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.
2020 has been a big pile of farts wrapped inside a cake of poo mixed into a giant bowl of wee. And just when you think it can’t hold any more beer, every day just keeps asking it to hold its beer. Why will no day this year hold its own beer? Is it too much to ask to maybe just put your beer on a table or maybe don’t do the thing you were going to do that requires you to not hold a beer? Go home 2020, you are drunk. But you’ll have to walk because there are no cabs, and you better be in before the curfew starts.
2019 ended so well, at least for me. We spent the final days of the year in Hawai’i, in a tropical paradise sipping cocktails in the pool and playing the ukulele in the ocean. It seems like an extravagant piece of fantasy fiction now; if you try to visit Hawai’i these days you have to quarantine for two weeks, and your hotel gives you a one-time-only key that lets you into your room but not back again if you deign to leave it. Cheers 2020 you utter *!#*%!. Happily I did start the year with my feet in the ocean. It was only ever going downhill from there.
So, finally I’ll post some of the sketches I did while there. I didn’t do too many, as I was pretty busy sipping cocktails and playing the ukulele in the ocean, but of course I draw whenever I can so here are a few. Above, sketched on the flight to Kahului in Maui, where we would change before flying to Kona on the west side of Hawai’i, the Big Island. We were spending Christmas there – you can see I have spelled “Mele Kalikimaka” wrong – that’s Hawaiian for Merry Christmas – with my wife’s family also flying in from California, and from there we were going to spend New Year’s back in Maui, just the three of us. Hawai’i is pretty great, but I might occasionally leave the apostrophe behind and just say Hawaii if that’s ok.
An attempt at drawing digitally, which I was still getting the hang of, waiting to change planes at Maui airport. We took so many flights last year, going all over the place, that it’s probably for the best that in 2020 we’ll be taking so few. I’m not a fan of airports, at least they are small in Hawaii and have lots of those lovely chocolate covered macadamia nuts to eat, expensive though they are.
I’ll tell you what else they have a lot of in Hawaii – Spam. They love it there! Loads of different varieties in the stores. Also, custard pies, proper big custard pies, like the ones clowns or the phantom from Tiswas would throw. (Actually I’m not sure the phantom had actual custard in his pies, come to think of it he threw flans of foam, which I always remembered as custard pies) (Why is this a thing? Well in the supermarket I was texting back and forth with my big sister about having found actual custard pies and we were talking about that). Anyway Spam. I don’t actually eat most of it (not being a pork/beef/that sort of meat eater) but they did have some delicious turkey spam so I cooked that up for breakfast.
Christmas Eve sat on a tropical beach is pretty alright though, huh. I’ll say that is quite a nice way to do it. With delicious shave ice and cocktails at the little beach club at Mauna Lani, this was perfect. The ocean was warm, the waves not very strong, and my brother-in-law went snorkeling further out (I didn’t, but maybe next time I’ll give the snorkeling a go). I loved just spending time in the water. My sketch does no justice at all to the scene, but it’s fun to unwind on the sand as well.
But the Christmas traditions are important in our family, and one of the most important is sitting watching Muppet’s Christmas Carol on DVD on Christmas Eve. The best Christmas film. Michael Caine’s best film. The best version of this story (and I love the Albert Finney version). I drew it on the iPad with a nice cold beer. We also watch Blackadder’s Christmas Carol every year as well, another tradition, and The Snowman, but admittedly we’re not paying as much attention to The Snowman by that point. I also like watching It’s A Wonderful Life, but since 2020 feels like the Pottersville timeline it’s a bit on the nose. We were staying in a house near Waikoloa, with great views of lava tubes, about a 10-15 minute walk to the beach. Not a bad place! The Big Island is very different from the previous island we had visited, Oahu. At least, our side of it was. It’s much bigger, and much rockier, being part of an active volcano. The lava field landscapes were incredible, immense plains of sharp lava rock stretching down to the ocean from the enormous peaks. And you drive what feels like a short way and suddenly it feels like the jungle, everything is green and wet. We went on a kayak trip down the old flumes of the sugar plantation in Kohala, that was very interesting, something I will remember for years. We didn’t explore the Hilo side of the island this time, nor did we have time to go up to the volcano (plus it rained), but I want to go back on a future trip.
But maybe not in 2020. I’ll post some more of my Hawai’i sketches in the next posts.
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 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.
