Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Pence Gallery’s annual art Auction, as one of the contributing artists. The wealth of amazing work on display was amazing, as always. The Pence is a great place and they work tirelessly to promote excellence in local art. I met a lot of nice people there, and really enjoyed watching the auction. I sketched at the back, stood next to the dessert table (wow, amazing chocolates!). The auctioneer is very humourous, and very god at getting the crowd to buy art (though every time he said “going once, going twice,” I really wanted to say “c’mon baby don’t be cold as ice…”) This is the third year in a row I’ve sketched it, and I think I’ve captured it now. Below, the view from the patio outside. A very warm night, people talking, art-lovers buying, music playing. One of my favourite spots in Davis. Oh, and both my pieces sold! I honestly hadn’t expected them to this time (I’ve sold my pieces in the previous three years) so I was pretty buoyed, and went home pretty happy. I had been coaching my son’s U7 soccer team (the Red Foxes) that afternoon, it had been a good game, so all in all a pretty nice Saturday. Many thanks to Natalie Nelson and the good people at the Pence for inviting me to take part and attend this very fun event.
Westminster Bridge, crossing the River Thames. As I started sketching this, the rain came down, so I moved into the little tunnel next to the bridge (which I had never seen before; is it new?) and sketched from there. Eventually the rain stopped. Then started again, then stopped. It was one of those days. There is a very famous clock tower on the other side of the river. I like bridges. I even bought a book about bridges while I was back. In fact I spent a lot of time in bookshops in London. Bookshops are the best. Anyway, I had planned to sketch a lot more bridges in London but you know it is. Maybe that is the next sketchcrawl I organize? Those curves were not easy to capture with absolute mathematical perfection while stood against the wall in a damp tunnel with wet people shuffling by. But here it is, Westminster Bridge, painted green because the seat in the House of Commons are green (Lambeth Bridge further down is red because the House of Lords has red seats). It was opened in 1862 and Wordsworth wrote a sonnet about it.
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.
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.
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.
Since returning from London – and I have plenty more sketches yet to post – my sketching regularity has fallen off somewhat. This often happens after a big trip, but I’ve also been filling my lunchtimes reading Marvel comics (Marvel Unlimited, dudes), and the rest of my time coaching my son’s soccer team, which also includes planning training, designing the team badge, making stickers, creating a record of the kits worn by all the other teams, and all of that fun stuff. After London, sketching more panoramas of 2nd Street just doesn’t hold the same appeal right now. However, I did get out of the house one evening to go down to Art-Is-Davis on D Street for a special party hosted by the resident artists there, to mark the end of their time at the artist’s co-operative. I was invited by one of them, my friend and fellow artist Dori Marshall, and I got to speak to many Davis artists I hadn’t met in a while, and some I was meeting for the first time. It was a nice evening, and there was a band outside in the little courtyard behind the building. the band were called the Lightning Boltz, and they were really good. I’ve said it before I do love to have live music when I’m sketching, it adds to the whole rhythm. It was also extremely dark – I sketched this in almost total darkness, in a shadow next to the building. I couldn’t really tell one colour from the next so it was guesswork, but pretty informed guesswork (I know which paint is where in my paintbox after all). This didn’t take me long, a couple of songs at most. The band liked it when I showed it to them afterwards, but I realised the guy in the middle has a quite different beard than I drew! Well, that’s my eyesight in the dark.
I always intend to sketch more Burnt Oak whenever I’m back home but I never quite get around to it. And I should – the old place keeps changing in small, and sometimes pretty big, ways. Since my last trip, at least one of the historic focal points of the area has closed down, probably for good: the Bald Faced Stag, the old pub on Burnt Oak Broadway. Love it or loathe it (and it was often pretty loathed), the Stag played a big part in many of our lives as Burnt Oakers, and it just doesn’t feel right that it’s no longer there. What then is left of old Burnt Oak? Rather a lot, B.O. fans, rather a lot. I did a quick solo-sketchcrawl one afternoon, starting with the distinctive buildings of Silkstream Parade, above. This is between the Library and the Station, and to many of us these were the shops you went to when you went Up The Road. The old newsagents on the corner, at one time called Magson’s but I don’t recall its previous name, was replaced by Costcutter’s many years ago, but you can still see the long-disused cigarette vending machine on the side of the building. Heron Pharmacy is still there, unchanged in decades. Zam’s chicken is where Toni’s used to be, an old ice cream and sweetshop, I remember showing my Mexico 86 sticker album the Italian guy Toni who ran the place and him telling me all about the Italy players. Whenever I think of Paolo Rossi I think of Very Cherry Slush Puppies (remember them? You remember them). The kebab shop is also long gone, that had one of the most often broken windows in the whole of England I recall. There used to be a butchers shop here too, and was there a greengrocer’s? Was that the whole set? Tanning salon now. Anyway that’s enough “How We Used To Live”, any more of that and I may as well start every blog post with “Who remembers Penny Sweets, remember them eh, Kola Kubes eh, not like that any more eh”).
