Portland’s Autumn

pdx saturday market

In November I went up to Portland, Oregon, to teach one of the 10×10 Urban Sketchers workshops, on Interior Perspective. I was invited by my friend Rita Sabler (the excellent Portland reportage sketcher), and it was as always an enjoyable visit to one of my favourite cities. I only ever seem to go these days in dark November, but this time it was not rainy at all. It was very colourful in fact, with the autumn leaves out in full force. I tried to capture as much of that as possible in my out-and-about sketches. Above, Portland’s Saturday market, with the Skidmore Fountain in the foreground. I sketched this fountain in 2010 at the first USk Symposium, on a Saturday morning perspective sketching class with Frank Ching. That was the moment I always look back to when I really gave up my inhibitions about drawing in public; rather than find a place to hide and be invisible, better to sketch openly and not worry about being ‘in the way’, become part of the place. On this day, I was able to observe the market as some stalls were still setting up, and as people passed by I got a real feel for the character of this quarter of Portland.

steel bridge portland

I like the Steel Bridge, another one I drew on that first Portland symposium, that time at a workshop with Lapin, I sat between him and Gerard Michel discussing different approaches. I’ve always wanted to return to this riverbank in the Spring when the blossoms are all pink, but coming back in Fall with golden leaves floating down is almost as nice. I did get a bit cold though, and so streetcarred it back to the hotel for a rest before my workshop.

pdx food trucks alder square

This one was sketched at the food carts area at Alder Street, after I had spent a good long afternoon wandering about Powell’s. Powell’s is such a great big bookstore, I could spend forever in there. They had my books, too, which is always exciting to see. I have a tradition now of going to Powell’s and then wandering up here for a big hot dish of Thai food, and I was not disappointed. I sketched across the street, the sunlight starting to fade, the urban greys brightened up by the reddish orange of the trees.

star theater portland

Not too far away, a bit earlier in the day, the Star Theater, with yellowy leaves scattered about. A group of homeless people sat nearby talking and laughing, streetcars rattled past, a slight breeze blew leaves and thoughts past as I sketched. My legs were hurting; I had had a night out before, and a good lie-in, but as each year passes I always forget I need a bit more rest. I spent the rest of the afternoon in Powell’s. And below, of course, an orange Portland fire hydrant, weather-worn and pock-marked.

pdx hydrant

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The Pitzer Center…finally finished!

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After more than a year covering its construction, preceded by several years sketching the old Boiler Building on this spot, then documenting its demolition, the Ann E. Pitzer Center is finally open. This is the new Music Recital Hall for the UC Davis campus, a state-of-the-art performance and teaching facility. This past weekend was the opening weekend of performances, and on Saturday evening I attended the Faculty and Students of UC Davis concert, choosing a seat near the back to not only get as good a view for a long-awaited interior sketch, but also to test the acoustics of this new space. They are very good. I drew most of the room before the performance started, and just added the performers of the first piece once they took to the stage; I spent the rest of the time just sitting taking in the beautiful music. Many of the performances were amazing, and so varied, a lesson in the history of music, but for me this first piece was the best bit. Members of the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra played “Crisantemi” (“Chrysanthemums”) by Puccini, and it was just beautiful, haunting, elegant. The music comes right back to me when I look at the sketch. That is the thing about sketching – you can show, and you can even demonstrate your feelings in the lines, but unless you were actually there, you weren’t there, and I wish you could hear the music I still hear when I see it. I enjoyed this event, and the shiny clean newness of the building. I must make an effort to see some more events there.

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I did get an outside sketch of the back of the building before the concert, though it was a little rushed, and the green grass a little forced.

