Mele Kalikimaka!

Hawaii Petroglyphs, big island
Mele Kalikimaka! It’s Christmas Day in Hawaii. We got up and did all the Christmas stuff, and then went to meet up with some others for a bit of lunch and some Christmas day drinks, followed by an afternoon in the ocean. It was cloudier, even a bit rainy, but in a Hawaii way, not a British way. Swimming in a warm ocean is definitely not something you do in England on Christmas day, nor even in California. Hawaii’s pretty nice. I didn’t bring my sketchbook into the ocean. I did do a little bit of sketching at the ancient Hawaiian petroglyph preserve at Waikoloa, a sacred rocky ground filled with carved patterns on the stone.
Hawaii hydrant
I also drew this green fire hydrant nearby to our rented house, it’s lovely isn’t it.
Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Hawaii
On Boxing Day (which is not what Americans call it but I’m British) we took a drive down the side of the Big Island, going to Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau national historical park (https://www.nps.gov/puho/index.htm), which was fairly spectacular. It is an ancient Hawaiian place of refuge, where those broke a law (or ‘kapu’) could flee to evade punishment. Some beautiful old Hawaiian kii protector statues and tikis, as well as demonstrations of traditional Hawaiian building and craftwork.
Hawaii tiki at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau

Here are a few photos from the preserve. The rocky black lava fields that meet the sea were home to so much wildlife, especially the big honu, the beautiful sea turtles that are so symbolic of Hawaii.

Afterwards we spent a rainy day along the Kona coast, visiting a coffee plantation, stopping off in a little town called Kealakekua, having lunch at Annie’s Burgers & Beer (the beer was delicious, the vegan ‘taro burger’ I had was much less my cup of tea), looking at ukuleles in a little music shop, and trying chocolate covered ‘donkey balls’. Not real donkey balls of course, they’re actually nuts. Not those sort of nuts. Check them out here: https://donkeyballstore.com/

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We finished off the day with a beer at Kona Brewing in Kailua-Kona. It was pretty crowded there, and looking back in this time of social distancing, it seems like a long time until we are in such close quarters and having pints and pizzas again. I like the Big Island. The last thing I drew there on our trip was this hibiscus flower, one of many blooming around our house. Mele Blooming Kalikimaka!
Hawaii hibiscus

A Pair of Days at Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris Castle sm
And so after so many places in Belgium and Holland we returned to France, and to our first visit to Disneyland Paris. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel for that walk-right-into-the-park experience, and we were not disappointed. My wife is a huge Disney parks fan but has only been to the original (like a million times) so this was a novel experience. I have to say I really liked it, it wasn’t as crowded, the sidewalks seemed to be wider, the two arcades behind Main Street were nice and accessible and I really liked the Castle. I had to sketch it. Everything was a bit different from California, Space Mountain for example (which is still Hyperspace Mountain) repeated Star Wars phrases in French (naturally) and had an outside starting point, while Thunder Mountain Railroad was definitely longer and faster, and was located on an island that the ride went under a tunnel to get to. I also really liked Pirates of the Caribbean (“les morts ne raccontent pas d’histoires!”), probably more than the Californian one. The maze of caves near the pirate ship too was so much fun to run around. And of course, serving champagne on Main Street during fireworks (though I didn’t indulge). So yes, we liked it.
Belgium Thalys to Paris sm
Our Thalys train from Brussels to Marne-La-Vallee was, amazingly, on time. I was sketching with the brush pen here, my son wearing his new Charleroi shirt. We spent some of our time on the train playing MarioKart on the Switch (I lost). When we got into Disneyland we had dinner at ‘King Ludwig’s Castle’, a lavishly decorated Bavarian themed restaurant, and we had hearty Bavarian fare (on our first night in France).
Disneyland Paris Fire Hydrant sm
On the other side of the main park, in the place where California Adventure would be, is a second park called Parc Walt Disney Studios. I liked it there, although there was not as much going on, except the incredible Ratatouille ride. That one we enjoyed. In that whole area there were a number of mobile food carts, one from each culinary area of France (crepes from Bretagne, tarte flambee from Alsace, cider from Normandy etc), and then around the corner there were more, but from different European countries (we had some nice sangria and tapas from Spain, while my son went back to enjoying his favourite Belgian waffles).
Disneyland Paris Ping Pong sm
The hotel was incredible. I enjoyed spending time in the pool, and they even gave my son a ball so he could have a kickaround on the grass (that made his trip). Above, I sketched my family playing ping-pong. Below, I tried one more fancy drink this time in the music-themed Cafe Fantasia. It was called the African Dream, made with rum, papaya, St Germain liqueur, lychee puree and bissap, I don’t know, I’ve heard of rum. It was tasty (and expensive), I got it because it looked like a vacation.

