The Darling Buds of April

LDD Arboretum flowers April19
The sneezing starts slowly for me each year, and this week it is starting to ramp up. There is always a nice period before the sneezing begins however when I can enjoy the sudden colourful bloom of Spring in relative peace, thinking “you know what, this year I’m just not going to sneeze, everything’s going to be fine.” By the darling buds of May though I’ve turned into Rentaghost’s Nadia Popov. Also, the “are you taking anything for it?” conversation is even more boring than saying “bless you” after every sneeze and then laughing after the fourth, so when people ask me what I’m taking I say “sneezing powder”. I  have seen a lot of floral sketching recently in my Urban Sketching Community’s online feeds, inspiring me to draw more flowers myself; my sudden upsurge in walking everywhere and seeing so many colourful gardens, parks and pathways made me really see this year that Spring is actually quite visually beautiful. So, out comes the sketchbook. Now I wish I knew the names of all the plants, and thankfully the Arboretum does label most of them, but I’m a little bit plant-clueless. All the more reason to sit and really look at them, see how they work.
Arboretum Flowers
The walk to Northstar Park in the north part of Davis has a lot of beautiful flowers.
Flowers on the Green Belt
And here in the Arboretum, I took a stroll through the Acacia Grove, drawing in pencil this time.
Arboretum Acacia Grove April2019 sm
Finally, a tree stump. It was too interesting to leave out. Happy bloomin’ Spring to you!
LDD Arboretum tree stump April19

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Spring Break in Surf City

Huntington Beach view from hotel
“Yes, yes I think that will do.” Those were my first thoughts on seeing this very nice view from our hotel balcony in Huntington Beach, aka ‘Surf City’, on our trip there during Spring Break. Palm trees, orange rooftops, a deep blue ocean, blue sky with a bit of fog, very sandy sand, big waves and even the view of Highway 1, which (along with Highway 101) runs along the whole Pacific coast of America (as the ‘Pacific Coast Highway’). Yeah, I can’t really go wrong with a view like that. My wife certainly knows how to pick the hotels with the good views. We had expected rain – in northern California, huge whopping storms were beating down while I splashed about in the pool, getting out to read my travel stories book and sip a refreshing mango beer. Yes, mango beer, that’s right, it was from a local brewer, the poolside barstaff told me. I like mango flavoured things. Oh is it raining in Davis? Well never mind. We had glorious sunshine, and we used it wisely, at the beach and at the pool. It’s at times like this when I think, yeah, actually it was a good idea to leave London and live in California.
Huntington Beach Naugles
I did a little bit of sketching. The building above is Naugles, some sort of eatery by the beach. It wasn’t open, though the building next door was renting those surreys and bikes to people. I think I imagined Spring Break to be a bit more Spring Break-like, if you know what I mean, Florida style, but warm as it was, it’s still too cold in California for that sort of thing. For which I was very grateful, I do love places without big crowds. I even went into the ocean myself (which was fairly freezing), my son and his friend out there splashing about in the waves. I can’t surf, but we had one of those boogy-boards and so I floated about on that, on my belly, riding the waves like a dead whale. I’m not sure if dead whales ride the waves, but ‘dead whale’ was the only thing that came to my mind when the tides flopped me back onto the shore. I was a dead whale enjoying myself though. We even built sandcastles and dug tunnels. These sketches though were done while they were back at the hotel pool, which was heated and had water slides. Below is one of the many lifeguard lookouts that stand along the beach like the watchers on the wall. At this point it’s obligatory to mention ‘Baywatch’, but I never watched that show, so I wont. The beach was clean, and well trimmed like a suburban lawn. There are firepits for people to use when barbecuing in the warm summer evenings (like in pretty much every teen LA-based movie or TV show), but there’s a curfew on this beach, nobody is allowed after 10pm. In the distance, Huntington Beach pier, and further behind still are off-shore oil rigs, which maybe adjust the perfection of the view a bit (but offer something a bit different to look at). The waves get pretty big; you can see a surfer making their way in. Huntington Beach is nicknamed Surf City: there is a statue of Duke Kahanamoku, legendary Hawaiian surfer and olympic sportsman, standing outside one of the big surf shops downtown. I popped in, and discovered that surfboards cost a lot more than I though they did. There goes that dream!
Huntington Beach Lifeguard Hut
Speaking of ‘The Duke’, we had a very filling and quite delicious dinner at Duke’s restaurant, on the beach next to the pier. We went to the Duke’s restaurant in Waikiki a couple of years ago, and had our very first Lava Flow drinks. They were delicious. The ones we had here were just as nice, but served in those great tiki glasses. I only had the one – they are pretty filling! So are the enormous Hula Pies. We got one to share between the four of us, and I’m glad – we barely finished it. I bought a Hula Pie plate as a souvenir. I did get to tell a great pun when the waiter was giving us the list of specials. My wife wondered if she should have the fish special, and I said, “why not, just for the halibut!” The waiter didn’t get it though. I thought it was good. One of the fish specials was halibut. Now I have to engineer some other situation where I can use the “just for the halibut” line.
Lava Flow at Duke's
It was a long walk back to the hotel, but since I had eaten so much I was rolled along the seafront like one of those massive snowballs. I was still basking in the glory of my “just for the halibut” line. It was not yet ten o’clock, so the beach was dotted with the glow of numerous firepits. In the parking lots, travelers were sat outside immense RVs enjoying the spring evening’s cool ocean breeze.
Ruby's Choc Mint Shake

