It’s a funny shape, this building. It’s Tercero Dining Commons at UC Davis. Sketched while the rain poured down. This is now the wettest season in these parts since I moved here. The shape of this building reminded me of a ship at first, then I realized it’s actually a giant beached parasaurolophus, not sure if it wants to be rescued. Nothing surprises me any more in 2017.
The rain is back today. Quite heavy as well. It was even rainier a week ago though, when I went out at lunchtime to sketch the rally at the Quad in support of Muslim students, faculty, postdocs and their families affected by the utter chaos of the recent Executive Order; yes, you know the one. The bursting showers had thinned the crowd a bit, but didn’t stop people coming and sharing their stories beneath the safety of their umbrellas, though it was hard to hear their voices over the heavy pounding from above. I stood beneath a large umbrella and captured what I could, adding the paint quickly. I’m very glad I was able to be there.
Alright, 2017, let’s get you started and over with. I can feel you are gonna be one of those years, aren’t you. One of those ones with four numbers in them. 2016 was just a warm-up. Anyway, here in California we have rain, and lots of it – more than we have had in years. We need it after this drought. I remember big storms and floods in this area when I first moved here, and apart from the odd storm here and there they have never been matched, but these come close. We have had it good though; in Natomas, they had a tornado touch ground a couple of days ago. These were drawn in between those days, the top one being of the steady rain on the UC Davis campus. I stood beneath the shelter of Bainer Hall to sketch, a spot I have sketched from too many times to count now. Below, I forget the names of the buildings in the foreground, Sciences Lab and I think that’s the back of Haring, but you can see the observatory on top of, er, is that Hutchison? Am I pretending not to know, that is the question. Of course I do, I’ve been on campus for years. But look at that sky! Look how dark it is, dark and foreboding, like around the castle of the Skeksis at the start of the Dark Crystal. There was no lightning though, just dark, heavy, you might say grumpy clouds, moving toward the east. I’m not superstitious, but oooh, a big storm. I have done a lot of sketching so far in 2017, mostly of Lego Star Wars vehicles, you will see some of those soon. In the meantime, dark brooding malevolent skies. And science, surrounded by lots of good science. Also, the way the wind blows does matter to me, very much.
Big rain storms rolled into California today. Late November can be a very colourful time of year, when the trees are bright yellow, fiery orange, deep reds, and leaves flutter down on every breeze. When the storms come it blows everything around, meaning what would otherwise be a grey and dismal day was in fact a beautiful, I mean really beautiful stormy morning. I walked to a meeting mid-morning, and could have walked on all day in the rain. The ground was covered in bright leaves, like a dusting of golden snow. I don’t have a window in my office so I can’t gaze dreamily out at the rain (I have to draw a picture of it on my whiteboard), but I can hear it on the skylight, tap-tap-tap, and by lunchtime it was pounding. I couldn’t wait to get back out, find a sheltered spot, and draw the colourful storm while it lasted. I listened to a history podcast about England’s medieval conquest of Wales and drew in the Moleskine. It’s funny, whenever it rains here people are often, oh no, rain, I don’t want to get my raincoat slightly wet in the brief dash from my car to Target, whereas I’m like, oh it’s just a bit of rain, grrr. So I scribbled down this cartoon in my notepad this afternoon. Thought you might like it.
When the rain comes, I don’t run and hide my head. I do however stroll about and look for a little bit of cover so I can do some drawing. I love sketching bridges – no trip to Portland is complete without at least one bridge sketch. I like drawing bridges more than fire hydrants. Partly it is because I like being beside the river (as opposed to crouched just off the kerb hoping cars don’t hit me), but also because bridges represent that great connectivity of humankind, our ability to create cities and urban landscapes in tandem with the forces of nature, those big powerful (and very much alive) rivers. London exists because of the Thames, and prospered because it had a bridge (which admittedly kept falling down but that is another story). So when it rains, as it did in Portland (and occasionally in London too, I’m told), surely bridge sketching is a perfect sport?
Not exactly. For one thing to get out of the rain you often have to go beneath the bridge, which makes drawing the thing a bit trickier. Thankfully decent covered vantagepoints do exist for the more intrepid urban sketcher. On Sunday lunchtime, with a modest hangover from the previous night’s PDX craft beer samplings, I made my way down the southeast waterfront to the Hawthorne Bridge (above). The rain was coming down in bouquets (Portland rain is sweeter, as I’ve said before) and there were lots of people milling about the water’s edge. Boating crews lined the river, and were one-by-one taking to the water, cheered on by colourful umbrellas dotted along the bank. The road that comes off the bridge is high and curving, and I found a spot far beneath where the driving rain could not touch me. Joggers and other happy, soggy people jogged and plodded about the path in front of me, so I stood slightly back on a slope of grass and sketched away as best as I could. I think my slightly swaying demeanour comes across in the sketch, and that’s why I like this one at the top so much. After about forty minutes or so it was time to move on, and walk through the rain.
I had another rainy bridge experience the day before, at the end of a Saturday afternoon. I had spent the morning sketchcrawling (well, sketching, not so much crawling) with the fabulous Portland Urban Sketchers in two indoor locations in Old Town (that post is yet to come), and afterwards went to the Saturday Market. I drew Steel Bridge on my previous visit, but it’s a lovely structure and deserves to be sketched many times. This one, below, took a lot less time than the 2010 one, partly because I was sketching in almost direct rain. It wasn’t heavy rain, just a light sprinkling really, but there really wasn’t a good location beneath Burnside Bridge to sketch the view I wanted, so I took my chances. Still, once the pen started to protest at this treatment, I wrapped it up, but I was happy with it.
If I could spend my days drawing bridges by the river I would be one very happy fellow. Incidentally here is a set on my Flickr stream called “Bridges, Riverbanks…”
I must admit I am really happy it is raining in Davis. We need it, for sure, but i just like the feel of the rain. It feels comforting, feels like home. Oh, it can bugger off again soon enough for sure (I didn’t move to California to get rained on, I can do that in north London) but it’s nice while it’s here. I did a qucik rainy sketch from the window of the Silo at lunchtime yesterday.
The smart thing to do would be to check the weather forecast and then decide what to do, but of course as anyone who is familiar with London summers (or winters, autumns and springs) knows, the weather forecast cannot be relied upon anyway. We’d planned to do a walking tour around Westminster (one of the London Walks; I illustrated their book a couple of years ago, including the chapter on Secret Westminster) and wasn’t going to be put off by a few drops of rain. Indeed it looked like it would be just another breezy, grey Saturday, maybe the odd drop here and there but nothing to worry us. We met the group outside a tourist-packed Westminster station, giving me enough time to grab a ten minute sketch of Big Ben (above) before learning about Westminster’s secrets. As we stood behind Westminster Abbey looking at Oliver Cromwell across the road, the rain suddenly turned into a torrent, and pretty much stayed that way for the next few hours.
It was an interesting tour, to be sure, despite the massive downpour. We went down backstreets of Westminster I never even knew about, and took a stroll through the old Westminster school. Of course I attempted to sketch as we went along, which was a challenge I’ll admit. Once it was all over (a little earlier than planned, I suspect), we went to a pub in Whitehall, the Old Shades, to dry off and have something to eat.
Not that the rain deterred us too much. We still spent a day around central London, popping into the National Gallery, squeezing through the crowds at Hamley’s, looking through the football shirt shops (hey, it’s me).
And then in the evening, a night out in Camden Town with friends (one of whom, Ralph, I hadn’t seen in over twenty years). Before meeting up, I grabbed another very quick sketch standing on Camden High street. So despite all the rain, that was a fun day, and it was a fun night as well.