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.
I went back to London at the end of November / start of December for a short week, and managed to get in a couple of sketches while I was at it. Above is the view looking down Haymarket. It was a bright day. I really enjoy looking up in London, seeing what’s at rooftop level. Years ago I used to tourguide down this street, on the upper deck of an open-top bus, pointing out this, talking about that. That was twenty years ago now, how things have changed. These rooftops have not changed much. Another thing that hasn’t changed much, Phantom of the Opera is still playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre, which is on the right there, at the corner of Charles II Street. I went to see it once, I knew someone who worked for the show who got me a ticket, and I had to enter right as it was beginning, so it was dark as I went to my seat, which was in the front row, where people have long legs that I can trip over, and I tripped over and onto my head, and nearly fell into the musicians. Fun times, always the cool cat I was. Bit of a silly story though, Phantom of the Opera, at least the bits where Jar-Jar was messing around. Lightsabre fighting was amazing though. Wow that was twenty years ago, I remember it so well.
A show I saw considerably recentlyer was Hamilton, which we saw right here in London two years ago, and then again in San Francisco last year. This is the Victoria Palace Theatre in Victoria, with Little Ben in the foreground. I drew this after leaving my Gatwick Express train and before jumping onto the Tube, that;s right, I arrive and immediately start sketching in the rain. Well I knew my wife would like this, she is a big fan of Hamilton the musical. I loved it too, especially the bit with the racecars, but I was sure Vettel would challenge him to a duel at the end, but he crashed out in the 46th lap after making another avoidable mistake. I have a really good memory for theatre stuff, it must be my degree in drama.
I didn’t draw much on this short London trip. It was really just to see the family, I just felt the need to come over there (maybe I had a feeling that 2020 would see us all stuck at home and unable to get across the Atlantic), catch up with some friends, and that’s it really. I bought a bunch of mince pies for christmas, a nice store assistant in Tesco Borehamwood showed me how to find all the boxes that had sell-by dates later than December 24, they were hidden deep. I was taking all my mince pies and yule logs and British festive foods with me to Hawaii for our Christmas vacation. But then it was time to go home, and sat on the plane I could tell was going to go home with a cold, just a feeling in my throat, back in the days when we just trusted our immense immune systems to do their job because that cold was probably just a cold, no worries. (It was, though I also picked up some bad nasal infection). I managed another sketch on the plane though, this time with the iPad, while Big Tex next to me planted his massive elbows on the armrest and beyond like it was manifest destiny. There was no social distancing in coach. It was another time, back in the 2010s.
One more thing, one more trip back in time. I flew to London via Las Vegas, as it was the easiest route, but it meant I had to stay the night. It has been many years since I was in Vegas, so this one night away was going to be a bit of a time-travel trip, and so I chose to stay at the Luxor, which is the hotel we stayed at before our wedding way back in the mid 2000s. We still lived in London them, so the Luxor felt big and glamourous and futuristic. Yeah not so much this time. I checked in fairly late, the desk woman barely saying a single thing to me as she snatched my credit card and scornfully slammed it back, “welcome to Vegas, now f*%koff to wherever”. Nice to feel like a valued customer, not even telling me how to find my room in this ridiculous headache of a shopping mall. The room was dark and a bit grubby, peeling wallpaper that certainly has not had an upgrade since we were here in 2004. I walked about the casino, a depressing experience, unsure of what the time really was, and went to find some food, which I found, and didn’t enjoy. This is one of the older casinos, of course, but I’m just so not used to Vegas any more. Worst of all though was the smoke, hanging over everything like a plague-ridden miasma. This is definitely something I don’t miss, choking in other people’s fumes, irritating my nose, throat, eyes, soaking into my clothes, in a huge concrete pyramid. That gave me a headache more than the flashing Wheel of Fortune machines. Still this is a trip back in time. I contemplated walking over to New York New York where I remember having a fun evening with friends at the Five Nine Irishmen bar or whatever it’s called, when my mate Simon had the worst Guinness he ever drank, but instead I stopped for a couple of drinks at the bar in the centre of the Luxor, and drew what I could see amid the colourful 70s style haze. I listened to people talk, it seemed to be a mix of locals hanging out there rather than tourists, and the cocktail I had was nice, and the barstaff pleasant. I went to bed and got a good night’s sleep before the flight to London in the morning, though my own airways couldn’t wait to get out of the building.