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Disneyland Paris Thunder Mountain sm
Above: Thunder Mountain Railroad, on an island in the middle of a lake. I drew this while tired legs were resting, colouring in later.
Eurostar Paris to London sm<
And finally, one more train journey, this time the Eurostar from Marne La Vallee to London, going back to the UK to see the family, go to a Spurs game at the new stadium, and hopefully unwind after a very busy trip.

Alleviating All Anxiety of Amsterdam

Amsterdam Dancing Houses sm
Moving on to the next day and the final day of the Symposium, I woke up Saturday morning definitely feeling the heat exhaustion. I decided to skip my final workshop (I did go and let them know so they wouldn’t be waiting for me) and find a spot to sketch peacefully. I hadn’t yet drawn the dancing houses along the banks of the Amstel from Groenburgwal, so I found a nice bench and drew away. I met another sketcher doing the same. It was quiet, the weekend heat had not yet started cranking up, and my stress-headache was clearing up immediately. I didn’t need to be in a class, stopping and starting and rushing, being “on”, I needed to be in “breathe-in, breathe-out, sketch” mode. It worked. I had met Lapin earlier the morning, and I was going to go and sketch with them (as it turns out he and Gerard and co went to sketch my hotel), but I decided to draw the Dancing Houses. They are impressive. Many houses seem to ‘dance’ in Amsterdam, leaning this way or that – my perspective tip of following the windows to find the vanishing point on the horizon doesn’t work as well here, where the windows follow lines more suited to more Marty Feldman’s binoculars (Young Frankenstein reference). Crooked buildings are fun to draw. By the way I did overhear one sketch instructor scoff at counting the windows on houses in Amsterdam, but counting the windows really helped the composition of each element, and also helps get the scale right. Besides, in Amsterdam they are usually three windows across as a rule. The patchwork nature of the architecture breaks up the monotony you find in many cities, it’s just so fun to draw. Looking back I probably could have had the energy to do some more group sketching and plough on, be a bit more sociable and awake, but mental health came first and I look at this sketch and immediately I feel more relaxed. Breathe in, breathe out, sketch.
Amsterdam Montelbaanstoren sm

I wandered about a bit more, bumping into the occasional sketching friend, I met Nina Johansson (long term urban sketch idol of mine since the beginning) teaching a class nearby here, the tall Montelbaanstoren. It was pretty peaceful over here too, a couple of blocks from my hotel, in fact the workshop I had skipped was being taught close by, but I decided not to join late. I sat by the canal and drew the tower as best I could, with a bike in the foreground. I was going to add full colour, but stopped at the blues, it just felt right for the relaxed mood.

After doing a few sketches of the hotel (I posted those already), I wandered over to Niewmaarkt to enjoy one of my favourite discoveries in Amsterdam – poffertjes. Little mini pancakes, from a friendly guy called Tony Benson. I spoke with Tony and a woman who was with him, we talked about Belgian footballers (maybe because I was wearing my Belgian shirt again), she was really inot Eden Hazard and asked who my favourite Belgian player was (Super Jan Vertonghen obviously!). The poffertjes were small but delicious. I could eat some of those now.

