So, after my trip to Europe I returned to Davis and we had a heatwave where it was eight days straight of 100°+ weather. That’s been forgotten now, as we just got off a wave of ten days over 100°, of which eight were over 105°, and four were over 110°. The highest was around 116 (definitely hit 117 in Sacramento). It’s been a very very hot summer. Even on our second trip to London the temperatures were up in the records, but here it’s been oppressively hot. Thankfully it is cooling off at last, back down into the (whelp) 90s, although the fire season is on and we have had smoke in the sky from a fire in the foothills, and a soccer tournament in Tahoe cancelled (again). Back at the start of summer, it was a very hot day when I drew this panorama of Mrak Hall, UC Davis. I actually got sick that first week after returning from the UK; I had tested negative for Covid twice before flying (in fact the day I flew home was the first day they removed the testing requirement) and then negative again when I got back to Davis at our famed campus testing center. Then a day or so later I suddenly started getting ill, with a fever, a headache, a sore throat. Kept testing negative though, with various tests, so it wasn’t the Covid, but I still tested positive for ‘feeling like crap’ and stayed in bed. It took me a few days to feel ok again, but that heat was hard to do things in. I stood in the shade next to King Hall, but even then it was too hot, so I coloured it in and did all the scribbles for those trees later on. Mrak Hall is one of the main administrative centers for the campus, and Chancellor May has his offices in the top floor. I used to come to Mrak a lot when I was working with graduate students, when Graduate Studies was based here, but they moved recently to their new home in Walker Hall (you might remember all my drawings of the place). This was June, right at the start of the long hot summer; it’s now nearly mid-September, and the UC Davis Fall quarter is a week away. Our campus summertime is over. Everything gets busier now, a lot busier. Prepared? Haha.
This is another lunchtime sketch from the UC Davis campus, this time down at the creek in the Arboretum, looking towards King Hall and, well, Mrak Hall, back there somewhere. You can just about make it out. It has been a while since I drew from this shaded path by the water, but it used to be a regular sketching spot for me, and I’d come back every year to draw as the scene changed. It looks a little bit unrecognizable from the very first time now. Believe it or not, the sketch below was drawn from the same place, over fourteen years ago. Obviously my drawing style has evolved a bit since 2007 but you can see how much things have changed in this view.
I know, I do a lot of these types of posts. Here’s a drawing of somewhere on campus, and here’s what it used to look like years ago. I never imagined being here this long. I’m not sure what I imagined back in 2007, but here we are still in Davis, tracking the changes. And for those of you “why don’t you put people in your sketches, blah blah blah” folks, look, there is one person in each of these two drawings, although the newer one is more of an anthropomorphic scribble. It’s probably not the same person, but maybe it is, after all, I am. They have gone from jogging along that path to walking across the grass, into the shrubs. I’m still drawing into a Moleskine, trying to interpret the world into ink lines and watercolour blots.
We’ll all remember March 2020. For one thing it was the longest month on record. Sure, it was 31 days, but it felt longer, much longer. I’ve already posted my at-home sketches, a story unto itself, during the whole Shelter-in-Place period which is now over except that it is probably starting again any day now. We’re still working from home anyhow, so life carries on just the same, but with even more masks. Speaking of which, you can now purchase face masks with my sketches on at : https://society6.com/petescully/masks. There are plenty in there, Davis sketches, other country sketches, loads of sketches. Ok, so on with the story. I did do a bit of outside urban sketching before we were all ordered to march back home, so here are them. At the top is a sketch of the UC Davis Quad, with slightly out of proportion people, which is fine but next time I’ll get it right. Although in my defense purple hair lady with red top was very tall. It was a Springtime day, and while news was starting to get ominous about the virus, we were still here living in a “well maybe it won’t be so bad” bubble while looking at Italy and wondering what on earth was going on there. We started wiping things down religiously in our departments, and started looking for the facemasks left over from when we had the fires, and our instructors were ahead of the game with starting an option for remote instruction, while everyone washed hands while singing happy birthday and stockpiled all the bogroll. I didn’t really expect what was coming though, which turned out to be no shortage of bogroll at all.
