these aren’t the droids you’re looking for

Downtown LA fire hydrantMarina del Rey hydrant

You may recall I have a thing for sketching fire hydrants. Well, here are a few more. These forst two are from Los Angeles, sketched on our recent trip there. The short one with the long noses was sketched while waiting for the bus on the corner of Flower and Wilshire. incidentally, taking the bus in LA was fine, but changing buses at a fairly rough feeling underpass in Culver City with a suitcase in tow was a little anxious. Still, we survived and went down to Marina del Rey, where I sketched the peculiar looking hydrant above right, which was outside our hotel. 

fire hydrant on 8th & irvingby the ferry building

Two more, from San Francisco this time, the stumpy one with the red top on the left was on Irvine Street in the Inner Sunset, while the all-white one was sketched after dark while waiting for the Amtrak bus outside the Ferry Building.

And finally, Davis. I spotted this unusual shaped one on Fifth Street on Saturday, and it had to go in the book. I’m a fire-hurdant-sketching machine. In fact I’ve got a new set on Flickr devoted to them (and other urban pipes) (and beer-pumps, because they, you know, serve a similar purpose).

hydrant on 5th street

beneath a palm tree

on the beach at santa monica

We relaxed beneath a palm tree on the beach at Santa Monica, with an ice cream an a mango smoothie. I love it down there, by the Ocean. I’m a big fan of the Ocean Park area. I could live there.


jadis, santa monica

On Main Street in Ocean Park/Santa Monica is a little place, an eccentric museum of sorts, with an interesting window display, a large fantastical flying machine (which I didn’t have time to draw). It was enough to draw me inside. I couldn’t just walk in of course – the door was barred. There was a sign saying that the entry fee was $100, with a 99% discount if you paid in cash. You also get two for one if you knock, so we did. We were greeted by an old fellow (slightly reminiscent of Catweazle) who oozed interesting tales and ripping yarns. This place was, as he told us, the personal collection of Parke Meek, who died earlier this year. There was a photo of him holding a sign saying “The Customer is Always Wrong”. I liked him straight away. He collected technological history, and created technologically themed movie props which are leased to production companies and appear in all sorts of films and commercials (like those big Frankenstein-style electric control boards, from which the bottom two sketches were made). They kindly allowed me to sketch; I had to sketch the old phone, and that item on the top there is a 1904 ediphone, a kind of turn-of-the-century dictaphone. I only sketched for a little while (we were off to the beach!).

If you’re in Ocean Park, you should pop by. This place is cool.

venetian sunday

venice canals

Have you ever been to the Venice canals? I don’t mean the ones in the actual Venice in Italy, I mean the ones in Venice in California, that you sometimes see in the movies (soppy movies, admittedly). We were there on our weekend in LA (it was our anniversary; appropriate, since we got engaged in the actual Venice) (and honeymooned at the Venetian), strolling about the narrow sidewalks along the water, admiring the houses, wondering which ones we would live in if we suddenly became very rich (I’d have to sell a lot of drawings I think). It was calm, there was no noise of cars, just the tweeting of birds. If we lived there I’d want a little boat.

Speaking of waterways, we stayed just around the corner in Marina del Rey, where our hotel was a block away from the Cheesecake Factory, and our room had an amazing view over the marina itself. I sketched it quickly just before we checked out.

marina del rey hotel view

LA galaxy

LA Disney Concert Hall
Part two of my downtown Los Angeles sketches. I slowly went uphill. On another day when I have more time (and I said this three years ago when I last decided not to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art) I’ll go to the MOCA. On this day, I was grabbing as many sketches as I could, and stood outside it (leaning against a newspaper stand of course), and drew the space age Walt Disney Concert hall (I say ‘space age’, I mean ‘the Death Star after a fight with Magneto’), by the legendary Frank Gehry. It’s home to the LA Philharmonic.

LA public library

I also drew the downtown Public Library. That’s a pretty nice building too, but I didn’t have time to go in and browse. Well, I know what I’m like with libraries, I’d be there forever. A fire hydrant just happened to poke its way into view.

And below, looking up, and looking down. Bye-bye downtown LA.

LA corner of wilshireLA no dumping

there’s a door that never closes

the original pantry, downtown LA

So…more travelling, this time down to Los Angeles, an overnighter for our anniversary. Wow, it’s been over three years since I was there. I like LA. In fact I hadn’t been to downtown LA before, and had a few hours to go sketching. I liked the look of the place above – the ‘Original Pantry’ – as we drove past in the cab: it was colourful, and there were lots of people queuing around the corner, mostly Trojans fans (the USC team, not the, you know). Most had gone when I went back to sketch. A sign on the door claims that The Original Pantry has been open for a very long time: “through a door which has no key you will enter a cafe that has NEVER BEEN CLOSED SINCE 1924“.  Which is pretty amazing, if it’s true. And by not closed, I mean actually not closed, like always open. That’s what I choose to believe from their claim. This is LA! Anything’s possible!

