oakland on sunday

Oakland Tribune tower

Despite living here in northern California since my twenties, I had never been to Oakland. Never! Well, I’d been through it on the BART, on the way to San Francisco, but that’s not the same. And we flew out of and back into the airport once. or was it twice? Also, on my very first trip to the US, way back in 2002, my future brother-in-law took me to a baseball game at the Coliseum, where we watched the Oakland A’s play against the Cleveland Indians. That was back when the Indians had their old ‘Chief Wahoo’ logo. It was the first time I had experienced American sport, and it was completely different from going to the football in England. There were families there, they all did this ballpark song after about the seventh innings, you spent most of the time getting food and beer, but they had TVs in the food line and the toilets so you could see what was going on, and then there were the garlic fries, an experience I’ll never forget. So anyway that was my only experience of Oakland, and since living in Davis, I had never actually been to Oakland proper, walked around, sketched. Why not? I’m not entirely sure, but I don’t go down to the Bay Area very often and usually just go to San Francisco, and occasionally Berkeley. Oakland was never talked about as “oh you should go to Oakland, yeah”, more “oh you should not go to Oakland, yeah”, usually making references to the murder rate. So I had just never been. That’s not that unusual really, I wasn’t actively avoiding it, just never got around to it. There are places in London I’ve never been. I’ve never been to the Thamesmead Estate. Bad example, actually, that’s hard to get to from north London and has a bit of a crime-y reputation. (So maybe it’s a good example?) Ok, well I’ve never been to Fulham. I’ve never been to Richmond Park. I’ve never been to Putney, supposed to be nice there, I’ve never bothered going. Further afield, I’ve never been to Wales. I’ve never been to Bournemouth, or the Peak District, or Hadrian’s Wall. So Oakland is just another place that’s just there, it’s not going anywhere, and I’ve just never really gotten around to going to. So a couple of weeks ago I decided fairly spur of the moment to put that right. I got on a train to the Bay Area (see my previous post if you don’t believe me), jumped on the BART at Richmond (and it was a very modern BART, much has changed in two years), and got out at 12th Street Oakland. It was a Sunday lunchtime, and was pretty quiet. You had the usual characters shuffling about that you get in any big city street, no more than Davis really, the fact it was a Sunday meant it felt a little bit empty of usual foot traffic. Not a lot of people come to hang out in downtown Oakland on a Sunday, like many American cities actually. I knew I wanted to go and sketch the tall tower of the Oakland Tribune (‘Tribune Tower’; not really used by the newspaper any more) so I found that, stood by a bus stop and sketched the top of it. I didn’t know what to expect of downtown Oakland, so I thought I could maybe draw this, look around, and if nothing else seems interesting I’d just jump back on the BART to Berkeley, which I at least already know. I ended up staying the rest of the afternoon in Oakland, just exploring a bit, and I’m glad I did because I found a few gems, and a vibe I don’t find in San Francisco, and certainly not Davis.

Oakland Fox Theater

I wandered about, not exactly sure where to go, having no real orientation for the area. There’s nowhere in downtown Oakland that anyone has ever recommended to me to go and sketch so I was climbing free solo. Ok, I wasn’t climbing free solo, I was walking around a few streets within a block or two of a BART station, I’m hardly doing the Appalachian Trail. I followed my nose though. I drew a fire hydrant (below) because they look a bit different, and you have to capture one wherever you go. Then I found the beautiful Fox Oakland Theatre, with the big Oakland sign, and found a doorway with some shade across the street to draw it in. It opened in 1928, but as the sign says it has been ‘dark’ since 3/13/20, that fateful day when These Unprecedented Times began. I always struggle to capture the grandness of a tall ornate theatre on a small Moleskine page, but it was too sunny to stand beneath it and draw with a sense of perspective so across the street in a shady doorway I hid. The building closed in the mid-sixties and was used only occasionally for a number of years, and in the mid-seventies they nearly tore it down and put up a parking lot. But Oakland knew what they had before it was gone, and so plans to Joni the Mitchell out of that old building were scrapped and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Eventually it was restored and refurbished, and reopened in 2009 as a concert hall. Now of course, still closed during the pandemic… but that’s changing, and on their website it looks like shows have been announced from September, people like Wilco, Judas Priest, and… Madness! Apparently Madness will be playing there next May. Wow! Might have to look into that.

