Here’s a digital sketch from a recent UC Davis Staff Assembly meeting, with the Chancellor Gary May speaking on screen there. This is my at-home desk still. There’s a lot going on here. I try to keep it clear but things just keep showing up there. I would like a new desk, to be honest. Maybe one of those fancy ones that goes up and down so I can stand. One of our lecturers at work has one that I really like. Drew this on the iPad, took the odd note here and there, did half of it over lunch once the meeting was over while Barcelona played PSG in the background, a Champions League match on a Spanish language channel. This working from home thing is so done now. I do go into the office once a week to take care of something or other, I much prefer it. At home I am too close to the snacks in the kitchen. Part of this meeting was the discussion about our plan to return to campus this Fall, all in-person again. It’s still early doors yet, but I’m optimistic. But it’s going to be a long transition, for everyone. Let’s face it, we’re not going back to normal normal any time soon, this will all take a long time to get over.
On the day of the Inauguration of the new President of the United States, Joe Biden, I watched and made notes on the iPad. I kinda don’t know where to stop when note-taking a speech as it’s going on, I feel like I have to inscribe every word, but you don’t know before going in what the most important bits will be. For example, I might write down a bit about coat-hangers or something, and then forget to write down the bit about a groundbreaking theory on dark matter or something. Not the topics of this speech but on a historic day you don’t want to be the person at FDR’s inauguration that wrote down the bits about locusts and profits but left out “The only thing we have to fear is Fear Itself”. So I just wrote words as they happened. I didn’t sketch during the incredible inaugural poem by Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb”, I was just enthralled by that, it was a beautiful moment. I will probably sketch Ms Gorman’s performance some other time, I’ve rewatched it a few times already. I really enjoyed Kamala Harris’s speech too. But Biden’s inauguration gave me a great deal of happiness. I just wish I hadn’t drawn him looking more like Robert Kilroy-Silk. He totally does! In my drawing anyway, the real Joe looks nothing like Kilroy. Oh, Kilroy. Remember him? Americans won’t, he used to be on TV in the 90s, in the mornings, he had a kind of Jerry Springer-lite show called “Kilroy”. I remember actually watching it each morning on TV in the common room in the place where I lived in Belgium while eating a tuna panini for breakfast, so I always get the memory of the taste of tuna whenever I think of Kilroy. In fact it wasn’t like Jerry Springer at all thinking back; it was one of those daytime chat shows that was on at around 9:30 or 10am, right after BBC Breakfast Time or whatever was over, but the audience group was all sat facing the camera and there would be a topic they would talk about, I don’t know, whatever middle-England busybodies would talk about, holes in the road or immigrants or something, and Kilroy would bound about from person to person with his mike and his perma-tanned face and his kilroy-silky voice, and then he would tell you all to “take care of yourselves…and each other” in a totally non-creepy way, before his got show cancelled after he wrote controversial things about Arabs, then he was an early UKIPer, bounding about being all anti-EU, and I don’t think I ever thought of Kilroy once since leaving Britain in 2005 until now, when I accidentally drew him accepting the Presidency of the United States. The last thing we’d need is a perma-tanned TV personality with a history of having a go at muslims and banging on about immigrants in charge of things, eh kids. In fact I had to check my notes to make sure I didn’t mis-hear Biden saying “Take care of yourselves…and each other”; thankfully he didn’t. But anyway, welcome President Joe! And I had no idea his middle name was ‘Robinette’, you learn something new every day.
Another view of my TV screen from my sofa, drawn on the iPad, because it’s 2020 and there’s a lot of this. Before the election of course. I use Procreate to draw on my iPad, it’s great, although I feel like I have a lot I could learn. I should take an online course or watch videos or something I don’t have a lot of time for. This is a different brush than I usually use though, the Dry Ink brush. I was watching Tottenham play Antwerp, a team that had somehow overtaken my Belgian team Charleroi at the top of the Belgian Pro-League. And we lost, we bloody lost 1-bleedin’0. I wasn’t super happy about that. I’m still not, but ah well, that’s football, we’ve won a few games since. The cat sleeps on the chair, not giving a tommy tit about the football, or the election, or anything until dinner time, or play time.