On the second evening in Huntington Beach, after an incredibly fresh tasting dinner at a place called Lemonade (which as you might expect made delicious multi-flavoured hand-made lemonades – I had ‘Cucumber Mint’. So refreshing. Everyone was tired, and so the rest of the family went back to the hotel, but I still wanted to walk to the end of that long pier, so I talked my sore feet into making the trek up over the boardwalk into the Pacific Ocean. There are lots of people fishing from that pier. It’s not full of amusements like Santa Monica or Walton-on-the-Naze, but right at the very end in the red-roofed building is one of my favourite places in California, Ruby’s Diner. I have a lot of favourite places in California, I can’t really choose; ok this is in the top 100. It’s a classic American diner at the end of a pier, there’s a great classic American atmosphere, and when I say classic American I mean ‘like in the movies’, probably. It doesn’t feel themed or kitschy though. There is a tiki bar upstairs, which I passed through to use the bathrooms, that was a distinctive change of look. All I wanted was a milkshake. A bit of history here, the very first time I came to the United States was in 2002, to visit my still-new Californian girlfriend whom I had met while living in France, and she took me on a road trip down California and to the Grand Canyon. Oh by the way my then-new Californian girlfriend is now my Californian wife of course! Back then though America was completely new to me, I was a fresh-faced twenty-something, and on this road trip we visited our friend Erin (whom we had met in France; actually it was Erin who introduced us to each other) and she lived in Huntington Beach. She took us to Ruby’s Diner at the end of the pier, and I had what up to that point in my life was perhaps the best milkshake I had ever tasted. It was a butterfinger milkshake, it was huge, it made every milkshake I grew up with seem like Nesquik. By the way every milkshake I ever grew up with was Nesquik. I’ll never forget the taste of Nesquik gone BAD. Never leave banana Nesquik in a flask out of the fridge for a couple of days in summer and then try to drink it. I was six. Anyway, all I had on my mind was coming back to Ruby’s and having a milkshake, and I was not disappointed. They had the same menu of shakes, but they were also doing a special Mint Chocolate shake made with Girl Scout Cookies. It was delicious. The long walk down the pier and the long walk back to the hotel were good exercise, and I’m now still dieting to get over all the big foods I had on that trip, but it was worth it. Huntington Beach is cool. And below, for those who really need a gumball, they have them in a gas pump. Classic American.
Ruby's Candy Pump

Ok after Huntington Beach we went to Great Wolf Lodge for one night, which had some fun water slides but overall was a bit of a disappointment after Huntington Beach, and so we ended up going to see Captain Marvel instead (loved it!). We got back to Davis to hear that there had been even more heavy rain (this is the rainiest I’ve ever known Davis, except maybe that first winter here).

