midtown, downtown, train back to my town

Ok…this one goes back a while. Back to March, in fact. In my defense, I only got the sketchbook back recently, so I could not write a post about it at the time. Well I could have, but stories without pictures? I was invited by Prof David Del La Peña of UC Davis to take part in a special sketchcrawl, which was to be part of the annual conference of CELA (the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture) in Sacramento. The sketchcrawl would move from midtown Sac and end up in Davis, linking up by train between the two. I joined them after lunch in Sacramento, and we were given accordion Moleskines to draw a series of fast sketches in, on location, at various spots about downtown. Also in attendance was Chip Sullivan, who I was not familiar with but he is very well known as a sketcher and educator and knows James Richards well. So I started off by drawing him and David near the conference center in midtown.

Sac sketchbook p1
Sac sketchbook p2

“Where Are We Going” it said on the sculpture near K Street. Well it turns out we were going down to the Cathedral, and I sat behind the large open angel wings of a statue. I remember drawing this Cathedral (Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament) years ago, 2006 or 2007, back when Pyramid Brewing was right behind, and California was so new to me. I remember trying to draw the Crest back then as well, the classic movie theatre a little way down the street. As we stopped for a moment to mention something about sketching I drew the sign, taking just a few minutes, before we moved on.

Sac sketchbook p3Sac sketchbook p4

And then we moved to the newest part of downtown, the area around the Golden One Center, the massive basketball arena. We saw Paul McCartney there a couple of years ago, an amazing show, one of the first performances held at the stadium. Macca sang for three hours and was incredible. I remember when this was part of the downtown mall, I would come here occasionally, but it is long gone now. You’ll notice I decided to deraw in pencil that day. I find that in those accordion moleskines I find drawing in my usual pen to be frustratingly difficult. The paper, the size of the page, the fact that it’s flopping all over the place, plus the extremely limited time in each spot – so I just went with pencil, which moves so fast across the page, and splashed on watercolour when I could. It was a sunny day with great clouds.interesting shadows, but cool enough for scarves. My favourite weather. We walked from there over to the Crocker Art Museum, not with much time to do a larger sketch (such a tight schedule, and distances to cover!) but enough time to pop into the gift shop. Oh but I did get a sketch, of another sketcher in a red coat. And then we went to old downtown…

Sac sketchbook p5
Sac sketchbook p6

Old Downtown has lots to sketch, I really should go sketchign there more often. This time I decided to draw some of the fire hydrants, one with a yellow cap, one with a green cap. This was followed by fast sketch of the Pony Express statue, before we walked to the Amtrak station.

Sac sketchbook p8Sac sketchbook p7

Sac sketchbook p9

I sat with a couple of the people attending the conference, Penelope and Tatyana (I think one came from Texas, another from California, but this was in March and my memory has faded). It doesn’t take long to get from Sac to Davis, but there was a table and a defined amount of time to sketch. You can see from the window that the Causeway was still full of water, after all the rain we got last spring. I have sketched the inside of Amtrak trains a few times before.
Sac sketchbook p10

And then we got to Davis, with just enough time to draw that iconic and sketchable Davis building, the Varsity Theatre on 2nd Street. And then we relinquished our sketchbooks, and walked back to the UCD campus.

Sac sketchbook p11 (davis)

The books were shown at an evening event during the conference, I was unable to go to it, but it would have been fun to see how everyone else interpreted the afternoon. Everyone sketches at different speeds and with different amounts of detail; I consider myself a fairly quick sketcher but it was hard to keep up! My feet were pretty tired afterwards, and I needed a good rest that weekend.

and far away, a city stands

Watling Avenue, Burnt Oak
After flying in an antique tumble-dryer across the Atlantic, I’m back from London full of jetlag. United Airlines really know how to show you an awful time! Fortunately, London knows how to show you a fantastic time, and I had a really nice trip back there. Family, friends, festivities, and a couple of days in Paris as well. I also opened up a new Watercolour Moleskine, #10, and christened it with a skyline from the start of the world.

Watling Avenue is the main thoroughfare of Burnt Oak, the area of London where I was born and grew up. Like the neighbourhood, it has changed a lot over the years, except for the odd stores which seem frozen endlessly in time – Vipins, Hassan, Pennywise. One thing that never changes is the skyline, a weather-worn row of chimneys snaking up the hill towards Burnt Oak Broadway (part of Edgware Road, the London section of the historic straight Roman road called Watling Street – hence Watling Avenue). It’s always hard to find a good spot to sketch on Watling Avenue – sure it’s a busy street, but that hasn’t put me off anywhere else in the world. Probably because I know this area as I do, I feel very self-conscious about standing out (having spent my youth trying to be invisible), so I chose a quiet spot, outside the Ming takeaway next to the Co-Op funeral place. It was a sunny Tuesday morning. As I sketched, the occasional passer-by stopped and smiled, or passed a comment on how different Burnt Oak is from when they were younger. Everyone there seems to have an opinion on the matter. Looking up at those chimneys, it’s hard to be sure that it is, really.

