greenbelt moments

northstar park, davis

Here are a couple of sketches from the North Davis Greenbelt, nearby to where I live. The top one was drawn one lunchtime at Northstar Park, on a day while working from home. It’s of the view towards one of the ponds, hidden by the rushes and the shuffling palm trees. They really do look like they are doing some sort of dance. The one below was drawn close to where I live, it was a Saturday and I needed to get some fresh air, but didn’t want to go too far from the house as I was quite enjoying some being-at-home-on-the-weekend time. I like shadows of bare trees against buildings, something you get a lot of in Davis in January. I like that we have the Greenbelt so close to us; unlike the Green Belt I knew from going to school in Edgware on the top edge of London (the London Green Belt is an area of land surrounding the city and stopping it from growing ever further into a massive sprawl, or that was the idea), our Greenbelt is a long series of park-like paths that connect all over the edge of north Davis. There’s another in south Davis. It’s great to take long walks or runs along them, and we really took advantage during the pandemic.

012222 greenbelt north davis

Though I must say, I’m getting very antsy for some sketching travel now. I don’t mean a regular vacation, I mean a sketching trip, where I go away to somewhere like a city on Europe and sketch for a couple of days solidly, before moving on to the next place. I’m getting the wanderlust again after too long being away from international travel; Davis is nice but I’d like to wander through Europe again. And Japan, we have twice cancelled our trip to Japan due to the pandemic, hopefully we can make it some time in the next couple of years. There’s all sorts of places I want to go. Still, the US is pretty great, and I’m glad we’ve seen a bit more of it over the past year. I really need a sketching trip though.

the continuing story

B St Davis

Another ‘building from across the street’ sketch, this time on B Street, a little house I’ve wanted to draw for ages. A bungalow, really, that’s what we always called one-story houses. There’s a big building next to it that they put up a few years ago that makes it look much smaller. I like all the old houses you see in this part of town between campus and downtown. I stood outside ‘Pizzas and Pints’ (I’ve still never eaten there) and drew this. Sometimes I draw bare trees and savour every branch, sometimes I just want the general shape and leave the other branches to the imagination. I like those dark trees that are just scribbles with some reddish purple paint over the top, like Mr. Messy. Mr. Messy was one of the Mr. Men. The Mr. Men were of course a huge influence over my early life. Roger Hargreaves was my art hero when I was four. I drew so many Mr. Men characters. At school, kids would ask me to draw characters for them to keep, I would sometimes spend all lunchtime drawing pictures of Mr. Rush or Mr. Strong for kids at school who probably saw themselves in those little geometry-based figures. I was probably Mr. Daydream. Or Mr. Lazy. Or Mr. Jelly. Yes, I was probably a mixture of all of those, with a splash of Mr. Silly, and a touch of Mr. Grumpy. I had a great idea, you know all those DNA ancestry services you get, well instead of submitting a blood sample and being told you are 14% Viking and 8.5% Visigoth, with my service you get told you are 19% Little Miss Bossy, 17% Mr. Chatterbox, 8% Little Miss Tidy, and 56% Mr. Topsy-Turvy. Make of that ancestry what you will. Instead of people going around proudly declaring that 4% of their ancestors were Scottish Robbers and wearing tartan trousers and domino masks at parties, they will start wearing a little green cowboy hat and eating eggs by the sackful. You’ll have to guess which Mr. Man I’m referring to there.

not all those who wander are lost (except me)

