sketchploring in sunset

Little Shamrock, SF Inner Sunset

Many of my favourite things to do got sidelined during the pandemic. Going to the cinema – I loved doing that. The last thing I’d watched at a cinema was Sonic The Hedgehog; I was determined not to have that be the last thing I saw at a cinema before the cinemas all closed down and replaced with streaming. I love travelling to other countries, not exactly an easy thing to do even now. My last trip to the UK was November 2019. And I love to sketch in pubs. I love to sit at the bar, nice slow pint, sketchbook out, putting the atmosphere of the pub on the paper. Historic old pubs, all the better. I’ve missed that. So, down in the city for the third time in less than three months, I found myself in the Inner Sunset neighbourhood, on my way for an afternoon wandering about Golden Gate Park, because I’ve not really spent much time doing that. I had some new green paints and fancied drawing a bit of foliage. I am usually bored by foliage but I thought, different park innit. However, I needed a wee. I didn’t think I could wait to go looking for the public toilets in the park, so I stopped by the Little Shamrock pub on Lincoln, which dates back to 1893. As I approached, I could see through their open window that they still have a sketch of the pub that I drew in 2013 hung proudly on the wall, next to all the historic photos and articles about the old place. That was a nice surprise, and a sign that maybe I didn’t need to go to the park just yet. so I decided to stop here; you still have to show the vaccination card to get a drink, but it wasn’t very busy and I found a lovely table by that open window for the breeze (and I was sat beneath my old sketch). And over a couple of beers, I drew the scene above, which is my first pub interior since 2019. I was pretty pleased with it. It surely ate into my foliage sketching time, but pah, I prefer sketching a pub. The couple seated at the bar were, I guess, on their way to the baseball to see the Giants, the man was in a Buster Posey jersey. That brings me back to 2012, 2013 myself, when we were watching the Giants a lot ourselves. Back when they were winning stuff. Posey was the young buck; he’s still there. I haven’t watched baseball in about eight years. I think the game I was watching might still be going on. Anyway there is a lot to sketch, all the flags, all the colourful lamps, all the ornately shaped chairs. The dark areas, the light areas, oh I have missed this. I spent a good hour and a half or so in there. Here’s my old exterior sketch on the wall, I love the red frame. Makes me feel like part of the story. 

IMG_3758

And here is my other sketch from 2013, for a bit of ‘Throwback Thursday’ on a Saturday. This was done sat at the bar. I remember listening to a couple next to me talking about the art world, I think they worked in galleries, so I knew I was in good art company. I usually am, in the city. I had just attended the annual ZineFest, and was armed with some of my own zines, that short bar-zine I produced back then, Davis Bar-By-Bar. The guy who worked there even bought one, and really liked my sketches of the day, and not too long after that they must have bought that print of the exterior sketch, because next time I came here with my wife we saw it in there. It’s a great old pub this, maybe my favourite in the city (well top two, I do love Specs down on Columbus) it would be nice to come back in the evening some day. I’m not quite ready for busy bars right now though, but this was a fun way to spend the afternoon, and involved very little foliage sketching. 

Little Shamrock SF

I did go to Golden Gate Park though, eventually, wandered about. But there were a lot of people, a lot of cars, and not really enough things I wanted to draw. There was a long line to go into the Japanese Gardens, and it was a bit expensive for the amount of time I’d have been in there, so I gave it a miss. I wandered without sketching, and headed back to the Inner Sunset.

SF Hydrant Inner Sunset

I used a bit of the green paint. After stopping for a cookie at a counter, I crouched down on the corner of Judah and 5th and sketched this hydrant with a nobbly top. There’s always a fire hydrant. These ones with the little metal bobbles on their hat are very specific to San Francisco. I was told years ago that it was for the horses, the fire horses would be tied to the big ball on top of the hydrant. That’s true, I’m going to say. It has been a while since I drew a hydrant like this too, I think. 

9th St San Francisco

I had wanted to go across the park to the area along Clement, to finally find Green Apple Books, to explore a part of town I’d not been to. Alas I never made it. But there is another branch of Green Apple Books right here, “By The Park”, so I went in for a browse and picked up a little postcard book of artwork from My Neighbour Totoro. I had a little bit of time before I had to jump on the Muni back downtown, so I stood in the street and drew as much as a I could of the shop and the view up 9th. The fog had rolled in by this point, but it had been a really nice day. I had to finish it off later, but I was tiring and needed to get back to Davis. Another well-worth-it day out in the city, I can’t wait for the next one. I’m already studying the map for more exploring. ‘Sketchploring’. I am a sketchplorer. Or maybe a sketchsplorer?    

