New Years on Maui

Lahaina Maui
And juts to bring us up to speed, here are the rest of my Maui sketches. This one above was done in the historic town of Lahaina, on the northwest edge of Maui. Maui seems like two different islands joined at the hip. There were some interesting old buildings here, and we stopped into Duke’s for a Lava Pie because Lava Pie is most delicious. In the Lahaina Banyan Court square there was this enormous old tree, I couldn’t not at least try to draw it. It is the oldest living tree in Maui, and the largest Banyan tree in Hawaii (and in my opinion, the world). It was there sprawling all over the place like a big sprawly thing, providing loads of lovely shade for all the little chickens running around it.
Lahaina Banyan tree Maui
So New Year’s Eve was pretty great, we were on the beach watching a massive fireworks display shot from a flotilla ships just off the coast. It was as if the sky was celebrating a fantastic new year that was going to be brilliant from start to finish, the best ever year ever, or something. Twenty Twenty! Two thousand and actual twenty!
Well it started well, on Maui. So, our hotel – the Grand Wailea – was amazing. The statue below was in it. The beach was amazing, especially the sunsets.
Grand Wailea Resort statue Maui

Grand Wailea Maui 010120 sm
On New Year’s Day 2020 we got up, went into the ocean and looked forward to an unforgettable year. This was the first sketch I did in the year, of the gardens in the resort. It was very peaceful. That evening we went to a luau, a traditional music and food celebration. I enjoyed drinking the Blue Hawaii and Mai Tais.
Makena Beach Maui 010220 sm
Next day we drove down to another beach a little further south, Makena Beach. Another stunning place looking out to the small volcanic crater island of Molokini and the sparsely populated and hard to pronounce Kaho’olawe, which is the smallest of the eight main islands of Hawaii.
Advantage car rental Maui

So, this was all I sketched. Apart from a couple I drew on my iPad when we landed on Maui. We spent about an hour and a half sitting in the car hire place where the line went extremely slowly. Really ridiculously slowly. Like, don’t bother renting from them again slowly. Still, I had time to draw this guy wearing a shirt covered in pictures of what I think were fried eggs and bits of spinach.
in line for car hire Maui

I know this isn’t much of a travelogue i should probably have had lots of interesting anecdotes and maybe even reviewed the Ululani shave ice (it was ok, I preferred Tobi’s), but we were on vacation, dudes, so all you get are these sketches and this one last photo. It was at the luau, where they were cooking a pig in a traditional way, and then taking the cooked pig out and showing it to everyone before carving it up and eating it (I don’t eat pork but I enjoyed the ceremonious occasion; poor piggy though). One of the best things I ate in Maui though was actually a vegan Beyond Burger from the Bistro Molokini restaurant.


Yep, Hawaii was pretty special.

A little London and a bit of Vegas

Haymarket London
I went back to London at the end of November / start of December for a short week, and managed to get in a couple of sketches while I was at it. Above is the view looking down Haymarket. It was a bright day. I really enjoy looking up in London, seeing what’s at rooftop level. Years ago I used to tourguide down this street, on the upper deck of an open-top bus, pointing out this, talking about that. That was twenty years ago now, how things have changed. These rooftops have not changed much. Another thing that hasn’t changed much, Phantom of the Opera is still playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre, which is on the right there, at the corner of Charles II Street. I went to see it once, I knew someone who worked for the show who got me a ticket, and I had to enter right as it was beginning, so it was dark as I went to my seat, which was in the front row, where people have long legs that I can trip over, and I tripped over and onto my head, and nearly fell into the musicians. Fun times, always the cool cat I was. Bit of a silly story though, Phantom of the Opera, at least the bits where Jar-Jar was messing around. Lightsabre fighting was amazing though. Wow that was twenty years ago, I remember it so well.
Victoria Palace Theatre London sm

