long walks, conversations and cocktails

SF Palace of Fine Arts
I usually sketch standing up, except when I sit down. On this occasion, I had just walked two and a half miles from Fort Point along Crissy Field and over to the Palace of Fine Arts. I needed a rest. I sat on the grass in the shade. The last time I sketched this building was in about 2007 I think. Yes, a quick look through Flickr and here they are. It’s a nice spot that I evidently only go to every twelve years. See you in 2031.
palace of fine artson a bench

I walked down Chestnut and had a delicious lunch at Squat and Gobble, before jumping onto a bus and heading to my favourite part of the city, North Beach. I usually sketch standing up, but on this occasion I brought my little lightweight fold-up stool with me. At least two people stopped while I was sketching just to take a photo of this little stool, and enquire as to where this mystical object could be purchased on the wild realm of the internet. It was about $15 on amazon, a no-name brand, it is super light and fits into my small bag and I haven’t yet fallen off of it. I have lost weight recently which helps. Anyway I found a little nook beside a church on Columbus and drew the Italian deli Molinari, another favoured sketching subject of mine.

SF Molinari

Yes, there it is below, as sketched back in 2014 from an entirely different angle. On that occasion I pretended to be a traffic warden for an older lady who wanted to park her car there while she popped in to get some cheese or something, she said that if I looked like a warden then other wardens wouldn’t give her a ticket. I’m just there with my sketchbook so I’m like, yeah fine, but no other wardens came up and ticketed her.

SF: Molinari

On this occasion though, on the other side of Columbus, I had several non-stool based and non-traffic warden based conversations. One was with an old student from our department who happened to be walking by with her son and her sister, that was a nice surprise. There was another couple who were late for early dinner, and I used the power of the internet to help them find their restaurant, like a street wizard. There was an older fellow who I thought was homeless, who came and sat next to me for a bit with his big bin-liner, and it turned out he too was an artist, and showed me his incredible location drawings of North Beach (this is what was in his big bag), including Molinari sketched from the same spot (but in greater detail). I was very inspired. We talked about drawing out in the street, I told him about my attitudes toward urban sketching, it was a very nice meeting. And then after that I chatted with a monk, in full monk’s robes, who worked at the church next to where I was sketching, and he showed me a sketch of the church someone else had done for their newsletter, and we talked about San Francisco’s trees being different from the ones in Davis. Sometimes it is nice to talk to people in the street in a city like this.

SF Jackson St

I moved along, and down into Chinatown. I wanted to draw one specific row of buildings in Jackson Street. I didn’t have time to draw it all so I captured the essentials. I got enough. When I say I didn’t have time, it’s because I wanted to factor in time in the rest of my day to hang out at an old North Beach drinking establishment that I have never before been into, the Comstock Saloon.

SF Comstock Saloon

This old bar is beautiful, and they are very good at mixing their drinks here. For this reason I wanted to have a couple of cocktails. Now I usually stand when I sketch, but here I wanted to sit. I sat the bar, wrong angle to draw. I sat at a seat by the window, with a barrel for a table, again not super comfy. So I sat at a taller table, excellent angle. However I felt very conscious that people coming in might want to sit at that table, which is better for two or three than for one. I don’t know why I felt so conscious of that here. It felt like a nicer place. Also, I noticed that occasionally some of the tables would have a little ‘reserved’ sign on them, which I think was to deter single patrons from using spaces that a pair or trio might use. So, I drew very fast, and then just relocated myself to the bar. The staff were well dressed and clearly professional barmixologisters or whatever the phrase for them is. When it comes to mixed drinks I am clueless and need a list. I had an absolutely amazing daiquiri, totally beautiful after a day of sketching. The second drink I had was a Mint Julep I think, it was less to my taste but nice nonetheless. You can taste quality. The best mixed drink I ever had was in Hawaii, the Monkeypod Mai Tai, and it was amazingly fresh. I feel a bit posh drinking anything that isn’t beer, or Pepsi Max, or a cup of tea. Libations libated and sketches sketched, I walked back to the Amtrak bus and took the long journey back to Davis. I felt a bit more creatively refreshed, San Francisco is good for that.

