Last week we went to the Aerospace Museum of California in Sacramento, which I’d wanted to visit for ages but as always, never get around to it. I grew up near the RAF Museum in Hendon, living about a mile or so away, yet it wasn’t until 2019 on a brief visit back to London (there was an Urban Sketchers London sketchcrawl there) that I finally visited. The California Aerospace Museum has a pretty amazing collection of planes and helicopters, and to quote the Bard, I love all that shit. When I was a kid I was obsessed with war planes, fighter jets, army helicopters. I loved the Spitfire of course, who didn’t, but was a big fan of the Tornado, and of the classic F16. In my primary school, probably because of our proximity to the historic RAF Hendon Aerodrome (now the site of the RAF Museum, and Grahame Park Estate) divided the kids into four houses, common in British schools (magical or otherwise; round our way your wand would be broken and your broomstick half-inched), and those four houses were named after great fighter planes: Phantoms (blue), Harriers (red), Jaguars (green) and Tornadoes (yellow). I think they were the colours anyway. Come to think of it maybe Jaguars were blue. Were Phantoms black? They might have been green. I don’t care. I was in Tornadoes, we were yellow. We got house points for good deeds, doing well at stuff (most of my house points were for drawing) (I might have lost some for drawing on the table though), and sports day. I did have pictures of planes on my bedroom wall; my big sister went out with a guy called Neil for a while and he worked at British Aerospace, so he brought me some brilliant prints of fighter jets. I used to draw my own ones, overloaded with all kinds of missile and machine gun, helicopters too. One of my favourite shows was Airwolf. Anyway the nine-year-old me was in heaven seeing all these old American fighter planes. It’s mostly open air, all the planes and choppers are displayed around the outside of the main hangar building, which mostly holds exhibits and engines and things about space, as well as an enormous aircraft called ‘Makani’, a many-propellored ‘energy kite’. Even thought it was morning it was very hot and hard to spend too much time outside. I particularly liked seeing the banana shaped helicopter and the Sikorsky ‘Jolly Green Giant’, and was enthralled with the fighter jets (no F16s, sadly). I got to draw a couple of them – the F86 Sabre (above), which had the logo ‘CALIF-ANG’ on the side (I made my wife take a photo with it, since she goes by Ang (short for Angela) and is from Calif (short for California). I love the US Air Force logo, that big star, it’s so classic. I also drew the McDonnell-Douglas F-4C “Phantom II”. I had to draw a Phantom, in honour of that old school house (my friend Wayne was in Phantoms). I always thought they were a British plane but of course that fighter originated in the US, and was exported to the RAF. This one flew extensively in Vietnam and is supersonic. We were able to go inside some of the larger planes, and in one huge Korea and Vietnam era plane there was a man who had participated in combat missions in Vietnam in that very plane, not as the pilot but as one of the crew on the plan, and who had parachuted from it many times. His stories were fascinating, and when asked if he enjoyed his time serving in the Air Force he said yeah, because he was up in the sky – it was much less fun for those on the ground. I’d like to go back and draw more some time, spend a few more hours there, but maybe at a cooler, less oppressively sunny time of year.
And now a look back at the distant past when we could go to things like parties and gigs. Not that I ever go to any such things anyway so it’s not something I’m really missing. However I wanted to show you this sketch I did back in September when I was in Sacramento with my wife, at her father’s party in midtown, the one he holds each year to celebrate when he moved to the area. (He is generally a bit more social than me!). It was held at a cafe bar called Shine, and he had a couple of bands come to play at the party, one of which was called Band of Coyotes, and those are the ones I sketched. They were very good. I really enjoyed drawing this though and it was probably my favourite drawing in that particular sketchbook, because I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but I just drew anyway, starting in the middle and working my way outwards. I added paint in a very let’s-see-what-happens fashion too, not having great light to really see the colour, and I loved the multicoloured outcome, going from warm in the middle and cooling off outwards. I put on a lot of washes, so many that it actually went through the thin Seawhite of Brighton page, I didn’t mind. It’s always more pleasant to draw when you have good music to draw to, no doubt. A lot of the time I wouldn’t want to draw musicians, they might turn out to be pretty bad, or maybe they themselves are kinda nobs, and you don’t want to draw those, but this band were very good, and I think that comes across in my enjoyment of sketching. Oh man, I want the world to go back to normal, and I can go and draw everything again.