A show I saw considerably recentlyer was Hamilton, which we saw right here in London two years ago, and then again in San Francisco last year. This is the Victoria Palace Theatre in Victoria, with Little Ben in the foreground. I drew this after leaving my Gatwick Express train and before jumping onto the Tube, that;s right, I arrive and immediately start sketching in the rain. Well I knew my wife would like this, she is a big fan of Hamilton the musical. I loved it too, especially the bit with the racecars, but I was sure Vettel would challenge him to a duel at the end, but he crashed out in the 46th lap after making another avoidable mistake. I have a really good memory for theatre stuff, it must be my degree in drama.
I didn’t draw much on this short London trip. It was really just to see the family, I just felt the need to come over there (maybe I had a feeling that 2020 would see us all stuck at home and unable to get across the Atlantic), catch up with some friends, and that’s it really. I bought a bunch of mince pies for christmas, a nice store assistant in Tesco Borehamwood showed me how to find all the boxes that had sell-by dates later than December 24, they were hidden deep. I was taking all my mince pies and yule logs and British festive foods with me to Hawaii for our Christmas vacation. But then it was time to go home, and sat on the plane I could tell was going to go home with a cold, just a feeling in my throat, back in the days when we just trusted our immense immune systems to do their job because that cold was probably just a cold, no worries. (It was, though I also picked up some bad nasal infection). I managed another sketch on the plane though, this time with the iPad, while Big Tex next to me planted his massive elbows on the armrest and beyond like it was manifest destiny. There was no social distancing in coach. It was another time, back in the 2010s.
Luxor bar Las Vegas sm

One more thing, one more trip back in time. I flew to London via Las Vegas, as it was the easiest route, but it meant I had to stay the night. It has been many years since I was in Vegas, so this one night away was going to be a bit of a time-travel trip, and so I chose to stay at the Luxor, which is the hotel we stayed at before our wedding way back in the mid 2000s. We still lived in London them, so the Luxor felt big and glamourous and futuristic. Yeah not so much this time. I checked in fairly late, the desk woman barely saying a single thing to me as she snatched my credit card and scornfully slammed it back, “welcome to Vegas, now f*%koff to wherever”. Nice to feel like a valued customer, not even telling me how to find my room in this ridiculous headache of a shopping mall. The room was dark and a bit grubby, peeling wallpaper that certainly has not had an upgrade since we were here in 2004. I walked about the casino, a depressing experience, unsure of what the time really was, and went to find some food, which I found, and didn’t enjoy. This is one of the older casinos, of course, but I’m just so not used to Vegas any more. Worst of all though was the smoke, hanging over everything like a plague-ridden miasma. This is definitely something I don’t miss, choking in other people’s fumes, irritating my nose, throat, eyes, soaking into my clothes, in a huge concrete pyramid. That gave me a headache more than the flashing Wheel of Fortune machines. Still this is a trip back in time. I contemplated walking over to New York New York where I remember having a fun evening with friends at the Five Nine Irishmen bar or whatever it’s called, when my mate Simon had the worst Guinness he ever drank, but instead I stopped for a couple of drinks at the bar in the centre of the Luxor, and drew what I could see amid the colourful 70s style haze. I listened to people talk, it seemed to be a mix of locals hanging out there rather than tourists, and the cocktail I had was nice, and the barstaff pleasant. I went to bed and got a good night’s sleep before the flight to London in the morning, though my own airways couldn’t wait to get out of the building.

