’tis grand to be in new york

NYC Grand Central
Did I mention how cold New York was? It was so cold, even brass monkeys wore gloves. I don’t even get that. It was so cold, I had to open the fridge to warm my hands, no I said that one last time. It was so cold, I lost the ability to think of anything ever. There, that works.

But it wasn’t too cold to sketch.

I tell a lie, it definitely 100% was too cold to sketch, but for the sake of it, for the sake of urban sketching as a thing, I jolly well did it, because, well I’m not in New York every day. Sadly.

This was done on the Saturday afternoon, the second coldest day of the trip (oh wow, the 14th was even colder, it was so cold that it made Frosty the Snowman look like the Human Torch, see I’m just not very good at these analogies and things, I don’t know if that’s really what I do. I would be terrible in one of those schoolyard “yo mama is so fat…” contests you always hear about, I would be like, “yeah, shuttup, you mug, stop being sizeist” or something. Anyway back to the sketch. Yes, I stood in the sub-sub-freezing-cold weather and sketched the scene above. In the goshdarned cold. Oh I was wrapped up warm, unbelievably warm. Multiple layers of clothing, two jackets, gloves, thick hat, thermal longjohns, two pairs of socks, look I’m not going to describe my whole wardrobe here (stripey underpants, ok?) but I was pretty warm. But that cold, man. Amazingly my uni-ball signo um-151 pen held up pretty well and did not let me down. I did all the inkwork except for about half the windows on the skyscraper (it’s the Chrysler Building for those of you who have not heard of New York before) and some of the windows on that other building in the background (I believe the phrase that I uttered when I got to that part was ‘sod that’), and then added the paint once I got inside somewhere warm (I went to an igloo on Pluto). This is Grand Central Station.

Sorry, sorry, I meant Grand Central Terminus. What? ‘Terminal’? Right ok, it’s Grand Central Terminal. Only an out of town bumpkin like me would call it ‘Station’. In fact I think it’s one of those things whereby they go around telling people it’s ‘Station’ just so that when people repeat it to New Yorkers they can get laughed at. Actually I think none of this is  true at all, this is in fact entirely a conversation I had in my head while sketching, in fact the imaginary conversation turned a bit ugly at one point and I had to break up the imaginary out-of-towner who was all, “you think you’re better than me, huh” and the imaginary New Yorker who had dropped his imaginary banter and moved straight into an imaginary aggressive “huh, wiseguy, huh, well things are gonna get real ‘terminal’ for you soon buddy”, and well I just left them to it frankly, this completely imaginary conversation that didn’t happen. I went indoors, and sketched in there instead.
NYC Grand Central Terminal

I did wonder where Avengers Tower was, since my New York is so bound to the imaginary. Being inside the immensely impressive Grand Central reminded me of that scene in Avengers when Thor and Hulk take out those Chitauri, and then Hulk punches Thor sideways. It also reminded me a lot of the Lego Marvel video game, the bit where you have to fight Sandman. I liked standing in here sketching, and I had intended on adding colour as well, but the day was moving along fast and I wanted to get back and go for dinner. I was told afterwards that there is an amazing place in the downstairs food court for beer and oysters, and I wish I had tried it, but that just gives me an excuse to go back to New York. Hey, do we even need an excuse to go back to New York? It’s an amazing city, with more sketching to be done there than I can possibly imagine (and yeah, punchline coming, I can imagine quite a bit).

(Except when talking about the cold)

in the bars of old new york

NYC McSorleys

New York was cold. Very, very cold. Like “are you kidding me” cold. It was so cold that doing anything other than go inside somewhere warm was a ridiculous prospect. Not to say that I didn’t, and you will see an actual sketch I did outside in the next post. We also walked through Central Park which was beautiful, if somewhat frosty agony afterwards. The sort of cold where you go home and open the fridge to warm up. Fortunately New York has a proliferation of bars, and here are a couple more sketches of some. the one above was McSorley’s Old Ale house, another ‘oldest’ New York drinking establishment, established in 1854. Ah, ’54, what a year. That was the year old Fernando Wood became the mayor, a big player in the Tammany Hall political organization. New York had seen a big influx of Irish immigrants in the decade prior, escaping the Potato Famine. McSorley’s is old and feels it, but bustling and full of life for an old geezer. Sawdust is all over the floor, and the beer comes in pairs and is good – you can get two kinds, light or dark. Don’t fanny around. Despite being as cold as one of the moons of Jupiter outside, it was packed with people, a busy Valentine’s Day crowd. We stood at the bar until a table opened up, then warmed up with soup and a bit of sketching. Oh and lots of silly voices. Have you seen ‘The Trip’ with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon? Very much like that, doing the Michael Caine / James Bond voices, but greatly expanded in repertoire. Imagine Caine as Han Solo saying “Don’t Get Cocky!” and you get the idea. It was most enjoyable fun, though maybe less so if you were sat next to us. I sketched this far, and then we moved on.