Because I was so lax in my posting (“lax” is another word for “lazy”, but my excuse was I had lots of books resting on my scanner and if I moved them the cat would jump up there and wow is that the time, gotta go) I never got around to showing the results of the recent “Let’s Draw Davis” sketchcrawls, those in October, November and December 2019, as well as February 2020 (we missed out January because I was very busy coaching soccer, and right now with the planet on hold, I’m not doing so much of that). So, now is a good time to report on the sketchcrawls. By the way, “Let’s Draw Davis is a series of sketchcrawls – meet-ups for those who want to sketch with other sketchers and then show each other their sketchbooks at the end – that I started back in 2010 after I came back from the first Urban Sketching Symposium. I had been on sketchcrawls in Davis before – the very first time was way back in December 2005, one of the early Worldwide Sketchcrawls (Enrico Casarosa’s ones, they are still going every three months), and I joined in a few other times since, but I decided that we as a town really needed to have something more often, monthly, advertised, free and open to anyone at all who likes sketching (as the worldwide sketchcrawls always are), non-judgemental, non-critiquey, beginners or experts just getting out and seeing their town and putting it in sketchbooks, and then if other people see you doing it, they might be inclined to join in. Being monthly means that if you miss one another comes along next month. except, sometimes it is difficult to organize them, so there are now a few others who help with the organization, and we have a really good group of regulars (including of course Alison and Allan who were sketching with me even back in that early ‘crawl of 2005, and inspired me to keep sketching Davis). There have been a lot of sketchcrawls over the years, most of the same locations repeated, I’ve made a lot of posters (and stickers and occasionally maps), and also made many sketching friends. Perhaps my favourite event was the 2017 Davis Centenary sketchcrawl, when we drew buildings that were all 100 years older or more. Let’s Draw Davis (I came up with that as a name while furiously scribbling notes on the flight back from the Portland Symposium, full of energy and ideas, finally deciding that to needed to ‘get myself out there’ in the art world of Davis rather than always hiding away, actually meet other artists and learn about their work, and it’s been for me personally a great success on that point). From there I did a sketchcrawl in London to mark the launch of the new Urban Sketchers (USk) London chapter there in 2012, called “Let’s Draw London” (I really like alliteration; this one kicked off the “Let’s Draw London” sketchcrawls that have continued ever since). I have long thought about doing a monthly sketchcrawl in Sacramento called either “Let’s Sketch Sacramento” or “Sacramento Sketch Saturday”, and if we ever get the Earth back to normal I still plan on doing that. Oh I have lots of plans for all sorts of themed sketching events.
BUT ANYWAY… the recent Let’s Draw Davis sketchcrawls!
OCTOBER 2019: OLD EAST DAVIS
Ok we will start with the one in October. This one was in Old East Davis, which is the the few blocks east of G St downtown. It’s an old neighbourhood, with some interesting houses (such as the Schmeiser House – aka the Swastika House because of the big turn-of-the-century swastika in the brickwork on the chimney). We met at the Amtrak Station, did a bit of sketching around there, and then went off from there. I enjoyed talking to people about perspective, giving a few pointers here and there, but then I wandered off and drew a few things, starting with the ‘Davis Tower’ opposite the main Amtrak station building.
I then went along 3rd Street, opposite the Trackside Center which has been threatened with redevelopment for a while now, but it doesn’t seem to be happening just yet. This is the entrance to the Cable Car Wash.
And this is the long-term favourite subject of mine, Nails By Tam. Now I drew this originally back in 2006 with coloured pencils, before I even started using watercolours to colour in my sketches, and I’ve also drawn it when it was in a different location, but it seems to be back here now. It’s a little out of the way, I sued to cycle past it on my way home years ago, so it reminds me of the first half of my Davis existence, I felt a lot younger then.
Then we all met up again at the Amtrak station…
NOVEMBER 2019: FIFTH STREET
For November we met at the corner of Central Park for a sketchcrawl along Fifth Street. The annual Turkey Trot race had just packed up nearby – I ran in that race by the way, I did the 5k! I am really into running now – and I had my new iPad, so was able to do a quick demo of how that works, showing a video of a sketch I did on a trip to Portland the weekend before. But I love my pen and paper, so my main sketch that day was the corner of 5th and B (actually this stretch of road is where 5th stops and becomes Russell). Highly autumnal (or fallumnal as I think they say over here):
Then i turned the other direction and drew with the iPad. I never quite finished it off (I could have done later but I never had the time) but it was fun to do this and show people how the iPad works for this sort of thing. I’m very much still learning though.
