the james joyce in santa barbara

James Joyce pub, Santa Barbara
This is the James Joyce pub in Santa Barbara. After my 11 hour train journey, I had dinner at an Indian restaurant (unfortunately it was a little bit bland) and went to a pub on State Street called the James Joyce. As you may or may not know, I like pub sketching – you can practice both perspective and low-light sketching, while having a beer and chatting with locals. This seemed to be a popular pub, and on this night it was karaoke night. There were several regulars belting out their usual numbers, some with more agreeable voices than others, and so I added my own not-exactly-agreeable voice to the mix and sang a few songs. I won’t tell you which songs, but I assure you I did not replace the lyrics of any with Yellow Submarine. Well maybe one. I did convince one older fellow to sing the actual Yellow Submarine though. Nobody left the room while I was singing which was a bonus (that has happened before) (in Antwerp) (those Antwerpers didn’t feel bad about telling me they didn’t like my singing either) (but they did give me sandwiches afterwards) (this is a long tangent so perhaps I had better get back to the Santa Barbara story). I did sketch some of the singers, of course, and here they are. I have no idea what the song about the rooster was (something about a rooster who isn’t going to die, obviously an immortal rooster), it was very serious.
SB Karaoke 1 sm
SB Karaoke 3 sm
SB Karaoke 2 sm
SB Karaoke 4 sm
Once this fun evening was over I walked back to the hotel. It was a long walk, and on the way back I couldn’t help but sketch a fire hydrant. This one, for some reason, had a small shoe rested on top of it. I had noticed this earlier in the day and thought it odd. I was surprised to find it still there. A couple of days later the shoe was sitting a few feet away from the hydrant. I assume it was waiting for its twin to come back, waiting for years like Rey on Jakku.
Hydrant plus Shoe, Santa Barbara

Well, here is my latest hydrant sketch. More Santa Barbara sketches to follow. There are some pretty places there.

new york’s cold streets

Grimaldi's NYC sm
Last month I went to New York City. New York is a big city on the east coast of the United States, in New York State, and you might have heard of it if you have seen any films such as ‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York’, or watched TV such as ‘Cash Cab’. I’d heard of it because I had been there before a couple of times, several years ago now but I still remembered the famous sights like the Imperial State Building  and Centre Parks. Now before you say “geddouddahere”, calm down New Yorkers, I am joking. I love New York. It is pretty bloody awesome – but when I went last month, it was also pretty bloody cold. Record coldest Valentines Day in fact! So the sketching was at a minimum, but I still did some. Why was I here? It was a surprise trip in fact, my wife had arranged it in secret for my 40th birthday, and had told me on my birthday a few days before. Not only that, but I was to fly out there by myself and meet up with two of my best and oldest friends from London, Simon and Roshan, for a Boys’ Weekend. Quite the surprise! We stayed in an apartment on Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, a couple of blocks from Washington Square. In fact if we lived in the Marvel Universe, this was right across the street from Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. If you don’t know what that is, fine, there’s a movie coming out in November. I flew overnight (having sung Yellow Submarine on karaoke to the music of Modern Love just hours before) and arrived on a frozen morning. We walked up Fifth Avenue for a bit just going “Wow New York dudes!” before stopping into a little place called Grimaldi’s for pizza. I did a sketch of Simon inside, waiting for his pizza (or “pie” as they like to say out here). It was very nice pizza.
New York Fire Hydrant 2016
There were a lot of fire hydrants in New York. I would like to go back and sketch more of them. I did this one however while Simon was inside a shop trying on trousers (or “pants”). Oh boy, it was cold. Not as cold as it would get in the coming days, in fact I’d look back on this cold as some sort of Golden Age, but too cold to sketch much else. We walked up to the Flatiron, before knocking the walking on the head and went to Pete’s Tavern. Bar sketches will be posted later. For now, here is a sketch from the Subway, from a different day.