oakland hydrant

I got hungry. I had passed a sign for “Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken” earlier, and that sounded good. I mean it’s World Famous so it must be good, right? I ain’t joking – best decision ever. I got a three piece meal of white meat chicken, and WOW it was huge, and absolutely delicious. This was no KFC, no late-night London pre-night-bus chicken, this was a lot of tender meat with the most amazing batter, spicy with the hot sauce but with refreshing coleslaw to offset it. I sat inside the restaurant (good choice, this would have been too big to eat out on the street), and the server was really friendly.  Made the whole day trip worth it. Gus's Fried Chicken Oakland

I wandered about some more. There are lots of murals in downtown Oakland, particularly in support of black lives matter, and black rights movements in general. Oakland is a well known African-American community city and many prominent black figures have come from Oakland, such as Ryan Coogler, the director who made Marvel’s Black Panther (the opening scenes of that film are set in Oakland) as well as Fruitvale Station. MC Hammer is from Oakland. Oakland is also the birthplace of Vice President Kamala Harris. I wandered around a few blocks, looking for something to draw. Outside a bar there was an open sir seating area fenced off, with loud music playing. I saw that there was a drag artist singing (actually miming) and dancing along to songs from Madonna and the like, putting in brilliant colourful performances. It looked like there were several performing one after another, not to a big crowd, just a few seated people drinking, but it was pretty magnificent to watch. It’s Pride Month, I think it was related to that. So I listened to the music and drew nearby, this old building on the corner of 15th. Further down the street, I came across a small gallery that was closed, but the name jumped right out at me: “Burnt Oak Gallery“! It was clearly meant to be. I didn’t have a lot of time until my BART back to Richmond (they aren’t too frequent on Sundays), and I got the train back to Davis having finally checked Oakland off my list, and I will be back for more of that fried chicken.

Oakland 15th and Franklin 060621

Dublin Part 2: literally littered with literature

Dublin Beckett Bridge sm

Time to return to the second Shelter-In-Place sketchbook project I did, which was a short trip around Dublin in no particular direction. I drew this all in a book my friend Simon got me in Dublin, and since he ended up actually moving there this past summer I drew this in his honour, and then I mailed it over as a Christmas present recently; I hope he likes it. It’s been a while since I was last in Dublin, and it’ll be a while until I am back, but all of my grandparents (except the Belfast one) came from Dublin, and their parents, and their parents, and their parents, and so on for as long as ancestry.com can keep finding us. Lot of Scullys, Higginses, O’Donnells and other names too numerous to list. So Dublin kind of feels like home, in that special way which is completely and utterly imaginary; there are places where my dad lived in England that don’t particularly feel like home to me but places where grandparents who died before I was born, to be sure to be sure ’tis no place like wherever part of town they were from. Still I really enjoyed exploring the city virtually, and felt connections more from memories of previous visits over the course of my life than anything else. So, on which the journey! The bridge above was there when I last went, but not before. It’s the Samuel Beckett Bridge, named after surprisingly not the time-travelling Quantum Leaper but the bearded man who wrote that play with Magneto and Charles Xavier in it, En Attendant Gal Gadot. Spanning the Liffey at a wider point than many of the ones upstream, and is supposed to look like a harp on its side. It was designed by Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the Liège Guillemins station in Belgium, which I visited in 2019 (nothing I love more then a Belgian train station, but this one is pretty spectacular to look at and my friend Gerard Michel drew it in his own spectacular fashion). I liked this particular view because the sign (commonly seen around Dublin) says in Irish and English “Críoch /End”, which reminded me of Crouch End, an area where I used to live in London for a while.