And we met up right there afterwards – Marlene Lee took these photos, you can see more at the FB page: https://www.facebook.com/LetsDrawDavis/
DECEMBER 2019 – E STREET PLAZA
For the festive crawl we went back downtown to the big Christmas Tree on the E Street Plaza. For this I also used the iPad, sketching in ProCreate. I have drawn the tree that is put up here a few times, even though I always say “last time! I don’t like drawing Christmas trees!” But actually it turns out I do, especially when I have a new toy that makes drawing the lights and baubles so much easier. I was still getting the hang of colouring in but I like that you can do the sky in a different layer and make the clouds look all fluffy. Also you can zoom in to draw smaller details. Merry Christmas folks, several months late!
In the window of the Avid Reader Active store was a large well-dressed Santa Claus.
I went to draw Zia’s deli, though I never got around to finishing it so it stays like this. I wasn’t feeling that energetic that day (I had just gotten over a cold I caught in England a couple of weeks before – these days I’d need to quarantine myself for ages if I felt like that again) so after standing for over an hour sketching a Christmas Tree I had little zap left, so I rested and went inside to look at pannetone. I love a bit of Italian pannetone at Christmas. Then to finish off the day I sketched the glorious orange trees near the Union Bank.
Here are some of us who finished off the crawl, this is Jim Coulter, Allan Hollander and me with my iPad (this is another pic by Marlene Lee from the FB page).
FEBRUARY 2020 – ORANGE COURT
And so bringing us into the Present Day. Present Day? February 29th was just over a month ago, but if that wasn’t the longest month in the history of months I don’t know what is. March 2020 was a bit crap, but we closed out February with a lovely sketchcrawl down at Orange Court, one of my favourite spots in Davis (because it’s where you find Sophia’s Thai Kitchen, my favourite food in Davis). We had a good turnout, and as it turned out, this would be the last bit of social gathering for a while.
We were supposed to have a sketchcrawl in March at the UC Davis Arboretum, but that got cancelled, along with everything else everywhere. We now live in Shelter In Place world, with no end in sight, so perhaps the next Let’s Draw Davis sketchcrawls will be virtual. In fact, I’m going to look at my calendar (yeeeeep, seems to be free) and schedule one soon. It’ll just be drawing the view from your window or something but hey, that’s something. Ok, I’ll announce that soon.
In the meantime you might want to check out the Let’s Draw Davis FB page at: https://www.facebook.com/LetsDrawDavis/, where we announce all our sketchcrawls and such, as well as the public group page where people can post their own sketches of Davis or results from the sketchcrawls: https://www.facebook.com/groups/LetsDrawDavis/
Phew, that was a long post! The next one will be shorter, and then there will be another long one, and that one will have more of the silly nonsense like in the one about 1980s/90s British kids TV shows, but will probably be about X-Men or ramen noodles or something.
And so it is April. I pity the Fools. No seriously this year is not the year for that, read the room folks, read the planet-sized room. Well I’m still at home and sat at the desk, so let’s plod through the rest of 2019’s many many sketches. It was my most sketchingest year yet. 2020 is pretty sketchful as well, though I’ve barely started scanning. I have decided that I bunch the rest of the 2019 sketches together thematically, such as those on campus, those from downtown, those from sketchcrawls, those from trips I took (Portland, London, Hawaii), iPad sketches (I only started iPad sketching in the autumn, I’ve posted some already). So to get us going, here are the sketches I did on the UC Davis campus (or just around it) in the second half of last year. These encompass a lot of lunchtime sketches, in the usual places I have sketched before. Above is Hart Hall, which is not (as I have pointed out to you before) names after Tony Hart. Not everything is named after Tony Hart! Hartbeat was, but Heartbeat (with “Every Loser Wins” singer Nick Berry) is not. Take Hart was named after him, but Hart To Hart (with Bobby Wagner and Steffi Powers) was not. Similarly the body parts called the “toe”, the “knee” and the “heart” were not named after him, nor was he named after them. Same goes for RC Willey. Ok so now that completely necessary explanation is out of the way, this is one of my favourite buildings on campus to sketch, but it does I admit always make me think of Tony Hart. I wonder what he did with all those pictures that kids would submit to The Gallery? It’s why I never sent anything in to him. I used to imagine that maybe he ate them in some sort of ritual to steal their essence, though I can’t connect that theory to why Mr Bennett kept getting his foot stuck in a bucket. Look I used to watch that show a lot when I was a kid alright.
