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!
Election night 2020, it’s been a long year, it’s been a long night, I think it could be a long week. Been a long few years to be honest. The TV has words spewing out of it, the “Road to 270” is still very tight. It feels like watching a Spurs match where we’re holding on to a narrow lead but we keep giving away free kicks on the edge of the box. What a year this has been, and it ain’t over yet. Here’s another living room sketch, done in the new watercolour Moleskine (“sketchbook #38”). Fingers still crossed, but I’m not the optimist in the room.
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.
Well the living room is all back to normal now I suppose and people are starting to go outside again, places are starting to slowly open up once more, and 2020 is starting to settle down into – no, no, this just in, 2020 is still a diabolical disco of dumpster fires mixed up with a party of poopy diapers dancing around a carnival of crap. 24 hour mental anguish, thy name is 2020. I’ve been feeling the weight of the world lately, the missing life in this bleak year. I can’t take any more news, or opinions, or anger, or politics, or lack-of-context-and-nuance-this-person-has-said-this-one-thing-so-scorch-them-from-the-earth, or this disease, this bloody disease, still racking up the numbers and not caring one jot about the angers and opinions of us puny humans. And the second half of the year will bring an election upon us, so no more watching TV shows with advert breaks in our house. But, small but important comforts – we have our living room back, and we can lie on the couch avoiding the news and turning off social media (ha! as if) and watching Shakespeare and HGTV and the Bundesliga. Football, football, football. The Premier League is finally back next week too, to give my mind a rest from all the real chaos and anger in the world, though speaking of which when is Tottenham’s Amazon show coming out? That will be a feast, though probably painful for such an avid Spurs fan as myself, given the season we’ve had. Formula 1 is coming back too, and not soon enough. I have watched so many old races. I rewatched the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix last week, oooh I had forgotten how crashorrific that race was, but also that they could just jump in the spare car and carry on! I miss watching F1 in the 90s though, I was well into it then. I’ve enjoyed the Shakespeare too, I’ve decided I want to build a Lego version of the Globe and put on little animated versions of the plays. I really liked the Globe’s production of the Merry Wives of Windsor, the silly performances really working with the crowd, and I watched the Donmar’s Coriolanus with Tom Hiddleston, that was good, though I admit I never finished it because it was long and I wasn’t really into it, I just really enjoyed the staging and the occasional Hiddleston histrionics. I cant wait for all the plays and movies and everything about this lockdown period, the COVID age, the Coronavirus times. I’m kidding, I definitely am not looking forward to those things. I’m also not looking really forward to the many ways they will restage Shakespeare as set during the time of lockdown, though you could have some fun with it. Shelter-In-Place-Shakespeare, the Social Distancing versions. The Merry Wife of Windsor, The One Gentleman of Verona, Romeo, and Juliet (staged as two separate plays – actually that might work really well) etc etc and so on. It’s not limited to Shakespeare. There’s Six Characters In Search of a Zoom Host (Pirandelli), Abigail’s Google Hangout (Leigh), the Caucasian Social Distancing Chalk Circle (Brecht, I’m stretching that one a bit, but he was into his Verfremdungstechnik so he’s fine with a bit of distancing) and of course Six Degrees of Separation (Guare, which speaks for itself). It’s not just with Shakespeare that I’ve been getting through this time, I’ve also been running a lot more than usual. It helps when I’ve got a head full of news, when the world seems too much, running and running and running is a good way to shake it off. And if you think “hey that’s very healthy of you,” I’m here to tell you that donuts are a good way as well.
And here’s my son’s room, it’s very much a not-quite-teenage boy’s room, it’s also where he’s been doing all of his distance-learning schooling (until this week – he just left elementary school and will start middle school at the end of summer, in person we hope) Sure his room is not exactly tidy, but it’s considerably less messy than my room at the same age. I think at that age I may have still been sharing with my brother, who had on and off times of living at home (he’s ten years older than me). I remember we had bunkbeds and he would come home at all hours and he’d be sat on my bed playing Donkey Kong. He and my uncle would play tricks on me, such as holding my arm down the side of the bed and writing rude words all over it and sending me downstairs, haha. I remember he used to kick the bottom of my bed from below for a laugh, until one time it actually collapsed in on top of him, and that was a laugh, I still bring that one up. Fun times! One time I thought I’d play a trick on him and set up a trap above the bedroom door, I placed some empty bottles (plastic, not glass) above the door so that when he opened it they would all fall on his head. The problem is, he didn’t come home that night, I think he crashed at a mate’s gaff, and so my mum came in in the morning to wake me up, the bottles fell on her and broke her glasses. Whoops! As you can imagine I was in big, big trouble. I think the neighbours were woken up by the shouting, I mean the neighbours in the neighbouring counties. My brother laughed so much when he found out, he still brings that one up. Fun times! I used to draw that bedroom too, years ago. I wonder if I can find any old drawings from back then, probably. Well, these are the last ones of the house I’ll be doing for a while, now I can sketch outside when I need to. Thing is, I don’t know that I have missed sketching Davis much. I’ve drawn it so much already. Who am I kidding, I say that all the time and yet I always find things to draw! So in the next few posts, I’ll show some of the Davis sketches I did in the earlier part of 2020 before we were all ordered home. I miss the old outside world, as it was. But at least we have the living room back.
