A few fall days in Portland

Portland Arlene Schnitzer theatre
Last November after the Fall soccer season had ended I decided to take a weekend away in Portland, Oregon. It’s going to be a while before we can just take weekends away again huh. I’ve come up to Portland a few times in the past, usually November time, for a short break away from Davis, and I have good sketching friends up there going back to the first Urban Sketching Symposium in 2010. There is good food, drinks, bookshops, old buildings, falling leaves, comics, and generally lots to do. I stayed right downtown this time around, a good choice although I discovered that the food carts around 10th and Alder that I like to go to have been moved on due to construction of a huge building on that site. Boo! The nice folks at Finnegans Toys told me where to find some good food carts nearby though. I always like to get a nice hot Thai meal. Anyway, this is the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, which is a good thing to draw in Portland because it says “Portland” on it, and you can put it on the top of your blog post when writing about it six months later. My sketchblog is becoming like Marvel Unlimited, everything is added half a year after it first came out.
Portland public library 111719
I like the autumnal colours. Or the Fall colors if you will. I was maybe a week or two late for the brightest blooms, and many of the trees were leafless already, but a few patches of autumn brilliance were still there. Grey skies, short afternoons, and brilliantly coloured leaves give me a cozy feeling inside, like 4:45pm on a late October Saturday afternoon in England as the football results come in (that is by the way the best time of day ever). Above is the Portland Public Library. I came in for a while, I like libraries (again, going back to those grey Saturday afternoons when I was a teenager and would go to libraries across north west London looking for books about languages and places far away). Around the corner, behind the Arlene Schnitzer, there are several blocks of park leading down to Portland State University, lots of colourful foliage still blazing. I drew the Shemanski fountain (below).
Shemanski Fountain Portland
On the Saturday morning, I joined the Portland Urban Sketchers for a sketchcrawl at the Hawthorne Asylum Food Carts. We met at a cafe, there was a pretty good sized group, and before sketching everyone went round in a circle and introduced themselves, saying who their favourite artist was. There were lots of artists I had not heard of. When it was my turn, I said my favourite artist was Gerard Michel (he is too). We walked over to the Hawthorne Asylum; most of the carts were closed as it was early, but by lunchtime when we were getting done they opened up, and I had a pretty amazing egg/mushroom/cheese thing in a waffle, even thinking about it makes me hungry.
Hawthorne Asylum Food Carts PDX
Here’s what I drew. I also sketched sketchers (below!) and had some very nice conversations. We passed around our sketchbooks and wow, there were some incredible sketches, very inspiring. That’s why we do these sketchcrawls, we come away with ideas after seeing how other people produce such great pieces of artwork.
PDX sketchers 111619 sm

I was a bit ‘meh’ about my own work that day, I felt a bit mechanical and rusty, but I did also draw something mechanical and rusty (below) which I did like. I didn’t colour it in though. I’m not sure what it was but I suppose it must be a robot from the future.
Hawthorne Asylum Mechanical Thing PDX
After lunch, I walked up Hawthorne (a long old road) and reached my final destination, the Bagdad Theater. This is a McMenamin’s-run place, a restaurant and cinema, and I was coming to watch Jojo Rabbit (what a great film, one of my favourites and I’m so glad I saw it somewhere so incredibly cool). Anyway, my iPad was still very new, and I had not used it much to draw with in ProCreate, not outside anyway. So I had an hour and a half before the film started, time enough to finally draw this building I have wanted to sketch for almost a decade. The iPad was a fun way to sketch, and I learned a thing or two that day. Firstly, layers are really helpful! Secondly, white lettering on dark backgrounds is so much easier this way. Third, I can do the sky separately and using very different brushes to make it look more like actual cloud. I also learned that a bit more experimentation in how to colour will be very helpful. I very much enjoyed this sketch.
Bagdad Theatre Portland iPad sketch

