Portland’s Autumn

pdx saturday market

In November I went up to Portland, Oregon, to teach one of the 10×10 Urban Sketchers workshops, on Interior Perspective. I was invited by my friend Rita Sabler (the excellent Portland reportage sketcher), and it was as always an enjoyable visit to one of my favourite cities. I only ever seem to go these days in dark November, but this time it was not rainy at all. It was very colourful in fact, with the autumn leaves out in full force. I tried to capture as much of that as possible in my out-and-about sketches. Above, Portland’s Saturday market, with the Skidmore Fountain in the foreground. I sketched this fountain in 2010 at the first USk Symposium, on a Saturday morning perspective sketching class with Frank Ching. That was the moment I always look back to when I really gave up my inhibitions about drawing in public; rather than find a place to hide and be invisible, better to sketch openly and not worry about being ‘in the way’, become part of the place. On this day, I was able to observe the market as some stalls were still setting up, and as people passed by I got a real feel for the character of this quarter of Portland.

steel bridge portland

I like the Steel Bridge, another one I drew on that first Portland symposium, that time at a workshop with Lapin, I sat between him and Gerard Michel discussing different approaches. I’ve always wanted to return to this riverbank in the Spring when the blossoms are all pink, but coming back in Fall with golden leaves floating down is almost as nice. I did get a bit cold though, and so streetcarred it back to the hotel for a rest before my workshop.

pdx food trucks alder square

This one was sketched at the food carts area at Alder Street, after I had spent a good long afternoon wandering about Powell’s. Powell’s is such a great big bookstore, I could spend forever in there. They had my books, too, which is always exciting to see. I have a tradition now of going to Powell’s and then wandering up here for a big hot dish of Thai food, and I was not disappointed. I sketched across the street, the sunlight starting to fade, the urban greys brightened up by the reddish orange of the trees.

star theater portland

Not too far away, a bit earlier in the day, the Star Theater, with yellowy leaves scattered about. A group of homeless people sat nearby talking and laughing, streetcars rattled past, a slight breeze blew leaves and thoughts past as I sketched. My legs were hurting; I had had a night out before, and a good lie-in, but as each year passes I always forget I need a bit more rest. I spent the rest of the afternoon in Powell’s. And below, of course, an orange Portland fire hydrant, weather-worn and pock-marked.

pdx hydrant

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on a colourful day

Davis Farmers Market
I’ve been a bit slow with posting this year. My sketching numbers are down too; but then again, 2016 and 2017 were a little hard to beat for sketch volume! I have a fair number of recent sketches still to scan though, but before we get on with those, here are the two I did on the last Let’s Draw Davis sketchcrawl, which was on a lovely sunny-after-the-rain morning at the Farmers Market. The trees were painted in exciting colours. We had a good turn-out, I talked a bit about drawing crowds and perspective (remembering all the things James Richards once taught me). These trees are almost all leafless now, as we hit mid-December. There were a lot of locals out this day, gearing up for the festive season. Below, sketched from almost the same spot but looking in a different direction, across C Street to the rear section of Davis Community Church.
C St Davis

and so, september

farmers market, davis
The first day of the AYSO Fall soccer season, and my son’s game was being played later in the afternoon on this hot Saturday. Also, the Nations League – the new competitive international competition – had just started and England were going to play Spain. So before this feast of football I took myself down to the Farmers Market to do a little morning sketching. I drew in black, and added the colour with a little bit of coloured pencil. It’s been a while since I sketched here, and said hello to a few locals I know, and ate a nice pain-au-chocolat. Speaking of football, I have not yet done my annual MS Paint inspired run-down of the Premier League kits. I’ve been busy this summer, still trying to catch up. So it’s nice to come down and do a bit of sketching.

out and about in madrid

Mercado San Miguel Madrid

Not far from where we were staying in Madrid was the Mercado San Miguel. This covered market – well, more like a food hall – was chock full of fresh food and drink to buy and enjoy in a very Madrid atmosphere. We came here a few times for tapas, churros, sangria, but I decided it needed sketching so late one evening when the family went to bed I came across the street, got a sangria and some olives stuffed with mussels, and sketched the bustling gourmet mercado before going home at midnight. The red sangria was delicious. There were lots of tourists there, Americans dragging their sleepy teenaged kids around to experience late-night Spanish culture, some groups of English men on more sensible weekenders than the ones down at the Costa Brava, young ladies sampling Spanish wine and desserts, and occasionally a few locals too, I guess, or maybe visitors from other parts of Spain. I wasn’t really paying much attention to all the people and their conversations, I was looking at the ironwork on the ceiling. I did really enjoy this place, though it is very self-contained and not as large or diverse as the big market in Barcelona that I sketched in 2003. However it was a nice taste of Madrid, literally.

