kearny to columbus and a pint of anchor steam

SF Kearny & Sacramento
I usually head towards Columbus. It’s my favourite street in San Francisco, cutting a diagonal slice across the grid, leading from the Financial District to the Italian flavoured North Beach. I haven’t sketched a lot of Chinatown recently, but my tired feet didn’t feel like climbing up to Grant or Stockton, so I strolled along the flatter Kearny, and stopped a couple of times to draw the scenes above and below. I was on the corner of Kearny and Sacramento, the long slope of the latter blowing dust downhill and into my eyes. Standing a few feet back shielded me from the wind, and gave me a cheeky view of Coit Tower, waving at me like a prize. I had no intention of going that far this time.
SF Kearny St shop
I could not resist sketching the store above. Something about this view just said it all to me. These are the types of scenes I like to sketch the most. I didn’t go into David’s Food store, perhaps David is Beckham, or who knows even Bowie, reborn. Or maybe Cameron, perhaps they have a lot of pork products. But maybe it’s more David as in Goliath, with Goliath being modern expensive San Francisco, and this little food store is holding out against them as the David figure, with long hair that gives him strength, until Goliath finds his weakness in his tendon, I might be mixing up my old stories here. I also didn’t go to Rainbow Cleaners, but I assume that is where Geoffrey would get Zippy, George and Bungle dry-cleaned. This is the silly thing I think about when I sketch. I should be thinking about meaningful pearls, writing travel articles in my head, stories of the smells and sounds of the city, but in reality I’m just daydreaming about Rod Jane and Freddy. At least I wasn’t humming any of their songs! Oh no maybe I was.
SF Sentinel Building

I got myself back on track.This is not the end of Kearny, but it is where it meets Columbus and where it starts getting significantly more mountainous. I have drawn this view before, many times, in fact one of the earliest San Francisco sketches I did was of this building. It’s the Sentinel Building, which has Francis Ford Coppola’s Cafe Zoetrope at the bottom. I’ve not been in there but next time I will. I like Coppola’s films. The Godfather, the Godfather II, all his films.
SF Specs

And finally, time to rest. I left the bright late afternoon and walked into Specs, one of my favourite spots in the city. At first I though it was closed, all the lights were off, but it was just much darker than outside and it took a while for my eyes to acclimatize to the dim lights in there. It’s full of stuff, and a few characters. I ordered a pint of Anchor Steam, took a seat with a view and started scribbling in my book. I read for a little (amazingly I could see really well after my eyes got used to it), reading some of those travel stories, and then drew these two fellows at the bar in pork pie hats. Or bowler hats, I don’t know, I’m not a hatologist. I enjoyed drawing this. It’s very different, much more of a reaction to the low light than a line-for-line interpretation; I’ve done that already. I’ve sat on this seat before, years ago at the end of a night out with my friend Simon, we played chess (drunkenly, he drank whiskey and I drank beer). Seven o’clock approached, the long journey back to Davis beckoned. I really love coming to the city, especially this area. I have plans to do a historical sketchcrawl down here sometime in the next couple of months, I have thought about it for a couple of years now. There is a lot to discover. Just around the corner, for example, on the very next day, March 24, City Lights Books was celebrating the 100th birthday of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, famous local Beat poet and co-founder of City Lights. A hundred years old, can you Beat that!

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the evolving san francisco

SF Market Embarcadero
On Friday night, the rain came down hard. My son’s Saturday morning soccer game in Concord, was cancelled. It’s been a wet, wet winter here in northern California. So, instead of having a lie-in, I decided last-minute to jump on a train to San Francisco, for a day of sketching. The sun was coming out. I don’t actually go to San Francisco very often – the last sketching outing there was in 2017! – perhaps I think I have seen it all, it’s a long way to go for a day out without a plan, I’m always left wanting more, and as I get older my feet hurt more from marching around cities as I’ve always done. Then I go, and I remember how different it is from Davis, I remember how much I love true cities, proper urban environments, I remember that I really love San Francisco. This city is changing; it’s changed even since I first started going there, taller buildings are going up, people and places are being priced out of town, but change is inevitable. If cities stayed the same, San Francisco and all its neighbourhoods would not be recognizable as the ones we know today. The scene above, for example, at the corner of Market and Embarcadero looking toward the iconic Ferry Building, looked utterly different until the early 1990s. There used to be an enormous double-decker elevated freeway passing right in front of this view, the ‘Embarcadero Freeway’, a hated blight on the city (read about it on the SF Chronicle site). Built in the 1950s and controversial from the start, the freeway linked both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges. In 1986 the people of San Francisco were asked whether it should be demolished; voters voted ‘no’ and it stayed up (goes to show, what do the public know). Then the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake happened, seriously damaging the freeway, and that decided things for everyone. The Embarcadero is a lot nicer now. I started my day at the Ferry Building where I got my little ‘bombolini’ from the lady who sells nice Italian-style pastries, I bought a book of travel stories from the Book Passage, and then I stood on the corner of Market in a nice shaded spot with the my sketchbook. Many of those old streetcars passed me by, some of which originally came from far away, such as Chicago or Milan. This orange and green one used to trundle along the streets of Los Angeles. I took care not to stand too close to the curb, in case buses banged into me from behind, but that was the best vantage point so that neither the yellow sign nor the palm trees blocked the Ferry Building’s clock tower. It’s better than a big elevated freeway.
Blue Hydrant Market
Here is a blue fire hydrant I spotted on Market. You don’t see many blue ones around here. It looked pretty hastily painted.
SF 181 Fremont