Arrival in Amsterdam

Amsterdam Klovenierburgswal
And so, on to Amsterdam. Due to the heat-related travel chaos I arrived later than I’d hoped (but still, I was lucky to make it), and so I missed the opening ceremony of the 10th Urban Sketching Symposium. This annual event started in Portland in 2010, and I’ve gone to many of them since. Boy how they’ve grown. I arrived in Amsterdam, waded through the crowds at Centraal (I’ve never been a fan of that station, and it’s just how I remember it), and checked in to my hotel, a spectacular historic building called the Scheepvaarthuis, now the Grand Amrâth Hotel. This might have been my favourite thing about Amsterdam, and in fact many other sketchers would come to draw the building. I didn’t stop too long though as I wanted to go and meet up with the other sketchers that I know. There were a LOT of sketchers milling around. I found many of my old Urban Sketchers pals who I met at the first symposium, and some went off to eat while I went off to sketch with Matt Brehm and Lapin, because you have to draw before you can eat. We drew the scene above. It was my first time in Amsterdam in 20 years, and I remember it as somewhere I always wanted to go back and sketch, but was not a fan of the crowds. These crooked buildings are just the thing to get me started though, and I like those girders that stick out at the top which are used as a pulley to bring things up to the higher floors of those narrow houses. After this, the three of us headed down to Amstelhoeck, which was where many urban sketchers would be gathering each night for a drink and draw, and we had much merriment, always nice to hang out with those lads. I’ll add in my people sketching in a later post.
Amsterdam Grand Hotel Amrath sm
So here is my hotel, the Grand Amrâth. I spent a lot of time online looking for the right hotel. Everything was pricey, and I knew that I could stay further out and save some money, because the public transport is so good in Amsterdam and well connected, and I could even ride a bike around (spoiler alert, I never ended up riding a bike in Amsterdam, despite being a cyclist in America’s self-styled ‘biking capital’ Davis, I wasn’t brave enough!). But I also wanted to be in short walking distance from the symposium, without having to pass through too many crowds. I wanted somewhere with character rather somewhere bland and corporate, or meagre and depressing. Having stayed at an ok place in Porto which ended up being up a really steep hill and was modern having little character, I wanted to choose a bit more wisely this time. I found a decently priced room at this place, the Grand Amrâth, about the same price as many of the other dingier looking places, and chose it because the building looked like a haunted castle. In fact some of the reviews said it actually was haunted. So when I showed up and saw that it was in fact a five star hotel I was surprised. The place is an architectural wonder. The Scheepvaarthuis (“Shipping House”) was built in the early part of the twentieth century, and was the ornate headquarters of several shipping comanies. Architecturally speaking it is perhaps the finest example of the ‘Amsterdam School’ (and I say this knowing full well I don’t know any other examples). I enjoyed the elaborate stained glass windows, as well as the decorative ironwork, but also the entertaining moustachioed statues, one of which looked a bit like my sketching friend Arnaud de Meyer (he pointed it out, that it was the most accurate drawing I have done of him). Have a butcher’s at all of this though. I would definitely stay here again, if only for the sketching opportunities.
Amsterdam Grand Hotel Amrath details sm
Other sketchers came out to sketch here too at various points, such as Lapin, Arnaud de Meyer, Martine Kervagoret and of course Gerard Michel (click on the links to see their sketches of the building). Plus many more. However I am really glad that I stayed here during the heatwave. My room (which was very nice, and always well-stocked with a free mini-bar, always lots of nice cold water and Diet Coke to come back to every night) had good air-conditioning, unlike a lot of the hotel rooms in the city. From stories other sketchers and tourists were telling me, apparently a lot of them were breaking down, meaning it was very difficult for people to sleep in their intensely hot rooms, to the point that people were sleeping in the cooler hallways. Thankfully I did not experience that here. There was also a nice indoor pool in the basement that I definitely took advantage of when the intense heat got too much for me (and boy did it, it melted my mind). I never ate at the restaurant, but I did eat an ‘Uitsmijter’ (a Dutch dish, three fried eggs with cheese on thick bread) at the small bar, also having a nice cocktail there. Look at the building at night, below, one side facing a quiet canal shrouded in total darkness. It’s one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever stayed in. I was looking for character, I found a whole Pirandelli. I would come back to Amsterdam just to stay here.

