Exit from Exeter

Exeter station, Devon
“Exit from Exeter”. That is really not a very relevant title. I just really wanted to use the word ‘Exit’ in the same title as ‘Exeter’. I scratched ‘Exiting Exeter’ because it could be misread as ‘Exciting Exeter’, and who am I to judge? I was only there for about 50 minutes, and I never left Platform 1. I wasn’t really in Exeter long enough to be really Exiting. ‘Departing from Devon’? I had taken the train from Barnstaple, and changed here at Exeter St. David’s for the train back to London. There was an Exeter rugby match happening that day, so there were several fans on board the train across Devon. I knew that I could get some sketching time in at the station while I waited, so I picked a spot and drew. It’s pretty standard classic English railway station stuff. I like travelling by train, and my journey went well. I actually did the colouring-in while on the train, reserving a table seat ahead of time. I would like to spend a bit more time in Exeter if I came back here again, maybe just a couple of hours to draw the cathedral, which I hear is quite nice. I do like drawing cathedrals. I have a dream to travel the whole of England, drawing all the cathedrals, and then go to France and do the same. I wanted to get back to London though, to pack my bag for the flight back to California. I was in Paddington by the late afternoon. Stepping onto the Paddington platform, I was struck by how cathedral-like it was. Maybe I should draw the railway stations of Britain. I’m sounding like a trainspotter. I already look like one.

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panoramtrakstation

Amtrak Station Pano Sept 2018 sm

Saturday afternoon and I needed to sketch more. Yes yes I have drawn everything in town and want a new perspective on the same things, I am not feeling super creative right now though, and finding little comfort in the usual sketching, i suppose I am just in need of another long journey somewhere far away with lots of interesting streets and angles, somewhere like Porto for example (but maybe without the tired legs). There are still views to discover here though. I have drawn the Amtrak station before, of course I have but never while stood behind that circular fountain feature outside of Tres Hermanas on 2nd St. So that is what I stood and drew, while listening to a History podcast (two guys talking about the extraordinary history of ordinary things, such as the ‘history of the lean’, or the ‘history of clouds’, a really fresh perspective not only on history but on observing the world and universe itself – the sort of thing I should really be thinking about more, in fact you might say it has inspired me to think more  like that, or rather, it’s inspired me to do that tomorrow. Next week). I needed a panorama. I must say I am using the softcover Stillman and Birn ‘Alpha’ landscape sketchbook and, while I do love the paper, I can’t wait to be done with this book. The softcover is starting to bug me. I need the hardback again. My next cued-up book is another Seawhite of Brighton book, then I’ll likely use the hardcover Alpha again. The softcover is fine if I’m sat at a table, and its slightly smaller scale means I can draw a panorama more quickly than in the slightly bigger hardcover. The way I stand though, it becomes awkward keeping it open, especially as I get further into the book. So, I’m looking forward to finishing it, which means I need to draw a lot more.

I’d really like to publish a book of Davis panoramas, that’s my intention. I’ve not worked that out yet, but I do have quite a few already. To see this one more closely, either move your face really close to the screen, or click on it and a larger version will pop up.

out and about in madrid

Mercado San Miguel Madrid

Not far from where we were staying in Madrid was the Mercado San Miguel. This covered market – well, more like a food hall – was chock full of fresh food and drink to buy and enjoy in a very Madrid atmosphere. We came here a few times for tapas, churros, sangria, but I decided it needed sketching so late one evening when the family went to bed I came across the street, got a sangria and some olives stuffed with mussels, and sketched the bustling gourmet mercado before going home at midnight. The red sangria was delicious. There were lots of tourists there, Americans dragging their sleepy teenaged kids around to experience late-night Spanish culture, some groups of English men on more sensible weekenders than the ones down at the Costa Brava, young ladies sampling Spanish wine and desserts, and occasionally a few locals too, I guess, or maybe visitors from other parts of Spain. I wasn’t really paying much attention to all the people and their conversations, I was looking at the ironwork on the ceiling. I did really enjoy this place, though it is very self-contained and not as large or diverse as the big market in Barcelona that I sketched in 2003. However it was a nice taste of Madrid, literally.

Palacio Cristal

Above is the Palacio Cristal, located in the Parque Dell Buen Retiro, the expansive green space in the heart of the city. We spent an afternoon wandering about here, among the trees and lawns, and we sat for a while by this lovely old building. This might have been my favourite part of Madrid. I sometimes forget in my rush to see big exciting urban wonders that I actually love great urban parks more than anything. I always loved Hyde Park, Regents Park, Central Park in New York of course. Buen Retiro (“Pleasant Retreat”) is exactly that, and dotted with great structures such as this, the Palacio Cristal. This was built in 1887 by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco, possibly inspired by Paxton’s great Crystal Palace in London. Unlike that one, this palace was never relocated to a southern suburb to become the name of a football team and then burn down, and it still sits pretty among the greenery today. I sketched it while we took a break from all the walking. There was a pretty steep street to enter the park, Calle Claudio Moyano, lined with second-hand book stalls and the occasional cold drinks spot, so by the time we reached the middle of the park our feet needed a rest. Well my son’s didn’t, he wanted to kick a ball around but had left it at the apartment. So, we drew this.

