a whisker away

1st and E Davis

I popped downtown for lunch one Friday, and it was sunny, and people were out and about, and I decided to stand on the corner of 1st and E Streets and draw the outside if the John Natsoulas Center for the Arts, where they have the big cat over the doorway, and the big colourful dog made out of vinyl records. There was some sort of art event going on, people were coming and going in groups. I remember when they were building the big cat, as I was drawing a panorama of 1st St at the time, about five years ago or so. You’ve gotta love a big cat. It’s called the Cat Patio, by ‘The Mosaic Boys’ according to the Natsoulas website which calls it the ‘largest mosaic in northern California’. By a whisker, I suppose.

I’ve always been fascinated by the dog with all the vinyl records on it though. Young me would have probably been horrified at the waste of coloured vinyl which to me was the height of rarity, like picture discs or 12″ singles, until I discovered they aren’t that rare at all. I remember once actually going to Loppylugs Records in Edgware as a teenager getting into music and buying a red vinyl single from some band thinking wow, you don’t see many of these, if this band’s any good this will be a great addition to my Record Collection. Record Collection, hah. I gave up on an actual Record Collection at a young age. It seemed so important once didn’t it, to have a Record Collection, but in the end it turned out to be a bit pointless. I did enjoy going from second hand store to car boot sale looking for old original press Beatles records though, when I was 13, and I still have those along with the ones that my uncle Billy gave me. Those few important ones I got as a teenager, those were all I really needed. Anyway I got this one red vinyl single, by some duo with long hair whose name I can’t remember, and well, it was total pants. Utter pony. I was embarrassed even listening to it. I couldn’t even look at the photo of the duo on the back sleeve. The best thing to do with this red vinyl would have been to add it to another pile of shite coloured vinyl records and turn it into a massive sculpture of a dog that lights up at night, and evidently that’s what’s happened here. I have no doubt that the records on that dog were just as unlistenable as that one I got, so bad the only thing you can do is turn them into art. I really like the big colourful dog, even though you can only see a bit of it.

another world, another time

sculpture uc davis

I’ve drawn this before. I’ve always thought it looked like a magic portal. Where would it go? This sculpture is actually called “Shamash” by Guy Dill, and was made in 1982. I’ve always wondered. 1982…I always say that my memory pretty much goes that far back, although I know I have memories from earlier, flashes really. In 1982 I was six, and I remember some things from that year clearly. The FA Cup Final replay, Spurs v QPR. I remember my older brother Johnny, who was at the game, came back from Wembley shortly before our neighbours, who were also at the game. We are spurs fans, they were QPR fans. My brother went to every home game at White Hart Lane in the 1980-81 and 1981-82 seasons. So my brother got the Chas’n’Dave songs on his record player, “Tottenham Tottenham, No One Can Stop Them” and “Spurs Are On Their Way To Wembley”, turned up the volume full blast, hung the speakers out of the bedroom window, and waited for the neighbours to get home. Everyone in the street came out, not to complain, but also to watch the QPR neighbours get back from Wembley. It was all good fun, we were a pretty close street. I do remember the Royal Wedding, Princes Charles and Lady Di, and that was 1981. We had a street party. Us little kids running around waving flags and everyone’s dinner tables lined up in the middle of the street with sandwiches and fizzy drink. There were games, and I distinctly remember my dad winning the “dad’s piggy-back race” with me on his back. I do have vague memories of the 1981 FA Cup Final win, the great Ricky Villa winning goal. I certainly have even earlier memories, I remember my Grandad, and he died in 1980. All I remember is him at his house on Blundell Road in Burnt Oak with my Nan and my uncle Billy, and I remember when he was ill, before he died. He was from Belfast. I have an old photo of him with me sat on his knee when I was about two, I’ve had that photo all my life. I have other memories from 1980. I had a small part in a BBC TV serial called “A Little Silver Trumpet”, and I remember going to the big round BBC TV Centre every day, I remember the sets, having greasy make-up put in my hair, I remember going to film in Brighton, I remember them just letting me draw and they just filmed me drawing, holding my pen in the same funny way. I have even older memories than that, I definitely remember visiting my Dad in “the Big House” which was where he lived until I was 4, and he’d always get a milk and a Yorkie bar. I remember walking around Burnt Oak with my big sister Jacqui and going through fields behind the houses with stingy nettles. I remember my uncle Billy taking me to see a film at the pictures that might have been Spider-Man. Memory is a funny thing, there are so many photos in albums and stories from others of events I have not really any memory of, but these things I always remember, things that belong to me. I’d say that from about 1982 though, when I was six, memories become a little clearer. I remember getting stuck in the snow with my mum down in Hendon, and it took a long time to get home, and we had oxtail soup when we did, and to this day I think of that when I taste oxtail soup. I remember that was the year we got central heating in our house. I remember getting chickenpox that year. I remember cutting up my pyjamas and pretending to be the Hulk, and getting into trouble because “my days of being the Hulk are long gone”, whatever that meant. I remember seeing pictures of the Falklands War on TV. I remember reading all of my brother’s Beano and Roy of the Rovers comics. I remember in 1982 going to meet The Tweets (the ones who wore bizarre bird heads and did “The Birdy Song”) with my friend Daniel, and I remember they wore big leathery gloves and did not talk. I even have a photo of that meeting. I remember my uncle Billy singing Come On Eileen in our kitchen. I remember playing in the sandpits at Welwyn Garden City. I distinctly remember going to see the Dark Crystal with my Dad and my next door neighbour Barry, and dropping all of my popcorn when Fizzgig appeared. At school the next week my friends all played Dark Crystal. “Another world, another time.” I am still obsessed with the Dark Crystal (I loved the recent Netflix series so much).  1982 was the last year when I was the youngest in the family, my little sister Lauren being born a year later. In my life 1982 was a really long time ago, and this sculpture has been around since that year. I’ve drawn it before. I’ve always thought it looked like a magic portal. Where would it go? Back to 1982? I mean, at least Spurs won a trophy that year. I always forget not to write posts like this, those “I remember when I was a kid” posts, but I suppose it’s part of getting older isn’t it, trying to keep remembering. Another world, another time.

