summertime in the low countries

Sketchbook first page
Well it’s time to tell you about my summer. Now that it’s cold and probably wet, and we’ve all aged a bit more than six months in the past six months, let’s take a look back at my summer holiday in the Low Countries. They are called that after one of David Bowie’s albums (though I took so many trains that it should be called Station to Station). Following the tradition of the last three summers, I took a Stillman and Birn Alpha with me and filled in the front page with a hand-drawn map and drawings of various things I ate and drank along the way. This was a longer trip – three weeks, two on the continent and another staying with the family in London, taken in the midst of a whopping heatwave. It’s not the longest or anywhere close to the most journeyed trip around Europe I have ever taken – look back to 1998 for that, the pre-sketching days – but now I’m older it takes longer to recover; I’m not sure I have, even looking at the map makes me tired. It was a fun trip though, full of memories, meeting up with good friends, seeing old places from the past, and finally showing my son that mad country of Belgium I keep talking about. He was just as impressed, it was his favourite place. In the image above you can see some of the food and drink I liked – poffertjes (little Dutch pancakes) in Amsterdam, from a jolly guy called Tony; classic simple waffle from a waffle truck in Brussels, the most delicious waffle I’ve ever eaten; Charles Quint, perhaps my favourite beer, from my favourite bar in Charleroi, still open despite much faded glory; proper Waterzooi from Gent, which I had never tasted before; a bright pink juice called ‘Stress Down’ from Joe the Juice in Amsterdam, which honestly revived my brain after it melted in the heatwave, and got my sketching working again; Belgian frites covered in Sauce Andalouse from Robert La Frite in Charleroi, naturally eaten after midnight, the very best frites in the world; and of course, a 99 from an ice-cream van in England, that’s a soft-serve in a cornet with a chocolate flake, everything seems like it will be ok when you have a 99. Lovely foodly memories. Not to mention the delicious Belgian chocolate.

Suitcase

I got a new small suitcase for the trip, smaller even than my other small case, and I had to pack light. I knew I’d be wheeling it around cities, cramming it into luggage lockers, not unpacking much on my one night here, two nights there hotel stays. Fortunately football shirts don’t take up much room and I wear a lot of those. So, this trip took me to France – Paris and Disneyland; to Belgium – Brussels, Ghent, Liege, Charleroi and Bruges; to the Netherlands – Amsterdam, for the Urban Sketching Symposium; and to England – London, plus a day in Watford and St.Albans. Oh, but I did get to start in an exciting way – I flew first class from LA to Paris. I had never flown first class before, and wow this was an experience. Completely lie-flat seats, amazing food with real metal cutlery, a huge TV screen (I watched Bumblebee, of all movies), and flight attendants calling me by my name ‘Mr Scully’. Oh and a door, and actual door, so I could be in my own little cubicle, instead of my usual squashed-against-elbows flights over the Atlantic. And it didn’t cost us anything, as we got it on points. Very much a one-off experience for me! I was unashamedly excited about the whole thing. People from Burnt Oak don’t often get to do this sort of thing. The only thing I was disappointed in was that the toilet was just like any other airplane loo, I was expecting some huge fancy bathroom or something, golden seat maybe. Also, the old man who went in there before me kind of left it a bit messy. I was a bit worried they might think it was me so I actually tidied it up. Still the champagne was nice, and by the time I landed in Paris I had that unusual sensation of having actually slept well on a plane, so I had plenty of energy to get sketching around Montmartre before speeding off to Brussels – more on that later. But you’ll notice IO flew from LA – I first had to fly from Sacramento down to LAX, which if you’ve ever been there is quite a headache of an airport. Looking forward to the first-class flight made up for that. So, here is what I sketched on the flights, drawn in the small in-transit-sketches Miquelrius ‘Lapin’ book, on the very last pages in fact, a book I had started on a trip to Paris back in 2012.
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I really love travelling, and I really love sketching. I’m not a super fan of hot weather, and there was a fair bit of that, and it made the travelling and sketching much harder at points, but I am always so excited about being on the move in a new place that really, I didn’t care. It wasn’t yet so hot when I landed in Paris though. Join me next time for a description of my day in Montmartre, where I had not been in about twenty years.

 

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.

