on the couch again

couch sketch I have started sketching outside more lately, even though the weather is hot again (94 degrees yesterday, in mid October, that is not normal but what is). But earlier in the month I needed to sketch one evening, and even though I am thoroughly bored of drawing the living room I just went ahead and sketched anyway. I sat down to watch a replay of the Spain-Portugal friendly game (not knowing the score, and not knowing what an immensely boring game it was). Not an epic. More ‘claw my eyes out wish I’d spent my time watching something else’. Oh well, there have been a fair number of overexciting Premier League games lately. I’m thinking of changing the pictures on the wall going up the stairs, maybe taking down the prints of my cathedral drawings (three of them aren’t even really cathedrals, I should just call them big churches) and replacing them with my classic World Cup posters, perhaps to remind me occasionally that international football can be fun, even if the most fun parts are just the posters, the sticker albums and sometimes the kits. 

I should have watched Star Wars. I’ve been listening to some Star Wars podcasts (well one, called Full of Sith) and I’ve been thinking a lot about Star Wars, especially the prequels. I love the prequels, and even more so now the sequels are all done with (I was much less impressed with those –  although I loved Force Awakens, I was undecided on Last Jedi, but I really disliked The Rise of Skywalker, despite a few good bits, it was overall poodoo). I might some day write an unnecessary blog post about it accompanying some tangentially related sketch. But I love the prequels, I have a lot of good feelings and memories around those, and I love them even more knowing that a lot of people are very sniffy about them. That said I love that one episode of Spaced where Tim is really annoyed about Phantom Menace. Maybe I should have watched Spaced, been a little while since I saw that series. Or maybe Shawn of the Dead, or Hot Fuzz, I love those films. I was less impressed with the final ‘Cornetto trilogy’ film, The World’s End, but maybe I should watch it again. I did watch a film last night, Knives Out, which was directed by Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, and starred Captain America and James Bond, it was a whodunnit sort of film. Why do we say “whodunnit” rather than “whodidit”? Speaking of the genre, you know the board game “Cluedo”, in America they just call it “Clue”. So why do we Britishers call it “Cluedo”? What about “Ludo”, do Americans just call it “Loo”? If only there was a way I could ask them. What about Ronaldo, is he just called “Ronal” over here? I’ve never thought about it. I wish I had thought about it during that Spain v Portugal match, because that would have made the game slightly more interesting.      

rocks and fog

Pacific Grove Rocks and Fog A few weeks ago we took an anniversary weekend out of Davis and down to Monterey. While the bigger fires closer to us had been contained or started to recede, other big fires in different parts of the state had created an even bigger smoke emergency, so this was probably the worst of all the poor air times in the 2020 fire season for us. San Francisco had the unforgettable Martian ‘orange sky’ day; further up the West Coast Portland and other cities were experiencing hazardous air conditions like we’ve never heard of. Probably a good time not to go anywhere. Or maybe, if we are just going to be stuck indoors, best to go and be stuck indoors at a nice hotel so it at least feels like a vacation. So we drove across the Valley and the Delta, and around the East Bay to the South Bay and everywhere was just dull toxic grey, like an apocalyptic waste, everything familiar hidden. We made it down to Monterey, and the thick smoke became mixed with thick fog. The AQI levels were still high, but slightly lower and damper now. Monterey will always have fog in September but we could barely see anything at all. We were staying in Pacific Grove, one of our real favourite places. As you can see from the sketch at the top, the fog was thick. I sat on the rocks along the coastline to draw. We even ate outside at actual restaurants, for the first time in six months, and that felt great. Pacific Grove Lighthouse and 18th Pacific Grove is a charming town, on the top corner of the Monterey Peninsula. The houses all beg to be drawn, and I’m sure they get painted a lot. The air quality was good enough for me to go and walk about town and sketch, something I’ve been really missing in 2020. The sketch above is a hotel on Lighthouse. In the new social-distance pandemic reality I stood masked up out of the line of foot traffic or cars parking, the mask-steam on my glasses adding to the sea-fog and fire-smoke. I usually get over mask-steam on my glasses quickly, when I get a new mask it’ll happen the first or second time and then magically it stops as I adjust, but I find when I’m sketching that it happens more, because I look down a lot and it shifts things around. Still you need to wear the mask in Monterey or you get fined a hundred bucks. Nobody can use cash nowadays so I use that hundred bucks I am saving as an extra filter in my mask. Pacific Grove City Hall I don’t really, but if I did it would might me not forget where I leave my mask when I’m at home. Actually one place here did take cash only, this lovely delicious bakery called Pavel’s Backerei. We came here to pick up breakfast, and there was a line outside. The pastries were huge and delicious. They didn’t take cards though, so it was lucky I had some actual cash on me – I don’t normally carry any, but it had been in my wallet since before the pandemic, maybe as a souvenir of the past. The bakery was on the same street as this impressive town hall, so later that day I came back and drew it. It was an awkward one to draw though, the sort that seems like a good idea but is less fun to actually execute. I enjoyed drawing the hotel on Lighthouse a lot more.Pacific Grove fence This fence was right outside our hotel window. We had a nice room, just a block away from the sea (which was invisible) and the lighthouse (which was now closed to the public). A lot of golfers around here, loads of golf being played. I suppose people really like golf, it’s never appealed much to me, but that might be all the stuff that surrounds it rather than the actual hitting a ball and walking over fields bit, which sounds alright I suppose. I’m not allowed to watch golf in our house (my wife actually enjoys watching a bit of golf) because I make too many golf based jokes or puns on the golfers’ names. I can’t think of any now, I actually have to have the golf on to activate that particular box, so I’m just not allowed to watch it, which is a fair way. So, I draw rocks instead. There are so many rocks, it was like a rock festival. Sat there with my sketchbook I might have felt like a rock god. But I didn’t; rock gods don’t have to fend off seagulls who are looking to make off with your paintbox. Pacific Grove rock pools

what an ashmosphere

view from MSB 08/24/20 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.     

washed by a dirty orange sky

home 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. smoky air outside, cat sleeps inside 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. 

smoky sky outside house aug2020

Air is smoky outside, best to stay in 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.

back yard game of goosebumps

lois's garden

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.

newsbeat

Newsbeat, Davis CA
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.

TLC

Silo and Teaching Learning Complex (under construction...)
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.
Teaching Learning Complex UCD July 2020

varsity town

Varsity June 2020
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.

black lives matter

BLM March, Davis, June 6 2020
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.

they only seem to come and go away

Baileys Taproom Portland
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.
McMenamins Crystal Hotel Portland
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.
Hair of the Dog Portland
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.
Jakes Portland
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.
Stark & Harvey Milk Portland 111719
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.