Ok…this one goes back a while. Back to March, in fact. In my defense, I only got the sketchbook back recently, so I could not write a post about it at the time. Well I could have, but stories without pictures? I was invited by Prof David Del La Peña of UC Davis to take part in a special sketchcrawl, which was to be part of the annual conference of CELA (the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture) in Sacramento. The sketchcrawl would move from midtown Sac and end up in Davis, linking up by train between the two. I joined them after lunch in Sacramento, and we were given accordion Moleskines to draw a series of fast sketches in, on location, at various spots about downtown. Also in attendance was Chip Sullivan, who I was not familiar with but he is very well known as a sketcher and educator and knows James Richards well. So I started off by drawing him and David near the conference center in midtown.
“Where Are We Going” it said on the sculpture near K Street. Well it turns out we were going down to the Cathedral, and I sat behind the large open angel wings of a statue. I remember drawing this Cathedral (Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament) years ago, 2006 or 2007, back when Pyramid Brewing was right behind, and California was so new to me. I remember trying to draw the Crest back then as well, the classic movie theatre a little way down the street. As we stopped for a moment to mention something about sketching I drew the sign, taking just a few minutes, before we moved on.
And then we moved to the newest part of downtown, the area around the Golden One Center, the massive basketball arena. We saw Paul McCartney there a couple of years ago, an amazing show, one of the first performances held at the stadium. Macca sang for three hours and was incredible. I remember when this was part of the downtown mall, I would come here occasionally, but it is long gone now. You’ll notice I decided to deraw in pencil that day. I find that in those accordion moleskines I find drawing in my usual pen to be frustratingly difficult. The paper, the size of the page, the fact that it’s flopping all over the place, plus the extremely limited time in each spot – so I just went with pencil, which moves so fast across the page, and splashed on watercolour when I could. It was a sunny day with great clouds.interesting shadows, but cool enough for scarves. My favourite weather. We walked from there over to the Crocker Art Museum, not with much time to do a larger sketch (such a tight schedule, and distances to cover!) but enough time to pop into the gift shop. Oh but I did get a sketch, of another sketcher in a red coat. And then we went to old downtown…
Old Downtown has lots to sketch, I really should go sketchign there more often. This time I decided to draw some of the fire hydrants, one with a yellow cap, one with a green cap. This was followed by fast sketch of the Pony Express statue, before we walked to the Amtrak station.
I sat with a couple of the people attending the conference, Penelope and Tatyana (I think one came from Texas, another from California, but this was in March and my memory has faded). It doesn’t take long to get from Sac to Davis, but there was a table and a defined amount of time to sketch. You can see from the window that the Causeway was still full of water, after all the rain we got last spring. I have sketched the inside of Amtrak trains a few times before.
And then we got to Davis, with just enough time to draw that iconic and sketchable Davis building, the Varsity Theatre on 2nd Street. And then we relinquished our sketchbooks, and walked back to the UCD campus.
The books were shown at an evening event during the conference, I was unable to go to it, but it would have been fun to see how everyone else interpreted the afternoon. Everyone sketches at different speeds and with different amounts of detail; I consider myself a fairly quick sketcher but it was hard to keep up! My feet were pretty tired afterwards, and I needed a good rest that weekend.
One more pub panorama for you, the last one of the summer – this is O’Mally’s in Old Sacramento, a pub I last went into about ten years ago with my friend Terry visiting from England, who beat me at pool. On this day, I had just been sketching cars until I could stand no longer over at the California Automobile Museum (see two blog posts back), and wanted to get a nice interior sketch done before going home. It was too crowded outside to do a panorama of the street, full of people touristing by, getting their saltwater taffy and taking olde-time-photos or whatever they do in old Sac. I grabbed some fries from one little place which had a fairly gross cheesy sauce on them – it sounded good, but really wasn’t. Maybe it was the heat and dehydration. I decided a cool bar interior was what I needed now, and so popped down to O’Mally’s, because I had never sketched this one before. It’s pretty old inside, and I sat with a cold beer and drew the bar area. It took almost two hours. A group of people to the right of me were trying out the breathalyzer machine which is stuck to the wall. Some more people came in and hung their skateboards from the back of their seats. I originally wrote the name as O’Malley’s, but corrected it to O’Mally’s. I used the usual brown-black pen, with watercolour paint, but also some brown Pitt marker for the darker areas – when using those, do it after the watercolour – it definitely runs a bit and muddies up the colours! In this case, it added to the overall tone, and worked well. Another pub sketched!
