the ship has weathered every rack

the ship, soho

This is The Ship, on Wardour Street. Everyone knows The Ship. It’s a small place that never really seems to change, and it’s one of my favourite little pubs in Soho. I used to come here a fair bit in my twenties. Being located right in the middle of soho helps, and I like to stop here whenever I’m back on a sketching trip to Soho, to warm up, and have a beer. I did so this time back, this time sketching it to boot. My pens were protesting so much at the cold that I had to put my pencil case on the radiator, while I ate a jacket potato. I hope this place doesn’t change. It’s a port of refuge of sameness every time I come back, while other old, familiar places are closing down around us. But everyone knows The Ship.

pillars of hercules

manette street, sohoI love sketching in Soho. You can do a sketch of something, and then just pop into an old pub and sketch in there. Sketch, and repeat. There are so many old pubs in soho to choose from. My friend Simon and I sketched down in Manette Street, just by Foyles Books (one of my favourite bookstores in the world), which as you may see I have called Mallet Street. Mallet Street is in fact somewhere else; oh dear, my A to Z London memory is starting to fade. We sat in the cold outside the Borderline club, a regular haunt of mine in the mid to late 90s (those indie nights) and I drew the back of the Pillars of Hercules pub, with the covered alleyway leading into Greek Street. Fingers freezing,  we finished up and went inside for a pint of ale. I must say: though I love old English pubs, I’m not really a fan of the beers here any more. I’ve been rather spoiled by the West Coast micro-brews. Oh I don’t dislike them (in fact give me a Youngs or a Fullers any day), but these Adnams ones, well I would much rather have had a Fat Tire or an Anchor Steam. I think if I had English pubs with West Coast beers, I’d be a very happy man. And probably hung over quite a lot.

pillars of hercules, soho

whenever i walk in a london street

tottenham court road

…I’m ever so careful to watch my feet. Sometimes though it is good to stop and look up. So this is Tottenham Court Road, by Goodge Street, looking out at BT Tower. I was meeting my friend Simon one chilly Friday for an afternoon of sketching in Soho. They don’t sell Micron Pigma pens in London (I asked), so before I depleted my supply I popped into Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road and picked up a Uni-Pin fineliner, which works very nicely. I did find, on my sketching outings, that I would often have to use several pens in each sketch – they don’t react too well to freezing temperatures and often give up the goat (or is it the ghost, I forget), so I would have to put one in my jacket pocket to warm up while a subsititute would come on for a little while. I tended to rotate three pens on an given sketch. It reminded me of playing football when I was a kid and they would take you off for a while to give another kid a go while you put your warm coat on. Anyway, it was with cold fingers that I drew this scene, thinking about when I used to catch the bus home up here, the 134 to Archway, several years ago.

Passsers-by were very friendly. Several people stopped and asked me about the buildings I was drawing. I told them, in this city so few people look up, just staring at shop level or avoiding the masses of bears who wait at the corners all ready to eat the sillies who tread on the lines in the street, and though those old facades are grimy and ridden with pigeons and pollution, the architecture hidden in plain sight is really very interesting.

also posted at urban sketchers

please beware: this is the bald-faced stag

"please beware: this is the bald faced stag"

It actually says that on a sign on the door, honestly. This is the (infamous) Stag, on Burnt Oak Broadway, scene of many a late-night punch-up over the years. Everyone knows the Stag, it’s one of those pubs which are always there, central to a neighbourhood, not just any old boozer, a character in its own right. I don’t go there, personally, but I did pop in to finish the colour in this drawing in the warmth. I did feel a little self-conscious getting my little watercolour set out, not exactly hard-as-nails, but nobody cared. I hadn’t set foot in there for many many years, since I was a kid. My nan (‘nam’, we called her) used to drink in here every single day, she was a true regular. I imagined her sitting in that seat by the window where she always sat. I got all nostalgic. I could smell the cheese and onion crisps. There weren’t many people in there, but the conversations were generally littered with “f***ing this, f***ing that”; having lived in the swear-free States for a few years now I had forgotten how many times you are supposed to put the word “f***ing” within sentences when you come from Burnt Oak. It’s really a f***ing lot.  