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In the afternoon, there would be another sketchwalk, over near the NEMO center, culminating in a huge group photo (the ones I usually miss at every symposium), and then the final reception over at the Muziekgebouw. I was going to meet up with everyone there, but at the hotel I realized I really needed more rest, not more rushing around in the heat. Here’s how I rested:

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I also rested by spending an hour or so in the amazing blue-tiled pool in the hotel’s basement, and relaxing in the hot-tub. Best decision I ever made. Matt Brehm was right, you don’t have to draw.
The sketchwalk was nice, and although I turned up too late for any sketching, I did meet up with a lot people I had not seen during the symposium. Many of the local groups got together for their local group photos – I am one of the Californians, but I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo with them. I did at least make the final group photo, but there are so many people in the picture that I obviously can’t be spotted, even with my bright red Belgium 1984 shirt. Actually though, in this photo of the whole group (by Belgian friend and photographer Marc Van Liefferinge) I can be spotted near the middle of the back. Proof I made it there.

You know what, there are loads of sketches you can find from other symposium attendees, if you go to Flickr and search through the tag “amsterdam symposium“. Of course most people now just bounce them out on Instagram and so on too. There are a LOT of Amsterdam sketches to be found. I went over to the final reception (a very very long walk, I went with Mauro and Fabien, though Fabien stopped on the way for a beer and to wait for Gerard, they were not coming to the reception but actually driving back to Liège that night). At the reception I caught up with all the people I had not spoken to as much so far, such as Gabi, and Liz (we snuck up on Paul Wang and got our annual symposium pic of the three of us, guerilla-style), Elizabeth, James, and of course Rita, and did a little people sketching, but mostly chatting. I also got to meet Danny Gregory for the first time, he was there with all the Sketchbook Skool lot, that’s a big thing now. I had been a chapter in one of his books years ago, the one with my drawing of Vipins ont he cover, and we’d tried to arrange a video interview to go on his website but it was always dinnertime in my house and we never did it, so it was nice to finally meet. (Though I suspect I he didn’t remember who I was). I also met a number of people who I’ve since started following on Instagram, it’s what these whole events are about really. And then in the end, it was the gathering off for dinner, I went off with a big group of the usual sketchers, and we had a great evening. The best bit though was finishing off with some late night or early morning) car sketching. A bunch of us led by Lapin sat in a narrow street by a canal and drew a couple of classic Citroens. This is apparently a tradition at the Clermont Ferrand festival. My habit of sketching fire hydrants at 3am when I travel does not seem so odd now; these are my people. One of though people though, Hugo Costa, nearly fell in the canal when his stool broke – lucky escape! Here’s what I drew, and a photo of some of us sketching in the darkness of Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Night Car Sketching sm

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Now this little fire hydrant I actually drew at night on the first night in Amsterdam, but I’ve saved until now because why not. As for the blog post title, “Alleviating All Anxiety of Amsterdam”, I mean it says it all but seriously I might come back and change all these titles some day.
Amsterdam Hydrant sm

And that was it for another Symposium. I have more Amsterdam sketches to share here, plus a bit more Belgium, a bit of Disneyland Paris, a few from London, and then loads more of Davis, then some from Santa Monica, and Portland again, and Hawaii. But after this long day of relaxful sketching Citroens by lamplight, I had a well-earned lie-in on Sunday. After all the heat, there was a little rain coming, but so were my family.

looking over liège

Liege hydrants
I took the train across the linguistic divide that cuts Belgium in two and landed in Liège, a city I had last visited in the final months of the twentieth century. I was going there for exactly 24 hours, to visit my long-time urban sketching friend and art hero, Gerard Michel, and also sketch with some other Belgian sketching friends. Liège is a fairly big city, larger than I remember, and the architecture is very Walloon, lots of brick houses and steep hills. Gerard and I went for a morning walk around his neighbourhood, up steep paths and down long stairs, overlooking rooftops and spires and trees and the great river Meuse. Liège is a lively city, with a lot of atmosphere, a university city, and a very sketchable one, but in a different way to Ghent. We met up with Fabien Denoel, who I’ve known and followed since Barcelona 2013, and Chris Damaskis, as well as Danni Hoedamkers whom I had sketched with in Ghent, and Martine Kervagoret, visiting from Paris on the way to the Symposium, whom I first met back in Lisbon 2011 I think. We sketched up at the Terrasses des Minimes, overlooking the city, and it was very peaceful. I have seen many of gerard’s skethces from up there, as well as Fabiens, but also Lapin’s Florian Afflerbach’s, Nina Johansson’s, all the great sketchers who have visited there before, so I knew this scene well already, and I’m glad to have sketched it myself.
Liege rooftops des Minimes
I liked this picture of an apple that I took too.

