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

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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

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…

camping by the river

thames jubilee campers

As some of you may have been aware, this year is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – celebrating 60 years on the throne. It’s only the second time in the history of the country that a monarch has reached that milestone, the previous one of course being Queen Victoria. Long live our noble Queens, eh. On Sunday June 3 (59 years and 1 day since the actual coronation) a huge and historic River Pageant was planned, taking the royal party down the Thames followed by a large flotilla of boats. I was going to a street party in my old road so was unable to stand by the Thames in the rain with thousands of others (ah well, next time), so I went down to the river on the Saturday (June 2nd, 59 years since the coronation!) and sketched some of the people who would be braving the elements to see the Queen. This was down by Tate Modern, and the weather, while overcast, was very pleasant. The folks setting up camp had come from all over the UK, and the atmosphere was very happy. I think they were even looking forward to Sunday’s impending rain – nothing like a brolly, a cup of tea, a nice bit of cake and the Queen sailing by, Rule Britannia. Fair play to them. I sketched, and then moved on down the Thames to sketch some more.
sketching the jubilee campers

a tale of one city

Temple Station
And so here are the drawings I did on the London sketchcrawl. I started off by doing a quick sketch outside Temple station before everyone turned up; I must admit I was pretty nervous about the day!
Embankment

After everybody had dispersed to sketch this and that, I sat by the Thames catching up with my cousins and drawing the view from the Embankment. The big pointy building in the distance is the Shard, Europe’s brand-new tallest building, ingeniously designed to burst any incoming alien balloon. That’ll show ’em.
Essex StPrince Henry Room
Here are a couple of sketches I did after that, the one on the right being up a quiet street in the Temple, and the other being on the less quiet Fleet Street, the Prince Henry Room. The gateway around it is actually a feature of the building, around the gate which on weekdays is open and leads to Temple Church, but on this day was shut to the public. I really should have known. So I sketched the building itself in my beloved brown pen. The London 2012 stamp is one I picked up at Paperchase.
sketching Fleet Street
This one above, a smaller quicker sketch of the famous view down Fleet Street, was done at the end of the ‘crawl on the way down to the meeting point. My scanner broke before I could scan it however so I can only post the photo.

And this last one, this was of the Cheshire Cheese pub – no, not that one, a different one on Milford Lane near the Temple. When I heard about it I just had to draw it. Old pub drawing – check. It took a bit of a while, about an hour and a half, and I had to add the colour later on, but it was a fun one to draw.Cheshire Cheese

That really was a great sketchcrawl. I still have plenty more London (and Paris) sketches to post…I just need to get a new scanner!

aye aye, captain

captain kidd pub, wapping

The Captain Kidd pub in Wapping. My friend and fellow sketcher Simon has been telling me about it for a long time, but we’d never been because it’s, you know, in Wapping. Still, with Wapping and it’s less salubrious denizens Murdoch and pals being very much in the news that week it seemed like a good idea to pop down there. We took the London Overground (the old orange East London line, now revamped and extended with swanky new trains and a new name) and went down by the river. The old pub literally backs onto the thames, and we grabbed a pint each and sat on a bench looking across the water. The rain would eventually force us inside, but not after a quick sketch of the scenery, and another attempt at sketching my friend (who really should be very easy to capture, but I always get him just wrong, it’s almost become a running theme; next time, I promise, I’ll practise more!). After some catching up and quite a bit of laughing, we sketched inside and I drew the scene above, before I had to head back home. Such a brief trip to London this time, not long enough with my good friends! 

simon sketching at wapping

oh, the weather outside is frightful

sketching burnt oak in the snow

So… as you may have gathered from my non-posts this past week, I am away from rain-sodden California to lovely London, where I’ve had a week without any rain whatsoever.

Oh, but we’ve been having the worst snowy winter weather I’ve ever seen here. Many days after a sudden blizzard, the snow is still here there and everywhere, tough it hasn’t stopped me from getting out there with sketchbook. Yes, fingers freezing off and pens giving up the ghost doesn’t get in the way of this urban sketcher. Not two months ago I was sketching in hundred degree weather heat. Thing is, I grew up with snow lasting only a day or two before sodding off, and always tell people about our comparatively mild winters, but now it seems the snow comes earlier and stays longer, and the disruption is magnified. Naturally, Britain fails to cope, as the absolute madness of Heathrow attests. I’m glad I came a few days earlier than I would have. I just hope we can get back…

HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge

These are a couple of photos of what I have been out sketching though; the top one being the street where I grew up, about an hour after the biggest blizzzard I can remember here. I’m sure people thought I was a nutter sitting out there freezing, well they’re right, but urban sketchers are tough beasts. My fingers took a battering in the second one too, sat down by the River Thames, looking out at HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge. My toes were frozen too. I warmed up with a nice chicken and mushroom pie. That’s one thing Britain can always get right!

But boy, is it cold…