the convent at the top of orange hill

Orange Hill Convent
This is another very early morning sketch from back home in Burnt Oak. It was Father’s Day, and I was up super early so went out for a walk in the early morning June sunlight, when hardly anyone was around. The light was golden and heavy, rising beyond the Mill Hill end of Abbots Road, while I stopped at the Orange Hill end and drew one of the more impressive local buildings, the old Orange Hill Convent. Look at that chimney! That is a serious chimney. I remember the nuns, coming up and down to Burnt Oak, and I was told I had to greet them with a “Hello Sister” (not “Hello Nun” as I had been doing up to that point). Many years ago this was next to St.James’s School, the local Catholic school that I never went to (what with not being a Catholic), but would have been handy (being only two minutes from home; my actual school Edgware was a much further walk, and I did it daily – and slowly, as my old teachers will attest). My younger sister did go there, but only after it had relocated to Grahame Park. I remember friends of my older sister though who did go the St. James’s (my older sister by the way went to Orange Hill, just around the corner, which is also no longer there), they used to talk about St.James’s purely in terms of their terror at the nuns next door, Oh the nuns, so strict, the nuns! Which I never believed, having only met the nice sweet nuns going up and down the street, and saying “Hello Sister” to them, and they would say “oh hello young man” back. But then, I wasn’t a Catholic.  Pupils at St. James’s wore uniforms of two different colours – black and grey for the boys, green and yellow for the girls. It’s funny living in the US now and high school kids not wearing uniforms. We could always tell where kids were from by their uniforms (which was exactly the point, I think, for when kids from different schools got into trouble, as was not uncommon – trashing a McDonalds, running rampage on a bus, throwing things (or people) into people’s gardens – then the head of that school could be contacted and the boys or girls would get into trouble and very pointed words would be had at the school assembly next day. Yeah this happened a lot at Edgware (not by me of course). Our uniforms were blue, white and maroon. Our rivals at Mill Hill Country High had similar uniforms but had cherry red instead of maroon. There was one Catholic girls school who were kitted out all in purple, in Finchley if I recall, and were nicknamed locally “the Purple Virgins”. Not by me, of course. I always loved how tall and imposing this building was, on those dark early evenings when the rain was lashing down it would appear like a haunted mansion out of the gloom. I do remember as a kid though, my friends and I would go to the field behind it, next to the Watling Community Centre, to get conkers from the big horse chestnut tree. We’d look around for those big green spiky balls, peeling them open to find a huge shiny conker inside. Now I know this sounds like something that mawkish sentimentalists will post on groups on Facebook, oh remember when all we had was conkers, not like now where it’s all video games and obesity and violent crime (you know, the sort of Facebook post with a comment thread that quickly turns xenophobic, regardless of the original subject), but this is in fact true, we did go and get conkers from a big tree just behind the convent. I was a pretty innocent kid, it has to be said. It was all football stickers and conkers. And video games to be fair, my brother and I spent a lot of time playing Donkey Kong. I did go to karate class a couple of times in the building next to this, but I gave it up because there was another boy from my school, who I think fancied himself as a bully, in the karate class one time when I was 11 or 12 and he just spent the entire time laughing at me from behind and making disparaging comments. He then followed me down Orange Hill trying to talk to me, not in a particularly menacing way, but I didn’t want to talk to him, and I knew that next day at school he would basically have all his cronies humiliate me for attempting to do karate. So I never went back, which was a bit of a shame. Kids eh. I would probably have been rubbish at karate anyway, but I do think of that when I see that wall in front of the convent. Here I go again, memory lane. Well the school building is gone, replaced by houses and flats, I don’t know if the chestnut tree is still there but I doubt kids are picking its conkers, in these days of violent obese video crime games, and it’s probably too late for me to go back and try my luck at karate now, but the outline of this old Convent still stands out at the top of the hill like always. And finally, I sketched it!

