Above Waikiki

View 1 from Hilton 080721 sm In Hawaii we stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. It’s a historic older resort, Elvis used to go there, so did Michael Jackson, and so did about 15% of the population of the United States at the same time as we were there, I think. Since Hawaii reopened up, everyone wants to go, and they all told us it’s packed. Impossible to hire a car, reservations needed at all restaurants, and a surge waiting to happen. For the most part we did pretty well avoiding particularly crowded areas, although being on the 24th floor, the elevators were a bit of a stress. The ‘four person max’ rule was never enforced (at one point I saw fifteen people get out) and despite the signs that masks had to worn under state law, many people assumed that meant “everyone but me, brah”. On the whole though it was ok, and we loved spending time in our room with the views of the ocean, and the skyline of Waikiki and downtown Honolulu. Above, I drew the view inland, from where many moist clouds would roll out, evaporating before reaching the ocean. I like drawing from high up, but these clouds were the main focus, and I used the white gouache paint on top of the regular watercolour. That’s not something I have done much before, but I saw someone doing it online in a painting video and thought, that looks good. Just poking the brush into the tube itself rather than squeezing the paint onto my already dirty watercolour-box-lid palette. You have to let it dry a bit, but it didn’t take too long. Drawing the windows was a bit tedious so I left that until a couple of days later, you get the general idea. The wind off these hills on this balcony was pretty strong (we had two balconies, as it was a corner room) so I didn’t sit on the balcony to draw, just looked through the big windows, while sat on a comfy chair inside. With a big cocktail, probably. I do like a Blue Hawaiian.  View from Hilton Hawaiian Village, Waikiki

We tended to sit out on the other balcony )called a ‘lanai’ here) which face the view of Honolulu, and the ocean. I would sometimes sit out on the lanai and play my ukulele gently, above the sounds of the city below, or listen to the luau that would take place on the big green next to the lagoon. On the second morning, I woke up and sat out there looking at the view, while what appeared to be a big fire in Honolulu harbor brought a dramatic pillar of black smoke into the sky. Before coming out to Hawaii we had rewatched the series ‘Lost’, which was filmed here, so of course we said it must be the smoke monster. I painted the scene , and eventually the smoke dissipated. I never found out what it was; I suppose I prefer the mystery. Speaking of Lost, wherever you go on Oahu there are places where the show filmed scenes, and the marina in the foreground, very close to the Hilton Hawaiian Village, is one that was used several times. It’s called the Ala Wai Harbor. It’s the backdrop of Desmond and Penny’s photo, and where Desmond got shot by Ben before then punching Ben’s lights out and throwing him into the water, also where the some of the Oceanic Six meet up at night to say “we have to go back tot he island” “no we don’t” “yes we do” etc, and also where Charlie and Desmond (him again) drive a car into the water in the flash-sideways. Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen it, none of that makes any sense, even if you have. Immediately below, not appearing in this sketch, is the lagoon at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. I totally went paddle boarding there, twice. It was the first time I had tried stand-up paddle-boarding, and loved it. I haven’t done it in the ocean yet, next time maybe. I was pretty good at it, I didn’t be falling in or nothing. I should try surfing. When I was a kid I thought I might do lots of surfing when I got older at some point, go to Australia or somewhere far away (not exactly a lot of surfing culture in Burnt Oak), but when I get there the ocean always looks so big and scary, with those waves grabbing you like gigantic wet hands. Still, the paddle-boarding on a shallow lagoon with no current was thrilling enough for me dudes.