After sketching this, I popped into a Romanian cafe/bakery across the road, and had a cup of tea with the owner, a Romanian man I hadn’t seen in over twenty years, an old family friend. That was nice; he gave me a huge plate of Romanian cream cakes to take home to my family. A fun first day back in Burnt Oak, the f***in’ town where I was f***ing’ born, innit.

the e street strummer

12-string guitarist, E st

He stands outside Chipotle and Peet’s Coffee n E Street, busking on his twelve-string at lunchtimes when I am there, sounding like Dylan, Nelson, Haggard; his music is very nice. He has one of those harmonicas you can play while guitaring; no cymbals at the knees though. Very distinctive with his long white hair, moustache, sunglasses; he has a long feather in his hat. One of the characters of Davis.  He was singing a song about watercoloured wine while I was drawing this, munching on my burrito. It was cold outside; November is really kicking in. The Fall Colours have just exploded all around us, the trees have suddenly turned the colour of flames, and there’s no way I’ll keep up with them.

stop, look, listen

Think of a big STOP sign, and you will stop thinking about what you were thinking; if you need to, that is. Well I was listening to The Jam and sitting outisde Uncle Vito’s Pizza (not very good pizza, btw) in downtown Davis on a sunny Sunday afternoon in downtown Davis, at the corner of 2nd and E streets.

stop sign on 2nd & E

I was thinking about perspective. Incidentally this is just the other end of the block from this one I did about a month ago.

every leaf speaks bliss to me

a house and tree on 4th and D

November in Davis means warm and cool sunny afternoons, with turning leaves and long, lazy shadows. Alright, what I’m saying is we have nicer weather than back home in London, where it rains and is cold. But now the clocks have gone back, it also gets dark earlier, so less time for sketching. I don’t really have the time anyway, so here is another one scrambled in during lunchtime yesterday. A building (I think it’s owned by Allstate) on the corner of 4th and D, with a tree outside it.

Oh, was it Guy Fawkes Night back in England? I had forgotten to remember.

second thoughts

now wait a second

Second Street, Davis; the Varsity Theater. Today was hot and bright; I sat and drew this in the shade of a tree. The Fall quarter began this week, and there are lots of new students milling about in packs, impressing each other. It’s new year’s day in a college town. 

I remembered that exactly ten years ago I moved over to Belgium for my year abroad, and it rained constantly for the first couple of weeks that I was there. A million miles from here, with nigh-on 100 degree weather. And another thought: it is exactly four years since I emigrated from the UK to live in America. The first job I got here was in the bookstore on this very street, directly opposite the Varsity. I don’t think I imagined we’d still be here now. Funny how the years go by. I got myself a strawberry lemonade smoothie, and went home.

a very mini sketchcrawl

Yesterday was the 24th worldwide sketchcrawl. I went to the zoo in the morning, so my son could see the monkeys and, er, tractors, and afterwards I popped into Sacramento to do some sketchcrawling. Against my better judgement; it was so hot, and I had such a headache, that I only managed the one before wandering about and calling it a day.

L and 15th Sac

This old building is on the corner of L and 15th, Sacramento.

A B C, easy as 1 2 3

guilbert house on A street, davis

Drew this one a couple of weeks ago and forgot to post.  This is a typical scene in Davis. Guilbert House on A Street. And that is ‘A’ Street, not ‘a street’. These imaginitively titled streets so many American towns have; seriously, all those A, B, C, D, etc, and 1st, 2nd, 3rd…come on, they could be anywhere, let’s have some soul, something with spirit of place. They are just points on a grid, and look bad on street signs. A, B, C, they feel like placeholders rather than names, as though the town planners when dreaming up their grids thought, we’ll come back to those. Well, A follows B, etc so surely that makes it easier to find yourself if lost? Except in Davis, between A and B is ‘University St’, so that doesn’t work. Ok, so keep the alphabet, well how about we rename (as some cities do, such as San Francisco) those streets so they run alphabetically? And we could have them themed with things relevant to Davis, a college town, they could be named after subjects taught there, so we’d have Applied Math St, Biophysics St, Chemistry St, Drama St, Electrical Engineering St… If you’d rather see the letters remain, and I don’t doubt people are very attached to their lettered streets, then we could make it more academic, so you’d have A+ St, A St, A- St, B+ St, until you get F St, which is just before U St. You don’t want to live on U St.

Then we have the First, Second, Third Streets, well they sound remarkably like grades you get at British universities, so we could Americanize them a little and have them on a US scale of four, so First St would be 4.0 St, then 3.9 St, etc etc. Alternatively, name them after Amendments to the US Constitiution, so First St becomes ‘Free Speech St’, then ‘Bear Arms St’, then ‘Don’t Quarter Soldiers in Peacetime St’, and so on. Let’s face it, a lot of people would be lost after streets one and two. Imagine telling someone you live on the corner of Film Studies and Revision of Presidential Election Procedures. They’d never come visit.