plus c’est la même chose

Market St San Francisco

A few weekends ago, I went down to the city for the day. It was my third trip to San Francisco since June, that is, my third trip to San Francisco since months before the pandemic even began. Making up for lost time, making the most of an opportunity to get out of Davis, catching up on the sketching for this year. Lately I have found it harder to fit the sketching in, what with the heat, the soccer coaching (I have been tending to spend lunchtimes desperately trying to plan practices), and also the thing about having drawn everything in Davis and the need to go and draw something new. So, I went to San Francisco, and drew some things I have drawn before. It was a Sunday, and I arrived in the middle of the city right by the Westfield on Market, where I made a beeline for the Lego store. So much great stuff. It was also lunchtime by this point, so I went to the Food court. Now on the way down, my wife had mentioned to me, oh by the way I think San Francisco requires you to show your vaccination card to get into anywhere to eat. Um what? I didn’t bring it, I had no idea. Thankfully I remembered that I had a scan of it uploaded into my UC Davis profile, which I was able to access because, for sure, they checked them before entering the food court, where I had a delicious chicken philly sub. That saved me from a day of eating Snickers bars from train station vending machines. Anyway, well fed and ready to sketch, I headed out into Market Street and looked for a building I last drew about nine years ago. It is the big one with the dome, no not that one, the smaller one with the green dome and a big sign saying ‘The Hibernia Bank’. I’ve always just called this the ‘Hibernia Bank Building’, meaning I assume it’s actually called something else obscure like the ‘Howlett-Summers-Grey Building’ or ‘Number 1 Jones’ something. But no, it’s called the Hibernia Bank Building, and it dates back to 1892. Yes, before the Earthquake in 1906, which it totally survived, probably giving it all “call that a quake?”. Well it had a bit of damage in the fire but not too badly. The architect was a man called Albert Pissis, but I’m not going to make fun of his name, that would be taking the p-, er, that would be taking the mick. It’s a great looking building though, placed at an angle against Market which cuts diagonally through the edge of the grid. Below, that’s the sketch I did back in 2012, obviously from a few steps further along the street,

hibernia bank building, san francisco

Okay, back from 2012 to 2021. Did I ever imagine nine years later I’d be sketching the same thing, but this time on the other end of a pandemic which has done what it’s done? No of course not. But drawing the same thing again over a period of many years does provide a kind of constant to anchor yourself to in time. Yes, I rewatched Lost recently, I love that oddball Faraday. When I was done with this sketch I decided I’d take the Muni up to the Inner Sunset, sketch around the Park. I had to stop though to take a look at the San Francisco City Hall. There was a market going on at UN Plaza, so I stood in the middle of the sunlight for a few quick minutes and sketched the big dome, which is the other big dome I referred to earlier. That was foreshadowing. Actually its not really foreshadowing if it’s not really a big event is it? It’s more like a callback. A small reference made earlier to a small reference I would be making later. I don’t think there will be any more of those, so don’t worry if you weren’t paying attention. So City Hall – this was where my friends James and Lauren, visiting from England, got married back in 2015, with me as the only witness. A beautiful day in the city that was, one I will always remember. The interior is pretty breathtaking, beneath that big dome. Now though, Civic Center Plaza is home to a huge homeless encampment, which is mostly fenced off.

civic center market SF

I’ve drawn this here big dome before, but I’m not going that far back. It’s further back than 2012. Ok, you’ve twisted my arm. Here are a couple – the first was done in, gulp, 2007, while the second was in a much more recent feeling 2009. Oh mate. I have been sketching San Francisco since 2006, and it turns out that’s a long time ago. Like, when I first sketched San Francisco, it was as far away in time from now as it was from when I was a gangly fifteen year old at school playing guitar and obsessing about Spurs and spending my Saturdays wandering about London or in libraries reading books about languages and drawing big fantasy buildings and writing silly stories. Haha, ok when you put it like that, maybe I’m not too different. Anyway here they are.

city hall, san franciscosketchcrawl 23 city hall SF

I did go to Inner Sunset but I will leave that for another post, because I can tell you need a sit down after this hike down memory lane. I think when you decide to head off on that trail, the memory lane, you need a guide to tell you if it will be ‘easy’, ‘moderate’, ‘difficult’ or just ‘bloody painful to think about’. I look at pictures from the olden days, the long long ago, and it gets me a bit sad. You can’t pause time, can you, it just won’t let you. (Admittedly we did try to back in March 2020, and we would have gotten away with it, but the months since just slid by like a shot of whiskey on a long saloon bar. Speaking of which, my next post will feature My First Interior Bar Sketch Since 2019, which is quite a milestone. You’ll have to wait for that though.

Richmond BART station

Speaking of waiting – nice callback there* – when I first arrived at Richmond station for the BART train into the city, I had to wait for 29 minutes for a train, 29 minutes that felt a lot longer than 29 minutes (just like years, the first 29 last forever, then after that you’re on a speeding train that ain’t stopping till it stops), so I got the sketchbook out, and drew. The sketch took about 15 minutes, because I needed time to fiddle about with my iPod deciding whether to listen to an audiobook or a podcast, and also there was an odd man loudly muttering nearby. Plus ça change…

