early morning back yard sketches

Mum's Garden 2017 sm

Travelling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops. Nor is travelling across the Atlantic. So no matter how late I stay up on the arrival day, when I am a little delirious and over-exhausted from the long overnight flight, especially one delayed by over 3 hours sat on the runway at Oakland, no matter how tired I am, I’ll still wake up at like 2am and find it impossible to return to the land of the sleeping. Also the sun comes up super early in Britain in the summer, and those birds in the Norwich Walk trees do love an early morning sing-song. When I was a kid I’d stay up all night and wait for that early dawn light, those early songbirds, and sometimes I would go for a run, enjoying the world when no people were about. Well these days I’m more likely to draw the world at that time, and so I sat in my mum’s kitchen and drew the back yard. The sky’s a funny colour but it really was a bit like that. I listened to podcasts about football, language, British history and Thor (“The Lightning and the Storm”, all about Walt Simonson’s epic run on the Thor comic, look it up, it’s a great podcast) until it was time for people to wake up and have breakfast. I always love that first morning back home. I’ve lived a quarter of my life in America now, but this to me will always be home. Click on the image for a closer view. When I showed my mum the first thing she said, “oh no you drew my washing line, I should have taken it down!” Whereas I as the urban sketcher, that is the first thing I drew, it’s to me the most interesting thing to draw. “At least you didn’t draw that old bucket,” she said. “Whaaa? I forgot the old bucket! No!!!” I totally would have drawn the bucket too, if I had space on the page, but it was just “off-screen”. I did draw the gnomes though, and I don’t really like those.

Here are a couple of other early-morning sketches of my mum’s back garden from previous visits back home, the top one being in 2011, the bottom one being 2007. Both feature the washing line. The bottom one (from ten years ago!) is a little sad to me now, as it shows my old tortoise, Tatty, who we had since I was about 6 or 7, but sadly died since that sketch.

mum's garden in burnt oak
back garden at norwich walk

dans le jardin

pence garden tour 2014
Last month I took part in the Pence Gallery’s annual Garden Tour event in Davis. On the Garden Tour, local Davis gardeners open up their gardens to the ticket-paying public. All of the gardens are specially selected and are themselves works of art – gardening is a whole ‘nother world to me but when it’s taken seriosuly, you really see some amazing results. In each garden there was a Master Gardener, which is an actual person who specializes in helping people with their gardening issues, and to whom visitors could come for advice. Oh, and in each garden on the tour there is a local artists, painting (or in my case, drawing) the lovely gardens.  I was in the garden of the Reinerts just beyond the northern edge of Davis, and it was a delightful place. Lizards roamed the flowerbeds, hummingbirds flitted between the trees, bees buzzed high on nectar, and the flowers were colourful and fragrant.
pence garden tour 2014
Another artist was there for a while, so I sketched her painting with oil at her easel. A lot of people who I had met before came by and said hello, which was nice.
Pence Garden Tour 2014And finally I sketched the house while seated in the arbor, the reverse view from the top sketch. As I sketched, I listened to the Master Gardener advise people about their gardens and was just hugely impressed. Keeping a garden is an enormous amount of work, but really requires years of careful knowledge to get right, so I am just so impressed with gardeners right now.

Anyway…my sketches from the Garden Tour are currently on display at the Pence Gallery on D Street, Davis, in their silent auction so do pop by and see them if you’re in town!

an afternoon at the allotments

dawn's shed

One Monday afternoon while back in London I went to the East Finchley Allotments. My cousins have an impressive allotment there, and invited me along to do some sketching with them, and catch up after so many years. It’s been a while sincedawn's birdhouse I was in East Finchley – I used to pass through on my way to work every day, a million years ago it seems – but I found the place, a large and historic allotment site behind a primary school, surrounded by woods and residences. For those who don’t know, an allotment is kind of like a garden space that you rent and maintain for non-commercial use, a bit like the community gardens you get here in the US. My cousin Dawn (check out her lovely site London Clay Birds), who I had sketchcrawled with a couple of days earlier, met me and showed me around, and we did some more drawing. She built the shed above, in fact, and my other cousin Lester constructed the roof. It was a sketcher’s paradise, and very peaceful too. I drew one of several birdhouses (also Dawn’s creations), in that brown pen I go on about so much. My cousin Claire came along a little later, with their Mum Sue, and we had some lovely catching up. Claire brought her incredible sketchbooks too (check out her site The Quiet Revolution), and then we explored the site a bit more, doing some more drawing.