Hilton Hawaiian Village shops 081021 sm

Back down on the ground, this was in the ‘village’ of shops and restaurants at the resort. There was a very Japanese feel to the architecture, but that was far from unusual in Honolulu. I stood in the nice shade and drew while people wandered into expensive watch shops or places selling Hawaiian tea towels or something. I really liked the Asian style architecture. It seemed like there was a lot of Japanese and Korean shops and restaurants in Honolulu. We went to one supermarket called Don Quijote which really felt like being in a Japanese store, with lots of colourful Japanese signage and products everywhere. I had to text my friend Tel who lives in Japan to ask what some things were. I had seen a lot of signs for ‘Mochi’ and it looked like it was popular, my friend Tel said it was very very very gooey. So I decided to get some, and I think he undersold how gooey it was. It wasn’t for me. I ended up getting some delicious poke instead, I do like that, it’s more Hawaiian and is made of uncooked sliced tuna, I got a couple of different kinds. One other day, we went to a nearby donut shop called ‘K-Pop Donuts’, which as the name suggests is Korean. That was a really interesting place, covered in sharpie graffiti from people who’d been there, and it sold a few varieties of these small round balls of pastry, which I believe were Korean donuts. I texted my friend Tel in Japan about them (he spent several years living in Korea before Japan) but he didn’t seem very familiar with them, and just commented on the K-Pop bit, which is some sort of Korean pop music. My son knows what that is. Anyway they were ok, pretty expensive for what they were, but not really somewhere I wanted to go to again. The donut things I did like in Waikiki were of course the ‘malasadas’ you get at Leonard’s, a famous place we went to on our first trip there. This time we picked some up hot and fresh from the Leonard’s truck in Hawaii Kai, south of Honolulu, those were delicious. One other famed local food place we went to for dinner was the Rainbow Drive-In. My wife was very excited to come here, and we grabbed some food and sat outside, although I wasn’t really impressed with my chicken sandwich, the gravy that came with the fries was pretty good. I did see a bloke wearing the new Nigeria football kit though so that was cool. I did however really enjoy both lunchtime visits to the lovely Hula Grill, above Duke’s restaurant at the Outrigger hotel. That’s where we stayed the first time we came to Hawaii and that’s where I discovered the magic of Hula Pie, the best dessert item in the world. It’s like a massive wave made out of ice cream with thick chocolate covering and cookie base and nuts and hot chocolate sauce, and takes about three people to eat it. Here’s a sketch I did of one back in 2017 (with a huge Lava Flow drink to go with it): 

Hula Pie at Duke's sm Pretty tasty. I bought one of those Hula Pie plates as a souvenir, as well as a t-shirt which only fits when I don’t eat hula pie. We did have lots of other food in Hawaii this time as well, and I’ll mention the extremely spicy shrimp on a future post, as well as some delicious cocktails, but I’m getting hungry for dinner now so I’ll leave the rest of the Hawaii sketches until next time.

a thousand stories in san francisco

SF Skyline Panorama

In June I spent an overnighter in the city, San Francisco, staying at the Hilton on a really high up floor, as you’ll recall, I drew from the window next to the elevator while news about Christian Eriksen was still fresh, and I drew the Nob Hill view in great detail. I have always wanted to do a longer panoramic of this view, but rather than go back down there I decided to get a big piece of paper and draw that view once again but this time with the area to the right included, from various pictures I took that morning. So one Sunday evening and late Monday afternoon I drew this, and this will be my piece for the Pence Gallery’s 2021 Art Auction. I decided to leave it uncoloured, unlike the original, and I think that would look good on any wall. Well maybe not any wall, it might look out of place on the Great Wall of China, for example, or on Bob Wall from Enter the Dragon, or on Wall’s Ice Cream, or maybe I’m wrong and it would look great on all those things. Part of this view shows San Francisco’s famous Chinatown, as it leads up towards Nob Hill, and looking out to the left at Sutro Tower, and to the right beyond the wide road of Broadway is Russian Hill. Every block in San Francisco is worth exploring. Every window, a story. Ok, “every window tells a story”, that is a great thing to say when looking out over a cityscape, you should say it to someone next time you are looking over a city, particularly at night, I dunno, it sounds like it’s quite a deep thoughtful thing to say. “Every window tells a story, every story, a universe,” etc. But then you say, “not a very good story,” so you don’t sound like you’re being a nob. “I mean, most stories aren’t very interesting,” you say next. “Most stories are actually not worth telling. We should mind our own business about most stories. Actually stop looking through all those windows, nosy bugger.” That’s what you should say next. It’s true though, about stories. Some are brilliant, most are kind of “ok, skip to the end”. I recently got a subscription to a well-known audiobook provider, and frankly, the past couple of books I’m struggling to finish. I love a good story. The one I’m listening to right now would probably be better if I had just looked at the book, although the storytelling is a bit blah. The narrator however is terrible. When reading the story itself he is ok, reading in a precise actorly tone, but when he does the voices of the characters it’s like he thinks he’s in a 1970s production of “Oliver!”, being completely unable to read any female voice without going into a strange high-pitched fake cockney flower girl voice, “eeeer woss yorr gime?” type thing. I’m deliberately not telling you the name of the book or the narrator. So maybe I will skip audiobooks for a bit and go back to reading paper. My eyes are going a bit though, those mid-forties have caught up with me. As my glasses get stronger for seeing far away, I find I can’t read or see up close as well, so I need to take my specs off and bring the book nearer to me. Same with the sketchbook, or in this case, the big piece of paper. When drawing from life I relied on what I could see with my eyes, and it was a bit easier; drawing from a photo on my ipad screen and then leaning into the paper with my glasses off to see the detail, bit trickier. Yet I completed this all in one evening and an afternoon. The scale is actually the same as in my sketchbook, it just looks a lot bigger because it’s twice as long, and inside a 10×20 inch frame. I really like it, it would look good on any wall. Well, most walls. 