You can see my bar/pub/cafe sketches in one Flickr album: “Pubs, Cafes, Bars etc“. Or hey, if you want a print of one of my bar sketches, there are several available to order on my Society6 page: https://society6.com/petescully/prints
This is Old Town Sacramento, sketched almost a month ago now, though it looks very much the same. I drew it while my wife and her sister and the kids were in the California Railroad Museum, which is next door to this row. Sketching Old Sac means sketching lots of windows, lots of those little bollard things on balconies (what are they called? I must look it up), oh and wooden boxes, just lying around for no apparent reason than to give Old Sac its Authentic Look. This was the last sketch in a sketchbook. This is actually called the Big Four House, and is a National Historic Monument dating back to the 1850s, very much the California Gold Rush era. Now the Big Four were actually four tycoons most usually associated with building the Central Pacific Railroad: Leland Stanford (he of the University), Collis Potter Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker (he of the Art Museum).
This is the midtown Sacramento pub called ‘Streets’. Click on the image to see it in closer detail. This pub was formerly known as the ‘Streets of London’, but they decided to drop the ‘of London’ part presumably in an effort to appear more inclusive to the other metropolitan centers of the UK and indeed the more rural counties. They could have gone further and called it ‘Lanes’ or ‘Highways and Byways’. They have an actual National Express Coach-stop sign outside the pub, and still have a number of British-themed (specifically London-themed) objects in the pub, but not as much as they used to. When I first came here back in 2006 or whenever it was, they had football shirts and scarves hanging from the ceiling. Those are sadly long gone (and you know how much I love football shirts). Otherwise though the pub really hasn’t changed a lot. One TV ahead of me was showing the Giants baseball, another was showing French football (which these days just means ‘PSG and someone else’, you know how much I don’t like seeing PSG). It’s been a long time since I was in here last, but I have wanted to do a panorama sketch of its brick walls and cozy layout for ages. I hadn’t planned on it; we spent the morning in Arden Fair mall, mostly at the Lego store (and you know how much we love Lego). I then took the opportunity to go to midtown Sacramento, to look at all the goodies in the University Art store on J Street. I picked up a ‘Cathedrals of the World’ colouring-in book (and you know how much I love drawings of the Cathedrals of the World). I then wandered about looking for something new to sketch, but by now it was hot, very hot. Very very hot. I considered sketching the historic Governor’s Mansion (which I last drew in, um, 2007) but could not find the right angle, what with all the big trees in the way (stupid trees, providing shade from the oppressively hot sun and the air we breathe). Maybe I will come back in winter.
By this point, the searing heat was giving me a headache, and I had to cool off urgently. So I went back over to Big Brother Comics on J Street, bought the latest issue of ‘Thors’ (one of the very fun and inventive books from Marvel’s ongoing ‘Secret Wars’ event; the ‘Thors’ are like the cops of Battleworld, and this plays like a classic cop drama, but, you know, with more hammers and lightning), and popped into the Streets of London pub to cool off and read. Sorry, ‘Streets’. No more humming Ralph McTell. After finishing ‘Thors’, I thought, ah what the hell (sorry, what the ‘hel’, Thor joke) and started to sketch a panorama. I sketched quickly and drank my two beers slowly (one after the other, not slowly at the same time). It wasn’t particularly busy, but the staff were friendly and the atmosphere nice. At one point a large party of Sunday pubcrawlers came in, had a pint, and left. I remember this being a thing the last few times I have been at this pub. There are a bevvy of boozers in midtown now, and I imagine an afternoon pub-crawl with all your friends on a hot Sunday in mid-August would be quite a lot of fun, but you don’t get to spend long enough in any place to enjoy it before the fastest drinker in your crowd claps his hand loudly and orders you to move on (that’s what happened here). They do have these pedal-powered contraptions now that groups of people ride on, all pedaling, drinking water, being directed from pub to pub, while yelling ‘wooh’ and ‘yeah’. The pub returned to quiet Sunday afternoon peace very quickly, but I had to get the bus home to Davis. I finished off adding all the paint the next day. Another pub sketch checked off the list!
