A late afternoon/early evening “need to get out of the house” sketch, sat at the desk in the kitchen all day I escaped on the bike despite the threat of sneezes, and cycled toward the UC Davis campus where we’re currently working away from. I stopped at Russell, and drew one of the many fraternity/sorority houses that line that long avenue. Sorry, boulevard. Street, boulevard, avenue, road, I don’t mean to be rue’d. Sorry I’m juts avenue on. Right, now the obligatory weak puns are out of the way, this is Delta Gamma. It’s a sorority and as I have mentioned before, the whole fraternity/sorority thing is highly alien to me, for two reasons: one, I’m from Britain and we don’t have those there at our universities like they do in the US (not to say that certain old universities don’t have their posh-person clubs, but that’s also very alien to the likes of me), and two, well I have never been one of those “member of a social club” types. Some people just are, some people just aren’t. So I’ve always found the whole thing fascinating, but not so fascinating that I want to know anything about them. I work for the university, but I have never interacted with them, and I’ve mostly worked with international graduate students who are probably as nonplussed about these organizations as I am. The Greek lettering they use for the names means you can come up with funny pretend ones; Terry Pratchett once joked about the rowing club “Rho Rho Rho”. I always liked Theta Xi, where future cab drivers go to learn The Knowledge. (For non-Americans, The Knowledge is something that London black-taxi drivers have to learn in order to be eligible to drive one of the famous black cabs. It’s not something you learn overnight or by taking an online course. You learn The Knowledge over the course of a couple of years or more, by studying the A-to-Z every day. My brother did it, but gave up. My former brother-in-law did it too, but also gave up. He had a huge map of London on his wall while trying to learn it. They both drive all over the country for a living and could tell you the quickest route from Penzance to Penrith, but the Knowledge requires you to learn every single street in London and the shortest route between them. I know quite a few black cab drivers back home who’ve driven for years. You would see trainee cabbies riding around London on their mopeds, easy to spot because there would be a huge map board on their handlebars. There was a little test book you had to study. I never wanted to be a cab driver myself, but I was fascinated by The Knowledge and loved the idea of being able to store all of that information in your bonce. This is why cabbies have such great general knowledge, they are used to soaking all that in. Now as I write all of this, I’m writing from memories about this stuff when my brother was doing it, so it might be completely different now. Even since I have moved to the US, the world has changed. With smart phones and more accurate GPS, with all these Uber and Lyft apps, black cabs and their Knowledge might seem a bit old fashioned but I still admire them. Not that I’d hail black cabs very often, a bit expensive. I like to walk about central London. How did I end up talking about London taxis? I should draw one sometime. In the meantime, here’s another fraternity/sorority house. To get into one of these, you don’t need to do The Knowledge, you just need to do whatever they do in their ‘Rush’ periods, I don’t know, wear a different dress every day is one I was told about, or hazing, which I think involves beer. I remember the first time I ever met “Frat Boys” at an American party in Provence, and my American friend explaining to me “these lads are typical Frat Boys” and the idea of them stuck. Very drunk, huge muscular frames, nasal voice, glazed expression. Long time since I was a student, and this would have all been alien to me. Except the beer, of course. (And the glazed expression, and the nasal voice; it was the muscular frame my skinny-boned stick figure body didn’t have). Many British universities are actually built around the campus pub. I suppose the closest thing I can think of to these institutions in British universities are the rugby teams. I remember at Queen Mary, being in the pub at the same time as the university rugby team was not fun. I remember one rowdy night when the rugby team were all partying around one table and one shirtless bloke was stood on a chair drinking massive amounts of cheep beer (the student union pubs always had the cheapest beer, like a quid-twenty a pint), vomiting into a bucket, then drinking more beer all while stood up, with his fellow rugbyers singing something one of their public school rugby field songs (by the way, a “public school” in England is a private school, not a public school, which is a state or comprehensive school, and both rugby and cricket are very popular at those) (the one I worked at for a while had strong rugby and cricket teams, but didn’t even have a football team, that’s more a sport for the oiks, like at my school). Anyway I seem to recall he was then encouraged to drink the vomit from the bucket as well, which he gladly did, to much public schoolboy merriment. The antics of the British public boarding schools and university rugby teams are more worlds of mystery to me. But I studied drama, and I’m sure they thought we were all bonkers as well, and they were probably right. I took part in a multilingual performance show once where I had to play a drunken old man doing a solo piece on stage drinking a bottle of wine and ranting about, I have no idea what, it was by Raymond Queneau. Anyway I was given a bottle of real wine and I got through about three quarters of it during this one very silly speech, which only wet on for less than ten minutes. Needless to say there was plenty of ad-libbing by the end of it. the vice-chancellor of the university was in the audience and he actually came up to me and said how much he enjoyed the show, but because I had so much wine in me by this point I immediately asked if there could be more funding for the university theatre company, as if I had any idea about that at all, I’d just heard they were well short of dough These days I am part of university bureaucracy so I navigate such things differently, but when I was a kid I thought “the multilingual absurd performance piece is the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the vice-chancellor!”. Ah, student life was fun.