The biggest changes lately though have been the addition of a whole clan of skyscrapers to the are South of Market (SoMa). they are going up so fast I cannot keep up with their names. This one for example took some finding out. The building to the right is Salesforce Tower, the new tallest building in San Francisco which was not quite yet finished when I last sketched it. On the right is the older Millennium Tower (built presumably a couple of decades ago if naming convention holds, though that doesn’t account for the Millennium Falcon, although Correllia probably has a different calendar to Earth, and it was a long time ago and far, far away). I stood on Mission and looked up squinting to draw this. Sunlight reflected from those windows on the Millennium Tower; I was worried I might melt if hit at the right angle, like those cars in London beneath the Walkie-Talkie. I didn’t know the name of this building, it was so new, and it doesn’t appear on Google maps yet. With the whole South of Market Transbay project, new glass and metal skyscrapers are flying up all over the place. The idea of skyscrapers on such earthquake-prone ground as San Francisco was a quiver-inducing prospect until fairly recently, but I guess the engineers are better at solving those conundrums. I discovered the name of this building much alter, after some research online: ‘181 Fremont’. 181 Fremont? That’s it? Not the ‘Upright Protractor’? the ‘Union Jack-knife’? The ‘Alien’s Umbrella?’ I think San Francisco needs to take a leaf out of London’s book and give their new skyscrapers silly and not-particularly-descriptive names. I mean even ‘Salesforce Tower’, what is that? Ok Salesforce might sponsor it but come on San Francisco, come up with a funny name. Perhaps that is what we have lost, as the city changes, the ability for the local humans to come up with plausibly imaginative nicknames for tall buildings. Perhaps they feel, as I am sure Londoners do, that once you start nicknaming tall buildings, you have to come up with nicknames for all of them, even boring ones, and it’s just too much effort. 181 Fremont it is then.

a day in the city

Amtrak Dec2017 sm

Just before Christmas I went down to the city (San Francisco) for some pre-Christmas sketching, and to spend money shopping for last-minute gifts. Well, one last-minute gift. And it was from Tiffany’s so it was less ‘last-minute’ and more just ‘minute’. Well, maybe not that small. I walk in there and I say, look, I am a man and utterly clueless, I don’t even know what a Tiffany’s is, I actually thought you sold cakes, and they are like, absolutely sir, don’t worry, you are not alone, let me help. And they were very helpful. But you don’t want to hear about my complete cluelessness when it comes to shopping for things that aren’t made by Nintendo or Lego (hey, I feel sophisticated when I buy myself a new jumper, like I’m a style guru or something). You’re here for the sketching, and that’s what I do. Actually it’s not all I do, I’m also really into history and language and writing, and I totally love football (soccer) and spend ridiculous amounts of time obsessively making spreadsheets of football stats you don’t need (for example, the most worn kit make since the Premier League began is Umbro, also the most successful in terms of games won and equal on titles won with Nike, but Nike has a goal difference of +1316 compared to Umbro’s +341 (compared to Adidas whose goal difference is +480 – you really don’t need to know all of this, but this is the sort of stuff I think a lot about) (I do work for the Statistics Department, it kind of rubs off on me). Anyway, the sketching. I used a new Palomino pencil that my friend Terry in Japan sent me (I thought palominos were horses) (I should tell people, this pencil was sent by a pal o’ mine) to draw the Amtrak train scene above, because you have to draw on the train.

SFMoma Dec2017 sm

Now I haven’t sketched around SoMa in about ten years, so I went to the Museum of Modern Art for a little inspiration. I was mostly inspired by the entrance fee to maybe go and do some sketching outside instead, but not after spending a lot of time in the gift shop. They have the best stuff. I sketched outside in Yerba Buena Gardens, which is always a nice place for people watching (I love that phrase, I never watch people, they’re not very interesting). Fun fact, Yerba Buena is the original name of San Francisco, being renamed after the local mission in 1847.

SF Jewish Musuem sm

Now this unusually shaped building is part of the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and I could tell before looking it up that it was designed by Daniel Libeskind, as those diagonally turned buildings are somewhat of a signature of his. It reminded me of the building he designed on Holloway Road in London, I used to go past on the bus. London Metropolitan University, that’s it. This one is much more dramatic. As I sketched, a rather shouty man, tailed by a police officer on a bike, wandered past yelling some angry gibberish at the world, with the cop shadowing him all the way. I didn’t add any paint, but moved on, as I only had an hour or two of daylight left.

