to heaven in a food cart

PDX foodcarts
Food glorious food. Ok, this is the last of the Portland sketches that you are getting. That was one productive little trip. One thing I must point out is that I hardly ever ate indoors. Despite the rain, I only wanted to eat from the many delicious food carts that dot the city so liberally. Now along with the rule about going to Portland and sketching bridges, it’s also true that no visit to PDX is complete without sketching food carts. The first evening i was there I headed to the large collectio of carts downtown over at SW Alder. Most were closed, it being dark and damp, but I got an absolutely amazing red curry dish from a popular looking place called “I Like Thai Food” (and I do like Thai food, for sure). It was a pretty massive box of yummy food, and only cost $5. I sat on a bench near Powell’s to eat it, savouring every massive spicy bite. I cam back a few days later, on a sunny autumnal Monday, and sketched it alongside a few other carts, before getting another $5 red curry from a different cart around the corner (called Grandma’s Thai or something), just to compare. That too was delicious, but I think ‘I Like Thai food’ was a fair bit better. There were so many carts to choose from, though, such as the Flying Scotsman (fish and chips, yes, but also deep-fried Mars bars – I was too full to indulge, but next time, next time…).

PDX Potato Champion
On the Sunday I was exploring Hawthorne in the rain, food carts were a constant topographical feature. There is a small gaggle of them located around 12th and Hawthorne, including Potato Champion, who specialize in sauce-drowned Belgian frites (always a winner with the Scully tastebuds), and I got a decent poutine, and sketched as best as I could (there was shelter from the rain, but that morning’s mild hangover was still being nursed). I do think that if we lived in Portland, we would very likely eat from food carts about 75% of the time we ate anything, so abundant and varied are they. I am sure many of them are not very good, too, in fact I had one wrap type thing at a cart in the Saturday Market that was very unimpressive, to the point I cannot remember anything about it or even what style of food it was (it must have had some memory-wiping drug in it or something), but on the whole the Portland food cart experience was extremely promising. I know many urban sketchers like to go inside and warm up to eat and linger around a table, but for me food carts are the ultimate urban sketcher’s friend, because you get to stay outside, eat and just carry on drawing.
Food Cart sketching in Portland

If you want to know more about the food carts in Portland, this is a good website:


PDXYAR Dr Sketchy's
Yarrr! Or is it Arrr? I never did learn to speak Pirate. I did get a big dose of Pirate while in Portland though, and what fun it was. On the Sunday evening I attended ‘Dr.Sketchy’s Anti-Art School‘, the Portland branch of the national Dr.Sketchy’s thing that is popping up all over the country. I had never been to a figure drawing meet before, and this one was a lot of fun, featuring Portland’s ‘premier pirate group’, PDXYAR. It was so much fun! The pirates really were very elaborately dressed (and just as elaborately undressed) and stood in a variety of poses lasting between two and twenty minutes each – not an easy task, but one they performed incredibly well.
PDXYAR Dr Sketchy's
PDXYAR Dr Sketchy's
As I say, I had a blast. It was so liberating to mess around with quick figure drawing, just focusing on the gestures as much as possible. The pirates had so much personality, and a decent array of weaponry.
PDXYAR Dr Sketchy's
PDXYAR Dr Sketchy's
I tried a few sketches on the pad of grey paper I had picked up at Muse art shop on Hawthorne. It was different; I think it might be more effective for pastel work, but I’m having fun with it.
PDXYAR Dr Sketchy's
PDXYAR Dr Sketchy's
PDXYAR Dr Sketchy's
And I even won a prize! A PDXYAR beerglass (with a beer in it) and rum shot glass. I shall treasure them. I guess I’ll have to get me some rum. I chatted to some of the pirates afterwards, a great bunch of lads and lasses (one was even from north Davis!), and I became convinced I wanted to be a pirate too. I went home to the hotel with my head lost in thoughts of sailing the seven seas, parrots on my shoulder, avasting ye landlubbers, cutlasses swashing buckles and so on. I do have a pirate-like name, Captain Scully, yar. Well ok, maybe I won’t make it as a pirate, but next time I’m in Portland I’ll certainly try to sketch them again, I dare say with a bottle of rum. Yar!!!
PDXYAR beer glass

You can check out PDXYAR at Yar! If you’re in Portland, try to catch them at the Swashbuckler’s Ball on November 17. Yar! You can see other drawings done by my fellow sketchers that night at the Dr.Sketchy’s/PDXYAR Facebook event page.

a little bit belge

Bazi Bierbrasserie, Portland
On the rainy Sunday in SE Portland, it was necessary to occasionally go inside. One very cool place I visited was Bazi Bierbrasserie, a Belgian beer cafe near Hawthorne. I didn’t realize at the time I was sketching in Belgian colours, but it makes sense. I came with fellow urban sketcher Kalina Wilson, who was showing me around the neighbourhood before that evening’s Dr. Sketchy’s pirate-sketching event, which you’ll hear more about in my next post. Naturally, I had the Kwak, I love the Kwak and its funny glass, it’s one of my top three favourite Belgian beers (the others being Charles Quint and Fruit Defendu, if you’re wondering). I don’t recall the name of the beer Kalina had, Draak I think it was, but thankfully she sketched it wonderfully here. (I’m a fan of her work, and her creativity has certainly influenced my own stuff over the past couple of years in various ways, though our styles are very different – you should check out her website Geminica). The proprietor of the bar complemented us on our sketches and told me about the different beers they occasionally get in there from around Belgium, I mentioned I’d lived in Charleroi for a year. That’s where I got a real beer-ducation, talking to locals at La Cuve a Biere, where I would go most nights and fill books with writing, before I was so into urban sketching. I’ve often thought it might be fun to turn some of the writing from my Belgian diaries into a kind of comic, that rainy, clumsy year.