Dublin Lilliput Press sm

This is the Lilliput Press, in Viking Place in the north side of Dublin. It’s an independent bookshop and publisher. My next door neighbour here in Davis told me he has been published by them (he’s from Dublin). I just liked the look of it at the end of this very Dublin road, the sort of thing I would seek out and draw. Although if I drew it in person the perspective would be slightly lower down and I might not be in the middle of the road. This is how you can tell it’s from Google Street View, they have those cameras that are higher up than human eye level. I like it when they are carried around in a backpack and you see the person’s reflection in a shop window, or when people sitting outside a pub all wave and call out, their faces erased by Google’s face-erasing tech. They have your face, it belongs to them now and you can’t have it back. Your haircut remains your own. The Lilliput Press (https://www.lilliputpress.ie/) looks interesting though (it is a Swift reference, I think it’s from his song “Lily put the kettle on”) and reminds me, I need to read more. I always forget to read books these days. We all do now don’t we, since we have those electronic face-stealing devices in our hands all the time. Yet every time I read a real actual book these days I am compelled to write, and write, and write. It probably shows then that I have not been reading enough, because I’ve not been writing. Until this week my last blog was in November, and I haven’t written my personal diary in many many months (a lot has happened in those months too, such as buying a house and the second half of the pandemic year, it’s like I’m going to need a long Star Wars opening crawl to get my diary back up to speed). Then again, I really haven’t many stories to tell, and I’m not going to tell the story of being at home during the pandemic lockdown because firstly, everyone has their own story and secondly nobody wants to hear it, or at least I don’t. Anyway back to the story about an imaginary trip around Dublin that I didn’t take this year. 

Dublin Trinity College sm

This is Trinity College Dublin. We did come here on my last visit, and it was an oasis of calm away from the very busy streets of central Dublin. Trinity College is a big important university in Dublin where very clever people work. I also work at a university with very clever people but they are pretty clever at Trinity. For example in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, UC Davis ranks but #64 while Trinity ranks, let me have a look at the top 100 list again, ok I’ll look again later, it must be so high up I can’t find it. Wait, #155? Are you sure? That’s lower than Southampton, no disrespect to Southampton. The Sorbonne is listed at #87, tied with USTC in China (where a lot of our best Stats students in our program come from); Oxford is #1, followed by Harvard and Stanford. I’ve never been too invested in those particular rankings lists, except when I am using them to show prospective students how great we are (for example UC Davis is the #1 vet med school on Earth, and back in 2011 we were ranked as the “10th happiest college campus in America”, which meant that there were nine happier campuses, which made me feel a tiny bit sadder). Trinity is a pretty renowned research university though with a long history (and is ranked #1 in Ireland, of course). It dates back to 1592, Queen Elizabeth I opened it. It’s also where you can find the famous Book of Kells. I think I saw that on my trip here in ’97, I know that we went to the actual town of Kells, and I also read a book, so maybe my memory is playing up. The college grounds are pretty grand, but crammed right into the city centre there. I got away with drawing too much on this page by drawing one taller building, and then drawing all the other buildings smaller. However the paper being so thin, you can see the other drawings through the page. Famous alumni of Trinity include Bram Stoker, who wrote Count Dracula; Samuel Beckett, who wrote Waiting for Gal Godot; Oscar Wilde, who wrote/drew The Picture of Dory and Gray; Jonathan Swift, who wrote Gulliver’s Travels and Lily Put the Kettle On; and other people who maybe didn’t write stuff like that but were still very clever.

Dublin Gate Theatre sm

Dublin is a place full of writers though, just buckets of them, literally waste-paper-baskets full. Literary-bins. That’s why there are so many literary tours, they need people to write the guide leaflets for them all. Playwrights too, they love to wright plays, Dublin has a long tradition of the stage. The most famous theatre is the Abbey Theatre, which is the National Theatre of Ireland, but this is The Gate, which is a good theatre too. I mean it’s not the Abbey but it’s still totally fine. I admit, I don’t really know that much about Irish theatre. I have a degree in drama but I didn’t really study the history of Irish plays. Obviously I have heard of a lot of Irish dramatists, your Oscar Wildes, your Samuel Becketts (not the Quantum Leap one, the other one), your Roddy Doyles (lots of swearing, lots of “Feck This” and “Feck That”, and the other one, you know the one I mean, worse than “Feck”), your George Bernard Shaws (don’t call him George to his face, he hates it, and pronounce it BERNard nor BerNARD, and when he corrects you on his name don’t reply “are you Shaw?” because he really hates that too), your Jack Charltons (um, not Irish and not a dramatist, I just wanted to mention him here because he will come up later). Incidentally as well as “Pygmalion”, George Call-Me-Bernard Shaw also wrote “Man and Superman”, which is a prequel to Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice, before Batman became Batman and was just a crime-fighting crusader called Man. The Gate Theatre though was where many famous Irish acting people started out, your Michael Gambons (Dumbledore #2, Fantastic Mr Fox), your Geraldine Fitzgeralds (Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory, Arthur 2: On The Rocks) and your Orson Wellses (I know, not Irish, but according to Wikipedia, in 1931 while on a walking and painting trip to Ireland Orson waltzed into the Gate, still a new theatre then, and announced he was a Broadway star and that they should give him a place on the stage at once. It worked, they put him in a play as a Duke and within a year he was acting in a Somerset Maughan play at the Abbey, and by 1941 he was making Citizen Kane, so that’s a lesson for you kids right there). Drawing this, which is right past the top end of O’Connell Street, I was drawn to the spots of yellow so added those colours in. 

