Summers in Davis, California are ridiculously hot. I know that to you back in Blighty that means little comfort while you have the usual soggy British summertime, but it’s honestly too hot in Davis. Oh it’s a ‘dry heat’ which means you don’t sweat constantly, as we do when it gets hot in London, but still it’s too hot to do anything. You don’t want to leave the cool air-conditioned house, which can then make you go stir-crazy. Davis is too hot. The first summer I had in Davis back in 2006 was so hot that air-conditioning units crashed the local power grids several times; though ours was fine, many people in Davis would escape the hot evenings and go to the bookshop I was working in, just to cool off. Even my nice office was not immune during the day – the power would go down, and the building would gradually heat up, until everyone was just sent home. Davis summers don’t see as many power outages these days (usually they happen during storms now) but the summers are still ridiculous, and our PG&E bills certainly reflect that. However there is one way to beat the heat – get out of town and drive west to the San Francisco Bay Area. That first summer, it was on a Davis day of 115 degrees Fahrenheit that I first realized how different our climates were, the Central Valley and the Bay Area – on that day it was around 65 – 70 degrees in Berkeley. Quite a difference. And so, a few weeks ago, we decided to leave the boredom and heat and drove one Sunday down to Baker Beach in San Francisco, where the air was cool and the sky was blanketed with fog. Yes in California we leave the sunshine and heat and head to the coast to cool off beneath overcast skies and this is normal – I truly have moved across the world, and found my people. There we all were enjoying the foggy skies, in full view of the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge – full view, except for the top, obscured by rolling waves of fog. It was heaven. Of course, those harmful rays can easily get through that fog (I only ever get sunburnt in San Francisco, it’s deceptive) so we were still lathered in sun-screen. We hung out at the beach for a few hours until we got hungry for cheesecake, and then attempted to drive home. That took a very, very long time. First of all, we left the beach at 3:30pm, but did not reach the Golden Gate Bridge until 5pm, and you can see how near it is. Traffic was completely stuck. Over the bridge we stopped for dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, hoping the traffic would ease off, but it didn’t – after another long wait in unmoving traffic we abandoned all hope of crossing the Richmond – San Rafael bridge, and headed north to sit in more traffic along Highway 37. We weren’t home until 9pm, five and a half long hours later. And of course, Davis was still hot. So it is worth it to get out of town and cool down, but you might end up in a car for a very long time.
This is Washington Square, in San Francisco’s North Beach, sketched on a warm Saturday afternoon at the start of June. Last month I led an urban sketchers workshop as part of their “10×10” series, more specifically the series organized by Urban Sketchers East Bay. My workshop was called “Perspectives of San Francisco”, and was of course all about perspective, specifically how to use it when sketching tricky subjects like cities with hills. It went very well, and I hope that I got some of my ideas across. I drew on the many things I have learned over the years (and continue to learn) from perspective experts I have met over the years with Urban Sketchers. It was a workshop of about three hours, and North Beach really is a great place to practice your sketching. When it was all done I drew a scene of Washington Square (above) before heading home. In the morning when I got to the City however I did do a couple of practice sketches not far from the Amtrak bus station, in SoMa. The scene below is of some of the modern buildings that have sprouted up South of Market. I drew it in pencil in about 5-10 minutes, to show the basics, before drawing it again (different page) in pen and watercolour in about 40-45 minutes. While I sketched a woman asked if I was lost. “No,” I said distractedly (I was looking up at the sky with a sketchbook under my chin). “Are you British? Welsh, Scottish, Irish?” she then asked. How you can tell all of that from one mumbled two-letter word surprised me a lot and I didn’t know how to answer except, “oh, um, er” and she said, “ok” and walked off. Very odd. I suppose answering “oh, um, er” to a perfect stranger in the street and looking aghast and confused is pretty much the most British thing you can do, but you see within that question there are a whole number of possibilities which don’t add up to quite the same thing, but may need explaining, which while in the middle of a sketch I really didn’t have time to get in to. British yes, Scottish no, Welsh no, English, well from England so yes but identify as Irish through family, British is easier, European too yes, for now, I suppose I’m Californian these days, but not an official American, what is identity anyway, look it’s confusing. I’m Pete, I come from Burnt Oak, I draw pictures of things and really like Spurs and Lego, that’s where I’m from. So yes, “oh, um, er” is a good description of my identity.
