Norman Style

Normandy map

In July 2022, we finally visited Normandy! My wife had actually been talking about visiting Normandy since we first met twenty years ago, to see Mont St Michel and the D-Day Beaches among other places, but France became so much further away after we moved to America. I’ve wanted to go to Normandy for many years, mostly to see the Bayeux Tapestry, but also those other places. I’ve always liked the idea of the Normandy cuisine as well, hearty and full of apples. We loved it there, a land of green rolling hills and white cliffs, not unlike the south of England but everything was in French, and the towns were more charming. We stayed in Bayeux itself, taking the train out there from Paris, and we rented a car and explored for a few days. Normandy is big, and we could have spent a lot longer there, trying all the cheeses, and we got our fair taste of history. I also did a good bit of sketching, especially around Bayeux. I would wake up early and leave our little apartment in the centre of Bayeux to wander about with my sketchbook before my family woke up, bringing back the pains au chocolat and other pastries for breakfast when I’d return.

SNCF train to Bayeux

Our SNCF train ride to Normandy was pretty pleasant. We had taken the Eurostar down from London, easy enough from St.Pancras. We had to take the Metro to connect to a different station for the train to Normandy, and there was a bit of a wait, so we went out and had a nice lunch outside, got a bit of the busy Parisian urban ambience before our quieter time in Normandy. I did have a run-in with a weirdo in Paris Nord station while my son and I were waiting for my wife who was in the bathroom, just one of those odd people who come up and start acting weird that you get in stations. Initially ignoring him, I asked him in French to please leave us be. I don’t think he was French because he said something in Dutch, maybe he thought we were Dutch. Then he started growling aggressive swear words in English at me and getting in a bit close, so I stepped forward and in my best Burnt Oak told him to F off out of it, and F off out of it he did. “Welcome to Paris,” I said to my son. “Not my first time here.” We didn’t meet any other train station characters, though we kept awake for them, and there were a lot of police around prowling for pickpockets and occasionally grabbing people in the act. I remember my first trip to Paris as a kid with my school, and we first saw a Paris policeman outside a Metro station, carrying a gun. We kids from London had of course never seen such a thing before, except on the A-Team (where of course nobody actually got shot). I remember a few years in the 90s later seeing some French armed soldiers with machine guns on the Metro, just patrolling in case of terror threats, and being a bit gobsmacked having never seen a machine gun in my life, let alone one being carried by soldiers on the underground, except at the start of the A-Team, when the only thing that gets shot is the title card. Of course now I live in America. anyway, I knew that Paris stations might have their train station troublemakers, but were pretty well defended. That first school day trip to Paris though back in 1989 or 1990 was pretty brief, but the other thing I remember that stood out to me the most was the very particular smell of the Metro itself. Not a bad smell, more a particular flavour of industrial that you don’t get on the London Underground, and was specifically Paris. Every time I’ve been back and been on the Metro that smell has always brought me back. It’s funny, I don’t remember smelling it as much on this trip. Many of the trains are so modern now, and the stations pretty well kept, and the occasional whiff of it here and there was maybe all in my head.

Speaking of the A-Team, did you know that in the French dub of the show, they added words to the theme tune? No word of a lie, they gave the A-Team tune lyrics. They call it “L’Agence Tous Risques” and you can see it here. Magnifique.


So after our late lunch we caught our train from Gare St Lazare, a beautiful historic station that I may draw one day if I’m back, and was basically a luxury shopping mall inside. The train zipped through the city centre, the suburbs, and the green French countryside with occasional glimpses of the Seine as it accompanied us on our way. Our neighbour across the table on the train was carrying a very very small rabbit in a plastic case, which was sat on the table and we just adored. I sketched the scene on the train, while my wife and son watched France whizz by, and my son listened out at all the French language, absorbing it all since he is learning it at school, before we reached the small station in Bayeux. I’ll add my sketches from Normandy over the next few posts. Bon Voyage!

to honolulu and back

SMF-HNL 080621 sm

Earlier this month we took a short vacation to Hawaii, to the island of O’ahu, where we first stayed in 2017. It was great to get away, but also my first flights since the start of the pandemic, so a little nervous. It’s a fairly long flight to Honolulu (over five hours) but you know, nearer than London. Of course, I have to draw on the plane, it helps me relax. Everyone was masked up, thankfully. I filled the page with some colours – these were actually the colours of the lighting on the plane, as it changed about, it was a bit freaky. It was a newer airplane. I did watch an interesting documentary about Ossie Ardiles, my childhood hero. We spent five nights in Waikiki, and just as all the reports had said, Hawaii was packed with tourists, especially our hotel, especially the elevators. Nonetheless it was great to have a break, great to be in the ocean, and be around all the colourful scenery. And cool down – it was very warm, but cooler weather than Davis which was in the 100-110 degree range around when we left. I drew a map of the island when we left, showing the spots we visited on this trip. I did a fair bit of sketching too, I’ll post those separately. 