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I did do another one on Monday in pencil, of the view with the tall Sproul Hall behind it. I wanted to get one last sketch of this view, as this was the same view from when I sketched the Boiler Building back in 2011.And for all that I like this new building, and the beautiful music that it will host from here onwards, this view made me a little sad to think about the old Boiler Building, crumbling, idle, full of cobwebs and rust. I loved sketching that old place. Looking at Sproul in the background, though, I think I’m better at perspective now…

Old Boiler Building

sketchcrawl in trafalgar square

Trafalgar Square

On Saturday July 23 I went along to the “Let’s Draw Trafalgar Square” sketchcrawl organized by members of Urban Sketchers London. It was a hot, sweaty day, and the Square was filled with people: tourists, buskers, and people playing Pokemon Go. By the way I love how Pokemon Go is the latest Thing-To-Be-Annoyed-At among the moaning classes, just the mention of the words ‘Pokemon’ and ‘Go’ automatically bring forth  well-rehearsed stories of people walking in front of buses or just not looking up from their phones in the street, neither of which were things that ever happened before people started catching Porygons and Spearows just a few weeks ago. I bet if you had a referendum to ban people playing Pokemon Go you’d get more than half the population saying “Gotta ban em all!” Just let them be, grandad. Anyway, as I sat and sketched the National Gallery and the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a man on an unusual bike in front of me beckoned tourists to have a go and try to win ten quid from him. I didn’t sketch him. I did speak to a few tourists, giving directions and talking about the sketchcrawl. The crowds really did start getting a bit much, but I look at this stretch of pedestrianized goodness and I still remember how much of a coughing traffic mess it used to be. That right there is where I would get my Night Bus back to Burnt Oak in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, twenty years ago. It’s so much better now.

Charles I statue, Charing Cross

We met up at half-time by the column of the Grand Old Duke Of York, and the sketchcrawl’s numbers had swelled to include many more of the international sketchers who would soon go up to Manchester, including a large contingent from Singapore. So great to see so many familiar faces, such as Tia Boom Sim (Singapore), Omar Jaramillo (Berlin) and James Oses (London), and also meet many new ones I had only ever known from following online, such as Stephanie Bower (Seattle), Patrick Ng (Singapore) and Emma-Jane Rosenberg (Ely), and many others. Above though is not the Duke of York, rather this is King Charles I. He is holding a European flag, which is either a pro-Europe protest or the opposite, depending on your views of Charles, I guess. Look at all those Boris Buses milling about in the background there. The interior temperature of those buses was on that particular day hot enough to fry an egg (but to do that you needs to brexit first). No, I didn’t get it either. This statue by the way is the middle of London – all distances from London are measured from this spot. Charles was the shortest English king (well, the shortest adult English king). After his head was chopped off, just down the street from here, he was considerably shorter. Ok that is your history lesson done now. I sketched this while squashed against a wall next to Tesco Metro, itself a highly squashed experience, stood with paints balanced on elbow, while a large number of anti-Mugabe protesters from Zimbabwe paraded past, while tourists waved selfie-sticks in front of them, and absolutely nobody was playing Pokemon Go. Samuel Johnson said a couple of centuries ago that the full tide of human existence is at Charing Cross, and he wasn’t wrong. I bet he would have hated Pokemon Go though. Imagine his face when you asked whether Jigglypuff, Blastoise, and Lickitung are in his dictionary! It would have caused him terrible pericombobulations.

palace theatre London

I had to leave the Trafalgar-Squarea (tourists! This is a real term used by actual Londoners by the way so you should definitely say it next time you are there) and escape to the slightly less busy area of Cambridge Circus. Still a busy bustling Bedlam, but I was able to find a spot next to a pub and sketch the Palace Theatre, where currently they are showing the play about Harry Potter, call “The Cursed Child”. I just read the expensive hard-bound script, and I can reveal it is pretty good, and probably makes more a hell of a lot sense watching it on stage. Tickets are sold out for the next century and a half, and it’s in two parts, for some reason (I think the reason rhymes with the words “bunny bunny bunny”). I have wanted to sketch this theatre for ages, so the Potter connection gave me a good reason too (for example if I sell this sketch, then the reason may well rhyme with “honey honey honey”). I remember when Les Mis ran here for about six hundred years, or something. I sketched for an hour and added the colour at home, as I had to run down to St. Martin’s for the final meeting of the sketchcrawl, where everyone puts their books on the ground and looks down at them. It was a fun event and I am glad I went, a good sketching first day back in London, and I spent a good bit of time catching up and chatting with my fellow sketchers afterwards in the cafe in the crypt beneath St. Martin’s. By the way that cafe is the place to go when it is hot outside and you want a lukewarm fizzy drink. I did some sketching of the sketchers…

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And afterwards I met my friend Roshan, and we went for dinner, then out for a nice relaxed beer in Covent Garden, being joined by other friends Lee and Jamie. I sketched them too. A couple siting next to us kooed over eagerly at my book while sketching, it seemed like they thought they might be next in the book, but alas my sketching energy needed conserving for the next day, when I would be sketching Wren’s London. Nice segue there into the next post, huh!

