back to where you once belonged

ibanez artcore

I bloody loved Get Back. Peter Jackson has done an amazing job with all that old footage from the Let It Be sessions, it really was like getting the Beatles back for a little while. I have so many things to say about it that I can’t even say them, so I continue to re-watch it, to listen to other Beatles buffs talks about it, and then re-watch it again. It’s an absolute joy, compelling to watch. To say that it has re-sparked my life-long love of the Beatles is an understatement. At the same time, I was also recently given the massive new Paul McCartney book The Lyrics for Christmas, which I’ve been eagerly anticipating and listening to Macca interviews about it for the past few months. So I’ve not only been listening to all the old Beatles stuff but many of my old Wings and solo Macca stuff, which I loved so much when I was a kid. On top of that, I have pulled the old electric guitar out from under the bed, the one I bought in 2006 and haven’t played since about 2009, it has been locked away in its hard case under the bed like a spaceman in stasis. It’s an Ibanez Art-Core AFS-75, in black. It has been nice catching up. 

The Beatles were the band that made me first pick up a guitar in the first place, back in the 80s. My friend and fellow Beatles-nut Ralph had a guitar, so I got one for a fiver at a car-boot, but it was a pretty crap acoustic, so on my 14th birthday my brother got me an electric guitar, a Westone Concord II. I need to finally bring that old thing back from England at some point and fix it up, give it new pick-ups, make it a project. That’s what I actually learned to play on, though I was never very good and couldn’t do anything fancy, just play chords and do the the odd bit of finger-picking. It was easy to play though, easier than my Ibanez, which might look and sound better but never felt completely right. I think I’m a bit intimidated by this one. I would write songs, so many songs, it was always about trying to create, come up with new tunes. Anyway in 1996 while working at Thorntons chocolate shop in Oxford Street I went out on my break and bought a Hohner acoustic guitar at Macari’s on Charing Cross Road, which from day one had a beautiful warm sound, and it still has. I have brought that with me, to Belgium, France and over here to California, and it’s my favourite guitar. I got the Ibanez after moving to the US – my second Ibanez, actually. The first one, a black electro-acoustic I bought in Cotati a week or so after my arrival, broke when it fell over softly onto the carpet. So I went out and got this one as a much flashier replacement. I enjoyed it a lot and even recorded a few new pieces with it. I love playing with music, even if it isn’t exactly sophisticated, I just love it. And then I stopped, for some reason I just stopped playing entirely, and wouldn’t even pick up my acoustic. This lasted for years, and I was off guitars. I wasn’t any good, so that was that. I got a ukulele a few years ago after our first trip to Hawaii and loved it, so for the past few years I’ve been playing that off and on, and I love it, the gentle sound. I’m still learning but it’s already one of my favourite things. So I started getting my acoustic out a bit more, but not wanting to disturb, played quietly or when people weren’t home. After watching Get Back, my old Beatles love made me want to just be strumming, all the time, so I was on the uke or the acoustic as much as I could. Certainly on our trip to Hawaii I played a lot of ‘Here Comes The Sun’, which was optimistic given all the rain we had. Then last week I remembered my electric guitar, hidden away under the bed like a secret. I dragged out its heavy hard case, unhooked the clasps, and released it from its plush blue bed. Now the next bit should be, “and then the years fell away as I played a melodic solo, my hairs standing on end, I was back.” But that would be completely false because I was never that good a player, and the truth is I never felt comfortable with this guitar. It was nice playing it again, but it still felt like it could never be fully in tune when playing open chords (I felt the same back in 2006), I’m mentally used to the fretboard on my old electric, and I’m still sounding beginner-level clunky when it comes to riffs and scales. I feel a bit unworthy of such a fancy looking guitar. I think I’d hidden it away for so long because I thought, well I might just sell it. But then, you know what, I found that I could do a few things, and why not learn, why not take this time to improve? So that’s what I’m going to do, play it more often, try things I wasn’t able to do before, see what comes out. I got some new strings, I’m going to put them on this weekend. It feels like a new guitar, to the point that I feel surprised when I listen to the old recordings from 06-07, I did actually play it more than I thought. And I even drew it back then – see below, along with the chords of a tune I wrote called ‘Angry Words’ (ironically I didn’t write any words to that one, the tune was all in the lead riff). So now ‘m watching a lot of YouTube videos on doing this and that, and it feels like starting over, like an absolute beginner. Just like a sketchbook and pen, I loved having a guitar in my hands when I was growing up, it made me feel that little bit safer.



