In early March we went to LA, and saw the Space Shuttle Endeavour. It was quite an experience. I loved the Space Shuttle as a kid. It was so exciting. That massive fuel tank that falls away, the spacewalks, the landing back on Earth, as far as I was concerned, it was something we would all be riding on in The Future. I loved reading about the space program. I remember clearly the Challenger disaster, when I was 10, that shocking image, that double headed explosion. I read every article about that I could find. I put the newspaper on my bedroom wall, along with the photos of all the astronauts. It was a scary moment for me, when the realities of space travel broke my fantasy of becoming an astronaut; except I never really wanted to become an astronaut, I just wanted to go to space, float around a bit, maybe meet some aliens. Now the Space Shuttles are all retired. I did see this one before, from a good distance. When Endeavour was retired, it was flown to LA on the back of a large airplane, and passed over Sacramento – and Davis – on the way to a Bay Area flyover, before heading down to its resting place in Los Angeles. Now it is at the California Science Center in LA’s Exposition Park. Up close, it looks different than I expected. It is not some shiny sci-fi spaceship, it is very functional feeling, made up of a series of tough looking squares, each one numbered, looking almost like it was cobbled together on the job. Endeavour was in fact built as a replacement to Challenger, and between 1992 and 2011 she flew 25 missions into the earth’s orbit. I enjoyed sketching Endeavour, rekindling all my boyhood space travel dreams.
On my brief trip back to England I went to Barnstaple in north Devon, with my mum and sister to see my uncle Billy and his family. It had been a long time since I was in Devon; my 16 year old cousin Jade was still a newborn, which gives you an idea how long ago it was. I did go for a little walk on the Saturday afternoon to do a couple of sketches (also to have some amazing chips in gravy, so tasty). I stood at the busy intersection near the bridge over the wide river Taw and drew the scene above, the Barnstaple Museum, with the clock tower outside. Barnstaple is quite a busy town, and has a pretty bustling town centre on a Saturday afternoon. I have to say, coming from California, and coming from a suburb in north London, it was nice being in a town which has all the shops. Our hotel was right opposite a great toy shop too, they had a lot of Lego, as well as loads of model railways. As I say, it has been a long time since I was in Devon, and one of the things I love about the southwest are the hills in the background. I remember going camping in Devon when I was 16, and the scenery just brings me back. The English countryside really is beautiful. I’ve never really spent a lot of time in the country and the smaller towns and cities, always being in London; I’d love to tour the UK with a sketchbook like that Richard Bell book my cousin Dawn got me a few years ago), but living our here I’ll never get time. You can see the hilly backdrop behind the building below as well, I forget the name of that building (if only there was a way I could instantly look that up on the device I am typing this), but also visible is the Long Bridge over the Taw. I got up very early in the mornings to walk around town and along the river, cold damp February mornings. In those early mornings, you still had a few local lads out from the night before, singing, slurring, bit of scrapping. It was actually raining when I drew the one below, and I had to stop when it started getting heavy. I like the colour of the stone they use for these old buildings down here. Barnstaple itself goes back to Anglo-Saxon times and there is an interesting mosaic near where I drew this, at Queen Anne’s Walk, showing the whole history of the place, vikings, pirates, traders and raiders.
Back in February, I went back to London for a very short (unexpected) visit. I was down in Devon for a few days, and then back home in London for a day before heading back. For my one day in London, there was only one place I wanted to go – probably my favourite place, the Natural History Museum. It really is the best. I want to spend all day there some day, just drawing, drawing and drawing a lot more. I got a late start on this day, partly because, hey, nice to get a lie in after a lot of busy busy, but also because I’d spent the previous night with friends in Camden Town, after a long journey back from the South West of England. So I made it to the Natural History Museum by almost lunchtime. It was the first time I have been there since Dippy moved out. Dippy was (sorry, is) (if you call being a skeleton of an extinct animal present tense) (I say skeleton, it’s only a model) moved out last year to go on tour around the country, and make room on the ground in the Hintze Hall for more fancy events. Dippy was a Diplodocus, by the way. I realize I’m making Dippy sound like a House Elf. I sketched Dippy’s rear end back at the end of 2016, shortly before Dippy’s departure. Dippy was replaced by the large skeleton of a Blue Whale which now hangs majestically from the ceiling, the largest mammal in the world. I really wanted to sketch it. I don’t know if the Blue Whale has an inventive nickname yet, Bluey or Whaley, but I look at it and imagine I am one of the Avengers, facing down against a Chitauri space vessel. Well, in my head obviously. I’m not standing there doing Hulk impressions. I sketched from above, from one of the staircases in this most magnificent of London buildings, the sort of building that makes me really wish I had never left, that makes me so proud to be a native of a city that has such a place just right there where anyone can go and learn every single day. Sorry Davis, your bike museum is fine, but my heart is in Albertopolis. So, I drew Bluey the Whale from above and always intended on adding the colour, the browns and golds with purple tinted shadows of the museum, contrasted with the pale luminescent blue of the skeletal whale, but my friend Simon arrived and I didn’t want to keep him waiting about while I faffed about with the paints, so I left it as it is. We went around and looked at all the dinosaur skeletons and stuffed animals, and he expressed his grief at the removal of the much loved national treasure Dippy, which made me laugh as he’d just told me he hadn’t stepped foot inside the museum in well over twenty years.