SF Johns Grill Dec 2017 sm

I was near Union Square by now, and so I stood just off the Christmas shopping masses and sketched the signage of John’s Grill. I don’t know who John is or what his grill i all about but they appear to specialize in Jazz, cocktails, steaks and seafood, and have been around since 1908. Well done Pete, you have successfully read words, pat yourself on the back. I really liked that tall building in the background, on Market Street, and I used a grey pen to sketch it. San Francisco’s slightly damper air gives a muted, softer feel to its colours and lines.

SF Union Square Xmas Tree 2017 sm

Yes, I have posted it before but here it is again to round off the daytrip. It’s the big Christmas Tree in Union Square. It was busy, lost of people stopped to take pictures with the tree (a lady sitting nearby was asked many times by people to take their photos, she was very obliging; nobody asked me, I was sat above, my head buried in a sketchbook). I did draw a couple taking a selfie though because that’s the thing nowadays, actually people have always done it even with their old cameras but it didn’t seem to offend grumpy people as much. Seriously, people who get irritated by people taking selfies, get over it. I know the standard response to that is “seriously, people who get irritated by people who get irritated by people taking selfies, get over it” but if you start down that road you end up on a continuous looping paradox of nonsensical arguments (aka Twitter) (or aka everywhere these days). Anyway, after this sketch, the sunlight fading faster than fog in a funfair, I switched into hapless Christmas shopper mode and spent the rest of the day making the wallet a bit lighter. And then I caught the train back home to Davis.

Voices Singing, Let’s Be Jolly

Davis Xmas Tree 2017 sm

I’m hoping 2018 will get me back into the groove of sketching-scanning-writingnonsense-posting, but we shall see. I haven’t even scanned my November sketches yet! And some of those were from lovely Hawaii. Also, a couple of sketchcrawls not reported on, but actually a lot less sketching than usual. The large massive glut of sketches at the start of 2017 has, well not dried up exactly, just been a bit disrupted by my working-through-lunch habits, and also running out of things to draw in Davis. So anyway rather than play catch up, here are three recent and timely sketches of Christmas Trees. The one above, that’s the one down in E Street Plaza in Davis, sketched on the December “Let’s Draw Davis” sketchcrawl. I really enjoyed sketching that, after quite a busy and stressful week, I needed to be out sketching with sketchers and it was nice.

SF Union Square Xmas Tree 2017 sm

Now this one was done only a couple of days ago, down in San Francisco. Needed de-stressing, so getting out of Davis for the day down in the City was the ideal tonic. I just went around SoMa and Union Square, and ended up sketching the big tree with the extremely festive Macy’s in the background. It was very bright.

Home Xmas Tree 2017 sm

And finally, our own little Christmas tree at home. It’s a fake tree, which we bought if I remember rightly back in December 2005, our first one in Davis. It’s heavily protected from kittens who like getting in and lying on the branches. I always like to draw it before Christmas Day itself, so it still has pressies around it. It’s Christmas Eve right now – well, just turned Christmas Day, and I just finished off a bottle of Italian red wine, which feels not only supremely festive but highly decadent, I have not finished a bottle of red wine pretty much since I was at college, I think. I’m not a huge wine drinker; this one was quite nice. Also ate a lot of turkey, parsnips, cheese, chocolate, and even a mug of hot chocolate – I accidentally bought a tin of hot chocolate at the store today for $12.99 which is completely mental, I don’t even drink hot chocolate (once every few years) but I saw it and thought yeah, that looks nice, and only $2.99! Checked my receipt later and was like, what the? But the store was so busy I didn’t want to go back. So I got my $12.99 hot chocolate and yeah it was nice I guess, it bloody well better be, $12.99, that is, wow. I bought a lot of unnecessarily expensive cheese too. The selection wasn’t very good either. Well, Christmas is all about the dearth of cheeses.

Sorry, cheesy Xmas joke ahoy. Actually the selection of cheeses was very good. Merry Christmas everyone! Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings and And a Happy New Year. May you have all the joys of the holiday season, full of friends, fun, festivities and lots of things that begin with f. Buon Natale! Joyeux Noel! Meli Kalikimaka! Frohe Weihnachten! God Jol! Prettige Kerstdagen! Nollaig Shona! Feliz Navidad!

Alright here’s a few more Christmas trees I’ve sketches from down the years. Not all of them, just a few.

merry christmas everybody!
xmas tree 2011
christmas back home
Merry Christmas!
sapin de xmas
at about 5am on boxing day

cooling off at baker beach

Baker Beach San Francisco
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.

perspectives of san francisco

Washington Square, SF
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.
Pencil sketch SOMA, SF
SOMA, SF
See the top of the fire hydrant poking into this drawing. That’s you, that is.

upstreet downstreet san francisco

SF filbert st
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.
SF Columbus Cafe
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.
SF salesforce tower
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).
SF hydrant

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…