the convent at the top of orange hill

Orange Hill Convent
This is another very early morning sketch from back home in Burnt Oak. It was Father’s Day, and I was up super early so went out for a walk in the early morning June sunlight, when hardly anyone was around. The light was golden and heavy, rising beyond the Mill Hill end of Abbots Road, while I stopped at the Orange Hill end and drew one of the more impressive local buildings, the old Orange Hill Convent. Look at that chimney! That is a serious chimney. I remember the nuns, coming up and down to Burnt Oak, and I was told I had to greet them with a “Hello Sister” (not “Hello Nun” as I had been doing up to that point). Many years ago this was next to St.James’s School, the local Catholic school that I never went to (what with not being a Catholic), but would have been handy (being only two minutes from home; my actual school Edgware was a much further walk, and I did it daily – and slowly, as my old teachers will attest). My younger sister did go there, but only after it had relocated to Grahame Park. I remember friends of my older sister though who did go the St. James’s (my older sister by the way went to Orange Hill, just around the corner, which is also no longer there), they used to talk about St.James’s purely in terms of their terror at the nuns next door, Oh the nuns, so strict, the nuns! Which I never believed, having only met the nice sweet nuns going up and down the street, and saying “Hello Sister” to them, and they would say “oh hello young man” back. But then, I wasn’t a Catholic.  Pupils at St. James’s wore uniforms of two different colours – black and grey for the boys, green and yellow for the girls. It’s funny living in the US now and high school kids not wearing uniforms. We could always tell where kids were from by their uniforms (which was exactly the point, I think, for when kids from different schools got into trouble, as was not uncommon – trashing a McDonalds, running rampage on a bus, throwing things (or people) into people’s gardens – then the head of that school could be contacted and the boys or girls would get into trouble and very pointed words would be had at the school assembly next day. Yeah this happened a lot at Edgware (not by me of course). Our uniforms were blue, white and maroon. Our rivals at Mill Hill Country High had similar uniforms but had cherry red instead of maroon. There was one Catholic girls school who were kitted out all in purple, in Finchley if I recall, and were nicknamed locally “the Purple Virgins”. Not by me, of course. I always loved how tall and imposing this building was, on those dark early evenings when the rain was lashing down it would appear like a haunted mansion out of the gloom. I do remember as a kid though, my friends and I would go to the field behind it, next to the Watling Community Centre, to get conkers from the big horse chestnut tree. We’d look around for those big green spiky balls, peeling them open to find a huge shiny conker inside. Now I know this sounds like something that mawkish sentimentalists will post on groups on Facebook, oh remember when all we had was conkers, not like now where it’s all video games and obesity and violent crime (you know, the sort of Facebook post with a comment thread that quickly turns xenophobic, regardless of the original subject), but this is in fact true, we did go and get conkers from a big tree just behind the convent. I was a pretty innocent kid, it has to be said. It was all football stickers and conkers. And video games to be fair, my brother and I spent a lot of time playing Donkey Kong. I did go to karate class a couple of times in the building next to this, but I gave it up because there was another boy from my school, who I think fancied himself as a bully, in the karate class one time when I was 11 or 12 and he just spent the entire time laughing at me from behind and making disparaging comments. He then followed me down Orange Hill trying to talk to me, not in a particularly menacing way, but I didn’t want to talk to him, and I knew that next day at school he would basically have all his cronies humiliate me for attempting to do karate. So I never went back, which was a bit of a shame. Kids eh. I would probably have been rubbish at karate anyway, but I do think of that when I see that wall in front of the convent. Here I go again, memory lane. Well the school building is gone, replaced by houses and flats, I don’t know if the chestnut tree is still there but I doubt kids are picking its conkers, in these days of violent obese video crime games, and it’s probably too late for me to go back and try my luck at karate now, but the outline of this old Convent still stands out at the top of the hill like always. And finally, I sketched it!

