This is the Va… wait what? This is the [insert name here] Theatre on 2nd Street in Davis, which as you can see is currently going by The Theatre Known Formerly as Varsity. (Sorry, “Theater”). Regular listeners will recognize this building from the 500 or so times that I’ve drawn it before, but there was one big difference. Can you tell what it is yet? (Um, that sounded a bit like Rolf Harris, you might be a bit more careful with your catchphrases) That’s right, the ice cream shop is closed. No I’m kidding, it’s the historic “Varsity” sign which ahs been taken down temporarily to be cleaned, or fixed or something. The movie theatre itself has been closed during this pandemic you might have heard about, though coming soon, folks, coming soon we will have cinemas open again. I miss going to the pictures. Nobody says that now, “going to the pictures”, it sounds like something people said in the 1930s. “Oh you’re going to the pictures, eh grandad? Don’t forget your penny farthing and your flat cap!” Oh right because “movies” doesn’t sound old-fashioned at all, like you have to make a distinction between watching a film that moves and one that doesn’t? “The movies eh grandad, well see ya later gramps, I’m off to the talkies“. In Britain we generally say “film” rather than “movie” (though my nan, who was from Dublin, used to pronounce it “fill-um”) and “cinema” rather than “movie theater”, and “theatre” rather than “theater”, and that is the end of today’s unwanted transatlantic vocabulary lesson. But I miss going to the pictures, it was something I used to do a lot. I’d go and see a film / movie here in Davis at one of the three cinemas / movie theaters in town, and then go for a pint / not quite a pint* at a local bar / pub. (*They like a 16oz “pint” in America, as opposed to a 20oz pint in British pubs). And of course I would then sketch the bar/draw the pub. As for the Varsity, I wonder if they will “accidentally” rearrange the letters when they reinstall the sign, Fawlty Towers/Watery Fowls style? It could say “Travisy” maybe, or “Sir Vyta”, or “Sty Vira”, , or “Rayvist” (which sounds like a magazine for techno -clubgoers), or “Stray IV” (people might think it’s a sequel movie about a cat, from the streets, who makes it big against the odds, and in this one he has a catfight against a Russian cat – wait, I might have to sit on this idea, it is Hollywood gold), or “Artsy VI” (about six artists stuck in a room with only one brush, one pot of paint, and a lollypop) or “Try Visa” if they want credit card sponsorship, or “Try Avis” if they want sponsorship from car rental companies. Or maybe sponsorship from the Swedish crispbread sector and call it “Ryvitas”. Do it, Varsity people! This is our chance for some Flowery Twats style silliness.
This is a familiar building. It was the first sketch I drew downtown in three months, and I felt awkward out there drawing after such a long time. I still do to be honest; we have a sketchcrawl coming up this Saturday and I’m nervous about it, although I’ll be wearing a mask with one of my sketches on (see those here!). I was masked up standing on the corner wearing this, I could hear that screeching violin music coming from a block away making me wish I’d worn earplugs as well as a mask, but it was a comforting view to draw. The Varsity Theater always reminds me of first coming to Davis, working across the street at the bookstore, doing some of my earliest Davis drawings of this 1950s exterior. The last film I saw there was Jojo Rabbit, one of our favourites, and in fact after cycling home from sketching this, stopping off in the Co-op to get some cheese and wine on the way, we watched another of Taika Waititi’s earlier films, “Boy”, which was brilliant and crazy. We’ve been on a Taika movie marathon lately, not a bad way to spend time at home.
Last November after the Fall soccer season had ended I decided to take a weekend away in Portland, Oregon. It’s going to be a while before we can just take weekends away again huh. I’ve come up to Portland a few times in the past, usually November time, for a short break away from Davis, and I have good sketching friends up there going back to the first Urban Sketching Symposium in 2010. There is good food, drinks, bookshops, old buildings, falling leaves, comics, and generally lots to do. I stayed right downtown this time around, a good choice although I discovered that the food carts around 10th and Alder that I like to go to have been moved on due to construction of a huge building on that site. Boo! The nice folks at Finnegans Toys told me where to find some good food carts nearby though. I always like to get a nice hot Thai meal. Anyway, this is the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, which is a good thing to draw in Portland because it says “Portland” on it, and you can put it on the top of your blog post when writing about it six months later. My sketchblog is becoming like Marvel Unlimited, everything is added half a year after it first came out.