Some of the allotments really are rambling patches of loveliness, with a lot of hard work and devotion involved. I’m always impressed at the dedication people have to gardening; being essentially living things, gardens are not something you can just ignore. Dawn writes the newsletter for the East Finchley Allotments, and showed me the impressive map she is working on, hand-drawn of course. I like drawing old things like sheds, so we got some more sketching in. The one below drew me in largely because of the French signs in the window.

east finchley shed
It was a hot day, and after stopping to sketch the quick scene below (the sloping grounds of the allotments leading up to a primary school which looks a lot like the one I went to, but isn’t), we all sat in the shade of the allotment and caught up. Dawn gave me a bag of wonderful hand-made goodies, including some of the beautiful London Clay Birds (check them out on her Folksy and Etsy stores). It was a very nice afternoon, I hope to have more of them.
east finchley allotments

down at the bottom of the garden

fisherboy statue

Here are the last ones from the Garden Tour last week. Just to clarify I didn’t do any actual touring, I was in the one garden all day. The first thing I was attracted to was the row of birdhouses, and below was a little statue of a fisherboy. He didn’t mind me drawing him, and stayed still the entire time. This was a very peaceful part of the garden, though at one point I was distracted by a massive bee the size of a small bird who had no interest in me, but I kept my distance all the same. I’m very pro-bee (but rather anti-wasp) and wish they weren’t disappearing at the rate that they are, because they basically help keep us in existence. This thing was like the Mountain that Buzzes. I spent a bit more time looking around at the various yard ornaments and garden furniture, sketching them below on one page. Along the lawn where metal silhouettes of fairies, reminding me of the Cottingley fairies. Sketching that garden was fun.

garden objects

uncage the colours, unfurl the flag

garden with red bridge

Here is another of the drawings I did for the Garden Tour last week. There were already two other artists in the garden painting this part of it, so I joined them after a while to draw this colourful section. The garden I was in at the home of a well travelled lady – Ms. Gilardi – originally from Middlesex, which was nice, as so am I. The little red bridge had been freshly painted, and the pond had a fake bird next to it, presumably to ward off real birds who may try to swipe the fish. I don’t really know my plants – I can tell a daffodil from a cactus but that’s about it – but there were lots of many different plants. Ms. Gilardi has only lived there for five years, but in that time has produced an incredible garden. Along the outside fence is a row of gaily painted bicycles, one of which I had drawn before (this one, back in January). Most visible, and popular among local Davisites, is her tall flagpole, which sports a different flag each day. She keeps all of her flags hanging on hooks beside her house, diligently labelled. On this day the flag was of particualr meaning to her, being of the place where her family originally came. Can you guess the flag? (I’ve always wanted to go there!)

I drew this on the Strathmore hor press watercolour paper, with a pigma micron and watercolours.

for the birds


Last Sunday, I took part in the Pence Gallery’s annual ‘Garden Tour’, as one of the artists placed into one of the artistic gardens to make art while people looked at all the interesting garden features. The garden I was in was a particularly interesting garden – many very interesting plants (including an actual banana tree!), but also lots of architectural features that begged to be sketched. This one was my favourite, however, the wooden birdhouse. I actually sketched it twice (and will probably draw it a third time for good measure!).