the bedroom days

bedroom office
A couple more on the iPad drawn in the bedroom, or the Bedroom Office as it now is. Both drawn before we got our living room back (which was over the weekend, hooray!) so this was also the dining room and watching tv room. It’s also where I draw and write (haha, I hardly ever write at the moment), and it would be where I do my Lego animations but I’ve not done those in a while either. I felt like installing a running track around the bed and using it as a gym too. With all stuff from downstairs shelves all over the floor it would have been more like a hurdle track. Ah well, it’s where we are right now. I notice from some of my fellow sketchers in Europe that things are slowly beginning to open up there, and I think that they will here too soon, but extremely cautiously. Well most of us, some aren’t. I also can’t wait for the shelter-in-place to be over, because then the walking and running paths around here might not be so busy, people might stay in more. I don’t know, I want to go places, get on a train and wander about the City, but I don’t know how we’ll all feel. I have a nice mask. Lately I’ve been obsessed with the idea of going on week-long hikes along the national trails of England, as if that should ever happen. I used to think about that sort of thing when I was young but never got around to it, except my time in Cumbria when I was 17 doing the Outward Bound thing. In the meantime, stay at home, it’s very hot outside again in California. These two sketches were done on the iPad, sat on the bed, the one below while watching Revenge of the Sith (I do love ‘Sith’, one of my favourite films), the one above while monitoring an online seminar/workshop for our department. The bookshelf was moved from downstairs during the flood but I am going to keep it there as I like having books close by my bed. I have already moved the dvd shelf downstairs and replaced it with my old collection of Fighting Fantasy books. And right now, I’m watching the Bundesliga, as football has returned to Germany, albeit in empty stadiums. Unlike the quiet first round of games, the Dortmund-Bayern game has crowd noise pumped in, and the tv cameras are angled to show as little of the empty stands as possible. I’ve watched so many old World Cup games lately it is nice to watch some actual real new games. I feel like a teenager again, when I would rarely leave my room, just stay in there drawing and watching football or Star Wars or reading. Still on top of the recent flood which left us without a living room for a month, one of the cats got sick and was in hospital a couple of times, he’s recovering now the poor thing, but he did wee all over my side of the bed one night. Go home 2020 you are drunk! One thing all of this disruption and time at home has given me is time to go through things and organize stuff, get rid of what I don’t need, and one day I might get started on that.
in the bedroom

In the meantime I’ll draw round the house. Tomorrow our local sketching thing Let’s Draw Davis will have a virtual get-together, less of a sketchcrawl and more just the show and tell bit, showing what we have drawn while stuck at home during this whole thing. I had an idea over the weekend that I might put a video together of my stay-home sketches, and the I thought I could do a series of YouTube videos giving a tour of Davis through my sketches, focusing on a different area or theme each time, make about 8-10 of them. Summer project.

Sketching Sudwerk

Let's Sketch Sudwerk p2
Last week I was invited to lead a sketching event at the Sudwerk Taproom in Davis. Now I used to go to Sudwerk in its previous incarnation, as a restaurant and beer garden, and I sketched it a few times. The restaurant is closed now, and the current owners operate a popular tap room  with am interesting rotation of beers, but still keeping the old Sudwerk classics like the Marzen, which I always liked. No longer sold in big litre glasses though, but my diet (see previous sketch) probably means I should lay off those anyway. We had a number of other sketchers there with us, it was a nice relaxing evening, I gave some tips on sketching places like this, and I drew a few of the things that I saw about there. It was a nice evening!
Let's Sketch Sudwerk p1

modern art makes me want to rock out

artfest guitarist artfest stradipearius

Last Friday I went out to the far western edge of Davis, to the fourth annual Stonegate Art Fest. It’s an exhibition of artwork – paintings, sculptures, photography – put on by the residents of the Stonegate area. I went to see the work of my colleague Rahman Azari and his wife (both are excellent artists), and do some sketching, and also spread the word about the upcoming Davis sketchcrawl on October 16. I met some interesting local artists and spent a lot of time talking, so only managed two sketches. I drew the guitarist (Kit Sodergren), who played an acoustic set; he was playing “If I Fell” by the Beatles as I sketched this. The other drawing is called “Stradipearius”, a piece by Eric Nelson which was part of the ‘box project’ the stonegate artists were invited to do. Each was given a small wooden box and asked to create something from it, with diverse results. Afterwards, I cycled home, through a Davis which is now full of people and new students, past frat houses which are ‘rushing’, and a downtown full of music and the excitement of the new school year. Summer is over*, and Fall is here at last.