(*Sorry not a callback, that was a segue)

a thousand stories in san francisco

SF Skyline Panorama

In June I spent an overnighter in the city, San Francisco, staying at the Hilton on a really high up floor, as you’ll recall, I drew from the window next to the elevator while news about Christian Eriksen was still fresh, and I drew the Nob Hill view in great detail. I have always wanted to do a longer panoramic of this view, but rather than go back down there I decided to get a big piece of paper and draw that view once again but this time with the area to the right included, from various pictures I took that morning. So one Sunday evening and late Monday afternoon I drew this, and this will be my piece for the Pence Gallery’s 2021 Art Auction. I decided to leave it uncoloured, unlike the original, and I think that would look good on any wall. Well maybe not any wall, it might look out of place on the Great Wall of China, for example, or on Bob Wall from Enter the Dragon, or on Wall’s Ice Cream, or maybe I’m wrong and it would look great on all those things. Part of this view shows San Francisco’s famous Chinatown, as it leads up towards Nob Hill, and looking out to the left at Sutro Tower, and to the right beyond the wide road of Broadway is Russian Hill. Every block in San Francisco is worth exploring. Every window, a story. Ok, “every window tells a story”, that is a great thing to say when looking out over a cityscape, you should say it to someone next time you are looking over a city, particularly at night, I dunno, it sounds like it’s quite a deep thoughtful thing to say. “Every window tells a story, every story, a universe,” etc. But then you say, “not a very good story,” so you don’t sound like you’re being a nob. “I mean, most stories aren’t very interesting,” you say next. “Most stories are actually not worth telling. We should mind our own business about most stories. Actually stop looking through all those windows, nosy bugger.” That’s what you should say next. It’s true though, about stories. Some are brilliant, most are kind of “ok, skip to the end”. I recently got a subscription to a well-known audiobook provider, and frankly, the past couple of books I’m struggling to finish. I love a good story. The one I’m listening to right now would probably be better if I had just looked at the book, although the storytelling is a bit blah. The narrator however is terrible. When reading the story itself he is ok, reading in a precise actorly tone, but when he does the voices of the characters it’s like he thinks he’s in a 1970s production of “Oliver!”, being completely unable to read any female voice without going into a strange high-pitched fake cockney flower girl voice, “eeeer woss yorr gime?” type thing. I’m deliberately not telling you the name of the book or the narrator. So maybe I will skip audiobooks for a bit and go back to reading paper. My eyes are going a bit though, those mid-forties have caught up with me. As my glasses get stronger for seeing far away, I find I can’t read or see up close as well, so I need to take my specs off and bring the book nearer to me. Same with the sketchbook, or in this case, the big piece of paper. When drawing from life I relied on what I could see with my eyes, and it was a bit easier; drawing from a photo on my ipad screen and then leaning into the paper with my glasses off to see the detail, bit trickier. Yet I completed this all in one evening and an afternoon. The scale is actually the same as in my sketchbook, it just looks a lot bigger because it’s twice as long, and inside a 10×20 inch frame. I really like it, it would look good on any wall. Well, most walls. 

good afternoon ladies

Alamo Square park San Francisco 

After waiting on Market Street for a long time for a bus that was never going to come – it seems some services were reduced or cut during the pandemic, but the bus stop obviously didn’t like to say – I jumped on an N-Judah Muni metro up to Duboce, on the way to my next destination that day, Alamo Square. I realized that I had not been to Alamo Square in about a decade, when my mum had visited from England and we went to see the ‘Painted Ladies’, that row of Victorian houses sloping down the eastern side of the park, with the backdrop of San Francisco behind them. I had not actually been there to draw in even longer – July 2008, if you can believe it. The drawing I did that day is below. I remember that I came down for an overnight sketching trip while my wife had gone up to Oregon, and covered a lot of ground, wandering and taking the bus and really connecting the city together in ways I’d not done before.

painted ladies

The big Victorian houses around here are impressive, many that pre-date the 1906 earthquake and firestorm, as they were saved from the flames. Alamo Square park sits on high ground overlooking the city from a distance, and that backdrop has changed a lot since 2008. The massive Salesforce tower for one, that wasn’t even a twinkle in the architect’s eye. The Painted Ladies – unpainted in this case, and you can click on the above image for a more close-up view – might be the most photographed, painted, drawn view in the city, maybe even more than the Golden Gate Bridge itself. It’s a romantic view alright; while I was sketching a wedding took place nearby, and there were lots of couples out enjoying the view. It was a sunny day, but breezy, easy to sunburn, lovely to look at. Most of the groups of people in the park were young, enjoying the day, making memories I guess. I drew and drew and drew, two hours I sat there on the grass, really working those eye muscles to try and see all the details in the distance. By the time I was done my body said “no painting, leave it, time to move along”. If I had been staying overnight, I might have sat there longer and added in the colours, but I think this way you can imagine them yourself. The Painted Ladies aren’t painted very brightly – they are different colours, but are quite muted. I should have drawn them arranged like a Zoom screen, very 2020-2021. Alamo Square park was busy, but not as crowded as Dolores Park was when I sketched a panorama there in June. There was a lot of space around me still. It’s quite an uphill walk to reach here though, I walked from Duboce Park, where I last sketched a few years ago, up Pierce and past the corner with Haight that I also sketched a few years ago, stopping off for a cold soda and of all things an Aero bar (this one corner shop had a lot of British chocolate for some reason), before climbing the steep hill to get here. 

