Leave the pen. Take the cannoli.

amtrak in the morning
Late last month, on the weekend before Christmas, I took a day in San Francisco, just to get out of Davis for a little while and sketch things on ground that slopes a bit. I didn’t have much of a plan beyond “go to the Ferry Building, have a cannoli, draw loads”. So I did. Here’s my sketch from the early morning Amtrak train, above. It’s not cheap, traveling the Amtrak, but it’s a lovely journey and you get free wifi.

So I got to the San Francisco Ferry Building, where they have the Saturday Farmer’s Market. I like getting here on a Saturday, and finding the little stall inside that sells Italian cannoli filled with chocolate, and sugary messy lemon-filled ‘bombolini’, little doughnuts. After cleaning my face I went outside to draw a panorama, which took about an hour and a quarter. Those sugary treats made me work very energetically.

SF Ferry Building

SF Ferry Building. Click on image to see larger version.

From there I walked aimlessly before taking a bus up to North Beach, where I also walked aimlessly, but its a great place to be a bit aimless. I ended up at Grant Avenue near Green Street, where I looked through some nice little shops and sketched the Savoy Tivoli, a colourful establishment I had a pint in several years ago while listening to some live jazz musicians I bravely attempted to sketch. This place dates back over a century, opening in the year after the 1906 earthquake.

savoy tivoli, san francisco

I’ve never had a pint in this place, The Saloon, which is at the bottom of Grant near Columbus, but it has a sign outside which says its the oldest saloon in the city. It was once Wagner’s Beer Hall, named for its owner Ferdinand Wagner, an immigrant from Alsace, back in 1860. It survived the 1906 earthquake, the prohibition era (when it was the “Poodle Dog Cafe”), and went through a few names before settling on “The Saloon” in 1984. It’s historically a rough-and-ready part of the city this, and some day I may pop in for a beer and some history, but on this day I sketched outside. I had some more drawings to go, and I didn’t want to stand around for too long so I kept it quick.

the saloon, san francisco

To be continued…

specs and the city

Specs SF smClick on the image for a larger view. One of the reasons I came to sketch San Francisco’s North Beach last March is because I wanted to sketch this old bar – Specs, just off Columbus. I’ve been here before and it’s a sketchers’ delight – memorabilia covering the walls and ceiling, a small narrow bar area full of friendly atmosphere, and a healthy smattering of artists. That evening I wasn’t feeling too well, and went back to my hotel for a rest, but I forced myself out because I was going to get this sketch, goddammit! When I arrived, the place was pretty full, but there was a space in the middle of the bar area, so I parked up there and got the sketchbook out. I had no stool, so I had to stand, but I didn’t care. Behind me, an older fellow was sketching bar patrons in a big sketchbook, while further inside another man was painting oil on a large canvas. Definitely an artist-friendly bar. The last time I was here was back in 2010 with my friend Simon, visiting from England, and we played chess and traded Brick Top impressions and had beer and whiskey into the wee hours (well, he had the whiskey, I had the beer). This time around, I drank my Anchor Steam slowly and sketched quickly, getting as much of the two spread panorama as I could. I wasn’t feeling much better to be honest but was pleased when a stool became available. This took me all of two beers, my second coming courtesy of the house (cheers Specs!), in a time of around an hour and a half. I really sketched fast. Upon finishing up, I stopped off for a freshly made doughnut on Columbus to eat back at the hotel, which actually made me feel a lot better. After a long day of sketching, I was happy for the rest.

it’s a trappe!