a portland beer-ducation

Cascade, Portland
Cascade Brewing Barrel House in SE Portland. On the Saturday evening in Portland I was cream-crackered after a day of sketching, and stayed in my hotel watching the San Francisco Giants storing their way through Game Three of the World Series. It was relaxing, I wrote a couple of postcards and finished off some sketches. I popped down to the hotel lobby to access something called the internet, and watched an inning or so at the hotel bar over a beer, listening to large-haired ladies talking in sour tones about their colleagues, while a baseball-capped business-man offered idle chat about the political attack ads being the same here as they are ‘back home’, and all of them being lies, lies and more lies. Occasionally, groups of costumed people wafted by and disappeared into the halloween partying night. Well, fun though that was, lying in bed watching the baseball was significantly better.

When the baseball was over, however, I was feeling nice and relaxed, and considered staying in and watching a Thor cartoon on my iPod. However apparently Portland is a really fun and interesting place with exceptionally good beers, and so I popped out to the streetcar stop and headed south. I had a Map full of Things to Do, courtesy of my Portland sketching friend Kalina who had prior to my trip put together an extensive list of things I might like to do on a Google Map, for which I am eternally grateful. One place I thought I’d head to was Cascade, a small independent brewery which has an excellent reputation for craft beer, particularly its sours. I wasn’t sure I fancied a sour, having not really liked the one I’d had from Russian River that time all that much, and opted for a Dunkel Weizen, followed by a Belgian Amber. It wasn’t super busy, but those present were of course all extremely beer-knowledgable and more than happy to impart their wisdom (as was everyone in Portland). When I was done, they recommended another nearby place, the Green Dragon (which was also on my To Go To list) and so I headed on over, and was massively impressed by the selection, though also intimidated, and clearly needed help. Fortunately the excellent staff there showed me the way, and gave me (to use their word) a good “beer-ducation” (cheers Nick et al!). Portland is like the University of Craft Beer, a great place for beer-ducation.

“waterway to have a good time”

pdx broadway bridge
You may have noticed before that I like to sketch by the river. Apologies for the shameless Alan Partridge reference in the title there; nobody throw a dead cow at me. This was on my last day in Portland (though there are several more PDX posts to come, I still haven’t finished scanning, there’s a couple of bars, some food carts and a whole bunch of pirates yet…). The rain had stopped and the sunshine opened up my paintbox up. I was planning to wander the Pearl District, where the USk Symposium had been in 2010, but, oooh, that river. I found a quiet spot on the banks, amid the rocks, between Steel Bridge and Broadway Bridge, and drew the latter. Though it is very industrial down this stretch of river, there is an inherent beauty in such architecture – not for me the grand sweeps of baroque opulence, give me a factory and a couple of big metal bridges and I’m happy as a, er, um, insert ‘happy’ simile here.
pdx factory by river
Hey guess what, I have put together a Flickr set with all of my sketches of bridges and riverbanks in it, it is called “Bridges, Riverbanks…”

long and winding rogue

Rogue Ales, Portland
Rogue Ales, in Portland’s Pearl District.

The last time I was in Portland, I made a very short trip to Rogue for a very little amount of sketching, but this time I wanted to come and really take it in a bit more. After spending most of the evening sketching, eating lovely food cart food, mooching around Powell’s and calling home, I plodded along to Rogue, found a spot at the bar, ordered a ‘Good Chit’ blonde ale, and started sketching. I spoke to several friendly people while I was there, all artists, all beer experts. This was a theme I would find pretty common in Portlanders. I like the Rogue beers, I have sketched at the Rogue in San Francisco before. I counted the beertaps individually before sketching them, and measured in my head how it would all squeeze on. Sure it’s a little wonky but I enjoyed drawing this. One guy said to me, on observing me get off my chair and rearrange my jacket and bags all orderly and neatly, “you do everything the same way you draw!” I mention this because people have said this sort of thing before, I must be very neat, very organized. Well, I can’t say I’m completely disorganized, but neat… well, you should see my desk. My mind is usually less a drawer full of folded socks and more a tumble-dryer full of ping-pong balls, ideas and thoughts zipping all over the place. In Portland however I was there to relax, and relax I did. When the sketch was done, I walked down to the MAX light rail and went back to the hotel. Nice and neat.

pyrohydrantophilia in portland

PDX hydrant

Let’s get these out of the way now, shall we? There are lots of different hydrant designs in Portland, most of which are orange, many of which are weather-beaten and full of personality, if you see personality in such things as I do. They don’t tell good jokes or anything, but personality goes a long way, and they do help put out fires.

