The South Bank Show

South Bank Feb2019
Every time I go back to London, my family members have grown older, a little bit. With the adults it’s slower, less noticeable, while with the children it’s a much more visible change. I am now the classic “look how tall you are!” uncle. My uncle jokes are also the best uncle jokes in the world. I too have grown; not taller, rather I have encroached into traditional green belt lands. See, uncle jokes. London on the other hand changes faster than I can think. When I left in 2005, the Gherkin (aka ‘the Erotic Gherkin’) was still the new shocking addition to the City’s skyline, pointing like a stubby fishnet bullet at the sky. The older NatWest building still dominated the Square Mile, sufficiently far from the unchanging dome of St. Paul’s (though that too has changed since I left, having been scrubbed of its layer of grey pollution-particles, so much it now gleams as Wren intended). One by one newer buildings started to be approved, all with their pre-approved nicknames: the Heron, the Walkie-Talkie, the Cheesegrater, the Shard, the Dodger’s Kerchief, the Ocelot Spleen, the Snood, and of course the Wizard’s Winkle. I might have made some of those up but you would be hard pressed to figure out which. London’s skyline is starting to resemble less a city and more a manual of Yoga positions. I don’t even know what some of the new ones being built are called (if only there was some way of finding out, some kind of instant source of all global information right at my fingertips!), but change is a good thing, I suppose. I never wanted London to stand still and miss me after I moved away, I wanted London to enjoy its life, meet other buildings, move on.
View from Tate Modern Feb2019

It was a lovely day when I went out sketching on the banks of the Thames. I miss the Thames more than I miss any part of London. I don’t have a Thames here in Davis. I used to come down to the Thames to have a look at it, and contemplate, and be pensive. Sounds stupid now I say it like that. You know like in films and TV shows when the main character has a lot on their mind and they go and look at the Hudson River or stand on the pier at Coney Island (all films and TV shows are set in New York), that was me, coming to the Thames, standing on the South Bank near Waterloo, looking at the Thames. I think I just like watching water move from left to right. Maybe it reminds me of the old Thames Television screen, which would come on just before Rainbow, and I always liked Rainbow. Geoffrey out of rainbow died recently. I met him when I was a kid, at Brentford’s football ground, he drew me a picture of Zippy. It wasn’t a super detailed picture of Zippy but I could tell it was meant to be Zippy. Unless it was meant to be a picture of himself and I misinterpreted it, or a picture of me. Either way, I always wondered what Zippy would be like as a modern-day politician. Yes, it is extremely easy to imagine that isn’t it (it’s even easier to imagine Bungle). When Boris Johnson became Mayor of London years ago I drew a picture of Zippy with Boris Johnson’s hair. A few years later, Johnson and his friend Joanna ‘George’ Lumley, had this crazy idea of building a new bridge across the Thames, right at the spot where I drew the sketch above. It was to be a ‘Garden Bridge’, covered in trees and plants and closed at night and on special corporate events such as when Rod Jane and Freddy would need to perform their Greatest Hits. If I recall, the plan was to build it “up above the streets and houses, everyone can see it smiling over the sky”. Being pedestrian only, it would not alleviate traffic, It would require cutting down scores of trees on the South Bank as well as blocking the view of the city with all its Yoga-position skyscrapers from much of the South Bank and Waterloo Bridge. Change is a good thing I suppose, but this was a change that really didn’t need to happen, at least not right here. When the pedestrian Millennium Bridge was built, it was visually unobtrusive and also in a place that had needed a crossing connecting St Paul’s with the new Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe (I well remember the circuitous routes before). Also, it wobbled, meaning those crafty Cockneys could re-christen it the ‘Wobbly Bridge’, calling it that for many years even after the Wobble had been fixed and the joke had really lost its steam. The Garden Bridge was an expensive vanity project that probably wouldn’t even wobble. In the end, after millions being spent and many Bungles, the Garden Bridge was finally scrapped. I’m glad, and I think Geoffrey would have been glad too.