This building is one of the newest on campus, called “Latitude”. It looks like it could be a graph showing a rise in, I don’t know, cases of something, followed by a dip, and then a second wave, but that is just using architecture to make a point that doesn’t really match up with the current situation. Still it is an interesting looking design. If we in Stats ever got given a new building something that looked like this would be nice and visually representative of a graph. Chemistry too should get a building that looks like lots of test tubes, English should get a building designed to look like a big book-case, and Animal Science should be housed in a gigantic statue of a cow. This is why I don’t design university buildings, I just draw them. Although the Backflow Preventer in the foreground reminds me of a mechanical horse, or maybe a robotic camel.
This is Mrak Hall, where the university administration does its administering. I’ve spent a lot of time in its 1950s marbled halls, even going once up to the top floor where the boss works, Chancellor Gary May (a fellow Lego and X-Men fan who I have sketched before), when I was escorting a prominent guest from the UK to meet him. I have drawn Mrak a whole load of times, and I like it from this angle with the pink springtime blossoms on two of the trees and one of a pair of Eggheads visible in the foreground. Mrak Hall is named after Emil Mrak, the first chancellor when Davis became its own UC back in the 50s. This was March 6, and things were starting to look ominous, but we still moved as though the world would still be turning, preparing for visitors from across the country, though at this time we did have one visitor withdraw from a visit from Europe out of concerns, wisely as it would turn out. We still planned our big soccer tournament for May, the Davis World Cup, though with a doctor on our committee voicing concerns about the upcoming pandemic we did start wondering if perhaps we should postpone before we put in all the major work – wisely, as it would turn out.
This is the parking structure at the MU, where my wife would park her car back when we all went to campus every day. By this date, March 9, alarm bells were ringing. Not literally, just figuratively. On campus we started having ad hoc committee meetings to switch to remote instruction if that became a thing. However, everything was still normal until told otherwise, classes, sketchcrawls, soccer practices and games. AYSO encouraged us to be aware of the threat of coronavirus and that players who were sick should stay home, we should not shake hands with fellow coaches, players should not share water bottles, but games would still go ahead. We were planning for our upcoming vacations (we were looking forward to visiting Utah for the first time in April, and still thinking about a trip to Italy which in another year we would have already had booked and planned and paid for by this point but in 2020 we held off and delayed for some reason, wisely as it would turn out). I was looking forward to another 5k race in Davis, the ‘Lucky Run’ having done the Davis stampede in February, and was planning on having a series of races throughout the year. I’m really into running now. In fact since the shelter-in-place I have been regularly running 2 to 3 mile runs, which is much more than I used to be able to do.
I remember this sketch being the moment when things started getting real. Before sketching I was emailing back and forth with the opposition coach planning for the weekend’s game in Mt Diablo, and then while sketching I had parents asking if the game would go ahead, followed by an announcement that no, the season was being postponed, for now. No games, no practices, no meetings, until further notice. I’ll always think of that with this picture. On campus, we were starting to encourage staff to work remotely if possible, as other counties started a lockdown of sorts, a ‘shelter-in-place’, a phrase I only knew from whenever there was a different type of emergency, that is a gun-themed one. Now the sketch, I have drawn it before, but it’s one of the oldest buildings on campus, University House, and I like it when there is pink blossom on the tree. Schools however were still open, just under thorough disinfection, but I think everyone knew they would be closing any moment now. Any moment now. Here it comes, schools are going to close…
And it had to be Friday 13th, didn’t it. I walked into campus that morning and it felt odd, unusual, and calm. Well we got the message after lunch that schools would close until mid-April. On campus, people were nervous about being there, about getting on the bus, about meeting with anybody in person. The Trump administration announced travel bans from Europe (not including the UK at first, and then deciding oh yeah, them too). And we staff decided that we would work remotely if possible, though we did not get the official order to do so until the next week, once the state had announced the Shelter-in-Place order. And this is when we start drawing from home. It feels like remembering history now rather than just a few months ago, but This Whole Thing isn’t going away any time soon and keeps developing here and around the world, not always with the best leadership at national levels, though I think our campus leadership has done well under the difficult circumstances. And here we are in the middle of July. Things are rubbish, they really are, and I don’t want things to be so rubbish, but they are. And this sketch is of Wellman Hall, ironically named in a pandemic situation. This was my last outside sketch until June, and even now I’m not doing much of it.