NYC 1849 bar

This next bar, visited the evening before after a lovely Italian meal in Greenwich Village, was on Bleecker Street and was called “1849”. Ah, ’49, what a year. Back in California, the Gold Rush had exploded, and people packed up and dashed across the country to make a few quick bucks in the sunshine. Back in New York there was a cholera epidemic, and a huge riot in Astor Place between people who thought one famous actor was better than another famous actor. they hadn’t even heard of Michael Caine at that point, if they had history may have looked very different. This bar wasn’t around in 1849 of course, in fact it is just a themed bar-restaurant that takes its inspiration from the Old West. I don’t know if they had potatoes with sunglasses on in the Old West but I’m pretty sure that was what was sitting behind the bottles behind the bar (people probably said the same about me to be fair). Lots of red light. Not a hugely warm place if I’m honest, nowhere near the character McSorley’s has, but the beer was nice.

pete’s tavern

Pete's Tavern NYC

Thank you New York City, thank you. They named a bar after me! Pete’s Tavern, on East 18th Street. Ok fine, it’s not named after ‘me’, but without a doubt, you know this was the first bar I was going to hit in New York. Pete’s was established in 1984, sorry I mean 1864 (it is hard to read the writing backwards on the window) and is the oldest continually operating bar in New York City. I visited another oldest bar in New York City a couple of days later and I daresay there are more, but I loved it here. I actually came once before, in 2008, but I didn’t have time to sketch it then. This was my 40th birthday trip though and dammit I was sketching Pete’s. Now before i go on I must point out my favourite bar sketcher / pub artist in the world is Stephen Gardner, who has inspired me to sit in pubs with a sketchbook for several years now. He lives in New York and has done some amazing paintings and sketches of Pete’s Tavern over the years – check them out in this Facebook album. The. Master. Sadly he was out of town that weekend (as were a lot of people, long weekend and all) but I still sketched Pete’s while enjoying a few celebratory beers with my chums from London. Quite a few in fact, a fair few. A good old few. Fun times.

barman at pete'sPhilip Shoptaugh at Pete's Tavern

And we chatted with locals and other bar patrons. The bartender was celebrating his birthday too, though he is considerably younger than me (29 I think he said) and was a lovely bloke from Ireland. I sketched him quickly in pencil. I also sketched another nice fellow I was chatting with, a trumpeter in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra called Philip, he was in town from Oakland (he was telling me his grandparents lived in Woodland, nearby Davis!), and his other job is actually an inventor of toys and games, especially mazes and labyrinths! Which was pretty much my dream job as a kid. And as an adult.


Yeah, Pete’s was fun. We came back on the last day before I flew back for a farewell pint, and on that day the snow piled down outside the windows. I may need to come back and sketch here again.

new york’s cold streets

Grimaldi's NYC sm
Last month I went to New York City. New York is a big city on the east coast of the United States, in New York State, and you might have heard of it if you have seen any films such as ‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York’, or watched TV such as ‘Cash Cab’. I’d heard of it because I had been there before a couple of times, several years ago now but I still remembered the famous sights like the Imperial State Building  and Centre Parks. Now before you say “geddouddahere”, calm down New Yorkers, I am joking. I love New York. It is pretty bloody awesome – but when I went last month, it was also pretty bloody cold. Record coldest Valentines Day in fact! So the sketching was at a minimum, but I still did some. Why was I here? It was a surprise trip in fact, my wife had arranged it in secret for my 40th birthday, and had told me on my birthday a few days before. Not only that, but I was to fly out there by myself and meet up with two of my best and oldest friends from London, Simon and Roshan, for a Boys’ Weekend. Quite the surprise! We stayed in an apartment on Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, a couple of blocks from Washington Square. In fact if we lived in the Marvel Universe, this was right across the street from Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. If you don’t know what that is, fine, there’s a movie coming out in November. I flew overnight (having sung Yellow Submarine on karaoke to the music of Modern Love just hours before) and arrived on a frozen morning. We walked up Fifth Avenue for a bit just going “Wow New York dudes!” before stopping into a little place called Grimaldi’s for pizza. I did a sketch of Simon inside, waiting for his pizza (or “pie” as they like to say out here). It was very nice pizza.
New York Fire Hydrant 2016
There were a lot of fire hydrants in New York. I would like to go back and sketch more of them. I did this one however while Simon was inside a shop trying on trousers (or “pants”). Oh boy, it was cold. Not as cold as it would get in the coming days, in fact I’d look back on this cold as some sort of Golden Age, but too cold to sketch much else. We walked up to the Flatiron, before knocking the walking on the head and went to Pete’s Tavern. Bar sketches will be posted later. For now, here is a sketch from the Subway, from a different day.