I sat on a bench by the Thames and drew in the sunshine. It’s one of my favourite spots in the whole world, even with the growing metropolis sprouting up across the river. A man stopped to have a look at my sketch, enthusiastically asking me what I do with them. “I colour them in,” I said, and he laughed. People often ask what my sketches are for, which is a fair question, since they could be for sale or to make into postcards or maybe I am out looking for views to dismantle with expensive vanity projects, but the answer is always the same – it’s because I love to draw. I just love drawing, so I have to just keep drawing. This city is worth drawing and drawing and drawing, and then drawing more. This city changes so quickly. After this sketch, I went to the Tate Modern and up to the tenth floor of that new building next door, to sketch the City from above. That is one of my favourite new viewing spots in London, although the crowded elevator means you need to book some additional vacation time if you want to go up there. I decided to colour in only the sky and the river, leaving the city itself uncoloured like in the opening credits of a certain TV show I used to watch as a kid, the large tower of Tate Modern in the foreground. Tate Modern used to be Bankside Power Station, designed by the same guy who made the phone box (I’ve talked about him before). I love listening to tourists talking to each other when visiting London, hearing their enthusiasm for the city. As I looked out over the skycrapers I though about the previous times I had sketched it, and as I sketched I thought that this would be a very good point to include some of those older sketches in this part of the blog post. I hope you have enjoyed this little trip to the South Bank with me. Next time I go back, it will look different again.

take me down to the riverover the thames to cannon street
by the banks of the thamesSt Pauls from Tate Modern
Waterloo panorama
The River Thames

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to warwick and stratford

Warwick Castle
And now for the final part of our recent trip to Europe. I was determined that we’d visit a historic castle, something we don’t have many of here in California (sorry Mr Hearst, Mr Disney, but those ain’t castles). So we hit the motorway (thanks to my mum for driving us) up to Warwick, in central England. I had been there a few years ago, and knew it was a pretty great sight. Warwick Castle is a little theme-y (being owned by Merlin Entertainment now) but as it has a Horrible Histories maze and some fun jousting entertainment that doesn’t matter. Actually, we missed the jousting as it’s not every day (though I did see some four years ago, and it was fun). Warwick Castle is in a beautiful location on the banks of the Avon river, and a historically significant geopolitical spot, being in the middle of the country and therefore an important stronghold for the balance of power. The Earl of Warwick in the late middle ages was known as the ‘Kingmaker’, not without exaggeration. The site of Warwick Castle was founded as a ‘burh’ by the formidable Anglo-Saxon lady Æthelflæd, ruler of Mercia (also ‘Ethelfelda’). She fought against the invading Danes and the Welsh, she was also a daughter of Alfred the Great, and in fact there was a re-enactment of her funeral in June 2018 in nearby Gloucester. When William the Conqueror invaded in 1066, the Normans built a motte-and-bailey castle here on ‘Ethelfleda’s Mound’, and Warwick Castle was subsequently built up over the next few centuries by later lords and earls. The first Earl of Warwick was Henry de Beaumont, from 1088, and the 16th Earl, Richard Neville (who gained the title through marriage to Anne de Beauchamp) was the famed Warwick the Kingmaker, who rose to prominence during the Wars of the Roses before dying at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. There’s a lot more history too, but I was interested in the old armoury. The suit of armour below is actually a child’s armour, likely for ornamental purposes. I sketched the castle above while taking a break with my son, who didn’t want to walk around the dungeons.
Warwick Castle Armoury
We didn’t stay in Warwick, though I’d love to sketch that old city some day. Instead, we stayed the night in Stratford upon Avon at a place called Alveston Manor, a large country house converted into a hotel just a short walk from central Stratford. It was lovely, and I love drawing buildings like that. Stratford is Shakespeare’s town, and they do not ever let you forget it here. We did walk up to see Shakespeare’s birthplace, and walk along the Avon, and I had a huge knickerbocker glory (with extra chocolate) at a local pub. So good.
Stratford Upon Avon Alveston Manor
In the evening after watching France knock Belgium out of the World Cup, I walked down to the riverside as the last mid-summer light faded away, and sketched the bridge below. This was around 9:30pm at night. I decided to walk across the other bridge to get back to the hotel, whcih was a mistake. It was a logn bridge along a road with a fairly narrow path for pedestrians, and lots of cobwebs. During the day the cobwebs were quaint. In the evening they were covered with thousands of busy, chubby spiders, loving their little legs and spinning and completely freaking me out. They weren’t dangerous, unlike the ones in my Davis back yard right now, but so many of them moving all around me was pretty much the creepiest thing ever. I ran as quickly as I could, but it was a long bridge. Yeah, I’m not into spiders.
Stratford Upon Avon

