London Times

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After a couple of weeks city-hopping the low countries of Europe, we Eurostarred it under the channel to fellow-EU-country-at-the-time UK for a week of family time before flying back to America. Seems like a Golden Age Of Travel now. That week was interesting, in an Interesting Times kind of way, but there were some highlights, like going to the new Spurs stadium to watch Tottenham v Inter (sure we lost on penalties, but I got that beer that pours from the bottom of the plastic glass). I did manage a few sketches that week though. Above, this is the York Water Gate found down in Victoria Embankment Gardens, by the Thames. This gateway dates from 1626 and if you turn your head sideways, you can read what I wrote about it, copied from a plaque. I used to like coming to these gardens to read and study when I was doing my master’s many years ago. There were a few dodgy characters lurking around, on the prowl for picking pockets. I social distanced myself from everyone even back then. Still it was nice to be back in London, on a warm early evening, down by the river. I like it by the river.

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Earlier that day we had been to Brick Lane to visit the Classic Football Shirts shop, one of my favourite places of course. My son picked up a youth size 1994 navy Spurs away kit, quite a find. I actually bought that same shirt (adult size) on the day it was released, I was only 18, and it still fits. I wore it when I met Jurgen Klinsmann at his first training Spurs session in Mill Hill, where our old training ground used to be, near Copthall Swimming Pool. I met a few other legends that day, Sheringham, Barmby, Mabbutt, Anderton, Ian Walker, even Rony Rosenthal. But best of all of course was my long time hero Ossie Ardiles. What a gent. He even waved to me from his car when he drove past me and my sister walking down Bunns Lane. Look when I was six I used to want to BE Ossie Ardiles, that was my ambition when I grew up, to somehow be him. Anyway I digress. We ate at some food trucks (I got some tasty fried chicken and chips at a little truck called Mother Clucker), and I drew this ice-cream van above, Dappa.

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Let’s call this one “Before Social Distancing”. We’ve never been social on the tube anyway. I drew these quickly with different pens while on a packed Northern Line carriage back to Burnt Oak. I always get very sleepy on the tube.

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Here is Sophie the Stegosaurus. We like to go to the Natural History Museum, one of my favourite places in the entire galaxy, but my son mostly likes all the rocks and geology. I love the dinosaurs. This was a very quick one. Stegosaurus is my favourite of the dinosaurs.

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We went to St Albans with my mum, and had a look at the cathedral there. I also joined one evening the London Urban Sketchers for a sketchcrawl down the banks of the Thames. After a busy day, I ended up down near London Bridge, I called my uncle Billy on his birthday. And then I met with the sketchers and drew them. There were great amazing vistas to behold, but this was a shirt summer evening sketchcrawl and I was done with architecture for now. It’ll be different next time I am back. So, I just sketched the sketchers. Here they are…
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And then they laid out the sketchbooks as they do, and looked at them. They get large groups in London, I remember the very first Urban Sketchers London sketchcrawl in 2012, which I organized, called “Let’s Draw London”, we had a whopping number of over 50 participants, but that seems about average these days. I think the 2016 Wren crawl had around 70 or 80. It’s nice to come back and see familiar faces.
After that I met up with my friend Roshan (who I’ve been mates with since late teenage years) and we hung out on the South Bank for the rest of the evening, I sketched some singers who were performing at a pop-up bar by the river.
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And that is that. At the end of the trip we flew back home to America (see the in-flight sketch below) and got back to work, and the credit card bill. That was a long trip. I’m still not completely recovered! But I have been back to London since then.
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Alive Actually, Amsterdam

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When I posted my sketches from Porto in 2018 every post had an alliterative “p” title, and I am doing something similar for Amsterdam, but making far less sense. I could put more thought into it, but that would not be indicative of how my mind was completely melted by the heat there. I was all over the place. Some people go to Amsterdam and do that on purpose of course, through other means, but for me it was just the heat making me feel continuously confused. Also the streets – I love bikes and am a cyclist myself, but wow they are everywhere in Amsterdam, and sidewalks are super narrow. When it is busy it feels stressful. On the second morning of the symposium though I felt quite good, raring to go, I had even got up and had a run around the emptier morning streets, before I marched along to the Zuiderkerk to meet up with my workshop group, chatting away to people I hadn’t seen in a year, today was going to be great. However I had mixed up which workshop I was supposed to be doing, thinking that I was in Ian Fennely’s class. When it came time for roll call though he made it very clear my name was not on the list for the workshop, “no, you are not on the list.” Ok, I’m not trying to sneak in, maybe I wrote it down wrong. Turns out I had got my days mixed up (first sign my mind was not functioning at capacity), and that I was going to Shari Blaukopf’s workshop. That cheered me up as I was really looking forward to her class on sketching boats, which is why I thought I had selected it to save for last. She is an exceptional watercolour painter and I of course am not a painter, though I use watercolours to colour in my drawings, I am all about the lines so I really wanted to learn from her, and while my results weren’t where I wanted them to be, I came away with lots of new knowledge and wanting to try some new things – such as drawing with brush pens.
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Shari encouraged us to bring along brush pens and do some quick sketches of the boats with those. Of course I also drew her talking about the boats. Drawing in brush pen is not something I do a lot of – I realized that drawing people is super fun, especially adding a little watercolour – but those dark shapes and thick lines of the black and white boat drawings really helped to focus in on the values.