(*when I say Summer is over, I say it while it’s like, 95 degrees outside)

the e street strummer

12-string guitarist, E st

He stands outside Chipotle and Peet’s Coffee n E Street, busking on his twelve-string at lunchtimes when I am there, sounding like Dylan, Nelson, Haggard; his music is very nice. He has one of those harmonicas you can play while guitaring; no cymbals at the knees though. Very distinctive with his long white hair, moustache, sunglasses; he has a long feather in his hat. One of the characters of Davis.  He was singing a song about watercoloured wine while I was drawing this, munching on my burrito. It was cold outside; November is really kicking in. The Fall Colours have just exploded all around us, the trees have suddenly turned the colour of flames, and there’s no way I’ll keep up with them.

charing cross road


Merry Christmas!

Okay so here’s what I want, a black rickenbacker guitar (12 string would be nice), and you can get it from this shop, Macari’s. Ok, fair enough, a nice pair of socks will do. Anyway, I was out in Central London having a wander and I stopped on Charing Cross Road to draw the shop itself. It was here that I bought my acoustic gitar, the one I still play, 12 years ago.  

So, Christmas. How many mince pies have I eaten this week? I’m eating one right now actually. As Santa’s representative on earth I get one on christmas eve. What’s going on in the UK? Woolworths, now that was sad, going in there today to look at empty cleared shelves, people rummaging through nothingness while the former best place to buy christmas gifts rolls over and dies, and as of today it takes zavvi (formerly virgin megastore) with it, which is an utter disaster for me. That big store on the corner of Oxford Street was a home away from home for me growing up. This downturn is just hitting so hard here you don’t know what will collapse next.

On that cheery note (what am I, the new Eastenders?), from a country where although you might hear the names Jordan and Peter Andre too often, you never hear the name Sarah Palin (and that is such a good thing), I wish you all a Happy Christmas.

(incientally, i drew this with a new pen I’d not discovered before now, a uni-pin fineliner 0.1, bought from paperchase – bloody god it was too)



This is my illustration friday for this week, theme “strings“. Pretty obvious.

I absolutely hate stringing the guitar. It’s my least favourite thing. It takes me hours, and it is torturous. I am constantly afraid of one snapping and cutting my lip, or ripping a hole in the fabric of the universe or something. It’s almost like my fear of bunsen burners, but more stupid. I’ve considered just giving up the guitar for good while restringing in the past, it’s been that bad. The guy in the shop when I bought these offered to string my guitar for me, but it would mean bringing it in, I just don’t have time. He did also try to sell me some really swanky looking guitar strings called Elixir, but I decided against them because they sounded too much like a packet of condoms.

graffiti about slash-street affairs

I could get used to these. A month ago I did this labour-intensive drawing; tonight I finished a second one. You can I’m sure guess the theme. All will be revealed when we turn to the answers page, a singer once said.

that's entertainment

I am still around, I have just been busy. But I found time to fit this in too, which helps create balance. Plus I stay up far too late for someone who works so early. These things sometimes accompany those wee small hours; well, these and the baby monitor.

A note on the broken ibanez guitar head: this was the guitar i bought when I first moved to the US. I looked after it so well, but one day it fell lamely from its stand onto the carpet and the head just came off. Not my happiest moment. Very difficult to repair (the guy in the shop couldn’t bare to look at the poor thing, it was like bringing in his grandma’s head or something), so the decapitated body sat gathering dust in the corner like the shards of narsil. When we moved out, I wasn’t sure what to do with it (you get attached to your instruments). My wife suggested I dispose of the body Pete Townshend style. And so I did. Have you ever done that? It felt pretty good. I kept the broken head as a souvenir (or a warning?), and there it is. The broken Ibanez.

did gyre and gimble in the wabe

Parts twelve to sixteen of saving the world (the sketchbook project); the book is now more than half full (or half empty). I needed a second intermission after returning from the UK so some stamps seemed appropriate. Saving stamps as it were. The dialogue is very loosely inspired by something my mate Tel said to me at school (that was about santa claus). Then I decided to draw from hereon in various colours: twelve is in brown micron pigma, there’s my acoustic guitar there look; thirteen is in – allez les bleus – blue, or chould I say cobalt (copic 0.1) and shows the bookcase.

intermission twoplay the guitarlearn french
wash your handsstay coolrecycle

Fourteen is the trusty purple micron again, been using that one for a while now. It’s the bathroom sink. Wash your hands. In this story I wonder if superman ever washed his hands, and if it made a difference to those he saved. Part fifteen is a copic 0.05, in ‘wine’, while the last one is a copic 0.1 in ‘olive’. That’s the recycling bin. I wanted to draw it before taking it out.sketchbook project cover

If you click on these admittedly smaller than necessary images, they will magically transport you to the world of flickr, where you can see them much much bigger (don’t worry, you won’t have to shrink first). The book continues; the due date is august 1st. Plenty of time.