I like the autumnal colours. Or the Fall colors if you will. I was maybe a week or two late for the brightest blooms, and many of the trees were leafless already, but a few patches of autumn brilliance were still there. Grey skies, short afternoons, and brilliantly coloured leaves give me a cozy feeling inside, like 4:45pm on a late October Saturday afternoon in England as the football results come in (that is by the way the best time of day ever). Above is the Portland Public Library. I came in for a while, I like libraries (again, going back to those grey Saturday afternoons when I was a teenager and would go to libraries across north west London looking for books about languages and places far away). Around the corner, behind the Arlene Schnitzer, there are several blocks of park leading down to Portland State University, lots of colourful foliage still blazing. I drew the Shemanski fountain (below).
On the Saturday morning, I joined the Portland Urban Sketchers for a sketchcrawl at the Hawthorne Asylum Food Carts. We met at a cafe, there was a pretty good sized group, and before sketching everyone went round in a circle and introduced themselves, saying who their favourite artist was. There were lots of artists I had not heard of. When it was my turn, I said my favourite artist was Gerard Michel (he is too). We walked over to the Hawthorne Asylum; most of the carts were closed as it was early, but by lunchtime when we were getting done they opened up, and I had a pretty amazing egg/mushroom/cheese thing in a waffle, even thinking about it makes me hungry.
Here’s what I drew. I also sketched sketchers (below!) and had some very nice conversations. We passed around our sketchbooks and wow, there were some incredible sketches, very inspiring. That’s why we do these sketchcrawls, we come away with ideas after seeing how other people produce such great pieces of artwork.
I was a bit ‘meh’ about my own work that day, I felt a bit mechanical and rusty, but I did also draw something mechanical and rusty (below) which I did like. I didn’t colour it in though. I’m not sure what it was but I suppose it must be a robot from the future.
After lunch, I walked up Hawthorne (a long old road) and reached my final destination, the Bagdad Theater. This is a McMenamin’s-run place, a restaurant and cinema, and I was coming to watch Jojo Rabbit (what a great film, one of my favourites and I’m so glad I saw it somewhere so incredibly cool). Anyway, my iPad was still very new, and I had not used it much to draw with in ProCreate, not outside anyway. So I had an hour and a half before the film started, time enough to finally draw this building I have wanted to sketch for almost a decade. The iPad was a fun way to sketch, and I learned a thing or two that day. Firstly, layers are really helpful! Secondly, white lettering on dark backgrounds is so much easier this way. Third, I can do the sky separately and using very different brushes to make it look more like actual cloud. I also learned that a bit more experimentation in how to colour will be very helpful. I very much enjoyed this sketch.
I didn’t enjoy the street musician much though. Some young lad with an electric guitar and a microphone and an amplifier was stood right outside the Bagdad’s doors playing and singing. It was very loud. It wasn’t very good. I’m not being judgy of his musical talents, it may be better than my drawing with an iPad, but only one of those is being blared out around the street. A staff member from the Bagdad came out and asked him not to play there, as he was disturbing people inside. Naturally he got very lary and gave it all that, getting in the staff member’s face in that way that indignant young males of the species do when a female politely asks them to maybe not be so loud outside their business which is not only a restaurant but also a cinema. She went back inside and he continued for a bit longer. He was very loud, and used the microphone to tell the rest of Oregon that her request was illegal and that he had a right to play his music loud right there. Right or wrong, he must have realized he was perhaps being a bit of a dick because after ten minutes or so of occasionally singing – mostly vocalized ranting about the injustice, and reminding everyone that this is America – he decided to move along the street, to a spot about six feet away from me, and then proceeded to yell over the microphone about people who only live in Portland because they saw Portlandia, and the woman who told him not to play outside the Bagdad was breaking the law, and then a few conspiracy theories Thrown in there, and then onto how we’re all sinners and Christ was coming to reckon us or something, and guys this felt like a long bloody drawing. How I didn’t just turn around and pull the plug on the amp I don’t know. But eventually he packed up and sodded off, and I finished my sketch and went to see Jojo Rabbit. The movie was great, was the theatre was amazing, historic and grand, and you can grab a beer and order food and actually have it delivered to your seat while you watch the film! I had pizza.