This was two months ago now, more than that, but the view probably hasn’t changed so much. That’s Mrak Hall across the water there, occluded by the trees, while I am in the Arboretum of UC Davis, in the shade. This year is whizzing by. The news every day is just an endless stream of avoidable depression, the inbox a constant flow of to-do-nows, and the sketchbook is a little less used than last year as I struggle to fit it in (not to mention finding new things to draw). Spots like this are a great escape. I don’t know what it is about the calming effect of water. I used to love to go and look at the Thames, that would be my escape back home. The year I spent in Belgium would often be a struggle to stay motivated, and I remember one day going to the coast, and watching the sun set on the beach at Ostend, and feeling generally mentally restored by the North Sea, just by looking at the silvery waters, just looking. Of course then I got a train to Antwerp and spent the rest of the evening exploring old watering holes, which was restoring in its own way. I did a lot of exploring when I lived in that small country. I wonder if ducks do that, if they ever get really stressed out by being a duck, to they go and just look at a field. The world is moving along so fast. These colourful flowers may well be gone now, and the summer heat is already starting to pour across the valley. Look for the good while it is still there, and feel it, and remember it. Right, that’s done, now back to work.
Have I posted this one? I don’t think I have. I know, all these UC Davis sketches start blending into one after a while. Trees, blue sky, bikes, building, etc etc. This was sketched over a couple of lunchtimes outside the Chemistry Building, looking towards Mrak Hall. It’s from Fall, and as you can see those leaves haven’t quite turned yellow and red yet. What happened after this is that they changed colour, and then fell off, and now they are leafless. In a couple of months leaves will come back and the whole things starts over again. Repetitive, predictable. Not many people. This seems like ages ago now, yet at the same time it could be any time. I don’t know; I’ve been in Davis for 12 years now. It’s hard to find new things I want to draw. I suppose I could look at the same world in a new way. To be honest, I just dream of travelling. I want to go everywhere. Well not everywhere, there are some places I don’t want to go. But I want to go most places, and mostly to go and sketch them. I have a wishlist going, top of which is Tokyo, I really want to sketch in Japan. Bruges, I’ve been years ago but I wasn’t sketching back then (1999?). Florence, in fact all over Tuscany. Porto (the urban sketching symposium will be there next year), that would be amazing. For countryside, New Zealand. I don’t know, I want to go everywhere. It’s January, time of wanderlust. I’ve been watching travel shows on YouTube, lots of Rick Steves talks. It’s 2018, twenty years since my five-week train-trip around central Europe. I was 22, I went from London to London. Ok, the trip started in London at Victoria Bus Station, then onto Paris, Strasbourg, Luxembourg, Trier, Copenhagen, Aarhus, Hamburg, Lubeck, Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, Krakow, Budapest, Lake Balaton, Vienna, Bratislava (barely), Bodensee, Zurich, Geneva, Lyon, Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Epernay and back up to Paris and then London. That was fun, but I really wasn’t drawing those places then (I’d have seen less if I were!). Well, now I’m at the other side of the world, still getting in a fair bit of travel, but there are always more places to go. In the meantime, I’ll keep drawing Davis…
This is in the UC Davis Arboretum, that view of King Hall from Putah Creek, with Mrak Hall in the background, that I have sketched before. Look at that Creek! Regular listeners will recall how the Creek has so often at this time of year turned into a pea green soup, but the Arboretum people have been doing an amazing job renovating the Creek (is ‘renovating’ the right word? I’m not a Creek Scientist so I’m not sure how it works). Now the water is clear and reflective, and what a reflection. It was that that drew me to sketch this scene yet again. For years I sketched this every summer, usually around June, to track its changes. King Hall is home to the Law School, named after Martin Luther King Jr, while Mrak is where the University administration resides, named after Emil MRak, the first UC Davis Chancellor. This is the extension to King Hall built within the past decade, but the original King Hall was dedicated to Dr. King in April 1969, a year after his assassination.
