the scenery of san francisco

Crissy Field sm
Recently, for our anniversary, my wife and I took a couple of days down in the City. That is San Francisco to you. We stayed at the Fairmont Hotel, which is an old San Francisco spot of legend up on Nob Hill – it was here that Tony Bennett first complained to lost and found about losing a vital organ, through the medium of Croon. I’ve always wondered, is that song supposed to be a metaphor, or did he actually leave his actual heart lying around? And his other city based songs, is Chicago really just a tantrum-throwing two-year-old? I don’t know, Tony. I love San Francisco though, it’s honestly one of my favourite places in the world to be. I did leave a shirt there once, hanging in the closet in the Hyatt. Above, Crissy Field, out near the Presidio. We went to the Walt Disney Family Museum, very interesting.
Views from Fairmont sm
Our room had absolutely stunning views over the City. As the sun went down, before getting ready for dinner, I sketched a couple of the views – the peak of the TransAm Pyramid, golden in the sunset light, and Coit Tower, up on top of Telegraph Hill. I wish I were rich, I would just live in San Francisco for ever and ever and ever. It’s a city that is pricing people out though, so I don’t think drawing a few pictures and writing a few books is going to get me to San Francisco. When Tony Bennett sang that song, he was actually talking about having to farm out his own organs just to cover the rent. Ah, perhaps it’s for the best. One of the things I love about San Francisco is getting to visit it – it is so utterly different from Davis in every way, it’s always a nice change of scenery.
Grace Leuchtturm sm
I have sketched this big old church before, Grace Cathedral on Nob Hill. I did their Christmas Concert program a few years ago. Since we were staying so close I wanted to get a Sunday morning sketch of it in. I didn’t have a lot of time, so I drew in my new purple Leuchtturm sketchbook that I got in Manchester.
Tad's Steaks sm

After that, we went to ZineFest, and that was kinda fun. Actually probably enjoyed it more in previous years, I found fewer gems this time around, though I still spent on a few zines. I tended to buy some of the really random ones. We got the Muni back down to Union Square for a little bit of shopping; I bought some underpants at Uni-Qlo, I really like their underpants. I realize you don’t need to know that, but I’m just saying for those of you who also wear underpants (a good deal of you, I suspect), that Uni-Qlo do make really comfy ones. While my wife continued shopping, I sketched Tad’s Broiled Steaks outside, an old eatery on Powell Street. Always wanted to sketch this place, though I don’t of course eat steak. And there you are, San Francisco again. I want to go back!

the view from telegraph hill

SF view of Golden Gate sm
Here are the last couple from my day in San Francisco, and these are the bridges. Above, the view of the Golden Gate Bridge as sketched from Telegraph Hill. There are always a lot of tourists around the base of Coit Tower, and on this day the clear views of the Bay were incredible. Isn’t San Francisco beautiful? It’s amazing. I love drawing cities, and as cityscapes go this is iconic.
SF Bay from Telegraph Hill

I went around to the other side of Telegraph Hill to a quiet spot on Vallejo that I have also sketched before, about eight and a half years ago. The view has not hanged much (though if you could see beyond Treasure Island to the Oakland side of the Bay Bridge, it is now completely different – the old bridge has been almost entirely removed, with the new spacious modern bridge taking its place. This view however shows the classic San Francisco side of the Bay Bridge. This hill is so steep that it’s quite a climb to get up here. I couldn’t imagine living up here (what a view if you did!). Below, the first time I sketched this. I stood a few steps down, closer to the tree. I’m told there are green parrots in Telegraph Hill, flying free and wild. Telegraph Hill was known by the Spanish as Loma Alta, and later called Goat Hill by residents. It became known as Telegraph Hill due to the large semaphore tower erected in 1849 that would act as a signal to the city about which types of ships were entering the Golden Gate.
view of the bay bridge from telegraph hill//