Roshan Jamie Lee

pete goes to hollywood

chinese theatre hollywood
More from the recent trip to LA. After checking into the hotel in Westwood, I jumped on a bus through Beverly Hills and over to Hollywood. I am from Burnt Oak, ok, so this is pretty much the stuff dreams are made of. An aside, buses in LA are awesome. Most of them only cost a dollar and the various networks go all over the place. It’s almost like it’s a proper city! (I’m being silly, of course it’s a proper city, and that’s why I love it – being from London, LA feels a bit more familiar to me in its massiveness.) You hear all the time that LA is only for the automobiles, but as a tourist, the buses are really excellent. So anyway I went to Hollywood and walked up to the Hollywood Boulevard, where I had last been in 2002. Tinseltown, they call it, but I didn’t see any Christmas decoration shops. It is of course tacky touristy mayhem, mixed in with a fair bit of grime, plus a whole bunch of famous names on stars on the ground. Come on, that is why we go. I wanted to sketch the world famous Chinese Theatre, made famous of course in Iron Man III. Ok it was famous before then. Note the bus-stop, I wasn’t leaving that out. A red carpet was being set up for the premiere of something, a small independent art-house movie called ‘Hot Pursuit’ which I presume is about the sadness of playing a game of Trivial Pursuit in a house where the air conditioning just won’t work. If it’s not then hey, great idea for a film, here’s my script Hollywood, MOVIE DEAL PLEASE. I sketched while Marilyn Monroe, Spider-man, and Darth Vader walked by, people dressed as space aliens and hookers (to be fair they may have both genuinely been either), and the occasional massive group of Chinese tourists. I have included a handy map in my sketchbook to show where this is located. This is the first page of the new Stillman & Birn ‘Alpha’ sketchbook I bought a couple of months ago, but I’ve been waiting to finish my current sketchbook before starting it. Well, I couldn’t wait, so after this sketch I reverted back to the Seawhite’s remaining pages for the other sketches. I’m not sure why I’m telling you all of this, you probably don’t care. Unless you’re some sort of Hollywood exec who sees a market in blockbuster movies about drawing in sketchbooks. I can see the trailer now. “He was a Sketcher, on the Edge…” etc.

Hollywood map

“Draw the El Capitan Theatre!” they all said. “You gotta draw the El Capitan!” Yes, yes I should, especially as they are playing Avengers there (the opening night was that same night). It’s really hard, the way I draw, to sketch that big neon sign, so I jsut went for the bare minimum before abandoning it. Perhaps I’ll give it a better go someday. Perhaps. But this is all you get.
el capitan hollywood
Fire hydrants! So, when you travel, well when I travel, it’s always good to sketch some of the local hydrants. This particular one was painted red, white and blue (and yellow), as were many on Hollywood Boulevard. This one was located however right next to Walt Disney’s star on the Walk of Fame. Around me, star-spotting tour buses loaded and unloaded en route to peek at the gates of famous people’s second homes, while homeless people shuffled up to see why on earth I was sketching a fire hydrant. But this one’s a beauty, so I couldn’t resist adding it to my collection.
hydrant hollywood blvd

