The South Bank Show

South Bank Feb2019
Every time I go back to London, my family members have grown older, a little bit. With the adults it’s slower, less noticeable, while with the children it’s a much more visible change. I am now the classic “look how tall you are!” uncle. My uncle jokes are also the best uncle jokes in the world. I too have grown; not taller, rather I have encroached into traditional green belt lands. See, uncle jokes. London on the other hand changes faster than I can think. When I left in 2005, the Gherkin (aka ‘the Erotic Gherkin’) was still the new shocking addition to the City’s skyline, pointing like a stubby fishnet bullet at the sky. The older NatWest building still dominated the Square Mile, sufficiently far from the unchanging dome of St. Paul’s (though that too has changed since I left, having been scrubbed of its layer of grey pollution-particles, so much it now gleams as Wren intended). One by one newer buildings started to be approved, all with their pre-approved nicknames: the Heron, the Walkie-Talkie, the Cheesegrater, the Shard, the Dodger’s Kerchief, the Ocelot Spleen, the Snood, and of course the Wizard’s Winkle. I might have made some of those up but you would be hard pressed to figure out which. London’s skyline is starting to resemble less a city and more a manual of Yoga positions. I don’t even know what some of the new ones being built are called (if only there was some way of finding out, some kind of instant source of all global information right at my fingertips!), but change is a good thing, I suppose. I never wanted London to stand still and miss me after I moved away, I wanted London to enjoy its life, meet other buildings, move on.
View from Tate Modern Feb2019

It was a lovely day when I went out sketching on the banks of the Thames. I miss the Thames more than I miss any part of London. I don’t have a Thames here in Davis. I used to come down to the Thames to have a look at it, and contemplate, and be pensive. Sounds stupid now I say it like that. You know like in films and TV shows when the main character has a lot on their mind and they go and look at the Hudson River or stand on the pier at Coney Island (all films and TV shows are set in New York), that was me, coming to the Thames, standing on the South Bank near Waterloo, looking at the Thames. I think I just like watching water move from left to right. Maybe it reminds me of the old Thames Television screen, which would come on just before Rainbow, and I always liked Rainbow. Geoffrey out of rainbow died recently. I met him when I was a kid, at Brentford’s football ground, he drew me a picture of Zippy. It wasn’t a super detailed picture of Zippy but I could tell it was meant to be Zippy. Unless it was meant to be a picture of himself and I misinterpreted it, or a picture of me. Either way, I always wondered what Zippy would be like as a modern-day politician. Yes, it is extremely easy to imagine that isn’t it (it’s even easier to imagine Bungle). When Boris Johnson became Mayor of London years ago I drew a picture of Zippy with Boris Johnson’s hair. A few years later, Johnson and his friend Joanna ‘George’ Lumley, had this crazy idea of building a new bridge across the Thames, right at the spot where I drew the sketch above. It was to be a ‘Garden Bridge’, covered in trees and plants and closed at night and on special corporate events such as when Rod Jane and Freddy would need to perform their Greatest Hits. If I recall, the plan was to build it “up above the streets and houses, everyone can see it smiling over the sky”. Being pedestrian only, it would not alleviate traffic, It would require cutting down scores of trees on the South Bank as well as blocking the view of the city with all its Yoga-position skyscrapers from much of the South Bank and Waterloo Bridge. Change is a good thing I suppose, but this was a change that really didn’t need to happen, at least not right here. When the pedestrian Millennium Bridge was built, it was visually unobtrusive and also in a place that had needed a crossing connecting St Paul’s with the new Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe (I well remember the circuitous routes before). Also, it wobbled, meaning those crafty Cockneys could re-christen it the ‘Wobbly Bridge’, calling it that for many years even after the Wobble had been fixed and the joke had really lost its steam. The Garden Bridge was an expensive vanity project that probably wouldn’t even wobble. In the end, after millions being spent and many Bungles, the Garden Bridge was finally scrapped. I’m glad, and I think Geoffrey would have been glad too.

