upstreet downstreet like paper caught in wind

Amtrak from Davis to Richmond

I haven’t posted much lately, though I have a lot of sketches to post. It’s not because I’ve been travelling (and I have), it’s not because I’ve been busy (though I have), it’s not because I’m rather lazy (yes I am), it’s not even because I’m so mentally exhausted from all the news in the world right now (yes we are). No the real reason is that I have a pile of stuff on top of my scanner that I couldn’t be bothered to move to scan anything. You know how it is, I’ll just put this magazine here, oh and these books, this jumper, oh and all my mail, and this Lego, a pencil case or two, the car, a turkey and all of my family, all piled up on top of the scanner, so moving it off of there and finding a space for it takes too long, so I’m behind on my scanning. This week I finally sat down and moved the actually-admittedly-quite-small pile off (not reorganized, just moved) and scanned the remaining sketches from the last sketchbook, Seawhite #5. First up, sketches from my Memorial Day trip to San Francisco. I didn’t go there with any real purpose other than a need to get out of Davis for the day. The family were out of town visiting other family, so I hopped onto a train down to the Bay, sketching in the Amtrak as I went (above). I probably don’t need to do any more of those train sketches but I still do it, and it looks nice.

SF Ferry Building

I stopped into the Ferry Building and sketched the view from a little winery/cafe place. I really like it inside the Ferry Building, plus it’s like a middle class theme park. Cheese-tasting, Sur-La-Table, Oysters, Soap, Wine, it has it all. I had no plan of action for sketching the City that day, I just needed to be somewhere with different streets, yet familiar streets, and see where they took me, but as it turns out I unexpectedly ended up following a similar path to the sketchcrawl I did back in November 2007, nine years previously, starting at the Ferry Building and ending up at Rogue in Washington Square. Spoiler alert for the end of this post.

SF Hydrant, Embarcadero

I drew a fire hydrant along the Embarcadero. These ones are interesting, they have this weird handle on the front, they look funny. This model has been on my sketch-wish-list for a long time. Hey I like fire hydrants, ok. A lot of joggers jogged by, as they do.

SF Broadway

I got a bite to eat at a food truck and sat on the side of the road eating it, like you do. It was curry, it wasn’t cheap. It is designed less as real authentic street food and more as a way for local techsters and moneyboffs to grab some real authentic street food and pay more than in a sit-down restaurant. The city ain’t cheap. I walked up Broadway, a steep bustling thoroughfare leading to Columbus, where the old raunchy nightspots and strip-clubs are found. I was more intrigued by the angle of the sloping streets (“I only read Playboy for the Articles”…”I only go to the Red Light District for the Angles of the Sloping Streets”) (side note, I’m reminded of when someone told me they “only read the Daily Mail for the TV Listings”, so I said “I only read Breitbart for the Cereal Ads,” but enough current affairs). North Beach has some epic hills. If you want to practice the way perspective interacts with steep hills this is a great place. Lisbon too. And anywhere with hills. When I was done with this, I walked around to Columbus and certainly not up those steps.

SF Records Shop North Beach

I did pop up Green Street, and saw to my pleasure that music store I sketched back in 2007, if you remember that far. Here it is on Flickr; I like my comment that I would draw it “Some other time, definitely”. Well I kept my promise to my 31-year-old self! It’s pretty much the only promise I kept to my 31-year-old self but there you are. I did go inside this time – it really is crammed with stuff! Loads of old tape-decks and video players, as well as a guitar shaped exactly like an axe. I didn’t colour the outside in this time; maybe some other time. Definitely.

SF Rogue

So just like in 2007, when I met up with sketchers at the end of the ‘crawl for a beer at Rogue Brewing, I did the same this time, except without the other sketchers, just by myself. I sketched the bar in purple, using a bit of blue and pink, and white gel pen. And then it was back to the BART, back on the Amtrak, and straight to the couch to watch TV. It’s always nice having a day in the city.

sketchcrawl sunday scavengers

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Last Sunday we held the latest “Let’s Draw Davis!” sketchcrawl in downtown Davis, starting at the Amtrak Station and finishing up at Mansion Square. This one was, unlike the other ones I’ve organized in Davis, a “scavenger sketch-hunt”. I provided everyone with a list of things at the start, things which could be found in that section of downtown Davis, and they had to draw between 8-12 of them to win a sticker at the end. In truth, just getting to the end meant you got a sticker, but it’s a good fun way to explore and have ideas of things to draw. I think everyone really enjoyed it! I was told it helps some people get over the “what should I draw” conundrum, like Inktober or Every Day Matters – little prompts, totally optional. I’ll do that again.