Up in the sky again

Flight Sketch 021419
I took a quick trip to England for family stuff, and any trip of course means getting out the little ‘Lapin’ Miquelrius notebook which has for many years now been dedicated to the in-flight sketch. The paper is fun to draw on, less good to add paint on (and I’m getting less good at painting on it). Both flights were Virigin Atlantic, the outbound one was one of the newer flights again, I sat by the window, I didn’t get up, my legs hurt. I find it so uncomfortable to sit on those seats now for long periods, or rather I find it uncomfy when I try to sleep. I watched ‘Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom’ on the way over, which I suppose was like being asleep. When I landed at Heathrow my body ached, and then I sat in slow stop-start traffic for a couple of hours across London which was worse. I need to get one of those lie-flat seats in upper class. The flight back was in one of the older planes, and those seats are actually more comfortable, though the legroom is still minimal. And I love how people have massive hand luggage that can barely fit in the overhead lockers, and also bring another bag that definitely can’t go under the seats. My immediate neighbours were not those type, thankfully, and it’s always a sigh of relief to have good flight neighbours. The flight itself was smooth on the way back, the food was good (which I’m glad about, as I rushed to the flight, only just making it, and didn’t pick up a sandwich from Boots on the way). I used the opportunity to add some paint to my London sketch from the night before, a pub sketch from Soho, and I discovered that my airline seat was exactly the same width as my Stillman and Birn Alpha landscape skecthbook. It was great to be back home in London, my favourite city, and also to spend time with family in Devon, and it was also great to be back home in California.
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weekend in LA

Southwest to LAX sep17 sm
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).
LA hotel view sep17 sm
LA skyline sep17 sm
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!
LA hydrant sep17 sm
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.
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a farewell to dippy

Dippy NHM London

Well the New Year is here and I am still posting sketches from November. I know you just can’t get enough of 2016. These are the sketches I did on our brief sojourn back to London over Thanksgiving. It was a week of family fun more than sketching outings (I did most of my UK sketching in the summer) but I managed a few. Above is a sketch from the Natural History Museum. My son really wanted to go there to see the geology exhibits (he loves rocks and minerals) and we wanted to see our beloved Dippy one last time before he is removed from the main hall and replaced with a whale skeleton. Dippy, for those who don’t know, is the giant Diplodocus skeleton in the Hintze Hall. Dippy’s been in the NHM for over a century and has been in that hall since I was a little kid, when I would go there all the time with school or my big sister; I do love the Natural History Museum. Well Dippy is leaving! This very week in fact. They are replacing Dippy with a large blue whale skeleton that will hang from the ceiling. Dippy will go on a tour of the UK (see here for details). My son and I found a seat in an alcove to sketch, but we couldn’t see the whole Dippy so sketched what we could see.

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We also visited the Harry Potter tour at the Warner Bros Studios, at Leavesden, just outside London. We are big Harry Potter fans, and my son read the books and saw the movies this year for the first time so it was an exciting visit to go and see the real sets where they were filmed. We only had time for one sketch (so much to see! We could have been there all day) so I sketched the entrance to Dumbledore’s office while he drew the big pendulum thing. I got a Gryffindor scarf. According to the Pottermore website, my son and I would both be in Gryffindor (my wife got sorted into Slytherin!). We went there with my mum, sister and nephew, and it was a really fun family day, I do recommend it.

Hogwarts Griffin Stairwell, WB Studios, England

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One other place I was eager to visit was the new Switch House at the Tate Modern, the new tall extension to the gallery on the South Bank. It only opened last summer. My son kinda enjoyed the gallery (we saw both my books in the shop! But he was more excited about the tiny Slinky he bought) but was nervous about going to the tenth floor observation deck. When we were up there though he loved it, and again we sat and sketched the view. This is now my favourite spot in London and I will definitely come back with a few hours on hand to do a big detailed panorama. It was amazing there. Here is what I did sketch, of the view across the Thames to St. Paul’s Cathedral:

St Pauls from Tate Modern

The scene below is of drinkers at the very intimate pub off Trafalgar Square, The Harp. I came here with my friend Roshan, as they do good beer; one day I’d like to sketch the whole bar. As it was, I sketched these happydrikers while Roshan popped to the loo. Less-than-five-minute people sketching!