The UC Davis Bike Barn, drawn many times by my hand. Oh by the way the Bike Barn is NOT named after that other British TV show for teens, Byker Grove. It’s not even spelled the same. However if you should look it up on YouTubem you;ll get the Byker Grove theme tune stuck in your head, and every time you walk past the Bike Barn you will start singing it to yourself. I do anyway. Don’t tell anyone.
Here is Freeborn Hall (on the right), which is actually scheduled to be torn down at some point, if they ever get round to it. It’s pretty historic. Bob Marley played there. I was saw one of my favourite bands Art Brut play there, but this was not a good venue. That’s ART Brut, not HART Brut. Though they might be named after Tony ‘Art, I’ll have to check. They are nor named after Brut after shave, nor are they named after British kids TV show Art Attack, hosted by youthful Mersey matey Neil Buchanan. Neily B was the younger brighter more “1990” Tony Hart, though Neily was really really small (like Morph) and would present his shows among normal sized paintbrushes and felt-tip-pens which looked gigantic. It was probably just a trick of perspective thinking back on it. Anyway this is Freeborn Hall and it’s scheduled for destruction. I mean demolition.
This is Robbins Hall, not far from Hart Hall, just on the other side. It is not named after Robin Hood, though I can see why you might have thought that. Speaking of Robin Hood do you remember that old British kids TV show from the early 90s “Maid Marian And Her Merry Men”? That was a fun show, it had Cat from Red Dwarf in it, and Baldrick from Black Adder as the Sheriff of Nottingham, several other people. Maid Marian was the brassy main character while the Robin Hood character was some wimpy yuppie. Elmo from Brush Strokes was in it too. It was much beloved. I liked all that sort of Robin Hood stuff back then, especially the more silly stuff with music. I even liked the really silly Kevin Costner version with Alan Rickman playing Baldrick’s character from Maid Marian, even though it came packaged with that Adam Bryans song that was number 1 for fifteen years, “Everything I Do (But I Won’t Do That)”. I liked that stuff so much that for a school drama project I wrote and performed a short four-song musical called, imaginatively, “Robin Hood” (I didn’t believe in silly humourous subtitles, I wanted it to be taken seriously ok), with the highlight song being called “Don’t Fuck With Me I’m Robin Hood” (which was actually based on a dream my friend Terry had, although later he told me that he had made that up). Anyway, Robbins Hall is the sketch above.
Ok above is the Silo which has been under a lot of refurbishment for a very long time now. Outside they usually have a truck for Peet’s Coffee. Peet’s is a chain of coffee shops here in the US, and I made them change their name to Peet’s because Pete doesn’t drink coffee, he drinks Tea. Speaking of Tea, did you ever watch that show T-Bag? It was another British kids TV show from the late 80s or so. All of these references are like 30 years old. That particular show was a bit mental, I never really liked it much. There was one kid called T-Shirt, he used to creep me out a bit, a bit too “TV kid”. The witch was funny. I liked the shows with witches in it. Grotbags (from Rod, Hull and Emu); Rentaghost, they had a witch in it I think; erm, Wizbit, Paul Daniels is in that and he did magic; yep, all the witches, I liked witches. Anyway folks, this is the Silo. Sometimes I come here for a sand-witch.
This is also at the Silo, one of many food trucks that park here. This is one of the food trucks they decided was a good idea to park right in the way making it conveniently harder for people top walk past. It does BBQ which stands for Beef, Bacon and Queues. I don’t eat meat like that so I don’t know if it’s any good by it does smell nice so I sketched it and breathed in the meaty aroma. Hey speaking of food, do you remember the old British TV cartoon called the Poddington Peas? It’s another one that had an incredible catchy theme tune. “Down at the Bottom of the Garden, with all the Birds and the Beas, a Little Lotta Little People, they’re called the Poddington Peas…” You remember that surely. I must admit I didn’t really watch it, I just liked the theme tune. The great thing about living in the 21st century now though is that rather than simply remembering all these theme tunes to impress people with later (and I know Americans who have never heard of any of these things are genuinely impressed, or at least an impression was genuinely made), you can just YouTube them to find them. I didn’t watch shows like ‘Raggy Dolls’ or ‘Rosie and Jim’ but I remember their theme tunes vividly, so I think either my sister or my nephew watched them.