kearny to columbus and a pint of anchor steam

SF Kearny & Sacramento
I usually head towards Columbus. It’s my favourite street in San Francisco, cutting a diagonal slice across the grid, leading from the Financial District to the Italian flavoured North Beach. I haven’t sketched a lot of Chinatown recently, but my tired feet didn’t feel like climbing up to Grant or Stockton, so I strolled along the flatter Kearny, and stopped a couple of times to draw the scenes above and below. I was on the corner of Kearny and Sacramento, the long slope of the latter blowing dust downhill and into my eyes. Standing a few feet back shielded me from the wind, and gave me a cheeky view of Coit Tower, waving at me like a prize. I had no intention of going that far this time.
SF Kearny St shop
I could not resist sketching the store above. Something about this view just said it all to me. These are the types of scenes I like to sketch the most. I didn’t go into David’s Food store, perhaps David is Beckham, or who knows even Bowie, reborn. Or maybe Cameron, perhaps they have a lot of pork products. But maybe it’s more David as in Goliath, with Goliath being modern expensive San Francisco, and this little food store is holding out against them as the David figure, with long hair that gives him strength, until Goliath finds his weakness in his tendon, I might be mixing up my old stories here. I also didn’t go to Rainbow Cleaners, but I assume that is where Geoffrey would get Zippy, George and Bungle dry-cleaned. This is the silly thing I think about when I sketch. I should be thinking about meaningful pearls, writing travel articles in my head, stories of the smells and sounds of the city, but in reality I’m just daydreaming about Rod Jane and Freddy. At least I wasn’t humming any of their songs! Oh no maybe I was.
SF Sentinel Building

I got myself back on track.This is not the end of Kearny, but it is where it meets Columbus and where it starts getting significantly more mountainous. I have drawn this view before, many times, in fact one of the earliest San Francisco sketches I did was of this building. It’s the Sentinel Building, which has Francis Ford Coppola’s Cafe Zoetrope at the bottom. I’ve not been in there but next time I will. I like Coppola’s films. The Godfather, the Godfather II, all his films.
SF Specs

And finally, time to rest. I left the bright late afternoon and walked into Specs, one of my favourite spots in the city. At first I though it was closed, all the lights were off, but it was just much darker than outside and it took a while for my eyes to acclimatize to the dim lights in there. It’s full of stuff, and a few characters. I ordered a pint of Anchor Steam, took a seat with a view and started scribbling in my book. I read for a little (amazingly I could see really well after my eyes got used to it), reading some of those travel stories, and then drew these two fellows at the bar in pork pie hats. Or bowler hats, I don’t know, I’m not a hatologist. I enjoyed drawing this. It’s very different, much more of a reaction to the low light than a line-for-line interpretation; I’ve done that already. I’ve sat on this seat before, years ago at the end of a night out with my friend Simon, we played chess (drunkenly, he drank whiskey and I drank beer). Seven o’clock approached, the long journey back to Davis beckoned. I really love coming to the city, especially this area. I have plans to do a historical sketchcrawl down here sometime in the next couple of months, I have thought about it for a couple of years now. There is a lot to discover. Just around the corner, for example, on the very next day, March 24, City Lights Books was celebrating the 100th birthday of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, famous local Beat poet and co-founder of City Lights. A hundred years old, can you Beat that!

perspectives of san francisco

Washington Square, SF
This is Washington Square, in San Francisco’s North Beach, sketched on a warm Saturday afternoon at the start of June. Last month I led an urban sketchers workshop as part of their “10×10” series, more specifically the series organized by Urban Sketchers East Bay. My workshop was called “Perspectives of San Francisco”, and was of course all about perspective, specifically how to use it when sketching tricky subjects like cities with hills. It went very well, and I hope that I got some of my ideas across. I drew on the many things I have learned over the years (and continue to learn) from perspective experts I have met over the years with Urban Sketchers. It was a workshop of about three hours, and North Beach really is a great place to practice your sketching. When it was all done I drew a scene of Washington Square (above) before heading home. In the morning when I got to the City however I did do a couple of practice sketches not far from the Amtrak bus station, in SoMa. The scene below is of some of the modern buildings that have sprouted up South of Market. I drew it in pencil in about 5-10 minutes, to show the basics, before drawing it again (different page) in pen and watercolour in about 40-45 minutes. While I sketched a woman asked if I was lost. “No,” I said distractedly (I was looking up at the sky with a sketchbook under my chin). “Are you British? Welsh, Scottish, Irish?” she then asked. How you can tell all of that from one mumbled two-letter word surprised me a lot and I didn’t know how to answer except, “oh, um, er” and she said, “ok” and walked off. Very odd. I suppose answering “oh, um, er” to a perfect stranger in the street and looking aghast and confused is pretty much the most British thing you can do, but you see within that question there are a whole number of possibilities which don’t add up to quite the same thing, but may need explaining, which while in the middle of a sketch I really didn’t have time to get in to. British yes, Scottish no, Welsh no, English, well from England so yes but identify as Irish through family, British is easier, European too yes, for now, I suppose I’m Californian these days, but not an official American, what is identity anyway, look it’s confusing. I’m Pete, I come from Burnt Oak, I draw pictures of things and really like Spurs and Lego, that’s where I’m from. So yes, “oh, um, er” is a good description of my identity.
Pencil sketch SOMA, SF
SOMA, SF
See the top of the fire hydrant poking into this drawing. That’s you, that is.