C St Davis

A big building across the street with a tree in the foreground? Oh go on then. C Street to be precise, right by 4th St, across from the park – I’ve drawn this spot before. I’ve said that before too, “I’ve drawn this spot before”, many times. I drew this on January 6th, on the one year anniversary of January 6th. The day the decorations come down. This is a frat house, Phi Delta Theta. A big old fancy house that isn’t that old; there was a similar looking building here before, but it was knocked down several years ago and then they built this one. I remember that I hadn’t sketched the previous one (surprisingly) and regretted it – people would tell me stories about their student days going to parties in the old one. Well, not many stories. I remember my own student party days. Well, I say ‘remember’, I mean I know they happened. They were a long time ago. Some fun times, going all over London because someone at uni was having a party, there were plenty of long journeys home on the night bus. Well, I lived in north west London out at the end of the Northern Line, but I went to university in east London, and people tended to spread out further eastwards from there. I vaguely remember one party at someone’s house in the Docklands, and afterwards getting totally lost on the Isle of Dogs trying to find my way back to the Mile End Road. No smart phones or Ubers back then, I just used the massive skyscraper of Canary Wharf as my compass – if I was moving away from it, it was probably the right direction. I just followed my nose. I obviously made it home ok. Another random party I remember, I was invited by a good friend to come to a house party in Leytonstone or somewhere, bloody miles away. I had been at my mate’s birthday in Burnt Oak (at his nan’s house) all evening, but I’d said I’d go to this party so it was pretty late by the time I got there, after an hour on the rube and a long walk through streets I did not know at all, not at night anyway (though I remember passing the cemetery where my Scully grandparents are buried; they died before I was born) – I was a bit nervous I might get put in the cemetery myself, some of the lads hanging around. I eventually made it to the party (how on earth did I find the place? Oh right I looked at the address on a map and just remembered the way, 90s style), and my friends there were all massively drunk already, it was definitely a party that was winding down. I think I stayed for about half an hour and had one drink before it was time to go, the long trek back across London. Another time, I went to a new years eve party in Gants Hill, which is like out in Scandinavia or somewhere, it’s that far away, and I didn’t even know the guy who invited me all that well, we’d just met in the student union a few times, as you do in the first year at college. I do remember that one of his friends gave me a lift down to the tube station at least, which was nice, because I’d definitely have gotten lost out there. I spent a lot of time travelling across the city at night in those days, usually on the way to or from somewhere. Formative years. Some things I don’t miss about being younger and being in the big city, but then again, I think I do miss it, sitting on a bus at night with the headphones on, not exactly sure what part of London I’m in. I don’t miss the wandering about at night being lost much, but I always find my way home in the end.

on song in the new year

C St Davis

First drawing of 2022, a usual north Davis scene, a big old house I’ve admired for years while cycling past, one of many historic buildings. It’s on D Street; I wrote it down as D street, and then for some reason I thought it was on C Street and kept saying as such, joking that I’m out of key by one note, maybe I had a capo on my sketchbook, etc. I thought that was a pretty good joke as well, but it turns out it really is on D Street, so I will have to draw something else and get the street wrong so I can use that gag again. I did write 2021 in the corner and changed it to 2022, but then put 2021 into the wordmark. Start of a new year, I’m all over the gaff.

It’s nice to fall into a trusty subject for me though, drawing houses. One of my favourite local books is John Lofland’s “Old North Davis: Guide to Walking a Traditional Neighborhood”, which details each house street by street in the Old North Davis neighbourhood, generally between 5th and 8th, B and F.  I looked up the building in that book – it’s called the “Warner Home” after its original inhabitants, William and Fern Warner, and was built in 1929 as a gift for their wedding; that’s a very nice wedding gift, nicer than a toaster. The style of the house is ‘Colonial Revival’. I particularly like the differently angled slants of the roof, like two houses have somehow merged into the same spot. I love the lamp-post, and the arched gateway into the yard. That chimneystack is so prominent at the front like it holds it all together like an orchestra’s conductor, with the antenna on the roof (something you don’t see as often these days) looking like the baton. This is a very musical looking building – the metal ‘S’ shape on the chimneystack looks like the shape you’d see on a cello. I can hear my voice sounding like the guy from Through The Keyhole, Lloyd Grossman: “the arched gateway, the lamp-post, the cello symbol on the chimneystack – who lives in a house like this? David, it’s over to you.” I used to love that show, always makes me think of the guests they used to have, people like Willie Rushton,  Kenneth Williams, Clare Rayner, the usual late 80s/early 90s crowd.

I met Clare Rayner once, she was giving out the prizes at our school’s annual Prizegiving ceremony. I won the German Prize , and she presented me with the book I requested as a prize, which was ‘Teach Yourself Italian’. I won the German Prize twice at school (or it may have been three times; I think it was because I was the only person in the school who got excited about the subject), I recall one year I got the Terry Pratchett book ‘Lords and Ladies’ as my prize, still one of my favourite of his books. I still have that copy, with the little thing stuck in the front saying I won the German Prize. It sounds like it should be a prize for something more distinguished rather than something my school gave me when I was 15, maybe I should start describing myself as a ‘multiple German-Prize winning artist’, in a kind of ‘Arnold Rimmer’ way. I don’t win many prizes. I don’t enter any competitions.

hawaiian rain

OAK-HNL on Southwest

The day after Christmas we took another short trip away to Hawaii. It was the second time we’d been there in 2021, amazingly, as we decided to take advantage of a good deal and a window between variant surges. My Mum was visiting us from England and had never been to Hawaii, so it was a nice treat for her, a special trip. Hawaii is really, really far away from Burnt Oak, certainly the furthest I’ve ever been away from home. My wife’s mother came too. We stayed in Waikiki, we had a nice sunny first day, but the other days were a bit more changeable – that tropical climate bringing a bit of rain here and there, and we did get a massive downpour on the last day. But it was beautiful, it was Hawaii, I had my Hula Pie at Duke’s, splashed about in the ocean, explored the other side of the island, and played the ukulele a lot – I really have ‘Mele Kalikimaka’ down now. I did go stand-up paddle-boarding again, but this time in the actual ocean itself rather than the lagoon like last time, when I thought I was good at it. This time, I fell into the water a lot. There wasn’t much stand-up in the stand-up paddleboarding. I kept getting heckled by the fish. I didn’t do that much drawing, but I did sketch the scene on the plane over (yet another), and also by the Ala Wai Canal in the early evening, getting rained on.