good morning san francisco

san francisco ferry building

It was too hot in Davis (stop the press!) so I took a 7am train down to somewhere much cooler, San Francisco, where I got sunburnt. It always happens. I put on lots of sunscreen, but those rays still get through that fog. It was breezy too, and it’s easy to forget. In Davis that never happens because it’s so hot I am never out of the shade. still, it was a nice day to be out and about. I arrived early, so I could spend a bit of time around the Farmers Market at the Ferry Building. I’d not been there since before the pandemic; there were a lot of people around, but it wasn’t too crowded. I even got my favourite food in this city, these little ‘bombolini’, small doughnut things filled with lemon or custard or nutella. Absolutely delicious, and worth the $62 round trip Amtrak ticket to get down here. Yeah, it’s not cheap getting down to the city these days. But a break from the oppressive heat Davis, it’s always a good idea. I stood on a long wooden log and drew the Ferry Building, as that morning fog drifted in and burned out. A bit like myself; I drifted into the city in the morning, and then by the end of the day I burned out. I got a lot of sketching and wandering done in the meantime though.

People at SF Ferry Building

I drew some of the people who were in the market that morning. That guy in red was wearing a 2006 Spain shirt. I always think of Robin Williams when I come here. I remember spending a weekend here with my wife in the late 2000s and we came down to the Ferry Building Farmers Market and there he was, Robin Williams, buying some food. Always makes me feel a bit sad. He lived locally, until his passing in 2014; they eventually named the tunnel you pass through after the Golden Gate Bridge after him.

San Francisco skyline from Embarcadero

I turned around after drawing the Ferry Building and the people and drew the view looking the other way. The sun was out a bit more now, but I needed to draw this SoMa skyline as it has changed so much in the decade and a half since I moved out here. Even this scene here, that building behind Gate B is where I used to pick up the Amtrak bus after a day in San Francisco, but that’s all been redeveloped into a nice plaza now. Many of those tall buildings weren’t here a few years ago; it’s like London and San Francisco are competing for new skylines every time I’m away. Still I enjoy drawing all these details. I had to wait until later to add the colour though, because the day was moving along and so was I. Lunch was a couple of tasty Argentinian empanadas from inside the Ferry Building, and then I wandered over to Market to decide where I would wander next. As before I didn’t really have a plan, I just wanted to sketch somewhere I didn’t sketch in June, but somewhere with a good view and somewhere I could just sit for ages looking at it. Find out next time where I ended up…

my wandering days aren’t over

View from San Francisco Hilton

It was my first trip down to San Francisco in almost two years, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. I didn’t have a plan. Sometimes when I come to the city to sketch I know which general direction I will head in and follow my nose, but on the whole I play it safe. I might have planned this trip a little better, plotted out a route of old favourite spots plus a couple of places I’ve never been, but as it turned out I just decided wandering would be enough. Wandering and sketching, but also just wandering. When I was a teenager I would wander, I would sometimes get on a bus on a Saturday morning from Burnt Oak headed to Harrow or Hendon wherever, find a library or a bookshop to sit in all day reading, or get a travelcard and jump on a tube down into central London, and just explore an area until it got dark, no particular plan, and where I went was where I went, then come home for dinner. I would follow my nose. I wasn’t sketching as much out and about when I was a teenager, just occasionally, but not making it my main reason for going anywhere. These days I don’t get to wander quite as often, so when I do I usually feel like I have to have a collection of sketches by the end of the day to make it worth the effort of all that wandering. 