Palacio Cristal

Above is the Palacio Cristal, located in the Parque Dell Buen Retiro, the expansive green space in the heart of the city. We spent an afternoon wandering about here, among the trees and lawns, and we sat for a while by this lovely old building. This might have been my favourite part of Madrid. I sometimes forget in my rush to see big exciting urban wonders that I actually love great urban parks more than anything. I always loved Hyde Park, Regents Park, Central Park in New York of course. Buen Retiro (“Pleasant Retreat”) is exactly that, and dotted with great structures such as this, the Palacio Cristal. This was built in 1887 by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, possibly inspired by Paxton’s great Crystal Palace in London. Unlike that one, this palace was never relocated to a southern suburb to become the name of a football team and then burn down, and it still sits pretty among the greenery today. I sketched it while we took a break from all the walking. There was a pretty steep street to enter the park, Calle Claudio Moyano, lined with second-hand book stalls and the occasional cold drinks spot, so by the time we reached the middle of the park our feet needed a rest. Well my son’s didn’t, he wanted to kick a ball around but had left it at the apartment. So, we drew this.

Atocha Station Madrid

Speaking of greenery, this is the Atocha train station, in Madrid. We went there to catch a train to Toledo, and were then delayed by the fact you need to wait in a long line to buy a ticket to Toledo. More like Delayed-oh. Sorry, that was a bad pun, even for me. So, it gave me time to do a sketch of the incredible botanical garden they have inside the main atrium. This was also one of the stations where the awful terrorist attacks of 2004 took place, killing 193 people. The legacy of that atrocity is still visible in the fact that to board a train in Spain, or at least the ones we boarded, you need to go through security and have bags x-rayed.

Madrid People 071518 sm

Here are some Madrid people, sketched while we lunched on pizza outside the Museo Reina Sofía. We spent all morning in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, yet barely scratched the surface of this large art gallery. I was there first and foremost to see Guernica, Picasso’s huge classic, which paints the horrors of an aerial bombardment of a small Basque city by German planes late in the Spanish Civil War. It’s been one of my favourite paintings since I was at school, so to finally see it for real in all its vast, immersive terror was quite an experience. It was accompanied by lots of Picasso’s preparatory sketches, and other paintings by him and by other artists around the time that led up to and influenced this masterpiece. There was a whole section on the art of the Spanish Civil War. That is one conflict I feel I have never really understood properly. It’s always been talked about, written about, painted about, but its legacy lived on right through the end of Franco and probably beyond. Being in Madrid for the first time, I felt a sense of urgency that I need to educate myself about this civil war and about the people of Spain, which I think is a much more complicated country historically than many non-Spanish people know. So, I need to start doing some reading. If our trip to the Reina Sofía has done anything it has made me resolve to learn more. The other thing I enjoyed about the Reina Sofía was the abundance of works by that other great cubist, Juan Gris. I used to love Juan Gris when I was an A-Level art student, I did a project on him and we all went to see an exhibition of his work at Whitechapel. My favourite thing about him though was all the jokes I could use with his name, all really based on either being Hungry or Angry. As I repeated quite often, “Don’t make me Juan Gris, you won’t like me when I’m Juan Gris.” I bet Picasso and Braques used to say that to him all the time.