I hope this terrace of bird houses is well used by our local feathered friends. I have noticed since moving to north Davis that there are different birds up here than in our neck of south Davis (which by the way was the only place in Davis where I’ve seen pigeons, hiding away). I’m not a bird watcher; I can tell a magpie from a pelican, but that’s about it. I know someone in Davis who is though, Pica over at Bird by Bird, check out her excellent (and mighty quick) bird sketches. I do like bird houses; when I was a kid we had one on a big pole in our garden that my grandad had made, but it had long been overtaken by wasps. Bloody wasps. Speaking of bird houses, you may be interested in seeing/buying one of these lovely hand-made unique wooden bird houses designed and built by my cousin Dawn. I was reminded of her when I was drawing this. Check out her other delicious work available on her Etsy store, ‘London Clay Birds’.

This was my last drawing of the day, I’ll post the rest of my drawings soon. It took about half an hour, and I drew it in uniball signo um-151 brown-black pen on the Stillman & Birn ‘delta’ paper. That is nice paper, very thick, sturdy.

that cinqo feeling

garden ornament

Yesterday was Cinqo de Mayo (Happy Cinqo de Mayo!), being May the 5th. We were in Santa Rosa, and went to a garden party at my mother-in-law’s house. I took the opportunity to sketch, to practise my garden sketching before today’s Garden Tour, and to try out the Stillman & Birn Delta series book. Nice paper! Being thicker and great for watercolours. I may still have the same issues with the pens ultimately of course but this felt pretty nice, so I’m going to bring that with me today. I only got as far as this garden ornament, and I started a larger piece showing the whole garden but gave up early, and went for a beer. Met a nice bloke originally from Glasgow.

sitting in an english garden waiting for the sun

mum's garden in burnt oak

I always get up early on my first morning back in Burnt Oak. Often I will go and sketch in the kitchen, listen to the news, have a cup of tea. It was pretty gloomy out, so I looked out the window and sketched the back garden. Later on, it would rain, and rain hard, and we would be out in central London getting drenched, but at this point it was just overcast, a typical changeable English summer.

garden gnomes

I drew these the next day, in the rain. This gnome has slept in that garden since I was a kid, and though his paint has peeled away, he hasn’t woken up yet. These were drawn onto a postcard which I sent to my son. I sent him postcards nearly every day, each with a drawing on them. I must say, this is very much the English palette. While Lisbon has a lot of yellow and blue, London has its greeny grey and brown.

drawing davis on a nice spring day

arboretum terracelet's draw davis: rescheduled for two weeks

It was time for another ‘Let’s Draw Davis’ sketchcrawl – our fifth one – this time at the UC Davis Arboretum. There were thirteen sketchers in total, mostly from Davis, but also from Sonoma, Sacramento, Oakland and the foothills. We met at 11 outside Borders, and spent the first hour or so in the little garden right next door, the Arboretum Terrace. That is a nice spot which is often forgotten about, and was a plesant way to start a relaxing day of sketching.The weather was nice, warm, though the wind was kicking up a bit. I drew the scene to the left, with powerlines passing overhead.

Below, sketching the sketchers: this is Sandra and Barbara, with Barbara’s dog Demi. Sandra has been on some of the previous sketchcrawls in Davis, but this was Barbara’s first ever sketchcrawl. Great to see you!

sketchers drawing davis

Below, Helen and Scott, sketching away.

in the arboretum terrace

More to come!

how does your garden grow

luther burbank gardens, santa rosa

hydrant in santa rosa

While in Santa Rosa at the weekend, I walked down to Luther Burbank Home and Gardens and sketched in the afternoon. It’s a pretty little place, and the old house is very sketchworthy. Burbank was an important botanist and horticulturalist who created/developed  many species of plant and flower, as well as a famous potato. There’s a small chance I may be mistaken about this, but I think he invented Mr Potato Head. The site is in fact California Historical Landmark #234.

I also sketched a fire hydrant, because, you know, I’m collecting sketches of them. This one reminds me of a dalek. Perhaps it needs some Mr Potato Head glasses and moustache to cheer it up.