La Trappe sm
More from San Francisco, last March. Yes amazingly I still have not shown all. This was my dinner, eaten at a small Belgian restaurant in North Beach, La Trappe. I have been there with my wife once before, and enjoyed the size of the massive beer book (which, large though it is, doesn’t have my two favourite bieres belges but has a lot of bloody nice ones). They aint cheap either. The food though is lovely. I am a fan of moules frites (a pot of mussels with Belgian fries, which ironically I didn’t actually eat when I lived in Belgium). On this evening, I chose the Moules Normandes, a tasty dish of mussels heavy with apples. I had the frites of course, which were nice (but not as nice as the ones I used to eat in Charleroi at 3am, drowned in mayonnaise), with two dipping sauces, mayo andalouse and roasted garlic mayo. For drink, I had a Maredsous 8, the brown one. Nice, but not my favourite Maredsous, and I didn’t finish it. Mostly I drank water. Anyway if you are in San Francisco, I can recommend it, and you’ll find it on the corner of Greenwich and Mason, right on Columbus. Oh yes, here is the map…
SF La Trappe map sm

they say the neon lights are bright

SF broadway
Back to the sketches from San Francisco last month (that long ago now? Still more to post! I’m so behind…). This is the intersection of Columbus and Broadway, a colourful  and bustling part of the city. I stood here sketching early on a Friday evening, getting a lungful of car fumes from all the traffic, with a warm sunset behind me. That over there is the city’s red light district – I overheard a couple of people use the phrase “titty-bars” which probably aren’t some sort of candy (or maybe they are?), and also a popular area for clubs and music. It always makes me think of San Francisco’s legendary Barbary Coast, which during the gold-rush was centered a block away on Pacific Street, a haunt of vagabonds and prostitutes, drunken sailors and cut-throat gamblers, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. The big bawdy signage on Broadway is probably tame in comparison. The signs I like the most are the ones on the right though, “No Stopping Any Time”, that one telling you not to go left across the street, basically keep away from the sinful side. It’s an important intersection this, though, as around me Chinatown effectively turned into the Italian North Beach. One tourist who had just walked up Grant Avenue with his family asked me if I could tell him where the Italian pastry shops were, this now being the Italian town. He went on to ask me about other districts, in particular Nob Hill, which I told him was a very steep climb. “Which ethnicity lives up there?” he asked. Maybe I should have said something funny, like “the Swiss”, because they like climbing big mountains, but I didn’t think of it at the time, and it wasn’t all that funny anyway. So I just said “the rich,” and got a nonplussed look as if to say, that’s not an ethnicity. I meant to give my explanation as “the rich live on Nob Hill because they are used to climbing big mountains…of cash” but I didn’t think of it at the time, and it wasn’t all that funny anyway. I shrugged, they went off in search of pastry and I carried on sketching. The map below shows where I was.
SF northbeach map

There is more SF sketchage to come, by the way, so stay tuned crude-map-fans…

SF broadway photo

what kind of a to z would get you here

SF: Vesuvio
Back to San Francisco’s North Beach, on that Friday of sketching at the end of last month. After a quick check-in at my hotel, I walked back up Columbus to stand outside the famous City Lights bookstore and sketch Vesuvio’s, a popular local bar on the corner of Jack Kerouac Alley. This junction is one of my favourite in the world. I have said it before, I could draw this area for years on end and never get bored. Well, not that bored anyway. The last time I tried to sketch on this spot, about five years ago, I got a little way in before rain stopped play, but on this occasion it was a warm, sunny Friday afternoon, getting into Happy Hour, as the world ended its work week and started to relax. It was a fun time of day to be out with a sketchbook. As I stood, the occasional bar patron would come out and check out what I was sketching (one bloke had his friend wave at me from the upstairs window, so I added him in). I popped my head inside afterwards, but didn’t stay for a pint, as I had more sketching to get on with while the sun was still shining. I have been in before, and one day I plan to sketch the interior.
SF northbeach map 2

molinari’s

SF: Molinari
San Francisco, continued. I strolled down Columbus unto North Beach (well, I took the 30 bus, let’s be fair). I could sketch North Beach for ever, seriously. You can never run out of sketchable things. I passed by this old Italian deli, Molinari, and just couldn’t resist. For those of you who don’t know, this neighbourhood of San Francisco is traditionally very Italian. Italian flags are painted on many of the lamp-posts, and Italian restaurants post waiters on the sidewalk to pull in the tourists. Molinari has been around since 1896, making salami and other deli goods, on the corner of Vallejo and Columbus, and despite not having a great vantage point I stood on the edge of the pavement sketching as people bustled by. I really had to squeeze in, too! I added the colour later. I went inside and showed the people who worked there, I think they liked it. It was a lovely sunny Friday afternoon, and after this I went to my nearby hotel before heading out for some more sketching.

