andiamo all’italia!

Recently my family and I took a trip to Italy, spending six days in Rome and Venice. All my life I had wanted to go to Rome. I was starting to get worried that it would never be. So this year I decided that, somehow, I had to make it happen. Living on the Pacific coast of America makes it a little harder than when I lived in London, but I’d been teaching my son about the Romans and Italian football and watching the Rick Steves travel shows on YouTube (as well as old episodes of Gazzetta Football Italia). We had to go to Italy. I wanted to go everywhere – I’d love to see the South, and Sicily, but also Florence and Tuscany, and the Ligurian coast, and the Lake Country (so I could see where Attack of the Clones was filmed), and Milan to see the Cathedral and the San Siro, and Bologna and the smaller cities of the Po Valley, and of course Venice, one of my favourite places, which I had been to three times before, the last time being when my wife and I got engaged, fourteen years ago. Unfortunately I didn’t have a month and a half to fit all of this in, so we settled for three nights in Rome, and two in Venice, sandwiched into a trip back home to the family in London. I did a lot of sketching, and will post those here with a bit of travel story mixed in. I started a new sketchbook to take to Italy, a Stillman & Birn ‘Alpha’ book, and the first page of that is above – I drew the map of where we were going, and along the way I drew some of the things I drank or ate. I also collected many of the receipts and restaurant cards and what not along the way with the intention of sticking them into my sketchbook, but that always gives the books a couple of overly heavy pages, so I went the more fun route and drew them on the page instead. Haven’t done that in ages, it feels good.
Italy receipts etc
So do join me in the upcoming posts for a gelato or ten, and let’s wander through Roman piazzas and Venetian canals. Andiamo!
Early morning sketch of the Pantheon


Mancunian Street Sketchers

Palace Hotel, Manchester
Two weeks ago, I attended the 7th Urban Sketching Symposium in Manchester, in the north of England. I went as a “Workshop Pass Holder”, which is the full access pass, though of course there are so many workshops and activities there is really only time to do a few, but I certainly packed a lot in. I had never been to Manchester before, and had no idea what to expect. It was pretty awesome actually, lots of sketchable buildings, lots of old pubs, and yes, it rained almost every day. Well you’re not doing Manchester properly if you don’t get rained on a bit.

When I first arrived, I checked into my apartment at the Atrium on Princess Street, did a bit of shopping at Sainsburys Local,and then sketched the magnificent Palace Hotel, above. I had intended on colouring it in but when I was finally done, I preferred it like this. Also, I needed to go and check in at the Symposium venue, the Manchester School of Art. I enjoyed sketching this; I stood beside a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses and I chatted to one of them, a nice chap who told me about his passion for photography, but that he hadn’t done any drawing in quite a while. I told him that Manchester was about to be flooded with hundreds of people out drawing the streets, sketchers from all over the world. As yet I had not seen a single one, but as I thought about that, I bumped into Vincent Desplanche, a prolific French sketcher who I met last year in Strasbourg. I stood with him and sketched the Oxford Road station and this curving picture house on the corner of the street. I was moved by the words on the sign which read, “Thanks for 30 years…see you at home.” To see old cinemas closing down like this, beloved old buildings falling into disuse by the swift steely march of modern times, and with that big crane in the background, and the touching, sad sentiment of “see you at home” obviously being some reference to the fact people don’t go and watch films any more, they stream them all nowadays, sitting on their armchairs and microwaving popcorn, where is the community, where is the shared cultural experience, oh then someone pointed out to me that “home” meant “HOME”, not “home”. “HOME” is a big new arts, theatre and film complex just down the street, and I guess the cinema was just moving there. Well. Now I know. So much for my poignant image, people streaming by on their way “home”.

Oxford Road Station

Here is a map I added to my sketchbook. I will be documenting my time at the Symposium in a less ‘chronological’ and more ‘themed’ type of way, with a post for each of the workshops I attended, including what I learnt and a bit about the instructor, as well as the social gatherings, sketches of pubs, and other miscellany. I will probably post these all over the next week or so, but will also be posting current sketches as well. Oh, and the football season is about to begin so expect some new football kit posts too. I’ll also do a couple of posts about the exciting upcoming projects coming from me this Fall. I will also ramble on about some nonsense you don’t care about, make a few terrible puns, and explain why proper north-of-England chips in gravy is the best food ever.