early morning back yard sketches

Mum's Garden 2017 sm

Travelling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops. Nor is travelling across the Atlantic. So no matter how late I stay up on the arrival day, when I am a little delirious and over-exhausted from the long overnight flight, especially one delayed by over 3 hours sat on the runway at Oakland, no matter how tired I am, I’ll still wake up at like 2am and find it impossible to return to the land of the sleeping. Also the sun comes up super early in Britain in the summer, and those birds in the Norwich Walk trees do love an early morning sing-song. When I was a kid I’d stay up all night and wait for that early dawn light, those early songbirds, and sometimes I would go for a run, enjoying the world when no people were about. Well these days I’m more likely to draw the world at that time, and so I sat in my mum’s kitchen and drew the back yard. The sky’s a funny colour but it really was a bit like that. I listened to podcasts about football, language, British history and Thor (“The Lightning and the Storm”, all about Walt Simonson’s epic run on the Thor comic, look it up, it’s a great podcast) until it was time for people to wake up and have breakfast. I always love that first morning back home. I’ve lived a quarter of my life in America now, but this to me will always be home. Click on the image for a closer view. When I showed my mum the first thing she said, “oh no you drew my washing line, I should have taken it down!” Whereas I as the urban sketcher, that is the first thing I drew, it’s to me the most interesting thing to draw. “At least you didn’t draw that old bucket,” she said. “Whaaa? I forgot the old bucket! No!!!” I totally would have drawn the bucket too, if I had space on the page, but it was just “off-screen”. I did draw the gnomes though, and I don’t really like those.

Here are a couple of other early-morning sketches of my mum’s back garden from previous visits back home, the top one being in 2011, the bottom one being 2007. Both feature the washing line. The bottom one (from ten years ago!) is a little sad to me now, as it shows my old tortoise, Tatty, who we had since I was about 6 or 7, but sadly died since that sketch.

mum's garden in burnt oak
back garden at norwich walk

war! what is it good for? (absolutely sketching)

Imperial War Museum London
Last month we went back over to London for a few days ahead of our week in Italy, spending time with family and seeing friends. The London visits are more frequent than they used to be, but always seem shorter, never enough time to see everyone we want to see, go everywhere we want to go. We always pack a lot in though, and this time wanted to see some places we’d never been to. One of those was the Imperial War Museum. It’s in Lambeth, and had never appealed that much to me for some reason (because I’m a pacifist peacenik?) which is crazy because I love history, I love seeing old planes and tanks and uniforms and armoury, and I love old London buildings such as this one, which has an interesting history as the old Bethlem psychiatric hospital – aka ‘Bedlam’ (not the original Bedlam location mind you but still, interestingly historical). The grounds are lovely, and there were a lot of people out sketching as well which is always nice to see. I drew the scene above while my family were resting in the cafe.
Imperial War Museum Sopwith Camel

I didn’t do a ton of sketching in there – there is a lot to see, and my son was getting tired (World War I was a lot to take in!) but I did draw this Sopwith 2F.1 Camel. The Sopwith Camel was one of the most iconic early fighter planes for the Allies in World War I. Just imagine Lord Flashheart whizzing around in one of these before landing sausage-side and shouting “woof” a lot. (I really miss Rik Mayall!) I didn’t get much further than World War II, so I would like to go back there some day with the sketchbook. Definitely worth a visit. After this, we walked the short distance to the South Bank and along the Thames.

perspectives of san francisco

Washington Square, SF
This is Washington Square, in San Francisco’s North Beach, sketched on a warm Saturday afternoon at the start of June. Last month I led an urban sketchers workshop as part of their “10×10” series, more specifically the series organized by Urban Sketchers East Bay. My workshop was called “Perspectives of San Francisco”, and was of course all about perspective, specifically how to use it when sketching tricky subjects like cities with hills. It went very well, and I hope that I got some of my ideas across. I drew on the many things I have learned over the years (and continue to learn) from perspective experts I have met over the years with Urban Sketchers. It was a workshop of about three hours, and North Beach really is a great place to practice your sketching. When it was all done I drew a scene of Washington Square (above) before heading home. In the morning when I got to the City however I did do a couple of practice sketches not far from the Amtrak bus station, in SoMa. The scene below is of some of the modern buildings that have sprouted up South of Market. I drew it in pencil in about 5-10 minutes, to show the basics, before drawing it again (different page) in pen and watercolour in about 40-45 minutes. While I sketched a woman asked if I was lost. “No,” I said distractedly (I was looking up at the sky with a sketchbook under my chin). “Are you British? Welsh, Scottish, Irish?” she then asked. How you can tell all of that from one mumbled two-letter word surprised me a lot and I didn’t know how to answer except, “oh, um, er” and she said, “ok” and walked off. Very odd. I suppose answering “oh, um, er” to a perfect stranger in the street and looking aghast and confused is pretty much the most British thing you can do, but you see within that question there are a whole number of possibilities which don’t add up to quite the same thing, but may need explaining, which while in the middle of a sketch I really didn’t have time to get in to. British yes, Scottish no, Welsh no, English, well from England so yes but identify as Irish through family, British is easier, European too yes, for now, I suppose I’m Californian these days, but not an official American, what is identity anyway, look it’s confusing. I’m Pete, I come from Burnt Oak, I draw pictures of things and really like Spurs and Lego, that’s where I’m from. So yes, “oh, um, er” is a good description of my identity.
Pencil sketch SOMA, SF
SOMA, SF
See the top of the fire hydrant poking into this drawing. That’s you, that is.