I didn’t enjoy the street musician much though. Some young lad with an electric guitar and a microphone and an amplifier was stood right outside the Bagdad’s doors playing and singing. It was very loud. It wasn’t very good. I’m not being judgy of his musical talents, it may be better than my drawing with an iPad, but only one of those is being blared out around the street. A staff member from the Bagdad came out and asked him not to play there, as he was disturbing people inside. Naturally he got very lary and gave it all that, getting in the staff member’s face in that way that indignant young males of the species do when a female politely asks them to maybe not be so loud outside their business which is not only a restaurant but also a cinema. She went back inside and he continued for a bit longer. He was very loud, and used the microphone to tell the rest of Oregon that her request was illegal and that he had a right to play his music loud right there. Right or wrong, he must have realized he was perhaps being a bit of a dick because after ten minutes or so of occasionally singing – mostly vocalized ranting about the injustice, and reminding everyone that this is America – he decided to move along the street, to a spot about six feet away from me, and then proceeded to yell over the microphone about people who only live in Portland because they saw Portlandia, and the woman who told him not to play outside the Bagdad was breaking the law, and then a few conspiracy theories Thrown in there, and then onto how we’re all sinners and Christ was coming to reckon us or something, and guys this felt like a long bloody drawing. How I didn’t just turn around and pull the plug on the amp I don’t know. But eventually he packed up and sodded off, and I finished my sketch and went to see Jojo Rabbit. The movie was great, was the theatre was amazing, historic and grand, and you can grab a beer and order food and actually have it delivered to your seat while you watch the film! I had pizza.

I also drew several bar sketches in Portland but maybe I will compile those together in a different post.

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

sunday in portland

food carts in portland
After an evening in the company of pirates, a lazy Sunday in downtown Portland. I didn’t go anywhere new or explore too much, just did what I enjoy – eating en plein air, going to Powell’s books, lining up for doughnuts and sketching a bridge. Many of the food carts weren’t open, including the delicious Thai one I ate from last year (“I Like Thai Food”, and I really do), but I grabbed a curry lunch from one (it was so-so, but really filling) before pottering off to Powell’s. I love Powell’s Books, you could get lost in there forever, and in fact you should. The bookstore covers an entire block. I love the smell of bookstores. After getting a t-shirt and a pint glass (I am such a tourist) I did another touristy thing and went to line up at Voodoo Doughnuts.
voodoo doughnuts, portland
Well, naturally I sketched it first – the linework anyhow, I added the colour later. I stood across the street and tried to guess how long it would take me to queue up for doughnuts by figuring out each person’s position, but after fifteen minutes I realised that line was actually two lines, doubling up on each other. Ah, so longer than I though. I lined up anyway (it too about twenty minutes or so; I had to endure the touristy family in front of me being all touristy, unlike me huh) and eventually got to choose my doughnuts. Despite all that time in line I still couldn’t quite make my mind up so just spent down what little cash I had left and carried away a big pink box to take back to Davis. As I got myself together outside a man passing beamed, “ooh did you get a dozen?” I was confused (stranger in street starting conversation, does not compute) and replied, “er, dunno, I just said words and they gave me a box of things,” which made a lot of sense I’m sure. I was tired. So I headed to the river, always a good place to start or finish a trip, and sketched a bridge.

P1130952I have been using a Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook I bought in London, it was cheap and the paper is smoother. But there has been something about it which is just not quite right, sure the watercolours don’t take the same way as with my watercolour Moleskines, but I don’t know, something’s been feeling a bit off. Anyway I brought with me a new sketchbook, a brand new landscape-size Alpha book from Stillman and Birn. I love the Alpha paper, but have been waiting for the right moment to start this one, so I used it to draw the Burnside Bridge (see below). It was a joy t use! Even though I didn’t add any paint to this one, it’s lovely paper to sketch on, though not smooth like the other book I was using it’s more to what I am used to.
burnside bridge, portland