I moved up Watling Avenue to Hassan, which has been there since before I was a kid, unchanged. They don’t make shop signs like that any more, it’s all primary colour plastics now, but Hassan has class, gilded edges which of course my sketch doesn’t really show. Not being much of a clothes shopper, and this being a clothes shop for Men (my Mum, not being a Man, never dragged me through this shop as a kid, unlike John Ford and other Burnt Oak shops), I’ve never ever been inside Hassan’s. I know people who do, people who live far from Burnt Oak and come out of their way to go there. Personally I just love that it is there, still there. So now I’ve finally sketched it. I stood opposite outside a closed-down cafe on the corner of Gaskarth Road. Cafes, eh, remember cafes? Don’t get cafes any more, it’s all Starbucks these days, etc.
Sketching across Watling Avenue wasn’t too difficult. As busy a street as it is, it’s pretty narrow. Burnt Oak Broadway on the other hand is much wider, so when I sketched the old fish and chip shop the Captain’s Cabin I had to squint a lot more. Burnt Oak Broadway is what we call this part of Edgware Road, itself part of the ancient (and I mean ancient) Watling Street, the long straight road built by the Romans linking Londinium with the north-western reaches of Britannia. It’s from Watling Street that Watling Avenue gets its name, and in fact the name Burnt Oak is a reference to the old Roman custom of burning an oak tree to mark the boundaries between places, or so we were told at school. See, my town got some history, bro. This chip shop is pretty much the only one in ‘downtown’ Burnt Oak (to use an Americanism) left from the Olden Days (“who remembers fish’n’chips, eh, vinegar, chip butties, eh, it’s all piri-piri cappuccinos now”). I do remember there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken next door when I was a kid (remember those? No seriously, you don’t get them any more, all KFC now) and a Barclay’s Bank on the corner which got turned into an amusement arcade, not sure how amusing it really is though, maybe it amused NatWest across the street. The Captain’s Cabin is still there, the sign is different from when I was a kid, so I sketched it. Personally I used to get my chips from the Golden Fry down the Watling, where they had the Space Invaders games my brother used to play (“Who remembers Space Invaders, eh? Don’t get that any more, it’s all Minecraft and Halo and Words With Friends now”). Captain’s Cabin for me was always that bit further to walk for the same thing, but I still always liked their chips.
And here is a map of Burnt Oak, you don’t get maps like this any more, it’s all iPhones now, but it was with maps just like this that I managed to navigate my way around town when I was a kid. No not really. I just wanted to draw a bit more of a fun treasure-island-style map (and yes I know north is in the wrong direction, I’m not working for the Ordnance Survey or nothing) for my home town (and yes Burnt Oak is not an actual ‘town’, just a small nook in the expanse of London, an offshoot of Edgware really, but Burnt Oakers everywhere, even those who have long since emigrated to the far-flung corners of the world, we know that it is its own place, our home town, but once you start getting too sentimental it’s only one step away from “Who remembers bus passes, remember bus passes eh, get on a bus and go somewhere yeah, can’t do that now eh”). I do love to sketch the place though, to capture it for old time’s sake, because by golly it changes fast. But…not that fast.
This is Kentish Town station, in north London. I came here when I was meeting up with my friend James one evening, and stood outside a curry house opposite sketching as buses and cars trundled up Kentish Town Road towards Tufnell Park and the Archway. There are a lot of old tube stations that look like this, with the dark ox-blood red glazed terracotta tiles and the typical arches, and one day I swear I would love to sketch them all (hint hint London Transport, a fun book commission?), though I hurried through this one a bit, not drawing the whole length of the building (it would make a really good panorama…) and added the colour when I got home. It was designed by Leslie Green, who built many of the iconic London Underground stations over a century ago, and is on the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line. It’s a pretty interesting place, Kentish Town, and this was my first time here in years, other than passing through. Though in fact I did end up passing through, ending up meeting my friend in nearby Camden Town, where we swapped world cup football stickers.
