The smoke from the nearby fires was bad, very bad. Ash raining everywhere, air quality awful. Then it cleared up a little bit and we even came outside for a bit. And then it got worse again from the many other fires up and down the West Coast, and now it’s pretty universally awful. The Orange Sky Day in San Francisco was a thing. But this sketch, from my office on campus, was from a few weeks ago when it was bad from those first fires. Everything tinged with amber, dense particulates in the air, not great to breathe in. So my quick sketch was just in ashy looking paint. Looked appropriate. I’ve no idea when this current smoke event will clear up (we’re not able to do youth soccer practice right now, which was tricky enough with our COVID protocols), but campus is starting to get ready to welcome some students back, and there are marquees going up for some outdoors instruction, which won’t be able to happen now in this current ashy hellscape. What a year 2020 is, huh.
We’ve been having a heatwave in northern California over the past week or so, with temperatures hitting up to 108 degrees at the weekend. And then came some storms, at first bringing some drops summer rain, but mostly they brought hot winds and dry lightning strikes. Lots of them – one night was constant rumbling, low rumbling mostly, with flashes echoing in the sky. It kept me awake, fascinated by the electrical storm but nervous about what it might bring to this big dry state. Fires did break out as we could see from the thin layer of smoke in the sky next day, giving everything a dirty orange hue, so I drew from the dining room table before dinner (above). This is where my desk is now, I’ve moved back down from upstairs, much to the annoyance of my cat who has gotten used to sleeping the afternoons in my desk chair. I am not sure I like being closer to the kitchen again, closer to the snacks, but I was crammed into a small space in the bedroom for quite a while and needed a change. I’ll go back up again at some point, if I get bored. I coloured this in using some new fancy Daniel Smith paints, which I’m not really used to yet. Wednesday morning I went outside to cycle to the office, and while there were blue skies, the air smelled dense with smoke. Ash was falling everywhere like snowflakes, and the sky away to the west was filled with billows of dull grey. This was the LNU Lightning Complex fore, which is around Napa/Vacaville and now beyond, a terrible and huge fire that even jumped across Interstate 80 cutting off the freeway. Evacuation zone has gone up as far as Winters, next town over, which is a lot closer than any other fire yet. I didn’t cycle any further than the next block, I went straight back home, and stayed inside. Ash has been falling ever since, and the house is generally filled with that orange/ochre light, turning red as the sun sets. Above is a sketch I did of one of the cats, Whiskers I think, on his high perch by the back door, while the dirty air outside casts an alien glow. This was done on the iPad. Cat don’t care, he sleep. Below, this was a quick sketch of the sun in the sky outside our window, looking like a sore red boil. We’ve had lots of wildfires in California the past few years, and fire season is long and scary, and our skies have been blanketed in unhealthy and hazardous smoke, especially a couple of years ago. But this is the closest we’ve had a big fire that I can remember since I’ve lived in Davis. We packed some bags in case the evacuation zone increased, not a bad idea, though given our location it’s pretty unlikely. Lots of people have lost their homes, and some historic state parks have been seriously damaged by the fires. And more dry lightning is expected over the weekend. The firefighters do an amazing job, they are real heroes, I just hope it doesn’t get even worse.
Yesterday afternoon, clocking off a little early after the smoky air gave me a headache, I sat on the couch watching Agents of SHIELD until dinnertime, my son played on his device, so I sketched him, that awful sky washing in. Step outside and it’s choking, like being in a north London pub in the 90s, I feel like putting the Charlatans on the jukebox and buying a pint for under two quid, then getting some cheap fried chicken and falling asleep on the night bus. My throat is dry, and the ash keeps floating around outside. So when my Apple Watch scolds me for not having my exercise ring further along than usual, I’m like, not now, Apple Watch, not now. There’s a global pandemic on, and it’s election season, and now the world’s literally on fire.
We took a drive over to see family in Santa Rosa, not something we;ve done much of lately since the pandemic started. We sat in the backyard of my wife’s mother, all socially distanced and wearing masks. My nephew had grown taller since I last saw him, so much time has passed. They all played a game of Goosebumps around the table while I sketched from a different table. The weather was cooler than in Davis. My mother in law’s back yard looks lovely now, it has all been done up nice. I have a feeling if this pandemic keeps up like this we’ll be having Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner out there too! I want this whole thing to be over, back to normal. I want to fly to England to see my family there, but this is where we are right now so we do what we can. It was nice to at least go and do this. Now this summer is flying past, working from home, the world outside is literally burning as I write with clouds of ash and smoke from nearby wildfires, mass evacuations going on, firefighters working around the clock to keep us safe, the air outside thick and choking, the sky a dull orange, all the while a global pandemic is going on, and then there’s the bloody election season upon us. At least the Champions League football has been fun.