As I say, it was very hot. Below is an unrelated picture of a mn pressing a button at a crosswalk, which is a diagram you see on the pole, showing you how to press the button in case the ehat has melted your mind so you might forget. Next to that, a photo of a Mango flavoured Fanta. Mango Fanta is delicious. They do a whole spectrum of flavours of Fanta in the Netherlands (though what I drank most were the delicious fresh juices you get everywhere, so good), but the fancy flavors are expensive. I think this can was like 3.50 Euros, just for a can of soda. When the man in the shop opposite the hotel told me the price, my eyes popped out and I was like, no way dude, that’s a lot for a can of drink. I’m thinking, tourist shop, silly prices. So I went next door, where the price was exactly the same, and so I thought oh well, that’s what it costs, I’m thirsty. But as I walked past the other shop I hid my drink, the walk of shame. It was worth it though, best Fanta ever.
Amsterdam Traffic Button smIMG_4051
As always when I recount my stories from the sketching symposium it might take a few posts, but I’ll try to mix them up a bit. I sketched a lot in Amsterdam, but because of the heat destroying me I always felt like I could not sketch enough. The symposia always feel like a big competition to draw the most, when that’s never really the point of them, it’s about spending time with other sketching friends, learning from each other, seeing and experiencing the world. Matt Brehm said on this trip, “It’s ok not to draw.” All that said, I really did draw a lot…

to warwick and stratford

Warwick Castle
And now for the final part of our recent trip to Europe. I was determined that we’d visit a historic castle, something we don’t have many of here in California (sorry Mr Hearst, Mr Disney, but those ain’t castles). So we hit the motorway (thanks to my mum for driving us) up to Warwick, in central England. I had been there a few years ago, and knew it was a pretty great sight. Warwick Castle is a little theme-y (being owned by Merlin Entertainment now) but as it has a Horrible Histories maze and some fun jousting entertainment that doesn’t matter. Actually, we missed the jousting as it’s not every day (though I did see some four years ago, and it was fun). Warwick Castle is in a beautiful location on the banks of the Avon river, and a historically significant geopolitical spot, being in the middle of the country and therefore an important stronghold for the balance of power. The Earl of Warwick in the late middle ages was known as the ‘Kingmaker’, not without exaggeration. The site of Warwick Castle was founded as a ‘burh’ by the formidable Anglo-Saxon lady Æthelflæd, ruler of Mercia (also ‘Ethelfelda’). She fought against the invading Danes and the Welsh, she was also a daughter of Alfred the Great, and in fact there was a re-enactment of her funeral in June 2018 in nearby Gloucester. When William the Conqueror invaded in 1066, the Normans built a motte-and-bailey castle here on ‘Ethelfleda’s Mound’, and Warwick Castle was subsequently built up over the next few centuries by later lords and earls. The first Earl of Warwick was Henry de Beaumont, from 1088, and the 16th Earl, Richard Neville (who gained the title through marriage to Anne de Beauchamp) was the famed Warwick the Kingmaker, who rose to prominence during the Wars of the Roses before dying at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. There’s a lot more history too, but I was interested in the old armoury. The suit of armour below is actually a child’s armour, likely for ornamental purposes. I sketched the castle above while taking a break with my son, who didn’t want to walk around the dungeons.
Warwick Castle Armoury
We didn’t stay in Warwick, though I’d love to sketch that old city some day. Instead, we stayed the night in Stratford upon Avon at a place called Alveston Manor, a large country house converted into a hotel just a short walk from central Stratford. It was lovely, and I love drawing buildings like that. Stratford is Shakespeare’s town, and they do not ever let you forget it here. We did walk up to see Shakespeare’s birthplace, and walk along the Avon, and I had a huge knickerbocker glory (with extra chocolate) at a local pub. So good.
Stratford Upon Avon Alveston Manor
In the evening after watching France knock Belgium out of the World Cup, I walked down to the riverside as the last mid-summer light faded away, and sketched the bridge below. This was around 9:30pm at night. I decided to walk across the other bridge to get back to the hotel, whcih was a mistake. It was a logn bridge along a road with a fairly narrow path for pedestrians, and lots of cobwebs. During the day the cobwebs were quaint. In the evening they were covered with thousands of busy, chubby spiders, loving their little legs and spinning and completely freaking me out. They weren’t dangerous, unlike the ones in my Davis back yard right now, but so many of them moving all around me was pretty much the creepiest thing ever. I ran as quickly as I could, but it was a long bridge. Yeah, I’m not into spiders.
Stratford Upon Avon


