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.