SF Fulton & Scott (Alamo Square)

On the other side of the square, over the hill where they let the dogs run free, I stopped to draw this big imposing mansion on the corner of Fulton and Scott. It had a very ghost story, whodunnit, creepy mystery hotel look about it, and if I’d had the time I would love to have drawn the whole things in more details. The day was moving along though, so I kept it quick. I had more wandering to do before zipping back across town to get the Amtrak bus. Besides as I drew, I noticed that, hey man, I’m kinda stinky. I didn’t think I’d been particularly sweaty, after all I hadn’t walked as much as usual by this point, and surely I would have noticed when I was sat drawing in the park. It could only be me though, there were no other people around. It was a strong stench too, to the point where I moved right away when people passed me in the street, it was embarrassing. I imagined the train home, people getting on and sitting down nearby then moving further away. I would really need a long shower when I got in. I stood next to some purple flowers to draw this thinking maybe they will mask the B.O. smell. When I was done with the sketch I walked back through the park, and noticed that the smell was gone, and I wasn’t stinky any more. That was weird, it definitely smelled like sweaty sketcher smell. Oh well, maybe it’s not as bad as all that. Then I passed by a flowerbed containing more of those purple flowers and whoosh, that smell was back. It wasn’t me, it was the flowers! Flowers genetically evolved to smell like sweaty human. They were pretty gross. I walked away and yep, smell was gone. Relieved that I wasn’t a stinky sod, I walked about the Fillmore neighbourhood, where I hadn’t walked since my 2008 walkabout. You can see where the zone of big Victorian houses abruptly ends in the Western Addition. I passed through the Fillmore (a street worth another sketching day to itself, with its history of Jazz music and of the African-American community) on my way to Japantown. I didn’t get a lot of time to spend here but I went into one second-hand bookshop, and nosed around the little plaza of Japanese stores and restaurants before sketching the big Peace Pagoda building at the Japantown Peace Plaza. The San Francisco Japanese community was torn apart during World War II with the awful legacy of internment camps, a part of US history not talked about often enough. There’s a graphic novel by George Takei “They Called Us Enemy” that I am going to read, about his experiences during that time. It wasn’t busy around here that late afternoon, but still there was a good atmosphere, summer in the city.  I walked off to catch a bus after sketching this, and head back home.

SF Japantown

To catch a bus – yeah, I’d not really been on a bus in a city since the pandemic began, not even in Davis. Let alone San Francisco, where the buses are typically full of people quite close together. Sure, we’re all masked up but I was a bit anxious still about being in close proximity to people, and it was a long ride. I had decided not to walk down to the N-Judah metro, the bus was closer and would take me all the way to the Amtrak bus. Well as people got on and off and shuffled past I decided to bail out at the Tenderloin, getting a bit more space on the streets. I headed off to the big mall on Market to grab some food, getting slightly sidetracked by the discovery of the Lego store (I can’t help myself), before finally heading home. It was a long day in the city, tiring, productive and I’d done a bit of exploring, a it of learning, and now I have a bit of reading to do too. All worth the $62 round trip fare I guess. It was still about forty degrees cooler than it was in Davis, and that’s always worth it.  

good morning san francisco

san francisco ferry building

It was too hot in Davis (stop the press!) so I took a 7am train down to somewhere much cooler, San Francisco, where I got sunburnt. It always happens. I put on lots of sunscreen, but those rays still get through that fog. It was breezy too, and it’s easy to forget. In Davis that never happens because it’s so hot I am never out of the shade. still, it was a nice day to be out and about. I arrived early, so I could spend a bit of time around the Farmers Market at the Ferry Building. I’d not been there since before the pandemic; there were a lot of people around, but it wasn’t too crowded. I even got my favourite food in this city, these little ‘bombolini’, small doughnut things filled with lemon or custard or nutella. Absolutely delicious, and worth the $62 round trip Amtrak ticket to get down here. Yeah, it’s not cheap getting down to the city these days. But a break from the oppressive heat Davis, it’s always a good idea. I stood on a long wooden log and drew the Ferry Building, as that morning fog drifted in and burned out. A bit like myself; I drifted into the city in the morning, and then by the end of the day I burned out. I got a lot of sketching and wandering done in the meantime though.

People at SF Ferry Building

I drew some of the people who were in the market that morning. That guy in red was wearing a 2006 Spain shirt. I always think of Robin Williams when I come here. I remember spending a weekend here with my wife in the late 2000s and we came down to the Ferry Building Farmers Market and there he was, Robin Williams, buying some food. Always makes me feel a bit sad. He lived locally, until his passing in 2014; they eventually named the tunnel you pass through after the Golden Gate Bridge after him.