early morning back yard sketches

Mum's Garden 2017 sm

Travelling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops. Nor is travelling across the Atlantic. So no matter how late I stay up on the arrival day, when I am a little delirious and over-exhausted from the long overnight flight, especially one delayed by over 3 hours sat on the runway at Oakland, no matter how tired I am, I’ll still wake up at like 2am and find it impossible to return to the land of the sleeping. Also the sun comes up super early in Britain in the summer, and those birds in the Norwich Walk trees do love an early morning sing-song. When I was a kid I’d stay up all night and wait for that early dawn light, those early songbirds, and sometimes I would go for a run, enjoying the world when no people were about. Well these days I’m more likely to draw the world at that time, and so I sat in my mum’s kitchen and drew the back yard. The sky’s a funny colour but it really was a bit like that. I listened to podcasts about football, language, British history and Thor (“The Lightning and the Storm”, all about Walt Simonson’s epic run on the Thor comic, look it up, it’s a great podcast) until it was time for people to wake up and have breakfast. I always love that first morning back home. I’ve lived a quarter of my life in America now, but this to me will always be home. Click on the image for a closer view. When I showed my mum the first thing she said, “oh no you drew my washing line, I should have taken it down!” Whereas I as the urban sketcher, that is the first thing I drew, it’s to me the most interesting thing to draw. “At least you didn’t draw that old bucket,” she said. “Whaaa? I forgot the old bucket! No!!!” I totally would have drawn the bucket too, if I had space on the page, but it was just “off-screen”. I did draw the gnomes though, and I don’t really like those.

Here are a couple of other early-morning sketches of my mum’s back garden from previous visits back home, the top one being in 2011, the bottom one being 2007. Both feature the washing line. The bottom one (from ten years ago!) is a little sad to me now, as it shows my old tortoise, Tatty, who we had since I was about 6 or 7, but sadly died since that sketch.

mum's garden in burnt oak
back garden at norwich walk

war! what is it good for? (absolutely sketching)

Imperial War Museum London
Last month we went back over to London for a few days ahead of our week in Italy, spending time with family and seeing friends. The London visits are more frequent than they used to be, but always seem shorter, never enough time to see everyone we want to see, go everywhere we want to go. We always pack a lot in though, and this time wanted to see some places we’d never been to. One of those was the Imperial War Museum. It’s in Lambeth, and had never appealed that much to me for some reason (because I’m a pacifist peacenik?) which is crazy because I love history, I love seeing old planes and tanks and uniforms and armoury, and I love old London buildings such as this one, which has an interesting history as the old Bethlem psychiatric hospital – aka ‘Bedlam’ (not the original Bedlam location mind you but still, interestingly historical). The grounds are lovely, and there were a lot of people out sketching as well which is always nice to see. I drew the scene above while my family were resting in the cafe.
Imperial War Museum Sopwith Camel

I didn’t do a ton of sketching in there – there is a lot to see, and my son was getting tired (World War I was a lot to take in!) but I did draw this Sopwith 2F.1 Camel. The Sopwith Camel was one of the most iconic early fighter planes for the Allies in World War I. Just imagine Lord Flashheart whizzing around in one of these before landing sausage-side and shouting “woof” a lot. (I really miss Rik Mayall!) I didn’t get much further than World War II, so I would like to go back there some day with the sketchbook. Definitely worth a visit. After this, we walked the short distance to the South Bank and along the Thames.

a farewell to dippy

Dippy NHM London

Well the New Year is here and I am still posting sketches from November. I know you just can’t get enough of 2016. These are the sketches I did on our brief sojourn back to London over Thanksgiving. It was a week of family fun more than sketching outings (I did most of my UK sketching in the summer) but I managed a few. Above is a sketch from the Natural History Museum. My son really wanted to go there to see the geology exhibits (he loves rocks and minerals) and we wanted to see our beloved Dippy one last time before he is removed from the main hall and replaced with a whale skeleton. Dippy, for those who don’t know, is the giant Diplodocus skeleton in the Hintze Hall. Dippy’s been in the NHM for over a century and has been in that hall since I was a little kid, when I would go there all the time with school or my big sister; I do love the Natural History Museum. Well Dippy is leaving! This very week in fact. They are replacing Dippy with a large blue whale skeleton that will hang from the ceiling. Dippy will go on a tour of the UK (see here for details). My son and I found a seat in an alcove to sketch, but we couldn’t see the whole Dippy so sketched what we could see.

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We also visited the Harry Potter tour at the Warner Bros Studios, at Leavesden, just outside London. We are big Harry Potter fans, and my son read the books and saw the movies this year for the first time so it was an exciting visit to go and see the real sets where they were filmed. We only had time for one sketch (so much to see! We could have been there all day) so I sketched the entrance to Dumbledore’s office while he drew the big pendulum thing. I got a Gryffindor scarf. According to the Pottermore website, my son and I would both be in Gryffindor (my wife got sorted into Slytherin!). We went there with my mum, sister and nephew, and it was a really fun family day, I do recommend it.