New York Subway 2016

And a photo of the Flatiron Building.


these vagabond shoes

A short video from my sketching outing in New York City last month. Do not even dare sing Englishman in New York while watching it. I posted this on Urban Sketchers. Thought the world might like to see it. I suppose it’s technically a ‘Making Of…’ documentary. Reality TV, Fly on the Wall drama (or, as you will see, fly in the beer).

 liberty wall street west village the empire strikes back bxl cafe start spreading the news

right through the very heart of it

the empire strikes back

The final bit of urban sketching done in New York (I also took a lot of photos for reference drawing later, but you can’t beat being there on the streets tasting the air). Here I am just off Washington Square, looking up Fifth, indeniably NYC in November. I never went up the Empire State. Always thought it would be better to gostart spreading the news up the Rockefeller anyway, because at least from there you can see the Empire State – I love seeing that building. I also adore the Chrysler – it’s one of those buildings that when you first see, you cannot stop taking photos of it. It could be the most beautiful modern building in the world (and I say modern meaning in the past 100 years). I sketched it from the steps of the New York Public Library, itself a fantastic old building (but not one with baby changing facilities, I might add).

One of the things I love about New York is that you always feel a little like you’re on the set of Ghostbusters. Things are so familiar. And not just Ghostbusters, but any of the million or so other movies or shows that have been set here. Not a feeling you get strolling down Edgware High Street.

I still hadn’t eaten, which is not a good thing (and surely an impossibility in the big apple), and as I previously mentioned, I wanted something ‘New York’. But then I happened across a little Belgian place, the BXL Cafe in narrow 43rd Street, which called me in to taste some Maredsous beer and some absolutely amazing moules frites (better than I have had even in bxl cafeBelgium, I might add). I drew the place (right) in copic and faber-castell brush pens; trying something different for a change. Overheard some Scottish women talking about shopping for their kids, sounded like they had saved up a long while for this trip, and I felt sorry for them because the pound has absolutely plummeted this past couple of months. I overheard a lot of British people in New York – more than I did New Yorkers – the place is choc full of them. Probably why I felt at home.

Came back down again the next day, with my wife and baby, to go to Central Park and see the amazing fall colours. We ended up getting a little lost on the Subway, which is enormous fun with a stroller by the way, and sitting in a cafe off Sixth trying to feed the baby (while overhearing, of course, English people). And I finally had cannoli, something definitely New York, and it was good. New York is good. Can’t wait to go back.

go west, where the skies are blue

west village
New York City, continued… I moved up Manhattan to the West Village area, hoping for some lovely old bricks and some leafy autumnal streets, and yep, that’s what I got. I think I had in mind the excellent work of Nina Johansson when choosing what to draw here (though I’m a lot scruffier). NewYork2008120I sat and had a beer called magic hat outside a cool, dark little pub called the slaughtered lamb, on west 4th. A great spot to watch the world go by, and other such cliches. Oh, and to watch taxi cabs nearly have crashes, that was fun as well. I love the yellow cabs in New York – better than our London black cabs (yes, better, that’s right). Not that I ever take either. I always wonder though, is that cab the Cash Cab? My wife wondered the same thing too; we love that show. I gave up on the magic hat after about two thirds of a pint, because a big red-eyed bug had decided to come in for a swim. I photographed the work in progress, for fun. I then wandered washington squareover to Washington Square, admiring the trees and the bundled-up chess players. I sat and quickly drew a guitarist, as you do around here, and took in the scarf-wearing intellectual atmosphere around NYU. I wanted to go there a few years ago, to study drama perhaps, but the fees are so big. I just love the area I think. I was looking forward to this neighbourhood most of all, and I was enjoying the sunny cold and the leaves, but I realised I hadn’t eaten anything that day, so pressed on up town. And, hot dogs aside (I don’t eat them), I decided that I really wanted something that tasted of New York.