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We walked into town for lunch, going to an old Liègeois cafe called Chez Stockis / Cafe Lequet, near the banks of the Meuse. We sat and chatted in French (I am very rusty), looked through sketchbooks, had cold beer and ate very local food. Most people had these things called ‘boulots’, which are these large meatballs (I don’t eat the meat so I didn’t have those), but I had Tomates Crevettes, which were these little shrimp sat on a big tomato, with frites. The cafe is old and a local favourite, but I heard that it would be closing. In fact I think by now, M. Stockis has closed up for the last time, though the cafe may still be going on (there’s a FB page). The patron, Guillaume Stockis, is there in the background of the sketch below (which is of Fabien Denoel). On the ceiling is hanging the marionette of Tchantchès, a local Walloons character dating back to the 19th century, dressed in his traditional miners’ clothes. You can learn about him here, if you can speak Walloons. This here is the heart of Liège.

Liege Cafe Lequet sm

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After lunch we walked across the Meuse to the Outremeuse neighbourhood and sketched at the roundabout of the Rue Pont St Nicolas. It was getting hot, the heatwave was coming in, and regular cold drinks were necessary. I sat next to a Friterie – the Friterie Tchantches of course – and drew as best I could. I also wandered about a little, as I had learned (from one of Gerard’s sketches) that the best waffles in Liège were at a place just across the street. Sadly it was closed, so I had one from a chain nearby, which was not as good. The waffles of Liège are a bit different from the waffles of Brussels, usually smaller and rounder, and they remind me of that Belgian film Rosetta, which I saw back in 1999 when I was in Charleroi, a story about a young woman in Liège who at one point works in a waffle truck.

Liege Outremeuse

Going back a few hours, the sketch below was the view from the guest room at Gerard’s house, I had woken up early (jetlag), and needed to practice the sketching. The bells at the local church were playing Bob Dylan, Blowin’ in the Wind, which always reminds me of when I lived in Belgium, when I listened to Bob Dylan a lot, and that was the first song on the CD I had bought. I would listen to that when looking out over the rooftops from my 13th floor room, so perhaps this was the universe welcoming me back to Wallonia.
Liege view from window
And as you know, I like to draw fire hydrants, so I drew three of them in Liège. And here also is Gerard, on the steep Montagne de Beuren, showing me the spot where he had once drawn a spectacular 360 degree picture of the whole scene – he gave me a print of it a decade ago, I do love it. It was funny seeing the real place in real life.
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Here is Gerard’s sketchbook, and as you can see I show up in it twice! A huge honour. I’m wearing my 1984 classic Belgium shirt, crouching over my book as always.

