Early last month I flew down to Los Angeles with my friend Roshan who was visiting from London, for a boys weekend to celebrate his 40th birthday. I didn’t do much sketching; it was a short trip and we mostly did tourism and, well, the pub. One or two pubs! A good old few pubs. I do find it harder to sketch when travelling with non-sketchers, (not for any fault of their own, I just struggle to concentrate) but I did manage a few sketches, including the in-flight drawing above. We stayed downtown at an awesome hotel with a great view, I only grabbed a couple of quick sketches of it, but we were really close to the LA public library (which I have sketched before, years ago).
And of course, one fire hydrant. It wasn’t a 2am hydrant sketch (like on previous LA trips) but the library is once more in the background!
And I got a few quick people sketches down at Venice Beach, of dancing roller-skaters. I would like to go back there on a sketching trip someday, there is always so much to draw around there. I really like LA.
We stayed in Cannaregio, the northern quarter of Venice, a neighbourhood of canals north of the Grand Canal and east of the train station. I kept spelling it Canareggio, which is wrong. I also spelled it Cannareggio, which is also wrong. I never spelled it Canaregio because that just seemed obviously wrong. We arrived on our train from Rome in good time, that trip across the lagoon making the old heart thump around with excitement. We were staying in an apartment we had booked online, and we had the address, and we had even looked for it on maps online, and here is the thing – Venice makes no sense to anyone except Venetians. They don’t have streets, you see. That might seem obviosu, because they have canals, but they literally don’t have streets – what they have are Calles and Fondamenti and Campi, but if you have an address it’s not like, 52 Gondola Road, Venice. Instead each address is a number, followed by the name of the area. For example, the address of the church Madonna dell’Orto is Cannaregio 3512. It’s a bit like saying you live in “Willesden 4586” without giving any street name or other distinguishing feature – people just know where it is, and to locals it makes a lot of sense. To the outsider however, it can be very confusing, and Venice is like a labyrinth anyway. In fact, while all those Calles and Fondamenti have big signs letting you know at least vaguely where you are, it turns out those were added by the Austrians years ago to stop themselves getting lost, Venetians had never needed them.
What I am saying is, yes we totally got lost trying to find the place. ‘Fondamenta Moro’ is also very similar sounding to ‘Fondamenta dei Mori’, two canals over. We hadn’t been to Venice in 14 years and I think had forgotten how much it can turn you around. We got there in the end, and it was a nice neighbourhood not too far from Strada Nuova, which actually is more of a street and has a good supermarket for stocking up on supplies (dio mio, I love Italian food!). It was an apartment we reached through a dark and slightly slanted covered alleyway, and the narrow canals were right outside our windows, boats and gondolas drifting by quietly. It was a world away from the Rome apartment with its spectacular view and exhausting staircase, but peaceful and homely, with a row of canalside restaurants and gelaterias nearby. The top sketch was done out the front of the building, stood by the bridge in the early evening, Venice at its most serene. The sketch in color above was done at dinner, and you can see the back of our apartment on the corner of the building’s ground floor. That’s my son, sketching a boat. We ate at the Trattoria Misericordia, and the food was decent (not as good as Rome but pretty good), but the waiter fancied himself as some sort of comedian, but came across as, well, not a comedian anyway. We ate while the sun cast long yellow streaks in the sky and then walked home across the bridge.
Cannaregio means ‘Royal Canal’, as it was the main route into the city before the railways were built across the lagoon. These days it is the northernmost of the ‘Sestieri’, the six areas of Venice. Above, a Venetian fire hydrant, covered up like those ones I drew in Lisbon years ago, remember? Now it isn’t the exact same one as below, which was nearby on the Campiello Diedo, but I thought you might like to see it because it is quite similar in many respects.
Almost there with Rome! Rome wasn’t blogged about in a day, but this will be the last one, much shorter and with less complaining. Above are a couple of fire hydrants! I was pleased to discover some in Rome, add them to my collection. Not many, but here they are. Rome is also well known for its fountains, not just the grand ones in the piazzas, but also the smaller ones dotted around the streets with drinking water for anyone who gets thirsty in those heavy, hot Roman afternoons. So I sketched the one below, the man with the barrel and no nose, in Via Lata. Next to that is a very quick perspective sketch just off of that street.