The Wren sketchcrawl continued… we had a lot of sketchers from all over on this sketchcrawl, and after finishing St. Stephen Walbrook I bumped into international-travelling urban sketcher Sue Pownall, and we walked over to St. Mary-le-Bow on Cheapside. The approach to this old church up the narrow Bow Lane is lovely, although the buildings are now modern you can just use a bit of imagination to fly back through the centuries and picture the narrow timber-framed houses leaning into each other over dirty streets, the sound of the Bow Bells echoing through the dark, bustling lanes. Yes, this is the church of the Bow Bells; the tradition is that a Cockney, a true Cockney, was born within the sound of the Bow Bells (and not Bow in East London as many wrongly believe), that is, within London. Cockney is synonymous with all Londoners now, London being much bigger than in Dick Whittington’s day, though of course he famously heard them from up on Highgate Hill, calling him back to his destiny as London’s Lord Mayor. You know the story. There’s a statue of his cat on Highgate Hill, near Whittington Hospital, but that’s far from here. The Bow Bells were important to London not because of fanciful stories and cockney categorization, but because in the middle ages these were the bells that rung to sound the curfew, and the closing of the city gates. If they rang and you were outside the city, you spent a night sleeping in the filthy gutters of Southwark or Finsbury. These days you can just get a Night Bus, and it’s a similar experience.
Those bells and the old church of St.Mary-le-Bow were burnt to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666, so Sir Christopher of course got to work building a new church, this one above. Well, kind of – it was destroyed again by the Nazis in the Blitz, but rebuilt after the War. I just drew the spire, time being of the essence, but it was a nice little courtyard to be sat in.
Before going to sketch St.Paul’s (I had this huge panorama in mind…didn’t quite make it) I wandered about to find a less well-known Wren church. I headed to St.Vedast-alias-Foster, up in Foster Lane, mostly because I liked its unusual name. when I got there, the staff were bustling about, preparing for a wedding. Though it looks like Just Another Wren Church (™) from the outside, the inside is quite spectacular, with a beautiful ceiling and a polished hall filled with light. The friendly suited man at the door welcomed me in to look around, and I asked him a bout the history of the church and its unusual name. Apparently in the middle ages this part of London was popular with Flemish immigrants from Arras in northern France, whose patron saint was St. Vedast (from the Latin name Vedastus; in Norman French and Flemish he was St. Vaast). This was corrupted into English as ‘Foster’, hence Foster Lane, and so the church is called ‘alias-Foster’ as a result. He showed me around the lovely courtyard, and said that a sketcher would love to sketch in there, and showed me the history of the parish churches associated with this one, many now combined (the ‘United Parishes’), including one church called St. Mary Aldermanbury which was badly damaged in World War II, and then closed down, with its remains being shipping across the Atlantic for rebuilding in Fulton, Missouri, significantly the place where Winston Churchill made his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech in 1946. All historied-up, I went out into the street and found a spot to sketch the tower. I kept it brief, because my next building was so much bigger than all of the others (probably put together).
The plan was for a panorama, but I couldn’t decide on a good view, at least not from up close. Besides, the day was pressing on and I wanted to be done before our final meet-up at 4pm. So I stood across the front entrance from St. Paul’s Cathedral, as traffic and tourists rumbled by, and sketched in traditional London grey. It was actually a very sunny day, one of the more pleasant London afternoons. I remember those sorts of afternoons from when I was a teenager, wandering central London’s streets on a late Saturday afternoon, falling in love with the city. In those days St. Paul’s was much greyer, dirtied with decades of pollution and urban grime, but in recent years the grand old cathedral has been cleaned up significantly, and now sparkles white as if new-born. This is Wren’s masterpiece, but its significance to London is much older. For many, St. Paul’s is London. There has been a cathedral dedicated to St. Paul’s on this site, the top of Ludgate Hill (King Lud being an old figure of pre-Roman British legend who may or may not be related to the name of London itself), since St. Augustine brought Christianity to the Angles and Saxons. Not much is known about the early cathedrals, until the fourth incarnation, a huge Gothic cathedral, was built in the twelfth century. That was one of the largest buildings in Europe, but alas, along came the Great Fire of 1666 and in a matter of days it was gone. Along came Wren. As I’ve mentioned before, he had plans to rebuild London including St. Paul’s on his drawing board for several years before the convenient fire, and for London’s landmark cathedral he wanted not another towering spire but a large Romanesque dome, technologically advanced and rivaling the greatest buildings in Christendom. The wooden model of his first design is still on display, but it looks rather different from the final buiding. This was late seventeenth-century England, not a time to make your premier church look, well, too Catholic. It was shaped like a Greek cross, and the nave was not long enough; it just didn’t look English. Wren went back to the drawing board, and in the end built the Cathedral we have today. It’s hard to think of more ‘London’ building than this. During the darkest days of World War II, when bombs flattened everything around it, the dome of St. Paul’s stood untouched, a symbol of hope for a city devastated. The ‘people’s church’ this was, and probably because of that, it was here that Prince Charles married Lady Diana in 1981 rather than at the traditional Westminster Abbey.