dominoes are fallin’

dominoes in north davis They are, aren’t they. I drew this one warm autumnal lunchtime last week during the Endless Agonizing Election (the Endless and Agonizing bit is still nowhere near over, the rest of 2020 is not going away with dignity is it). Even as I drew we were not yet close to an outcome but the dominoes were falling alright. Like Domino Rally, remember that game? I always wanted that as a kid, those adverts for it looked so brilliant, little plastic rectangles racing against each other falling over. I never had it, but I finally got one for my son for Christmas several years ago, I think we played it once on Christmas morning and was like, right that’s not as much fun as I thought it might be. It’s sat in the hall cupboard ever since, I think it will be heading to the Goodwill at some point, if future archaeologists can ever excavate our hall cupboard. This domino sculpture is actually on the North Davis Greenbelt, it was something that eluded me for years, I managed never to come across it. This year since I have been walking and running so much, exploring all the pathways on this side of town, I’ve gone past it many times and now finally gone to draw it. It was installed in 1994, the work of artist Eddy Martinez Hood, and it is called Domino Effect II. I assume there was a Domino Effect I, but if this is a sequel it’s a superb sequel. Like Street Fighter II, I don’t know the original at all. Or maybe Domino Effect I was done afterwards like a prequel? I don’t know, if only there were some form of global information  network where I could look this up, but as with lyrics that you can’t completely make sense of, the not-knowing is more fun. We live in an age when being able to know things is so immediate that I think maybe this is why so many have turned to the world of not-knowing, of alternative facts, of disbelieving the evidence in favour of the made-up, and let’s face it that’s why we are where we are. Wow that took a turn didn’t it.

I really enjoyed drawing this. It was a break from the endless red and blue TV maps and breaking news from Gondor and the fall colours were really exciting my senses. We have a lot of public art in Davis, it’s an artists town. (Speaking of which, we have a sketchcrawl this Saturday afternoon, 1:00pm starting at the Amtrak Station. Let’s Draw Davis!) I like how this sketch turned out, I was pleased with the colours and the dark values, and right now I feel like I am enjoying my sketching again. My number of sketches this year is way, way down on previous years, but I feel like I’m pushing myself out to draw a lot again, like I was when the pandemic first started.