upstreet downstreet san francisco

SF filbert st
Here then are the final few sketches from last month’s San Francisco overnighter. These were drawn on the Sunday, after getting up and walking down to Mara’s Italian Pastries on Columbus for a delicious (but messy!) Cannoli and a huge pastry that looked like a chocolate croissant but was much denser, took me all day to finish. It was so good. So here I am in North Beach, and by the way on June 3rd I am holding a workshop in this very place all about perspective, called “Perspectives of San Francisco”. Check out the Urban Sketchers site for details of other workshops in the 10×10 series in the SF Bay Area. I wanted a bit of practice, because sketching cities with hills is not a simple task when it comes to perspective. I stood on Filbert Street next to Washington Square Park and sketched past the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, looking up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower.
SF Columbus Cafe
Here were are now on Green Street, across the road from where I sketched in November. I like this set of signs leading up the hill, and I had intedned to colour them in but in the end could not muster the energy. I love this old Columbus Cafe sign. the greens and reds around the edges are mostly faded in the sun. Next door is a place called “Pete’s” which of course I just had to eat lunch in. I had lovely eggs benedict there, I definitely recommend.
SF salesforce tower
If you go down to San Francisco these days you are sure for a big surprise. The newest addition to the skyline is a massive skyscraper visible from what feels like everywhere being constructed down in the SoMa district, South of Market. It dwarfs the TransAmerica Pyramid. It will ultimately be crowned with thousands of LED lights to display images, created by artist Jim Campbell. This impressive (and thin) new building is called (wait for it) “Salesforce Tower”. Yes, “Salesforce”. Sales, force. Sales. Force. Not exactly “Empire State” or even “Transamerica Pyramid”. I get that buildings must be names after corporations but do the corporations have to have dull names? Salesforce Tower sounds like a grey block located on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Slough, not the leading light over one of the most iconic cities in the world. If this was London it would have a hilarious nickname by now too, like the Erotic Gherkin or the Cheesegrater or the Vampire’s Collar. I’m sure the fun-loving fellows of Frisco (I know, don’t use that name, but alliteration here trumps acceptable usage) will think up a more interesting name. I sketched this from Market Street looking up, the perspective of drawing tall buildings is one I’d like to work on a bit more. Hey there is a great chapter by Japanese artist Kumi Matsukawa in my book ‘Creative Sketching Workshops’ all about drawing tall buildings. I’d recommend that highly (all puns always intended on petescully.com).
SF hydrant

But let’s get back down to earth. I love a hydrant, well here are two. One is near, the other is far away. This is a good example of perspective. Near, far away. I love rusty hydrants. Gives them character. It makes it feel like a Used Universe. This little guy dates back to 1909 if the date on its side is to be believed. He is found in the heart of the financial district.

And then, I boarded a train back to Davis. It was a tiring couple of days hanging out in the City, and while I always enjoy the change of scenery, I’m really starting to get a “done-this-all-before” feeling. A new challenge is needed…