it’s easy bein’ sneezy

I and 4th Davis
Now this is one of the old houses in old east downtown Davis. It is opposite the Schmeiser House, which you may recall I sketched on New Year’s Eve (see that here). In fact back when I sketched that I had half intended to sketch the whole panorama, but didn’t. So I went back last month and sketched the other half, but this time with a much more spring-like feeling. Those yellow flowers though! I must say though, the colours in the sketch started to look a bit odd after a while because, to be honest, I was finding it hard to see – my eyes were itching and watering, and I was sneezing, because yes, it’s allergies season, and Davis is notorious for the allergies. Even looking at this sketch makes me want to sneeze! I do like the old east downtown neighbourhood. I don’t like sneezing.

the bees are buzzin’ in the trees

black bear diner 2017 sm
Here is another one from just along the street to the Turtle House and the Barovetto House. Click on the image for a closer view.  I’m slowly making my way along 2nd Street. Here is the Black Bear Diner, where you may occasionally find me on a Sunday morning, getting fat. My son loves it here, and when he was a toddler we would come here for breakfast at just about the time that the local firemen would come in; he was a big fan. Black Bear Diner is a thing in the western U.S. They don’t actually get to dine on anything with real black bear in it, it’s just the general theme. Nor is it, as people often think, a restaurant themed about a pirate who is in the Emergency Room, that’s a common misconception I’m sure the waiting staff are tired of having to point out. I first went to one up in southern Oregon, where I had “cinnamon roll French toast”, and I basically haven’t lost weight since. Nah I’m kidding, it’s the Cadbury’s Creme Eggs wot did it, guv. To be fair I come here like once every couple of months at most. That is often enough though. It’s like when I draw a pub, you might get the impression, oh he’s a regular. Well I may be, but those two sketches were the two times I went there that year. Similarly I don’t draw everywhere I have been or everything I have seen. I’ve not drawn a fire hydrant in ages, but I still look at them and say, “Oh, cool hydrant. Hi. I’m Pete. Sorry, no I’m not talking to a fire hydrant, I’m er, on the phone.” No, If I drew what I did the most this blog would be full of Lego drawings, hah! Oh right, it is. By the way, spoiler alert, there are WAY more Lego drawings yet to post. You ain’t seen nuffink yet. Speaking of volume of sketches, you know I do those things every year where I show all the drawings from that year in one post, well this year I’m already in the same row I was in last year by May. 2017 for me is strangely prolific, like I’m sketching to avoid the daily news or something.  Last year if you recall I was drawing loads of people, for my book  “Five-Minute-Sketching People”. That’s Five-Minute as in period of time, not a quintet of sketching-people who happen to be really, really small. Or maybe not… Here is an idea, at the next event I do I will talk about that book and I will pronounce it as “Five Minute…” with minute being pronounced like the word meaning really really small, and people will be confused and I’ll say, no honestly, that’s how I meant it to be pronounced, and they will think about it for a while, then get the joke and they’ll laugh and say, haha you’re so funny. Or maybe not… Yeah, maybe not. I’ll still do it. This time last year I was writing that book, it was a really fun experience, I really enjoy the process of writing. Though, it did include many late nights. I discovered that a lot of writing involves just staring out of the window for hours, and then at 2am writing 500 words. I thought to myself that if someone ever asked me to sign a copy, I would promise to sign it in the manner of how I wrote it, that is staring at it for hours and hours and then finally at 2:30 in the morning signing my name and saying, phew I’m beat, I need a cup of tea. Of course, I wouldn’t really do that. Or maybe not?

I don’t mean to ramble, but I always do. I’m actually a really quiet person, I don’t usually say anything. So anyway… the sketch. This was done in a Stillman and Birn Beta softcover landscape book, one of the last ones in that book. I have since started a second such sketchbook, and I can heartily and artily recommend them. The soft cover means I can bend the page around making it easy to hold, but it also produces great panoramic sketches, like this one. This took me a couple of lunchtimes to draw, and I had to finish off the colour back home.