living in a movie, but it doesn’t move me

Sculpture outside Davis library
Remember before social distancing? I would go out, staying away from everyone, sketching places without any people in them, and that was just normal. Now social distancing is the norm, along with a whole load of other words that we now know. Social Distancing will be the Time Word(s) of the Year 2020, I suspect (and we thought it would be Impeachment) (but that particular horse has a fair few furlongs to run yet), but there’s also “Zoombombing”, which I think is a genuinely new coinage, the practice where unwanted miscreants get into your Zoom meetings and perform perfidious profanities; “Shelter-In-Place”, which I’ve only ever had to do when there was an active shooter in town (America, folks! They love a gun); “Self-Isolation”, and its related verb, to self-isolate, which is like Luke Skywalker on that island that sounds like a sneeze, or Obi-Wan on Tatooine, or Yoda on Dagobah – basically you do it and pretend you are an old Jedi; I have also seen the word “immunocompromised” become more widely used, I had never thought of that word before, it could take up almost two Countdown Conundrums. And then in France you have the “Attestation de déplacement dérogatoire“, which is a form you must complete (France!, folks! They love a form) every time you want to go outside your house, and you can’t for example go more than a kilometer from your home if you are out exercising or walking the dog. The Attestation is just a part of life in France now, and will probably be their Mot de l’Année 2020. We all gotta do what we can to stop this thing. Stay at home when you can folks.
2nd and B Davis 102819
But here are a few more sketches from late 2019, a golden age for going out and (in my case) avoiding people, as I catch up on posting the sketches that backed up. It turns out that was probably a good thing, as it gives me something new to post that isn’t a sketch of my living room. Although I will say, that living room is going to be my St Victoire (also I do have a poster of St Victoire on the wall of my dining room). The sketch at the top is a sculpture outside the local library, near where I live. This was in Fall, when the leaves were red, outside the library where the leaves were read. JOKE OF THE YEAR 2020? Maybe not. Besides it references something from 2019 so it cannot count. Also it’s just not very good.

Incidentally do you want to hear my personal joke of the year funniest thing I said in 2019? Ok here goes. Don’t laugh ok, I thought it was funny. My wife and I were watching TV and on this one advert there was a young horse who needed rescuing from a road. She said, “I feel sorry for that baby horse”. So I said “I pity the foal.” Cue laughter, at which point I stood up and waved at the living room and left the room, you’ve been great folks. It’s right up there with “Missouri loves company” and “some day my prints will come” in waiting years for the perfect situation to come up to use those lines.

But in the sketch above, at the cross-section of 2nd Street and B Street, I was really hoping for some kind of road-rage incident involving an annoyed (not angry exactly, just irritated, unhappy, let’s say cross) motorist not stopping and causing some sort of, well not an accident for sure, I don’t want that, but something where they cause more annoyance, like they have to go around someone and everyone gets in a huff, and then I can say well the sign does say, cross traffic does not stop, so your mood at that moment determines whether or not you need to be the one that stops, just as the sign says. But that didn’t happen, and it’s just as well because it wasn’t very well thought through. It’s no “I pity the foal” is it.
3rd and E Davis
Further down 2nd Street on a completely different day two days before, I sat with a cold beer outside Uncle Vito’s, on the corner of E Street. Our AYSO team the Blue Guys had won an exciting 10-5 game against an excellently named team called the Black Goats that day, and I had the afternoon to go cycling and sketching. I miss the Saturday-afternoon-after-the-game feeling. Now our Select soccer season has been cancelled, it’s left a big gap. I’m still watching videos and reading about tactics and training plans. By the way the big blue sign with a “P” on it is I presume pointing people to where the toilets are.
Pho King Davis
A month before, I drew this restaurant on the corner of 3rd Street and University Avenue, called Pho King. I know, I know. Don’t tell De Niro, he’ll make a ‘comedy’ movie out of it. They have a big sign on the restaurant (I don’t know if you can make it out) that says “$10 IPA Pitcher Go Vegan!!!” Again my mind was trying to put this into some sort of joke, where there is a baseball game and the pitcher’s name is Vegan and he plays for a team with the initials I.P.A. (Industrialists of Pennsylvania? Icelandic Philologist Academy?), but again, it’s no “Missouri loves company”. I’m still not stooping down to making Pho King jokes though, unless a shop called Tories opens next door. Incidentally I’ve never eaten here but I really like Pho so I will try it out. And if it’s not as good as expected, I might say “I pity the…”
Sophias bar, Davis
No, I won’t. I tell you what though, I really like Thai food, and my favourite is Sophia’s on E Street. We get food from there all the time. I do like their bar as well, a really nice place to have a cocktail, to sketch and, yes, talk to actual other people. I’m not always a complete social-distancer, sometimes I will converse and speak and stuff. This was back in August (!) and I was still trying to use those brush marker pens more. This is a great place for those because the lighting in Sophia’s means there are much darker areas to fill in, making the values really stand out. I just really like it there. Oh man, I miss going out to the pub to sketch. This was a nice evening, I did speak to quite a few people and sketched several others too, but I’ll only post this one, which I sketched across the bar, a couple of people talking to each other in front of the big blue fishtank, I caught snippets of what they were saying. I just automatically assume they were making pun-like jokes about something, but I don’t really overhear conversations well, I’d have made a terrible Stasi spy.
people at sophias

