people fly by in the traffic’s boom

Market St Panorama sm

Market Street, San Francisco. Click on the image to embiggen it.

A couple of weekends ago it was the Worldwide Sketchcrawl Day. While many of the world’s urban sketchers were busy in Singapore at the 6th Urban Sketching Symposium, I was in San Francisco, though I didn’t manage to meet the other SF sketchers this time. I arrived in the city a little late, my train (which was packed with Barcelona and Manchester United fans, evidently they were playing a friendly that day in Santa Clara) taking longer than usual. While the sketchcrawl was starting up at Duboce Park I wanted to have a look around Market Street first. This section of it is a little sketchy, but there’s stuff to sketch. A few months ago I came here to see Noel Gallagher play at the Warfield (an epic gig, like being sat inside a massive gramophone, and Noel was excellent), and I remembered that I want to sketch the Golden Gate Theatre at some point. So I stood on the corner and sketched a panorama, fully intending to add colour at some point (until I got struck down with “can’t-be-bothered-itis”). While I sketched, some Christian group across the street started bursting into songs of praise. Not because I was sketching, of course. After a while, a homeless man with a dog decided to stand not far away from me and take that as the appropriate opportunity to perform an inspection of the content of his underpants, which I daresay needed inspection by a licensed professional, but perhaps not so openly on the corner of Market Street. Again, I don’t think it was because I was sketching. Oh, the characters around here. When I was done with this sketch I had lunch at the food court of the Westfield shopping center, and took the Muni Metro up to Duboce Square. I didn’t meet a single other sketcher, but I did do a fair bit more sketching.

Duboce Square houses SFDuboce Square Park, SF

Duboce Park is quite nice. It has a very Local Neighbourhood feel about it, though this being San Francisco I’m sure you have to be doing pretty well to join the local neighbourhood these days. I’ve never really been here before, except for when travelling through on the Muni, or that time last March when I wandered about nearby with a couple of friends from England on the way from Castro to the Haight. The park is filled with dog walkers, families, young people laying on the grass reading books.  By the way, note that I deliberately said ‘reading books’, and not ‘looking at their electronic devices’. ‘Reading books’ probably makes you think “yes, reading books, as it should be, not on their iPad looking at Facetwit or Spacechat or whatever the youths are into these days, ignoring the amazing views.” You may well be thinking this while reading this on your iPad. Well I’ve said ‘reading books’ to give you the impression that they were all probably cultured individuals, but for all I can remember they were on their iPads, and for all I know they were reading e-books. They may have been reading Kafka or Kundera for all we know, but the world sees ‘electronic device’ and thinks ‘shopping for shoes’ or ‘reading clickbait on Facebook’.  Whereas they could be reading a tattered paper book, lying on the grass with their legs lazily crossed in the air,exploring a world of wonder and imagination, and that book might be ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ or a footballer’s autobiography* or anything by Dan Brown. So the moral is ‘don’t judge an electronic device by its cover’, but feel free to judge a book-reader by the trash you can see them reading. So anyway, I was sketching the park, there was a kids birthday party going on nearby (with a pinata), in the dog park part of it dogs were running around and barking and texting, or whatever it is dogs do, and construction vehicles lined the street beside the Muni lines. I sketched the second one from the steps of the Harvey Milk Center for the Arts. I enjoyed sketching here.

Lower Haight St panorama sm

My final sketch of the day (not counting the one I abandoned due to getting tired) was another big panorama, this time in nearby Lower Haight Street. This is a very colourful neighbourhood, edgier, more ‘hipster’ than ‘hippy’, and there was some sort of small daytime dance party (or maybe it was a record store with DJs and cool people) a few steps away. I overheard two guys talking, there was talk of this party and that band, all many levels of cool above my coolscale (or below it, depending on your point of view). I was aching standing here, and the wind was picking up (sky was blue for periods, but a lot of clouds and fog rolled in and it got very chilly. A welcome change from the Davis heat I was escaping, but I needed to sit down and relax for a bit, so I walked down to the Toronado pub nearby and got a beer. Sitting down proved much harder, as it was pretty crowded. I had one beer and went home, the end of another busy sketching day in the city.

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i’ve got nowhere to go and so i follow my feet

hibernia bank building, san francisco
On Saturday, I took the early train down to San Francisco for a day of sketching and walking. I like to do that from time to time, just head down to the city and explore, before heading back. On this occasion I took the Amrtrak to Richmond and then the BART to Powell, intent on visiting the big Blick art store on Market, and then sketching this building – the old Hibernia Bank building, on the corner of Jones. I have never drawn it, put off by, well, the local Tenderloin personality shall we say. This building always reminds me of Marc Taro Holmes though, who has painted it so expertly on a number of occasions (such as HERE and HERE). The building has been due for redevelopment for some time now, and is still boarded up, but as one passer-by mentioned to me, it survived the earthquake in 1906, and do I have a dollar? Several people stopped asking for change (I presume they meant change of the monetary kind, rather than like change as in widespread reform or revolution, though they may have taken that too). As always in this part of the city there were lots of ‘shufflers’, people ambling about hither and thither with no particular place to go. There are a lot of panhandlers around here, and a fair few drug users, and one or two frequent drinkers; this area has long been an unfortunate byword for social problems. But the number of people who stand about on street corners just yelling at people or growling does make you feel a little uncomfortable. I drew for almost an hour before I’d had my fill, and then decided, for some reason, to walk through some of the blocks which were probably the shadiest and most dodgy-character-filled, especially on this Saturday lunchtime. I found myself trying not to stand out too much, by pulling crazed faces and growling at my feet, as if I was in that scene in Shawn of the Dead trying to fit in with the zombies. It must have worked, because I passed a rudimentary soup kitchen and the kind lady serving offered me free soup and fresh water. Eventually, I started to leave the shuffling, yelling Tenderloiners behind as the hill I was climbing went sharply upwards: Nob Hill. I stopped and drew a fire hydrant which had been comically wrapped in police tape. Someone had also stuck German football stickers to the top, but they can’t be seen. This city is an experience.

hydrant on nob hill