And so, it finally ended. Woo – and I cannot stress this enough – hoo! Though of course it will keep going on for a while. Almost worth it being most of a week to get the results on a Saturday morning, and celebrate the rest of the day (or in my case, go for a run, coach soccer, draw a lot, and have some beer). As if there weren’t quite enough words filling this week, the three sketches I did of the TV (one above, of Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris, first female VP as well as first black VP and first VP of Indian background, gave a great speech introducing President-Elect Biden. I wrote down as much as I could while drawing. Same below, though my sketch of Biden doesn’t look too much like him, more like Alan Pardew. Personally I am just really looking forward to having leaders where we don’t have to worry about what nonsense all-caps words they have rage-tweeted. But I try not to think about those too much, I don’t follow it, nor engage in it; as much as I use Twitter (mostly I tweet about Tottenham or football shirts) there are so many bots and trolls sweeping it looking for fights about politics, it’s like Camden Town at 2 in the morning but with Warhammer and Robot Wars thrown in. Actually it’s nothing like that at all, because that sounds awesome. (Who hasn’t witnessed Sir Kill-A-Lot glass a Giant Orc outside the Mixer before getting a bag of chips and jumping on the Night Bus?) Apologies to my American friends, this reference is possibly niche. Still it was nice to hear a calming voice, a voice of reason, rather than one moaning about how unfair everyone is to him and how tremendous he is. I get enough of that watching Jose Mourinho. By the way, this morning Tottenham actually went Top of the Premier League for a few brief moments, before Leicester retook the lead in the next match, which was a fake match and actually Tottenham have in fact won the league with a big 1-0 win, and I’m claiming victory in all remaining games. (Literally the entire world has done a variation of this joke already, better than I could). By the way, the actual funniest thing yesterday is far and away the press conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping. Straight Outta The Thick Of It. Earlier in the day while still watching the Newsathon, I drew various announcements on my iPad (below), as people celebrated and danced on the streets of Washington DC, and cities everywhere. My cat looked out of the window, unaware that there has been a change in the human leadership, only concerning himself with whether he will be allowed to play in the yard or get dinner a bit earlier. The cat agenda is never taken into consideration by human politicians. I’m glad the new President will have pets though, the only pets the last President (whoever that was – still is, I guess) had were peeves. Of our two cats, they disagree on a number of issues and call each other all sorts of uncivil names but they cross the aisle when it comes to Being let outside to play in the yard, or Opening the window a bit, or Getting fed now right now. It’s been quite a week, exhausting and exhilarating, and sure the fun isn’t over yet (not by a long shot; just give it up, man!), but I probably won’t be glued to the TV waiting for Breaking News Updates about there maybe being a few extra votes counted in Wherever County or whether the Losing campaign claims there were votes from time-travelers from the future or something. I’m glad I drew some of it though, historical record and all. 2020 is really the story that keeps on storying. I got a new great-nephew on Friday when my eldest niece gave birth (welcome baby Che!), and a new President and Vice-President on Saturday. Take the good moments when they come!
I was in the office this week, campus is still closed but I had a lot to do there, preparing for the new academic year. At the end of the day, I got to enjoy Chancellor’s Colloquium Distinguished Speaker Series, hosted by UC Davis Chancellor Gary May, with special guest presenter Gary Younge. It was titled “Going Viral: Race, Racism and Rebellion in the Midst of a Pandemic”. The talk was presented remotely from England, and so I watched in my office and sketched my desk and the laptop while it was on, using my iPad. I really enjoyed it. The live Q&A afterwards with Chancellor May and Gary Younge was cut short unfortunately due to loss of connection. It has been a long time since I drew my work desk, in fact I don’t think I have drawn it since moving offices. When I’m on campus I usually keep the drawing space and the work space separate, even though I’ve not been working from this desk regularly in several months now due to this damned pandemic. See if you can spot my Baby Yoda hand sanitizer.