See the top of the fire hydrant poking into this drawing. That’s you, that is.
Here then are the final few sketches from last month’s San Francisco overnighter. These were drawn on the Sunday, after getting up and walking down to Mara’s Italian Pastries on Columbus for a delicious (but messy!) Cannoli and a huge pastry that looked like a chocolate croissant but was much denser, took me all day to finish. It was so good. So here I am in North Beach, and by the way on June 3rd I am holding a workshop in this very place all about perspective, called “Perspectives of San Francisco”. Check out the Urban Sketchers site for details of other workshops in the 10×10 series in the SF Bay Area. I wanted a bit of practice, because sketching cities with hills is not a simple task when it comes to perspective. I stood on Filbert Street next to Washington Square Park and sketched past the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, looking up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower.
Here were are now on Green Street, across the road from where I sketched in November. I like this set of signs leading up the hill, and I had intedned to colour them in but in the end could not muster the energy. I love this old Columbus Cafe sign. the greens and reds around the edges are mostly faded in the sun. Next door is a place called “Pete’s” which of course I just had to eat lunch in. I had lovely eggs benedict there, I definitely recommend.
If you go down to San Francisco these days you are sure for a big surprise. The newest addition to the skyline is a massive skyscraper visible from what feels like everywhere being constructed down in the SoMa district, South of Market. It dwarfs the TransAmerica Pyramid. It will ultimately be crowned with thousands of LED lights to display images, created by artist Jim Campbell. This impressive (and thin) new building is called (wait for it) “Salesforce Tower”. Yes, “Salesforce”. Sales, force. Sales. Force. Not exactly “Empire State” or even “Transamerica Pyramid”. I get that buildings must be names after corporations but do the corporations have to have dull names? Salesforce Tower sounds like a grey block located on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Slough, not the leading light over one of the most iconic cities in the world. If this was London it would have a hilarious nickname by now too, like the Erotic Gherkin or the Cheesegrater or the Vampire’s Collar. I’m sure the fun-loving fellows of Frisco (I know, don’t use that name, but alliteration here trumps acceptable usage) will think up a more interesting name. I sketched this from Market Street looking up, the perspective of drawing tall buildings is one I’d like to work on a bit more. Hey there is a great chapter by Japanese artist Kumi Matsukawa in my book ‘Creative Sketching Workshops’ all about drawing tall buildings. I’d recommend that highly (all puns always intended on petescully.com).
But let’s get back down to earth. I love a hydrant, well here are two. One is near, the other is far away. This is a good example of perspective. Near, far away. I love rusty hydrants. Gives them character. It makes it feel like a Used Universe. This little guy dates back to 1909 if the date on its side is to be believed. He is found in the heart of the financial district.
And then, I boarded a train back to Davis. It was a tiring couple of days hanging out in the City, and while I always enjoy the change of scenery, I’m really starting to get a “done-this-all-before” feeling. A new challenge is needed…
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…
The Sunset. It’s a long way from downtown. The glare of the sun sinking toward the sea basks everything in a yellowy pastel-themed wash, the salty air gnawing away at the corners, the pale shadows drooping lazily across wooden boards. They call this area the Sunset not because the Sun sets here, but because, well, no actually that is the only reason. The Sun goes up on one side, yeah, and then goes down over this side of town. I mean it makes total sense, if you think about it, this is the west side of San Francisco, the sun generally sets in the west, the ocean is there so it can only set near here, so this place is called the Sunset. Oh sure other places have a sun and that also sets but not like here, here it really means it, with its pastel salty gnawed shadows and its glare and stuff. It is miles away.
I took the N-Judah from the part of the city where the sun neither sets no rises but arrives exactly when it means to, counting the stops and watching my Lego watch for the time; I was coming here for an Event. This was no random trip out to the Sunset, which by the way, isn’t a huge destination. My wife lived out here years ago and hated it – she is a Californian used to the Sun, and while they call it the Sunset they should really call it the BloodyFogHidesTheSun, because it is generally agreed to be the foggiest part of an already foggy city. It’s quieter, more residential, and interesting in its out-of-the-way way. I came here, on the N-Judah as I said, which for the uninitiated is a streetcar line of the Muni Metro, to go to a small gallery for a Book Signing Event.
