Ok so for the first post of 2018 (or the 2nd, I suppose, since the last post ended up coming shortly after midnight) I am going back in time six months to some sketches I did not post back then. Back home, back to my native city of London. It’s funny, I’ve been away from London for a quarter of my life now. It will always be my city, but as each year goes by I feel further and further away. Yet no city ever continuously gives me more to discover. Almost two decades ago I was a tour guide, on an open-top bus with a microphone and a rainjacket, and in my spare time I would read history books, or explore streets on foot, looking for the stuff that has always been there but I have overlooked, walked past, ignored. When I was a teenager I would on weekends take the tube down to a different part of town, literally just to look around, as if marking my territory. I wasn’t just looking for old historic sites, but newsagents, shortcut alleyways, I wanted to see how the city connected together. London changes daily, a story that keeps being written. So on my last trip back, I took a day sketching down a stretch of the City that I’ve overlooked for too long. At the top, Smithfield Market. I’ve wanted to sketch this building for so many years and, well it’s just a little out of the way from my usual routes. It always requires a special journey, despite its centrality. It is essential London, yet, like Farringdon, feels like ‘not my London’, I feel like a stranger. And it’s quiet around here, there’s not a lot of foot traffic on a Saturday. This part of London has always creeped me out a little; it feels haunted. I would come down this way on weekends when I was younger and end up escaping back to the inhabited world of Oxford Street or Charing Cross because it was just so dead; now, this appeals to me more. Smithfield has a history alright. Located just outside the historic wall (the name comes from Old English smēðe feld, meaning smooth or level field) and was a place of many historic public gatherings, most notably the one at the end of the Peasant’s Revolt when Wat Tyler was killed by the Mayor, and in fact Smithfield has seen many famous executions, such as William Wallace. There were also great medieval tournaments here, but it is most well known these days for its market, which also dates back to the middle ages. The large covered Smithfield Market, primarily a meat market, was built in the 1860s by Sir Horace Jones. A couple of years ago a friend of my family, whose dad worked for years at Smithfield, told me I had to sketch it, and soon, so I promised one day I would. Now, redevelopment seems to be moving forward and it’s been announced that the Museum of London will move in to part of the market building. This section, looking up West Smithfield, is currently abandoned. Still feels haunted on a Saturday afternoon.
Holborn Viaduct is about as haunted as it comes. Look at it, it says ghostly London all over it. Even those dark statues look like cowled spectres from down here in the street. That red Victorian ironwork. Those dark arches. The lamps. Newgate prison was once in this area, leaving Holborn full of ghost stories, but this part of the city doesn’t need the stories. Poking through the modern towerblocks, crossing the busy tarmac carriageway, the whole place itself feels like a ghost. We don’t make places like this any more.
Finally, the Black Friar pub. Even the name feels creepy. That robed friar above the door. Yet this was the place that surprised me the most. I remember this area near Blackfriars Bridge as being constantly under construction, an easy place to get lost. And suddenly, this area feels open and brand new. The modern Blackfriars station just blew me away, and stepping out of it and looking across to this old tavern I had always known but never steeped into, and looking across the river toward the Shard and the modern changing metropolis, this was yet another London surprise. Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner. The way the Black Friar is wedged into this junction was a delight to sketch, a nice test of perspective skills. It was pretty early still (I am listing these sketches backwards) but the pub was open so I popped in for a cup of tea. The interior is remarkable. The pub itself was built in 1875 on the site of the Dominican priory of Blackfriars, and is filled with carved wooden panels cheekily showing off priory life, in a comical fashion. One day I will sketch the interior, but on this day I just sketched one of the stained glass windows, of a friar standing next to a gate.
I do miss London! I want to explore this part of town, with all its ghosts and histories, in my 2018 sketchbook. I’ll need to wait until summer…
This is Three Mile Brewing in Davis. Everywhere is a brewery these days. This place is fairly new, and brews right here, in the courtyard of Cedar Court behind 3rd and G Streets. I came here one other time and had a ‘Frankenweizen’ which I quite liked. This time I had an Irish stout which was less my thing, followed by a Kolsch, which was nicer. I enjoyed drawing here, having come here one evening after working late (March and April this year had a lot of those long work days!). They have a lot of t-shirts and merchandise which of course all the breweries do these days. The name ‘Three Mile Brewing’ actually comes from an old Davis law, though, that was established in the early 20th century after much lobbying by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union that alcohol could not be sold within three miles of campus. This ban went until 1979 you know. Even since I’ve lived in Davis the number of bars has grown by a lot. I should know, I have drawn them all. I enjoyed sketching at the table here, listening to people talk the evening away, and there was a dog that was very contentedly sit next to his family a table away from me. Some of the bars in Davis are quite dog-friendly, with the University of Beer for example having “Puppy Hour” on weekends, most of the day rather than just an hour, where you can get a buck off your beer if you bring your dog. Woof! I don’t have a dog so I pay full price. What if I brought someone dressed up as a dog? What about werewolves? Where do I go from here after talking about werewolves? Let’s get back to the sketch. It took two beers (the aforementioned Stout and Kolsch) to draw including all the colour, and it was another practice test in perspective observation. Knackered, I finished up and went home to my bed, to get up early again next day.