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Drawing boats is good practice for perspective, and really good for shading and value. I don’t get much opportunity to draw boats in Davis, only when I go down to the City. Amsterdam harbour is the perfect place for boat sketching. Oh, except when it is very sunny, pushing midday and there is little shade. I was getting thirsty, so I walked over to NEMO (a huge building, very easy to find), which is a big science museum, to get a drink. I had to go to a cafe on the actual roof, climbing up these huge steps, and when I got to the cafe I couldn’t decide in my overheated mind what to get, so I think I got two types of fresh juice, one might have been a smoothie, and some fruit, and some water as well, and it still didn’t feel like enough. I think I was getting a bit of heat exhaustion. I carried on with the workshop, drawing the scene below, first with the brush pen (which I liked) and then just with watercolours (which I liked less).

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My colours seemed dull. Shari suggested that perhaps my paints were a bit too dry, and that dulls the colours I would get. I didn’t quite understand, because they were wet, I was using water (I’m so thick), but I learned that if I had ‘wet’ paints, that is, paints from a tube and not dry in the pan, my colours would be a lot brighter. I got to experience that later in the day when Donald Saluling let me use his paints, and I could instantly tell the difference. I don’t really try a lot of different paints out, so that got me thinking maybe now is the time to invest in a bunch of tubed paints, maybe some nice Daniel Smiths or something. I’m so scared of that, but I think now’s the time to start being a bit bolder. (Fast forward to March 2020, I still haven’t bought new paints but I am using an iPad now and I can get way bolder! In a funny way this class really helped me think about digital sketching). Shari also showed us some very interesting travel paintbrushes too, and I have since got some of those, but of course haven’t yet tried them out (because as I have said before I like to let paintbrushes sit there for half a year before I pluck up the courage to actually use them for anything).

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When the workshop was over, I decided I needed to draw a couple more boats before I had lunch. My hotel was only across the street, so I found some shade under a tree, and cooled off. This was a nice way to end the first part of the day. But it just kept getting hotter. After a rest, I grabbed some more nice juice and a sandwich from the Albert Hein supermarket, and headed out to the sketchwalk taking place at Spui. Clearly my forgetfulness was taking control because I totally forgot to attend Rita Sabler’s sketch demo. When I got to Spui I found the sketchers, and was meeting up with another Portland sketching friend Kalina. The heat was hitting me hard now, I was sweating and sluggish. And then I realized I had forgotten my paints. I wanted to spend the rest of the day painting watery scenes, putting into practice what I learned in the morning, but my watercolors were sitting on my bed at the hotel. Aargh! I saw Gerard Michel sketching on Herengracht and joined him for a bit. I then found a green Citroen and sat in a small gap next to a bike and tried to draw it. I spoke to a guy from Ohio and a woman from Germany who were also sketching it. There were so many sketchers everywhere. That’s how it should be. The heat was getting to everyone, but still we soldiered on, filling our sketchbooks. I added some colour later to this, if you are wondering.
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I also added the colour later to this, but this was a scene I was determined to sketch, but in no real state to do so. This was the moment in the Symposium when I think the heat battered me the most. I really should have just been doing something else, maybe sitting inside a dark cafe with a cold cold beer. Beer did not sound that good to me right then though, my head was already a barrel filled with porridge. This by the way is at Herengracht and Leidsegracht. I should like to come back here when it is cloudy. Again, I added in the wash later, to reflect some of my mood.

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This is what it looks like when you look through that bridge, and through a whole load of other bridges.

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But my head could not handle such views. The bridges could have gone on for ever and ever. I needed some water, but then I found a cafe called Joe and the Juice. It was cool inside, and I liked the names of the drinks. I decided I needed a refreshing smoothie called “Stress Down”, that name just stood out to me. It was made with Aardbei, Gember and Framboos, which I determined was Strawberry, Ginger and Raspberry.