San Francisco skyline from Embarcadero

I turned around after drawing the Ferry Building and the people and drew the view looking the other way. The sun was out a bit more now, but I needed to draw this SoMa skyline as it has changed so much in the decade and a half since I moved out here. Even this scene here, that building behind Gate B is where I used to pick up the Amtrak bus after a day in San Francisco, but that’s all been redeveloped into a nice plaza now. Many of those tall buildings weren’t here a few years ago; it’s like London and San Francisco are competing for new skylines every time I’m away. Still I enjoy drawing all these details. I had to wait until later to add the colour though, because the day was moving along and so was I. Lunch was a couple of tasty Argentinian empanadas from inside the Ferry Building, and then I wandered over to Market to decide where I would wander next. As before I didn’t really have a plan, I just wanted to sketch somewhere I didn’t sketch in June, but somewhere with a good view and somewhere I could just sit for ages looking at it. Find out next time where I ended up…

my wandering days aren’t over

View from San Francisco Hilton

It was my first trip down to San Francisco in almost two years, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. I didn’t have a plan. Sometimes when I come to the city to sketch I know which general direction I will head in and follow my nose, but on the whole I play it safe. I might have planned this trip a little better, plotted out a route of old favourite spots plus a couple of places I’ve never been, but as it turned out I just decided wandering would be enough. Wandering and sketching, but also just wandering. When I was a teenager I would wander, I would sometimes get on a bus on a Saturday morning from Burnt Oak headed to Harrow or Hendon wherever, find a library or a bookshop to sit in all day reading, or get a travelcard and jump on a tube down into central London, and just explore an area until it got dark, no particular plan, and where I went was where I went, then come home for dinner. I would follow my nose. I wasn’t sketching as much out and about when I was a teenager, just occasionally, but not making it my main reason for going anywhere. These days I don’t get to wander quite as often, so when I do I usually feel like I have to have a collection of sketches by the end of the day to make it worth the effort of all that wandering. 

On this particular Saturday morning, when I was on a solo overnight trip to San Francisco to wander and sketch, I watched the Denmark-Finland game in my hotel room on the 23rd floor, and was pretty shocked by what happened to Christian Eriksen. He has been one of my favourite players for years, all those seasons at Tottenham, so to see him almost die on the field on live TV was very disturbing. His picture is still on my son’s wall, along with others from that great Tottenham team that nearly made it (but not quite). The game was called off before half time (though they restarted later that day), and after a while on the phone to my wife who was watching it too, I went down the end of the hallway and sketched the view across the city to gather my thoughts a bit. There is a lot of detail to cover. I’ve always wanted to just look over the San Francisco cityscape and pick out the puzzle. You really have to observe. Putting one thing slightly out of place or making a building that bit too narrow in relation to the other ones around it can mess everything else up. It’s therapeutic though. I stood and sketched this rather than sat at the desk in my room which would have been comfier, but I did have to check out of the room before I finished so I wanted to give myself more time for the details. I did colour it in later though on the train back. The blank area in the corner, that wasn’t because there was something in the way, I just never got to that part of the city, but I did draw the skyline above it, so it looks like a panhandle. This isn’t “the” Panhandle though, which is up near Haight, this is Nob Hill, as it rises out of Chinatown, which is a pretty big area of the city. That’s where I headed next, after dropping off my card key, I went across to Portsmouth Square Gardens.  

portsmouth square SF

I’d never actually walked through Portsmouth Square before, so this fulfilled the ‘something new’ check box. It’s not super exciting, but it was pretty interesting as a place for people from the neighbourhood to hang out on a sunny Saturday lunchtime. I remember one of the Worldwide Sketchcrawls being held here in Portsmouth Square many years ago, but I didn’t go on that one, so I’m not sure why I brought it up, other than it’s always made me wonder about coming sketching here. There were so many interesting people here though that I mostly just did some quick people sketching. It feels like a very long time since I have come to a public place and done quickfire people sketching. Most people were Chinese, of all ages, but mainly older people. Some were sat on benches feeding birds, or talking occasionally to each other, or gathered in groups playing a very involved card game around a bench, there were several such groups. Everyone wore masks, no exceptions. I did too. I drew some of the rooftops above us, and also a statue called the ‘Goddess of Democracy’, a replica of the one from Tiananmen Square in Beijing, placed here in 1989 during the events there that year. I listened to a passing tour guide as I drew, referencing that it’s difficult for people to reference that event online there, that they would use terms like the “35th of May”. I didn’t listen in on much else of the tour, but there were several walking tour groups parading through here. Portsmouth Square is one of the most historic spots in the city, as this was the first public square in the original Mexican settlement of Yerba Buena. The name of the plaza comes from the USS Portsmouth, the ship of Captain Montgomery who took Yerba Buena for the United States and raised the flag here in 1846. The city was renamed San Francisco a year later. A year after that the prospector Sam Brannan held up his nuggets of gold here and told everyone there was a lot of it in the American River, so off they rushed towards Sacramento. After the 1906 Earthquake, Portsmouth Square became a place of refuge for those displaced from their homes. These days it’s sometimes called the “Heart of Chinatown”.  

portsmouth square SF

I walked through Chinatown, mostly looking for the perfect spot to draw, where I wasn’t going to be in the way of anyone walking past, not in the sunlight which was pretty strong. It was colourful, and I’d intended on doing a colourful lively sketch, but in the end I stood on the corner of Sacramento and Grant and drew the sketch below, with little bits of colour popping out. Along the street some drummers were playing while some performers did some balancing acts, it looked like they were having a great old time. San Francisco’s Chinatown is generally considered the oldest outside Asia, even the largest. Certainly in the context of California, the most historic. Apparently it is “the most densely populated urban area west of Manhattan” with most residents being monolingual speakers of Mandarin or Cantonese. The area dates back to the first Chinese immigrants to the city in 1850. I would love to dive deeper into this area’s history, what little I’ve read about is dripping with story.