the last pink blossom

lecture hall ucd march 2016
I’ve had computer issues for a while, and ended up with a dead hard drive which I was able to replace myself, like a tech expert or something. Then I couldn’t scan until I had gotten the absolute right driver for the printer. I went through a lot of drivers that just didn’t work, one chauffeur after another, none of which knew where they were going, no sat-nav or even an A to Z could get my computer to find my scanner (I mean, it’s right next to the computer, duh, even a complete wally can see where it is, yet my computer can’t find it, idiot). Anyway, all resolved now, so I am starting to catch up on some of the sketching from the past month or so that got missed, including this. Actually I have done a lot less sketching this past month anyhow, due to a massively busy schedule, but I’m getting back on track. This sketch was made over a month ago on the UC Davis campus when blossom was still bright pink. It is the site of the future (unnamed) Large Lecture Hall, to be built at a cost of $22 million (or about the price of Gareth Bale’s left thigh). It’s over near Kleiber, and Storer, and I believe it will cover all this lovely grass up so take a good look while you can.

i’m only leaping

Leap Day 2016 UC Davis
This is a Leap Year. For those of you on other planets, a Leap Year is one where everybody makes rubbish jokes about those who have birthdays on February 29th technically being far younger than they really are. It happens once every four years and apparently we have them to correct our imprecise calendars; if we didn’t then we’d have a situation eventually where the sun would be getting up at lunchtime and something to do with aliens. So we call this extra day ‘Leap Day’ and act as if it is somehow ‘extra’. To make it really ‘extra’, another day in the weekend would have been nice. Saturday 27th, Sunday 28th, Leap Day 29th, Monday 1st, etc. Apparently though we can’t do that because, again, aliens. Anyway I sketched more spring blossom on Leap Day lunchtime, revisiting a scene that I sketched in November when those same trees were flaming with red and orange. That autumnal scene is below. I didn’t sketch them while leafless, you will have to just imagine them naked. Now they are clothed in brilliant white blossom, tinged with pale green. The Chemistry Building looms behind, unchanged and like a rock. I mean literally like a Rock, because the adjoining Rock Hall lecture building is away to the left, off-screen. The trees’ positions look slightly different, due to my slightly different standing location (you go where the shade is on a sunny day). It’s a test of observation. Two seasons in Davis.
chemistry buildings, uc davis

i love parrots in the springtime

cruess hall
This is Cruess Hall, UC Davis. It’s the home of the UC Davis Design Department. I’ve given a couple of guest talks in classes here before to design students about keeping sketchbooks. I wanted to sketch it while the blossom was so pink; even now, a week or so later, it has already desaturated. By that I mean it is still pink, but less so, it has lost some of its saturation. That reminds me of a joke, “What do you call a grey parrot? Polyunsaturated.” Actually that isn’t an old joke, I literally just made that one up a few moments ago. It does remind me of another joke, which goes “What is a polygon? A dead parrot.” Now that one is old, I read it in a joke book when I was 7 or 8 years old. I remember it now, I remember it was one of those “5001 jokes for kids” books. That book has had more influence over my life than any book ever, and yet that joke is the only one I remember now. I remember laughing so much when I read it, I was in hysterics. I couldn’t even tell the joke, it made me laugh so much. I stopped trying in the end, because I’m sure nobody else would have the same reaction as me, so the joke became my own, if I ever needed cheering up I was just ask myself, “what’s a polygon?” and laugh away for hours. Now I know that there is another very famous comedic episode about a ceased-to-be parrot, but I maintain to this day that the Python sketch is only the second funniest parrot-based piece of humour in existence (maybe the third now, if ‘Polyunsaturated’ ever takes off). Now I don’t want to give the impression that we Brits have some obsession with parrots expired or otherwise, we don’t go to school and take the pledge of allegiance to the dead-parrot-sketch (though we probably should). That said, a couple of years ago I dressed as a pirate for Halloween and went trick-or-treating with a parrot on my shoulder (well my son was trick-or-treating, not me, I just had to go with him). One person made a dead-parrot-sketch reference to me, and I pretended not to get it. So they explained it to me, they actually explained the dead-parrot-sketch to me, like, in full detail. As they said in Casablanca, “we’ll always have parrots.” (And that joke was taken from Red Dwarf).

So, this is Cruess Hall. It is also the home of the UC Davis Design Museum. Hey guess what, I will be having an exhibition of my sketchbooks there this Fall, tentatively scheduled from September to November. More details as they become settled, and I’m scheduled for a talk as well, but it will be fun. And hopefully 100% parrot free (except if anyone mentions polygons).