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

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!

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