 Chinatown

I was hungry, but I didn’t stop for Chinese food, because I headed down Grant to that French place, Cafe De La Presse, and at outside there while an voice of unknown location belted out live opera in Italian, echoing across each building. Refreshed from lunch, I made the mistake of going through the Union Square area, rather than somewhere more interesting. I popped into the Nike store and went all the way to the very top floor, to the furthest point at the back where they were hiding the soccer shirts, just to discover that they didn’t have the new Tottenham shirt. Oh they had Chelsea and Liverpool but not Spurs. Right, fine. I went down to Market Street, not entirely sure where I was headed next. I had no intention of drawing Market Street, it’s just not that interesting, and what I like about it I have drawn before. It’s an uncomfortable place at times, Market. This is the problem with wandering though, you sometimes end up somewhere and feel a bit stuck. I thought about getting on a bus to Lower Haight, or a Muni up to the Inner Sunset, but I didn’t have change and couldn’t be bothered figuring out how things are done now. I did have a BART pass though, so I just went down into the subway and jumped on the first train and headed towards the Mission.    

Roxie, mission SF

Each area of San Francisco has its historic culture. North Beach is the Italian area, Chinatown is Asian, The Castro is historically associated with the gay community, the Haight is the Hippies; and everywhere is the expensive real estate developers and gentrifiers pricing all these communities out. Historically, the Mission is a mostly Hispanic part of San Francisco, and there are lots of murals celebrating the Latin American community. Since I first came down there the area has been changing, going more upmarket and trendy, but it still has a lot of character. The large Mission Burrito was invented here. I had a massive burrito, about the size of a Greyhound bus, after I was done sketching. I wandered, coming across the colourful Clarion Alley, a narrow street of political murals between Mission and Valencia. I was going to sketch there but it was getting late. Plus, some bits smelled quite strongly of wee. I did sketch on 16th by the Roxie, whose distinctive sign was much harder to see than I remember, due to the growth of the trees around it. I remember years ago photographing this (not having had time to draw it evidently; come back another time I probably told myself)and there being no foliage around it, or very very little, but not now, those trees have grown. Still I stood beneath and got an okay view, and again despite it being quite a colourful scene I only added the red bits. It was busy in the Mission, most of the bars had full-up outside seating/standing areas, it would have been quite a nice afternoon to stand outside with a pint and people watch, but my legs were tired, really tired, and I wanted to get to Mission Dolores Park. In Covid times as in normal times, the park was packed, as you’d expect on a hot Saturday afternoon in June, with most people being young trendy types. Unlike in Chinatown, very few people were masked. Well it’s not required now, but I kept mine on anyway because I sometimes sing to myself when sketching, and I can pretend it was someone else if anyone looks. Not that that would be a problem here, several people had their music on for others to hear. I actually listened to a podcast about the X-Men (not the usual one, but a different one, this one talking in depth about Nightcrawler) and drew the skyline. It was a pretty pleasant way to spend the rest of the day before heading back to Davis. A lot has changed in this skyline since I moved here to California. It was a clear day, no fog at all, and I really enjoyed my little bit of time back in the city. I wish it were a little bit more normal (maybe a bit more space in the street and not so many outside seating huts, making things feel claustrophobic and yet remote; not so easy for a weary wanderer to just pop into a dark cool bar to refresh during a day’s heavy sketching), but the world is evolving, and I’m happy to have finally gone and had a look at some of it. 

  Mission Dolores Park, SF

You might like to see a whole Flickr album of my San Francisco sketches going back to 2006 or 2007, when I first started coming down here to wander about. It’s interesting to see how the city and my style of sketching has changed in all that time. Here it is: https://www.flickr.com/photos/petescully/albums/72157602126887832

friday night, saturday morning, san francisco

View from hotel room

So, I went down to San Francisco for the first time in nearly two years for an overnighter. It was a beautiful early evening as my Amtrak bus crossed the Bay Bridge; I had come down on the train after work on a Friday and it was still light enough when I got there to get to the hotel, and get out for some sketching before dinner. My hotel was tall – I was on the 23rd floor, so I had an amazing view over the city. I couldn’t resist drawing some of that view from my hotel room window, while I didn’t colour it in or finish all the details it was great to sit at a desk and look over this view, even with my increasingly poor eyesight. Sutro Tower poked out above the fog-free sky, and the evening light was soft. But I wanted to get outside and wander, to see what was different about the city in my two year absence. 

chinatown SF

First of all, the restaurants and bars all have outdoor seating on specially built wooden platforms that come out into the street. It makes a lot of the areas around North Beach feel quite crowded, and more claustrophobic than before. I was right by Chinatown, and many of the restaurants there had the same thing, and were fairly busy. A few places were closed; the Comstock Saloon (which I drew two years ago, while enjoying a delicious cocktail). still had boards over the windows, with signs dated March 2020 saying they were closing for a bit. With so many other places still operating (such as Mr Bing’s across the street, which was positively bursting with merry drinkers on its wooden platforms) it was a shame to see the Comstock closed. I sketched in the street in Chinatown stood in the gap between two covered outside seating areas, the Great Star Theatre, but didn’t bother adding colour. 