porto panoramic

Porto view from Vila Nova de Gaia

Picture postcard Porto. Pretty, panoramic, picturesque. I could go on. I think I’m most happy with the sketch above, of all the stuff I drew in Porto, this is the postcard scene. It was my free, non-workshop day, no obligations to be anywhere. I slept in a bit longer than I had intended (until almost 9), but my feet were happy for the extra rest. On this day I was heading over the river for the first time to Vila Nova de Gaia. I was interested to explore Gaia, and looking back I wish I had explored more but you sacrifice some wandering time for sketching time, and I really like sketching. The scene above took two full hours, as I added the paint on site (instead of the old colour-in-later thing), and it was beautiful there. I was under the shade of a tree, on a solo bench, and the weather was beautiful, sunny and warm but breezy. Views like this are there to be enjoyed.

So Vila Nova de Gaia. First of all, the boat – there are lots of these old boats along the banks of the Douro, loaded with barrels, each belonging to one of the many Porto wineries that dot the shores of Gaia. Most have English names and origins, as mentioned in my last post, and in fact these boats have a race up the river each year. It’s called the ‘Douro Rabelo Port Wine Boat Regatta’, which may not be easy to say after a few glasses of Sandeman Tawny. the ‘Rabelo’ is what these little boats are called. They are used to transport wine to Porto from the Douro valley. They’re flat bottomed, and that long piece of wood at the back (the ‘little tail’; that’s what ‘rabela’ means in Portuguese) is used to steer it.

Porto view from Vila Nova de Gaia

I drew the one above first, and intended to colour this one in but the wind on top of the hillside got the better of me. It’s a long way up. I had crossed the Ponte Luiz I bridge via the top, sensibly. My plan was originally to cross over here, go down to the riverside, sketch there, look at wineries, come back up and get the metro to the Dragao Stadium, home of FC Porto. I never did that last bit, because I was moving a lot more slowly, what with sketching these complicated detailed scenes. But what fun!! I never get to draw scenes like this back in Davis. Those bridges in the Arboretum just aren’t the same. I must say though, if there is a quick way down to the riverbank I didn’t find it, I took a long way, walking down a steep winding path. That’s why I never went back that way, but crossed the river at the base of the bridge instead (and then took an even steeper trek up the hill in Ribeira).

Now Vila Nova de Gaia has an interesting history, aside from being where the wineries sell their Port. First of all, it is actually a separate city from Porto itself. The hydrants look a bit different for one thing. Now this settlement existed in Roman times where it was known as Cale, or Portus Cale. Yes, it’s from this that we get the name ‘Portugal’, which was originally the large county around this area which expanded during the Reconquest of the middle ages to what we now know as Portugal. The port area was on the other side of the river, now called Porto (or ‘O Porto’, the port).

Cais do Ribeiro, Porto

Here is another rabela, this one moored on the Ribeira side of the Douro. I love drawing that bridge. This was done a couple of days before, during the Sketchwalk (in which I didn’t really take part as a group activity – there were a lot of people – and missed the final group photo, comme d’habitude eh). I did have to rush back to the Alfandega though for the opening reception of the Symposium.