So, here we are in April 2020, staying at home (except for those numpties protesting on the streets in Michigan), and it would have been Picnic Day here in Davis when the kids get out and party it up, but not this year. And now, back to sketching the living room and watching old World Cup games. I watched England v Argentina from 1986 a couple of days ago. I think tonight I’ll watch Italy v Nigeria from 1994. Stay home and stay safe everyone.

needle and third

3rd and University, Davis CA

A month or two ago I drew this corner of 3rd Street, near UC Davis, which has recently undergone a lot of redevelopment. At that point the newest piece of public art had not been unveiled, it’s a large obelisk in the middle of the crossing called the Davis Needle. It’s made from loads of kids’ bike parts, all melded together by artists Ilana Spector and Mark Grieve. Apparently it lights up at night as well, I’m looking forward to checking that out. I nearly didn’t draw the top of it but I couldn’t see the point. Sorry that was a needle joke. Puns often needle me. Some people don’t cotton on to puns about needles, etc and so on. Sorry, it is late after a busy time of it, I know I can do a lot better. Anyway I like it a lot, the Davis Needle, and so I drew this at lunchtime.

bum bum

bum bum and shields library, uc davis
This is another scene from UC Davis, showing the side of the huge Shields Library, with the metallic sculpture called “Bum Bum, You’ve Been Here Before”, which is by the artist  Tio Gianbruni. I don’t think it’s ever appeared in any of my campus sketches before. There’s a lot of public art on campus, many sculptures. We’re a campus with a rich history of sculpture. ‘Bum Bum’ is found near the Arts Annex. I drew this in dark green pen. I like the dark green. Those red flowers make it feel like Spring, but it’s very much Fall. Mornings are getting cooler, though daytimes are still very much sunny and in the 80s. Shields Library is named after Peter J Shields, son of an Irish emigrant and Gold Rush rancher, who was one of the founders of UC Davis. When I first moved to Davis, before I was working at the university, I would come to the library and read medieval language books, riding on the back of my recent studies in the subject, though I never carried on. Shields is massive. Lots of places to read in peace. I miss spending hours on end in university libraries, doing research as best I could. My undergrad was spent in the large library at Queen Mary in London, which was always busy but had a great video library section (I did a course in German film). My Masters was spent mostly in the quiet corners of the Maughan Library on Chancery Lane, one of the main libraries for King’s College London, and I spent many hours every day there (though my best friend worked on the same street and there was a pub right across the road). I also spent a great deal of time in the medieval literature corners of the huge Senate House library, the central library of the University of London, near Russell Square. That really became a home from home while writing my MA dissertation (about the antagonism between English and French in the middle ages). In addition to Middle English and Old French I studied a fair bit of Old English (particularly the alliterative poetry, much of which I’ve forgotten now), Old Gothic (Wulfila and his bible), Old Saxon (the Heliand), and Old High German (Althochdeutsch; I did read the actual Abrogans, the oldest thing in German, at the beautiful Stiftsbibliothek library at the Abbey of St.Gallen in Switzerland) (I love telling people that) (makes me sound clever). Now, I draw pictures, and remember library time and dictionaries of languages I never learnt properly.