Oahu map sm

And on the way back, I drew the plane again, this time with even brighter colours, like a huge shave ice. Always good to get away. The way things are going again, might be the last time in a while…

HNL-SMF 081121 sm

Great Britain in 66 Sketches

Map, Great Britain in 66 sketches.
Ok, the time has come to show you one of the projects I started while stuck at home to get through the mind-crushing dystopia of the pandemic. And everything else; seriously 2020 give us a break. Since there is no traveling for us for the foreseeable future (“foreseeable future”, hah, like that is a thing) and certainly no going back home to Britain, I decided at the start of April that it would be a good idea to explore my home island virtually, and with a sketchbook, via the magic of the internet, or more specifically Google Street View. My rule was that I had to fill a single Stillman and Birn Delta Series sketchbook (that I have had sitting in the cupboard for several years, waiting for a time such as this to create a single-themed book with) with sketches from around Britian, but travelling as if on a linear journey, not back and forth but from place to place, starting in Burnt Oak (the corner of London I am from) and finishing in, why not, John O’Groats. The sketches had to be from Google Street View only, not other sources, so that there would be both a reasonable consistency as to the view (height for perspective) and that I would be constrained kinda sorta like I would be in real life: not a great view of the thing I want to draw, well don’t draw it. I would use Street View to explore, going up and down streets all over Britain to find the things I want. I didn’t have a plan when I started as to where I would go or how many sketches I could do, but after the first few pages it became very clear that I needed a plan, and as it turns out there are a lot of places I had to miss out, either through lack of space in the book or just because there was nothing there that made me want to sketch it. I wasn’t just going for the obvious spaces, and perhaps I missed out some great locations, but those are the choices we make when we travel sketch, we aren’t making definitive statements about places, just drawing what speaks to us. Most places aren’t particularly personal to me, but a few places are, places I might have been years ago. Truth is, I haven’t been to most places in Britain – I’ve never once been to Wales, for example, and boy have I missed out – and now I have a real hunger to travel the island in real life. And that was another rule – just the island of Great Britain. Ireland could be another book by itself, and I didn’t have room for the Isle of Man, so I also left out the Isle of Wight, and didn’t go beyond Scotland’s northernmost tip to Orkney or Shetland or the Outer Hebrides, but that would be fun in real life.
So join me in the journey around Great Britain, in 66 sketches – seemed like a good number to stop at, one which rhymes through British history – plus the stories of my epic voyage, which was taken completely at my desk 5000 miles away in California. Or if you prefer to just see all the sketches without the usual ramble and bad puns and “guess-which-bit-is-true” history segments (you would probably have hated my old ope-top bus tour of London years ago), all of the sketches are compiled in one Flickr folder at “Great Britain in 66 Sketches“.

I’ll start posting them in the next post, and you’ll be able to follow them all here at

Arteries and Arches: Amsterdam, The Map

Amsterdam Map
Here is a map showing where I did my Amsterdam sketches. It links to Flickr where you can see a much bigger version. It’s hard to see otherwise. I drew the map on my iPad this time. It was therapeutic, drawing all those streets and canals. Well tracing them really. I ‘forgot’ all the little lanes in the very middle, but I didn’t sketch in there anyway. I have mixed feelings about Amsterdam. Seeing the map now I just really want to go back, not be doing a symposium, just eat cheese and poffertjes and maybe not go mad in a heatwave. Explore the bits I didn’t sketch in, like De Pijp, the Museum Quarter, and Jordaan, even the trendy northern districts. But then I want to go everywhere all the time, even more so in this sudden new dark time of coronavirus pandemic and no travelling. I spend my evenings watching travel videos on Youtube like we may never have travel again. When all this is over I feel like I’m going to want to see everything on earth while we can. In the meantime I will make more maps, and if I can’t go there, I’ll sketch from Google Street View if I have to. Anyway, I’ll post some more recent sketches for a bit before returning to the story of last summer (after Amsterdam, we went back to Belgium, then Disneyland Paris, then London).