I also drew several bar sketches in Portland but maybe I will compile those together in a different post.
Long weekend here in America, which meant longer drawings. Ok, a horse with an injured tail walks into a bar. “Why the long weekend?” asks the barman. No, no it was a bank, he walks into a bank on a holiday. “Why the long weekend?” asks the bank clerk. Maybe not an injured tail, maybe his tail was all overgrown rendering it useless for whatever tails usually are for, hence not being as strong as his front end, for example. So a horse with a less strong, very hairy tail walks into a bank, while on holiday, and the bank clerk says to him, he goes “why the long weekend?” Maybe there’s nothing wrong with his tail at all, maybe he had just been in a race, and had originally been one of the front-runners (that’s a horse racing term) but towards the end he had started to tail off (that’s another one), finally just ambling over the line, not even trotting, just going really slowly, like he had no energy, maybe he was already thinking of his holidays on the beach, before finally he walked into a bar, I mean a bank, and the bank clerk who had been watching the race on the TV, he asks him “why the long, weak end?”. Or maybe, maybe the horse is Bryan Singer and the race is X-Men Apocalypse and I am the bank clerk and maybe I asked exactly that question after seeing that very movie, which I in fact did, not long after finishing this drawing that you see here. (You see I was going somewhere with all of that, I wasn’t just ambling on, or trotting). This is Second Street (though in my opinion, it’s first), Davis. I sat on the corner of F Street (which in my opinion is more of a B+) and drew this familiar scene. In the middle there, the Varsity Theatre, historic centre of the Davis downtown, right opposite the Avid Reader bookstore. I sat drawing for a couple of hours, drawing furiosuly with my uni-ball signo UM-151 brown-black pen, and doing some of the water color on site and the rest at home; pizza dinner awaited me. And then, X-Men. While it was not a bad film (it was not quite Batman v Superman level of “what-the”, there was no “Clark Kent gets into the bath with his shoes on” moment), and it had some good moments and good call-backs to the previous films, it really suffered in its storytelling. I know that sounds ironic given that I spent five minutes trying to tell a joke about a horse at the start of this post but my budget is a little lower. I just felt the narrative started to fall apart somewhere around the middle of the film. It doesn’t stand up to the other X-films. A few good bits – well X-Men The Last Stand had good bits too but overall gets a terrible rap (deservedly if we’re honest). Even “X-Men Origins – Wolverine” was a good idea, though Logan’s (spoiler alert) cameo in this is (spoiler spoiler spoiler) totally unnecessary, inconsequential and utterly shoehorned into the film (you might say it spoiled the movie). Still, Magneto saying “Who the fuck are you?” to Apocalypse was fun. Everyone knows I love Magneto. As I say though, the ending of the film was long and weak, and since it could be said (not by me, but I’m about to say it so I suppose it is by me) that Fox is flogging a dead horse, then that brings us nicely back to “Why did the chicken cross the road? To stop the rights going back to Marvel.”
Hope you had a nice Memorial Day weekend.
Last week was the event of the 44th Worldwide Sketchcrawl. Regular listeners will know I have been on many of the worldwide sketchcrawls over the years in many cities. Last Saturday morning I woke up, and decided: I’m going to Berkeley. The sketchcrawl was on the UC Berkeley campus, which for me was significant as one of the first sketchcrawls I ever took part in (it was in fact the second, the first being in Davis at the end of 2005, but I did not do much that day) was at UC Berkeley, in March 2007. On that day I sketched a lot but kept to myself, too shy to talk to other sketchers. I’m not so shy these days, but I did sketch solo, though it was great to meet and talk to other sketchers. I also remembered just how much I love being in Berkeley. The theatre above, the Calfiornia, I sketched in the morning before meeting the sketchcrawlers. I remember one of the last times I was in Berkeley saying, I must sketch that next time. That was five years ago, so I got there eventually.