Taking a break from the GB66 sketches to post one from Davis. I have not been drawing much lately. It’s been hard to get into the rhythm again, and it means leaving the house which there isn’t as much of lately. As I speak we are in the midst of a massive heatwave, expected to hit 111 degrees tomorrow. I’ve pretty much stopped drawing the inside of the house, that part of the pandemic story concluded, or rather I’m just bored of it. In the past I’d go out at lunchtime from my office and draw campus, but I just eat lunch in the living room now and watch Serie A goal highlights on YouTube, before moving a few feet back to the work desk. I was going to do another big virtual sketchcrawl, filling a whole book again, probably around France, but it’s a daunting task and makes me sad I can’t travel in real life right now. I haven’t had this many breaks from sketching in years. Still, I’ve been doing some here and there. A few weeks ago I cycled downtown on a Sunday or a Saturday and drew Newsbeat, the little newsagents on 3rd Street I love to go to. A proper local shop. I go there for my BBC History magazines and a cold bottle of Calypso. I have wanted to draw it for years but it’s not an easy sketch, usually tucked away on the shaded side of the street. I drew until I was uncomfortable, masked up and standing under a tree on the kerb, and the biked back home.
There’s a new building on campus. I might not have been on campus much the past few months, while working from home, but I cycled in recently a couple of times to see what’s going on – not a lot – but this new building is going up next to the Silo. It will be the “Teaching and Learning Complex”, or “TLC”. Unsurprisingly this isn’t on the Med Centre because staff there wear scrubs and the TLC don’t want no scrubs. Right, obligatory TLC joke out of the way. It’s always fun having a bit of construction to draw, because you know it’s something new and interesting that will look different next time. Also it is something new in a familiar location. This was a parking lot. The one above, I drew on the way into the office one lunchtime, but the one below was done last Friday after being in all day and finishing early, but by that time of the afternoon, about 4pm, it’s getting way too hot. I stood in the shade, but I walked home afterwards very much in the sun and I wish I’d brought my bike, but oh no, gotta get my steps in, gotta walk. I have been running a lot lately, slowly building up my speed and instances, very slowly but every bit of progress counts. I ran my first four mile run on Sunday, felt a great accomplishment afterwards, and took a rest from the running today. I have to run early in the morning, but too dry and hot later on. Davis in the summertime.
This is a familiar building. It was the first sketch I drew downtown in three months, and I felt awkward out there drawing after such a long time. I still do to be honest; we have a sketchcrawl coming up this Saturday and I’m nervous about it, although I’ll be wearing a mask with one of my sketches on (see those here!). I was masked up standing on the corner wearing this, I could hear that screeching violin music coming from a block away making me wish I’d worn earplugs as well as a mask, but it was a comforting view to draw. The Varsity Theater always reminds me of first coming to Davis, working across the street at the bookstore, doing some of my earliest Davis drawings of this 1950s exterior. The last film I saw there was Jojo Rabbit, one of our favourites, and in fact after cycling home from sketching this, stopping off in the Co-op to get some cheese and wine on the way, we watched another of Taika Waititi’s earlier films, “Boy”, which was brilliant and crazy. We’ve been on a Taika movie marathon lately, not a bad way to spend time at home.
Yesterday I went downtown for the first time in three months, joining the Black Lives Matter march from Community Park. There was a sizable crowd that seemed to increase by every block, all wearing face masks (I social-distanced as much as possible – this was the most people I have been around since the shelter-in-place began), with many hand-drawn signs in support of justice for black people recently killed by police officers, particularly George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Cars and buses honked in support as they went past. We marched down F Street, and I tried to sketch as I went, but that was actually very difficult, all I managed were some scribbled figures, so I added in a lot more details and signs later on from the pictures I took. We circled round to Central Park, before circling about the downtown streets. The crowd then went on to march outside the Davis police station, though I ended up staying downtown (I stopped into the Soccer and Lifestyle shop, now open to the public again, to see how they are doing – the shelter-in-place has been very hard on small businesses). I’m so glad I went along on the march, it was very heartening to see so many – young, old and those of us in the middle – out expressing their voices in support of our black friends and neighbours. Yesterday afternoon, the Davis police chief announced a change in their use of force policy, a very positive step. This past couple of weeks have been a big moment in this country and the constant shock news has been often very difficult to process. It’s been emotional for everyone, feelings of anger and sorrow, on top of everything else this year is throwing at us. Marching even for that short while, just being around people again, and hearing so many voices speak out in solidarity with the black community, was the right thing to do.