This is the corner of 1st and A. If Davis were a chessboard, this might be where you find the Rook. Davis would work well as a game of chess. In fact this might well be the middle of the board, because a game of Davis chess might be between the City of Davis and UC Davis, the natural delineation. Or it might be between the students, who spend just a few short but massively formative years here, and the residents, living here much longer-term and bringing up families. Or the chess game is the cyclists and the motorists (nah, in Davis the cyclists win that one). Perhaps it could be a chess game between the small businesses downtown and the big box companies just outside? Yeah, that’s been a game for quite a while now. Maybe the chess game is between the Davis Moms At The Park and Everyone Else. Or the chess game is between the Youth Soccer Teams trying to find a spot to practice at the park and the Youth Baseball teams trying to find a spot to practice at the park. Could be that the chess game is a downtown match between the Thai Restaurants and the Frozen Yogurt shops? Again, this could be happening. Or maybe the most thrilling chess game would be between the turkeys of Davis and the humans of Davis? Downtown Town would have been the king. I told you about Downtown Tom a long time ago, but come to think of it I never showed you the drawing I did for the Pence Gallery, I’ll have to dig that out. Downtown Tom, what a legendary beast, he was the Kasparov of Davis.
This is the corner of 1st and A. I have drawn this corner before, a few times, already. This building, a frat house (how could you tell?), was painted white before but is now custard yellow. I like the warning sign on the barrier, warning that it might drop on your head. It reminded me of the fate of Cyrano de Bergerac. “Mais on ne se bat pas dans l’espoir du succès, non, c’est plus beau lorsque c’est inutile!”
It’s New Year’s Eve! Look to the future now, it’s only just begun. I wish it could be New Year’s Eve every day. I don’t really do much for New Year’s Eve, but I do make a point to get out and sketch somewhere, no matter how cold it is. Here are today’s ones. Most sketching I’ve done in a month! My thumb was hurting, so I had to go light on the sketching. Still hurts but wanted to feel productive. I have been trying to teach myself to do digital illustration, the very basics, which has meant a fair bit of tracing as well. Feels very ground-level though so it was nice to get back to sketching, something I feel a bit better at. Bloody windy out today though. It’s 2018 being blown away. I’m not looking forward to 2019 (specifically March, when Britain leaves the EU with no apparent deal in sight), but it’s just numbers on a calendar. I think that it’s just the last year of an unknowable decade. We don’t really have an agreed name for this decade. The last one is sometimes called the ‘noughties’ which is a bit of a rubbish name, and I’ve heard this one called the ‘twenty-tens’ but that just isn’t anything. When we finally hit 2020, and the Twenties, we can get back on track. I’m still not used to being in the ‘twenty-first century’. It’s all just numbers on a calendar. The sketch above, drawn in the wind, C Street Davis. I drew this same building on New Year’s Eve four or five years ago, from a different angle.
This is my back yard. Apart from the above, I’ve not left the house much this week. I did this before going out to sketch, as if to warm up, and listened to a podcast of Edgar Wright speaking to Adam Buxton, which was really interesting. I really liked that long triangular shadow sneaking across the back fence. New Year’s Eve, I don’t party on New Year’s Eve any more. When I was a kid my family always had a party, or if not us then someone else in our street. When I was in my 20s, I’d sometimes go out on New Year’s Eve, but I also remember the ones in my late teens when I’d just stay in watching Jools Holland and Rab C Nesbitt on my little TV in my bedroom, while drawing football kits. I ain’t changed much!
I did one last sketch, a quick one paint-first while the daylight drew to a close, and my son took part in a smaller soccer practice session at Playfields in Davis. It was cold, windy, brisk, but the boys were just happy to get kicking balls about. As I’m not coaching now, I was happy to just watch and sketch, though I did get cold.