Dublin O Connell Street sm

Speaking of O’Connell Street (Sráid Uí Chonaill in Irish), this is the entrance of the great boulevard right down by the Liffey. The statue is of Daniel O’Connell himself, one of the greatest of all Irish political leaders from back in the 19th century. It is not Daniel O’Donnell, who is someone else entirely. I must admit, brought up with a degree of Irishness as we were in my north-west London family in the late 80s, I didn’t know who Daniel O’Connell was. I knew who Wolfe Tone was but only because we listened to the Wolfe Tones a lot. Daniel O’Donnell on the other hand well, he was much beloved by my mother and all those ladies older than her. Daniel O’Donnell records played in our house as much as anyone, the boyish Irish crooner was very popular. I like the version of him they did on Father Ted, Eoin McLove. There was a lot of Irish music in our house in the mid 80s to early 90s. We did listen to that Wolfe Tones tape over and over, but I think our favourite was the great Brendan Shine. “Catch me if you can, me name is Dan, sure I’m your man.” I did see him at the Irish festival in Southport (was he performing with Philomena Begley? I forget) but mum went to see him down at the Galtymore in Cricklewood if I remember rightly. Pretty sure she saw Daniel O’Donnell there more than once too. They liked going down to the Galty, and the Town and Country, back in the 80s. My mum and dad were very outgoing and social, much more than I’ve been as a grown up. Music was big in our house growing up though, and especially Irish music. When I learned the guitar one of the first songbooks I had was a book of Irish classics. It was written more for the piano but I just needed the words and the chord names. I always the songs liked James Connolly, The Mountains of Mourne, and The Banks Of My Own Lovely Lee. Honestly though, I really couldn’t sing for peanuts, so it was when I first heard the Pogues that I didn’t feel quite so bad. Anyway, O’Connell Street, the first time I came here as a kid I remember there was an older lady who would walk up and down smiling to the sky, oblivious to everyone, walking up a few steps, back a few more, on and on all day. My big sister pointed her out because she remembered seeing her when she came to Dublin as a kid in the 70s, and I’ve subsequently heard from other Dubliners that she walked up and down that street for years. I remember there was another character on that street she pointed out, a man who also walked up and down, but I don’t remember much about him. I’ve always found that the streets themselves are the best stage, and have the most interesting characters. Maybe I’ve just been to a lot of bad plays.

Dublin Aviva Stadium sm

And finally, a different sort of stage. This is the Aviva Stadium, aka Lansdowne Road, which is the great Irish football stadium. Not just football of course, but other sports too. Rugby, er, music, loads of sports. Not gaelic football or hurling though, as far as I’m aware, they take place at Croke Park. Among other places. I don’t really follow other sports, I’ve watched rugby a few times but my sport is football/soccer, which someone told me in Ireland was about the sixth or seventh most popular sport after gaelic football, hurling, rugby, fishing, cycling, and I don’t know, snap or snakes and ladders. I just remember lots of people supported (a) Celtic and (b) either Liverpool or Manchester Untied. My main national team is the Republic, I won five Ireland shirts compared to one England shirt (the 2010 red umbro away kit, well it is a lovely kit, though I don’t wear it that often). One of my favourite Ireland shirts is the 1995 Umbro shirt, the ‘Father Dougal’ shirt, the one Dougal wears to bed. I still have that shirt and it still fits. I remember Lansdowne Road from the great Jack Charlton era, when they were great in the late 80s / early 90s, when we were listening to a lot of Brendan Shine and Wolfe Tones and Daniel O’Donnell (well, Mum was). Jack Charlton died this year, famous World Cup winner with England and brother of the much more talented Bobby, Leeds legend and danger to ankles everywhere Jack Charlton was the man who transformed the Irish national team into one that would go to play in World Cups, partly by looking up the grandparents of half the players in the English Football League. He was a legend. My favourite moments with his team were (a) beating England in the Euro 88 (I still have the t-shirt), (b) his angry rant on the sidelines during Ireland v Mexico at USA 94, and (c) when Ireland beat Romania on penalties at Italia 90 and my Mum ran down the road screaming with joy. Also a big fan of when we beat Italy too, I still have the t-shirt celebrating that. The old Lansdowne Road was demolished and they built this great big modern stadium in its place. You might notice actually, in this little square of low-roofed houses dwarfed by the big glass spaceship that has landed behind it, there are a couple of Dublin lads playing hurling on the green. I have watched hurling a couple of times on tv as a kid, the All-Ireland Hurling Final, and witnessed the real passions this sport brings about, notably a punch-up between two pensioners in a pub in Kilburn over the result of a Galway-Tipperary game. I walked across a field of people playing it once too, which was one of the scariest moments in my life, that hurley ball looks like it’s made of concrete and flies about at several hundred miles an hour. 