Having sketched one panorama in Sacramento already that day I decided to sketch another in nearby Old Sacramento. This is the Gold Rush era town, established in 1849 according to their handy brochure. Now see the building with the red and white striped awnings, that is Fanny Ann’s Saloon, I have sketched it before back on a rainy day in 2009 (click on the little square to the right to see it, and then come right back here to finish reading). It’s a really interesting place with lots of old stuff all over the walls (including for some reason old British railway station signs, among all the Old West stylings). I’ve only ever been in there in the afternoons for a quick pint post-sketching or post-shopping, I imagine it is a fun place to hang out in the evenings, I don’t know but it’s always very friendly. They have a website, http://www.fannyannsaloon.com/, but if you click on there you have to promise you’ll come right back because I’m not done). They also have arcade games upstairs. I remember about five years ago my friend Simon came over from England and played some of the classic shoot-em-up games, which seemed appropriate given the location we were in, I don’t mean in an old town from the Cowboy era, but just America in general. There he is on the left there, you can click on that image to get an idea of the decor (and you’ll have to come back to this page after that because there’s nowhere else to go). So that is Fanny Ann’s, which reminds me of the expression “Sweet F.A.”, which my Mum used to say meant “Sweet Fanny Ann’s”, which of course means “nothing”. Or was it “Sweet Fanny Adams”? Actually it was “Sweet Fanny Adams”. Yes, I’m pretty sure it was. Ah, so I’ve been telling people for years it was, well never mind. Words change as they get across the Atlantic.
Take “Fanny”. I had no idea. Now for those of you who don’t know, well, go and look it up on Google (open a new tab so you can come back here though, be really careful how you phrase the search). Yeah, see? I had no idea. The expression is probably ruder in England than in America. We don’t go around saying “Fanny this” or “Fanny that” (unless it’s a name in a costume drama, it’s always a name in a costume drama) and we all giggle at the mention of the word. In America it means ‘backside’, as you all know. People wear “fanny-packs”, that which we in England call “bum-bags”, of course in America “bum” means something else, often a homeless person, or in the often used expression “to be bummed”, again an alarming and graphic choice of words to a British ear but I actually heard a newsreader here in California say it three times in as many minutes when describing some local news item, basketball or something. “Bummer” is common on both sides of the pond of course, but here I’ve even heard the President himself referred to as “A Bummer” (thanks folks, I’m here all week). But “Fanny”, I had no idea. Years ago in France, when I first met my wife (who is American) I remember gasping in shock as she told me about when she had fallen over on rollerblades once and gotten a “bruised fanny”. I wasn’t even sure how it was physically possible, and I asked if she’d landed on a bollard or something, and after some confusion she laughed and explained that she was referring to the posterior. It was my first step into a larger world, a world of transatlantic vocabulary differences and easily avoided faux-pas. I still won’t say “fanny”. That old fashioned embarrassed Britishness is just too deeply ingrained in me, stiff upper lip old chap, put that light out, there’s a war on.
So anyway next time I’m in old Sacramento, I’ll pop back into Fanny Ann’s for a pint and a bit more sketching. If you see me, do say “Cheers”, or perhaps the rather more British expression “Bottoms Up”, which of course translates over here as, well…
I like to think of myself as an art lover, an appreciator of fine paintings, a sage head-nodder in the gallery. I sometimes stand for ages looking at small details on masterpieces with a well-practiced face that says “knower of his shit”. In truth I’m always a bit overwhelmed by great epic works of art, in awe of them though I am, and they don’t always inspire me as much as turn me into a scratcher of head. Actually I must confess I do love modern art, and visit the Tate Modern almost every time I go back to London. I did do art for my GCSE back in school and got an A, but when I did it at A-Level I got a D, largely because (I felt afterwards) I spent a lot of time in galleries and not enough time drawing. And in those galleries, my favourite parts were always the gift shop, where you could see all the famous paintings in small postcard size. It’s probably why I draw so small. When it comes to art history, once I get past Picasso, Van Gogh and Mondrian, I always feel like a bit of a beginner. Though I did enjoy learning about the Futurists and their Manifesto when I was at university. So despite doing art every day of my life, I don’t often make enough time to go to galleries.
Anyway, after living here for almost a decade I finally went to Sacramento’s amazing Crocker Art Museum a couple of weeks ago. It was actually on the recommendation of my seven-year old son (who was still six at the time), who had been there before and wanted to show me the statue of the man with the really small head. The Crocker is great! The older part, housed inside the large mansion you see in my panorama on the left, has amazing interiors, as well as a thoroughly impressive collection of art. The Crocker Art Museum was actually the first of its kind in the Western United States, being established in 1885 by Judge E.B. Crocker and his wife Margaret. The Crockers were one of those wealthy families that helped shape California in the post-Gold-Rush era; Judge Crocker’s brother Charles was one of the big railroad barons in the late nineteenth century, and going by their portraits these people like to shave their cheeks, but had enormous beards on their chins, predating the 1990s turning-thirty-goatee look by well over a century. The European collection is astonishing, with some oil paintings by Dutch masters such as, um, er (you see? Beginner) depicting canals and light, and one depicting a bishop standing being all holy while a woman calmly squirts milk from her breast directly into his face. Yes, this centuries old painting had me giggling like my fifteen year old GCSE art self would have done. There was some amazing work by Californian artists, as well as ceramics by UC Davis’s own art legend Robert Arneson, plus historical artifacts from across the globe, some of which were thousands of years old. There was some breathtaking modern art, and an exhibition of Mexican art, and indeed we did find the hilarious statue of the man with the tiny head that had delighted my son. It was very funny, but not as funny as the bishop with the milky face.