Waikiki Ala Wai Canal

I did draw a couple of panoramas in my sketchbook, the next one being on the beach at Lanikai. I did splash about in the ocean for a bit, but mostly sat playing the ukulele or drawing. This was a beautiful beach, quite popular, not very big. The clouds rolled in and out, giving us a few sprinkles.

Lanikai Beach, O'ahu Finally, the view from our hotel room at the Sheraton. That was a really nice hotel. We didn’t get a view of the ocean this time, but a lot of Waikiki skyline. For this one I drew the outlines of all the buildings while the rain poured down, but I drew the rest of the details on the plane home.

view from Sheraton Waikiki

Next time, we want to go to Kaua’i, we’ve never been there. Aloha!

grass valley

Grass Valley CA

Early December, we drove up to Grass Valley for our final soccer game of the NorCal Premier Fall season, for a game in which we lost, though it was a pretty close game for much of it. The other coaches were nice, and after the game the team all had pizza together. Afterwards I got to look around the town of Grass Valley for a bit, we had never been up that way before and the downtown area was quite historic looking. We went to a great little chocolate shop, and there was a lovely little music shop selling guitars and ukuleles. I have been getting much more into playing the ukulele lately, and been practicing on it much more, and I really wouldn’t mind getting back into the guitar again, though I put that instrument down a long time ago now. I also got to do a sketch (the music shop is the second one along, that flowery store on the furthest right was pretty cool as well and had a large Christmas tree inside that went up a couple of storeys. The shops snaking up the hill reminded me a little of Sonora, the place we visited before going to Yosemite. This was old gold mining country, so lots of these little old gold country towns looks a bit like this, quite sketchable. It was bright and sunny; down in the central valley where we live everything had been blanketed in a dense fog, but here in the foothills they were above the fog belt. Anyway that was Grass Valley.

at the desk

Office desk

Here is a sketch I did at my desk at work, during a very long meeting in early December in which I was mostly listening and taking lots of notes. We all came back to campus in Fall, although the majority of our meetings were still held via Zoom, except for a couple. I have my ring shaped light that I use for when I am in Zoom meetings, it helps me look less like a silhouette. And now Winter has started up again (and it’s taking me and probably all of you a lot of time to rev up the engines again), we’ve gone back to remote instruction and work again at least for the first month. It was going to be just the first week but they extended it yesterday to January 28 due to the large number of Omicron cases. I’m generally coming in still to work (very quiet at the office, but it keeps me further from the kitchen which still has many Christmas-shaped snacks to tempt me), but testing regularly, our campus has really good facilities for that. I have reorganized my office space a bit lately, right before we came back in Fall I moved out one of the filing cabinets (so heavy) to another space to give me a little more wiggle room, I replaced one of the bookshelves with an old wooden one that’s been floating around the department for years, it looks a bit nicer than pale green metal, and I even put up a couple of framed historic World Cup posters to give the office a bit more colour in the background when I am on Zoom calls. A few more pictures up, getting rid of the boxes of other people’s stuff that I was holding on to for them for years, still a few more piles of old files to go through but in general it feels a bit more like my space again. I still have the same chair I’ve had since I started nearly sixteen years ago, when I was in a different office, and sure the wheels are starting to fall off bit by bit but it’s still comfortable enough.

