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.

allez racing

lewis hamilton

Wow, that was worth getting up on a Sunday for! But I felt really sorry for Felipe Massa. I watched the Brazilian GP silently; we don’t actually get the channel it was showing on, not properly, but you can see a not-too-bad picture. To compensate for no sound I had the CC on (closed captioning; is it still 888 on teletext back in the UK?). They do a hilariously bad job of transcribing the commentary (to be fair, it’s not an easy job). Cove Align On took some working out, as did Along Sew. Oh well, another F1 season over (another international sport nobody cares about here).

And another race finishes tomorrow, Election Day here in the US. Oh my, what a long, long election it has been. Our elections in the UK are nice and short, only about a month or so, without anywhere near as much of the trash talking rallies and for-show debates (where both candidates always say they won). Where punditry, which pretty much is the media over here, is usually restricted to smug Andrew Neill talking to smug Dianne Abbott and smug Michael Portillo, and an interview with a journalist means being utterly slaughtered by Paxman, not slightly embarassed by Katie Couric (can you imagine Sarah Palin talking to our Jeremy? Oh I can, and it is a LOT of fun: “Just answer the question, do you agree with the Bush Doctrine? Just answer the question! Answer it! Never mind Joe Six-pack or Bob the Builder or Ivor the Engine just answer the question Governor!” and so forth). And staying up all night watching the Swingometer, all those little constituencies, where red and blue mean the opposite of here, memories of Portillo’s not-so-smug face in ’97, Mandelson going all psycho in his ’01 Hartlepool victory speech, Major surprising everyone in ’92, Prescott punching an egg-throwing layabout (now I can imagine Palin doing that, actually), absolutely no political TV ads, except those special ones with the announcement in fron (warning you to switch over now to something more interesting), various Dimblebys confusing everyone, and the Prime Minister clearing his furniture out of No.10 the morning after defeat, none of that waiting around until January malarkey, get out of there now and don’t steal the towels. Oh I miss the British elections. I’ll make a point of going backnext time there is one, just for the fun of it (read about how I spent the last UK election here, here and here).

But tomorrow will be fun too (if the Republicans lose). Obama is preaching for change, while McCain is saying Country First and denouncing Bush (although Bush is a country member; I’m sure you will remember) (and that joke’s older than McCain). And Californians, please vote NO on Prop 8, save gay marriage, and save the state constitution from bigotry and discrimination. It has nothing to do with teaching schoolchildren about gay people, as the scaremongering ads say (like there is something wrong with teaching children that some people are gay, and not encouraging bigotry). Grrr! 

This started off being about Lewis Hamilton…

a right couple of spanners

Illustration Friday this week: “repair”. Decided in the end not to do a watercolour wash, but to use another colour micron pen, and then a warm grey faber-castell brush pen, and leave it at that. Something different for me. Yeah the lines are kinda goin’ places, but it’s an election year, so.


This economic meltdown is causing absolute chaos, and shows that just allowing the free market to do what it will is clearly not good enough. Tell you what though, a couple of months ago the pound was worth $2.05, today it was $1.57, pretty good for me, now I can actually afford to buy things in the UK and pay some of my student loans.

Tottenham Hotspur, oh bloody hell, can this be fixed? Bottom, winless, hopeless, useless; we were not broken under Jol, but we fixed it, now we’re broken, and this will take bloody Joe the Plumber or someone to fix.

Speaking of whom, how has Joe the Plumber become the main star of the election? Incredible the way rabid media air-fillers filled air with investigating this guy who just happened to ask Obama a question, and was then used shamelessly by McCain and Palin (who loves people called Joe, god knows who Joe Six-pack is supposed to be, I can’t work out if it’s someone who works out or someone who drinks too much beer). And there are the media scrutinising this guy like he’s the one running for office, camping outside his house, interviewing him (he’s better at it than Palin); and it’s so funny, he won’t tell them who he’s voting for, which is great (but it’s kinda obvious). Hey did I just use ‘kinda’ twice? Been listening to too many crappy political speeches. Joe the Plumber; if he’d been called Zainab the Plumber, would he have been used by the Republicans? (Do they realise Joe the Plumber’s middle name is ‘Saddam’?) Well, they couldn’t use Bob the Builder (his catchphrase sounds a bit too much like an Obama slogan: “can he fix it? yes he can!”), and too many in the GOP base had a problem accepting Postman Pat because he was palling around with a cat who can’t decide if he’s black or white, and as for Fireman Sam, the ‘hero next door’, well he’s not even married; he could be gay! Who can the Republican ticket use next in this election? Chorlton from Chorlton and the Wheelies? Mr Spoon from Button Moon? Bagpuss? Time’s running out guys.

the night tel drank the kwak


My entry for Illustration Friday (I haven’t done one in a while), theme: Foggy. Yes, I had all these ideas of San Francisco or Prague or Strasbourg, of buildings half-immersed in grey, but I’ve been drawing so many buildings in grey lately that I wanted a change, and came across an old pic from an interesting evening in Belgium in late 1999.