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Honestly I have no idea why that combination worked so well, but it felt like a complete power-up. Like in a computer game when you find a floating heart and it restores your health. My sluggish mind and drained body suddenly felt much more energized, and I went outside, pulled out the brush pen, and immediately drew the sketch below, which I really enjoyed.
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Finally feeling a bit better about my sketching, I went back to Spui and was finally ready for a beer, I met up with Kalina and we met Donald Saluling (first time I had met him in person), and we sat outside a bar filling the early evening with chat and good times. Even on hot days like this, it’s good to all be alive.

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Long post this, could have been two. But it’s all one story. The next posts will be really much shorter. Or maybe longer. That day’s sketching was not over, and I did manage another brush pen sketch at a brown cafe, but I’ll save that for another day.

a day hanging around brussels midi

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I got to Brussels Midi station early, I wanted to make sure I got my Thalys (the high speed train that runs between France, Belgium and the Netherlands) in good time, with a bit of extra time to wait in line at the infamously slow ‘Quick’ restaurant. It was still so hot, and as I sketched I heard of trains getting delayed. I had been telling people that I am ‘travel lucky’ – it always seems to work out for me, somehow. Well today my travel luck might be running out. The heatwave cancelled trains all over this part of Europe, especially in northern France, from where my Thalys was arriving. The Eurostar too was being cancelled, as well as many flights – several people I know coming from the UK were not able to make it to the Urban Sketching Symposium.
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It was travel chaos, and there were many hundreds of confused or angry people lining the platforms, but not at the time when I made this sketch. In fact the sole woman on the platform at this time, she spoke to me a little while later and she too was going to the Symposium from France, in fact she ended up being in my first workshop. But this was before all the delays had really kicked in. After many hours being stuck in the station not sure of what to do, the train was officially cancelled, as were many others, so I tried to find a route to Amsterdam by slower means. I have never enjoyed being stuck at Brussels Midi (or ‘Zuid’ as the Flemish call it) but well, what can you do.
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Eventually I was in line to get a ticket for a slow train, and right at the moment my number was called I noticed on the screen that my Thalys, by some miracle, was not cancelled but on the platform. I dashed upstairs and got on board, not believing my luck, and while the journey was slow, I sketched and had some free beer provided by the train staff. So in the end I was travel lucky. Off to the Symposium! Where the weather would get even hotter and more unbearable…
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It was so hot that my Big Nuts melted. Big Nuts is one of my favourite Belgian chocolate bars and when I bought one, I did know it would probably melt but I bought it for the silly punchline. I still ate it though (well, drank it).

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Here was the weather at the time. (By comparison Davis was up in the 108s, but we don’t notice it as much in Davis because we have good air conditioning and dry heat, in the low countries of Europe these temperatures are totally unbearable)

midsummer indigo girls

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This will be another long post. I really did do a lot of sketching in 2019 and this is all from the same day. Apart from the sketch below, which was done at lunchtime (and coloured in afterwards) it’s all the same evening, midsummer night, June 21. I definitely haven’t already posted these, have I? I had been asked by the Mondavi Center at UC Davis to produce some sketches for their annual magazine, which is called “Gateway“. To do so, they invited me to come to the Indigo Girls show in an official sketcher capacity, to draw some of the outside, the lobby, and of the show itself (the last part being done in near total darkness). It was a fun night. The above was sketched outside the main entrance as people started to arrive.
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I drew some people outside the Mondavi Center arriving for the show. I got there early, picking people who stopped in one place, but I did some quick sketches of people walking past. I don’t think these people were together, and they didn’t all have flowery clothing, I added that in for fun. I sketched the ticket warden (or whatever they call them) because I loved how they stood out in their smart black and white, and they were all friendly, they usually are at the Mondavi.
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I was asked to sketch people in the lobby area, so I grabbed a wine and a place to stand. As it turned out I knew quite a few people who were attending the show, it was a popular one.
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And then it was time for the show. I was actually given a special seat, though it was in near-complete darkness. The opening act, Chastity Brown, was really good, I loved her voice, and she talked to the audience, as you can see above. Then below, the main event started. I was able to sketch some of the audience in between the shows, and also when lights were down. There was a lot of purple and blue light, and I struggled to see my pasge, but the music was great, and sketching to music makes the pen move so easily.
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I used the zoom function in my eyes* in to get a better look at the performers (*I squinted real hard), the two main guitar-playing singers (Amy Ray and Emily Saliers) and the very performative violin player in between them (I don’t recall their name). For some reason I needed to write down the chords.
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Anyway, a fun evening was had, it was a good show. So eventually the magazine came out in the Fall, using the outside sketch on the cover. Here it is!