I do have some more 2018 sketches to scan, maybe I’ll do those later tonight (party on!!), but I need to finish assembling the 2018 sketches grid. I do it every year. You may remember from last year (you probably won’t, that’s fine) that I have been doing more and more sketches each year. Here’s the post. Well, I can confirm that this year the sketch-rate went down again, and I could not catch up with 2017, not by a long way. Ah well. Happy New Year 2019!
Continuing the intermission from Italy posting, here is one from the edge of UC Davis, a sorernity house on Russell Blvd. One of many; this area is called “Frat Row”. This one is “Pi Beta Phi” which is you all know is short for “Pirates Be-taking Philosophy” which yes I know makes no sense, but I know nothing about the origins of the phrase and don’t want to assume. I assume it is some sort of in-joke, like “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense”, the famous slogan of the Knights of the Garter, which I’m sure they never intended to be their permanent slogan, just a bit of a laugh, like their name, Knights of the Garter. The origins of names and phrases are often lost in the swirling sands of history. Ok before I turn this post into another inevitable meaningless collection of weak jokes and untrue etymologies (“sweetheart, that could be the name of my autobiography”), let’s just get back to the subject matter. There are lots of these houses just off campus, but as someone who didn’t go to college here this whole ‘Greek Life’ is alien to me. When I was at uni I went to the New Globe pub in Mile End with my fellow drama students and got drunk on halves, and that was about it really. Fratorities and Sorernities are not really a thing there at all. The first time I ever met ‘Frat Boys’ was when I spent a year in France teaching after I graduated. There were lots of American students in the city where I lived and I remember going to a party and some lads being described as ‘Frat Boys’. “Frat?” I would ask. “Is that an acronym, like ‘Fourteen Recipes About Thunderbirds’, or ‘Flying Rabbits Are Terrifying’ or something?” (I was not as good at coming up with funny acronyms back then) “No,” they would say. “It doesn’t mean anything. It just means they drink loads, are usually white, and drink loads.” I think that was the description I was given, it was a long time ago and I didn’t really understand it. They might have said more but they definitely said that. I didn’t think they drank more than British binge-students. I have snippets of very odd conversations with young Americans while living in France, like the person who asked me, upon hearing that I was from London, if I liked “London Broil”. Again I didn’t know what that was (I still don’t by the way). What I got was that “Frat Boy” just means a certain recognizable type. They might not even be in a “Frat” (and I didn’t learn what that was until I after actually moved to America) (and then spent years deliberately saying “Fratority” and “Sorernity” just to see if anyone would correct me, then I would laugh). It’s an expression I hear very often, “They’re just a bunch of Frat Boys,” “This place is full of Frat Boys”, “Get off of my lawn, Frat Boys”. I’m focusing very much on the Frat Boys here but not on the Sorority Girls. You don’t shorten that by the way, you say the whole thing. The rule of thumb is if you can pronounce the whole word ‘sorority’, then you are sober enough to drive home. I don’t know much about these societies other than what I’ve been told, about how they do ‘Rushes’ where you have to wear a different dress every day for a month, and say “ew” a lot. Like I say, it’s all alien to me. My wife did make me watch “Legally Blonde” years ago, but it was because I lost a bet (if I had won she would have had to watch “Young Einstein”, to this day she still hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing that amazing and not ridiculous at all movie). In “Legally Blonde” they make references to some sorority or other and that is pretty much all I know. So, I decided to do a little research on this particular sorority. When I say ‘a little research’ I mean I googled it and looked at the Davis Wiki page. Apparently (and this is cool) Pi Beta Phi was the first “national secret college society of women”, founded in 1867 in Monmouth Illinois (as “I.C. Sorosis”, and we can all agree the Greek letter name sounds a lot better). This means they are 150 years old! Notable Pi Beta Phi people are Jennifer Garner and Faye Dunaway. Not from the Davis chapter of course, but it’s a national organization. So there you have it. It also definitely has nothing to do with Pirates Be-taking Philosophy.
