this is where I sit. I’m there right now too. I’m here a lot. This was another late evening sketch, drawn from the dinner table. On the screen are the latest coronavirus numbers. Even though this was only a few days ago the numbers are so much worse; we are no closer to flattening this curve. Not going to lie, I’m very much not enjoying this whole timeline. And like you all, I’m snacking way more while at home, so there’s another curve I won’t flatten. I haven’t been for a run for a few days, mostly because I am staying up too late (sketching, and worrying) and feeling too tired next day. I keep saying to myself, I’ll go to bed earlier, I’ll get up early, run before breakfast, energy and positive for the day. But I find it’s harder than I think.
Here is the other view from the couch, looking at the desk and the table behind it. That box of tissues on the coffee table is in each picture. That coffee table is nice and big. We used it tonight to play Carcassonne. I just got that game last week as something new we could all play together. I really liked it, I want to play it more. I’ve never played it before so we are still learning. I’ve not really played any of those European-style table-top games before. Any more time at home and we’ll end up playing loads of them. I hope you are all doing well out there, at this crappy time. Let’s hope we’re out of this soon.
Ok. Thing is, I wanted to draw the new apartment in a kind of tryptich (or is it triptych?), and so I did, in three sepia blocks, each of which I’m showing separately here, along with the whole thing, and for bad measure, a photo of me holding the book (while watching ‘spaced’).
And this is also my entry for Illustration Friday this week (theme: ‘similar’). Our new apartment is very similar to our last one – it’s on the same complex, has all the same fixtures and fitting, but for one big thing – everything is reversed. It’s like walking into a mirror, but I like it inside this mirror, I much prefer it. even if there are more bugs (such as a centipede crawling up through the plughole – do I not like that!)
I was inspired because this week I got back my sketchbook from August’s Art House Co-Op Sketchbook Project, the theme of which was “How to Save The World”. My little book, which you can browse here, was filled with drawings of our own little world, the apartment where we spent all our time. I was saving the place I lived in, in the sense of recording it, so that in years to come I might look at it and say, yes I lived there, I remember that. Now we’ve moved I can do that already. And I can compare drawings of the new apartment to the old. The kitchen (above) is the other way round from how it is in this picture, for example. Even the hot and cold taps are reversed, not that you can tell, but I still get it wrong.
The first frame shows the baby monitor. Baby was sleeping soundly. That is, not making much of a sound. The second frame shows Mr Salt, the saltpot, and his lover Mrs Pepperpot. Mr Salt has very big trousers. He is either grossly deformed or carries a lot in is pockets (perhaps he too is an urban sketcher?). I think Mr. Salt is Dutch, but he comes from England. He is also into the lost practise of trepanning. You can also see the Christmas Tree, put up last weekend, hopefully out of the reach of little mischievous hands (I don’t mean those of Mr Salt, whose hands are stuck to his trousers). The final frame, looking over at the CD tower and the music players and the calendar of new york city, has a bottle of the local Sudwerk beer in it. This is purely decorative. I was actually drinking a cup of tea, but thought a beer bottle would look better. I pulled it from the recycling. I like Sudwerk, the Märzen variety, it’s a nice German style amber beer brewed just down the road from bei uns. One of the things I really like about living out here in the American West are the micro-brews – not as big a thing on the East coast. Back in London, we have the pubs alright, but I way prefer the beers out here. You can see also a Micron Pigma pen on the table; you can’t get those in England either (or at least, I couldn’t). Incidentally, I drew this in a copic multiliner 0.1.
So this is home. Not quite the same as the old apartment, but very similar.
I hate the first page of a new sketchbook; never know what to draw, for some reason. So on opening my third watercolour moleskine I just drew what was right in front of me, on my desk. There’s a glass, almost completely empty (or very slightly full, depending on your worldview, ooh link that to bush’s take on the economy). There’s the Beatles crossing Abbey Road (trivia question for you – are they going towards or away from the studios?). There’s Magneto, master of magnetism, rendered (in cruel irony) in plastic. Scissors I bought six years ago in Aix. A couple of microns, plus a copic. The pc screen (watching “south park” online). A Spurs badge – I’ve had this since I was ten, bought at a game at the Lane in ’86 when we beat Man City – it’s known as the “lucky spurs badge”, and is a famous relic (my mate Tel will tell you, should you see him). I wish it would still work, we seem to be selling most of the team. There’s Greedo, having reeked revenge on Han Solo, but with Cyclops behind him about to shoot first (I just had an image of Cyclops shooting Greedo under the table and wow, it was not pretty). And a half-hidden Vader behind him in the shadows. And there’s a couple of post-it notes with stuff about milk supply and stuff on them.
Now that’s out of the way (and you’re thinking I’m a geek, well maybe I am, or just untidy), I can move on with the sketchbook. Back to trees and buildings. It’s a little cooler here in Davis now, and not as smoky.