the drinking spots of north beach

Mr Bings SF
Last year at around this time I Amtrakked it down to San Francisco to sketch North Beach, and as I mentioned in my last post that’s what I did again a couple of weeks ago. Now last year I spent some time sketching the bars and cafes of the area, so that’s exactly what I did again this time. Above is Mr. Bing’s, a little cocktail dive that I’ve always wanted to go and have a drink in but have never plucked up the courage. Well, I’m not here very often. I have always wanted to sketch it though, so it was the first thing I sketched that day, while eating an early-lunch panini at the cafe across the street. North Beach has those little green white and red bands on the lamp-posts to signify that this is the Italian neighbourhood, but just on that corner there you can catch a glimpse of a Chinese-themed lamp-post, as that is the border with Chinatown.
Caffe Trieste SF
This is Caffe Trieste, a little further uphill and around the corner from here. Caffe Trieste is an old San Francisco favourite, in business since the 1950s and popular with the artists, musicians SF tourguideand poets of the area. As a passing Big-Bus tour-guide (not on the bus with walking with a group) mentioned, this was a regular haunt for the famous Beat poets, such as Kerouac, Ginsberg, all the Beat poets. The tour guide (who I sketchd quickly, right) felt obliged to read some Beat poetry outside, I couldn’t understand what it was about though. It’s not just the Beat poets who sipped espresso here, apparently Francis Ford Coppola wrote much of the screenplay of The Godfather here. I never went into the Caffe (I don’t drink coffee, nor write poetry) but I would love to sketch the interior some day, soak in the beat-lit atmos. Did you know, Caffe Trieste was probably the first Espresso house on the West Coast? Its founder, Giovanni Giotta (Papa Gianni) came from Istria (near the city of Trieste; I’ve been there, nice place) in the 50s bringing a little piece of home with him.

Specs, San Francisco

I was feeling pretty Beat myself after all this sketching (do you see what I did there? Did you see that? Read it again) so as the Sun was quickly dashing westwards I chose to do my next sketch from the comfort of a pub table. One of my favourite haunts in the City is just around the corner from here, Specs, an interesting North Beach bar with walls and ceilings full of memorabilia and stuff to look at. I do love this place. Last time I was here I sketched a panorama of the busy bar area and was one of several artists dotted around the pub, unconnected but just doing what we do. I sketched over a couple of pints, listening to conversation, people watching, dreaming of anything. That might have been a Beat poet in front of me, perhaps a young Beat poet, I wasn’t sure. A young lady shared a laugh with a silver-haired man at the bar (I sketched them too, below), while a group of British fellows unseen to the left enjoyed a weekend pint while reminiscing about San Francisco in decades gone by. Or they might have been talking about something else, rugby or something, but I hear what my ears choose to hear. I like Specs. Years ago I came here with my friend from England and played chess and got drunk and laughed and did impressions of Brick Top. I like Specs.

Specs drinkers

I have another post of sketches from that day – stay tuned. So, do you remember when I posted my North Beach sketches last year, over two posts? One of the posts (“Leave the Pen, Take the Cannoli“) got a ridiculous number of comments, 223, possibly my record. The second post (“A Bright Centre to the Universe“) got a very respectable 11 comments, which is pretty good, but clearly not quite as good as the first. I actually prefer the drawings in the second, but according to everyone else the first post is more than 20 times better, but that’s fine. Anyway on that note I will leave you with the chronologically-out-of-place first sketch of the day, which I did on the Amtrak at around 9 in the morning. The train from Davis was crossing the Delta, with the golden brown landscape dashing by in the chilly morning sunlight. It was even colder when I got back to Davis, cycling my bike home in the near-freezing dark. It’s a long day out, sketching in the City.

Amtrak from Davis to SF

the sentinel building

SF sentinel building
At the end of November, I went to San Francisco for the day, just to sketch. It had gotten really cold in Davis, whereas San Francisco was about the same temperature, and therefore really warm. I understand that logic. I wanted to get back to North Beach, one of my favourite sketching destinations in the world (Strasbourg I think is top). I came down here at the end of last year and sketched until my fingers were too cold, and although it isn’t cheap getting down here on the Amtrak, it’s worth it just to be somewhere so different from Davis. Now I will post the building above is called the Sentinel Building, and has a special place in my personal sketching history. I remember coming here in late 2006 and sketching this on a postcard sized piece of watercolour paper, using just light pencil and watercolour paint. I remember a man asking if he could watch, and in those days I was so shy about my sketching I said no, and turned instantly invisible. I was however really pleased with the outcome, and figured that all of my sketches would be like that (when I discovered micron pens I went in a completely different direction). Here is that sketch, from nine years earlier:
on the corner of kearny and columbusIt’s still one of my favourites, and brings back warm memories for me. California was still so new, so much to discover. For example, I later discovered I got the name of the street wrong. I do wonder sometimes why I am drawn back to the same old spots, but urban sketching is about having a conversation with your surroundings (even if too shy to have a conversation with the people). Anyway, after less than a year of going out and about with new pens and new sketchbooks, I took my first of many Watercolour Moleskines back down to North Beach, and sketched the Sentinel Building once more. I remember that I used a Copic 0.1 multiliner, and a grey version of the same pen for the buildings in the background.
the sentinel building
Back then I was really into scribbly frames as well. This was another sketch I really loved, and still do. For a long time this was actually my favourite of my sketches. It was like, I was trying to get my sketches to be a certain way, and this was it, but it was just the sort of atmosphere I couldn’t achieve in bright, hot, low-level Davis – it was city-specific.