I sometimes talk about being a ‘sketchbook historian’, and this is the thing, if you live somewhere, draw it. And then draw it again, and again, and you will have a record of how it changes, a record that goes beyond mere memory, and one that photographs don’t always capture in the same way. On top of that, you can see how your own sketching style evolves, improves, changes, sometimes be design, sometimes naturally and unexpectedly.
While walking in the UC Davis Arboretum earlier this week, I was greeted with an unbelievable sight. The entire creek and Lake Spafford was a bright, grassy green. It wasn’t the water itself, rather the green stuff floating on the surface. It wasn’t a sickly green, rather a very healthy looking green. It looked like the fairway of a golf course. So I did a quick sketch, which is below. You can see it in the sketch above as well, though in patches the water is visible and reflected the sky. Those scribbly dark areas are shadows.
Just a little green. Or a lot of green. Anyway, the arboretum is a lovely place right now, with leaves turning autumnal colours and the change in the weather (pushing 90 a week ago, pushing 60/70 now). Ok, so back to the top sketch, this is a scene that I’ve sketched many times over the years. I watched this view change over the course of a few years, once per year, until it settled upon the current look, when I got bored and stopped. You will remember, I have been in Davis ten years now, and it’s not a big place, things will get sketched multiple times. This is King Hall, with Mrak Hall in the background. This used to be a view of Mrak alone. Here are the sketches; I really do feel like a sketch historian now…
Coming next: a new sketch of the Bike Barn, which I have sketched about two million times…
Well it is the Thanksgiving Holiday, and by this time of year in Davis the autumnal colours have really exploded into bloom. It happens that bit later than in most parts of America, it seems, and the transition between November and December is when it hits its peak. This is Mrak Hall, above, where the main administration for UC Davis sits. I sat on a bench one lunchtime this week (a more pleasant experience now that the campus is smoke-free) to sketch this view, and I remembered that I’ve sketched it in Falls gone by on a couple of other occasion. Below, December 2010, a couple of weeks or so later in the season. You can see how the red-tinged tree has turned more orange, while the yellow tree has started to thin out on top.
Let’s go further back in time to 2007. The same date, December 10th, and a similar rate of autumnalisation (not a word people use, but I just did) though with more leaflessness on the top of the trees (I neglected to draw the leaves on the ground, obviously too difficult for me back in 2007).
That top sketch of Mrak was the final sketch in watercolour Moleskine #13, which was the ‘Art-Plus’ version (and slightly inferior to all the other versions, paper-wise). This bottom sketch was from watercolour Moleskine #2, and the middle one from #6. Time for a new sketchbook!
This is Mrak Hall. That’s “MRAK”, my dear autocorrect, not “Mark”. It is a big solid looking building on the UC Davis campus, the place where the administration sit, and make all the rules and policies we have to follow. I have sketched it before but not in a long while. I come here often to drop off paperwork and turn up a day early for meetings (doh!). In front there, on those two little hillocks (“HILLOCKS”, dear auto-correct…) are two of Robert Arneson’s Eggheads. This is called “See No Evil, Hear No Evil”, which was obviously named after a hilarious movie with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. The last time I drew them, they were located in a slightly different place, in fact they were pretty much where I sat to draw this picture. I sat on the steps of King Hall, whose extension forced the eggheads to move to the middle of the roundabout in 2009. In fact my last sketch is below, from 2007. That long ago?
Since coming back from London (and I still have a few more sketches to post) I have done very little sketching. Next to none, in fact, bar the odd thing here or there. I realised however that it was high time to get back out there, now that the weather is not in the ‘phew-what-a-scorcher’s, and went out at lunchtime yesterday to sketch a familiar scene. I sketch this view every summer at around this time, since 2007, and the view changes every year. When I first sketched it in 2007 the building at the front, King Hall, was not even there, and you could see all of Mrak Hall in the distance without interuption. Preparation for the law school extension began a year later, followed by slow construction, and I charted its progress until last year’s sketch showed completion. Now there is no change from last year to this, so this may be the last time I sketch the view. Still, it’s a peaceful little spot, right beside Putah Creek, which is increasingly green at this time of year.