Oh, here is the map of the area! This will be a constant feature from now on, I promise. Until I get bored of the concept.
SF northbeach map 1

i’m only a droid, and not very knowledgable about such things

hydrant at kearny & vallejo, san franciscohydrant at union st, north beach SF

Wow, you MUST think I’m obsessed with fire hydrants, right? Well I am alittle. I can spot differences and everything now though. But I’m no expert, I don’t even really know how they work (it’s basically a tap, right?), and I know the colours on the caps signify some sort of difference in water pressure or something, maybe, but I like to think they’re just fashion choices on the part of the hydrant itself, which is of course a little robot with thoughts of its own. The one on the top left, drawn on the sloping streets of Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, is related to R2-D2, but probably more of a ‘Moopet’ version, with a graffiti tattoo and chains. Perhaps those pentagonal bolts are really restraining bolts, like the ones fitted by Jawas. These larger, fat hydrants are common in SF. The green-capped one on the left was on Union Street. I actually sat a little bit off the sidewalk to sketch it from the preferred angle, shielded by a parked car. At one point though a girl came up and asked if she could photograph me sketching. I forget how odd I look when I sketch, all hunched over and tangled up.

going rogue

rogue, san francisco

This is the Rogue alehouse in North Beach, San Francisco. I have been here before a few times, so stopped in for one of their delicious Rogue Red beers (they have a lot of different beers). Rogue are based in Oregon, and I did find the Rogue in Portland when I was there in 2010. This place was pretty busy; when I came in there were quite a few afternoon barcrawlers drinking copious amounts of Bud Light (seriously, when there is so much decent beer on tap, they drink Bud Light?) and following them down with shots of something or other (mouthwash, presumably). I started drawing, as I do, though I was sat at an awkward angle at the bar, and was right by where everyone was queueing for the bogs.

all creatures great and small

yellow smartcar in north beach

chevy convertible in north beach

Don’t be distracted by the scale of the sketches, these vehicles are polar opposites in size. But I don’t really need to tell you that. More from my sketching day around North Beach in San Francisco. I saw the small Smart Car perched on Union Street and given my recent batch of yellow vehicle drawings, I had to sketch it. It’s a little bit like an updated Guido from Cars (incidentally, have you noticed how the sterotyped Italian is still a mainstay of kids cartoons? Guido and Luigi in Cars, Cow Bella from Pajanimals, Bella Lasagne from the old series of Fireman Sam, Mr Carburettor from Rory the Racing Car, Mr Sabatini from Bob the Builder, that Crow from Dangermouse…). The one below was parked on Columbus, almost as a tourist attraction, so many people were stopping to photograph it. It was indeed a thing of beauty, long, sleek, open topped, classic. I had to stop and draw it – I checked the parking meter first though, to see how long I might have. Twenty minutes, good good, but I kept it small. Eventually the owners did come by, two fellows dressed in SF Giants gear (it was FanFest at the ballpark that day), and they were happy to let me keep drawing, in fact they were even letting passers by get into the car to take photos! I showed them some of my other drawings, and they told me I should go to Belmont, where apparently they paint the fire hydrants up like people. That’s a place I have to go to!

fly away peter, fly away paul

washington square, SF

Another one from last Saturday’s solo sketchcrawl around San Francisco. This is the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Washington Square, North Beach.  You may have seen it in Dirty Harry briefly. Peter and Paul; I suppose if you’re going to name a church after saints, they’re the big guns really, and here you get two for one. North Beach is the Italian neighbourhood of San Francisco. It was a busy afternoon in Washington Square, lots of people about – there usually are, whenever I sketch down there. This time there was a large crowd of people in red dressed as pirates of some sort, out on some heavy drinking bar-crawling event of some sort. Never really seen the appeal of pirates, comedy or otherwise. Anyway, I enjoyed sketching this, with a uniball signo pen in my Stillman and Birn sketchbook.