So it was here that we finished out sketchcrawl, and our journey through Wren’s City. Those of us who were left gathered by the steps of St. Paul’s to look at each others’ sketchbooks. I met some great sketchers for the first time, and reconnected with sketchers I have met with before. I can’t tell for certain (because I didn’t take photos of everyone’s books) but I’m pretty certain that as a group we covered most of the Wren churches from my map on this day. Here are some photos from the end meeting; you can see some more on my Flickr set Sketching Wren’s City.
And here is the final group shot…spot the sketchers you know!
Everyone that came and made it to the end got a little sticker that said “I Sketched Wren’s City”. I like making stickers. If you’re interested in following our steps and sketching Sir Christopher’s City, click here to download the little guide and map I handed out on the day: Wren’s London booklet (pdf)
After this, we reconvened at a pub on Fleet Street called The Old Bell, which, by the way, was built by Christopher Wren. Who else! To those of you who came along, it was brilliant to meet you and see all of your lovely work. See you next year! (For…”Dickens’s London”? “Coren’s Cricklewood”? “Pete’s Burnt Oak?”)
After the day at Warwick Castle, we drove down through the countryside to Stratford-upon-Avon, a place synonymous with William Shakespeare, because all of the signs in this entire section of England say so. Stratford is a lovely place, in a lovely part of the country. When we got to the house in which Shakespeare was born and grew up, I had to sketch it of course. Yes, I’m a tourist and very proud of it. After this, we drove through the Cotswolds, which are lovely, before driving back to London. So now I’ve been somewhere else I’ve never been before!
I went somewhere I have never been this summer. I’ve never been to warwick. Never been to the Cotswolds. Stratford-upon-Avon, none of them, and I never even thought abut it until a couple of days before going there when my Mum said, I’ve got an idea, how about going to Warwick? Warwick, I thought, that’s in like the Midlands somewhere I think, oh yeah Warwick the Kingmaker, he had a castle I think. My years of studying maps of the UK and reading British history was not wasted then. I quickly saw that it was a bloody great idea, and it really was. I never see much of England, ever, usually if I go somewhere when I’m back in London I go abroad to the foreign lands where they speak foreign. I forget how lovely Britain and its countryside beyond the M25 can be. We used to go all over when I was a kid, Mum or Dad would drive us to lots of places around the country, Cornwall or Norfolk or Lancashire, and to be honest when I became an adult my interest in visiting different parts of Britain kind of fell away in a kind of “well they’re not going anywhere” kind of way. Warwick hadn’t even occurred to me, but let me tell you I’m glad it occurred to my Mum because it was great. Warwick Castle was one of the best castles I’ve ever been to – still pretty complete, full of rolling ramparts and sweeping towers, but also highly touristy with lots of swordplay medieval action going on – yeah, I LOVE that stuff! I sketched the towers above while we watched a falconry display.
And I did some archery. There I am look (a French shirt with an English longbow) getting my best Hawkeye on, bro. I was pretty good too, hit the yellow target many times, and didn’t hit a single caravan unlike the last time twenty odd years ago. Doesn’t half work your arm muscles though, but then so does standing around with a sketchbook. This was one of several little activities set up for kids and bigger kids, another was teaching young kids how to best use a sword. My Mum said, oh you’d get so bored standing doing that all day wouldn’t you. I’m like, eh, dressing up like a knight, playing with swords all day and teaching kids how to knock the stuffing out of dummies? That sounds like great fun!
We watched some pretty intense jousting down in the meadow by the river, before settling down to watch a display of medieval weaponry and warcraft. Yeah, I love it, all those swords and axes. Well actually I decided to have a little wander up some steps to the higher towers first, and sketched very quickly the scene below as the crowds (you can’t see them) gathered for the fighting demonstration. I didn’t add much detail to this one but here it is anyway.