And that is it for part two, join me at some point for part three, the finale.

A few fall days in Portland

Portland Arlene Schnitzer theatre
Last November after the Fall soccer season had ended I decided to take a weekend away in Portland, Oregon. It’s going to be a while before we can just take weekends away again huh. I’ve come up to Portland a few times in the past, usually November time, for a short break away from Davis, and I have good sketching friends up there going back to the first Urban Sketching Symposium in 2010. There is good food, drinks, bookshops, old buildings, falling leaves, comics, and generally lots to do. I stayed right downtown this time around, a good choice although I discovered that the food carts around 10th and Alder that I like to go to have been moved on due to construction of a huge building on that site. Boo! The nice folks at Finnegans Toys told me where to find some good food carts nearby though. I always like to get a nice hot Thai meal. Anyway, this is the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, which is a good thing to draw in Portland because it says “Portland” on it, and you can put it on the top of your blog post when writing about it six months later. My sketchblog is becoming like Marvel Unlimited, everything is added half a year after it first came out.
Portland public library 111719
I like the autumnal colours. Or the Fall colors if you will. I was maybe a week or two late for the brightest blooms, and many of the trees were leafless already, but a few patches of autumn brilliance were still there. Grey skies, short afternoons, and brilliantly coloured leaves give me a cozy feeling inside, like 4:45pm on a late October Saturday afternoon in England as the football results come in (that is by the way the best time of day ever). Above is the Portland Public Library. I came in for a while, I like libraries (again, going back to those grey Saturday afternoons when I was a teenager and would go to libraries across north west London looking for books about languages and places far away). Around the corner, behind the Arlene Schnitzer, there are several blocks of park leading down to Portland State University, lots of colourful foliage still blazing. I drew the Shemanski fountain (below).
Shemanski Fountain Portland
On the Saturday morning, I joined the Portland Urban Sketchers for a sketchcrawl at the Hawthorne Asylum Food Carts. We met at a cafe, there was a pretty good sized group, and before sketching everyone went round in a circle and introduced themselves, saying who their favourite artist was. There were lots of artists I had not heard of. When it was my turn, I said my favourite artist was Gerard Michel (he is too). We walked over to the Hawthorne Asylum; most of the carts were closed as it was early, but by lunchtime when we were getting done they opened up, and I had a pretty amazing egg/mushroom/cheese thing in a waffle, even thinking about it makes me hungry.
Hawthorne Asylum Food Carts PDX
Here’s what I drew. I also sketched sketchers (below!) and had some very nice conversations. We passed around our sketchbooks and wow, there were some incredible sketches, very inspiring. That’s why we do these sketchcrawls, we come away with ideas after seeing how other people produce such great pieces of artwork.
PDX sketchers 111619 sm

I was a bit ‘meh’ about my own work that day, I felt a bit mechanical and rusty, but I did also draw something mechanical and rusty (below) which I did like. I didn’t colour it in though. I’m not sure what it was but I suppose it must be a robot from the future.
Hawthorne Asylum Mechanical Thing PDX
After lunch, I walked up Hawthorne (a long old road) and reached my final destination, the Bagdad Theater. This is a McMenamin’s-run place, a restaurant and cinema, and I was coming to watch Jojo Rabbit (what a great film, one of my favourites and I’m so glad I saw it somewhere so incredibly cool). Anyway, my iPad was still very new, and I had not used it much to draw with in ProCreate, not outside anyway. So I had an hour and a half before the film started, time enough to finally draw this building I have wanted to sketch for almost a decade. The iPad was a fun way to sketch, and I learned a thing or two that day. Firstly, layers are really helpful! Secondly, white lettering on dark backgrounds is so much easier this way. Third, I can do the sky separately and using very different brushes to make it look more like actual cloud. I also learned that a bit more experimentation in how to colour will be very helpful. I very much enjoyed this sketch.
Bagdad Theatre Portland iPad sketch

