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.
See the top of the fire hydrant poking into this drawing. That’s you, that is.
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.
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.
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).
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…
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.
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…
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
You can register by contacting Suhita Shirodkar, the lead instructor of the San Francisco Bay Area 10×10 program by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Or why not check the Urban Sketchers website for a workshop taking place in a city near you!
I haven’t posted much lately, though I have a lot of sketches to post. It’s not because I’ve been travelling (and I have), it’s not because I’ve been busy (though I have), it’s not because I’m rather lazy (yes I am), it’s not even because I’m so mentally exhausted from all the news in the world right now (yes we are). No the real reason is that I have a pile of stuff on top of my scanner that I couldn’t be bothered to move to scan anything. You know how it is, I’ll just put this magazine here, oh and these books, this jumper, oh and all my mail, and this Lego, a pencil case or two, the car, a turkey and all of my family, all piled up on top of the scanner, so moving it off of there and finding a space for it takes too long, so I’m behind on my scanning. This week I finally sat down and moved the actually-admittedly-quite-small pile off (not reorganized, just moved) and scanned the remaining sketches from the last sketchbook, Seawhite #5. First up, sketches from my Memorial Day trip to San Francisco. I didn’t go there with any real purpose other than a need to get out of Davis for the day. The family were out of town visiting other family, so I hopped onto a train down to the Bay, sketching in the Amtrak as I went (above). I probably don’t need to do any more of those train sketches but I still do it, and it looks nice.
I stopped into the Ferry Building and sketched the view from a little winery/cafe place. I really like it inside the Ferry Building, plus it’s like a middle class theme park. Cheese-tasting, Sur-La-Table, Oysters, Soap, Wine, it has it all. I had no plan of action for sketching the City that day, I just needed to be somewhere with different streets, yet familiar streets, and see where they took me, but as it turns out I unexpectedly ended up following a similar path to the sketchcrawl I did back in November 2007, nine years previously, starting at the Ferry Building and ending up at Rogue in Washington Square. Spoiler alert for the end of this post.
I drew a fire hydrant along the Embarcadero. These ones are interesting, they have this weird handle on the front, they look funny. This model has been on my sketch-wish-list for a long time. Hey I like fire hydrants, ok. A lot of joggers jogged by, as they do.
I got a bite to eat at a food truck and sat on the side of the road eating it, like you do. It was curry, it wasn’t cheap. It is designed less as real authentic street food and more as a way for local techsters and moneyboffs to grab some real authentic street food and pay more than in a sit-down restaurant. The city ain’t cheap. I walked up Broadway, a steep bustling thoroughfare leading to Columbus, where the old raunchy nightspots and strip-clubs are found. I was more intrigued by the angle of the sloping streets (“I only read Playboy for the Articles”…”I only go to the Red Light District for the Angles of the Sloping Streets”) (side note, I’m reminded of when someone told me they “only read the Daily Mail for the TV Listings”, so I said “I only read Breitbart for the Cereal Ads,” but enough current affairs). North Beach has some epic hills. If you want to practice the way perspective interacts with steep hills this is a great place. Lisbon too. And anywhere with hills. When I was done with this, I walked around to Columbus and certainly not up those steps.
I did pop up Green Street, and saw to my pleasure that music store I sketched back in 2007, if you remember that far. Here it is on Flickr; I like my comment that I would draw it “Some other time, definitely”. Well I kept my promise to my 31-year-old self! It’s pretty much the only promise I kept to my 31-year-old self but there you are. I did go inside this time – it really is crammed with stuff! Loads of old tape-decks and video players, as well as a guitar shaped exactly like an axe. I didn’t colour the outside in this time; maybe some other time. Definitely.
So just like in 2007, when I met up with sketchers at the end of the ‘crawl for a beer at Rogue Brewing, I did the same this time, except without the other sketchers, just by myself. I sketched the bar in purple, using a bit of blue and pink, and white gel pen. And then it was back to the BART, back on the Amtrak, and straight to the couch to watch TV. It’s always nice having a day in the city.
Last year at around this time I Amtrakked it down to San Francisco to sketch North Beach, and as I mentioned in my last post that’s what I did again a couple of weeks ago. Now last year I spent some time sketching the bars and cafes of the area, so that’s exactly what I did again this time. Above is Mr. Bing’s, a little cocktail dive that I’ve always wanted to go and have a drink in but have never plucked up the courage. Well, I’m not here very often. I have always wanted to sketch it though, so it was the first thing I sketched that day, while eating an early-lunch panini at the cafe across the street. North Beach has those little green white and red bands on the lamp-posts to signify that this is the Italian neighbourhood, but just on that corner there you can catch a glimpse of a Chinese-themed lamp-post, as that is the border with Chinatown.
This is Caffe Trieste, a little further uphill and around the corner from here. Caffe Trieste is an old San Francisco favourite, in business since the 1950s and popular with the artists, musicians and poets of the area. As a passing Big-Bus tour-guide (not on the bus with walking with a group) mentioned, this was a regular haunt for the famous Beat poets, such as Kerouac, Ginsberg, all the Beat poets. The tour guide (who I sketchd quickly, right) felt obliged to read some Beat poetry outside, I couldn’t understand what it was about though. It’s not just the Beat poets who sipped espresso here, apparently Francis Ford Coppola wrote much of the screenplay of The Godfather here. I never went into the Caffe (I don’t drink coffee, nor write poetry) but I would love to sketch the interior some day, soak in the beat-lit atmos. Did you know, Caffe Trieste was probably the first Espresso house on the West Coast? Its founder, Giovanni Giotta (Papa Gianni) came from Istria (near the city of Trieste; I’ve been there, nice place) in the 50s bringing a little piece of home with him.
I was feeling pretty Beat myself after all this sketching (do you see what I did there? Did you see that? Read it again) so as the Sun was quickly dashing westwards I chose to do my next sketch from the comfort of a pub table. One of my favourite haunts in the City is just around the corner from here, Specs, an interesting North Beach bar with walls and ceilings full of memorabilia and stuff to look at. I do love this place. Last time I was here I sketched a panorama of the busy bar area and was one of several artists dotted around the pub, unconnected but just doing what we do. I sketched over a couple of pints, listening to conversation, people watching, dreaming of anything. That might have been a Beat poet in front of me, perhaps a young Beat poet, I wasn’t sure. A young lady shared a laugh with a silver-haired man at the bar (I sketched them too, below), while a group of British fellows unseen to the left enjoyed a weekend pint while reminiscing about San Francisco in decades gone by. Or they might have been talking about something else, rugby or something, but I hear what my ears choose to hear. I like Specs. Years ago I came here with my friend from England and played chess and got drunk and laughed and did impressions of Brick Top. I like Specs.
I have another post of sketches from that day – stay tuned. So, do you remember when I posted my North Beach sketches last year, over two posts? One of the posts (“Leave the Pen, Take the Cannoli“) got a ridiculous number of comments, 223, possibly my record. The second post (“A Bright Centre to the Universe“) got a very respectable 11 comments, which is pretty good, but clearly not quite as good as the first. I actually prefer the drawings in the second, but according to everyone else the first post is more than 20 times better, but that’s fine. Anyway on that note I will leave you with the chronologically-out-of-place first sketch of the day, which I did on the Amtrak at around 9 in the morning. The train from Davis was crossing the Delta, with the golden brown landscape dashing by in the chilly morning sunlight. It was even colder when I got back to Davis, cycling my bike home in the near-freezing dark. It’s a long day out, sketching in the City.