ghosting through london

Smithfield Market
Ok so for the first post of 2018 (or the 2nd, I suppose, since the last post ended up coming shortly after midnight) I am going back in time six months to some sketches I did not post back then. Back home, back to my native city of London. It’s funny, I’ve been away from London for a quarter of my life now. It will always be my city, but as each year goes by I feel further and further away. Yet no city ever continuously gives me more to discover. Almost two decades ago I was a tour guide, on an open-top bus with a microphone and a rainjacket, and in my spare time I would read history books, or explore streets on foot, looking for the stuff that has always been there but I have overlooked, walked past, ignored. When I was a teenager I would on weekends take the tube down to a different part of town, literally just to look around, as if marking my territory. I wasn’t just looking for old historic sites, but newsagents, shortcut alleyways, I wanted to see how the city connected together. London changes daily, a story that keeps being written. So on my last trip back, I took a day sketching down a stretch of the City that I’ve overlooked for too long. At the top, Smithfield Market. I’ve wanted to sketch this building for so many years and, well it’s just a little out of the way from my usual routes. It always requires a special journey, despite its centrality. It is essential London, yet, like Farringdon, feels like ‘not my London’, I feel like a stranger. And it’s quiet around here, there’s not a lot of foot traffic on a Saturday. This part of London has always creeped me out a little; it feels haunted. I would come down this way on weekends when I was younger and end up escaping back to the inhabited world of Oxford Street or Charing Cross because it was just so dead; now, this appeals to me more. Smithfield has a history alright. Located just outside the historic wall (the name comes from Old English smēðe feld, meaning smooth or level field) and was a place of many historic public gatherings, most notably the one at the end of the Peasant’s Revolt when Wat Tyler was killed by the Mayor, and in fact Smithfield has seen many famous executions, such as William Wallace. There were also great medieval tournaments here, but it is most well known these days for its market, which also dates back to the middle ages. The large covered Smithfield Market, primarily a meat market, was built in the 1860s by Sir Horace Jones. A couple of years ago a friend of my family, whose dad worked for years at Smithfield, told me I had to sketch it, and soon, so I promised one day I would. Now, redevelopment seems to be moving forward and it’s been announced that the Museum of London will move in to part of the market building. This section, looking up West Smithfield, is currently abandoned. Still feels haunted on a Saturday afternoon.
Holborn Viaduct
Holborn Viaduct is about as haunted as it comes. Look at it, it says ghostly London all over it. Even those dark statues look like cowled spectres from down here in the street. That red Victorian ironwork. Those dark arches. The lamps. Newgate prison was once in this area, leaving Holborn full of ghost stories, but this part of the city doesn’t need the stories. Poking through the modern towerblocks, crossing the busy tarmac carriageway, the whole place itself feels like a ghost. We don’t make places like this any more.
Black Friar Pub, LondonFinally, the Black Friar pub. Even the name feels creepy. That robed friar above the door. Yet this was the place that surprised me the most. I remember this area near Blackfriars Bridge as being constantly under construction, an easy place to get lost. And suddenly, this area feels open and brand new. The modern Blackfriars station just blew me away, and stepping out of it and looking across to this old tavern I had always known but never steeped into, and looking across the river toward the Shard and the modern changing metropolis, this was yet another London surprise. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner. The way the Black Friar is wedged into this junction was a delight to sketch, a nice test of perspective skills. It was pretty early still (I am listing these sketches backwards) but the pub was open so I popped in for a cup of tea. The interior is remarkable. The pub itself was built in 1875 on the site of the Dominican priory of Blackfriars, and is filled with carved wooden panels cheekily showing off priory life, in a comical fashion. One day I will sketch the interior, but on this day I just sketched one of the stained glass windows, of a friar standing next to a gate.
Black Friar Pub Window
I do miss London! I want to explore this part of town, with all its ghosts and histories, in my 2018 sketchbook. I’ll need to wait until summer…