People at Harp pub, London

And here is Burnt Oak tube station, in the area my family live (and I am from. Looking as it has ever done. I was going to finish this, but I wanted to get back and have a cup of tea, and never finished it at home.

Burnt Oak Station

One last sketch, which is of course the in-flight drawing on the Virgin flight coming home. It was one of the newer planes, and unlike in the summer, this time I didn’t get completely squashed up and have a bad back for several weeks afterwards. Which was handy. Farewell again then my London, until next time!

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need a little time to rest your mind

Virgin Atlantic to LHR July 2016 sm

Transatlantic travel can leave you feeling cramped up for days. Well, it does now I am 40. I don’t remember it happening so much when I was 39, a few months ago. Ah well, a week of non-stop sketching and wandering both London and Manchester clutching sketchbook to my body in that peculiar way that I do probably added to the effect somewhat. I have not started all the scanning yet from the many sketches I did at the Urban Sketching Symposium in Manchester (July 27-30), as well as the Sketching Wren’s London sketchcrawl (July 24) and the Let’s Draw London sketchcrawl at Trafalgar Square (July 23). Here though are the sketches in transit, starting with the Virgin Atlantic flight to London from SFO. As usual I barely slept a wink, my knees being squashed against the seat in front. I love flying Virgin Atlantic, but their legroom in Economy truly sucks.

Virgin Train to Manchester July 2016 sm

Virgin Trains on the other hand had pretty good legroom, and the train up to Manchester was a very pleasant journey. I sketched again in the “Lapin” Miquelrius notebook and listened to music from Mancunian bands while the countryside whizzed by.

Virgin Train to London July 2016 sm

On the train back from Manchester I sat by the window and sketched a much larger panorama; I had taken Paul Heaston’s workshop in Manchester and realized I do need to stretch that curving perspective a lot more. While I do love a bit of the old curvilinear as you know, I don’t stretch it quite so often as I might, and it’s a good game to play.

Virgin Atlantic to SFO August 2016 sm

And in this last one, the squashed flight back to California. I watched Force Awakens as you can see, and Civil War (while wearing my Captain America hoodie). I also watched Zootopia, or rather, “Zootropolis” as it is called for some reason in the British release. Stay tuned for the sketches from England. There are a lot of them…

up above the streets and houses

SFO-LHR
Whenever an urban sketcher flies he or she is compelled to sketch the plane. You’re sat there for hours inside this huge metal perspective trick, usually with little else to occupy your mind than movies you don’t really want to see. Our flight to London was mostly ‘night-time’ (lights out for sleeping, though daytime outside), but I did get the sketch in, while my son coloured in a superhero colouring book that I drew for him. This year, trans-Atlantic flights are a LOT more expensive than they’ve been since I moved out here, so we flew Virgin Atlantic, who are slightly more expensive than United, but are about a million miles more worth it. The flight itself was smooth and pleasant, the cabin crew helpful and amiable, and the entertainment system, as always with Virgin, was top quality, though I didn’t watch anything myself other than an Alan Partridge special. The food was very tasty, and plentiful. It was cramped of course, as all these flights are (I love how at the end they make you walk through first class, to show you what you could have enjoyed if you had just been a little richer). As you land, the Virgin crew come around and give you sweets, and not just any sweets, but Love Hearts. Virgin is the best.

Compare that to our United experience in 2012. Ouch. I vowed never to fly United again – rude, uncomfortable, poor entertainment (tiny screens, terrible movies), lack of food (by which I mean they ran out of everything except beef, which I cannot eat), rude (by which I mean the cabin staff slammed the beef dish onto my tray and told me I had to have it, and had no right to complain – all I had said was “no chicken or vegetarian?”), the plane felt like it was falling apart, rude, the obnoxious smell of the toilets wafting through the cabin and – most of all – rude. I don’t like flying at the best of times, but Grrr, United. I don’t want no beef. I put their rudeness down to the fact that City had just pipped them to the League. At least it got my drawing energy fired up, as you can see from last year’s sketches.

United SFO-LHR
United LHR-SFO

In a review of transatlantic airlines, here is all you need to know: United give you beef, Virgin give you Love Hearts.