I sat on a bench by the Thames and drew in the sunshine. It’s one of my favourite spots in the whole world, even with the growing metropolis sprouting up across the river. A man stopped to have a look at my sketch, enthusiastically asking me what I do with them. “I colour them in,” I said, and he laughed. People often ask what my sketches are for, which is a fair question, since they could be for sale or to make into postcards or maybe I am out looking for views to dismantle with expensive vanity projects, but the answer is always the same – it’s because I love to draw. I just love drawing, so I have to just keep drawing. This city is worth drawing and drawing and drawing, and then drawing more. This city changes so quickly. After this sketch, I went to the Tate Modern and up to the tenth floor of that new building next door, to sketch the City from above. That is one of my favourite new viewing spots in London, although the crowded elevator means you need to book some additional vacation time if you want to go up there. I decided to colour in only the sky and the river, leaving the city itself uncoloured like in the opening credits of a certain TV show I used to watch as a kid, the large tower of Tate Modern in the foreground. Tate Modern used to be Bankside Power Station, designed by the same guy who made the phone box (I’ve talked about him before). I love listening to tourists talking to each other when visiting London, hearing their enthusiasm for the city. As I looked out over the skycrapers I though about the previous times I had sketched it, and as I sketched I thought that this would be a very good point to include some of those older sketches in this part of the blog post. I hope you have enjoyed this little trip to the South Bank with me. Next time I go back, it will look different again.

take me down to the riverover the thames to cannon street
by the banks of the thamesSt Pauls from Tate Modern
Waterloo panorama
The River Thames

the anchor by the thames

the anchor, southwark
And so on I went down the South Bank, until I came to the Anchor pub, decked out for the Jubilee. It was surrounded by a large horde of shaven-headed lager-drinking chain-smoking England football fans, getting a few in before hitting the tube to Wembley for a pre-Euro 2012 warm-up match against Belgium. All good natured, of course, and enjoying the day with all the tourists and Jubilee celebratories. As I sat down in a nice quiet spot to sketch the historic riverside pub, they all moved off, singing about being off to Wembley, leaving only the passing tourists. stoney st southwarkI didn’t drawn any of those, they kept moving, so I focused on the building itself. To be fair most people who milled were milling away from this spot and in the pub’s beer garden to the right. I sat for almost an hour and sketched (I did finish some detailing later, but chose not to colour it). One young lady came up and asked if she could ask a wierd question. Depends on how wierd, I replied. How wierd could it be? Not very wierd in fact. “How do you find time to draw?” She was an artist herself it seemed but never seemed to have time for it. I had struggled to find time to do all the drawing I wanted to do on the trip (you wouldn’t believe it) but still managed to get a lot done, because it is really important to me to have drawing time. I get grumpy if I don’t (quite grumpy indeed) so I make sure I find the time for it, even when I’m ridiculously busy. I told her about Urban Sketchers, and the Drawing London groups, and said that by seeing how other people busier even than me manage to somehow fit art into their lives inspires me.

With this sketch of the Anchor, I wanted to sit and do something detailed and old and full of bricks. With this other sketch on the right, Stoney Street in Southwark (near Borough Market), my time was running low so I did a quick about-ten-minute sketch to capture the scene. When time is short, think what you might be able to get in with that time, and be ok with it. I hate watsing time, even though I do it often, when I could be sketching already something else. I went on to the market and had the most amazing grilled halloumi sandwich, right by London bridge. Even thinking of the smell makes me ravenous for more – I’ll say it again, I love coming to this part of London.

sketching south of the river

southwark bridge

‘Bunting’ is a word which, sure I had heard of, but had completely forgotten. It’s not a verb, not that I know of, it’s the stuff you hang up all over the place with the coloured triangles, to decorate in times of celebration. Not a word I hear very often, I don’t think it’s used in America. Anyway, the bunting was blowing wildly in the wind on this day, while I was sketching beside Southwark Bridge on the south bank of the Thames. It was the first day of the Jubilee weekend, the Jubilee stewards were already out keeping an eye on things (one kept coming over to see what I was sketching, but in an interested way not an ‘oi what you doin’ way), and people and tourists (who are people too) strolled this way and that. A rather terrible street band played in the underpass behind me, correctly thinking that the tunnel would amplify their music. Nonetheless, the general mood was upbeat, and I rather enjoy sketching this part of London.

