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.


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.

hop to it!

bugshow mosquito lamp

“Hop To It” is the name of the Bug Show currently on display at the Pence Gallery in Davis (details of the show are here: Hop To It). I popped down there last Friday and did a little sketching. Some of the pieces there are incredible! One of my favourites was the mechanical contraption above, “Mosquito Lamp” by Scott Rhoades, made of found objects such as an old drill. It’s remarkable! So I had to do a sketch of it.  I also did a couple of sketches of some of the ceramic and stoneware bug objects – below is one of local art all-star Heidi Bekebrede’s ‘Cuteware’ bees, with the trademark cuteware smile, her work is always a pleasure. I also liked the ‘Grub Phone’ by Wesley Wright, he had a couple of pieces there that really stood out and got a lot of admirers.
bugshow ceramics sm
My piece at the show, a drawing of a yellow VW Beetle, sold! Here it is below, with the little red dot. So you know, I wasn’t the only one who submitted VW Beetle for the bug show, there were a few in fact..! Anyway if you’re in Davis, pop by the Pence and see the bugs, the show runs until July 29.

beetle at pence