dimensioneering

rear of arts annex

Ok then! Right…so that was about a month without posting a blog, was it? As near as. Is it really mid-April? My wall calendar still says March! Well, I’ve been busy, it’s a busy time. Yeah I know, the whole world is busy (and isn’t it just!) but I have been too tired of an evening to collect my thoughts and write them in some sort of meaningful way to accompany my latest sketch-du-jour. Yeah I know, what I write looks like nonsense with next to no thought whatsoever given to structure, tone or consistency but that is all actually carefully crafted and tested and edited to make it look like I gave it next to thought whatsoever. You see, even there, I carefully constructed that sentence to give it a call-back to a line in the previous sentence. And there too, when I explained what I did, I did that to give the semblance of backing up my claim. Anyway, I’ve been busy working, but I’ve also been busy sketching. In fact one of the things about being busy but still sketching incessantly is that, alas, I have no time to scan (yet I still have time to say stupid words like ‘alas’). Let me take you behind the scenes, into what happens after I sketch – the mysterious art of ‘scanning’.  Scanning doesn’t exactly take forever, it just feels slow because the scanner itself makes that slow-movement sound (you know the one, that ‘vvvvmmmmmm’ sound) while I am pressing the sketchbook against the glass. I have a printer-scanner from HP (the computer company NOT the sauce!) (the sauce may have been quicker) (my slow scanner needs to ‘ketchup’) (see THIS is why it takes ages!) and I scan it into my computer, and then I edit in Photoshop, make sure the colours are as they should be, crop out the edges of the page, re-size it for uploading to the web at 72 dpi (that means ‘donuts per inch’), type my name on it so people trying to copy it can feel a small pang of guilt when they try to crop it out and put it on instagram and pretend it’s theirs (yeah, someone did that), and then finally I post it on Flickr, and then on my website. It’s a long, arduous process that takes many minutes.

When I do finally get around to posting it on my blog, I then spend the aforementioned appropriate amount of time writing a lot of unrelated stuff, followed by a brief bit where I remember I should talk about the actual drawing I ahve posted. Speaking of which, that comes in at around now. This sketch was done at the UC Davis campus and features a part of the Art Annex, in the background, along with part of a free-standing sculpture that is on campus, which is called “Shamash” by Guy Dill, which I’ve always believed to be a gateway to another dimension, and have therefore never ever walked through it. (Or maybe I did, in 2016; maybe we all did?) I do like multiversal theory though, it’s quite mind-bending stuff. Well, it would be if literally everything I have ever watched on TV or film or read in books and comics didn’t have a similar take on it. “Parallel Universes”, yeah I know, I have watched a lot of Red Dwarf you know. That of course taught me that the “fifth dimension” refers to the existence of parallel universes (or probably the group that possibly got to number 6 with “baby I want your love thing”) which makes me wonder whether we will ever get movies in 5D? 3D is not enough these days, and they now have those “4D” movies after all (though they get that wrong, spraying you with water and moving the seats a bit – the fourth dimension is “time” surely, and I don’t know if movies actually send you literally through time, at least not at anything other than the usual speed). Maybe an example of a 5D movie is one which you watched and absolutely hated, but someone else watched and absolutely loved, therefore two parallel universes were experienced, one in which the movie was good, and one in which it was shite. In which case most movies are like that. I remember seeing the movie From Hell years and years ago with some people, and some of them really loved it. Yeah we couldn’t be friends after that, that didn’t really work out. (The graphic novel from which it was very loosely derived on the other hand is an absolute masterpiece and well worth reading). Aha, we are at the part where I have digressed so completely from the topic of the sketch that I have to make a cup of tea and then wrap this up.