Different times, before the Shelter-in-Place, before the downstairs flood, before a lot of things, last Christmas in the living room. Our little fake plastic Christmas tree. Drawn on the iPad which is the first time I can draw the tree and not have to leave little spaces for the lights and ornaments, I just draw them on top digitally. One of my cats looks on. The cats aren’t talking at the moment; one of them got sick last week (he actually had to go to hospital overnight, poor thing), and now the other one won’t go near him without hissing. Hopefully once the house is back in shape they can all get along nicely again. Cats eh, it’s almost like they’re a whole different species. On the wall in the background you can make out the various advent calendars I have made over the years for my son. I made another one last Christmas, this year it was Hawaii themed, because we were going to spend Christmas in Hawaii. Those sketches will be posted soon. Seems like a million years ago. Anyway, the Hawaii advent calendar is below. I drew it on the iPad while flying back from England at the start of December (so it was a couple of days late), trying to grapple with Procreate while squeezed into a narrow seat in the dark with a large man with big elbows sat to my right, while also suffering with a stinging nose. I was looking forward to Hawaii! Be nice to be there now, with a Mai Tai and my ukulele.
I wish I had an advent calendar counting down the days until the Shelter-In-Place is over. Actually I now call it the “Global Coronavirus Shared Experience”, or “GCSE”.
Here’s an iPad sketch from a few days ago. Sorry, a couple of weeks ago. Where the hell did April go? March was about eight years long, April was about eight minutes long. I have been watching a lot of old sports. Well mostly football and formula one. Ok, only those sports. Here is the classic 1986 World Cup quarter final game, you might have heard of this, Argentina v England. I was ten when I last watched this game. We’ve all seen two clips of this game a million times, the Hand of God, Maradona’s famous handballed goal, and his subsequent brilliant mazy dribble. I was ten when I saw this game. Maradona was the best player in the world. While family members and friends all swore loudly and often, I knew this was a special player. We all did. Mexico 86 holds a lot of great memories, the first World Cup I really followed. I still have my Panini sticker album, defaced with felt tip pen by me and my neighbour, unfinished but still enough memorable characters such as Antal Roth, Randy Ragan, Cha Bum Kun, Yannick StopyRAAAAAA. Giuseppe Bergomi’s massive monobrow. But back to this game, we were at a friend of the family’s house, I was playing with the other kids, coming in and out to watch the screen with the sweary drinky people. International games in those days were so glamourous, far away, bright un-English sunshine, ridiculous big stadia nothing like the crammed in barns we saw on The Big Match, the commentary echoing of far away phonelines. This was the greatest game of all time wasn’t it, England were robbed weren’t they, if they had managed to not get cheated out of this game they would surely have just won the World Cup easily right, their first in twenty long years of hurt, right? Watching it again, I am reminded of how boring some of these games can be, especially back in the old days of the 80s. It was nice seeing Peter Reid again, always liked him, maybe a bit less seeing Steve Hodge, never a big fan. And England really weren’t all that, Argentina were always winning this game, all the momentum was with them. Who know, perhaps if the game had not swung their way, England may have nicked it, but the Hand of God shook the cradle, Shilton failed to outjump the famously not tall Maradona, Diego punches it into the net and I remember vividly that sweary drinky room of family and friends all jumping up as one shouting “HANDBALL!” and other jingoistic phrases, and I remember thinking at the time, ten years old in 1986, “you know if only we had VAR, we would have nothing to talk about over and over again for the next thirty-something years”. My favourite bit about rewatching it was that FIFA added different commentary than the one I remember, and the commentator is clearly speaking years later but pretending like he doesn’t know what happens, as if adding some doubt about the handball. He actually says, while pretending to be actually at the Azteca in 1986, “well here we are in the hot and sweaty Azteca stadium in Mexico City and Diego Maradona has just scored a goal with what might be his hand! Or his head. It might have been either. He is celebrating so it must be his head. If it was his hand England will be aggrieved about that for years until they win the World Cup which might not happen ever now. I’m sure he’ll make up for it later in this game with a much better goal to prove that he really is the best player in the world, in case we think it’s Platini who might make a good UEFA president someday with his honesty. Well it looks like the famous Hand of God goal will stand, so that’s another goal for Maradona and wait til you see him in the semi final against Belgium.” Other than that it was faultless commentary. Even describing the second goal as the Best Goal of The Previous Century didn’t give it away. I have a pair of socks with little images of that Hand of God goal all over it, if we had VAR I might not have those socks. the best bit about that game though was not the Hand of God, nor the Amazing Best Goal Ever, nor even Gary Lineker Pulling One Back, but the shadow of that big windmill spider thing that was cast across the pitch. It was such a memorable feature of that World Cup that it was almost like another character in the film. 1986. You’re only ten once, you can never be ten again. When I was ten I watched football all the time, drew constantly, had Lego all over the place and regularly freaked out about the daily world news. You can never be ten again.