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.

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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…

night-time at mr bing’s

SF mr bings
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.

Here’s the sketch from 2015, sketched from across the street. This was before its makeover, but the sign remains the same.
Mr Bings SF

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…

SF Rogue
Specs, San Francisco
Vesuvio, San Francisco
the saloon, san francisco
SF: Vesuvio
Specs SF sm
savoy tivoli, san francisco
savoy tivoli jazz band
rogue, san francisco

like a setting sun

SF outer sunset
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.