and i sang ‘you’re as free as a bird’

The second morning in New York was brighter and breezier. I took an early train, and went all the way down to the bottom tip of Manhattan, to look out at the Statue of Liberty, which is famous because it was in X-Men. It was placed out on Liberty Island way before the world became a place full of digital camera snapping tourists, so it’s not there just as a cynical ploy to get you to take the ferry and get a closer look. It was there to greet the throngs of immigrants, the huddled masses arriving on ships toward Ellis Island, that the New York was eager to welcome, and who have contributed so much to the city and the country’s character (something to remember, daily mail readers). A gift to show the bonds of liberty and friendship between America and France (something to remember, fox news viewers). From here though it’s kind of hard to see properly. You’d think they’d move it closer.

Gotta love her though. Really, I couldn’t come all this way and not see Lady Liberty, holding up her ice cream. I’ve been close up before, and she’s cool. This day however was a sketching day and that means packing in as much of the city as I can grab, and drawing some along the way. I wandered about the wall streetfinancial District, stopping off at the World Trade Center site, still empty and closed off as it was when I was there six years ago. Mooched around the narrow streets that reminded me so much of the City of London (and with names like Thames Street you can see why). Stopped off in Wall Street, to see what all the fuss is about. There was a lot of construction work going on, cue all the quips from all the passers-by. Sat on the steps beneath a huge statue of George Washington (on the site where he was inaugurated President, which is pretty cool), I sketched the New York Stock Exchange, which is still covered over with that huge (and unnecessary) flag, which reminded me of a giant band-aid. Are they hiding behind it?

the sad songs of doom and gloom

manhattan bridge
With the raining coming down in meows and woofs, I took the Subway to Brooklyn, down under manhattan bridge overpass (I believe this area of town is named after a disney movie but I forget which). Too rainy to sketch. I took a lot of lovely photos from the shores of the Hudson, looking across at the grey fog where Manhattan should be. On my way back to the Subway however I remembered my friend Simon, sketching in the downpour on the South Bank in London back in May, newyork2008062-blogand said to myself I could not leave without one sketch of these amazing views I may not see again for a long time. As I sat on my stool, the rain stopped, and I drew the Manhattan Bridge above – it really does make all the difference, actually sketching on location, than later on from a photo, and I’m please with the result (and yes I counted all the details as I was drawing them).

I went on the the Lower East Side. I got a big messy sandwich from “tiny’s giant sandwiches”, and ambled around in the fading light looking for some urban to sketch, and there was lots. It felt like I was in London again, in Holloway or Camden or Whitechapel, or maybe even Soho, with the narrow grid streets. Chose a street corner that is home to rosario’s pizza (my wife’s maiden name) and sketched in the dying light, the rain now passed but the streets still wet and shiny.
rosario's pizza

I walked around in the dark streets taking in New York City at night, this big far away place from the movies and the album tracks, and then got the Subway to Union Square area, stopping off in a cool art lamppost-nightstore and a great kid’s bookshop (to pick up a board book for my book-loving nine-month old; he’s very literate and loves a book he can really sink his two bottom teeth into). I was looking for Pete’s Tavern, apparently the oldest bar in the city, and I thought it might be good for some interior sketching. Fat chance. Sure, nice old place, and I got a Brooklyn Lager, but the bar area was very busy while all the tables were empty, reserved for some work thing happening later on. Annoying; my feet hurt. Pete was not amused by this (it’s for this reason I never reserve tables in pubs, I hate to be that person). So I sodded off, back to Long Island.

it’s no place for the old

And so, New York City. Walked outside a packed Penn Station into billions of people and torrrential rain, rain so hard those tall buildings had no top or even middle. Hilarious, I didn’t care, I was in New York and New York is cool. It felt like London, only taller.

take the fifth

Walked down fifth a little bit, taking dark grey photos, running in and out of postcard shops, counting yellow taxis (not really counting, but you know, there were a lot). I just had to draw, it’s why I was there. So out came the little blue chair, underneath a narrow shelter by a coffee shop, right next to a hot dog stand (as New York as it comes). Below, a sketch made outside Long Beach station, before taking Long Island Railroad in to this rainy rainy metropolis.

long beach on a rainy day