Well after the flood thing we finally got a new floor and repaired walls and a return of the living room. Good opportunity to move a few things around. I’ve since put shelves back next to the telly and the coffee table back in the middle, I’m going to get a new dining table and have a think about the desk situation. Meanwhile cat furniture is being moved about, our poor cats just want the living space back. Our cat Sawyer was sick again, and had just come back that day from another stint in the hospital, needing lots of rest and recuperation. I celebrated getting both the couch and the cat back by watching some Shakespeare online – I’ve been enjoying the Globe Theatre’s productions aired on YouTube, so I thought I’d watch The Winter’s Tale. Unfortunately I wasn’t really into it, and my family thought it was a bit boring, so in my Winter’s Tale discontent I switched on one of my favourite bits of Shakespeare, the Ian McKellen version of Richard III from the mid 90s. Brilliant from start to finish, and I’d forgotten how many names were in that film. A younger Robert Downey Junior playing himself as Rivers, an about-the-same-age-as-ever Jim Broadbent playing himself as Buckingham, and an ageless Maggie Smith playing herself as the Duchess of York. So many more big names. Been years since I saw it. I did take part in a production of Richard III in my first year at university, not acting, I was on the art side of things, I helped with the props and drew maps and took part in making a huge floor for the stage, covered in newspaper clippings. I then helped with the stage management and getting actors’ costumes ready, just doing what I was told. The stage manager was a third year student who was a little bossy – I suppose you had to be – but she really liked yelling at us first years helping out (there was one moment where she did say “you’ll be like this when you’re my age”, though I pointed out I was older than her). She was alright though and the whole production was really well done and a fun experience, though I’ll never forget trying to pull a large wooden table I borrowed from the Territorial Army along with other props all the way down Deansbrook Road, and then I never used it (was I expecting to bring a table with me on the tube across London to Mile End?) I can’t recall the art director’s name now but she was really nice and I loved helping with all of that stuff. I did quite a few other productions at university during my time there but that was the biggest and most properly done. Unlike the version of Caucasian Chalk Circle by Brecht which I co-directed. A very fun experience, all acting in German, but this time it was my turn to be the bossy one. I was at first just playing Azdak the Judge, maybe the best role ever written, and perfect for me. In the first half of the play (before Azdak appears) I decided not to act in other roles but did all of the artwork instead. Since we had very little budget for a set, I took an overhead projector, some sheets of acetate and five coloured pens, and drew out entire sets to be projected behind the actors. I also drew a few people to be extras, moving around alongside the actors, and operated the projector from the front row. It was very Brechtian, I suppose. And then some people would always miss rehearsal, or show up way too late, and so when the director asked me to be co-director I just replaced their small roles with cartoon people projected on stage. It was a chaotic and highly silly play but immense fun and time well spent with some great people. It’s been a really long time since I did anything like stage work, and I’ve often toyed with the idea of getting into it again. but I think not. It takes me forever to set up a stage for a Lego animation, let alone anything bigger. Still, I do have ideas for some Lego animated Shakespeare (that isn’t three hours long) that I would like to do some day, but right now, I’m just enjoying having a new floor, never mind a stage.
My page is my stage. I like to think about the act of urban sketching in relation to performance, both the physical act of being out as part of the urban environment and also the creation of art on the page too. Years ago I would hide away, under the cloak of invisibility, until the first Symposium gave me the confidence to be part of the scene itself, and not worry if people came and looked at what I was doing, but to embrace it. The act of seeing other people out sketching can be a catalyst to go sketching yourself – someone else is doing it, I should not be afraid to do it too. There’s a whole road of ideas I’ve been thinking about on this subject, the crossover between performance/theatre and urban sketching, particularly the relation between community sketching events such as sketchcrawls and interactive theatre. The act of several sketchers positioned around a scene such as a few stalls at the Farmers Market turned those stalls into something else, a performance to be viewed, it doesn’t have to be a scripted performance but we are watching it, and recording it, telling its story through sketches. There’s a lot to unpack and I might get around to writing it all down some day; it was a topic I was going to explore in a talk at the Hong Kong Symposium this year, before that was cancelled, but I’m still developing the ideas. In the meantime, as the local shelter-in-place order starts to draw to a close, I’ll finish drawing around the house and finally get back to sketching outside.
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”.
Decided to play with this big set of Prismacolour coloured pencils I’ve had sitting my cupboard, while watching old sports events, in this case the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix. That was fun. I really miss my sports. I especially miss the Formula 1, which nearly started they all went down to Australia, they were having practice and qualifying, and then decided maybe you know having a big event like this at the start of a major pandemic probably isn’t a good idea, so the season did not start. I love the F1 so the lack of it has been worse than not having the football. No honestly the way Jose’s Spurs have been playing, it’s not been missable. Watching this old and ridiculous race brought back some memories, and I had forgotten some of the drivers were that long ago, it doesn’t feel like it. Jos Verstappen was there, Max’s dad, for almost a lap at least, and Schumacher wet out early. Damon Hill was there of course but did not win. And of course Murray Walker, the great voice of Formula 1, commentating in his memorable diesel tones, and I had forgotten who he pronounces the word fastest like they are two separate words, “Fast-Est”. So, sat on the couch. The exercise I’ve gotten used to this past year has fallen away, I’ve been getting up too late in the mornings for my morning runs, just not been feeling it.