a couple of days at cal

UCAAC 2017 sm
Recently I went to Berkeley for the annual UC Academic Advising Conference (UCAAC). I’ve been going to this conference most years since 2007, which was hosted by UC Irvine at the Disneyland Hotel. Each year a different UC campus hosts the conference and this year Berkeley got the chance. I sketched the opening remarks at the morning breakfast, before the break-out workshops began (fun note: I won a Starbucks gift card for this sketch!). The theme this year was ‘Building Bridges’, because, as you know, lots of bridges near here. The Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Carquinas Bridge, loads of bridges. But yes, yes I kept thinking if Ian McKellen’s Magneto delivering his Magnetoesque line from X-Men: The Last Stand: “Charles always wanted to build bridges.” He said that as you know just after ripping the Golden Gate Bridge from its base and dumping it on Alcatraz for some reason. I love Magneto.
berkeley bancroft ave may2017 sm
This sketch of Bancroft Avenue was drawn early in the morning, after getting off the train. There is always a lot to sketch in Berkeley.
berkeley sather gate may2017 sm
Such as Sather Gate. This is a very ornate gateway on campus, and I did draw it many years ago, but wasn’t happy with it at the time, so I’m pleased to report, I like the newer version. There were quite a few students in graduation garb walking around taking photos, as you do. It was that time of year. Below, I drew a detail of the gate. Making a heart.
berkeley sather gate detail sm
I did those between workshops, but I also did a bit of sketching after the final workshop on day two, when I wandered campus a bit after lunch. Below is the University Library, which is just a massive, grandiose epic structure. A lot of UC Berkeley is like this, full of grandeur, far more than UC Davis. Berkeley is Davis’s parent school of course, with UC Davis being founded as Berkeley’s offshoot University Farm. Our library is also massive, but this one looks far grander.
berkeley uc library may 2017 sm
Below is the Sather Tower, the large campanile (bell-tower) at the heart of the Berkeley campus. It’s nice up the top of there by the way. I just had to draw it again.
berkeley sather tower may 2017 sm
And the fire hydrants. Like in Davis, the city has a different colour hydrant from the campus, but unlike Davis, it’s the campus that has the yellow hydrants while the city has the white ones. I know! You don’t care! But I think that is funny. The yellow one there is outside the Playhouse on campus, while the short white one is on Shattuck Avenue next to that discount bookstore.
berkeley yellow hydrant may 2017 smberkeley hydrant may 2017 sm

do you wanna build a sonoma

sonoma CA
Last month on Mother’s Day we went to Sonoma and had a family lunch. While the kids were playing in the park and the ladies were talking I went to sketch the Sebastiani Theatre building, which I last drew 10 years ago. I like Sonoma. It reminds me of the first time I visited California, and my girlfriend (now wife) was housesitting her friends’ house there for a few days. I remember the amazing cheese from the cheese shop, and the delicious wine. Drinking nice wine with cheese made me feel like I’d made it. I’d previously lived in France of course, where both items are in abundance, but had only ever had the cheap plonk from Super U and could never get through the door of the cheese shop in Aix for the whacking smell. I’ve always liked Sonoma though, and always enjoy going back. Oh, and here is a fire hydrant.
sonoma hydrant

dutton to say but it’s ok

dutton hall UC Davis
I haven’t posted this already have I? I don’t think so; I know I haven’t drawn this building before. This is Dutton Hall, on the UC Davis campus. Nestled in behind the historic North and South Halls, if you were a UC Davis student you probably had to come here at some point to pay a bill. The Registrar is also based here. I’ve always shied away from sketching this because those windows and that big curving entrance have always posed a challenge to me. Oh a challenge you say? A challenge is good practice. I sat on a bench and sketched as best I could over the course of a lunchtime and a half.