night-time at mr bing’s

SF mr bings
I’ve sketched this bar before, but only from the outside. I always wanted to sketch inside, for it was an old North Beach drinker, with a distinctive v-shaped bar and authentic character. It’s called Mr. Bing’s, on Columbus in San Francisco, perched on a downward slope (or maybe it is upward, depending on where you are coming from). However, the bar has now changed; the outside has had a paint job, a large Irish tricolor flies above the window, and inside the v-shaped bar has gone and the fixtures and fittings very much along the lines of “Irish pub”. It’s different, for sure, but the bar staff were friendly and welcoming. My evening in North Beach had moved along slowly. I ate later than expected, walking all the way down to Burgermeister, where I waited a very long time for a chicken sandwich, reading Paul Madonna’s new book as I did. I wanted to sketch another old North Beach bar, preferably one I had not sketched before (I’ve drawn quite a few), and I walked up (or down, it’s hard to recall now) Grant Street. This place? Nah, too busy. That place? Nah, too dead. Those places? Nah, too modern. This one? Sketched it before, could sketch it again maybe, my style is different now…nah, they charge a cover, weird. So I stopped into a pub which seemed a mixture of everything, an apparently Irish pub called something like McMaggy McMollys or something, they tend to be called something like that, the not-very-Irish style pubs. The wooden fixtures behind the bar were very clean and new looking, the music a bit loud and irritating, the atmosphere a little “whatever”, and I just didn’t want to sketch it, so I ahd my pint and left. I prefer the pubs further down, Vesuvio’s, or Specs, and chose to go and finally sketch Mr. Bing’s. So you can imagine I was a little crestfallen at first to see that the old bar was changed, and the Irish theme had moved in here too. But it felt totally different to the previous pub; the barman said “hello” as I walked in, “why’ncha come in for a drink!”, the music was, well it was awesome actually, all the sort of stuff I like, bit of mod, bit of soul, bit of 90s indie, and while it wasn’t busy, the crowd was relaxed and friendly, I had a few cheerful conversations while I sketched. The light really was that red though – I added a ‘light’ red wash before sketching, but under the reddish light it was hard to tell. Yeah, Mr. Bing’s has changed, but it’s still a good little bar, and I tried to catch some of the character in my scribbles. I was sat on a stool holding my book, the beer was good, and it was a short walk back to the hotel.

Here’s the sketch from 2015, sketched from across the street. This was before its makeover, but the sign remains the same.
Mr Bings SF

I thought you might like to see some of the other North Beach bar sketches from over the years (not including La Rocca’s from two posts ago). If so, here they are…

SF Rogue
Specs, San Francisco
Vesuvio, San Francisco
the saloon, san francisco
SF: Vesuvio
Specs SF sm
savoy tivoli, san francisco
savoy tivoli jazz band
rogue, san francisco

the fool, or the fool who follows him

Buena Vista SF
Where was I? Oh yeah. A month ago, at the very start of April, on the Fool’s Day itself, I hopped on a train and went to San Francisco. No, no I didn’t actually hop on the train. That’s not how April’s Fool’s Days work. Though the Easter Bunny probably does hop on trains. No, I caught a train. No, I didn’t catch the train, it wasn’t falling from the sky and I’m not Superman. I took a train? Ok I know I have been overworked the past couple of months, there have been a lot of late nights working, my email inbox is a mess (if you’ve not heard from me, this is why) and I’m well behind on posting all the sketches I’ve been doing to stay sane, but I’m not losing it entirely; let’s just say I was in Davis, there were trains involved (see the previous post), and then I was somehow in San Francisco. Right. So I got to San Francisco, I didn’t really have much of a plan. I was going to sketch some stuff, look around North Beach (where I will be holding a workshop in a month, so I was doing some forward planning there), I was also going to schlep out to the Outer Sunset to see Paul Madonna signing his new book, and then I was staying at the hotel I’ve stayed before in the Financial District. A little overnighter by myself while my family visited family in Oregon (they ended up not going, but I still got my little solo visit to the City). I got off the Amtrak bus at the Fisherman’s Wharf Pier 39 area, always a mistake, a rookie error. But I decided that I had never sketched the Buena Vista on Beach Street, so I did that, and it’s above. Yes, I would have liked to sketch inside, but it was full up, full of people loving their Irish Coffee (by the way I don’t like Irish Coffee). (If you’re buying though I’ll take a beer, cheers).
SF columbus
Oh this is a panorama I attempted and then realized I was taking too long with. It’s on Columbus. If you click on it, it will take you to a bigger version on Flickr (but you have to come back because there’s more to tell you) (not interesting stuff though) (actually if you don’t come back that’s ok) (look just stay in Flickr, it’s fine) (I have loads of sketches in Flickr without all the writing) (if you prefer pictures with no context, you’ll love it). This corner is pretty interesting because that place is called “Bimbo’s”. It’s pretty old. I have sketched it before, in 2009. Back then I came down to San Francisco on the train for an overnighter while my family went up to Oregon (actually they ended up not going but I still was able to go to the City anyway) and I got off the Amtrak bus at the Fisherman’s Wharf Pier 39 area, always a mistake, a rookie error. But I had never sketched the Musee Mecanique so I did that, then walked down Columbus and sketched Bimbo’s. This is all sounding familiar, as if I just repeat history, over and over. I even stayed at the same place. “Dormammu, I have come to bargain.” Remember my trip from November in which I followed the footsteps and sketches from a previous SF trip in 2007? I’m plagiarizing my own life. I must have been becoming conscious of my own repetition and lack of originality when I gave up sketching this; in fact this was never meant to be a panorama but a single-pager, and I added the left half quickly at the end to give it that ‘unfinished’ and ‘playful’ and ‘less is more’ feel, thinking, people will like this one, they’ll be all like, “ooh I like the unfinished effect” and “I totally prefer it to those complete coloured-in ones you do”. Yeah I’ll just do the outline of the rooftops and some really basic telegraph poles, yeah that’ll do. My legs were tired. I’ll have that drink now.