LA downtown US bank tower

Just a couple of hours before, I had flown over these very buildings on our way to LAX. Skyscrapers seen from an airplane above are quite magnificent; of course, I was mindful of the date as well. Flying above LA is pretty cool experience though – you really see the urban sprawl, seemingly endless, broken only by big dusty mansion-filled mountains poking through. You can see the Hollywood sign clearly from the air, and the foggy belt that hangs above the Ocean communities. The only thing – the only thing – I like about flying is the view from the window, if it’s something worth seeing, of course. 

I drew both of these while leaning on those flat-topped newspaper boxes you see everywhere in American cities. As I’ve mentioned before, they are perfect for urban sketchers to lean against.

Year 2, Week 84: He’s Considering a Move to LA

LA is a great big freeway, a famous song once said, and northern California was a place you went to escape its smog-filled alleys and valleys. The idea of this city – and I have been there before – to a non-driver such as myself was anathema to my very ideals. It was just too big (and this coming from a Londoner), too sprawling, too unfocused, too reliant on the dreaded automobile, too balkanised between violent ghettos and super-wealthy media-types (again, this from a Londoner). A terrible public transport system you’d only take if you were too criminally insane to be allowed behind the wheels of a car. A city that would swallow you alive. I’m glad I went down there for a visit by myself, because I think that finally my perceptions have shifted, just a bit.

Of course, the experience of getting from LAX to Disneyland didn’t help much. Stuck on a mile-wide freeway in a small shuttle bus in a vast densely populated plain south of the yellow-tinged hills and the tall towers of downtown LA that looked like so many tombstones. Lookng at the map, I was passing through areas of legend – Inglewood, Compton, South Central, Watts – it may as well have been, if popular imagination is anything to go by, Beirut, Gaza, Baghdad, Darfur. The freeway couldn’t get us away quickly enough. The only part of these areas I actually got to see however was a Taco Bell parking lot, while the bus driver was taking a leak, and to my surprise it wasn’t filled with boyz in the hood shooting each other on sight. I remembered when I first heard of drive-by shootings, and imained people going up to a little booth, winding down the car window, a gun coming out and shooting, then being handed a drink and some fries. Well they don’t do fries at Taco Bell, so no chance of that here.

I came back this way on the way from Anaheim to Santa Monica, where I was basing my little solo excursion to LA. I’d heard it was nice, one of the nicer parts of California, and being by the Ocean there was less chance of me getting lost. I got a public bus, through Marina Del Ray and Venice, and there was a guy on there I thought I recognised, conversing loudly with a couple of tourists about the hidden beauties of the area. after he got off, the other passengers excitedly said that he was from TV, he’d been in that show Deadwood (it wasn’t the Lovejoy guy, though), and that you get that sort of thing all the time. I, however, thought I’d recognised him because he looked a bit like my uncle Eddie when he was younger, so kept quiet. Anyway, at only a dollar, the public bus was perfect and finally got me away from the insulated reality of cars and freeways, taking me to the streets. I instantly felt a little bit at home – apart from the golden sunshine and the abundance of palm trees, I could have been in London – except people were friendlier.

Santa Monica hit me instantly. I see the world in pen and paint and every sight I saw I wanted to draw, every house, every tree, every shop. My motel, while still in Santa Monica, was probably more correctly located in Ocean Park, on a vibrant little stretch of Main Street, a couple of blocks from the immense perfect sandy beach, Venice to the south, Malibu to the north, and Japan many leagues to the West. Everybody I met was friendly and local, and yet I still got that big city feeling I’ve missed. I had a slice of one of the best New York style pizzas I’ve ever had from a little place where I overheard conversations between animators and designers, before going to a little cafe I’d seen where a small and seriously talented jazz band played incredibly soothing music to me while I ate a day-old croissant. I was the only customer – it was true don’t-get-too-popular jazz (and the guitarist had almost the same Ibanez as me). I followed this with a walk to the tourist-and-light-filled pier, before strolling back to try some of the Main St pubs recommended by locals. The only thing I could say agianst this place at the end of the day was that the beers in the pubs were too expensive. It’s probably an LA thing.

I took a bus to the posh Westwood, home of UCLA and on the cusp of Beverly Hills and Bel Air, from where I took another public bus up to the Getty Center. I had worried that my accent would be misunderstood when I got on and that I would end up in the centre of the Ghetto, but thankfully that didn’t happen. The Getty was incredible, overlooking Los Angeles like an acropolis. I saw only a small part of the actual collection – it was the building and the grounds that held my interest, especially the labyrinthine gardens. I took the bus back, and for a moment I was in north London, on the 210 going through Highgate across Hampstead Heath. It was a little jarring. The rest of my time, though I’d planned to venture inland again, was spent clinging to the Ocean. Santa Monica’s sunday morning farmer’s market was right opposite my motel, and while so many of these markets have disapponted me with their smugness, this one felt happy, sunny, with its aging Mamas-and-Papas type band, and though it sounds incredibly corny, I felt as though at last I’d found the mythical place called ‘California’. The place made me feel like a friendlier person – I started to let people watch me sketch (which I never ever do), and even realised I was singing aloud to my headphones as I was walking down the street, but it didn’t matter – it seemed like everybody else was, too. I only saw a tiny glimpse of LA as an auto-less traveller, but it was enough to dispel a few myths (and to be fair, a few realities), and while we won’t be moving to LA any time soon, at least now I see it as a place to consider.