super troopers

clone trooper shoe
My son has the coolest shoes. I always knew this of course, because I have drawn a picture of every single one of them in a single book, chronologically, in black pen. These new ones however are my favourite yet. Based on the Clone Troopers from Star Wars (the forefathers of the Stormtroopers), they even flash blue. And I totally want some myself!! Except I don’t think adults can realistically wear such footwear in public. Perhaps Boba Fett ones? I liked them so much I drew this shoe twice. The one from the ‘official’ series is below, copic pen in a moleskine cahier. The second one I drew was on the first page of my brand new Stillman & Birn ‘Alpha’ series sketchbook (thanks Stillman & Birn for sending me that!), and it took me a couple of hours, mostly in copic multiliner (size 0.1) but with a little bit of uniball vision micro, and watercolours to colour it in. I’m pleased with the result, and the paper is nice to draw on, not as smooth as the Moleskine Cahier or Volant, smoother than the Moleskine watercolour though and it takes a watercolour wash pretty well.
21: clone trooper shoe

They are cool shoes. But, alas, if I wore them I would be constantly worried that one day, they would turn on me, Order 66 style.

a look at the book of the art of urban sketching

The Art of Urban Sketching

I am really enjoying The Art of Urban Sketching. It’s also fun seeing people from all around the world enjoying it as much as I am, and hopefully being inspired to get out and draw by every page. I like it so much, that I will be at the Avid Reader bookstore on 2nd St, Davis this Friday, Feb 24th at 7:30pm, talking about the book, about Urban Sketchers, and about urban sketching in general. If you fancy coming along to hear me yap on and on and maybe pick up a copy of the book (and support one of your local independent stores), pop by the Avid Reader at half seven this Friday evening!

PS: here is an excellent video of Gabi Campanario, the book’s author and founder of Urban Sketchers, talking about the book on local Seattle TV this week along with Gail Wong of the Seattle Urban Sketchers group. Enjoy!

The Avid Reader, Davis

The Art of Urban Sketching (Facebook page)

Urban Sketchers

realm of the giants

AT&T Park

Another drawing on Moleskine sketchbook paper with my lovely uni-ball signo um-151 pen. This is AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, current World Series champions. I didn’t go to a game, my wife did (and they won!), but she took photos for me to do some drawing from.

praising the way it all works, gazing upon the rest

mrak & king halls

Side one, track one of Moleskine #8. The eighth of my watercolour moleskines, that is (the ‘difficult eighth album’? Do I get a Greatest Hits, or just a ‘Best Of’? They’re all ‘Live’ albums; maybe this should be the ‘White Moleskine’, but such a thing doesn’t exist, yet; better get on that, moleskine). Either way, this is the fifth annual drawing from this very spot of an ever-changing view, Mrak Hall at UC Davis sketched from Putah Creek, with the now finally complete King Hall extension blocking the view.

Today is the longest day of the year, and certainly the hottest so far – we measured 106 degrees at one point driving home. Scorching weather and Davis go hand in hand. While sketching, I listened to the new Art Brut album, ‘Brilliant! Tragic!’. I didn’t find it quite as brilliant as their previous albums, but I loved the song ‘Sealand’.

Anyhow, because this is an evolving view, here are the previous years, for comparison:

2010:
mrak & king halls

2009:
mrak hall... with the law school ruining the view

2008:
mrak hall

2007:
mrak, seen from the creek

easy sits the crown

old crown highgate

I found an AMAZING pen. The Uni-ball Signo UM-151, seemed harmelss enough, but when I picked it up for the first time and wrote my name it was like that scene in the wandshop in Harry Potter, “the pen chooses the artist”. I have to try this out in a drawing, I said to myself. It flowed amazingly, it stayed wonderfully black, and it was just so easy to use. Sure, it could not take a wash – that’s ok. I have a lot of pens that can. But would it work on that waxy smooth regular Moleskine paper found in their non-watercolour sketchbooks? That yellowy paper upon which I have tried and failed to find a pen I enjoyed using on it? (For my Davis Moleskine I settled on the Pitt pens, as the micron just wouldn’t work with it. The one I sketched this in is one I began back in 2006…) Oh yes, it worked alright. I spent a lunchtime drawing the Old Crown pub on Highgate Hill (above) from a photo, and just fell in love with the pen. I’ve already started planning out whole drawing projects around it, like a surprise midfield playmaker. I may even take it to London with me, to meet the family. I only hope the ink doesn’t run out before Lisbon, as these pens aren’t easy to find (I see stocking up online somewhere in my future).

Incidentally, I only ever went to that pub once, but I lived a short walk from here on Hornsey Lane for three years. I used to catch the 143 bus from just across the road every day (that mad dash in the morning, oh London commuting I miss you…), and one day I did sketch it in my old long-ago ‘blue’ sketchbook, but never drew it again. I took a photo on a trip a few years ago and am only now drawing it. It’s a cool building, in an area of cool buildings.

Drawing with uniball signo

The pens have a new king.