And here, using the pencils again, but this time sat at the dinner table (though admittedly we eat our dinner in the living room). These are drawn in a Stillman and Birn ‘Nova Trio’ book I got in Amsterdam last summer, it has grey, black and beige paper, so perfect for these sort of fun drawings. I watched the classic 1982 World Cup game Italy v Brazil, that was very enjoyable. I was only 6 during that World Cup so my memories of it are extremely foggy, just remember seeing them talk about it on telly, my brother watching it a lot, I remember Kevin Keegan being absolutely massive around then and that brilliant England shirt. I met Kevin Keegan 18 years later in Charleroi, in Belgium. This game though had the legendary Socrates (no, not that legendary one) for Brazil, and Italy’s Paulo Rossi nabbing a hat-trick. I’m gutted right now because all our youth soccer is being cancelled for the season, much to my son’s great disappointment. In particular, the Davis World Cup, our annual soccer tournament. I had designed the badge again, going for a very retro logo this year, but I’ll have to save it for next year. And change the year to 2021 obviously. Here they are, the three versions (for the t-shirts, medals, and other materials). After all this, the things we love will be back! In the meantime I’ll be watching old games, like listening to old records.
I was Drawing the Living Room before it was cool.
This was done back in early November, shortly after I got my new iPad Air and Apple Pencil, and I was trying out ProCreate for one of the first times.It was a Saturday afternoon, and staying in on a Saturday afternoon (after a busy Fall Season of Soccer) felt like such a luxury. I put Time Bandits on, got out the iPad, and sketched away. Time Bandits is one of my favourite films, ever since I was a kid and would watch it all the time. I didn’t exactly get John Cleese’s Robin Hood down (or even looking human) but I think I nailed David Rappaport’s Randall. I really like sketching with the Apple Pencil, though it was an odd sensation on such a smooth surface at first, I really find I enjoy it more than with the Surface Pro’s pen for example. I love it for note taking as well, one of the great things about that is that you can spend the whole meeting scribbling football shirts and Magneto or just random patterns, and then just erase them quickly when someone looks over their elbow at you, or if you need more room for the real notes. I cannot stop actually using a pen in any way, that has been my way since I was a kid. Constantly scribbling on stuff. When I’m on the phone I draw the most detailed nonsense. So, one of the other interesting things about sketching with ProCreate is that you can use layers, so you can do the linework on one, colours on another, maybe a layer of warm airbrushes, and they all go together, it’s a different way of sketching, and I love it. I want to play with it more (and I have been).
Time Bandits though, Time Bandits always makes me happy. Right now I’d love a Time Hole Map.
The confinement continues. I don’t watch the news, not as much as I should, but I watch the numbers, and the numbers aren’t looking great. So I sketch. I’m really drawing this house a lot. It’s relaxing to sketch. Above, the view from the couch. We were watching Spider-Man Homecoming, which is one of our favourite films. We had just watch the original Tron movie from 1982, which I had never seen before, and I must admit I wish I had not seen yesterday either. It was not just the early 1980s slow computer generated scenery, surely technically advanced for the day (though even as a kid, I remember it looked naff and didn’t really want to see it), but the uninteresting story and barely perceptible storytelling. The only thing I enjoyed about it was that the bad guy was played by Evil from Time Bandits, David Warner, whose voice I could listen to for hours. He actually played two characters, a human bad guy who looked like Arsene Wenger, and an computer-game bad guy dressed like a cybernetic prawn. Other than that the movie was just bats, and gave me a headache. So watching Spider-Man afterwards was much more of a palette cleanser.
Above, this is my desk area. Working from home, this is where I sit. I’m there right now too. I’m here a lot. This was another late evening sketch, drawn from the dinner table. On the screen are the latest coronavirus numbers. Even though this was only a few days ago the numbers are so much worse; we are no closer to flattening this curve. Not going to lie, I’m very much not enjoying this whole timeline. And like you all, I’m snacking way more while at home, so there’s another curve I won’t flatten. I haven’t been for a run for a few days, mostly because I am staying up too late (sketching, and worrying) and feeling too tired next day. I keep saying to myself, I’ll go to bed earlier, I’ll get up early, run before breakfast, energy and positive for the day. But I find it’s harder than I think.
Here is the other view from the couch, looking at the desk and the table behind it. That box of tissues on the coffee table is in each picture. That coffee table is nice and big. We used it tonight to play Carcassonne. I just got that game last week as something new we could all play together. I really liked it, I want to play it more. I’ve never played it before so we are still learning. I’ve not really played any of those European-style table-top games before. Any more time at home and we’ll end up playing loads of them. I hope you are all doing well out there, at this crappy time. Let’s hope we’re out of this soon.