On the second day of the Long Weekend, in the morning while my son went to a birthday party, I cycled downtown for some pre-lunchtime sketching. Another panoramic two-page spread, as you do. I decided to return to First Street, which is a block away from the similarly named Second Street (I know, makes no sense). Here, outside the Natsoulas Gallery, a huge cat is being erected, covered in mosaic tiles, next to the already installed colourful dog on the corner. While sketching, a guy working on the structure came over and chatted with me about art (he draws stuff as well) (hello by the way if you’re reading this). This is turning into a most colourful corner. On the other page, the fraternity house of Theta Xi (no, sorry, no jokes about taxis today). This is a bit like a sequel (or a prequel, technically, being First Street) to the sketch from the day before. I should do a panorama of Third Street to keep it up, like. Maybe I will wait 30 years and then sell my sketchbook for billions to Disney and they can get J J Abrams to sketch it, but as much in the style of the Second Street sketch as possible, with a fire hydrant and a bit of lens flare, forgetting that First Street with its giant cats and midichlorians even exists. Or maybe not. It’s getting hotter, hotter, hotter. This weekend is going to be a scorcher. Time to get out of Davis…
That’s a lot of cars. There are like, eight cars at least.This is the corner of 1st and D Streets (or the corner of “Free Speech” and “Design”) which is where you will find the fraternity/sorority houses of Theta Xi. Which probably explains all the cars, you know, “the taxi”. Look I’m 40 ok, I can make these jokes all day long. I was just getting away with it at 39 but at 40 I literally have a license for them. So Theta Xi is not the trainee-cab-drivers fraternity, though to be honest they have really missed out on a trick there. Like Kappa Chi Nu, the fraternity for future baristas at Starbucks, or Rho Rho Rho for the future professional canoeing instructors. That last one was a version of a similar joke told by Terry Pratchett, who is on my mind today because this day, March 12, is one year since he passed away. Damn, I loved Terry Pratchett. I grew up reading his books, absorbing his sideways worldview, I even used to draw characters from his books over all of my school notes, well Death mostly, ‘Mort’ being one of my favourite of his books. I even read the book in French (it is called ‘Mortimer’, and the title character ‘Morty’, since the name ‘Mort’ was taken by Death himself). I did have the German version too somewhere, ‘Gevatter Tod’, and I still have the graphic novel. At one point I tried making a comic adaptation in French myself but only got so far before shrugging my shoulders and giving up. I enjoyed the small-screen adaptations, the animated ones were a bit poorly made but the Sky TV shows were well chosen (Color of Magic maybe less so). I went to see one stage adaptation of Carpe Jugulum, which was actually staged before the book came out so that the um-actually crowd could not point out all minor deviations from the original (there were none anyway). It was at the beloved Riverside Studios in Hammersmith and Mr. Pratchett himself was there with his big black hat, along with a crowd of Granny Weatherwaxes, Deaths, Rincewinds and Cut-me-own-throat-Dibblers. I didn’t dress up, I didn’t do that sort of thing (though if I had, I’d have definitely been Vetinari). I remember one other thing from that night, I stood next to Stephen Fry in the toilets. He actually makes the Lord Melchett noise (“meeeeehhhhh”) while doing his business. Well no he doesn’t, but I imagined that he did. I definitely didn’t make it myself, at least thinking back I really hope I didn’t.
So, one year on, you are still much missed Mr Pratchett. I wish I hadn’t left all of my old Discworld books in England, because I don’t actually know where they are now.
Another sketch from A Street (that’s “A” Street not “a street”), perhaps rather than point that out every time I should just link to a glossary of terms (that’s “a glossary” not “A” Glossary), or I could refer to A Street by one of the all-new all-different improved names I have come up with. So here goes. Another sketch from Archaeology Street, this building is on the corner of Right-to-remain-silent Street and I am guessing from the insignia that this is some sort of frat house or sorority house, either that or they are saying they like multiplying things by horseshoes. Or perhaps they really liked X-Men 3 and this stands for “X-Men” and “Brotherhood”. I don’t know. I could look it up but that wouldn’t be as much fun. I love it when that happens though. You say something to be funny, like “what’s the deal with iPhones, you don’t put them up to your eyes,” and someone Googles it and tells you why they are called iPhones and it doesn’t mean Eye-Phones, and here’s the link to Wikipedia, I hate it when that happens. I’m not explaining this very well, am I, so I suggest just experiencing the feeling and then Google what you felt and that will explain it better than I can. This was a lunchtime sketch made on the day after I turned 40. The Day After. The Day The Earth Stood Still. The Day After the Day After. Remember that one? That was one of those nuclear bomb things back in the 80s. I remember the scariest one was a TV film called “Threads”, set in Sheffield, and it scared the living daylights out of me, in fact it scared all the Bond films out of me, Goldfinger, Octopussy, From Russia with Love, all of them. When I was nine I used to have a lot of ‘Cold War’ dreams, it was 1985, there was a lot of that about. I used to dream that my brother and I would sleep through a nuclear attack (we were both heavy sleepers), like we’d wake up and Tesco’s would have been destroyed along with everything else, it was odd. I remember those leaflets they used to give us, telling us to paint our windows white and hide under a door that you take off its hinges, all these things you have time to do in a three minute warning. I’m not sure why I’m thinking of all this now, perhaps it’s turning 40 and reminiscing of my youth in 1980s Thatcher Cold War Britain. But I’m here now, in California, drawing pictures. Have a good weekend everyone.