SF rocco's corner, columbus

So I went for that drink in a bar I had passed by once and thought, I must go in there someday (that was 2009, eight years ago, if you are wondering why it takes me ages to answer email these days). This is La Rocca’s Corner on Columbus, and is a proper old San Francisco boozer, and they do love their sports in here. The older gents were talking baseball, a group of tourists (from the North Bay, I mean they aren’t really tourists if they come from as far away as Golders Green is to Burnt Oak) (ok maybe an exaggeration) were asking touristy questions like “is this really where Joe DiMaggio used to drink? Wow!” And I am assured that it was. The famous fashion designer Joe DiMaggio used to drink in here. Yes I know he wasn’t a fashion designer, I was being silly (but his descendant Joseph is a famous fashion stylist). He was born in Martinez, not too far away, but grew up here in San Francisco and played for the San Francisco Seals before hitting the big time with the New York Yankees. This bar is cool. I would totally come here again. After a while though it was getting time for me to check in, check out, and then head off into the Sunset. At like, 4pm.

Workshop, June 3: “Perspectives of San Francisco”

25_usk-10classes-san-francisco-bay-area2

Exciting Announcement! I’m going to be teaching a workshop in San Francisco on Saturday June 3rd called “Perspectives of San Francisco“. It is part of the Urban Sketchers “10×10” series of workshops, being held to commemorate ten years of Urban Sketchers. Yes, Urban Sketchers has been around for ten years. Well, the Flickr group, started in 2007 (I remember well, it was called “Urban Sketches” (no ‘r’), and I joined another group at the same time called “Rural Sketches” wonder what happened to them) (hey for all I know they are still around, I’m just in my Urban bubble obviously). So, let’s explain what this is all about. Cities around the world, from Seattle to Sydney, from Johannesburg to Jakarta, from Ramallah to Rome, will be holding ten workshops each over the course of the year. Workshops are limited and you have to pay for them, but will be taught by Urban Sketchers members on a variety of different subjects. Here you can find the in-progress list: http://www.urbansketchers.org/p/10-years-x-10-classes.html.

In San Francisco, the workshops kick off on March 11 (with a launch party at Arch Art & Drafting Supply on February 11)  and continue through June 10. The instructors teaching workshops are Srivani Narra Ward, Laurie Wigham, Nina Khashchina, Richard Sheppard, Uma Kelkar, Rhoda Draws, Oliver Hoeller, Suma CM, Susan Cornelis and myself. The full list of workshops can be found at: http://www.urbansketchers.org/2017/01/10-years-x-10-classes-in-san-francisco.html. In fact there is a pdf with more details including cost ($45 per workshop) to be found here.

IMG_5398sm

So, my own workshop will be called “Perspectives of San Francisco”, starting at 1:00pm in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. As you can probably tell, the focus of this workshop is ‘perspective’, but specifically perspective in a busy city built on hills with steep streets and steep history.  The level will be intermediate, but I will make the approach to perspective as digestible as possible. Spaces are limited to fifteen participants, and you’ll need to bring drawing materials and sketchbooks (preferably panoramic – big enough to fit long perspective sketches on!). North Beach is my favourite part of the city and a great place to practice urban perspective sketching so I do hope you can sign up!

sf-molinari-sm

You can register by contacting Suhita Shirodkar, the lead instructor of the San Francisco Bay Area 10×10 program by emailing suhita@gmail.com. Or why not check the Urban Sketchers website for a workshop taking place in a city near you!