On this particular Saturday morning, when I was on a solo overnight trip to San Francisco to wander and sketch, I watched the Denmark-Finland game in my hotel room on the 23rd floor, and was pretty shocked by what happened to Christian Eriksen. He has been one of my favourite players for years, all those seasons at Tottenham, so to see him almost die on the field on live TV was very disturbing. His picture is still on my son’s wall, along with others from that great Tottenham team that nearly made it (but not quite). The game was called off before half time (though they restarted later that day), and after a while on the phone to my wife who was watching it too, I went down the end of the hallway and sketched the view across the city to gather my thoughts a bit. There is a lot of detail to cover. I’ve always wanted to just look over the San Francisco cityscape and pick out the puzzle. You really have to observe. Putting one thing slightly out of place or making a building that bit too narrow in relation to the other ones around it can mess everything else up. It’s therapeutic though. I stood and sketched this rather than sat at the desk in my room which would have been comfier, but I did have to check out of the room before I finished so I wanted to give myself more time for the details. I did colour it in later though on the train back. The blank area in the corner, that wasn’t because there was something in the way, I just never got to that part of the city, but I did draw the skyline above it, so it looks like a panhandle. This isn’t “the” Panhandle though, which is up near Haight, this is Nob Hill, as it rises out of Chinatown, which is a pretty big area of the city. That’s where I headed next, after dropping off my card key, I went across to Portsmouth Square Gardens.  

portsmouth square SF

I’d never actually walked through Portsmouth Square before, so this fulfilled the ‘something new’ check box. It’s not super exciting, but it was pretty interesting as a place for people from the neighbourhood to hang out on a sunny Saturday lunchtime. I remember one of the Worldwide Sketchcrawls being held here in Portsmouth Square many years ago, but I didn’t go on that one, so I’m not sure why I brought it up, other than it’s always made me wonder about coming sketching here. There were so many interesting people here though that I mostly just did some quick people sketching. It feels like a very long time since I have come to a public place and done quickfire people sketching. Most people were Chinese, of all ages, but mainly older people. Some were sat on benches feeding birds, or talking occasionally to each other, or gathered in groups playing a very involved card game around a bench, there were several such groups. Everyone wore masks, no exceptions. I did too. I drew some of the rooftops above us, and also a statue called the ‘Goddess of Democracy’, a replica of the one from Tiananmen Square in Beijing, placed here in 1989 during the events there that year. I listened to a passing tour guide as I drew, referencing that it’s difficult for people to reference that event online there, that they would use terms like the “35th of May”. I didn’t listen in on much else of the tour, but there were several walking tour groups parading through here. Portsmouth Square is one of the most historic spots in the city, as this was the first public square in the original Mexican settlement of Yerba Buena. The name of the plaza comes from the USS Portsmouth, the ship of Captain Montgomery who took Yerba Buena for the United States and raised the flag here in 1846. The city was renamed San Francisco a year later. A year after that the prospector Sam Brannan held up his nuggets of gold here and told everyone there was a lot of it in the American River, so off they rushed towards Sacramento. After the 1906 Earthquake, Portsmouth Square became a place of refuge for those displaced from their homes. These days it’s sometimes called the “Heart of Chinatown”.  

portsmouth square SF

I walked through Chinatown, mostly looking for the perfect spot to draw, where I wasn’t going to be in the way of anyone walking past, not in the sunlight which was pretty strong. It was colourful, and I’d intended on doing a colourful lively sketch, but in the end I stood on the corner of Sacramento and Grant and drew the sketch below, with little bits of colour popping out. Along the street some drummers were playing while some performers did some balancing acts, it looked like they were having a great old time. San Francisco’s Chinatown is generally considered the oldest outside Asia, even the largest. Certainly in the context of California, the most historic. Apparently it is “the most densely populated urban area west of Manhattan” with most residents being monolingual speakers of Mandarin or Cantonese. The area dates back to the first Chinese immigrants to the city in 1850. I would love to dive deeper into this area’s history, what little I’ve read about is dripping with story.