Manchester map from my sketchbook


all these places have their moments

Map of Strasbourg

And after all those Strasbourg sketches, here is the map. Took me a while to draw, then put together, and there are like no street names, you just kind of have to know. If you click on it you can see it in larger detail. I hope you’ve enjoyed them. I’ve certainly gotten the ‘Must-Sketch-Strasbourg-Now!” thing out of my system now, but I cannot wait to go back someday.

I just blogged a summary-style post on the main Urban Sketchers website: I say ‘summary’, I do go into great detail about the 842 ‘Oaths of Strasbourg’ and their significance to the written French and German languages, and Europe as a whole. You know, briefly.

And finally, because this has basically been one long trip down several memory lanes,  here are a couple more I wanted to share. First, this is my bus pass student card from my trip to Strasbourg in 1995. Good sensible looking young chap.

95 strasbourg card

Secondly, this is me and my oldest friend Terry cycling past the cathedral on our trip there in 1997, aged 21. Mischievous faces!  1997 pete tel cycling strasbourg

And finally in 2015, the same hairstyle, a bit more portly perhaps. A la prochaine fois, Strasbourg…


maps and memories

map of where i sketched in aix
I left Aix-en-Provence in a huge rainstorm that seemed to cover most of France, on a TGV that wouldn’t get to Strasbourg until after midnight. I was pretty happy with what I’d sketched, though sad to leave. Here is a map I have put together showing all the locations in Aix of my sketches; if you click on the map you can see it in bigger format. It’s not the first time I’ve drawn a map of Aix, but before I show it to you, I wanted to show you a comparison of some sketches I did about twelve years ago with the same locations as sketched now..

Two sketches of the Fontaine des Neuf Canons, Cours Mirabeau, 2003 and 2015. I liked that blue sketchbook and blue pen at the time (no, it was not my blue period).

Two sketches of the Place de l’Hotel de Ville, the bottom one from February 2003 in a Canson sketchbook in black pen and coloured pencil, the top one from June 2015 in brown ink and watercolour.

Bechard, the place to buy your Calissons d’Aix on the Cours Mirabeau, 2003 and 2015.

What can I say, I was treading old ground. The almost exact same shot of Pub O’Sullivans sketched twelve years apart. I was drinking a Leffe in the 2003 sketch too (I know because I actually sketched it on the next page).

I know I have one of the Cathedral from 2002 too which I must dig out and add to this post. It’s interesting to think that my style might have evolved or improved over the years, I’m still drawn to the same subjects. I had actually forgotten I had sketched these before until I came back and looked at the old book again. But speaking of things I have drawn before, here is a map of Aix that I drew in 2003 in that Canson book (which I had purchased at Papeterie Michel, on the Cours Mirabeau, my favourite art shop in Aix (and I am pleased to say it is still there). It’s a more cartooony style than I use for my maps now but I love it (even though I spelled Parc Jourdan incorrectly, so it would rhyme with ‘Nain’, as in ‘Nain-de-Jardin’, after a story told to me by a guy called Corentin who said that all the Nains-de-Jardin of Aix came to life and partied here at night. I still believe him, too.


Je reviendrai!