This here is the Tri-Co-Ops building on the UC Davis campus. I especially like the blue piano sat outside. I always think to myself, if Yoda were here he would name this the “Do-Co-Ops”. That blue piano reminds me of, for some reason, Rod Jane and Freddy. They were the musical trio from Rainbow, popular 1980s kids TV show, the one with Zippy and Geoffrey and co. It’s actually Rod, Jane and Freddy, not ‘Rod Jane’ and his friend ‘Freddy’, though if I ever become a country and western singer I would take ‘Rod Jane’ as my stage name. Commas are important. I wonder how many other acts have been betrayed by their lack of comma? ‘Son, Knee and Cher’ for example, or ‘Bat, Man and Robin’, or the other Byker Grove musical three-piece, ‘P, J and Duncan’, who mysteriously killed off one of their members when they transitioned to ‘Ant and Dec’ I’m thinking that maybe Ant ate J, or maybe J is buried under Dec’s deck. Anyway this is the Tri-Co-Ops house, or the Tri, Co and Ops House if you will.
And finally just on the edge of campus is the frat house of Theta Xi. No not ‘The Taxi’. Although it does look like it just says “OX”. Which naturally reminds me…ok this show wasn’t British I don’t think but it was on kids TV in England during that same time period, “Ox Tales”, starring Ollie the Ox. It was Dutch/Japanese I think. Ox Tales was a hilarious show I genuinely used to watch and love, and the theme tune is truly one of the greatest of all time. They should have called him Ollie the GOAT. Anyway, not including the Walker Hall series, these are my sketches from campus (or campus-adjacent) in the second half of 2019, plus a whole bunch of silly half-baked memories of 30-year-old British kids TV shows I didn’t even watch that much. I blame social distancing.
And now a look back at the distant past when we could go to things like parties and gigs. Not that I ever go to any such things anyway so it’s not something I’m really missing. However I wanted to show you this sketch I did back in September when I was in Sacramento with my wife, at her father’s party in midtown, the one he holds each year to celebrate when he moved to the area. (He is generally a bit more social than me!). It was held at a cafe bar called Shine, and he had a couple of bands come to play at the party, one of which was called Band of Coyotes, and those are the ones I sketched. They were very good. I really enjoyed drawing this though and it was probably my favourite drawing in that particular sketchbook, because I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but I just drew anyway, starting in the middle and working my way outwards. I added paint in a very let’s-see-what-happens fashion too, not having great light to really see the colour, and I loved the multicoloured outcome, going from warm in the middle and cooling off outwards. I put on a lot of washes, so many that it actually went through the thin Seawhite of Brighton page, I didn’t mind. It’s always more pleasant to draw when you have good music to draw to, no doubt. A lot of the time I wouldn’t want to draw musicians, they might turn out to be pretty bad, or maybe they themselves are kinda nobs, and you don’t want to draw those, but this band were very good, and I think that comes across in my enjoyment of sketching. Oh man, I want the world to go back to normal, and I can go and draw everything again.
We interrupt the tales of my summer in Europe with an update on Walker Hall’s redevelopment at UC Davis. Well I say an update, what I mean is a bunch of sketches I did last year. The place already looks very different (but it’s not yet finished). As ever I can only draw it from certain angles that I can actually see into, I’ve not been back inside it in well over a year now. Above and below, this is how Walker Hall looked in August. On the one below, you can see that some glass was put into the side windows already.
Below is the front side, which as you can now see has the glass windows installed on this side.
And here is the front side again as sketched in December, when the leaves were colourful and falling. I’m still sketching it, but I’ll add my 2020 ones in a later post. It will be finally opening this year as the new Graduate Center, when the staff from Graduate Studies will be relocating from Mrak Hall, where I’ve always known them, into this shiny yet historic new home.