Hogwarts Griffin Stairwell, WB Studios, England

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One other place I was eager to visit was the new Switch House at the Tate Modern, the new tall extension to the gallery on the South Bank. It only opened last summer. My son kinda enjoyed the gallery (we saw both my books in the shop! But he was more excited about the tiny Slinky he bought) but was nervous about going to the tenth floor observation deck. When we were up there though he loved it, and again we sat and sketched the view. This is now my favourite spot in London and I will definitely come back with a few hours on hand to do a big detailed panorama. It was amazing there. Here is what I did sketch, of the view across the Thames to St. Paul’s Cathedral:

St Pauls from Tate Modern

The scene below is of drinkers at the very intimate pub off Trafalgar Square, The Harp. I came here with my friend Roshan, as they do good beer; one day I’d like to sketch the whole bar. As it was, I sketched these happydrikers while Roshan popped to the loo. Less-than-five-minute people sketching!

People at Harp pub, London

And here is Burnt Oak tube station, in the area my family live (and I am from. Looking as it has ever done. I was going to finish this, but I wanted to get back and have a cup of tea, and never finished it at home.

Burnt Oak Station

One last sketch, which is of course the in-flight drawing on the Virgin flight coming home. It was one of the newer planes, and unlike in the summer, this time I didn’t get completely squashed up and have a bad back for several weeks afterwards. Which was handy. Farewell again then my London, until next time!

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Sketching Wren’s London – 2016

wren's city sticker
On Sunday July 24, a lot of us gathered outside St.Paul’s, and then dispersed and sketched Christopher Wren’s London. It’s the second time I have run a Wren-themed sketchcrawl, and the fourth themed ‘crawl I have hosted in London since 2012. I’m already thinking of themes for next year! As in the past, I created special handouts which included a hand-drawn map showing all of the Wren churches (and other buildings) within the City boundaries. There are a couple of Wren’s City churches not showing, only because I didn’t stretch the map far enough north, and of course it shows none that are outside the Square Mile; perhaps we’ll sketch all of those next time! Here is the map:

Sketching Wren's London Booklet MAP

We started at 10:30am outside St. Paul’s, and I gave a little historical introduction (see this photo by James Hobbs!) talking about London leading up to 1666, starting with the beheading of Charles I, which many English people believed had brought a curse upon them, manifesting in the year of the beast, 1666. That was the year of the Great Fire of London; I won’t tell the whole story here, you had to be there. We were joined by a good number of people from around the world who were in England for the Symposium, including my Portland sketcher friend Kalina Wilson (Geminica). I met a lot of great new people that day too, as well as old friends. It was very international – in addition to the UK and the US, we had sketchers from Singapore, Hong Kong, Italy, France, Pakistan, Luxembourg, China, This was day two of London’s Urban Sketching pre-Symposium, and it was a little cooler, and a lot calmer than the previous day in Trafalgar Square. I do like the City on a weekend.

Temple Bar

In 2014, I sketched seven Wren buildings in one day, and my ambition was to sketch more. However, you sketch what you can sketch, and I’m pleased to say I at least matched my previous haul. I did use more pencil while sketching than usual, something I am doing more. First off though I sketched the Temple Bar gateway in pen. This was originally down at Fleet Street at the entrance to the City but removed many decades ago, only to sit languishing in Theobolds Park near Cheshunt. It was restored and placed next to St. Paul’s just over a decade ago, forming the entrance to Paternoster Square. It was from that still-shining-new plaza that I sketched St. Paul’s itself. I have always struggled with the great domed cathedral from this angle but that’s ok, you have to draw St. Paul’s.

St Pauls Cathedral

Next up, a couple of neighbours to St. Paul’s. First of all, St. Augustine’s Watling Street, largely destroyed in the Blitz. I sketched this in pencil from the gardens of St. Paul’s churchyard while talking to my old friend from high school, Joan Uloth (check out her Instagram) and Beliza Mendes from Luxembourg. I really want to sketch Luxembourg, I met more Luxembourg sketchers in Manchester.
St Augustines
Then I sketched St. Nicholas Cole Abbey, which is visible across the street (now that the building that was in the way has been demolished, that is).
St Nicholas Cole Abbey

This one was sketched across a busy street, St. Benet’s Paul’s Wharf, the church where they hold the sermons in Welsh.