The last time I sketched this Frat House it was a different Frat that was in there. I’m not a massive fan of the whole Frat thing, but then I’m a pushing-40 British sketcher so I don’t know, I’m not the demographic. This is that time of year though isn’t it, when the Fraternities do all their Frat Boy stuff, and the Sororities do all their Sor Girl stuff (it isn’t actually called that, is it. See? I’m clueless). I’m actually surprised that the helicopter parents of these students haven’t set up special societies of their own, to keep an eye on them, Mat Houses or Pat Houses, as it were. That is a terrible idea of course, which makes it surprising that they don’t exist (and they probably do). You see all the boards over campus each year for ‘Rush’, why they are in such a hurry I don’t know. Young people, eh. Actually I was in a hurry when I sketched this, as the lunchtime ticked away and I needed to go and eat something unhealthy. Anyway, this is at the very start of campus, the intersection of Old Davis Road, 1st Street and A Street.
This panorama is from a week or so ago, drawn while sitting down on 1st Street on Martin Luther King Jr Day. I sat there sketching for nearly three hours, and still had to finish off the rest of the colour when I got home! It’s those trees, I am trying to look at all the branches, it’s maddening. But great fun, huh! I listened to some podcasts (history, football) and some music (spot the David Devant reference in this post’s title). This scene, latest in my ‘panoramarathon’, shows a row of fraternity houses (all part of Theta Xi, which as I’ve said before is probably the frat house for trainee cab drivers), ending up on the right with the John Natsoulas gallery. This is a whole block between D and E Streets. If you have never been to davis before, well looking through my sketchbook these days is getting to be a hand-drawn Streetview. On the far right (geographically not politically) you can see a large sculpture of a colourful looking figure, a tall man posing, with a head that looks like an old diving suit helmet. It glows up at night like a sentry guarding the entrance to downtown. I don’t know what aliens arriving here would think, but to be fair they would probably not be coming in off of I-80, they’d probably land their saucers in the Quad or beam into Central Park or something. I can’t speak for aliens (although in American terminology I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien, I’m an Englishman in Davis, though I suppose I prefer ‘Briton’ or ‘Londoner’) (ok fine I’m a Martian I admit it).
Here is a closer view, for those without built-in Martian zoom-vision. There were a lot of red vehicles parked out on the street that day, I didn’t just paint them that way to break up the beige and white monotony.
And this dry weather continues. Some trees are already starting to blossom. Temperatures have been in the high 70s all week.
More panoramas to come, but boy they eat up your time (or my time rather). I’ll have this book finished by the end of the month.
The sunshine continues. We have a bit of an emergency here in California, with the whole not raining thing. They may even end up rationing water. Let’s have a little bit of rain, please! I remember a few years ago we had a similar situation and then a huge weekend of rain refilled everything and we were like, ok never mind. This time we’ll need a bit more I reckon. Some snow in the mountains, water in our reservoirs, and occasionally a cloud in the sky perhaps. However while it is sunny I will still draw those shadows against those buildings. I got out one lunchtime for another panorama, and with this one I packed a hello of a lot of inkwork into my hour, helped by listening to the second Beady Eye album (which I must say I am really enjoying). I added some of the detailings and the the paint later at home. This is First Street, Davis, the block closest to campus, opposite the parking lot. A very common sight for many UCD employees on their way to work. I have sketched the big white building on the left (with the ‘Dutch Colonial’ roof) on a couple of occasions, but not the Delta-Delta-Delta frat house (it’s actually a sorority) and the building next to it. It’s funny, the panoramas much warmer on the right, with warmer colours and leaves on the trees, while to the left the scene is colder, leafless, much less colour.Like going from Winter to Spring. Winter, haha. Davis didn’t have a ‘Winter’ this year.
Here are a couple of closer views.
One thing you may notice on the sorority house is that it got tp’d – toilet paper thrown over it. You get that here occasionally. You’d think they’d wipe that practice out.
Panoramarathon “rolls” on…