Back to the present…so the sketch at the top was done while standing up the quite steep slope of Kearny Street. I noticed that there is a lot of graffiti on the dome now. Here are my in-progress shots. Well, the above are technically “in-progress” as well! I’ll show you the other sketches from that day in a different post, but for now, here’s the Sentinel Building.


people fly by in the traffic’s boom

Market St Panorama sm

Market Street, San Francisco. Click on the image to embiggen it.

A couple of weekends ago it was the Worldwide Sketchcrawl Day. While many of the world’s urban sketchers were busy in Singapore at the 6th Urban Sketching Symposium, I was in San Francisco, though I didn’t manage to meet the other SF sketchers this time. I arrived in the city a little late, my train (which was packed with Barcelona and Manchester United fans, evidently they were playing a friendly that day in Santa Clara) taking longer than usual. While the sketchcrawl was starting up at Duboce Park I wanted to have a look around Market Street first. This section of it is a little sketchy, but there’s stuff to sketch. A few months ago I came here to see Noel Gallagher play at the Warfield (an epic gig, like being sat inside a massive gramophone, and Noel was excellent), and I remembered that I want to sketch the Golden Gate Theatre at some point. So I stood on the corner and sketched a panorama, fully intending to add colour at some point (until I got struck down with “can’t-be-bothered-itis”). While I sketched, some Christian group across the street started bursting into songs of praise. Not because I was sketching, of course. After a while, a homeless man with a dog decided to stand not far away from me and take that as the appropriate opportunity to perform an inspection of the content of his underpants, which I daresay needed inspection by a licensed professional, but perhaps not so openly on the corner of Market Street. Again, I don’t think it was because I was sketching. Oh, the characters around here. When I was done with this sketch I had lunch at the food court of the Westfield shopping center, and took the Muni Metro up to Duboce Square. I didn’t meet a single other sketcher, but I did do a fair bit more sketching.

Duboce Square houses SFDuboce Square Park, SF

Duboce Park is quite nice. It has a very Local Neighbourhood feel about it, though this being San Francisco I’m sure you have to be doing pretty well to join the local neighbourhood these days. I’ve never really been here before, except for when travelling through on the Muni, or that time last March when I wandered about nearby with a couple of friends from England on the way from Castro to the Haight. The park is filled with dog walkers, families, young people laying on the grass reading books.  By the way, note that I deliberately said ‘reading books’, and not ‘looking at their electronic devices’. ‘Reading books’ probably makes you think “yes, reading books, as it should be, not on their iPad looking at Facetwit or Spacechat or whatever the youths are into these days, ignoring the amazing views.” You may well be thinking this while reading this on your iPad. Well I’ve said ‘reading books’ to give you the impression that they were all probably cultured individuals, but for all I can remember they were on their iPads, and for all I know they were reading e-books. They may have been reading Kafka or Kundera for all we know, but the world sees ‘electronic device’ and thinks ‘shopping for shoes’ or ‘reading clickbait on Facebook’.  Whereas they could be reading a tattered paper book, lying on the grass with their legs lazily crossed in the air,exploring a world of wonder and imagination, and that book might be ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ or a footballer’s autobiography* or anything by Dan Brown. So the moral is ‘don’t judge an electronic device by its cover’, but feel free to judge a book-reader by the trash you can see them reading. So anyway, I was sketching the park, there was a kids birthday party going on nearby (with a pinata), in the dog park part of it dogs were running around and barking and texting, or whatever it is dogs do, and construction vehicles lined the street beside the Muni lines. I sketched the second one from the steps of the Harvey Milk Center for the Arts. I enjoyed sketching here.