This is my oldest friend, visiting me when I lived in Charleroi. We went, as always, to my local, La Cuve a Biere (an excellent and warm little place), and I got one of my favourite beers, Kwak (it comes in that funny shaped glass and is pretty strong, and tastes incredible). Tel did too. He liked it so much he downed it and ordered another. The Belgians on our table were surprised (and possibly nervous), for these sort of beers you have to enjoy, not chug down – for a beer like Kwak can be a bitch.

The room went foggy, the walls started spinning, the speaker above us started changing shape – at least that’s what Tel told me at the time. He suddenly got up, went into the bathroom, and pretty much didn’t come out for almost an hour. From what I heard, it was not pretty. When he emerged, we wisely decided not to get another, and walked home in the snow, not even stopping for a kebab. He has not so much as sipped a Kwak since. I can’t say I blame him.

This is faber-castell warm grey pen, with pilot varsity ink as the wash, on bristol paper. Yes, I’m trying something new for a change. I might illustrate other chapters of my life in strip form, if I get around to it.

now watch this drive

Ah, you gotta love irony, man.
intermission 3
So, saving the world is only a few pages away now – the sketchbook is almost finished and ready to be sent to Atlanta. The last entries following the third intermission will be a return to black pen. Parts 21 and 22 are below (in micron pigma and copic respectively). The Pres’dent above is done in faber-castell pens. King George had to turn up at some point.
sit down, relaxtake a shower

mystic pete strikes again

turkey 3, czech republic 2I have at last gotten to see some of this thing you call football, in this thing you earth people call euro 2008. And wow, is Mystic Pete on good form! Predicting Germany and France to reach the final – before they both decided losing was their preferred tactic – stating categroically that Portugal would get knocked out in round 1 while the Swiss would go through – yes, probably not the best thing to bet on – the Czechs would qualify (got knocked out by the Turks today), the Dutch would be rolled over (completely the opposite), and the Austrians would be out before you can say Viennese whirl (nearly, but not there yet). Still, Mystic Pete is legendary for such predictions, but at least this year he is not alone – any look though a footy magazine pre-tournament will say the same (except for Portugal bit – but to be fair Mystic Pete did think they’d be rattled with all the talk of Ronaldo and the fact thier manager will be a big target for rich managerless clubs, like chelsea, or so MP tells me now, after the fact).

Turning into quite a good tournament, this Euro 2008.

the south bank show

The sketching day from the previous post actually began on the South Bank, the very crowded South Bank, full of half-termers, tourists and sidewalk entertainers (did I just say ‘sidewalk’? You know technically that makes me a tourist now, you know). Before the London Eye, nobody could care less about the South Bank, other than a place to come and have a quick snap of parliament, and its clocktower.

 our house

I used to come down on Saturdays when I was in my teens and draw this very view; most of the people down there in those days were homeless. I remember thinking, of Hungerford Bridge, why it was so stupid there was a shaky walkway on the east side (looking towards waterloo bridge) but not the west (looking towards parliament). Nowadays with those two spectacular modern bridges either side of the railway, you can get great views from wherever (plus the bridges now make that old one look like the rope bridge from Temple of Doom). I sketched the extravagant Whitehall Court from the west bridge, as rain clouds drew in.

a view from the bridge 

The riverside entertainer below was drawn in a warm dark grey faber-castell pen, using a lighter grey brush pen to shade. I don’t normally shade like that so wanted to give it a go.
the south bank show

The funny feeling I got that day, looking out across the Thames, was that I was not really there, that I was looking though a window upon something very familiar, that it was a bit like a dream and soon I’d have to wake up and go to work. I used to cross Westminster Bridge six or more times a day, on the top of a tour bus, with microphone and rain jacket, my routine well-rehearsed, and now here I was, a tourist in my own back-yard. Well, a tourist with a sketchbook.