Vesuvio SF Everywhere in North Beach was quite crowded, so I found a less busy restaurant down the quieter end of Columbus, and had some gnocchi. I grabbed a cannoli at Mara’s for dessert, before stopping at Vesuvio’s for an Anchor steam before bed. I sat in the small outdoors platform, with the traffic of Columbus zooming by, and drew the above. There were many people sat at tables in the well-lit Jack Kerouac alley in between City Lights and Vesuvio, you had to be directed to your seat by the Vesuvio door man and service was table-only, but you could go in to sue the toilet. In fact there was limited seating indoors too but very limited, and all taken. As things open up a bit more, things will start getting back to some kind of normal, I am just glad to see that Vesuvio, and my favourite place across he street, Spec’s, is still operating in These Unusual Times. I finished up by beer and my sketch and went to bed; my hotel was only five minutes’ walk away. 

SF 061221 north beach view

So when I woke up in the morning, I popped down to the donut place on the corner of Kearny and Columbus, and did an early sketch of that very scene looking down past Vesuvio, toward the TransAmerica Pyramid. I have of course drawn this view a few times before. It was 8:30am but already warm, for the city. I drew what I could and then headed back to the hotel to watch the Denmark-Finland game, which turned out to be the one in which Christian Eriksen collapsed.  I went out after the game was abandoned (temporarily as it turned out) and sketched for the rest of the day. I’ll post those another time. It was good to finally be back in the city, I’ve missed it, but it’s not yet the same. I suppose in this city, it’s never the same. 

long walks, conversations and cocktails

SF Palace of Fine Arts
I usually sketch standing up, except when I sit down. On this occasion, I had just walked two and a half miles from Fort Point along Crissy Field and over to the Palace of Fine Arts. I needed a rest. I sat on the grass in the shade. The last time I sketched this building was in about 2007 I think. Yes, a quick look through Flickr and here they are. It’s a nice spot that I evidently only go to every twelve years. See you in 2031.
palace of fine artson a bench

I walked down Chestnut and had a delicious lunch at Squat and Gobble, before jumping onto a bus and heading to my favourite part of the city, North Beach. I usually sketch standing up, but on this occasion I brought my little lightweight fold-up stool with me. At least two people stopped while I was sketching just to take a photo of this little stool, and enquire as to where this mystical object could be purchased on the wild realm of the internet. It was about $15 on amazon, a no-name brand, it is super light and fits into my small bag and I haven’t yet fallen off of it. I have lost weight recently which helps. Anyway I found a little nook beside a church on Columbus and drew the Italian deli Molinari, another favoured sketching subject of mine.

SF Molinari

Yes, there it is below, as sketched back in 2014 from an entirely different angle. On that occasion I pretended to be a traffic warden for an older lady who wanted to park her car there while she popped in to get some cheese or something, she said that if I looked like a warden then other wardens wouldn’t give her a ticket. I’m just there with my sketchbook so I’m like, yeah fine, but no other wardens came up and ticketed her.

SF: Molinari

On this occasion though, on the other side of Columbus, I had several non-stool based and non-traffic warden based conversations. One was with an old student from our department who happened to be walking by with her son and her sister, that was a nice surprise. There was another couple who were late for early dinner, and I used the power of the internet to help them find their restaurant, like a street wizard. There was an older fellow who I thought was homeless, who came and sat next to me for a bit with his big bin-liner, and it turned out he too was an artist, and showed me his incredible location drawings of North Beach (this is what was in his big bag), including Molinari sketched from the same spot (but in greater detail). I was very inspired. We talked about drawing out in the street, I told him about my attitudes toward urban sketching, it was a very nice meeting. And then after that I chatted with a monk, in full monk’s robes, who worked at the church next to where I was sketching, and he showed me a sketch of the church someone else had done for their newsletter, and we talked about San Francisco’s trees being different from the ones in Davis. Sometimes it is nice to talk to people in the street in a city like this.

SF Jackson St

I moved along, and down into Chinatown. I wanted to draw one specific row of buildings in Jackson Street. I didn’t have time to draw it all so I captured the essentials. I got enough. When I say I didn’t have time, it’s because I wanted to factor in time in the rest of my day to hang out at an old North Beach drinking establishment that I have never before been into, the Comstock Saloon.