New York Subway 2016

And a photo of the Flatiron Building.


portland again!

powells books
A couple of weeks ago my wife and I took a couple of days in Portland, to do all the Portlandy things like eat and drink and look at books, see some old friends, oh and dress up as pirates. I’ll post my Swashbucklers Ball sketches soon. On the Saturday we wandered about downtown, checking off the list (food, check, beer, check, shops, check, voodoo doughnuts, check), and I got a little bit of sketching in before heading back to rest at the hotel (before putting the pirate costume on). I really like Powell’s Books, the block-sized independent bookstore between the Pearl District and Downtown. (I couldn’t find my new book there though…) We had spent an hour or so of the evening before mooching around in there, so this time I wanted to sketch it. I’ve sketched it before, but that sign is so iconic.
hydrant outside powells, portland
I also sketched a rusty fire hydrant outside, you know, because fire hydrants.
sketching outside voodoo doughnuts

And this one was sketched fairly quickly while standing in line at Voodoo Doughnuts. We were in line for about twenty minutes, and there was a group of college basketball players behind us in the queue, who were fascinated by the drawing. A nice group of lads, all out in their tracksuits (and watched over by Coach), my wife took a picture of them all when they finally got their doughnuts. Voodoo is a great place. I love Portland, and every trip is too short! I want to go back again…

sketching fire hydrants in strasbourg is cool

Strasbourg Hydrant 1 smStrasbourg Hydrant

Let’s just go back in time again, to 1995, to my first ever trip to Strasbourg. More on that later. But let’s just say I ask my 19 year old self, in twenty years time, do you expect that you will come back to this city, right, and draw pictures of fire hydrants? I would have laughed the very crazy idea right back to England. Yet here I was, in 2015, sitting crouched up next to red fire hydrants drawing them as if it’s totally normal. Actually if I’m honest, my 19 year old self would have been, “oh wow, respect.” My 19 year old self would have thought that was the coolest thing. My 19 year old self, may I remind you, thought that going to Denmark for the summer with less than a hundred quid in his pocket to pick strawberries and have adventures (adventures that largely consisted of being poor and getting sick of strawberries, it has to be said) was cool. My 19 year old self worked at an Asda coffee shop and would get red Slush Puppy all over my shirt and think, oh that’s cool, I look like Mr Blond from Reservoir Dogs now. My 19 year old self wore black adidas shorts and a nike baseball cap and a messy purple shirt that had buttons missing. My 19 year old self was frankly an idiot, but then that’s true of most stages in my life to varying degrees. Being 19 was a time I remember with great fondness, a time of energy and invention and wanderlust. But I still wouldn’t have thought of drawing fire hydrants all over the world, that was not an idea that I had yet had. So I was pleased, on making this anniversary return to Strasbourg, to find they did have hydrants there too. I only drew the two above. The first one was sketched in Petite France, on the rue des Moulins. The second one was drawn on my last day in the city, on the rue des Francs-Bourgeois, across the street from the Vox cinema. Now, my 19 year old self went to that cinema. My 19 year old self had as one of his favourite movies (and it still is) Les Visiteurs, the French comedy classic about two knights who go into the present day, wash in the toilet, beat up a postal van, and so on. Jean Reno and Cristian Clavier, “Cousin Hubert”, all of that. Well, I didn’t see that there. I did see another movie with cristian Clavier there called Les Anges Gardiens, a stupid comedy he starred in alongside Gerard Depardieu (I know right, a French film from the 90s with Depardieu in it, such a rarity). I saw it on my second trip to Strasbourg as a 19 year old, a solo trip in the autumn of that year, when I came back to explore the city more by myself. I recall it was billed as being the ‘next Les Visiteurs’ so I had to see it. It wasn’t, it was bloody awful. You see? My 19 year old self was an idiot, even my 19 year old self knew it. Anyway, that’s what I remembered when I was sketching that fire hydrant, with the tramway humming past me.   

little hydrant

An honourable mention goes to this hydrant, which I did not sketch (I was on my way to a morning urban sketchers meet-up). I loved the way it was hiding in an alley, half in shadow, with the silhouette of a very Alsace-looking shop-sign just behind it. Strasbourg-hydrant-noir, if you like, but you know, in the daytime.