After my late night frites from Robert La Frite, Charleroi’s finest friterie, I had a much needed lie-in. I spent much of the morning in the large new comic shop near the hotel; Belgian (and French) BD stores are really incredible. They love their hardback comic books, and I get very inspired by the artwork. It made want to get drawing. I have daydreamed about returning to Charleroi and drawing as much as possible. I spent a year there with hardly any drawings, so I always felt I needed to return to catch up. I did want to walk through the fancy new Rive Gauche mall though. Now I know where all the shopping has gone since the stores all closed down in Rue de la Montagne. Despite the novelty, it didn’t feel like I was in Charleroi at all, so I left and headed out with the sketchbook. I went straight up to Place Charles II, and drew the Église St. Christophe, the large rusting-green domed church dominating the round plaza. But wow, it was already really hot.
Any football fans among you may remember the Euro 2000 tournament. Incredibly that was twenty years ago now. In that tournament, which was held in Belgium and Holland, there was a famous game in which England played Germany right here in Charleroi. This plaza saw the English hooligans running wild before the game, throwing chairs and giving all that old little-Englander nonsense about St George and yelling obscenities at anyone foreign, and in one case I witnessed a drunk Englishman hilariously kicked one of those concrete balls (which had been dressed up to look like footballs at the time) hurting his foot in the process and spilling his beer, but Charleroi is a place that did not care for that sort of thing at all, and they just pulled out the water cannons and sprayed them all over the place. I’ll never forget, some of the local bars decided not to open up that day, but they still sold beer from lemonade stands outside, because Belgians don’t give up on beer. Once all of the losers had been washed away, the evening following England’s victory was one of the best nights in town, and I met some great English lads staying up all night to catch the morning train and ferry, and showed them to all the places the locals love. I though back to all of that while drawing the church, glad that it was two decades in the past.
Charleroi is not a place awash with tourists (even though the town was literally awash with cannon-sprayed football hooligans once), but there is a tourist office right here on the Place. I went in to look around, picking up some badges and a few postcards. I was suffering from the heat and so came in to cool off. I got talking to the guy working in there, talking about all the changes in Charleroi, he told me about all the new cool stuff in town, new breweries, while we also reflected sadly on the state of some of the old shopping streets. I said that I was intending on sketching the city and that I had always wanted to promote its image, being that big overlooked city in Belgium, and we talked about how the city always was and still is a place of art; Magritte of course lived round here, and then there are the comics, the famous Marcinelle School. I also said that I have been following a photographer online whose work actually inspired me to come back here, ‘Charleroi Zoom‘, they really show the best of the city. The guy was a bit shocked – it turns out that Charleroi Zoom is him! He shook my hand and couldn’t believe I had been inspired by his photos to come from California back to Charleroi, but it’s true. I was just as gobsmacked. Always nice to meet someone who loves the place. I went back out into the Place Charles II and drew, in what shade I could still stand in, the Hotel de Ville (above).
The heat was unbearable, and moving about the city was slow and ponderous. I wandered down to Parc Reine Astrid, looking a little shabbier than twenty years ago but this was where I used to come to relax and read books. On the edge of the park is a statue of the cowboy Lucky Luke, another BD hero who originated here. I thought I’d draw in pencil for a bit, it was a bit quicker in this heat. The more animated style of sketching it gave is probably appropriate for the Marcinelle School (also called the Charleroi School), which was the house style of Spirou back in the 1940s or so. This style, also called ‘comic-dynamic’ was said to be in opposition to the very precise ‘ligne claire’ style of other Belgian books books like Tintin.
I was saddened to see that Lucky Luke has really weathered a lot over the years. He used to be so shiny, but hasn’t seen a lick of paint in years. Here he is below, in 2019 (left) and 2000 (right).
Further up the road near the stadium is Boule et Bill. I didn’t sketch Spirou, also nearby, but I had to draw these two. Boule is wearing the black and white stripes of Sporting Charleroi, the local team. Of course, I ahd to visit the stadium. The last time I went there was for a game at the end of the 1999-2000 season when Charleroi drew with Anderlecht to just about stay in D1. They were never a very good team, although this season 2019-20 they have been playing brilliantly. I bought the new season’s shirt, I love my football shirts, and then walked back up to Square Hiernaux.
Square Jules Hiernaux is where I lived twenty years ago; I could see into the Charleroi stadium from my window. It’s not a square but a large roundabout – the ‘vicious circle’ I used to call it, when I would watch the Belgian drivers aggressively battle their way around it – but in the middle is yet another local BD hero, the long-tailed leopard-like creature Marsupilami. My little neighbour friend was looking good.