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I caught a couple of glimpses of the Hollywood sign up in the hills, but as the early evening pressed on I wanted to stop and rest my feet, so I popped into the interesting looking Pig’n’Whistle pub. I was going to have dinner (it’s a restaurant too) but opted for a pint and a sketch. The light from the street was pouring through the stained glass windows, but the itnerior was spectauclar – the ceiling was old and of ornately carved wood, it was like being in an old mead-hall, but with very Spanish-feeling decoration. Yes, I’d recommend stopping in here. After doing this sketch, I popped back onto a bus to Westwood, and had a late dinner before watching the UK general election leaders spouting nonsense on the TV in my hotel room. Happy travels!
pig n whistle hollywood

varsity, again

varsity theatre, davis
At the end of last month was the 10th annual Davis Feminist Film Festival. Unfortunately I was away in Los Angeles so I missed it, but I donated a sketch for their silent auction, and this is it. This is the Varsity Theatre, as you probably know, I have sketched it before once or twice. I sketched it one lunchtime and was so pleased that red Mini was parked in front. I have no idea if it sold (the auction was silent!) but it was fun to sketch. Of course, the festival didn’t take place here at the Varsity, but at the Veteran’s Memorial Theatre, so the sketch was thematically apt but geographically wide of the mark…

Davis Feminist Film Festival: http://femfilmfest.ucdavis.edu/

the royal court

the royal court theatre
Sloane Square. As a native Burnt Oaker, I feel out of place down here. Oh it’s just a place, like any other, and I’ve been around the world, but part of me thinks ‘Sloane Square’ and thinks ‘the 80s’, fil-o-faxes, champagne, upper classes, butlers, top hats, I don’t know, the rich. My part of North London was the opposite, so this was ‘how the other side lives’. Which is all a bit nonsense in the scheme of things, but it does explain why I don’t go down there very often. Also I live in California and have no reason to make special trips to go to Sloane Square in West London and look at exclusive boutiques or whatever they have down there. However, what they do have is the Royal Court Theatre, and I’ve been there a good few times, and I love it. This is one of the most important theatres in London, it is not one of your big commercial Andrew Lloyd Webber nonsense theatres that you get all over the West End; no, this venue fosters proper writing and has birthed many importnat modern playwrights such as Mark Ravenhill and the late Sarah Kane. They also house the Young Writers Program to develop young theatrical talent. This is a place for new and exciting work. I once saw a play there – I cannot recall the name now – with three actors on a bare sloping stage which utilized rudimentary puppetry and long, long mid-sentence pauses, and I absolutely loved it. It’s a great building also, modern and renovated inside but with a classic Sloane Square exterior. My friend Tamara spent a good few years working there too, so I’ll always think of her when I think of the Royal Court. I stood here for the best part of an hour sketching away, having to stop each time a huge bus hulked into view (I stood by a bus stop so this was often), drawing in the newly opened watercolour Moleskine. I had thought about sketching around Kings Road and all the little Chelsea boutiques, with all the butlers and yuppies and stockbrokers and Dukes with their massive mobile phones and their fil-o-faxes and barbour jackets, but I didn’t want to stand out too much as an oik from the estate, and headed off to Westminster to draw a panorama of Parliament Square.

portland rain again

Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
This past weekend I went on a brief jaunt to Portland, Oregon, on a mission for food, beer, comics, bookshops (well, one big bookshop), rain, great people, sketching and pirates (mostly for the pirates). I like Portland. I wanted to go somewhere to just take it easy, and Portland is that place. I didn’t even mind not doing too much sketching – if I did it, good, but if not, well that’s ok too, I just enjoy being somewhere like Portland. Of course I always do more sketching than I realise, but I’m glad I finally got to sketch the building above, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, that is, the big theatre downtown with that classic Portland sign. Built in 1928 It was raining, and so I stood across the street under some convenient cover and sketched away. Rain is nice. We have some here in Davis now but we’re just trying it out for a while; in Portland the rain is a character in its own right. I loved the Portland rain last time and walked about in it whenever I could. This time the rain was light and sprinkly, so I didn’t really get wet at all. Shortly before then, I was passing through Pioneer Square when who should be there but Santa Claus! He was there to welcome the brand new Christmas Tree, which arrived at the square on a big truck right after I got there; I had to do a very quick sketch, of course. You’ll notice there are two trucks – one carried the tree, and the other carried the additional branches. I watched them lift the tree, and then they spent a good deal of time attaching the other branches, I guess they drill holes into the main trunk and insert the branches to make it bushier. Well whaddayaknow!
Pioneer Sq, Portland

I have plenty more PDX sketches, including ones of the pirates from the Swashbuckler’s Ball, so stayed tuned Portland fans. The finishing off and scanning is still happening…