Waikiki view evening sm

Still playing catch-up with the older sketches, here are some I did while I was in Hawaii in November. What an incredible place. It was the first time I’d ever been to Hawaii, or to anywhere like that; it was, in the words of Samwise Gamgee, the furthest I’d ever been from home (home being Burnt Oak). For some reason it had never appealed, but for the life of me I cannot say what those reasons might have been because Hawaii is just so amazing.  I think living in California it’s easy to feel a bit blase about Hawaii because it’s like, just over there a bit, and I’m not one of those people who likes sitting on the beach, but no, Hawaii really does feel like somewhere very far away and different. And so beautiful. And it turns out I love the beach! Well, I always love being by the ocean. The call of the sea. I’m not going to go on about it. Hawaii is just great. So, we stayed on O’ahu, at the Outrigger resort in Waikiki. The most incredible view, ever. In fact after this, what is there, really? It’s only downhill from here. Nothing is really going to live up to that view. And earlier in 2017 we stayed in Rome and had the most incredible view over the city (see my earlier post, ‘A Rome With A View‘). I am never going to match those views in 2018, wherever we end up visiting this year.

Luke at Waikiki hotel sm


Now it wasn’t all getting up at 7am and swimming in the ocean and then spending the day at the pool and drinking cocktails overlooking the sunset. Actually, no I’m kidding, that is what it all was, and that was the BEST. I did pop out and sketch a Waikiki fire hydrant once though.

Waikiki hydrant sm

Waikiki view morning sm

Oh I could not wait to Facetime family in England from that hotel room, with that ridiculously amazing view. The sketch above I never got around to colouring in.

Below is a sketch I did on the beach at Kailua, on the other side of the island. We had just spent much of the day at Koaloa Ranch, checking out where they filmed Lost and Jurassic World and stuff. We stopped in Kailua on the way back for some Shave Ice at Island Snow, which is where President Obama goes for Shave Ice when he is back in Hawaii. What is Shave Ice, you ask, and why is it not Shaved Ice? Aha, you will have to go to Hawaii to learn this secret!

Kailua beach sm

Ok, this (below) is Shave Ice. It was really good! Better than expected. Like a tropical slush puppy. Mahalo!


I’ll post more sketches soon, but here is one last photo of the view from my hotel bedroom window. I must point out this was NOVEMBER. Aloha from Hawaii!



encore legoland

Legoland Ninjago Land

Here are the last few sketches from the vacation in San Diego. The last couple of days were spent at Legoland, with two nights at the Legoland Hotel. It was a lot fun. It was our third time there, but this time they had recently built Ninjago Land, which, if you’ve followed any of my Lego sketches, was always going to be a big hit with us. The Ninjago ride itself was fun, a bit like one of those ones where you have to blast targets, except with this you use your hands rather than blasters. I sketched this on the second day when the tiredness was sinking in, the rest of the family went to the hotel for a rest and I sketched in the park. I added colour later on when I was exhausted, as you can totally tell.

Legoland Robosaur

Above, a big robotic dinosaur, about fifteen or twenty feet high, I don’t know, I’m bad at judging height. Hundred feet maybe. We spent a lot of time in the pool areas, the water park, and no matter the sunscreen my head still got red. I think it left me a bit frazzled. So on the last day there, we spent time at the hotel pool and I for once did not get in, rather I sketched from the sidelines. And then, we flew back home to Davis. I like vacations.