Porto panorama sm

Now this final drawing I am showing also took a couple of hours, and is themed like the others in the it shows the river Douro and the Ponte Luiz I bridge, but this one is even more panoramic, being one of those double-page spreads I like. Click on the image to get a closer view. I really enjoyed sketching this, though I was standing when I did. Before I began I actually did try to sit at a cafe to rest and have a beer while I got started, but the waiter actually refused to serve me when he saw I had a sketchbook. “Are you going to paint here all afternoon?” he said gruffly. “Well I’m going to draw for about half an hour while I have that beer, yes.” “It is not allowed!” he responded with a mean look. “Fair enough,” I said, I mean there were only a few tables on a very narrow strip and I chose the one with the best view, but this Portuguese Basil Fawlty did irk me a little, I was a paying customer, and didn’t intend on being there for long; I had somewhere to be, and I wanted to sit down and have a cold Super Bock. I’m sure he had had many, many, many others doing the same and it irritated him. So I stood around the corner, where there were other sketchers, and I drew for about half an hour, and then went off to see Gabi’s demo, and then came back to draw the rest for about an hour and a half. I never got to finish the colour, and I do intend on adding it, at some point, but for now I’m leaving it as it is. Just imagine the colourful scene. The sound of seagulls, the chatter of tourists, the silent concentration of sketchers, and of course, the completely irritating sound of street musicians, playing ‘Besame Mucho’ over and over and over again. There are a lot of street musicians – you know how much I love those – and they all seem to play Besame Mucho way too much. There was one though that turned up while I was sketching this who wasn’t actually that bad – he didn’t play Besame bloody Mucho anyway – but then he started playing Oasis songs, but really, really slowly for some reason. “stop Crying Your Heart Out” took about eight minutes, as he warbled on “Hooooowwwwllld Oooowwwwooonnnn,” like a tortured coyote. I don’t think this was exactly Fado, but I can understand Saudade a bit more now, the feeling of sadness after listening to these terrible musicians all day long. Maybe that’s why the wait said it wasn’t allowed, maybe he was warning me of the bad music, like it was for my own good. Ok, I’m exaggerating my own grumpiness for amusing effect (that’s my story). Standing and sketching big detailed scenes is one of the things that makes me most happy, and puts me in a ridiculously good mood despite bad street musicians and grouchy moustachioed waiters. I chatted to some other sketchers I had never met when I was done, and then went off to Ribeira square to meet all the other sketchers for Drink’n’Draw.

One more post of Porto sketches to go! So this is the Penultimate Porto Pictures Post.

big dome in a little country

The Vatican sm
We didn’t see the Sistine Chapel. We didn’t see the Pope on his balcony. We didn’t look inside St.Peter’s, and we didn’t climb up the Basilica’s massive dome. But the Vatican City State was still pretty great! We walked there from our apartment, crossing the Tiber, my son super excited at the possibility of checking another country off of his list of visited countries, and the smallest recognized one at that. Sorry Sealand! Ok, so before I tell you all about the Vatican, I’m going to say that I promise not to make any puns or word-play jokes, not out of any reverence (careful now, that was nearly one) or respect, but because pope-based puns are just too easy, even for me. I’m not promising but I vill see Vatican do (dammit, promise broken). So, approaching the Vatican, you can always tell how close you are by the number of people coming up to you offering you special deals to beat the line, look at that line, I can help you beat the line. By the time you get up to the little boundary that is the border between Italy and Vatican, it becomes unbearable. You only have to turn your head and look at the big line and someone will notice and pounce, “I can help you beat the line! Don’t you want this special deal?” So many of them. They would not leave us alone. I expected devout Catholics everywhere praying n the street (no idea why I had that impression), but it was mostly aggressive unofficial tour-guides with tricks on getting past the big line. So, what I love about the Vatican – as soon as you reach that frontier, they vanish. Like cursed ghouls they are unable to cross the invisible holy line. It’s incredible actually. Now I’m not religious, I don’t believe in God or any of that stuff, but being able to banish all annoying tour-guide-line-jumping-irritants with one magic line is pretty much magic in my book. So we went into the Vatican City-State, no passports or visas required, but we did not enter the Vatican building itself (if only there was a way to beat that line! Why didn’t I listen?), and I took in the experience by sitting and sketching it. I love to sketch a cathedral, big church, basilica etc when I can, and like, dudes, this is the big one. It is massive. The dome of St. Peter’s! My name-sake. (The ‘r’ is silent in my name, as is the St.) We bought postcards, and sent ourselves a postcard from the little Vatican post-office (and by the way, it arrived very quickly, unlike the one from Venice which I am still waiting for, so score one for Vatican Mail. I was disappointed to see that it wasn’t called the ‘Holy Post’ though). I’d like to go back and see all of it some day, but reserving tickets ahead of time is the way to go. We had a lot more sightseeing in Rome planned, so we moved along.
The Tiber sm