 Chinatown

I was hungry, but I didn’t stop for Chinese food, because I headed down Grant to that French place, Cafe De La Presse, and at outside there while an voice of unknown location belted out live opera in Italian, echoing across each building. Refreshed from lunch, I made the mistake of going through the Union Square area, rather than somewhere more interesting. I popped into the Nike store and went all the way to the very top floor, to the furthest point at the back where they were hiding the soccer shirts, just to discover that they didn’t have the new Tottenham shirt. Oh they had Chelsea and Liverpool but not Spurs. Right, fine. I went down to Market Street, not entirely sure where I was headed next. I had no intention of drawing Market Street, it’s just not that interesting, and what I like about it I have drawn before. It’s an uncomfortable place at times, Market. This is the problem with wandering though, you sometimes end up somewhere and feel a bit stuck. I thought about getting on a bus to Lower Haight, or a Muni up to the Inner Sunset, but I didn’t have change and couldn’t be bothered figuring out how things are done now. I did have a BART pass though, so I just went down into the subway and jumped on the first train and headed towards the Mission.    

Roxie, mission SF

Each area of San Francisco has its historic culture. North Beach is the Italian area, Chinatown is Asian, The Castro is historically associated with the gay community, the Haight is the Hippies; and everywhere is the expensive real estate developers and gentrifiers pricing all these communities out. Historically, the Mission is a mostly Hispanic part of San Francisco, and there are lots of murals celebrating the Latin American community. Since I first came down there the area has been changing, going more upmarket and trendy, but it still has a lot of character. The large Mission Burrito was invented here. I had a massive burrito, about the size of a Greyhound bus, after I was done sketching. I wandered, coming across the colourful Clarion Alley, a narrow street of political murals between Mission and Valencia. I was going to sketch there but it was getting late. Plus, some bits smelled quite strongly of wee. I did sketch on 16th by the Roxie, whose distinctive sign was much harder to see than I remember, due to the growth of the trees around it. I remember years ago photographing this (not having had time to draw it evidently; come back another time I probably told myself)and there being no foliage around it, or very very little, but not now, those trees have grown. Still I stood beneath and got an okay view, and again despite it being quite a colourful scene I only added the red bits. It was busy in the Mission, most of the bars had full-up outside seating/standing areas, it would have been quite a nice afternoon to stand outside with a pint and people watch, but my legs were tired, really tired, and I wanted to get to Mission Dolores Park. In Covid times as in normal times, the park was packed, as you’d expect on a hot Saturday afternoon in June, with most people being young trendy types. Unlike in Chinatown, very few people were masked. Well it’s not required now, but I kept mine on anyway because I sometimes sing to myself when sketching, and I can pretend it was someone else if anyone looks. Not that that would be a problem here, several people had their music on for others to hear. I actually listened to a podcast about the X-Men (not the usual one, but a different one, this one talking in depth about Nightcrawler) and drew the skyline. It was a pretty pleasant way to spend the rest of the day before heading back to Davis. A lot has changed in this skyline since I moved here to California. It was a clear day, no fog at all, and I really enjoyed my little bit of time back in the city. I wish it were a little bit more normal (maybe a bit more space in the street and not so many outside seating huts, making things feel claustrophobic and yet remote; not so easy for a weary wanderer to just pop into a dark cool bar to refresh during a day’s heavy sketching), but the world is evolving, and I’m happy to have finally gone and had a look at some of it. 

  Mission Dolores Park, SF

You might like to see a whole Flickr album of my San Francisco sketches going back to 2006 or 2007, when I first started coming down here to wander about. It’s interesting to see how the city and my style of sketching has changed in all that time. Here it is: https://www.flickr.com/photos/petescully/albums/72157602126887832

a rome with a view

View from Rome Apartment sm
This was the view from our Rome apartment living room. I’m not exaggerating, this isn’t a collage, I’m not condensing a lot of different spires and domes into one, this was the actual view. I left this uncoloured because it was actually my favourite sketch in Rome, and definitely my favosuite view in Rome. I could look out of that window all day. Except for the fact I wanted to look around the city itself. The dome in the distance, behind the bigger dome, that is the Vatican. The church with the stag on top is the Basilica di Sant’ Eustachio. The stag’s head is a reference to St. Eustace, who was a roman general back in the 2nd century who was out hunting when he saw a stag with a crucifix in its horns, and he saw this as a sign and converted to Christianity. I had to look that up because I did wonder what it was for. It looks cool though. The most dramatic steeple though is the baroque church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, that spiraling corkscrew tower on the left hand side. It’s so eye-catching. The church was designed by the legendary architect Francesco Borromini between 1642-1660.