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After sketching the roundabout, I walked down to the shade beneath the bridges crossing the Meuse. There was a smell of wee. The footbridge is the Passarelle Saucy, and I think I remember this bridge from that one time I came here twenty years ago, but I don’t remember it being called Saucy. What a brilliant name for a bridge. And no, I won’t be doing any sauce or saucy based jokes here.
Liege Passarelle Saucy
We crossed back over the river, walked about the city-centre a bit, before stopping off at the Place St Denis to draw the side of the church there. The weather was really getting hot by now. Gerard’s son Antoine joined us, I’ve met him a number of times. It was nice having dinner with Gerard’s family at his home the evening before, he made a really delicious chicken meal. I was delighted to take a look at his sketchbook room, his inventions, and we looked through a large map book of 17th or 18th century Belgium with Fabien, scouring it for every village; a small country with a big and detailed history. Belgium has only been the country of Belgium since 1830, but every area has a long hisroty, often of being ruled by some foreign power like the Habsburgs, or the French, or the Dutch, or the Spanish; Liège for many years was ruled by the Prince-Bishops of Liège, the princes-évêques, and the next time I am here I will draw the magnificent palace that still dominates the skyline. This is also, possibly, the city of Charlemagne’s birth, though nobody knows for sure. It might be Aachen, which isn’t far away, and was his capital. The city I was in the day before, Ghent, was the birthplace of another great Holy Roman Emperor called Charles, whose name lives on in one of my favourite beers, Charles Quint (Kaizer Karel).
Liege Sketchers
The Church of St.Denis dates back to the late 900s AD, founded by someone called Notker of Liège. I added the colour later on the train out of town. I spent exactly 24 hours in Liège. We all went for a cold beer in the city square, before Gerard took me to the station, the phenonemally futuristic cathedral of Guillemins, and I just made it onto a train to go back in time to Charleroi. A la prochaine fois, Liège!
Liege St Denis

midtown, downtown, train back to my town

Ok…this one goes back a while. Back to March, in fact. In my defense, I only got the sketchbook back recently, so I could not write a post about it at the time. Well I could have, but stories without pictures? I was invited by Prof David Del La Peña of UC Davis to take part in a special sketchcrawl, which was to be part of the annual conference of CELA (the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture) in Sacramento. The sketchcrawl would move from midtown Sac and end up in Davis, linking up by train between the two. I joined them after lunch in Sacramento, and we were given accordion Moleskines to draw a series of fast sketches in, on location, at various spots about downtown. Also in attendance was Chip Sullivan, who I was not familiar with but he is very well known as a sketcher and educator and knows James Richards well. So I started off by drawing him and David near the conference center in midtown.

Sac sketchbook p1
Sac sketchbook p2

“Where Are We Going” it said on the sculpture near K Street. Well it turns out we were going down to the Cathedral, and I sat behind the large open angel wings of a statue. I remember drawing this Cathedral (Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament) years ago, 2006 or 2007, back when Pyramid Brewing was right behind, and California was so new to me. I remember trying to draw the Crest back then as well, the classic movie theatre a little way down the street. As we stopped for a moment to mention something about sketching I drew the sign, taking just a few minutes, before we moved on.

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And then we moved to the newest part of downtown, the area around the Golden One Center, the massive basketball arena. We saw Paul McCartney there a couple of years ago, an amazing show, one of the first performances held at the stadium. Macca sang for three hours and was incredible. I remember when this was part of the downtown mall, I would come here occasionally, but it is long gone now. You’ll notice I decided to deraw in pencil that day. I find that in those accordion moleskines I find drawing in my usual pen to be frustratingly difficult. The paper, the size of the page, the fact that it’s flopping all over the place, plus the extremely limited time in each spot – so I just went with pencil, which moves so fast across the page, and splashed on watercolour when I could. It was a sunny day with great clouds.interesting shadows, but cool enough for scarves. My favourite weather. We walked from there over to the Crocker Art Museum, not with much time to do a larger sketch (such a tight schedule, and distances to cover!) but enough time to pop into the gift shop. Oh but I did get a sketch, of another sketcher in a red coat. And then we went to old downtown…

Sac sketchbook p5
Sac sketchbook p6

Old Downtown has lots to sketch, I really should go sketchign there more often. This time I decided to draw some of the fire hydrants, one with a yellow cap, one with a green cap. This was followed by fast sketch of the Pony Express statue, before we walked to the Amtrak station.

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I sat with a couple of the people attending the conference, Penelope and Tatyana (I think one came from Texas, another from California, but this was in March and my memory has faded). It doesn’t take long to get from Sac to Davis, but there was a table and a defined amount of time to sketch. You can see from the window that the Causeway was still full of water, after all the rain we got last spring. I have sketched the inside of Amtrak trains a few times before.
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And then we got to Davis, with just enough time to draw that iconic and sketchable Davis building, the Varsity Theatre on 2nd Street. And then we relinquished our sketchbooks, and walked back to the UCD campus.