St Benets Paul's Wharf

Ok this next one was sketched from an angle and with the very loud and quite chaotic bells ringing. St. James Garlickhythe (haunted by “Jimmy Garlick” who sounds like an old washed up musician from the early 70s). I did the old paint splatter thing because the great Tia Boon Sim from Singapore was on the sketchcrawl and I’ve always been inspired by her paint-splatter styles. It seemed appropriate given the noise of the bells!

St James Garlickhythe

My final sketch was of the neighbour to St. James, which is St. Michael Paternoster Royal. What I loved about this crawl was that wherever I went there would always be at least one or two other sketchers there busy plugging away. This by the way is the church where legendary (but historically very real) Mayor Dick Whittington (he of the cat and the pantomime) was buried. Nobody knows where his grave is now though, but while Wren’s tomb says “Look Around You” I presume Whittington’s tomb says “Look Behind You”.
St Michael Paternoster Royal

And then we met up at The Monument, to look at each other’s sketchbooks. Of all the people that made it to the finish (and quite a few did not; I checked the number of maps given out and I think we had around 80 participants total), we got together and I read out the names of each Wren building, asking sketchers to raise hands if they had sketched it.

You’ll never guess – we sketched ALL OF THEM. Every single one! Great job, London sketchers!!!

Here are a few photos from the end. You can see more at Urban Sketchers London (JAmes Hobbs has posted a nice set “In Wren’s Footsteps“) and on this Flickr set “Sketching Wren’s London“.

Afterwards several of us went to a pub near Borough Market for a post-sketchcrawl-pint. I sketched two sketchers, Rachel and Jimmy…

jimmy and rachel

And here is the final group photo at the base of Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire! Can’t wait to sketch with Urban Sketchers London again in the near future. So nice to meet so many new sketching friends.

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Oh, and everyone got a sticker!

sketchcrawl in trafalgar square

Trafalgar Square

On Saturday July 23 I went along to the “Let’s Draw Trafalgar Square” sketchcrawl organized by members of Urban Sketchers London. It was a hot, sweaty day, and the Square was filled with people: tourists, buskers, and people playing Pokemon Go. By the way I love how Pokemon Go is the latest Thing-To-Be-Annoyed-At among the moaning classes, just the mention of the words ‘Pokemon’ and ‘Go’ automatically bring forth  well-rehearsed stories of people walking in front of buses or just not looking up from their phones in the street, neither of which were things that ever happened before people started catching Porygons and Spearows just a few weeks ago. I bet if you had a referendum to ban people playing Pokemon Go you’d get more than half the population saying “Gotta ban em all!” Just let them be, grandad. Anyway, as I sat and sketched the National Gallery and the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a man on an unusual bike in front of me beckoned tourists to have a go and try to win ten quid from him. I didn’t sketch him. I did speak to a few tourists, giving directions and talking about the sketchcrawl. The crowds really did start getting a bit much, but I look at this stretch of pedestrianized goodness and I still remember how much of a coughing traffic mess it used to be. That right there is where I would get my Night Bus back to Burnt Oak in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, twenty years ago. It’s so much better now.

Charles I statue, Charing Cross

We met up at half-time by the column of the Grand Old Duke Of York, and the sketchcrawl’s numbers had swelled to include many more of the international sketchers who would soon go up to Manchester, including a large contingent from Singapore. So great to see so many familiar faces, such as Tia Boom Sim (Singapore), Omar Jaramillo (Berlin) and James Oses (London), and also meet many new ones I had only ever known from following online, such as Stephanie Bower (Seattle), Patrick Ng (Singapore) and Emma-Jane Rosenberg (Ely), and many others. Above though is not the Duke of York, rather this is King Charles I. He is holding a European flag, which is either a pro-Europe protest or the opposite, depending on your views of Charles, I guess. Look at all those Boris Buses milling about in the background there. The interior temperature of those buses was on that particular day hot enough to fry an egg (but to do that you needs to brexit first). No, I didn’t get it either. This statue by the way is the middle of London – all distances from London are measured from this spot. Charles was the shortest English king (well, the shortest adult English king). After his head was chopped off, just down the street from here, he was considerably shorter. Ok that is your history lesson done now. I sketched this while squashed against a wall next to Tesco Metro, itself a highly squashed experience, stood with paints balanced on elbow, while a large number of anti-Mugabe protesters from Zimbabwe paraded past, while tourists waved selfie-sticks in front of them, and absolutely nobody was playing Pokemon Go. Samuel Johnson said a couple of centuries ago that the full tide of human existence is at Charing Cross, and he wasn’t wrong. I bet he would have hated Pokemon Go though. Imagine his face when you asked whether Jigglypuff, Blastoise, and Lickitung are in his dictionary! It would have caused him terrible pericombobulations.