I didn’t enjoy the street musician much though. Some young lad with an electric guitar and a microphone and an amplifier was stood right outside the Bagdad’s doors playing and singing. It was very loud. It wasn’t very good. I’m not being judgy of his musical talents, it may be better than my drawing with an iPad, but only one of those is being blared out around the street. A staff member from the Bagdad came out and asked him not to play there, as he was disturbing people inside. Naturally he got very lary and gave it all that, getting in the staff member’s face in that way that indignant young males of the species do when a female politely asks them to maybe not be so loud outside their business which is not only a restaurant but also a cinema. She went back inside and he continued for a bit longer. He was very loud, and used the microphone to tell the rest of Oregon that her request was illegal and that he had a right to play his music loud right there. Right or wrong, he must have realized he was perhaps being a bit of a dick because after ten minutes or so of occasionally singing – mostly vocalized ranting about the injustice, and reminding everyone that this is America – he decided to move along the street, to a spot about six feet away from me, and then proceeded to yell over the microphone about people who only live in Portland because they saw Portlandia, and the woman who told him not to play outside the Bagdad was breaking the law, and then a few conspiracy theories Thrown in there, and then onto how we’re all sinners and Christ was coming to reckon us or something, and guys this felt like a long bloody drawing. How I didn’t just turn around and pull the plug on the amp I don’t know. But eventually he packed up and sodded off, and I finished my sketch and went to see Jojo Rabbit. The movie was great, was the theatre was amazing, historic and grand, and you can grab a beer and order food and actually have it delivered to your seat while you watch the film! I had pizza.

I also drew several bar sketches in Portland but maybe I will compile those together in a different post.

A little London and a bit of Vegas

Haymarket London
I went back to London at the end of November / start of December for a short week, and managed to get in a couple of sketches while I was at it. Above is the view looking down Haymarket. It was a bright day. I really enjoy looking up in London, seeing what’s at rooftop level. Years ago I used to tourguide down this street, on the upper deck of an open-top bus, pointing out this, talking about that. That was twenty years ago now, how things have changed. These rooftops have not changed much. Another thing that hasn’t changed much, Phantom of the Opera is still playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre, which is on the right there, at the corner of Charles II Street. I went to see it once, I knew someone who worked for the show who got me a ticket, and I had to enter right as it was beginning, so it was dark as I went to my seat, which was in the front row, where people have long legs that I can trip over, and I tripped over and onto my head, and nearly fell into the musicians. Fun times, always the cool cat I was. Bit of a silly story though, Phantom of the Opera, at least the bits where Jar-Jar was messing around. Lightsabre fighting was amazing though. Wow that was twenty years ago, I remember it so well.
Victoria Palace Theatre London sm

A show I saw considerably recentlyer was Hamilton, which we saw right here in London two years ago, and then again in San Francisco last year. This is the Victoria Palace Theatre in Victoria, with Little Ben in the foreground. I drew this after leaving my Gatwick Express train and before jumping onto the Tube, that;s right, I arrive and immediately start sketching in the rain. Well I knew my wife would like this, she is a big fan of Hamilton the musical. I loved it too, especially the bit with the racecars, but I was sure Vettel would challenge him to a duel at the end, but he crashed out in the 46th lap after making another avoidable mistake. I have a really good memory for theatre stuff, it must be my degree in drama.
LHR-SAN sm
I didn’t draw much on this short London trip. It was really just to see the family, I just felt the need to come over there (maybe I had a feeling that 2020 would see us all stuck at home and unable to get across the Atlantic), catch up with some friends, and that’s it really. I bought a bunch of mince pies for christmas, a nice store assistant in Tesco Borehamwood showed me how to find all the boxes that had sell-by dates later than December 24, they were hidden deep. I was taking all my mince pies and yule logs and British festive foods with me to Hawaii for our Christmas vacation. But then it was time to go home, and sat on the plane I could tell was going to go home with a cold, just a feeling in my throat, back in the days when we just trusted our immense immune systems to do their job because that cold was probably just a cold, no worries. (It was, though I also picked up some bad nasal infection). I managed another sketch on the plane though, this time with the iPad, while Big Tex next to me planted his massive elbows on the armrest and beyond like it was manifest destiny. There was no social distancing in coach. It was another time, back in the 2010s.
Luxor bar Las Vegas sm