I have so many sketches to show you, if you’re still here! Not right now obviously, I have to get some kip. But I have the results from the centenary sketchcrawl, plus many other sketches of century-old buildings from around Davis, oh and some sketches done while sneezing terribly, and some more sketches of my son’s things, oh yes and a whole bunch from around San Francisco. I spent the night down there recently while escaping to massive to-do list. Normal services will now, I hope, resume…

the egg of good luck

egghead "bookhead"
Another Egghead, this one is called “Bookhead”, by Robert Arneson (1991). It is located outside the Shields Library at UC Davis. There is a legend that students touch it for good luck. Really. I think that is one of those things that people just say, and then people do because people just say, “it’s a tradition”.  It’s one of those things that people say because there are no other interesting stories to tell about it. Yes, I know this old trope, I used to be a tour guide too. “Legend has it the lions in Trafalgar Square will get up and dance if Big Ben strikes thirteen,” that sort of thing. Nonsense with no evidence at all. Or “Charles Dickens used to drink here, even the plaque outside says so,” when he may have popped in for a pint on his way to his next bar; he drank in pretty much every pub in London, it’s amazing he wrote any books at all. Ok, so here’s what I would like someone at UC Davis to do. Have someone stand next to this Egghead and every time someone touches it for luck, have them give their name, and then have them come back with their mid-term results or final term grades, perhaps include their grades prior to touching the Egghead for a comparison, and then do some sort of statistical analysis to see whether touching the Egghead gave them any particular advantage over those who did not, or if it signaled a shift in their general academic progress, and maybe have them indicate if they had won any competitions or survived an accident, or if they had bad luck, like, well the opposite of those things. Then perhaps we will know the truth. In the meantime I am willing to hazard a guess that it does not give any magical gift of luck, and I might even have a sign posted next to it warning people that touching it will not give any guarantee of an upturn in your fortunes, and that UC Davis is not held responsible should your luck be not quite as good as you expected. In fact, just move the whole thing completely, put it somewhere else, on the roof maybe , somewhere nobody will be able to touch it. Then there could be a story behind it, “too many students were using ‘Luck’ to affect their grades that the UC Regents voted to have it moved to ensure academic integrity”.

Or perhaps tour guides could just not mention this obviously misleading legend at all, let it die a death, and perhaps use this opportunity to tell perhaps the most appropriate joke there is to tell when faced with a big egg in a book. What did the chicken say in the library? “Book-book-book-book…”

No? Alright, keep telling the silly ‘good luck’ story. Doesn’t make it true.

doesn’t have a point of view

4th & G, Davis

The corner of 4th and G Streets, Davis. “Scuse me mate, you’re in the way. Scuse me! Mate! Oi, Mate! Can you move a sec, I’m drawing? Mate do you have to stand right there? Mate you’ve been there for ages, just move along a little? Are you listening? Mate can you move?” I said over and over, but he didn’t move, he just stood there, like a statue. Well he wasn’t a statue, he was a sculpture. I didn’t really say any of that, not aloud anyway. This is one of the many pieces of urban art you can find dotted around downtown Davis, and since I was drawing this corner, with that funky looking wooden building next to where Little Prague used to be, I decided it would be more interesting to add him in. I think it’s a him. He’s lovely, covered in colourful mosaic-y bits. I’m all into that. He’s located next to Jack in the Box, which may possibly be the worst fast food chain restaurant in Davis. By the way if it were a real person standing there I wouldn’t be yelling at them to move. I would just move slightly myself, or draw them (but I’d prefer to move, as you know I don’t like drawing real people). The thing about drawing on location is that people and vehicles tend to move around, and if you’re drawing the permanent things then it’s not really a big deal. You can always look around them, fill in the gaps. This isn’t possible when drawing from a photo. In this sketch, the sculpture allowed me a sense of depth, a sense largely absent from my own thought processes (which mostly consisted of me pretending to yell “oi mate, can you move?” to an unmoveable piece of public art I have chosen to stand behind). Sunday afternoon in Davis, it doesn’t get better than this.

ace of spades

shovel gateway, davis
This is a quick lunchtime sketch of a new piece of public art in Davis (and there is so much new public art in Davis), located near the entrance to the Arboretum behind Davis Commons, on the bike path (yes, there are so many bike paths in Davis). A few months ago I recall the Arboretum was asking for donations of shovels (or spades as I call them), and this ultimately was the result: the Shovel Gateway. It was commissioned by the Davis Arts Council and the UC Davis Arboretum as part of the renovation of that whole area (it’s now the ‘Arboretum and Public Garden’) and was designed and built by sculptor Chris Fennell. More than 400 shovels make up the sculpture. It almost resembles a laurel wreath, and is an interesting and welcome addition to Davis’s scenery, and an opportunity for thousands of people in the coming decades to make bad jokes when they see it like, “I really dig that”. We can handle that.