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.
Another bar sketch. It was Saturday evening, I wanted to go downtown, so I popped into University of Beer for a Brother Thelonious and did yet another bar sketch. “Keep Calm and Chive On” says the poster above, sagely. There was a lot of colour reflecting on the surfaces of this bar. I’ve done a lot of pub sketches now; check them out in this Flickr album, “Pubs, Cafes, Bars etc“.
More two-page-spread bar-sketching. I popped into Froggies in downtown Davis one evening, had a couple of beers, and behind me people sang karaoke. I didn’t. I might have if they had the Frog Song by Paul McCartney and the Frog Chorus, “We All Stand Together”. I saw Macca in Sacramento recently but he didn’t sing that one. I was a big fan of Rupert the Bear when I was a kid. I planned to make this full colour, watercolour-shaded, surround-sound (well maybe not surround-sound, not with the karaoke and all), but I was tired so left it at this. Another in the many illustrations of Davis.
Well the New Year is here and I am still posting sketches from November. I know you just can’t get enough of 2016. These are the sketches I did on our brief sojourn back to London over Thanksgiving. It was a week of family fun more than sketching outings (I did most of my UK sketching in the summer) but I managed a few. Above is a sketch from the Natural History Museum. My son really wanted to go there to see the geology exhibits (he loves rocks and minerals) and we wanted to see our beloved Dippy one last time before he is removed from the main hall and replaced with a whale skeleton. Dippy, for those who don’t know, is the giant Diplodocus skeleton in the Hintze Hall. Dippy’s been in the NHM for over a century and has been in that hall since I was a little kid, when I would go there all the time with school or my big sister; I do love the Natural History Museum. Well Dippy is leaving! This very week in fact. They are replacing Dippy with a large blue whale skeleton that will hang from the ceiling. Dippy will go on a tour of the UK (see here for details). My son and I found a seat in an alcove to sketch, but we couldn’t see the whole Dippy so sketched what we could see.
We also visited the Harry Potter tour at the Warner Bros Studios, at Leavesden, just outside London. We are big Harry Potter fans, and my son read the books and saw the movies this year for the first time so it was an exciting visit to go and see the real sets where they were filmed. We only had time for one sketch (so much to see! We could have been there all day) so I sketched the entrance to Dumbledore’s office while he drew the big pendulum thing. I got a Gryffindor scarf. According to the Pottermore website, my son and I would both be in Gryffindor (my wife got sorted into Slytherin!). We went there with my mum, sister and nephew, and it was a really fun family day, I do recommend it.
One other place I was eager to visit was the new Switch House at the Tate Modern, the new tall extension to the gallery on the South Bank. It only opened last summer. My son kinda enjoyed the gallery (we saw both my books in the shop! But he was more excited about the tiny Slinky he bought) but was nervous about going to the tenth floor observation deck. When we were up there though he loved it, and again we sat and sketched the view. This is now my favourite spot in London and I will definitely come back with a few hours on hand to do a big detailed panorama. It was amazing there. Here is what I did sketch, of the view across the Thames to St. Paul’s Cathedral:
The scene below is of drinkers at the very intimate pub off Trafalgar Square, The Harp. I came here with my friend Roshan, as they do good beer; one day I’d like to sketch the whole bar. As it was, I sketched these happydrikers while Roshan popped to the loo. Less-than-five-minute people sketching!
And here is Burnt Oak tube station, in the area my family live (and I am from. Looking as it has ever done. I was going to finish this, but I wanted to get back and have a cup of tea, and never finished it at home.
One last sketch, which is of course the in-flight drawing on the Virgin flight coming home. It was one of the newer planes, and unlike in the summer, this time I didn’t get completely squashed up and have a bad back for several weeks afterwards. Which was handy. Farewell again then my London, until next time!