On my recent six-months-ago-now trip to Portland (not the one with the Bill, unless you count the bar bill) I took advantage of the chance to sketch a few drinking spots, because after all, Portland is about the beer. Although actually one of the nicest spots I came to was a small wine bar across from my hotel, where I went in to do some pre-dinner wine tasting, because I thought why not. It was closing early so not enough time to sketch, but I did taste a few very nice local Oregon wines, and also spoke to a bloke who supports my own beloved Tottenham. Coincidence! He travels back and forth to Europe for wine stuff I guess, and he even went to the Champions League final in Madrid last summer when Spurs… well we didn’t win that one. Anyway as my hotel was nearby to Bailey’s Taproom, where I have been before, I wanted to come back and spend some time sketching in there and sampling some interesting beers. As it turns out, the guy behind the bar (not the one in the picture) recognized me from my previous trip there. In fact the last time had been a full six years before, on the very same date! I am nothing if not predictable. I told them I’d see them again in (gets out calculator) 2025.
So above, the McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom, which I had been very interested to go to, but was hugely underwhelmed. It was not very interesting, it was practically empty (this was Friday evening just after dinnertime) and the beer I had wasn’t very good. I didn’t finish it, nor the sketch. I went and had a little cake at a nearby cake shop instead, very tasty.
Above is Hair of the Dog, a walk across the river, a brewery I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. I met up with sketching friend Kalina and had a beer and some food here, and a sketch and good conversation, always nice to catch up. Years ago a couple of friends had come here and brought me back a beer, and the beer here is certainly very good.
There was another place I really wanted to come back to sketch, and that is Jake’s Famous Crawfish. A smart and historic place downtown, I popped in and saw a spot right at the corner of the bar, a great place to sketch, ordered a single beer and drew this whole thing quickly. The last time I had visited Jake’s was in 2010 during the original Urban Sketching Symposium, on a late-night sketching session with Don Colley. I should like to eat here some day as well.
And the last bar sketch i managed to fit in was not one I went into, but I really liked this view. The Crystal Ballroom is at the other side of the building, but this end has the Annex Bar, another McMenamin’s place, which does have an interesting interior and a downstairs cellar bar which looks like a great place to hang out and meet characters with colourful conversation. Seems like it will be a long time until we get to do that again, huh.
In September for our anniversary my wife and I took a weekend away in Santa Monica. It’s a city we really like, and this time we even rented a convertible and drove out to Malibu, that was really cool. The large beach there was very nice, peaceful, not many people, great for social distancing. Busier back in Santa Monica of course, and the only sketching I did was there. (I didn’t even sketch at the Getty Villa, another place we visited in Malibu, that was gorgeous). So in Santa Monica I did a few quick sketches down by the ocean. I really liked the look of the hot dog hut above. The thing in the foreground is a public payphone, we used to have them in the 20th century. If you needed to make a phone call to someone you had to wait for someone else to be finished. They were quite clever. If you needed to end your conversation you couldn’t pretend you were going into a tunnel, but you could pretend you were running out of quarters, or witnessed a gang shooting, or there was a big wave coming from across the beach. As you can tell I’m trying to use American examples rather than British examples. In Britain you had to pretend your 10p coins were running out, or witnessed a football hooligan punch-up, or the vicar was waving from across the lane. Anyway we didn’t have cellphones or mobiles and everything was better and kids played with sticks and hula hoops and holidays were just a tent in the garden and something about health and safety gone mad.
Anyway back to the real world, we stopped off for e delicious cold drink and snack in 3rd Street, and I took the time for some people watching. Which for me means people sketching. I don’t really like people watching – I’m more for people ignoring if I sit anywhere – but if I’m going to watch people they may as well get sketched. There was a sad clown making (and presumably selling) balloon animals.
This is one of those Jump things. Not the bike, this is a scooter. It works like a Jump bike in that you have to leave them all over the place in easy-to-trip-over places, and then ride them around on sidewalks not watching where you are going as if you have never been on a sidewalk before and don’t understand how they work. Grumble grumble grumble, that’s all I do, kids these days, get off my lawn. Anyway they are everywhere in Santa Monica now so I thought I’d draw one while I was walking back to our hotel.
Now every time I go to Santa Monica I always say “right! I am going to draw that sign to the pier entrance, and it’s going to be brilliant.” And then I leave it to the sunny busy part of the day and can never find a good angle and never want to colour on site and never want to colour it in later (for some reason it feels flat), so this is all I got to do. I think I’m going to practice painting with gouache, get really good at it, then come back and try this again so it looks like how it should in my mind. Or maybe do a digital sketch. I don’t know, I like penwork on a lot of things but have never felt comfortable with this sign. But I really like Santa Monica and any excuse to come back is great. No travel for a while now, though! Nearby to this junction is a place which does nice Belgian frites. I love a frite.
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.
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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.