Above, my first sketch of the day. It took about an hour and a half, and I had intended to colour it but I haven’t yet. All of the colouring in I did was done later, because I didn’t bring a little jar of water for my paints (of my two small jars, one was lost and one broke, I haven’t found a good small one since). I don’t really do the waterbrush thing any more. So, it gives me more time for penwork, diving into the details. This is South Hall. Davis has one of those too, but it’s not as nice as this. This radiates grandeur.
This is a building I have sketched before, Bowles Hall further up the hill. It looks like an old English country public school (Americans note, ‘public’ school in England is actually what we call private schools; our public schools are called ‘state’ schools. Mine was always in a state, anyway). I sketched it in 2007 on a much sunnier day (sunnier, but through the fog I actually still got burnt last week, stupid deceptive weak bay fog). This time there was construction going on in front of it, so I imagine this view will look different next time.
I went down the hill to the southern edge of campus, to the corner of Bancroft and College. This building is called the Free House I think. I was enticed by the colourful newspaper boxes which again, I had to colour in later, but spent a good deal of time (just over an hour) sketching all the little marks on each one. By the time I was done it was time to reconvene with the other sketchers, back at Sather Tower. There was quite a gathering. Here I am with a few fellow sketchers (left to right) Jana Bouc (one of the SF Bay Area Urban Sketchers and whose own sketchblog Jana’s Journal in fact inspired me to start this very blog you are reading); Pete (that’s me there with uncoloured version of sketch above); Gary Amaro (also an original Urban Sketchers correspondent, see his work online at garyamaro.blogspot.com); and Flory Nye-Clement, a sketcher from Benicia (who by the way is organizing a sketchcrawl at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park on August 23, starts at 11am). Results of the sketchcrawl in Berkeley are being posted on the forum at sketchcrawl.com.
I’ve been quite a hermit lately in terms of sketching, and I must say it was very nice to get back out there and meet fellow sketchers again. It’s always good to rub shoulders with other people on this planet who ‘get it’. Hey, there are a lot of us urban sketchers out there!
Another view of the Varsity, but this time from the side. It’s a bigger one than usual at 8″x10″ (on Canson illustration board – lovely for the pen, bit too smooth for a nice wash) sketched while sat on one of the benches outside. I’ve not drawn from this angle before, and yeah it was a fun angle, but I also realized that the bit of the Varsity that I like drawing the least – the underside of the roof – takes up most of the drawing. I’ve always hated that bit, with it’s peculiar angles, uneven shading and lights I can never quite line up. You don’t want these buildings to be easy now do you. Oh Varsity, I’ve been sketching you for years now, I feel like I am doomed to draw you forever, but you’re a great building, and in many ways I’ve only started. I did take a pretty long time drawing this though, longer than I’d have liked (funny how bigger drawings take longer). Hard to tire of this iconic structure. All it needs though is a holographic shark to come out and try to swallow me up.
San Francisco: I walked around South Beach looking for a Chase cashpoint (their tagline should be ‘Chase – because you have to run around looking for them’) until I finally found one after walking about fifteen thousand miles. The thing about getting money out from cashpoints over here is that it’s so darned expensive if it’s not from your bank. You get charged about two or three bucks by the cashpoint, plus another three bucks by your own bank for daring to get money from someone else. Six bucks just to get out a twenty, just to get change for the bus? You’re having a laugh, ‘int ya? Cash is so old-fashioned anyway. Anyway I finally got some dollar bills, and then because I was already at Market St I decided to hop onto the BART, wich is the Bay Area’s subway system, for which you don’t actually need to use cash (doh!). The BART ticket machines are so bizarre when using cash it is hilarious watching newbies try to figure them out (and I used to be one of them), the whole adding your money, subtracting 5c here and there to reach the right amount, well I’m not making it sound complicated but it really is. I ended up at the Mission District, which is my go-to area when I’m not sure what to do in San Francisco. There’s so much to draw, so many interesting shops, lots of colour and character, great food, great art, and a lurking mix of unbearable hipsterness and extreme danger. I was happy though, because I found a football shirt shop with the Barcelona game on, and chatted to the women working there about football (soccer) shirt designs. This being a big Spanish speaking area you see a lot more people in football shirts, which is a good thing.