summertime in the low countries

Sketchbook first page
Well it’s time to tell you about my summer. Now that it’s cold and probably wet, and we’ve all aged a bit more than six months in the past six months, let’s take a look back at my summer holiday in the Low Countries. They are called that after one of David Bowie’s albums (though I took so many trains that it should be called Station to Station). Following the tradition of the last three summers, I took a Stillman and Birn Alpha with me and filled in the front page with a hand-drawn map and drawings of various things I ate and drank along the way. This was a longer trip – three weeks, two on the continent and another staying with the family in London, taken in the midst of a whopping heatwave. It’s not the longest or anywhere close to the most journeyed trip around Europe I have ever taken – look back to 1998 for that, the pre-sketching days – but now I’m older it takes longer to recover; I’m not sure I have, even looking at the map makes me tired. It was a fun trip though, full of memories, meeting up with good friends, seeing old places from the past, and finally showing my son that mad country of Belgium I keep talking about. He was just as impressed, it was his favourite place. In the image above you can see some of the food and drink I liked – poffertjes (little Dutch pancakes) in Amsterdam, from a jolly guy called Tony; classic simple waffle from a waffle truck in Brussels, the most delicious waffle I’ve ever eaten; Charles Quint, perhaps my favourite beer, from my favourite bar in Charleroi, still open despite much faded glory; proper Waterzooi from Gent, which I had never tasted before; a bright pink juice called ‘Stress Down’ from Joe the Juice in Amsterdam, which honestly revived my brain after it melted in the heatwave, and got my sketching working again; Belgian frites covered in Sauce Andalouse from Robert La Frite in Charleroi, naturally eaten after midnight, the very best frites in the world; and of course, a 99 from an ice-cream van in England, that’s a soft-serve in a cornet with a chocolate flake, everything seems like it will be ok when you have a 99. Lovely foodly memories. Not to mention the delicious Belgian chocolate.


I got a new small suitcase for the trip, smaller even than my other small case, and I had to pack light. I knew I’d be wheeling it around cities, cramming it into luggage lockers, not unpacking much on my one night here, two nights there hotel stays. Fortunately football shirts don’t take up much room and I wear a lot of those. So, this trip took me to France – Paris and Disneyland; to Belgium – Brussels, Ghent, Liege, Charleroi and Bruges; to the Netherlands – Amsterdam, for the Urban Sketching Symposium; and to England – London, plus a day in Watford and St.Albans. Oh, but I did get to start in an exciting way – I flew first class from LA to Paris. I had never flown first class before, and wow this was an experience. Completely lie-flat seats, amazing food with real metal cutlery, a huge TV screen (I watched Bumblebee, of all movies), and flight attendants calling me by my name ‘Mr Scully’. Oh and a door, and actual door, so I could be in my own little cubicle, instead of my usual squashed-against-elbows flights over the Atlantic. And it didn’t cost us anything, as we got it on points. Very much a one-off experience for me! I was unashamedly excited about the whole thing. People from Burnt Oak don’t often get to do this sort of thing. The only thing I was disappointed in was that the toilet was just like any other airplane loo, I was expecting some huge fancy bathroom or something, golden seat maybe. Also, the old man who went in there before me kind of left it a bit messy. I was a bit worried they might think it was me so I actually tidied it up. Still the champagne was nice, and by the time I landed in Paris I had that unusual sensation of having actually slept well on a plane, so I had plenty of energy to get sketching around Montmartre before speeding off to Brussels – more on that later. But you’ll notice IO flew from LA – I first had to fly from Sacramento down to LAX, which if you’ve ever been there is quite a headache of an airport. Looking forward to the first-class flight made up for that. So, here is what I sketched on the flights, drawn in the small in-transit-sketches Miquelrius ‘Lapin’ book, on the very last pages in fact, a book I had started on a trip to Paris back in 2012.

I really love travelling, and I really love sketching. I’m not a super fan of hot weather, and there was a fair bit of that, and it made the travelling and sketching much harder at points, but I am always so excited about being on the move in a new place that really, I didn’t care. It wasn’t yet so hot when I landed in Paris though. Join me next time for a description of my day in Montmartre, where I had not been in about twenty years.


seeking out the ship and shovell

Ship and Shovell, London
This is the Ship and Shovell pub in Charing Cross, a well-hidden mystery of a pub I had never known existed, like a character in a long-running TV show that shows up and everyone acts as if they had been there all the time. I had intended to colour this in, with its bright red barrels and atmospheric early morning lighting, but I never got time and I wanted to show it to you quickly. These days so many London pubs are under threat and you never know how long they will be there. The Ship and Shovell, not ‘Shovel’, but ‘Shovell’. Probably after Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, his picture is in the sign (I didn’t draw him). The Ship and Shovell is found in Craven Passage, right behind Charing Cross Station, next to a tunnel that leads down to Villiers Street – I had never taken that tunnel before, just assuming it plops out unassumingly into Northumberland Avenue. In fact just a short block further is the Sherlock Holmes pub which I have been to. London is a place that is always worth exploring. Around the corner is the house where Benjamin Franklin used to live, which is called the Benjamin Franklin house, I’m assuming that’s no coincidence. I knew nothing of the existence of this pub – it’s not like I know every pub in London – until I saw a photo recently on one of those historic London Twitter feeds that you follow for old photos and stories, some of them are good. Some of them do attract the overly nostalgic commenters, if you get my drift, the “it was better before all the [insert xenophobic descriptive here] moved in” lot. I left several Facebook groups because of that, my reasoning being “it was better before all the xenophobes moved in”. Most however just like to reveal old London’s historic gems. I assumed this pub was long-gone, another casualty of six-quid pints and predatory property pirates, a blurred photo from the sixties, villains and rakes and lost tourists from Nebraska, “Underneaf the Arches”, “Roll Aht the Barrels” and “Let’s All Go Dahn the Strand”, but no, it’s very much still there, hiding away, having a banana. What is most interesting about the Ship and Shovell is that, as you can see, it’s actually two pubs rolled in one, split down the middle by Craven Passage. It’s joined by the cellars, but otherwise may as well be two pubs. As far as I can tell, one side isn’t the Ship and the other the Shovell, though I bet regulars have their preference. It was too early for me to go in and sketch inside. I left the house at 8am so was sketching this by 9, when people were still on their way to work. It was a bright morning, not very cold, and I was glad to have sought out and found this little red jewel. Some day I will pop in for a pint. Or maybe, half a pint in each side.
Map to Ship and Shovell