 PDX hydrant

The top one was drawn after meeting with the Portland Urban Sketchers in Old Town, while the second one was drawn on my first evening in PDX, downtown. Someone in Portland did ask me if I really was obsessed with fire hydrants as my sketchbooks suggest, to which I was like, hello, like. As i’ve said before, we don’t get them in Britain so they’re still fascinatingly ‘foreign’ to me and remind me of Richard Scarry books I used to read when I was a kid. More than that, they are ever-present civic symbols, and really are different from place to place. When people ask me, oh what do you draw, I say “I draw fire hydrants”, it gives me something  more to say than “oh, you know, this and that, stuff”. It’s only really a small percentage of what I draw (most of what I really draw you don’t see, it’s scribbled cartoons of Magneto on any piece of paper on my desk) but I like them. In 2010 I did ‘NaNoDrawMo‘ and drew “fifty fire hydrants and other metal pipes that come out of the ground“, and promised myself after that crazy experience I’d never draw another. Yeah, that didn’t last long…
PDX hydrant
I think I might make a comic filled with fire hydrants who tell bad jokes. They stand there all day like a doorman or security guard thinking of jokes, and all of them are really bad. As you know I won’t be short of material on bad jokes or fire hydrants so it’s the perfect combination for me, should take me about five minutes to write. Perhaps I could invent a superhero who can see and hear through all the fire hydrants in the city, and when he/she sees crime can travel through the hydrant system and transform into Hydranto and beat the bad guys, put out fires, rescue kitties etc. Speaking of comics, I went to Floating World Comics on Monday, at the corner of 4th and Couch (pronounced cooch, by the way, it was named by Officer Crabtree from ‘Allo ‘Allo). This comic shop came highly recommended by my comics-making urban-sketching friend (cheers Kalina!) and I was not disappointed – more zines than I have ever seen anywhere outside of ZineFest, lovely little independent hand-made comics, some of which I’d bought before in SF, but many many local PDX titles. Plus so many regualr comics, graphic novels of every kind; it was beautiful. I ended up getting a couple of small comics, “Jetpack Shark” and another called something like “Everyone in the world can fart except me”, which is a sad, sad tale. Also picked up one of the DC relaunched titles, the ‘new 52’, Superman #0. I have been getting a ‘comics-udaction’ these past few years by my comics-appreciating friend Roshan so hopefully one day he can go there too. I got there just before it opened, so I drew the fire hydrant outside, as the street dried out from the previous day’s rain.

PDX hydrant

So anyway, if you are a pyrohydrantophile (new word of the year award, please, cheers?) and want to see some more of these guardians of the galaxy, go to my Flickr set “Hydrants and Pipes“. But I’m not really that much of a pyrohydrantophile. I don’t even know how they really work.

you gotta go away, so you can come back

portland ship
Everybody needs a weekend away every now and then. This past weekend, I flew up to Portland, Oregon, a city I had first visited two years ago for the first Urban Sketching Symposium. I wanted to come back and see some places I had previously missed, catch up with some local urban sketchers I know, eat from food carts, sample local beer, and spend time by the river. I like it down by the river. This was the first sketch I did after arriving at the hotel and light-railing it downtown, a big boat on the Willamette. The bridge in the background is the Burnside Bridge; those spiky towers belong to the Convention Center. As I sketched, cyclists cycled by, joggers jogged on, and gaggles of geese giggled at my goggles.

You can expect the next week or so of posts to be about my trip to Portland, either in a linear or nonlinear or scrawled comic or urban dance form. I got rained on rather a lot, but that was ok, it’s Portland rain which is sweeter than other rain, and contains beer and voodoo donuts.

sketching by the willamette, portland

i’ve been around for a long, long year

chrysler in medford
While up in Medford my wife spotted this long blue/black Chrysler parked out near an old laundry, so I had to try and draw it. It was so long and mean looking it reminded me of the Batmobile. I stood in the hot sun to draw this, trying to get shade from a lamp-post (they don’t give much shade, by the way). This is a car that says, you’re gonna listen to what I gotta say, then I’m gonna run ya outta town. This isn’t a car for the streets of Colindale. This car is master of his domain.

against the grain

medford industrial building
We spent a quick weekend in Medford, southern Oregon; I wasn’t feeling too well, however, so didn’t do a great deal of sketching. I did get out for a couple of hours one afternoon though, to Central Point, where it was very hot and there wasn’t much shade. I really wanted to draw this building, this big grain tower, but didn’t want to dry while drawing it. Eventually after much walking about, I crossed the railroads and drew it from the back, finding a tree to sit beneath. It was right beside a gas station which I think is the gas station of choice for police cars, as quite a few stopped there while I was sketching. I listened to the local wildlife, blackbirds chirping away, a young couple arguing loudly all the way down the street (“if you don’t walk as fast as me you’re walking home a single woman”, the charming man yelled at one point). These industrial buildings dotted the landscape, and I wanted to sketch them all, but I will tell you the most important thing to consider when doing an urban sketch – find somewhere comfortable to sit or stand first!