Easy, Tiber. I did come back to the river early the next morning to sketch the view of the Vatican, along with the Pont Sant’Angelo, from the Ponte Umberto I. That bridge you see actually dates from the Roman Empire (it is also known as the Pons Aelius) and was built in 134 AD by Emperor Hadrian. Ok wait what, 134 AD? Rome has a lot of ancient buildings, but a bridge that old?? Remember how I said the Romans built London Bridge? Yeah that one didn’t survive obviously (there is a famous song you may have heard about the problems you get with different building materials, but I don’t know how true to reality the song is given that at one point they suggest building a bridge across a wide river in a major metropolitan centre by using ‘silver and gold’, though to be fair they do concede that the people of London may be inclined to strip the bridge of its valuable metal). Well anyway, back on point, this bridge was also built by the Romans and there it is still, to this day. That is impressive. It leads over to the Castel Sant’Angelo, where the Emperor Hadrian has his tomb. The early June morning light reflecting against the waters of the Tevere was so gentle, serene, despite the buzz of mopeds on the street behind me, and the morning tourists posing for selfies. I miss Rome already. I did throw a coin into the Trevi fountain, which means I will definitely, absolutely return to Rome. By the way I still have more Rome posts so don’t go away. Rome wasn’t sketched in a day.

london’s ancient highway

The River Thames sm
For the first sketch back in London I wanted to draw this stretch of the River Thames again, looking out towards Waterloo Bridge. Last time I sat on Hungerford Bridge (a little bit further toward the middle, drawn to include the then-brand-new Shard) the skyline looked different. New skyscrapers keep popping up, all in fun zany shapes like some ten-year-old invented a futuristic robotopolis. They all have funny names too, the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater, the Walkie-Talkie, the Spaghetti Western, the Cordless Kettle, the Balrog, the Gelfling’s Prophecy, all very silly names. Ok some of those may not exist yet. The oldest structure in this sketch is actually Cleopatra’s Needle, on the left there, at about 3500 years old (placed here in the 19th century). Its twin is in New York, you can apparently use it to teleport between the two cities but they don’t like to tell anyone (see previous posts for feelings about Translatlantic travel). Ancient Egyptians used to smirk at the silly nickname too, also making fun of Thoth’s Sewing Machine, Rameses’s Hat-Stand and Mark Antony’s Hypodermic Syringe, and so on. Anyway, I sat on my uncomfortable little stool (now retired) and sketched for two hours straight, as London in the Summertime started up around me, tourists, day-outers, amblers all looked around and marveled at the view. Now if the proposed mess of a project the Garden Bridge gets built this view will be spoiled. I believe the Bridge would go just beyond Waterloo bridge, but with trees poking out of the top of it the views down river would be compromised somewhat. Not a fan. Might be useful elsewhere, but not there. It’s a folly of Boris and Lumley. We’ll see if it actually gets built. If it does, expect more cranes, more changing views, and more sketches along the ever-changing, ever-constant river. I do love this river.

IMG_0522

Here’s the sketch I did on the same bridge in 2012:
Waterloo panorama

a little petite

Petite France, StrasbourgMore sketches from Petite France, the old picturesque part of Strasbourg, famous for being where they put diseased soldiers centuries ago. The scene above is one of the most beautiful views in the city, where one of the canals of the river Ill twists past the narrow medieval lanes surrounding the Place Benjamin Zix (“Zixplätzel” in Alsacien). Benjamin Zix was a painter and sculptor in the Napoleonic era, born here (well, on rue des Moulins) in 1772. The building in the middle is the Maison des Tanneurs, dating from 1572, which is now a restaurant. I sat here by the narrow lock for a couple of hours, as tourists walked by, and other tourists in groups whirred by on those Segway things. I don’t know how you can go around Petite France on those Segways (which remind me of the STAP flying platforms ridden by battle droids in the Phantom Menace while attacking Gungans on Naboo), but a lot of people did manage it. Sketching in Petite France