Now one fountain I did not sketch, you will have noticed, was the world-famous Trevi Fountain. It was very crowded there, and the surrounding streets thick with tourist-tack. Beautiful fountain, but not my favourite spot in Rome. We did nevertheless each throw a coin into the fountain, ensuring, as the legends and all the guidebooks say, that we will return to Rome. And I’m sure that we will, and I can’t wait. Arrivederci Roma!
Recently I went to Berkeley for the annual UC Academic Advising Conference (UCAAC). I’ve been going to this conference most years since 2007, which was hosted by UC Irvine at the Disneyland Hotel. Each year a different UC campus hosts the conference and this year Berkeley got the chance. I sketched the opening remarks at the morning breakfast, before the break-out workshops began (fun note: I won a Starbucks gift card for this sketch!). The theme this year was ‘Building Bridges’, because, as you know, lots of bridges near here. The Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Carquinas Bridge, loads of bridges. But yes, yes I kept thinking if Ian McKellen’s Magneto delivering his Magnetoesque line from X-Men: The Last Stand: “Charles always wanted to build bridges.” He said that as you know just after ripping the Golden Gate Bridge from its base and dumping it on Alcatraz for some reason. I love Magneto.
This sketch of Bancroft Avenue was drawn early in the morning, after getting off the train. There is always a lot to sketch in Berkeley.
Such as Sather Gate. This is a very ornate gateway on campus, and I did draw it many years ago, but wasn’t happy with it at the time, so I’m pleased to report, I like the newer version. There were quite a few students in graduation garb walking around taking photos, as you do. It was that time of year. Below, I drew a detail of the gate. Making a heart.
I did those between workshops, but I also did a bit of sketching after the final workshop on day two, when I wandered campus a bit after lunch. Below is the University Library, which is just a massive, grandiose epic structure. A lot of UC Berkeley is like this, full of grandeur, far more than UC Davis. Berkeley is Davis’s parent school of course, with UC Davis being founded as Berkeley’s offshoot University Farm. Our library is also massive, but this one looks far grander.
Below is the Sather Tower, the large campanile (bell-tower) at the heart of the Berkeley campus. It’s nice up the top of there by the way. I just had to draw it again.
And the fire hydrants. Like in Davis, the city has a different colour hydrant from the campus, but unlike Davis, it’s the campus that has the yellow hydrants while the city has the white ones. I know! You don’t care! But I think that is funny. The yellow one there is outside the Playhouse on campus, while the short white one is on Shattuck Avenue next to that discount bookstore.
Last month on Mother’s Day we went to Sonoma and had a family lunch. While the kids were playing in the park and the ladies were talking I went to sketch the Sebastiani Theatre building, which I last drew 10 years ago. I like Sonoma. It reminds me of the first time I visited California, and my girlfriend (now wife) was housesitting her friends’ house there for a few days. I remember the amazing cheese from the cheese shop, and the delicious wine. Drinking nice wine with cheese made me feel like I’d made it. I’d previously lived in France of course, where both items are in abundance, but had only ever had the cheap plonk from Super U and could never get through the door of the cheese shop in Aix for the whacking smell. I’ve always liked Sonoma though, and always enjoy going back. Oh, and here is a fire hydrant.
Hey folks! Another slight pause in posting; I’ve been away on vacation, no spoilers about where I went but it rhymes with “bitterly”, specifically “dome” and “menace”, as I say you will have to wait to find out where from my many many sketches. But in the unforgettable words of Jar-Jar Binks, “meesa back!” I can’t remember where I was with my sketches, oh yes, Pacifica. So a week after my son’s soccer team’s tournament in Nevada we had another one down in the beach town of Pacifica. The waves were high and the air was salty, and our team did excellently, only missing out on qualifying for the final on goal difference. I did of course get a good bit of sketching in, and here it is. Above, a hydrant near the Ocean. Below, two views either side of the same rocky outcrop, from two different beaches. The top one was Rockaway Beach, right outside our hotel, and sketched on a super windy morning. Those waves were incredible, and the beach was covered in fluffy sea-foam blown in from the Pacific.