One more thing, one more trip back in time. I flew to London via Las Vegas, as it was the easiest route, but it meant I had to stay the night. It has been many years since I was in Vegas, so this one night away was going to be a bit of a time-travel trip, and so I chose to stay at the Luxor, which is the hotel we stayed at before our wedding way back in the mid 2000s. We still lived in London them, so the Luxor felt big and glamourous and futuristic. Yeah not so much this time. I checked in fairly late, the desk woman barely saying a single thing to me as she snatched my credit card and scornfully slammed it back, “welcome to Vegas, now f*%koff to wherever”. Nice to feel like a valued customer, not even telling me how to find my room in this ridiculous headache of a shopping mall. The room was dark and a bit grubby, peeling wallpaper that certainly has not had an upgrade since we were here in 2004. I walked about the casino, a depressing experience, unsure of what the time really was, and went to find some food, which I found, and didn’t enjoy. This is one of the older casinos, of course, but I’m just so not used to Vegas any more. Worst of all though was the smoke, hanging over everything like a plague-ridden miasma. This is definitely something I don’t miss, choking in other people’s fumes, irritating my nose, throat, eyes, soaking into my clothes, in a huge concrete pyramid. That gave me a headache more than the flashing Wheel of Fortune machines. Still this is a trip back in time. I contemplated walking over to New York New York where I remember having a fun evening with friends at the Five Nine Irishmen bar or whatever it’s called, when my mate Simon had the worst Guinness he ever drank, but instead I stopped for a couple of drinks at the bar in the centre of the Luxor, and drew what I could see amid the colourful 70s style haze. I listened to people talk, it seemed to be a mix of locals hanging out there rather than tourists, and the cocktail I had was nice, and the barstaff pleasant. I went to bed and got a good night’s sleep before the flight to London in the morning, though my own airways couldn’t wait to get out of the building.

midsummer indigo girls

Mondavi 2019 A1 sm
This will be another long post. I really did do a lot of sketching in 2019 and this is all from the same day. Apart from the sketch below, which was done at lunchtime (and coloured in afterwards) it’s all the same evening, midsummer night, June 21. I definitely haven’t already posted these, have I? I had been asked by the Mondavi Center at UC Davis to produce some sketches for their annual magazine, which is called “Gateway“. To do so, they invited me to come to the Indigo Girls show in an official sketcher capacity, to draw some of the outside, the lobby, and of the show itself (the last part being done in near total darkness). It was a fun night. The above was sketched outside the main entrance as people started to arrive.
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I drew some people outside the Mondavi Center arriving for the show. I got there early, picking people who stopped in one place, but I did some quick sketches of people walking past. I don’t think these people were together, and they didn’t all have flowery clothing, I added that in for fun. I sketched the ticket warden (or whatever they call them) because I loved how they stood out in their smart black and white, and they were all friendly, they usually are at the Mondavi.
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I was asked to sketch people in the lobby area, so I grabbed a wine and a place to stand. As it turned out I knew quite a few people who were attending the show, it was a popular one.
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And then it was time for the show. I was actually given a special seat, though it was in near-complete darkness. The opening act, Chastity Brown, was really good, I loved her voice, and she talked to the audience, as you can see above. Then below, the main event started. I was able to sketch some of the audience in between the shows, and also when lights were down. There was a lot of purple and blue light, and I struggled to see my pasge, but the music was great, and sketching to music makes the pen move so easily.
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I used the zoom function in my eyes* in to get a better look at the performers (*I squinted real hard), the two main guitar-playing singers (Amy Ray and Emily Saliers) and the very performative violin player in between them (I don’t recall their name). For some reason I needed to write down the chords.
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Anyway, a fun evening was had, it was a good show. So eventually the magazine came out in the Fall, using the outside sketch on the cover. Here it is!

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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.

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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.
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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.
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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!
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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/