And here is La Vigie, the student living quarters for the Université de Travail (UT), the tower that was my home from 1999-2000. I worked as a teacher at the UT, in the attached building, during my year abroad from my French degree. It was an interesting experience living there; I remember that for months the showers were freezing cold, and we had no hot water even in the sinks. There was nowhere for me to refrigerate food or drinks so I didn’t eat a lot of dairy that year (outside of chocolate or the mayo on my frites), but I would cook pasta and noodles in the small kitchen in the basement. My neighbours were mostly from central Africa, friendly guys who would often cook spicy-smelling dinners on a little electric stove-top in the corridor, while playing Congolais music. The neighbour right next door to me however was more into Celine Dion, and would play “My Heart Will Go On” at full blast on repeat EVERY SINGLE MORNING. For MONTHS. I remember how glad I was to bring my guitar over to Charleroi to counter this musical monstrosity. I wrote a lot of songs there that year, that’s what I used to do instead of drawing. That’s what you do when you’re 23 and don’t know many people. It was an entire lifetime ago, but it looks like the building has not changed a bit, except for the new white neon sign on the roof.
I took the photo below the evening before, looking up to my old bedroom on the thirteenth floor. I really wanted to go inside, and go up to the rooftop to look out across the Caroloregion, with the giant ‘terrils’ (old slap-heaps now turned into grassy hills) dotting the landscape. I perhaps should call ahead some day and arrange this. This time though I thought I would just pop in and ask the custodian if it was ok. The door opened as someone was leaving, so I went in to ask.
But nobody was there, and it didn’t look like the custodians were working that day. It was the summertime, so they probably have a limited schedule there, while most of the students are gone. Ok, well maybe next time. I went to leave, but the door would not open. I remembered that to get in years ago you needed a little electronic badge, but you also needed it to leave the building, inexplicably. They have not changed their system in two decades, so for now I was stuck in there. The doors would not budge; I knew that from experience. Twenty years before I was stuck outside in the snow one night after returning from a work visit to Brussels, when the doors were locked while the custodians went wherever they would go. I tried everything to prise the doors open with my frozen hands, to no avail, and got into an argument with the custodians when they finally returned an hour and a half later. I wasn’t going through that again, so I just waited. Nobody was coming, it was the middle of summer. What was I going to do, stay there in the lobby all night? I couldn’t get further into the building without an electronic key so I was stuck in this small lobby. There wasn’t even anything to draw. After half an hour or so I thought I would try the door to the canteen, which I was certain would be locked like all the other doors, as it led into the main university building. To my surprise it was unlocked! I wandered into the canteen area, where years ago they would give me free dinners (of grated carrots or weak soup; I could not eat anything meaty as I was ‘le vegeterien!’). Amazingly the door from the canteen into the main university was also unlocked. I was wandering through an empty building I had not stepped foot into since my early twenties. You know when places from your past like this show up in the dream space when you sleep, morphing into those buildings you have to try and somehow get out of, well this was where I was in real life. It was surreal. I remembered my way to the main entrance, which of course was locked. I found another entrance, and that too was locked. I was still stuck, and really wanted to get on with the rest of my day. And then I remembered that years ago there was this one door in a stairwell that led outside which for some reason was often left unlocked, if I could just find it. Since nothing else here had changed over the years, maybe I had a chance? And I found it, and of course it was unlocked, and I was finally outside. Typical Charleroi, still messing me about years later. I had one more sketch to make, the Waterloo Metro entrance right outside the front door. I think I was just about done with La Vigie.
I headed back to the hotel (picking up a delicious “mitraillete de dinde” on the way from Robert La Frite) before coming back up this way to sketch La Cuve. However, La Cuve was closing early due to nobody being there, so I wandered the town a bit more, taking some pictures of the dramatic summertime sky.
There was one place I used to go that I wanted to check in on – the Irish Times Pub. I remember when this place opened in early 2000, a new pub in town that the locals made sure kept very busy. Again, it has not changed in the slightest. I had many late nights here back in 2000, so it was fun to spend time working on a bar interior after all that time sketching out in the heat. Naturally I had to give in a drink a Westmalle Triple, the beer I first tried in this very bar which I always knew was trouble, one that you definitely can’t have many of.
And that was my brief visit back to Charleroi. Definitely some mixed feelings about the old place, but it was nice to finally be back. The next morning I was to be up and away to catch the train to Amsterdam; little did I know that the intense heatwave was going to make that journey very difficult…