SF Comstock Saloon

This old bar is beautiful, and they are very good at mixing their drinks here. For this reason I wanted to have a couple of cocktails. Now I usually stand when I sketch, but here I wanted to sit. I sat the bar, wrong angle to draw. I sat at a seat by the window, with a barrel for a table, again not super comfy. So I sat at a taller table, excellent angle. However I felt very conscious that people coming in might want to sit at that table, which is better for two or three than for one. I don’t know why I felt so conscious of that here. It felt like a nicer place. Also, I noticed that occasionally some of the tables would have a little ‘reserved’ sign on them, which I think was to deter single patrons from using spaces that a pair or trio might use. So, I drew very fast, and then just relocated myself to the bar. The staff were well dressed and clearly professional barmixologisters or whatever the phrase for them is. When it comes to mixed drinks I am clueless and need a list. I had an absolutely amazing daiquiri, totally beautiful after a day of sketching. The second drink I had was a Mint Julep I think, it was less to my taste but nice nonetheless. You can taste quality. The best mixed drink I ever had was in Hawaii, the Monkeypod Mai Tai, and it was amazingly fresh. I feel a bit posh drinking anything that isn’t beer, or Pepsi Max, or a cup of tea. Libations libated and sketches sketched, I walked back to the Amtrak bus and took the long journey back to Davis. I felt a bit more creatively refreshed, San Francisco is good for that.

skyscrapers and the golden gate bridge

Embarcadero and Mission SF
Perspective, detail. I like those things. I arrived early in San Francisco, and found a spot on the Embarcadero looking up Mission Street. I remember wanting to sketch this view years ago when I used to wait for the Amtrak bus here, the only that no longer stops there, but I am glad I waited a few years as there are way more buildings to sketch in the background now. I went to the Ferry Building, but the place which sells the nice bomboneri and cannoli I like so much was no longer there, sadly. So I got a travel book to read on the train at Book Passage. Reading doesn’t make me fat, though it weighs down my bag a bit. Actually the book I got that day, a collection of travel stories, I also took to Europe with me and read some while on the rails, but I left it on a bookshelf in a hotel in Brussels for someone else to enjoy. I was being weighed down, so had to get rid of some unneeded items. The stories I kept in my head, however I don’t really remember that many of them now, except for one, about a couple staying at a hotel in Tierra del Fuego or somewhere, and the electricity all went out, so they took that opportunity to engage in a little bit of what used to be called ‘how’s your father’ back in the 50s, only to be embarrassingly interrupted by another family coming into the wrong room. That’s all I remember. There was another story about a music writer travelling to Prague who got taken for a ride by a local who had an automatic gun, but let’s get back to my own less-interesting stories of travel shall we. I stood at this spot in San Francisco and drew this picture, and then went somewhere else. There, that’s the whole story.

SF Golden Gate Bridge

I ended up at Golden Gate Bridge. I haven’t been there in ages, not to sketch anyway. It was a nice day, a bit windy, much cooler than Davis. There is something about standing somewhere so iconic and impressive, you feel really lucky to have this within reach. I remember when Magneto used it to get his villainous brotherhood from the north bay over to Alcatraz, all because his friend Juggernaut said he couldn’t swim. I mean a boat would probably have been easier but the Master of Magnetism does like grand gestures. Shame he lost his powers before he could help rebuild. I do like X-Men: The Last Stand, despite the clumsy script. But “Charles always wanted to build bridges!” is a classic cheesy line, even for him. He just couldn’t think of a suitable line for a boat. “Charles would be ferry impressed!” Enough X-Men chat. Actually I am reminded of when, in the comics, Magneto (him again) used his powers to prevent an earthquake in the city, and also when he sat up on Mt Tamalpais nearby and went deep into his powers to project them into space and rescue Kitty Pryde from the big planet-bullet thing, oh comics. Anyway, the Golden Gate Bridge. I included Fort Point down below because that is where I was headed. I have never been to Fort Point before, a building that predates the bridge itself. It was built at the height of the Gold Rush, to protect the Bay and as a formidable naval defense for the young United States. I enjoyed it in there, I didn’t sketch any of the cannons but I liked wandering about and peering through the small windows in the thick brick walls, and catching glimpses of the bridge. It was a lovely day, lots of sunshine, but super windy. I sketched up on the roof there, before climbing down the steep narrow staircase that made me feel a bit nervous. I got down, and then took a nice long walk along Crissy Field. More to come…

SF GG Bridge from Fort Point

indian motorcycle at fisherman’s wharf

SF Ghirardelli motorbike

I was in San Francisco a couple of times recently, one with the family (to watch Hamilton) and one by myself (to sketch loads of stuff). On the first one, we stayed over in Fisherman’s Wharf (not always my favourite part of town, but there is lots to see). I only managed one sketch, as I spent a lot of my time playing X-Men vs Street Fighter at the Musee Mecanique. I love that place. Also, it was cold! We were escaping the heat of Davis, but the city was pretty chilly. I drew this one sketch of a very elaborate looking motorcycle parked near Ghirardelli Square. “Indian Motorcycles” is the manafacturer. I was going to colour ir in, but it was cold and I was getting tired standing there. I try to be more conscious of my body saying “time to rest Pete!” these days. Yet I am still keeping up being more active, with the gym and exercising thing. We did go to Ghirardelli’s that evening, and I had this enormous chocolatey sundae thing called a ‘treasure island’ which amazingly did not derail my diet. See, you can diet and still eat massive chocolate indulgences every now and then. This was after I had pizza and beer for dinner. The pizza-beer-chocolate sundae and arcade-games diet – hey, it’s working. Now, the only other sketch I did that weekend was while waiting for ages at SFO for my Global Entry interview. Global Entry is like a fast-pass when I come back into the country. However I had to wait quite a while for my turn, so we missed out on going to Alcatraz. At least Hamilton was really good, very entertaining.

SFO waiting room