The Book was “On to the Next Dream”, the Signing author was Paul Madonna, the artist and writer famous for his All Over Coffee strip. A decade ago I first discovered his work in a bookshop in Berkeley while I was out on a sketchcrawl and loved his sepia-washed linework scenes from around San Francisco, sketching people free and largely vehicle free scenes of streets and buildings just as I was trying to do; for a little while I sketched monochromatically myself (before I realized how much I like colour). Nevertheless he was a big influence back then as I aspired to improve my own drawn lines. I actually met him a few months ago, with his wife, at the Manetti Shrem opening event (you remember that, surely), which was a surprise. This latest book of his is a smaller book than his previous ones and features a lot more of his writing, detailing in often absurd situations the reaction to his being evicted in an increasingly unaffordable and alienating version of San Francisco that is exactly the real one. It’s a touching book, with his ever-evocative illustration intertwining his equally illustrative text. I definitely recommend. Oh, and Paul signed it too. I mentioned we had met a few months before and he said, “oh yes, you’re the sketching guy,” which is a pretty accurate description. I got my book which I couldn’t wait to read, and looked at the art on display, ate some of those rolled up sandwiches and other fancy food. There were a lot of people there all lining up to get a signed copy, also looking at pictures and eating rolled up sandwiches, talking about San Francisco, some dressed pretty fancily, arriving in Ubers and Lyfts and other chauffeured vehicles, and if I were the sort of person to mingle and talk to people I would probably have met lots of very interesting people, but my sketching fingers were itchy and I decided to go across the street and draw The Last Straw, which was some sort of shop (my inquisitive mind wasn’t inquisitive enough to inquire what they sold). I saw it from the window, and looking at drawings of buildings makes me want to go and draw buildings. Like Father Dougal, who cannot resist pressing a big red button on a plane if people are talking about big red buttons on planes. So I drew The Last Straw, as more Ubers and Lyfts pulled up behind me and more well dressed city folk went to the gallery. It was nice, but I am shy so I sought out the N-Judah, said goodbye to the ocean, and headed away from the Sunset and into the Moonrise, I guess.
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.
Exciting Announcement! I’m going to be teaching a workshop in San Francisco on Saturday June 3rd called “Perspectives of San Francisco“. It is part of the Urban Sketchers “10×10” series of workshops, being held to commemorate ten years of Urban Sketchers. Yes, Urban Sketchers has been around for ten years. Well, the Flickr group, started in 2007 (I remember well, it was called “Urban Sketches” (no ‘r’), and I joined another group at the same time called “Rural Sketches” wonder what happened to them) (hey for all I know they are still around, I’m just in my Urban bubble obviously). So, let’s explain what this is all about. Cities around the world, from Seattle to Sydney, from Johannesburg to Jakarta, from Ramallah to Rome, will be holding ten workshops each over the course of the year. Workshops are limited and you have to pay for them, but will be taught by Urban Sketchers members on a variety of different subjects. Here you can find the in-progress list: http://www.urbansketchers.org/p/10-years-x-10-classes.html.
In San Francisco, the workshops kick off on March 11 (with a launch party at Arch Art & Drafting Supply on February 11) and continue through June 10. The instructors teaching workshops are Srivani Narra Ward, Laurie Wigham, Nina Khashchina, Richard Sheppard, Uma Kelkar, Rhoda Draws, Oliver Hoeller, Suma CM, Susan Cornelis and myself. The full list of workshops can be found at: http://www.urbansketchers.org/2017/01/10-years-x-10-classes-in-san-francisco.html. In fact there is a pdf with more details including cost ($45 per workshop) to be found here.
So, my own workshop will be called “Perspectives of San Francisco”, starting at 1:00pm in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood. As you can probably tell, the focus of this workshop is ‘perspective’, but specifically perspective in a busy city built on hills with steep streets and steep history. The level will be intermediate, but I will make the approach to perspective as digestible as possible. Spaces are limited to fifteen participants, and you’ll need to bring drawing materials and sketchbooks (preferably panoramic – big enough to fit long perspective sketches on!). North Beach is my favourite part of the city and a great place to practice urban perspective sketching so I do hope you can sign up!
You can register by contacting Suhita Shirodkar, the lead instructor of the San Francisco Bay Area 10×10 program by emailing email@example.com. Or why not check the Urban Sketchers website for a workshop taking place in a city near you!