More Strasbourg sketches to come…

les bouches à incendie d’aix

Hydrant at Marseille airport

I hadn’t expected to see fire hydrants in Provence, but I left the airport and, there they were. I obviously wasn’t as interested in drawing them when I lived there before. Maybe I thought that was weird. Directing a play in which wolves fought with lightsabres against people holding day-old baguettes, absolutely fine; sketching fire hydrants, get away you loony. I’m sure that is the first thought people have when they see me sketching a hydrant. “Les bouches à incendie“, that is what they are called here. Or ‘bouche d’incendie’. Anyway, I sketched the one above while waiting for my navette (that is the shuttle bus between airport and town) at the Marseille-Provence airport. The one below was started while waiting for my first poulet-frites in ten years, and finished later.

Aix hydrant 2 sm
DSC04448“Poulet-frites”, I hear you say? This was my favourite meal when I lived in Aix. There were a few places I would get them, the best being the little place outside the Super U, but I also liked “Le Regal” as well. Well a decade later Le Regal had moved across the street to a spot outside the post office, significanty upgraded its friterie stand, but still they produce lovely poulet-frites. Poulet-frites is basically a small baguette filled with chicken and the sauce of choice (I love le mayo), then topped off with loads of fresh frites (French Fries to you). Poulet-frites, I love you very much. There is my poulet-frites on the right.
Aix-en-Pce hydrant
Lastly, this one, a semi-naked fire hydrant on the corner of Avenue Victor Hugo (the famous writer / cartoon crimefighting duo) and Boulevard Roi René (the last king of Provence / cafe owner and helper of the Resistance in WWII). Do you remember when I sketched fire hydrants at 2am in Los Angeles? Well I sketched this one at 2am as well. I was having a stroll through the still-balmy streets on my way back to the hotel after a night sketching an old pub I used to know, and this one caught my eye. When I was done sketching, I popped into a late-night convenience store to get a nice cold Fanta Citron to drink. A drunk man in the shop smiled at me and said, “eh, tu es gourmand!” I had been looking at the Mars Bars and though he might have been sarcastic. He then patted my tummy, and said again, “tu es gourmand, monsieur!” Cheeky get, I thought, sure my belly’s getting a bit portly but as I explained to him (because I felt the need to explain), “no no, it’s ok, I live in America.” I said that (in French) as if it somehow justified my paunch, like living in America with all of its fast-food and chocolate-based holidays will somehow contribute to weight gain (in my case it does, along with the desk job and general lack of exercise, but I also lived on poulet-frites and Pepsi-Max when I lived in France so touché). Not that I haven’t been vain about my stomach size in the past; once at the doctor’s office, the nurse asked me to stand on the scales to be weighed and I held in my tummy to make it appear as if I’d lost weight. That didn’t work. But I thought, no, if I’m a gourmand then so be it, I’m going to have that Mars Bar, to hell with you, drunken French stranger and your early-hours waist-size-judging fixation. Then I remembered, it’s ok, Mars Bars are slightly smaller in France than in England, so I have nothing to worry about.

Incidentally, I learned the French name for fire hydrants because I came across the French version of Gabi Campanario’s book “The Art of Urban Sketching” while in a bookshop in Strasbourg. Below, I talk in French about why I love sketching them so much (click to see plus grand, and I guarantee you, my French is nowhere near that good…)


Next up: sketching a totally French bar called “O’Sullivan’s”!