I did draw one dinosaur though, the one above. “Dinosaur” the sign called it. Thanks, but isn’t this, you know, Iguanadon? I know it is. They have moved everything around in there since my last visit (just over a year before) but I know my NHM dinos. When I was four or five I went there with school and was the resident dino expert in my class, counting vertebrae, knowing all sorts of things I cannot remember now (though I still have a couple of my old childhood dinosaur books, themselves relics of a past scientific age). It turns out this is The Dinosaur Formerly Known As Iguanadon, now renamed Mantellisaurus after its discoverer, Gideon Mantell. I wish I had discovered a dinosaur, maybe I could have one named after me. Scullysaurus has a nice ring to it. I don’t know what I’d be doing to discover a dinosaur, I don’t exactly go out digging in the rocks, but I might find one in a park or an art shop. It wouldn’t need to be a ‘saurus’ either, I would take a ‘dactyl’ or a ‘docus’, even a simple ‘don’ like my old big thumbed friend Iguanadon here. Maybe Pteranodon was named after a Pete but they mis-typed his named, we all do it, I’m always typing Ptee or Pere, to the point my autocorrect has given up and says I can be called whatever I want.
We were done with the museum, and it was dark outside already. I could have spent hours longer in there, but I had to get back to Burnt Oak as my family wanted to take me out for a curry (I was flying home next day), so Simon and I walked down to South Kensington and into the little shops there, and I did one last sketch, of South Kensington Books. Small independent bookshops are among the best things in the world, because I am the sort of person who says so, having worked for a couple over the years. I want to draw all of the old bookshops in London, while they are still there. Actually not a day goes by when I don’t miss London, this London, not the crowded working rainy expensive irritated London, but my London, the one I spent my teenage days looking for on Saturday afternoons with a travelcard. I am glad to have had an unexpected afternoon there, a last minute very short trip, but it reminds me how much I really miss it.
This is the courtyard of the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at the UC Davis campus. In January we had our monthly sketchcrawl here in Davis (we missed February; the next one will be on March 17, details to be posted later today at facebook.com/letsdrawdavis), and it was held at the Manetti Shrem. Regular viewers will recall that I drew this building from its first days of construction right through to the grand opening, and I was even invited to the big fancy party for artists and donors on the night before the opening, which was amazingly fun (the ice cream lollipops made on slabs of nitrogen were incredible). It’s a complicated piece of architecture, and I have not drawn it very often since, so I was overdue a sketch. After a morning of coaching a game of under-10 soccer (we lost 9-2 that morning, ouch) I needed to spend some time on a complicated panorama. This is a complicated panorama. Fun though, and it was nice having chats with people passing by, either other sketchers, or local Davis people I knew who happened to be visiting the museum, or students who were interested in art. One young bloke asked me about perspective and how I approach it. Well, get me on that subject! I told him about the multiple vanishing points, both up and down, and the horizon, and the sphere, curvilinear perspective, but said that with a building like this you just have to throw caution to the wind and say, ah just draw it all and see how it comes out. Don’t worry about it. Also another trick, on a two-page spread when the big valley is in the middle of the page, I used the large yellow pole that was in the foreground as a good place for a middle. Saved all those lines getting screwed up in the centre, falling down the gap. On the right, across Vanderhoef Quad, is the Mondavi Center. We’ll be going to see John Cleese there later this month. I’m sure he will be all grumpy
You can click on the sketch for a closer view if you like. Or maybe if you are in Davis, for an even more close view of the museum why not visit? It’s really cool there: https://manettishremmuseum.ucdavis.edu/
Also, try to draw that roof. Honestly, it is fun, like a puzzle. And if drawing that roof gets too much just put on a Jack Nicholson voice and say …
Just before Christmas I went down to the city (San Francisco) for some pre-Christmas sketching, and to spend money shopping for last-minute gifts. Well, one last-minute gift. And it was from Tiffany’s so it was less ‘last-minute’ and more just ‘minute’. Well, maybe not that small. I walk in there and I say, look, I am a man and utterly clueless, I don’t even know what a Tiffany’s is, I actually thought you sold cakes, and they are like, absolutely sir, don’t worry, you are not alone, let me help. And they were very helpful. But you don’t want to hear about my complete cluelessness when it comes to shopping for things that aren’t made by Nintendo or Lego (hey, I feel sophisticated when I buy myself a new jumper, like I’m a style guru or something). You’re here for the sketching, and that’s what I do. Actually it’s not all I do, I’m also really into history and language and writing, and I totally love football (soccer) and spend ridiculous amounts of time obsessively making spreadsheets of football stats you don’t need (for example, the most worn kit make since the Premier League began is Umbro, also the most successful in terms of games won and equal on titles won with Nike, but Nike has a goal difference of +1316 compared to Umbro’s +341 (compared to Adidas whose goal difference is +480 – you really don’t need to know all of this, but this is the sort of stuff I think a lot about) (I do work for the Statistics Department, it kind of rubs off on me). Anyway, the sketching. I used a new Palomino pencil that my friend Terry in Japan sent me (I thought palominos were horses) (I should tell people, this pencil was sent by a pal o’ mine) to draw the Amtrak train scene above, because you have to draw on the train.