We’ve been having a heatwave in northern California over the past week or so, with temperatures hitting up to 108 degrees at the weekend. And then came some storms, at first bringing some drops summer rain, but mostly they brought hot winds and dry lightning strikes. Lots of them – one night was constant rumbling, low rumbling mostly, with flashes echoing in the sky. It kept me awake, fascinated by the electrical storm but nervous about what it might bring to this big dry state. Fires did break out as we could see from the thin layer of smoke in the sky next day, giving everything a dirty orange hue, so I drew from the dining room table before dinner (above). This is where my desk is now, I’ve moved back down from upstairs, much to the annoyance of my cat who has gotten used to sleeping the afternoons in my desk chair. I am not sure I like being closer to the kitchen again, closer to the snacks, but I was crammed into a small space in the bedroom for quite a while and needed a change. I’ll go back up again at some point, if I get bored. I coloured this in using some new fancy Daniel Smith paints, which I’m not really used to yet. Wednesday morning I went outside to cycle to the office, and while there were blue skies, the air smelled dense with smoke. Ash was falling everywhere like snowflakes, and the sky away to the west was filled with billows of dull grey. This was the LNU Lightning Complex fore, which is around Napa/Vacaville and now beyond, a terrible and huge fire that even jumped across Interstate 80 cutting off the freeway. Evacuation zone has gone up as far as Winters, next town over, which is a lot closer than any other fire yet. I didn’t cycle any further than the next block, I went straight back home, and stayed inside. Ash has been falling ever since, and the house is generally filled with that orange/ochre light, turning red as the sun sets. Above is a sketch I did of one of the cats, Whiskers I think, on his high perch by the back door, while the dirty air outside casts an alien glow. This was done on the iPad. Cat don’t care, he sleep. Below, this was a quick sketch of the sun in the sky outside our window, looking like a sore red boil. We’ve had lots of wildfires in California the past few years, and fire season is long and scary, and our skies have been blanketed in unhealthy and hazardous smoke, especially a couple of years ago. But this is the closest we’ve had a big fire that I can remember since I’ve lived in Davis. We packed some bags in case the evacuation zone increased, not a bad idea, though given our location it’s pretty unlikely. Lots of people have lost their homes, and some historic state parks have been seriously damaged by the fires. And more dry lightning is expected over the weekend. The firefighters do an amazing job, they are real heroes, I just hope it doesn’t get even worse.
Yesterday afternoon, clocking off a little early after the smoky air gave me a headache, I sat on the couch watching Agents of SHIELD until dinnertime, my son played on his device, so I sketched him, that awful sky washing in. Step outside and it’s choking, like being in a north London pub in the 90s, I feel like putting the Charlatans on the jukebox and buying a pint for under two quid, then getting some cheap fried chicken and falling asleep on the night bus. My throat is dry, and the ash keeps floating around outside. So when my Apple Watch scolds me for not having my exercise ring further along than usual, I’m like, not now, Apple Watch, not now. There’s a global pandemic on, and it’s election season, and now the world’s literally on fire.
The Chemistry Building at UC Davis is big, and I have drawn bits of it before a few times. This is the building that I have most often seen fire trucks outside of, unsurprisingly. I did notice last December just before Christmas that some new work was starting on this side of the building, and that the large concrete double-decker connecting walkway between two wings was about to be toast. So I stood on the little hillock opposite (no rhyming jokes please) and drew as the machines started tearing into it. This was page one of my sketchbook, which in the new numbering system is #36, a Stillman and Birn Alpha book.
There is work going on around the other side of the building too. So in early January I stopped and drew that one lunchtime. Chemistry, I was not a fan of that subject when I was at school. I didn’t like Bunsen Burners. Our teacher was ok, a bit grumpy though, used to say things like “I don’t care if you pass your exams, I’ve already passed mine,” and I was pretty so-so with the subject. I like Physics a lot more, I just wasn’t very good at it. Whereas I didn’t like Biology much, and yet I used to get really good grades in it. They all used to even each other out like some sort of science equation with chemistry being in the middle, Bi + Ch – Ph = PS. That looks really unsciencey. One thing we used to enjoy (and so did most of you) was coming up with molecules using the letters in the periodic table to make rude words. Science can be fun. Fluoro-uranium-carbo-potassium for example, or Polonium-Oxide, etc and so on. Surprisingly I ended up getting C overall in GCSE integrated science, and that was my non-starter science career done with. You can’t go on to be a scientist after that. I loved Michael Faraday, read lots of books about astronomy and the solar system, and watched Young Einstein a bunch of times, but I guess when it came to chemistry all I brought away was remembering the formula for Potassium Permanganate, KmNO4. Oh well. Now I listen to science podcasts and watch science TV shows and feel like I know loads about science but chemistry was always a bit beyond me. Honestly it was the Bunsen Burners.
I drew this drill using the iPad. It was there with all the other machines by the Chemistry Building. Brings me back to school too, back to CDT class. Craft Design Technology. What Americans would call “shop class”. Drills, sanding machines, moulding plastic, building cogs, circuits and conductors, and all sorts of things I have forgotten. Again I was not super good at it except in the bits where I could draw. We did do one project in the third year though where we had to design a moving vehicle with a rubber band and some wooden sticks, and I made this triangular designed race car (obsessed with race cars, Formula One is back this weekend!), using a kinder-egg plastic shell as the front wheel. We had to race them. Guess who won! Yes amazingly I did. No idea how, total fluke, but I hung up my engineering boots that day.