Below is the rue des Dentelles (Spitzegass), which I sketched on the first day. There is a really interesting shop there called ‘Un Noel en Alsace’, which sells Christmas ornaments, mostly Alsatian. The most recent visit to Strasbourg I had made was in December 2004 with my wife, when we came to visit the Christmas market, or “Christkindelsmärik”. Strasbourg, if you don’t know, is the home of the traditional Christmas market. It is the oldest one in Europe, dating back to 1570, and is a lovely experience (albeit rather crowded). Strasbourg calls itself the ‘Capital of Christmas‘. It seemed to cover most of the centre-ville, and there was mulled wine (or maybe gluhwein, both of which I’m not keen on) being passed around. I do love Christmas time though, and Alsace does it pretty well.

Spitzegasse, Strasbourg

On the final day in Strasbourg I decided I would do more exploring than sketching (I spent a lot of time in bookshops), but I just had to go back and sketch more Petite France. I wasn’t done with Petite France yet. There was one scene which again is picturesque, tourist-photogenic, detail-heavy timber-framedness. The view from the Pont St. Martin towards the back end of the rue des Moulins (below). I spent an hour and a half sketching all the ink, and added most of the colour later. Below me, the water was gushing down from the locks. Behind me, the sound of children playing at a nearby school. Around me, tourists from all over the world lining up to take pictures of each other. I did consider making this a two-page panorama (and even plotted out the left hand page) but knew I wouldn’t have the time to draw it. Still, I’m well happy I took the time to come and draw this.

Petite France Pont St Martin

Still more to come!

over the ill and far away

Eglise St Paul, StrasbourgI don’t think I’ll be putting these Strasbourg sketches on my sketchblog in chronological order necessarily, but perhaps thematically. ‘Down by the River Ill’, which is the theme for this post, will overlap with at least a couple of other posts, but c’est comme ça. There’s a lot of river in Strasbourg (unlike Aix, which doesn’t have one). The centre of Strasbourg is built around the river Ill, primarily on a big island in the river (the ‘Grande-Île’, or ‘Big island’). The Ill meanders into the great Rhine river, which flows by many of Strasbourg’s western suburbs and provides the border with Germany. Strasbourg by the river Ill is very pretty, and a popular place for people to sit on the embankments and just relax, and read. Or sketch! The church above, however, I sketched from a tram stop located on one of the bridges. This is the Eglise St. Paul, which dominates the spot where the river Ill is joined by the short river Aar. The Eglise St. Paul was built in the 1890s, when Strasbourg was part of the German Reich (in the territory of Elsass-Lothringen, or Alsace-Lorraine). The bridge is the Pont d’Auvergne.

Pont St Thomas, StrasbourgSketching by the Ill river, Strasbourg

This second sketch was done earlier in the day, while sat on Quai Finkwiller next to the Pont St. Thomas, on rue Martin Luther. I had just spent a couple of hours sketching a wildly detailed scene in Petite France, and was on my way to sketch the Cathedral. The pink flowers were beautiful against the green railings of the bridge. Below me, a man fished with his long line. I met one other urban sketcher while drawing this, Rene Fijten from the Netherlands. I had met him the evening before at the Urban Sketchers France meetup, having followed his amazing work for years, and it was an absolute pleasure to finally meet him in person. I found him sketching nearby a little while later. If you don’t know his work, you really should check out his sketchblog.

Pont du Corbeau

This final sketch was made down by the Pont du Corbeau, at the end of a long first day sketching Strasbourg. I was on my way to meet up with the French urban sketchers at the Cafe Atlantico, further up the river, and found this stretch of the Ill too sketchable to resist. I could spend days just sketching along the river. I never did do my two-page river panorama (I did give it a go), but I might save that for a future trip.