Sac sketchbook p11 (davis)

The books were shown at an evening event during the conference, I was unable to go to it, but it would have been fun to see how everyone else interpreted the afternoon. Everyone sketches at different speeds and with different amounts of detail; I consider myself a fairly quick sketcher but it was hard to keep up! My feet were pretty tired afterwards, and I needed a good rest that weekend.

said the hero in the story

hydrant near segundo, uc davis

Coming home from the ARC gym on Friday evening, I spotted this rusting hydrant poking out of the greenery, saying “sketch me! sketch me!” Well I couldn’t not sketch it. It was starting to get dark, it had been a busy week and a fairly stressful one, the hour in the gym helped massively, it must be said. Nothing beats a sketch though for stress relief. Well one or two other things might but I’m pretty good at sketching. This is the first page of a new sketchbook. Seawhite of Brighton (#10, aka landscape sketchbook #33 in the new numbering system). Every sketchbook needs a fire hydrant. Every sketchbook needs a fire hydrant. Every sketchbook needs a fire hydrant.

Palo Alto

Dodge Dart in Palo Alto
We went down to Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley, for a soccer tournament (my son’s team the Davis Dawgs got first place after a thrilling and tight final). It was held at Greer Park, just off the freeway, and I had time between games to get some walking in, and some sketching too. This old car was parked near ours, a Dodge Dart, looking very much like it just skidded in from a 1970s cop show, knocking over a pile of boxes, shouting ‘guv!’ and sliding over the bonnet pointing a shooter at some crooks in a Ford Cortina. Even the headlights and the grille seem to be scowling at the DI who is reprimanding them for kicking in the door of a well-known Tory MP accused of taking backhanders from back-door bad guys, before slamming his badge down on the table, shouting ‘guv’ and heading down to the smoky boozer to growl at the barman, where he overhears a tip from a grass and a lightbulb goes off, and the next scene there is a door being kicked in and a scrawny looking crook caught wide-eyed in the headlights, before hauling him into the DI’s office and slinging him across the desk, earning a raised eyebrow, a shouty word, and his badge back, thanks guv. It totally looks like that, doesn’t it!
Palo alto skate park

On my walk around the park (getting my steps in, guv), I saw this skate park, in which the valleys were filled with colourful graffiti. When I went back to sketch, after our fourth game, there were a group of men in their 20s and 30s with bikes having a day out, barbecuing stuff and taking turns going into the valleys and doing big spinning jumps. I also sketched a fire hydrant. After our team won the final, everyone got an ice cream. I got one too, a massive chocolatey nutty thing, and that was my dinner, diet be damned, guv.
Palo alto hydrant

flying south for spring

JetBlue SMF-LGB
We went to Southern California, for a short Spring Break vacation away from the rainstorms we’ve been having. Tell you the truth, we thought it might rain in Southern California too, and were taking a bit of a chance staying right by the beach with a nice pool, but dangit it was a chance we were willing to take. Besides, our last night there would be at Great Wolf Lodge, an indoor water-park forest themed resort for the kids which would keep us out of the rain and yet still, oddly, soaking wet. As it turned out, the weather was gorgeous and sunny, so there was plenty of beach time and outdoor pool time in Huntington Beach (meanwhile, Great Wolf Lodge was a bit of a let-down, so we ended up going to the cinema). But first, we had to get there. I sat in the row behind la famille, so I sketched and listened to podcasts. We flew JetBlue into Long Beach. When we landed, I saw something which was just, well, WOW:
Long Beach Airport Doggy Hydrant

A doggie-themed fire hydrant!! It was in a little fenced off grassy area designed for pets to go pee-pee. Now as someone who sits sketching hydrants and getting t know them quite well, I’m always one to roll eyes at the boring tired cliche of dogs weeing against hydrants, but this is just amazing. Except actually I really hope dogs don’t wee against this one, gross. But isn’t this the best hydrant you’ve ever seen? I never thought I’d see one so cool. Another one to add to the collection.
Long Beach Airport