Everybody Loves Tardigrades

tardigrade uc davis

They do, don’t they. Everybody loves tardigrades. This is a sculpture of a tardigrade, also known as a ‘water bear’, outside the Academic Surge Building on campus, next to where I work, home to the Bohart Musuem of Entomology. I took me three attempts to spell ‘Entomology’ by the way, going through ‘Entemology’ and ‘Entimology’ before finding the right spelling. I knew it probably wasn’t ‘Entamology’, and ‘Entumology’ looks very wrong, and ‘Entermology’ is right out, but looking at it, it should really be a word for something and it’s a shame it isn’t. When I first came to campus I actually interviewed with the Viticulture and Enology department, and they actually offered me the position despite my response to “what is Enology” being “it’s insects, innit.” No, Enology isn’t insects (it’s actually wine science), but Entomology is. So, they have a big tardigrade sculpture outside, because yes, everybody loves tardigrades. Except students awaiting exam results, they don’t like tardy grades. Here’s one, “what is the difference between an Aquarius and a Tardigrade? One is a water bearer, and the other is a water bear.” Ok that joke needs a bit of work (actually I think that joke needs a different job), but it’s true, everybody loves tardigrades. They are tiny little super beings that can live in any temperature and in any environment, although even they probably avoid parts of south London after dark. They are miniscule, and have been found in every part of the Earth, from volcanoes to the deep oceans, from the Antarctic to the Amazon, from Tesco to Asda, they are everywhere and can survive any conditions, although even they probably couldn’t sit through half an hour of watching Mrs Brown’s Boys. Thanks to humans feeling the need to pop off into space, tardigrades are probably already colonizing the moon, and are watching down on us wondering why it’s taking us so long to come back and get them. They are sometimes called ‘Moss Piglets’ but that might just be their band name. They have survived all five mass extinctions, though I still don’t fancy their chances under the Tories. They don’t actually live for very long, about 3 or 4 months, but that’s still longer than most Tottenham managers’ careers. Everybody loves tardigrades.

in rust we trust

rusty car on E street, davis

This old car has been parked in old north Davis for years, I’ve passed it many times thinking, I must draw that some day. That is definitely a thing to sketch. And then days pass into weeks, weeks into months, months into years, years back into months, and then months gives weeks a miss and jumps right back into days. So finally, on the day I ran the Turkey Trot, I took the afternoon to sketch around town. I decided to finally draw this old thing. It’s nice with the autumnal leaves all about. I saw fellow sketchers Allan and Alison while drawing this, they live nearby now. It was a nice afternoon, it had been a nice morning. I had a good race, I shaved 2.5 minutes off my previous 5k race time which I’m still well pleased about. For the first race back since early 2020, I didn’t feel rusty at all. I felt pretty good afterwards too, runnin’ makes you feel good. I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghosts. I do want to draw some more old vehicles. There are at least a couple I’ve had my eye on sketching for a while, one near my house which never moves and has a lot of cobwebs on it, I’ve just never sat outside drawing it. I like the ones that just sit there getting rusty. I like rusty.

ol’ bobby dazzler’s

Bobby Dazzlers Hearse

Yeah I know, these ones are from just before Halloween, and it’s already December. Halloween, alright grandad, that’s so fifty years ago, we’re decorating gingerbread houses now. The Friday night before Halloween, some of the players from our youth soccer team went to a pumpkin patch (we had a tournament the next day in Roseville, in which teams traditionally wear costumes; we had Spider-Man uniforms, many of the others were really elaborate, one team we played were dressed as Pac-Man ghosts, others dressed as robbers, one team were all cow-girls (the coaches had inflatable horses), one team were aliens, and there was even one team all dressed as Jake from State Farm (the coaches dressed as Flo form Progressive) (they were popular; people like adverts. One team even got the current zany Spurs away kit and all dressed as that. If I hadn’t been coaching that tournament, I would have enjoyed sketching everyone. Unfortunately our team ended up being drawn against some high-level opposition and we lost all our games, but at least the costumes were fun to see. I say high-level, because two of the teams were two divisions above us, while the other one literally play in the foothills of the Sierras, at a higher altitude than Davis. A bit like playing Bolivia, or West Brom. Anyway, the night before we went to the pumpkin patch and I drew some pumpkins, and this big old hearse, which was being driven by a skeleton. Bobby Dazzler’s is the place, it’s just outside Davis. Here are some pumpkins I drew as well. I had to draw them quickly because they were going to turn back into carriages. I’d never been to Bobby Dazzler’s before, it was pretty good. I suppose it made me think of Bobby Davro, a TV light entertainer and panting mimer from the 80s in England, and also leader of the Daleks if memory serves (nope, memory doesn’t serve). Bobby Dazzler is the sort of thing people would say in the old days up north, “he’s a reet Bobby Dazzler” they’d say, in the working mens’ clubs. Also, they are both the names of X-Men characters, Bobby and Dazzler. Maybe Bobby Dazzler is the younger brother of Adolf and Rupert Dassler, the founders of Adidas (short for Adolf ‘Adi’ Dassler) and Puma (Rupert’s spin-off which is short for for Poo, Man) (actually Puma was going to be called ‘RuDa’, true story, after Rudolf Dassler, but everyone said that sounds RuBbish). Maybe Bobby was the youngest Dassler and maybe he could never have a voice with his siblings so instead he voiced his sibilants. Ooh that was a stretch. Anyway enough rambling. They also have a Christmas tree farm in November and December and so I might go back up there again. I won’t get a tree though, because our Cat Overlords don’t allow such things, we just re-use our old plastic one. 

Bobby Dazzlers Pumpkins