picnic in the park

farmers market davis
Hello folks! Sorry about the blogging break! Been very busy lately, settling into the new job, also coaching soccer again, also a little bit of travel (a couple of days in LA helping my friend from England celebrate his 40th birthday), and a slow-down in the sketching (but only a slow-down, not an actual break…never an actual break!) Also I just have had a lot of things piled on top of the scanner and you have to move it to scan things and…excuses, excuses. So I am up super early today watching Tottenham beat Huddersfield (it’s 3-0 at half-time, Harry Kane is giving a masterclass) and it seemed like a good time to start catching up. So, this sketch is of the Davis Farmers Market and I drew it at the August “Let’s Draw Davis” event, which are still going monthly, this one was organized by fellow Davis sketcher Alison Kent. I stood and sketched this among the Wednesday evening ‘Picnic in the Park’ crowd. That’s what the Wednesday evening summer events at the Farmer’s MArket are called, they have music and bounce houses. A few days later I added this sketch to the Pence Gallery’s annual Art Auction, and it sold!! I’m so glad, as I really enjoyed sketching this. The Farmers Market on a Wednesday after work is a nice place to hang out in this town.
band at central park, davisband at central park, davis
I did a couple of other sketches, of the band performing, using one of those multi-coloured pencils for the second sketch.
unity rally davis CA
unity rally, davis CA, john garamendi sm
My final sketches of the evening were at a very important event elsewhere in the park, the Unity Rally, organized in resistance of bigotry and hate, this coming just days after the events in Charlottesville. One of the speakers was US Congressman John Garamendi, who very kindly signed my sketch afterwards! He did look it over to make sure I hadn’t misquoted him; I thanked him for repeating the Nelson Mandela quote a couple of times so I could get it right. The evening ended with a touching candle vigil, of course I’m always nervous about candles all around me (a candle once burned a massive hold in my shirt at a party in east London, leaving me to go all the way across London on the night bus with basically half a shirt on, very embarrassing) so I sidled back with my sketchbook. Another of the speakers was the new UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May, who has now appeared in my sketchbook three times; I’ll post about the other two times soon, but I’m very happy he is our new chancellor (he likes Lego! and Comics! And is obsessed with Star Trek!)Speaking of Lego, one of my latest things is making Lego animations. I’ve made a few this past month, and if ever one gets any good I’ll maybe even post it here…

deep down in the borough

Borough Market, London
Borough Market is great. It may be one of my favourite markets. On this one Saturday morning, I took the train down to London Bridge station and marched right over to my favourite sandwich stand, lovely chicken served by the same guy with the amiable smile. You always get a lollipop too, well I do anyway. But as I now like sketching iconic markets (hey this is still a new thing, but after Barcelona’s La Boqueria last year, San Francisco’ Ferry Building and of course, er, Davis Farmer’s Market, I needed to sketch the market under the railway arches, with all its goats-cheese middle-class craft-beer tourist-trail glory. I stood and sketched the scene above, next to the Globe pub. There’s been a market here, on and off, since the eleventh century (not really surprising in the least given that London Bridge and the gates of the City and all the docks and the Pool of London were like, right there). Apparently it was abolished in the 1750s by an Act of Parliament due to ‘traffic congestion’ which let’s face it Borough Market, don’t make things up. Cars weren’t even invented for another hundred and fifty years, so stick to the facts, Borough Market. Anyway it came back and thrives today, a fun and colourful spot to be on a Saturday morning. I had a few hours to sketch before heading off to take my son to his first Spurs game at White Hart Lane.
Stoney Street, London
I sketched the scene above from stoney Street, right on the other side of the market. It was pretty crowded as I walked through. That huge great big triangular glass tower is the Shard, tallest builidn gin Europe. One of those buildings you look at in its development phase and its like, oooh, hmmm yeah, yeah that’s different, and then when its built its like, “take a photo from this angle! Ooh and this angle! Ooooh and this old church in it as well, juxtaposition of the old and the new!” (By the way, never, ever utter that phrase in my presence, ever.) And now it’s like, er, London did you see this thing? You do know you can’t just get rid of it when you’re bored of it? It’s like a big glass Orthanc, or whatever that tower was called in Mordor, ‘Eduard Balladur’ or something. Or maybe the Ministry of Truth. It dominates proceedings. Look London its things like this that become symbols of the city in the long run. Is this what London is now? A big, sharp glass behemoth standing high above everything else like an oligarch’s shiny fantasy? I wouldn’t be surprised if the sides actually turn into a V-style TV screen so that some benevolent rich dictator  can tell us how happy we are, how contented we are, and to destroy Emmanuel Goldstein. Yeah, not sure I like the Shard all that much, but we have it now. We need another, somewhere else in London, just as a counterweight. But I do like Borough Market.
borough map sm

And here is the late-night hand-drawn map. The odd thick lines are traintracks, isn’t it obvious, and I foolishly decided to add some buildings before deciding that was quite pointless. Anyway, this shows where I sketched. I had a job interview down here once, about a decade ago, at the Institute of Linguists. I wished I’d gotten it, because I always wanted to be coming down here every day (I had been working in Finchley, nice place but this was nearer to the Thames) . I never did, and then I moved to America. Ok, enough life story. More London sketches to come.