Here is another JetBlue plane, which I sketched while waiting to board for the flight home. I’ll post the beach sketches later, just imagine them (yellow at the bottom, light blue at the top). This one was drawn, like the top one, in the dark blue uni-ball signo pen, it looks really nice on the paper. I have quite a few planes in this sketchbook now, and with those wings you have to draw them over a two-page spread. You can see where the page break is. I spend a lot of time in airports, on airplanes, up in the sky. I remember being a kid and being terrified of the very thought of flying (despite being obsessed with air force jet planes), I was so scared of planes that I would not let anyone else in my family fly. When I was six my older sister was going away somewhere, a school trip to Germany I think, and I wouldn’t let her leave the house, cried my eyes out, I was hysterical at the thought of her flying. She eventually went, and I’m glad she did, because from Germany she brought back this amazing stuff called ‘Nutella’ I had never seen before, and started my lifelong love of this mysterious ‘Nutella’. When I was 10, my family finally convinced me to fly, and I got in my first ever plane, flying to Ibiza off the coast of Spain. They took me to see the pilot in the cockpit (it was the 1980s, they probably would have let me fly the plane), and I’ll never forget the pilot asked if I wanted to see out of the window, and I said yeah, and so he just tilted the whole plane sideways! I thought that was cool, but everyone back int he cabin were freaking out a little bit. After that, I was fine. No idea how many planes I’ve been on since. I don’t really like flying, but it’s more that I don’t like the hassle of airports, I’m not a fan of taking off and landing, but the bit in the sky I’m totally fine with.

the evolving san francisco

SF Market Embarcadero
On Friday night, the rain came down hard. My son’s Saturday morning soccer game in Concord, was cancelled. It’s been a wet, wet winter here in northern California. So, instead of having a lie-in, I decided last-minute to jump on a train to San Francisco, for a day of sketching. The sun was coming out. I don’t actually go to San Francisco very often – the last sketching outing there was in 2017! – perhaps I think I have seen it all, it’s a long way to go for a day out without a plan, I’m always left wanting more, and as I get older my feet hurt more from marching around cities as I’ve always done. Then I go, and I remember how different it is from Davis, I remember how much I love true cities, proper urban environments, I remember that I really love San Francisco. This city is changing; it’s changed even since I first started going there, taller buildings are going up, people and places are being priced out of town, but change is inevitable. If cities stayed the same, San Francisco and all its neighbourhoods would not be recognizable as the ones we know today. The scene above, for example, at the corner of Market and Embarcadero looking toward the iconic Ferry Building, looked utterly different until the early 1990s. There used to be an enormous double-decker elevated freeway passing right in front of this view, the ‘Embarcadero Freeway’, a hated blight on the city (read about it on the SF Chronicle site). Built in the 1950s and controversial from the start, the freeway linked both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. In 1986 the people of San Francisco were asked whether it should be demolished; voters voted ‘no’ and it stayed up (goes to show, what do the public know). Then the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake happened, seriously damaging the freeway, and that decided things for everyone. The Embarcadero is a lot nicer now. I started my day at the Ferry Building where I got my little ‘bombolini’ from the lady who sells nice Italian-style pastries, I bought a book of travel stories from the Book Passage, and then I stood on the corner of Market in a nice shaded spot with the my sketchbook. Many of those old streetcars passed me by, some of which originally came from far away, such as Chicago or Milan. This orange and green one used to trundle along the streets of Los Angeles. I took care not to stand too close to the curb, in case buses banged into me from behind, but that was the best vantage point so that neither the yellow sign nor the palm trees blocked the Ferry Building’s clock tower. It’s better than a big elevated freeway.
Blue Hydrant Market
Here is a blue fire hydrant I spotted on Market. You don’t see many blue ones around here. It looked pretty hastily painted.
SF 181 Fremont