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indian motorcycle at fisherman’s wharf

SF Ghirardelli motorbike

I was in San Francisco a couple of times recently, one with the family (to watch Hamilton) and one by myself (to sketch loads of stuff). On the first one, we stayed over in Fisherman’s Wharf (not always my favourite part of town, but there is lots to see). I only managed one sketch, as I spent a lot of my time playing X-Men vs Street Fighter at the Musee Mecanique. I love that place. Also, it was cold! We were escaping the heat of Davis, but the city was pretty chilly. I drew this one sketch of a very elaborate looking motorcycle parked near Ghirardelli Square. “Indian Motorcycles” is the manafacturer. I was going to colour ir in, but it was cold and I was getting tired standing there. I try to be more conscious of my body saying “time to rest Pete!” these days. Yet I am still keeping up being more active, with the gym and exercising thing. We did go to Ghirardelli’s that evening, and I had this enormous chocolatey sundae thing called a ‘treasure island’ which amazingly did not derail my diet. See, you can diet and still eat massive chocolate indulgences every now and then. This was after I had pizza and beer for dinner. The pizza-beer-chocolate sundae and arcade-games diet – hey, it’s working. Now, the only other sketch I did that weekend was while waiting for ages at SFO for my Global Entry interview. Global Entry is like a fast-pass when I come back into the country. However I had to wait quite a while for my turn, so we missed out on going to Alcatraz. At least Hamilton was really good, very entertaining.

SFO waiting room

a talk about gratitude

Robert Emmins at worklife event UC Davis
I went to the UC Davis Worklife Champions event last week (I was one of many who got a Worklife Champion recognition, which was nice – thanks!!), and the speaker was Prof Robert Emmons, who gave a talk about “gratitude”. I drew and took notes as best I could, and I’m not sure what I did with his arm there, it looks like “Gratitude is a Choice” was a mic drop, it also looks like a pretend arm with the real arm inside holding a remote control like in that episode of Father Ted. Drawing people is always a challenge when they are moving. I drew this on the back of a piece of paper with some Worklife stuff on the other side.

portland pals

portland with rita sabler
A few more from my recentish trip to Portland (early November, recent in geological terms). Above, I joined my friend Rita Sabler for her husband Jim’s birthday celebration at a cool little place in on Beach Street Portland I had never been to before, which involved some sketching and a lot of interesting conversation. Rita had invited me up to teach a workshop in Portland which was really fun, but it was really nice and relaxing to meet up with some of her friends. I last saw Rita in Porto in the summer at the symposium, she is actually a former UC Davis student (from before even I came to Davis). Check out Rita’s sketching work at www.portlandsketcher.com, she has done some great things lately (including a residency at the leper colony on Molokai!).
kalina at thirsty monk
On my second night there I met up another old sketching buddy and fellow pirate-sketcher, Kalina Wilson. I really wanted to go back to this Belgian place that we had sketched one rainy Sunday afternoon back in 2012, Bazi Bierbrasserie, so we arranged to meet there. Except it’s not called that any more, it’s now to my surprise The Thirsty Monk. Beer was still nice though, and the conversation fun, always good to catch up after quite a while, I think I last saw her either at Manchester symposium or when my wife and I visited Portland one November (I forget the year). Check out Kalina’s sketching.
pdx doubletree hotel bar

And above, a sketch I did at the hotel bar of the Doubletree in Portland. You have to go down to the bar to use their Wifi because it’s not included in the rooms (booo, join the 21st century Doubletree). I usually stay at this hotel because it is easy enough for the places I usually want to go, it’s right by the MAX line to the airport, but I don’t know, time to find somewhere else maybe.¬†There was a heavy metal weekend going on at the hotel while I was staying there, so there were lots of long-haired metally people, dressed pretty much the same way (“metal”), which didn’t really fit in with the bland corporateness of the Doubletree. I always kinda laugh at the sameyness of metal outfits and rock dress, but of course when I was younger this was very much the scene in London that I enjoyed being around the most, the Hellfire Club on Oxford Street, the Intrepid Fox on Wardour Street, the Marquee on a Thursday night, I loved those places. And I would dress, well actually I would wear a bright green football shirt and have short hair because I liked to be different to everyone else, but I could mosh with the best of them. Those were the days. I felt quite at home around all the rockers, even in the sanitized corporate setting (and Doubletree, don’t put the toilets so far from the bar, yeah?). Anyway I sketched the bar, in its bland corporate light wood and screen showing basketball. Not exactly Old Town Pizza (now that is an interesting bar to sketch!) but a good way to get sleepy before bed.