cardinals wharf

Here is another sketch drawn by the river – it is a pretty looking house right in between Shakespeare’s Globe theatre and Tate Modern. I was drawn to the red door, though workmen kept coming in and out, busy preparing for some big event it would seem. When I was done, I went and read the little stone plaque beside the door. It turns out that none other than Sir Christopher Wren lived here during the construction of St.Paul’s Cathedral, which is directly opposite across the river! For those who are not familiar with London’s architectural history, Wren designed and built many amazing churches in London after the Great Fire of 1666, but St.Paul’s is his masterpiece and greatest legacy. Pretty convenient location then, you may think, well they didn’t have Millennium Bridge in those days, or even Southwark Bridge, so he would probably have had to take the ferry across. I’m actually a little surprised he didn’t think to be a bridge builder as well (actually, he did design a bridge built in Cambridge).

More London sketches to come…

dirty old river, must you keep rolling

by the banks of the thames

Now I think I’m tenacious in my sketching. I go out in all weather, just to get a drawing in the moleskine. Admittedly I live in Davis, so the weather is usually very changeable – one day it’s hot and sunny, next thing you know it’s hotter and sunnier, can’t keep up. Back in London it rained almost every day; on Monday I went back to the South Bank with simon sketching on the south bankSimon, where we sketched in sunshine a year previously. It was ok while we were under a tree, and the clouds merely threatened us like hoodies in a chicken-shop doorway – that’s when I did the pic to the left there, drawing someone with absolutely no resemblence to my sketching pal. But then we moved on, and I started to draw the banks of the Thames by Oxo Tower, but rain stopped play.

For me, anyway. Si sketched on, disregarding any silly rain, his sketchbook getting slowly drenched, now unable to erase any pencil marks. But he was on a roll, and did a fine pencil pic cafe rouge, shepherds bushwith lots of detail. I chickened out, and finished mine off later (the top image). It looks like it’s a monochrome, but I guess this is actually a colour picture, since that’s exactly how it looked that day. London was an exercise in greyscale waiting to happen (it sometimes is in the summer).

Prior to that, there was lunch in Shepherd’s Bush, at cafe rouge, and I did this sepia picture of the mirror while we ate. Not exactly the bar at the folies bergeres, more the cafe at the buisson des bergeres. Kinda.  


the south bank show

The sketching day from the previous post actually began on the South Bank, the very crowded South Bank, full of half-termers, tourists and sidewalk entertainers (did I just say ‘sidewalk’? You know technically that makes me a tourist now, you know). Before the London Eye, nobody could care less about the South Bank, other than a place to come and have a quick snap of parliament, and its clocktower.

 our house

I used to come down on Saturdays when I was in my teens and draw this very view; most of the people down there in those days were homeless. I remember thinking, of Hungerford Bridge, why it was so stupid there was a shaky walkway on the east side (looking towards waterloo bridge) but not the west (looking towards parliament). Nowadays with those two spectacular modern bridges either side of the railway, you can get great views from wherever (plus the bridges now make that old one look like the rope bridge from Temple of Doom). I sketched the extravagant Whitehall Court from the west bridge, as rain clouds drew in.

a view from the bridge 

The riverside entertainer below was drawn in a warm dark grey faber-castell pen, using a lighter grey brush pen to shade. I don’t normally shade like that so wanted to give it a go.
the south bank show

The funny feeling I got that day, looking out across the Thames, was that I was not really there, that I was looking though a window upon something very familiar, that it was a bit like a dream and soon I’d have to wake up and go to work. I used to cross Westminster Bridge six or more times a day, on the top of a tour bus, with microphone and rain jacket, my routine well-rehearsed, and now here I was, a tourist in my own back-yard. Well, a tourist with a sketchbook.