Lower Haight St panorama sm

My final sketch of the day (not counting the one I abandoned due to getting tired) was another big panorama, this time in nearby Lower Haight Street. This is a very colourful neighbourhood, edgier, more ‘hipster’ than ‘hippy’, and there was some sort of small daytime dance party (or maybe it was a record store with DJs and cool people) a few steps away. I overheard two guys talking, there was talk of this party and that band, all many levels of cool above my coolscale (or below it, depending on your point of view). I was aching standing here, and the wind was picking up (sky was blue for periods, but a lot of clouds and fog rolled in and it got very chilly. A welcome change from the Davis heat I was escaping, but I needed to sit down and relax for a bit, so I walked down to the Toronado pub nearby and got a beer. Sitting down proved much harder, as it was pretty crowded. I had one beer and went home, the end of another busy sketching day in the city.

selfies in san francisco

SF Boat and Selfie Stick
A couple of weeks ago or so we took advantage of a special offer on the Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains where if you buy a ticket, your family or friends can come too for only $5 each way. Since it costs $60 to get to San Francisco these days, which is a lot of money actually, a day out in the city would usually cost me $180 in train tickets alone, but as it was it cost only $80. “Only” $80; I could buy a lot of Lego with that. Well, maybe not a lot, but some. One or two decent sets anyway. The Avengers Tower plus the Ant Man set perhaps. I don’t know, let me think about this actually, I am making my list. Anyway, my wife, my son and I all jumped on the train at 8:25 in the morning and travelled down to San Francisco for a day of just wandering in the city, seeing stuff. It’s such a nice train journey across the Delta and along the Bay, and my son had never been on that journey before. He liked it I think, but he did his best to put on his I’m Bored face everywhere we went in San Francisco. I thought the change of scenery (and cooler weather) would us all some good, but he really wanted to get back to his Lego (tsk, we’re so different). I took him to the Musee Mecanique however, and that was a hit, It’s on Fisherman’s Wharf and is full of old arcade games from the past century, and we had a great time; he particularly liked the skee ball game, while I battled it out as Magneto and Cyclops on “X-Men vs Street Fighter”. Stupid Dhalsim and his long arms, no match for the might of the Master of Magnetism! (Actually I lost). Anyway afterwards we walked down to the water’s edge, to the little sandy beach area at Aquatic Park. While my son paddled his feet in the water with my wife, I sketched the scene, with the boat SS Balclutha moored on the jetty. I have sketched that ship before. As I sketched, a young woman on the beach was taking selfies, and lots of them. hundreds perhaps. Selfies from above, below, standing, crouched, lying down, facing the boat, facing the bridge, facing the sand, facing the sky, facing the city, every possible iteration of selfie there is (ok not every possible iteration). With the dreaded “Selfie-Stick” of course, bane of everyone’s lives, and if you believe the press, on the verge of being universally banned from existing anywhere ever. She was very happy, and why not, in the sunshine, next to an amazing city backdrop, Golden Gate Bridge free of fog, why not. Passers-by called her the “Selfie Queen”, probably fair, but it made me think of the actual Queen, whose face as we know is on all the money in England, I had visions of Elizabeth II holding up a twenty pound note and looking at it pulling a duck face (can I just point out I don’t know what that is but I hear the term a lot, I don’t care what it is either), and saying “One is taking a Selfie of One’s self,” while Prince Philip is looking at a Selfie-Stick and saying “What the bloody ‘ell is this?” while making some racist comment about tourists. Oh, the Royals. So, I added Selfie Queen (not my term) to the sketch. My wife joked that I should have drawn a selfie of myself with everything in the background, but it would have been hard holding the pen with the book stretched out in front of me, and then the painting, I couldn’t do it.

I only did one sketch that day, but I did come back down by myself a week later for the worldwide sketchcrawl (more train money spent). We got ice cream (not Ghirardelli, the lines were too long), and decided against queuing up for more than an hour for the cable car (Saturday afternoon isn’t the best time for that), so headed home.

a bright centre to the universe

Columbus Avenue (not "St"), San Francisco. Click image to see bigger.

Columbus Avenue (not “St”), San Francisco. Click image to see bigger.

It was getting a bit nippy by the mid afternoon in San Francisco, but I had a lot of drawing left to do. I wanted one more panorama, and I wanted it in one of my favourite spots in the city, that bit of Columbus Avenue (not ‘Street’ as I always write it) by Jack Kerouac Alley, with City Lights Books and Vesuvio. I like how this street slants down and I have drawn it before looking downhill to the financial district, but never from here. I stood for an hour and a bit sketching before it started to rain a little, and had to finish off the window shading later on. God I love San Francisco sometimes. Anyway I have always wanted to sketch inside Vesuvio, so I popped in for a couple of pints of Anchor Steam and sketched the scene below. This place merits a whole lot of sketching, it’s so full of detail and character. I love bars like this at Christmas time.

Vesuvio, San Francisco

After this, I made the odd decision to walk through Chinatown to Union Square, five days before Christmas, which was a bit manic but hey, I once worked on Oxford Street at Christmas time. I got my bus to the train at Emeryville, and went back to Davis, tired and full of sketches.