Now a bit of history. Warwick Castle is about a thousand years old, with William the Conqueror building a motte and bailey fort shortly after the Norman invasion upon an existing Anglo-Saxon burh. That’s an old fortified settlement the English used to create to protect against Danish invaders. London was a burh once too, in the days of Alfred the Great, Lundenburh. The burh of Warwick was located near the old Roman road, the Fosse Way, which was really handy, making this a vital position. William gave Warwick to one of his Norman henchmen, Henry de Beaumont, who became Warwick’s first Earl. In 1260 the castle had a major upgrade when they decided stone walls might be better than the old wooden ones. Simon de Montfort came and conquered it in 1264, but the castle soon passed into the Beauchamp family, and eventually passed to the Nevilles. The most famous of the Neville family was probably Richard, known as the “Kingmaker”, which sounds like a really cool name for an old pistol, but was actually a fairly bogstandard indie band from the early 1990s. No, he was important during the Wars of the Roses, but died in the Battle of Barnet (again, probably a reference to early 1990s indie bands’ haircuts). His daughter Anne married Richard III, who actually took possession of the castle and made a number of significant improvements, yet ironically did not think to build the car park less than twenty minutes walk from the castle. Funny how karma works, eh Richard. There’s Richard the Third on the right. I didn’t sketch him, but I did do his famous “Now…” speech from the Shakespeare play, “Now something something something”Other stuff happened down the centuries, withstood a siege in the Civil War, Capability Brown came and did some landscape gardening, Canaletto came and did a painting, and then finally I came along and did a little bit of archery, that pretty much brings us up to date. More history lessons next time!
We went into the armoury to wait for a tour. What actually happened next was that the sky decided to turn into an unbelievable storm, nringing a downpour so heavy that almost everybody in the castle grounds tried to squeeze into the same room as me. No tour, then. Convenient timing. It gave me an opportunity to do a little more sketching, so I sketched the antique firearms above, including the long-barreled 18th century Blunderbuss. “You homo sapiens and yer guns.” The rain did not let up, so I sketched the armour of a jousting knight on horseback. This only took me fifteen minutes. I sketched really quickly, while my Mum went looking around the Royal Weekend Party rooms.
The rain stopped in time for the long walk back to the car park, and time for some much-longed-for fish and chips on the way to the hotel, in the nearby village of Barford. Yeah, Warwick is really nice. Good suggestion, Mum!
This is Denmark Street, just off of Charing Cross Road in Central London. I sketched it over a period of two and a half hours one Wednesday afternoon, having taken the morning off from sketching (I was up in the loft searching for my old collection of Fighting Fantasy books), and added the rest of the colour later on. Denmark Street is famous within British musical history as our very own ‘Tin Pan Alley’, home of music publishers and recording studios, and later of music stores. There are lots of guitar shops, as well as other instruments of course, and is also home to the famous 12 Bar Club. The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, all are associated with this street in some way (the Pistols actually lived here for a bit). Not only music – the comic shop Forbidden Planet was founded at number 23, where that red awning is in the picture now. It’s around the corner on Shaftesbury Avenue now. This place is steeped with history and it’s a street I have always had a lot of love for, being a bit guitar-obsessed when I was younger (it took me years to actually pluck up the courage to enter one of those stores though, very intimidating to a shy teenager!). I actually bought my current acoustic guitar from Macari’s, though it was from their other branch, on Charing Cross Road, back in 1996.
So when I heard that Denmark Street was under threat of demolition, all part of the Crossrail redevelopment that has completely destroyed the junction of Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road, I knew I had to sketch it while it still looked like this. Many of these buildings are ‘listed’, historic buildings of importance. Whether they will be knocked down or just somehow modernised is not clear, what it will mean for the historic character of Tin Pan Alley is also unclear, will the music stores be forced out in favour of latte shops and corporate office space is also not clear, but let’s face it. If Denmark Street loses its character it will be yet another blow to London.
Here’s my sketchbook. I used the watercolour (“art-plus”) Moleskine, with a uni-ball signo um-151 brown-black pen. Oh, and here is a map showing where Denmark Street is.
And finally, I thought you might like this. As you may know, I like drawing fire hydrants, mainly because I find them exotic and foreign, for we don’t have them in the UK. Well, actually we do, but they are underground, with metal coverings on the pavement. Here is one I sketched on Denmark Street. So there you have it!