I sat on the sidewalk and drew this old closed-down movie theatre, the Tower. I’m drawn to old run-down buildings, with history and personality. I overheard someone ask as they passed me, “why is he drawing that building? Maybe it means something to him.” It doesn’t, but I’ll bet it means something to a lot of other people. One comment when I posted this drawing on my Facebook page told of going to see double-bills for four bucks as a kid. there are lots of old movie theatre buildings about, some repurposed into other things such as stores or religious venues or night clubs, some refashioned into art-house cinemas, and some just left to the termites.
The Varsity Theatre in Davis, drawn last Friday evening after work. I had considered finishing this at home with some additional colour, but I got back and realised I quite like it like this. This place shows a lot of art-house and independent movies, though I’ve only been to see a film there the once (An Inconvenient Truth back in 2006). In fact it only reopened back in 2006 (I was working at the bookstore acros the street the day it opened), but the building dates back to 1950. It makes this place feel very ‘Hill Valley’; I fully expect that it will be showing Jaws 19 with a holographic shark some time in the next four years (but only if Jaws 19 is considered art-house, which is unlikely. More likely we’ll see a Jaws reboot before then – you heard it here first!). People always have great memories of cinemas. For me they are like Tardises, you step inside and suddenly space and time mean nothing, I can never fathom how so many big screens fit into what look like fairly smallish buildings. They are full of memories too; sweeping movie moments, first (or last) dates, that smell of popcorn. This place is no different, is a beloved Davis part of the Davis community. I should know, I’ve drawn it enough times.
Valencia Street is full of art and artists, drink and drinkers, food and eaters, and interesting folk. Strolling down on the way to Mission Comics and Art I was striuck by these great message posts up and down the street, places where people can post their flyers without getting all over the telegraph poles. Each was decorated with a different colourful headpiece. A little further down, some Mexican musicians were taking a break to tune up their instruments, so they got sketched as well.
Mission Comics and Art on 20th is a great store, one I had not been to before but whom I follow on Facebook. I had a good nose around there, and loved the gallery of Mission comic images at the back. I wanted to get one of Joey Alison Sayers’s zines; I love her stuff, it is hilarious (see her site here) but have had bad luck finding her zines (and I gave the first one I bought years ago to my nephew). When I met her at her stall at SF ZineFest last September, I had already spent most of my money on other (less interesting) zines so only bought one then. I was pleased then to find another one at Mission Comics, “Just So You Know”, which was a lot of fun to read on the train home.
And then into Mission Street itself. It’s a little bit rougher here, but it’s funny, because it reminds me of London a bit, Kilburn High Road or somewhere. Not the Latin-American feel – you can’t get good proper Mission burritos in London, for sure – more the rough edges. Definitely not the palm trees. I sketched the old Mission theatre, and then a corner shop. I wasn’t finished sketching for the day, but it was time to go and meet up with the other sketchcrawlers at Dolores Park… (to be continued)
London, December 2010. The rain had come like an old friend and washed away the snow; no more dreaming of White Christmases after this one, more like dreading. I took a ‘sketching day’ and got on the tube to Islington. I like Islington a lot, and would happily live there and vote New Labour and read the Guardian and go to the theatre and all the other things Islington people do (except support Arsenal of course). We lived for a few years not far away on the edge of the borough at Hornsey Lane (I love steep hills! so now I live in Davis). This is Camden Passage, an interesting little street just off Upper Street (not in Camden at all), full of charming antique stores and little cafes (trendy or otherwise). I sketched it while listening to people speak French (and German occasionally) all around me, which was nice.
I was on my way to Cass Arts’ flagship store (it’s very big, but has exactly the same products as the smaller store in Soho, just more of them) and I whipped my sketchbook out to draw some of the interesting things being laid out in the street in front of one such antique store (‘Decorext’ I believe it was called). They had a pair of these interesting Union Jack chairs, and I had to draw one of them, being the foreign tourist that I am. This would make a fine seat for anyone watching the Royal Wedding this April. Pass the Battenburg.
One of the other buildings I really couldn’t resist sketching was the Screen on the Green cinema. I’ve only been in there once (I think I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 there) but it’s historic and Islington. For some reason I chose to use my coloured micron pens for the neon signs. Drawing old movie theatres is fun. After this, I jumped onto a double-decker bus and went to Piccadilly.