And don’t forget the beachgoers. With the waves so big there were a lot of extra surfers out. I used to want to be a surfer, when I was young. It was mostly because it was as far away as something people in Burnt Oak would do that I could think of, so therefore it was what I wanted to do. I always imagined I would live in Australia, surfing every week, walking about town in my wetsuit, but that never happened. Instead I live in California (not near the beach) and seriously, I ain’t getting in no wetsuit now. That’s ok, I’m fine with that. I just sketch the surfers now.
Possibly one reason why is my love for delicious milkshakes, and this one was partaken at the local Rockaway Beach diner “Rock’n’Robs”. Cookies and cream flavour. Yeah, no surfing for me now. Another reason may be the found in the image below. “Nick’s” is a 90-year-old bar and lounge in splashing distance of the Pacific waves, and a few steps from our hotel, so I popped by to sketch their bar and try a few beers. That slanted mirror let me sketch the patrons to my right, and on the other side of the bar a band played and local couples danced. It was a fun place to spend the evening.
And here is a sketch of the small town itself, the Rockaway Beach part of Pacifica. Pretty nice down here. It’s really close to San Francisco by the way, surprisingly near, yet it feels a million miles away. I liked it; I think we’ll be back.
Here then are the final few sketches from last month’s San Francisco overnighter. These were drawn on the Sunday, after getting up and walking down to Mara’s Italian Pastries on Columbus for a delicious (but messy!) Cannoli and a huge pastry that looked like a chocolate croissant but was much denser, took me all day to finish. It was so good. So here I am in North Beach, and by the way on June 3rd I am holding a workshop in this very place all about perspective, called “Perspectives of San Francisco”. Check out the Urban Sketchers site for details of other workshops in the 10×10 series in the SF Bay Area. I wanted a bit of practice, because sketching cities with hills is not a simple task when it comes to perspective. I stood on Filbert Street next to Washington Square Park and sketched past the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, looking up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower.
Here were are now on Green Street, across the road from where I sketched in November. I like this set of signs leading up the hill, and I had intedned to colour them in but in the end could not muster the energy. I love this old Columbus Cafe sign. the greens and reds around the edges are mostly faded in the sun. Next door is a place called “Pete’s” which of course I just had to eat lunch in. I had lovely eggs benedict there, I definitely recommend.
If you go down to San Francisco these days you are sure for a big surprise. The newest addition to the skyline is a massive skyscraper visible from what feels like everywhere being constructed down in the SoMa district, South of Market. It dwarfs the TransAmerica Pyramid. It will ultimately be crowned with thousands of LED lights to display images, created by artist Jim Campbell. This impressive (and thin) new building is called (wait for it) “Salesforce Tower”. Yes, “Salesforce”. Sales, force. Sales. Force. Not exactly “Empire State” or even “Transamerica Pyramid”. I get that buildings must be names after corporations but do the corporations have to have dull names? Salesforce Tower sounds like a grey block located on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Slough, not the leading light over one of the most iconic cities in the world. If this was London it would have a hilarious nickname by now too, like the Erotic Gherkin or the Cheesegrater or the Vampire’s Collar. I’m sure the fun-loving fellows of Frisco (I know, don’t use that name, but alliteration here trumps acceptable usage) will think up a more interesting name. I sketched this from Market Street looking up, the perspective of drawing tall buildings is one I’d like to work on a bit more. Hey there is a great chapter by Japanese artist Kumi Matsukawa in my book ‘Creative Sketching Workshops’ all about drawing tall buildings. I’d recommend that highly (all puns always intended on petescully.com).
But let’s get back down to earth. I love a hydrant, well here are two. One is near, the other is far away. This is a good example of perspective. Near, far away. I love rusty hydrants. Gives them character. It makes it feel like a Used Universe. This little guy dates back to 1909 if the date on its side is to be believed. He is found in the heart of the financial district.
And then, I boarded a train back to Davis. It was a tiring couple of days hanging out in the City, and while I always enjoy the change of scenery, I’m really starting to get a “done-this-all-before” feeling. A new challenge is needed…