The biggest changes lately though have been the addition of a whole clan of skyscrapers to the are South of Market (SoMa). they are going up so fast I cannot keep up with their names. This one for example took some finding out. The building to the right is Salesforce Tower, the new tallest building in San Francisco which was not quite yet finished when I last sketched it. On the right is the older Millennium Tower (built presumably a couple of decades ago if naming convention holds, though that doesn’t account for the Millennium Falcon, although Correllia probably has a different calendar to Earth, and it was a long time ago and far, far away). I stood on Mission and looked up squinting to draw this. Sunlight reflected from those windows on the Millennium Tower; I was worried I might melt if hit at the right angle, like those cars in London beneath the Walkie-Talkie. I didn’t know the name of this building, it was so new, and it doesn’t appear on Google maps yet. With the whole South of Market Transbay project, new glass and metal skyscrapers are flying up all over the place. The idea of skyscrapers on such earthquake-prone ground as San Francisco was a quiver-inducing prospect until fairly recently, but I guess the engineers are better at solving those conundrums. I discovered the name of this building much alter, after some research online: ‘181 Fremont’. 181 Fremont? That’s it? Not the ‘Upright Protractor’? the ‘Union Jack-knife’? The ‘Alien’s Umbrella?’ I think San Francisco needs to take a leaf out of London’s book and give their new skyscrapers silly and not-particularly-descriptive names. I mean even ‘Salesforce Tower’, what is that? Ok Salesforce might sponsor it but come on San Francisco, come up with a funny name. Perhaps that is what we have lost, as the city changes, the ability for the local humans to come up with plausibly imaginative nicknames for tall buildings. Perhaps they feel, as I am sure Londoners do, that once you start nicknaming tall buildings, you have to come up with nicknames for all of them, even boring ones, and it’s just too much effort. 181 Fremont it is then.

Portland’s Autumn

pdx saturday market

In November I went up to Portland, Oregon, to teach one of the 10×10 Urban Sketchers workshops, on Interior Perspective. I was invited by my friend Rita Sabler (the excellent Portland reportage sketcher), and it was as always an enjoyable visit to one of my favourite cities. I only ever seem to go these days in dark November, but this time it was not rainy at all. It was very colourful in fact, with the autumn leaves out in full force. I tried to capture as much of that as possible in my out-and-about sketches. Above, Portland’s Saturday market, with the Skidmore Fountain in the foreground. I sketched this fountain in 2010 at the first USk Symposium, on a Saturday morning perspective sketching class with Frank Ching. That was the moment I always look back to when I really gave up my inhibitions about drawing in public; rather than find a place to hide and be invisible, better to sketch openly and not worry about being ‘in the way’, become part of the place. On this day, I was able to observe the market as some stalls were still setting up, and as people passed by I got a real feel for the character of this quarter of Portland.

steel bridge portland

I like the Steel Bridge, another one I drew on that first Portland symposium, that time at a workshop with Lapin, I sat between him and Gerard Michel discussing different approaches. I’ve always wanted to return to this riverbank in the Spring when the blossoms are all pink, but coming back in Fall with golden leaves floating down is almost as nice. I did get a bit cold though, and so streetcarred it back to the hotel for a rest before my workshop.

pdx food trucks alder square

This one was sketched at the food carts area at Alder Street, after I had spent a good long afternoon wandering about Powell’s. Powell’s is such a great big bookstore, I could spend forever in there. They had my books, too, which is always exciting to see. I have a tradition now of going to Powell’s and then wandering up here for a big hot dish of Thai food, and I was not disappointed. I sketched across the street, the sunlight starting to fade, the urban greys brightened up by the reddish orange of the trees.

star theater portland

Not too far away, a bit earlier in the day, the Star Theater, with yellowy leaves scattered about. A group of homeless people sat nearby talking and laughing, streetcars rattled past, a slight breeze blew leaves and thoughts past as I sketched. My legs were hurting; I had had a night out before, and a good lie-in, but as each year passes I always forget I need a bit more rest. I spent the rest of the afternoon in Powell’s. And below, of course, an orange Portland fire hydrant, weather-worn and pock-marked.

pdx hydrant