palace theatre London

I had to leave the Trafalgar-Squarea (tourists! This is a real term used by actual Londoners by the way so you should definitely say it next time you are there) and escape to the slightly less busy area of Cambridge Circus. Still a busy bustling Bedlam, but I was able to find a spot next to a pub and sketch the Palace Theatre, where currently they are showing the play about Harry Potter, call “The Cursed Child”. I just read the expensive hard-bound script, and I can reveal it is pretty good, and probably makes more a hell of a lot sense watching it on stage. Tickets are sold out for the next century and a half, and it’s in two parts, for some reason (I think the reason rhymes with the words “bunny bunny bunny”). I have wanted to sketch this theatre for ages, so the Potter connection gave me a good reason too (for example if I sell this sketch, then the reason may well rhyme with “honey honey honey”). I remember when Les Mis ran here for about six hundred years, or something. I sketched for an hour and added the colour at home, as I had to run down to St. Martin’s for the final meeting of the sketchcrawl, where everyone puts their books on the ground and looks down at them. It was a fun event and I am glad I went, a good sketching first day back in London, and I spent a good bit of time catching up and chatting with my fellow sketchers afterwards in the cafe in the crypt beneath St. Martin’s. By the way that cafe is the place to go when it is hot outside and you want a lukewarm fizzy drink. I did some sketching of the sketchers…

Sketchcrawl Sketchers sm

And afterwards I met my friend Roshan, and we went for dinner, then out for a nice relaxed beer in Covent Garden, being joined by other friends Lee and Jamie. I sketched them too. A couple siting next to us kooed over eagerly at my book while sketching, it seemed like they thought they might be next in the book, but alas my sketching energy needed conserving for the next day, when I would be sketching Wren’s London. Nice segue there into the next post, huh!

Roshan Jamie Lee

london’s ancient highway

The River Thames sm
For the first sketch back in London I wanted to draw this stretch of the River Thames again, looking out towards Waterloo Bridge. Last time I sat on Hungerford Bridge (a little bit further toward the middle, drawn to include the then-brand-new Shard) the skyline looked different. New skyscrapers keep popping up, all in fun zany shapes like some ten-year-old invented a futuristic robotopolis. They all have funny names too, the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater, the Walkie-Talkie, the Spaghetti Western, the Cordless Kettle, the Balrog, the Gelfling’s Prophecy, all very silly names. Ok some of those may not exist yet. The oldest structure in this sketch is actually Cleopatra’s Needle, on the left there, at about 3500 years old (placed here in the 19th century). Its twin is in New York, you can apparently use it to teleport between the two cities but they don’t like to tell anyone (see previous posts for feelings about Translatlantic travel). Ancient Egyptians used to smirk at the silly nickname too, also making fun of Thoth’s Sewing Machine, Rameses’s Hat-Stand and Mark Antony’s Hypodermic Syringe, and so on. Anyway, I sat on my uncomfortable little stool (now retired) and sketched for two hours straight, as London in the Summertime started up around me, tourists, day-outers, amblers all looked around and marveled at the view. Now if the proposed mess of a project the Garden Bridge gets built this view will be spoiled. I believe the Bridge would go just beyond Waterloo bridge, but with trees poking out of the top of it the views down river would be compromised somewhat. Not a fan. Might be useful elsewhere, but not there. It’s a folly of Boris and Lumley. We’ll see if it actually gets built. If it does, expect more cranes, more changing views, and more sketches along the ever-changing, ever-constant river. I do love this river.

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Here’s the sketch I did on the same bridge in 2012:
Waterloo panorama