Here is another with the iPad, back round the side where the walkway used to be. I like using the iPad for those skies. You put them on a different layer. Working in layers in ProCreate is really handy.
And then finally, the same view as in the first picture, and this happened to be the final page of Sketchbook #36, rounding off the book with a view from the same small hillock (oi, watch it) as on the first. And this was also my first outside sketch in three months, after the shelter-in-place was lifted. As things start to get worse, it looks like the little bit of reopening that we have seen will now be scaled back. I’m not going out much to draw these days anyway, spending my lunchtimes at home and not really going out on the weekends, so I have started looking online again and drawing London tube stations, because why not. 2020 is totally Ruthenium-Boron-Bismuth-Sulphur-Hydrogen. See no wonder I got a C in Chemistry.
They are nearly done with Walker Hall, the new Graduate Center at UC Davis being built inside the completely renovated and changed older building in the middle of the UC Davis campus. I’ve been drawing it for a few years, though obviously not much in the past few months. I will get down there again soon. In 2020 I only managed these two sketches, one on the iPad and one in the sketchbook. There are only so many angles I can draw and draw again, looking in from the outside, but you can really see the changes now. The glass is being added to the windows, signs being put up around it to let everyone know what this will be, it will really make a difference to this part of campus, just as the impressive Student Community Center next door has done.
I get really obsessed with construction projects sometimes, especially if they are just a couple of minutes from my work (and easy to draw at lunchtime). It’s also that thing where you’ve drawn so much of campus and city that anything new, any changes happening, are worth tracking in a sketchbook. Before and after are fine, but during a construction you get to see things in a very temporary state. When I draw the Manetti Shrem being built, I captured views that I would never have another chance to sketch even later the same day. When using a sketchbook to record them, you are seeing them how your mind sees them, focusing on what you can. This is then also a record of how you saw the construction, what you thought was important enough to put on paper; same with every sketch.
You can see all the other Walker Hall sketches in this tag: https://petescully.com/tag/walker-hall/
And so, it’s time to start catching up with 2020’s sketching posts. This one was done in late February, back in the golden age of being able to crowd together in close proximity to other humans, not knowing any better. This was drawn at the Avid Reader bookstore on a momentous occasion, the moment ownership of this long-time Davis staple passed from Alzada Knickerbocker to the Arnold family, a local family here in Davis. I of course had to go along. This was the first place I worked in America, Alzada was my first boss. I had two jobs here at first, partly working the store, and partly being the shop’s bookkeeper (which was the same job I did for a small independent bookshop in England before I moved out here). It was only part-time but it got me started, and shortly afterwards I started working full-time for the university (in the same department I am still working in), but I remained here on Saturdays and a couple of evenings per week, working at the little desk under the stairs behind a pile of Ingrams invoices. I hadn’t worked there since just before my son was born, so it’s been a long time, but I always popped in to say hello. I have been back in my official capacity as artist a few times to give talks or exhibit sketches. It was nice to go in and see Alzada off after all these years, and welcome in the new owners. I was surprised to see one of my old drawings of the shop in a frame on display at the counter, a piece of the history there. Unfortunately in less than a month the world was hit by the coronavirus and everything closed up, but they have been doing business and recently opened up again to the public, albeit with all the social distancing rules. But look at this, a crowded shop, with wine and sandwiches and people looking over my shoulder; we didn’t know, though we were being warned, but it wasn’t yet real to us. I had already been to hospital that month though – a couple of weeks earlier (on my birthday in fact) I was in the emergency room with a nasal infection that grew rapidly, and thankfully got under control within about a fortnight, but was pretty painful (as well as unsightly). In the hospital, which was pretty busy even pre-Covid 19, everyone was asked to disclose where they had travelled in the past few weeks, and hand sanitizer was doubled up, but this was still the pre-mask time, and since I was not contagious I was free to go to the soccer tournament the next day, full of people in close contact, seems hard to imagine now. I was heavily tanked up on medicine though, and exhausted much of the time, but our under-12 team did well and came third overall (though I think we had a good shot at winning it, we just missed out in the semi-finals in high winds to the team who eventually won it; still, a third place medal was a good finish). Our season was put on hold in mid-March, and eventually cancelled, including the Davis World Cup tournament which I was on the organizing committee for (I had spent a long time designing the logo! I’ll have to reuse it next year). This year has been a shame. But I am glad to see the Avid Reader is still going through all this, and wish the new owners the Arnolds all the very best in keeping this shop at the heart of the community, as well as wishing Alzada the best in a well-deserved retirement.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.