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The list is as follows:

  1. The Amtrak Station (or part of)
  2. A Fire Hydrant
  3. A Bicycle
  4. A Piece of Public Art (sculpture, mural)
  5. A Giraffe
  6. A Public Pay-phone
  7. A Musical Instrument
  8. Another Sketcher
  9. A Barber’s Shop
  10. A Bottle
  11. A Street Sign
  12. The Varsity Theatre (or just the sign)

For the record, I managed eight of them – numbers 1, 2 (obviously, come on), 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12. Here’s why I didn’t get all 12 – I draw fast, but not that fast. No, not just that. IT RAINED ALL DAY! Unusual for Davis. But I spent some of the summer sketching in Manchester so it felt a little familiar. It wasn’t raining when we started, and we had quite the turnout (around 25 sketchers) despite the threat of rain. A lot of people set up across from the station to sketch it, and I sketched some of them – and then the rain came, and it didn’t stop until, haha, right after the sketchcrawl finished. Like, immediately afterwards, blue skies. Ah well. So, here are my sketches of the sketchers Jesse, Omar and Emily:

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As you can see, splotches of rain started slowly splashing onto the page as I sketched Omar and Jesse; I had to duck under cover when adding colour to Emily’s sketch.

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Here is my sketch of the Amtrak Station, sketched in a dry spot next to the building opposite. Most sketchers had ducked for cover, but there is one with a brolly (a few others held umbrellas and sketched too but didn’t last as long as that sketcher!).

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Yeah it was raining hard when I sketched this bike. I was stood beneath a shopfront awning and the rain was still getting to me, so I just painted it quickly. I had wanted to sketch either the large giraffe statue or the giraffe bench opposite this on F Street, but the rain was too heavy to get a decent vantage-point.

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I did have a nice dry spot to sketch the Davis Barber Shop though. I have never sketched this place before, and should really sketch inside some day. I was glad they were open on Sundays. The barber was kind enough to let other sketchers in to sketch, and I think he liked my rendition of the outside. I kept it simple and didn’t add paint, as I wanted to move on.

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I have sketched the Varsity a million times before and this day was so rainy and grey that I didn’t need to worry about that blue sky bringing out the white building or the shadows cast beneath it, however the pink and blue of the neon sign was too cool to pass up. I added a blueish grey marker to the foreground tree.

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Right, a few items to check off the scavenger hunt list. The street sign, obvious. The bottle, that was at De Vere’s though I had included a bottle on the list just to advertise my show at Putah creek Winery, basically, in case people went by there. And the trumpet, fulfilling the ‘musical instrument’ sketch. Actually it is a coronet, and I sketched it at Watermelon Music on E St, which will be vacating its downtown spot at the end of the year and relocating to West Davis, due to the new landlords downtown forcing all these local businesses to close. Yes, some tough times ahead for downtown. Well, I like Watermelon, and bought some guitar strings as I am inspired now (after seeing Paul McCartney live in Sacramento recently – wow that was awesome! My 12 year old Macca-obsessed past self was smiling down on me that night). Several other sketchers had been in drawing stuff, they didn’t seem to mind too much, and I asked if it was ok if I drew too. I’ll miss them; I probably won’t cycle out to West Davis, see, kinda far for me.

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Yeah, the rain was getting a bit much so time for an interior, and where else but De Vere’s. This time I drew the familiar bar but played a bit with the colours and I LOVE it, that blue and yellow. I’ll do more of that. I had a nice stout, good choice on a drizzly day.

And then we all met up at the end, well about a quarter of those who had started, and I gave out more stickers such as those ones below. I hope everyone had fun! The next Let’s Draw Davis sketchcrawl will be on Saturday November 12, at Vanderhoef Quad on the UC Davis campus, starting at 10:30am. I’ll post a poster soon!

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.
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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

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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.

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portland again!

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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.
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I also sketched a rusty fire hydrant outside, you know, because fire hydrants.
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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

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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.

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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…)

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