Legoland Hotel

the red victorian

SF Red Victorian sm
The rain came down in San Francisco, but I took a bus up to the Haight. It has been years since I was in this part of San Francisco, and I had forgotten how many amazing old colourful buildings there are to sketch around here. And hippies too, can’t forget the hippies, there are still lots of hippies. I walked about looking for a good dry spot to sketch from, and settled on a spot across the street from the historic Red Victorian, an old hotel and arts cafe, and a mainstay of “Peace, Man” San Francisco. I’ve always liked this building. There is the Peaceful World Cafe, they hold Peaceful World Conversations, and there’s also a Living Peace Museum. I must say, stood sheltered form the rain as I was, I felt pretty peaceful sketching it too (apart from one odd ‘crunchy’ guy making incomprehensible comments every time he shuffled past, but you get that when you’re out and about). You can find out more about the Red Vic and its owner, founder and artist in residence Sami Sunchild here: Oh and here’s the map from my sketchbook.
SF Haight map sm

i’ll be sitting when the evening comes

sf ferry building

Last weekend, my wife and I stayed in San Francisco, at the Hyatt Regency by the Embarcadero. Can’t get enough San Francisco! The views from the Hyatt are exceptional. After a day walking around the Mission, we took a break at the hotel before dinner and I drew the view from the hallway window: the Ferry Building, with the Bay Bridge spanning eastwards. The Sun was going down, so the light was constantly changing. Below, a quick sketch of the room. Both drawn in the Stillman and Birn sketchbook.

san francisco hyatt regency

a visit to vegas

room at the mirage

We went to Las Vegas for the weekend, to celebrate my wife’s birthday. We’ve been several times before (we got married there), and this time we stayed at the Mirage, as we were going to see the Beatles ‘Love’ show by Cirque du Soleil (which was incredible). The rooms at the Mirage are very nice. I had to sketch ours.

Below, another airplane sketch. Our flight was full, on a pretty small and veyr cramped US Airways flight. The flight was so full that after everyone was on the plane, the attendants asked that two people volunteer to get off because the plane was too heavy. That didn’t make me nervous at all. 

flight to vegas

I managed to get in quite a bit of sketching, which I’ll post shortly…

urban sketchers of the world

gabi sketches me

The Urban Sketchers Correspondents met up at Henry’s Tavern on the night before the Symposium kicked off, and it was an instant whirlwind of sketching minds. Everyone knew everyone, though for many it was the first time we’d met. Five continents were represented right there: Liz (and Borromini Bear) from Australia, Isabel from Mauritania (though she’s Portuguese), Lapin from Barcelona (though he’s French), Gerard from Belgium, Simonetta from Italy, Kumi from Tokyo, Tia from Singapore, and the US contingent of Jason (Brooklyn), Veronica (NYC), Shiho (LA), Matthew (Idaho), Laura (North Carolina), Frank (Seattle), Gabi (Seattle, though he’s Spanish) and me (Davis, though I’m from London).

And I sketched people! Well, I had promised myself that I would try more, and here I didn’t have to worry about it being ok. I wasn’t the only one who doesn’t normally sketch folk on the spot. I certainly need practice and to find a technique I’m comfortable with, so i gave it a try, mostly in my little brown paper book, and picked up a few pointers. Above are Gabi Campanario, the tireless Urban Sketchers founder, Gerard Michel, of whose Liege drawings I am a huge fan (they remind me of my year in Charleroi), and a group of urban sketchers (the one in the hat is Prof. Frank Ching, who told me I’d drawn him looking like a Columbian gangster). I was sketched a few times too; there is Lapin above, sketching me holding my pen in a funny way, “l’incroyable tenu de crayon de pete”, he called it. There’s a name for a new book!

The highlight was probably looking through Gerard Michel‘s jaw-dropping sketchbook. Seeing it online, it is unbelievable just how good it is, but in person right in front of you it is just incredible, and also surreal, work you know so well is right there, right in front of you. I can say that about pretty much all of the sketchbooks I saw that night, certainly. Sufficiently humbled and inspired in equal measure, I went back to the hotel, and spent midnight drawing from my bedroom window.

night view from mark spencer hotel