and our friends are all aboard

The Galley bar, Santa Monica
More sketches from Santa Monica. Above is a sketch of the bar area at The Galley, a nautical themed restaurant on historic Main Street which dates from the 1930s. Back in 2007, I went to Santa Monica after going to the UCAAC and stayed down here in the Ocean Park area. I really liked the area, so on my trip last month I came back. I had sketched The Galley that first time, but only from the street – the interior is another matter entirely. It is themed like a boat, of course, but also lit up by hundreds of Christmas lights of all colours, a sight which I cannot recreate in pen and ink. But I gave it a good go! I kept thinking of the lyrics to Yellow Submarine, and as I sketched I played a game in my head, whereby for every song that came on I would replace its lyrics with those of Yellow Submarine. After a while it was becoming uncanny – try it, is really works! No, it does. If it doesn’t, you’re not doing it properly. Anyway I sat at the corner of the bar, it was pretty busy, and sketched as best I could on the last page of my Seawhite book. The atmosphere was friendly; one fellow told me that on this night there was a party going on for a staff member to celebrate her last night of work there, and so I did my best to include as many faces as I could in my sketch. This is definitely a place for locals, and I chatted to some very cool people over the course of the evening. This really is a city I love visiting.
The Galley, Santa Monica
The next day I made sure to come back down Main Street in the sunshine, and so I couldn’t resist sketching The Galley again from the outside, just as I’d done those years ago. This time I climbed the stairs of the Edgemar center across the street for an elevated view. I also bought a t-shirt at the tourist center downstairs.
farmers market santa monica
After eating an amazing chicken pie with mash and gravy at a place called Aussie Pie Kitchen, I remembered that there is a great Farmer’s Market on Main Street, and I caught the tail end of it. I sketched a band with the California Heritage Museum in the background. Here is a handy map from my sketchbook to show you where everything is.
ocean park map
Hey, remember that I sketched a fire hydrant in the wee hours of the morning in Westwood? Not to be outdone, I did the same thing while walking back through the quiet streets of Ocean Park. There was this really interesting hydrant which had been sprayed lime green. I couldn’t let this one go!
hydrant ocean park sm

Oh, and here is the sketch of The Galley from May 2007, sketched in a WH Smith sketchbook.

the galley, santa monica

westwood ho!

westwood blvd
Short break in posting…but here are some more sketches from my recent trip to southern California. I was staying in Westwood Village, Los Angeles, which is a pretty nice neighbourhood around the slopes of UCLA. Apart from the rumour of a Sasquatch wandering about the place. A Sasquatch? In LA? I don’t know about that. I had gotten off the bus from Hollywood, and a middle-aged woman at the bus stop said to me, all concerned, “I’ve just seen something really weird, something I can’t explain.” Ok, that’s nice, bye. “No honestly, it was a large creature walking about, tall, really hairy, I think it was a Sasquatch.” I mean, this was LA, so I’m not saying it was impossible, but Sasquatches, well you think more of like the Rocky Mountains or Canada. Perhaps it was a Wookiee, I thought, but I didn’t say that, because I have a feeling she may have really thought that. I had just come from Hollywood Boulevard after all, where I’d seen Darth Vader, Spider-man, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and even bloody Deadpool, so Chewbacca isn’t out of the question. “Thanks, I’ll keep my eyes open,” I said and walked off really fast. The next day however I did actually see a tall hairy man, but he wasn’t a Sasquatch, as far as I can tell.

Hairy abominable myths aside, Westwood Village is a lovely place. The scene I sketched above was not far from the Fox Village Theater, a gorgeous old cinema built in 1931. Loads of people had lined up the night I first got there to see Age of Ultron, many in costume. On this morning though, I stood on the street corner sketching while hairy Sasquatch man passed by me yet again. I did start to wonder whether I was really seeing him or if he was imaginary, but I don’t like to think too existentially while I am drawing.  I liked wandering about Westwood Village. There was a really interesting candy store, with sweets from all over the world. On my second evening there, I went for a drink after dinner at Barney’s Beanery, which I chose because it was an enormously sketchable bar. Click on the image below to see what I was able to do while I was there. People were friendly, and I chatted to some folks at the bar once my sketch was done. There were some Indian dentists out having a drink, talking to me about the upcoming boxing match between Pacquiao and Mayweather, you know the one which was about a million pounds to watch but was ultimately – gasp gasp – not all that. I said I’d not seen boxing in years so didn’t really care about it. They asked what the last boxing fight I had seen was. “Rocky III” I said, which is true.

barneys beanery

And of course, a fire hydrant. This one however was sketched at 2 in the morning. After getting back to the hotel from the pub, I was feeling peckish, so popped down to the Denny’s on the corner of the street for a nice milkshake. I noticed this hydrant, with a very slightly different design to any I had sketched before (it has a slightly different top) so I just had to draw it. I’m officially a 24-hour-hydrant-sketcher. I sketched another one in the wee hours the next night too, but you’ll see that in another post…
hydrant westwood sm