And that’s it! Until the next time, Portland, until the next time.

good food comes in trucks

fusion fresh cafe truck
This is a food truck on the UC Davis campus, ‘Fusion Fresh Cafe’, located by the Mondavi Center. Though it’s not far away I always forget about this place, and have only eaten here twice, but the food is very good. I like their chicken cheese-steak sandwich. There are some nice tables with shade beside it so I took the opportunity to sketch it. I love a food truck, or a food cart. Portland comes to mind. Here are some that I sketched up there: https://petescully.com/2012/11/19/pdx-foodcarts/

celebrate davis 2013

celebrate davis 2013: cochon volant
Last Thursday May 16 was the tenth annual “Celebrate Davis” event, held at Community Park, the big park near my house. There were food stands, live music, bouncy castles for kids, a petting zoo, a big zipline was set up, even a dunk tank where kids can throw balls at a button to send some poor volunteer splashing into a vat of water. Mostly there were stands from various different businesses from Davis, this event being organized by the Chamber of Commerce. I did a little bit of sketching: above is Cochon Volant BBQ (“Flying Pig”), which I sketched with the smell of grilled pork wafting all around. I don’t eat pork any more but I’m sure it was lovely. I also sketched an old police car which was parked nearby, the local police were letting kids get in to take photos. This looks very 70s TV cop show to me. I wonder if it ever drove through big piles of boxes on the sidewalk, like they did in the 70s, on cop shows, on TV.
celebrate davis 2013: old police car
Celebrate Davis 2013 ended with its usual spectacular firework display, which thnaks to out location we can see from the comfort of our bedroom window.

to heaven in a food cart

PDX foodcarts
Food glorious food. Ok, this is the last of the Portland sketches that you are getting. That was one productive little trip. One thing I must point out is that I hardly ever ate indoors. Despite the rain, I only wanted to eat from the many delicious food carts that dot the city so liberally. Now along with the rule about going to Portland and sketching bridges, it’s also true that no visit to PDX is complete without sketching food carts. The first evening i was there I headed to the large collectio of carts downtown over at SW Alder. Most were closed, it being dark and damp, but I got an absolutely amazing red curry dish from a popular looking place called “I Like Thai Food” (and I do like Thai food, for sure). It was a pretty massive box of yummy food, and only cost $5. I sat on a bench near Powell’s to eat it, savouring every massive spicy bite. I cam back a few days later, on a sunny autumnal Monday, and sketched it alongside a few other carts, before getting another $5 red curry from a different cart around the corner (called Grandma’s Thai or something), just to compare. That too was delicious, but I think ‘I Like Thai food’ was a fair bit better. There were so many carts to choose from, though, such as the Flying Scotsman (fish and chips, yes, but also deep-fried Mars bars – I was too full to indulge, but next time, next time…).

PDX Potato Champion
On the Sunday I was exploring Hawthorne in the rain, food carts were a constant topographical feature. There is a small gaggle of them located around 12th and Hawthorne, including Potato Champion, who specialize in sauce-drowned Belgian frites (always a winner with the Scully tastebuds), and I got a decent poutine, and sketched as best as I could (there was shelter from the rain, but that morning’s mild hangover was still being nursed). I do think that if we lived in Portland, we would very likely eat from food carts about 75% of the time we ate anything, so abundant and varied are they. I am sure many of them are not very good, too, in fact I had one wrap type thing at a cart in the Saturday Market that was very unimpressive, to the point I cannot remember anything about it or even what style of food it was (it must have had some memory-wiping drug in it or something), but on the whole the Portland food cart experience was extremely promising. I know many urban sketchers like to go inside and warm up to eat and linger around a table, but for me food carts are the ultimate urban sketcher’s friend, because you get to stay outside, eat and just carry on drawing.
Food Cart sketching in Portland

If you want to know more about the food carts in Portland, this is a good website: http://www.foodcartsportland.com/.