The large white modern wing, in the right of my panorama sketch, was opened in 2010 and is called the Teel Family Pavilion. My son was excited to tell me that they have tables where you can eat your snacks. His previous visit you see had been as a group with his daycare, and I’m so glad his first visit was, well, with his mates rather than with his parents, because you get a better appreciation for such places with your friends and peers, who can laugh at small heads, than with your boring folks who seem to find amusement in bishops and breasts. We did find the other area downstairs which is dedicated to kids, a whole room full of interactive art activities like a touchscreen to create digital abstract art, tables full of coloured paper and shiny tape where we made some fancy paper airplanes, oh and a large board with shaped colourful magnets where I had the most fun ever, as you can see.
So impressed was I with our afternoon at the Crocker that I came back the next day to sketch the outside. I was inspired, not by the Flemish landscapes, nor by lactose-tolerant priests, nor even by unusually miniscule faces, but by a pencil drawing, an urban sketch of that very mansion. It was dated from the 1880s, I think, and apart from the 21st century appendage it looked pretty much as it does today. After seeing that sketch, I just HAD to draw it myself. It was on a Monday, which was a holiday, the museum was closed so there weren’t a lot of cars parked blocking my view across the street, so I stood listening to the Football Weekly podcast and added to my own burgeoning collection of panoramas.
Visit the Crocker’s website at: http://crockerartmuseum.org/
2015, the future. On New Year’s Day I had a day off. New Year’s Eve is always a bit unnecessary in my opinion these days, old fogey that I am becoming, just watching TV waiting for that awful pointless ball drop in New York City that actually happened three hours ago. God that is awful, isn’t it? Times Square on New Year’s Eve, in a massive crowd of people doing basically nothing, being forced to listen to the most awful bland TV music in the history of popular entertainment, if you happen to be watching on TV you also get treated to hours of the most awful TV presenter banter intermingled with nonsense about how Times Square in New York City on New Year’s Eve is somehow magical and amazing, well it is for you random celebrity pop singer, you have all the trappings of being a random celebrity pop singer, you don’t have to wait in a big crowd listening to you bawl on before some stupid ball comes down a stupid pole. And you know what? They didn’t even show the actual ball on the TV channel I was watching, like it must have been sponsored by the other side, was it? I bet it was. The fireworks if there were any must have been too because they were also lacking. Oh I watched the fireworks from London on YouTube, and London won New Year’s Eve this year. Anyway, if you’ve managed to read this far into my anti-NYC-NYE rant (Happy New Year, by the way), here is what I managed to sketch on the first day of 2015. I was in old town Sacramento, while my wife went to Arden to return some stuff, and I had about an hour and a half. I did most of the drawing on site, but finished the detailing and added the colour later at home. It was a lovely sunny day. I do remember the very first New Years that I was here in California, I remember having the exact same rant about the three-hours-ago nonsense on TV back in 2005-06, that was NINE YEARS AGO. I remember the news stations were asking people in Sacramento not to be shooting their guns up in the air on New Year’s Eve (a popular pastime apparently) because bullets, you know, come down again and could hurt people. I remember how stormy it was that year, how we had a lot of flooding in the area. I was new to America, still not working at that point, with Davis being all new and fresh and undiscovered. Anyway…this was done in the Seawhite of Brighton sketchbook, and yes, same as last year, I’m spending January doing panoramas. More to come…
This weekend past I went to Sacramento to do a little last-minute Christmas stocking stuffer shopping (ended up buying myself a couple of comics at Big Brother in midtown, one of which was Inhumanity #1, it’s very good), and topped of the afternoon with a sketch outside the Capitol building. This is where California is governed from, a huge white building at the end of Capitol Mall. The late afternoon December sunlight was golden, and the large Christmas tree was set up outside. People were gathering for some sort of caroling event that would take place later on, while at least one wedding party ambled by taking photos, the bride being in one of those massive dresses like you see in the olden days, you know the ones. I sat on the grass and sketched away, the cool afternoon turning quite mild by this point. Not long until Christmas now! Our own tree is up, chopped it down myself, and the place looks all nice and warm. I wish it could be Christmas every day.