Now I haven’t sketched around SoMa in about ten years, so I went to the Museum of Modern Art for a little inspiration. I was mostly inspired by the entrance fee to maybe go and do some sketching outside instead, but not after spending a lot of time in the gift shop. They have the best stuff. I sketched outside in Yerba Buena Gardens, which is always a nice place for people watching (I love that phrase, I never watch people, they’re not very interesting). Fun fact, Yerba Buena is the original name of San Francisco, being renamed after the local mission in 1847.
Now this unusually shaped building is part of the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and I could tell before looking it up that it was designed by Daniel Libeskind, as those diagonally turned buildings are somewhat of a signature of his. It reminded me of the building he designed on Holloway Road in London, I used to go past on the bus. London Metropolitan University, that’s it. This one is much more dramatic. As I sketched, a rather shouty man, tailed by a police officer on a bike, wandered past yelling some angry gibberish at the world, with the cop shadowing him all the way. I didn’t add any paint, but moved on, as I only had an hour or two of daylight left.
I was near Union Square by now, and so I stood just off the Christmas shopping masses and sketched the signage of John’s Grill. I don’t know who John is or what his grill i all about but they appear to specialize in Jazz, cocktails, steaks and seafood, and have been around since 1908. Well done Pete, you have successfully read words, pat yourself on the back. I really liked that tall building in the background, on Market Street, and I used a grey pen to sketch it. San Francisco’s slightly damper air gives a muted, softer feel to its colours and lines.
Yes, I have posted it before but here it is again to round off the daytrip. It’s the big Christmas Tree in Union Square. It was busy, lost of people stopped to take pictures with the tree (a lady sitting nearby was asked many times by people to take their photos, she was very obliging; nobody asked me, I was sat above, my head buried in a sketchbook). I did draw a couple taking a selfie though because that’s the thing nowadays, actually people have always done it even with their old cameras but it didn’t seem to offend grumpy people as much. Seriously, people who get irritated by people taking selfies, get over it. I know the standard response to that is “seriously, people who get irritated by people who get irritated by people taking selfies, get over it” but if you start down that road you end up on a continuous looping paradox of nonsensical arguments (aka Twitter) (or aka everywhere these days). Anyway, after this sketch, the sunlight fading faster than fog in a funfair, I switched into hapless Christmas shopper mode and spent the rest of the day making the wallet a bit lighter. And then I caught the train back home to Davis.
Last month we went back over to London for a few days ahead of our week in Italy, spending time with family and seeing friends. The London visits are more frequent than they used to be, but always seem shorter, never enough time to see everyone we want to see, go everywhere we want to go. We always pack a lot in though, and this time wanted to see some places we’d never been to. One of those was the Imperial War Museum. It’s in Lambeth, and had never appealed that much to me for some reason (because I’m a pacifist peacenik?) which is crazy because I love history, I love seeing old planes and tanks and uniforms and armoury, and I love old London buildings such as this one, which has an interesting history as the old Bethlem psychiatric hospital – aka ‘Bedlam’ (not the original Bedlam location mind you but still, interestingly historical). The grounds are lovely, and there were a lot of people out sketching as well which is always nice to see. I drew the scene above while my family were resting in the cafe.
I didn’t do a ton of sketching in there – there is a lot to see, and my son was getting tired (World War I was a lot to take in!) but I did draw this Sopwith 2F.1 Camel. The Sopwith Camel was one of the most iconic early fighter planes for the Allies in World War I. Just imagine Lord Flashheart whizzing around in one of these before landing sausage-side and shouting “woof” a lot. (I really miss Rik Mayall!) I didn’t get much further than World War II, so I would like to go back there some day with the sketchbook. Definitely worth a visit. After this, we walked the short distance to the South Bank and along the Thames.