Our apartment on Via Della Palombella was pretty big, and the owner was really nice; I’d definitely stay there again. The only thing, those stairs! Four huge very steep flights, over 120 steps I think my son said it was, so I got a good work-out every day. I went up and down a lot, to go sketching in the morning, come back with breakfast from the nearby Caffe Sant-Eustachio, back again after sightseeing, then again after dinner and if I went for an evening stroll then I would be up them again. I got my 10,000 steps in before lunchtime! But look at that view. That view is worth every step, and then some. Below I sketched the view at sunset, which was stunning to say the least.
Rome Sunset sm

And from the bedroom window is the dome of the Pantheon!

london’s ancient highway

The River Thames sm
For the first sketch back in London I wanted to draw this stretch of the River Thames again, looking out towards Waterloo Bridge. Last time I sat on Hungerford Bridge (a little bit further toward the middle, drawn to include the then-brand-new Shard) the skyline looked different. New skyscrapers keep popping up, all in fun zany shapes like some ten-year-old invented a futuristic robotopolis. They all have funny names too, the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater, the Walkie-Talkie, the Spaghetti Western, the Cordless Kettle, the Balrog, the Gelfling’s Prophecy, all very silly names. Ok some of those may not exist yet. The oldest structure in this sketch is actually Cleopatra’s Needle, on the left there, at about 3500 years old (placed here in the 19th century). Its twin is in New York, you can apparently use it to teleport between the two cities but they don’t like to tell anyone (see previous posts for feelings about Translatlantic travel). Ancient Egyptians used to smirk at the silly nickname too, also making fun of Thoth’s Sewing Machine, Rameses’s Hat-Stand and Mark Antony’s Hypodermic Syringe, and so on. Anyway, I sat on my uncomfortable little stool (now retired) and sketched for two hours straight, as London in the Summertime started up around me, tourists, day-outers, amblers all looked around and marveled at the view. Now if the proposed mess of a project the Garden Bridge gets built this view will be spoiled. I believe the Bridge would go just beyond Waterloo bridge, but with trees poking out of the top of it the views down river would be compromised somewhat. Not a fan. Might be useful elsewhere, but not there. It’s a folly of Boris and Lumley. We’ll see if it actually gets built. If it does, expect more cranes, more changing views, and more sketches along the ever-changing, ever-constant river. I do love this river.

IMG_0522

Here’s the sketch I did on the same bridge in 2012:
Waterloo panorama

san francisco, one morning in february

the golden gate bridge, from telegraph hill
First post in a few days, but I’ve got some drawing done… I went to San Francisco on Saturday for a whole day of sketching, because the weather was nice and it was nearly my birthday (in fact it’s today). The first thing I did after arriving at the Ferry Building was head straight up Telegraph Hill. Well no, the first thing I did was buy a walnut brownie, as I always do, but then I went uphill. I wanted to draw a big panorama. the problem is, unless you go up Coit Tower itself (and why would I do a sensible thing like that) the good views are mostly broken by trees. For the sketch of the Golden Gate Bridge above I had to stand on a wall besides quite a steep shrubby slope. But what a view! And no morning fog. the bay bridge from telegraph hill

I did much the same for the second one, looking in the other direction. That’s the Bay Bridge, with the Ferry Building in front of it, and the financial district overshadowing it. These were drawn in my Stillman and Birn sketchbook, the one I got from the Lisbon Symposium, but only just started using. It was very nice too. Watercolouring will take a little getting used to after so long with the watercolour moleskine (you can’t lay it on quite as thick) but it’s pretty nice with the pens, so far. These were done with a micron 01. More SF sketches to come…