the pubs of st. martin’s

Salisbury pub
Another London scene, another London pub. I sketched this on the same day as the last post but am posting it separately because that was about Soho, and this being a few blocks away on the other side of Charing Cross Road is really not. Plus I got to draw a different map (in a sketchier style, though in retrospect the colour scheme, the splatters and the near-total illegibility makes it looks like it was raining, when as you can see it really wasn’t) (I don’t care, I like it). So here we are in St.Martin’s Lane, which winds down from Long Acre to William IV Street, looking towards the church of St. Martin in the Fields. Roughly in between Charing Cross Road andangel & crown Covent Garden. This above is The Salisbury, located on the corner of St. Martin’s Court. Now several years ago (2008 as it happens) I did sketch on this corner before. On that day it was raining, and hard. Nothing pleased me more; we had been in the middle of a very dry period in Davis, so any London rain put a huge smile on my face (going through the current historic Californian drought, I now look upon that period in Davis as the wet one). I stood beneath the shelter of the theatre opposite and sketched this pub on the corner, the Angel and Crown (see right), I’m glad I did; it was closed this time. It wasn’t clear if it was closed for good, but it was all boarded up, and when I walked past a week later it had even more boards up around it, and seemed as if it might be given a different name. So i am glad I sketched it then. This time I stood outside the Angle and Crown (right where that lady with the umbrella is standing in the older sketch) and drew the more ornate black and gold exterior of the Salisbury. This pub dates from 1898 (actually it’s much older, and was previously called the Coach and Horses, in a nice callback to my last post). The name refers to the Earls / Marquises of Salisbury, landowners in this manor, the first of whom was Robert Cecil (Cecil Court is around the corner) who was a political bigwig in Elizabethan times. Right, enough history. This pub is in the heart of Theatreland, and has long been associated with actors, though theatre-going tourists flock here too for its authentic interior. After doing the inkwork and some of the wash, I popped in for a pint and to add a little bit more paint. I chatted to an old Irish builder nursing his Guinness while I painted, while groups of tourists perused their maps. I wrote a note in my sketchbook, “£4.60 for a pint!” and exasperated at the price of beer in modern London. This, I told myself wisely, is why so many London pubs are closing, nobody can afford to drink out any more. After visiting a couple more pubs in London, where a pint of beer tended to be above a fiver, £4.60 seemed like a golden age (comparison, when I left London £3 a pint was considered expensive). Alas, with London rents and property values skyrocketing, a lot of pubs can’t afford to exist (especially when developers see more value in luxury flats than places of historic community value), so it’s nice to see the old ones that still do and if the price of beer has to go up to enjoy them, well so be it, I suppose. This was never one of my usual stops in London, but I appreciate the hell out of it now.
map, st martins lane sm

On the banks of my own lovely Lea (or Lee)

Hertford, by the River Lea, UK
This is Hertford, which is (conveniently) in Hertfordshire, England. Despite being only up the road from where I grew up in north London, I had never been there, and it is very nice. It sits on the river Lea (or Lee, depending on the map you read; mine always called it ‘Lea (or Lee)’), and has an old brewery there called McMullen’s, whose name is everywhere (and whose beer is very nice). We were going up to visit Knebworth House, not too far away from here, but we got all the way there and discovered that it was closed during the week. So instead, we drove down to Hertford, and walked about a little while. there is a castle, but not a big one, with a nice little park. There were, we noticed, a lot of pubs and a lot of barber shops. I really liked the orange building below, and so I sketched it, its timber frames giving me an opportunity to practice for my upcoming trip to Strasbourg. The scene above though is of the River Lea (or Lee), with a row of lovely terraced houses on its banks and an old pub called the Old Barge. I just had to stop and sketch. I added the colour when I got home. It was very peaceful. I always forget about the River Lea (or Lee), which actually runs through north London before meeting up with the Thames at Bow Creek.
Hertford, UK
Here is a map of where it is. After this, we were going to drive to the village of Ware, but we decided to drive home and relax on the couch with a cup of tea, watching Countdown. So a pretty ideal day if you ask me!
map, Hertford

abbot kinney boulevard

abbot kinney tumbleweed and dandelion

And here are the last sketches from my trip to LA last month. These were done on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, a very interesting stretch of street in Venice away from the main madness of the beach. This street was named after Abbot Kinney, the man who developed Venice, California, a neigbourhood of canals and amusements. There are still several lovely canals lined with expensive houses, and in fact many of the big streets in this neighbourhood were once canals themselves. Anyway, Abbot Kinney Boulevard has lots of eclectic stores and cafes, and I stopped outside ‘Tumbleweed and Dandelion’, who I believe sell beach-themed furnishings and stuff. I liked the picket fence and the yellow flowers. I was wearing my France football shirt, and while sketching a man from Senegal stopped and chatted with me for a while, even about the Senegal team of 2002 beating France in the World Cup, I was living in France at the time and knew several Senegalese so that brought back a fun memory. When I was done, I had enough time for one more sketch, so I drew the scene below. This is a pretty typical view on Abbot Kinney, and hip trendsters sidled by being all hip and trendy. Unfortunately I didn’t give myself a lot of time to look through many shops (such is the life decision of the urban sketcher! Sketch, or actually do stuff!), and soon I caught a bus back to Santa Monica for more sketching by the ocean, where I met fellow urban sketcher Shiho (see my previous post), before dashing to the bus for the airport. And I only just made my plane…

abbot kinney

Here is the map included in my sketchbook. Yes, there is an Electric Avenue.

abbot kinney map