Hampstead on a Sunday Morning

Hampstead High St

It was Sunday morning, and my restless nature meant I had to get out of the house and onto the tube. I decided to get off at Hampstead, one of my favourite hill-based places for a little bit of sketching and shop-going. I love Hampstead in the morning. People going out for breakfast, a tour guide bellowing history to a group of Americans outside the tube station, the little lanes off the High Street filled with cute houses. One of my life’s ambitions was that if I ever got rich I’d live in Hampstead, but you have to be really quite rich to do that nowadays I think. The other ambitions are still a place in Highgate and a place in the South of France, along with California of course, and I have at least lived in those places at some point along the way. I stood across the street from the station, putting my uphill perspective games to good use, not quite believing my good weather luck. Another of my ambitions, which I think would make a good book, is to location-draw every single station on the Northern Line, from Edgware to Morden and back up to High Barnet. Hampstead tube station, the deep red glossy ox-blood tiled building on the corner above, is London’s deepest station, regularly publishing philosophy, attending jazz poetry nights, and having meaningfully long walks along the beach. There are no long escalators here, no, you must use the elevators, or ‘lifts’ as we prefer to call them. After all this time away from England my mind’s vocabulary is slowly starting to flip Stateside – only now do I see the ‘Way Out’ signs on the Underground and think, Hahaha, it’s ‘Exit’, you Hippies. After sketching I went to the EE phone store to try and figure out why my unlimited texts plan was given me so far zero texts, only to find that the EE Store was closed on Sundays, because the Dark Ages. (I ended up finding an open EE store in Edgware, but they couldn’t figure out my texting issue, which is another story I won’t go into here, because it’s not interesting). I did get to go to Waterstones and spend money on books, because I can’t help it, and also go the Cass Arts and spend money on Seawhite of Brighton sketchbooks, because I can’t help myself.

The Flask, Hampstead

I did have to get back home though (via an unproductive pitstop at the EE store in Edgware – so I have an unlocked iPhone 8, and I could call and use data, and text other iPhones through iMessage, but for some reason could not send any texts to other non-iPhone phones, even with EE’s unlimited texts plan. I was unable to solve this the entire time I was back. I tried all sorts of settings on the phone, and the EE man in the store also could not figure it out. I didn’t have this problem with my older Nokia last time I was back.) I had to get back to meet my newest family member, my baby great-niece Frances, for the first time. However I did have some time to do a very quick sketch of the Flask pub in Flask Walk. Last time I came here I was ghost-hunting with my son a few years ago. Didn’t find any ghosts (what with the laws of thermodynamics pretty much disproving their existence – thanks a lot, thermodynamic party-poopers). I didn’t sketch much as you can see, and decided to leave it in the completely unfinished state rather than go back and do more, or finish off from a photo – this was too unfinished to do that. Besides, you get just enough with a sketch like this. That easel at the end of the lane, that was an oil-painting artist who I presume didn’t have to go and sort out his EE unlimited texting plan nor meet a new baby. He is unseen though, like a ghost. Also unseen, the ghosts of late morning brunchers, brunching away, many of them lined up outside the cafe to my right, a popular choice for the Hampstead brunching set, which if my ambitions are ever realized I will be one of them, brunching with a little dog at my heels, still sweaty from my jog across the Heath. Can you still afford brunch if you live in Hampstead? Is the existence of brunchers disproved by the laws of thermodynamics? Well they don’t appear in the sketch so you’ll have to make your own mind up. Brunching makes you feel good.

Hampstead Map

I drew a little map in my sketchbook. The colour scheme implies this is all fields, but of course it isn’t. To the north-west is Holly Hill. Up there somewhere among the ghosts and brunchers is the Holly Bush pub, which I have never been to, though I’ve always wanted to, both to have a drink and also to sketch. I’ll save that ambition for some future trip.

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…