Atocha Station Madrid

Speaking of greenery, this is the Atocha train station, in Madrid. We went there to catch a train to Toledo, and were then delayed by the fact you need to wait in a long line to buy a ticket to Toledo. More like Delayed-oh. Sorry, that was a bad pun, even for me. So, it gave me time to do a sketch of the incredible botanical garden they have inside the main atrium. This was also one of the stations where the awful terrorist attacks of 2004 took place, killing 193 people. The legacy of that atrocity is still visible in the fact that to board a train in Spain, or at least the ones we boarded, you need to go through security and have bags x-rayed.

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Here are some Madrid people, sketched while we lunched on pizza outside the Museo Reina Sofía. We spent all morning in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, yet barely scratched the surface of this large art gallery. I was there first and foremost to see Guernica, Picasso’s huge classic, which paints the horrors of an aerial bombardment of a small Basque city by German planes late in the Spanish Civil War. It’s been one of my favourite paintings since I was at school, so to finally see it for real in all its vast, immersive terror was quite an experience. It was accompanied by lots of Picasso’s preparatory sketches, and other paintings by him and by other artists around the time that led up to and influenced this masterpiece. There was a whole section on the art of the Spanish Civil War. That is one conflict I feel I have never really understood properly. It’s always been talked about, written about, painted about, but its legacy lived on right through the end of Franco and probably beyond. Being in Madrid for the first time, I felt a sense of urgency that I need to educate myself about this civil war and about the people of Spain, which I think is a much more complicated country historically than many non-Spanish people know. So, I need to start doing some reading. If our trip to the Reina Sofía has done anything it has made me resolve to learn more. The other thing I enjoyed about the Reina Sofía was the abundance of works by that other great cubist, Juan Gris. I used to love Juan Gris when I was an A-Level art student, I did a project on him and we all went to see an exhibition of his work at Whitechapel. My favourite thing about him though was all the jokes I could use with his name, all really based on either being Hungry or Angry. As I repeated quite often, “Don’t make me Juan Gris, you won’t like me when I’m Juan Gris.” I bet Picasso and Braques used to say that to him all the time.

sketchcrawl sunday scavengers

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Last Sunday we held the latest “Let’s Draw Davis!” sketchcrawl in downtown Davis, starting at the Amtrak Station and finishing up at Mansion Square. This one was, unlike the other ones I’ve organized in Davis, a “scavenger sketch-hunt”. I provided everyone with a list of things at the start, things which could be found in that section of downtown Davis, and they had to draw between 8-12 of them to win a sticker at the end. In truth, just getting to the end meant you got a sticker, but it’s a good fun way to explore and have ideas of things to draw. I think everyone really enjoyed it! I was told it helps some people get over the “what should I draw” conundrum, like Inktober or Every Day Matters – little prompts, totally optional. I’ll do that again.

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The list is as follows:

  1. The Amtrak Station (or part of)
  2. A Fire Hydrant
  3. A Bicycle
  4. A Piece of Public Art (sculpture, mural)
  5. A Giraffe
  6. A Public Pay-phone
  7. A Musical Instrument
  8. Another Sketcher
  9. A Barber’s Shop
  10. A Bottle
  11. A Street Sign
  12. The Varsity Theatre (or just the sign)

For the record, I managed eight of them – numbers 1, 2 (obviously, come on), 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12. Here’s why I didn’t get all 12 – I draw fast, but not that fast. No, not just that. IT RAINED ALL DAY! Unusual for Davis. But I spent some of the summer sketching in Manchester so it felt a little familiar. It wasn’t raining when we started, and we had quite the turnout (around 25 sketchers) despite the threat of rain. A lot of people set up across from the station to sketch it, and I sketched some of them – and then the rain came, and it didn’t stop until, haha, right after the sketchcrawl finished. Like, immediately afterwards, blue skies. Ah well. So, here are my sketches of the sketchers Jesse, Omar and Emily:

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As you can see, splotches of rain started slowly splashing onto the page as I sketched Omar and Jesse; I had to duck under cover when adding colour to Emily’s sketch.

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Here is my sketch of the Amtrak Station, sketched in a dry spot next to the building opposite. Most sketchers had ducked for cover, but there is one with a brolly (a few others held umbrellas and sketched too but didn’t last as long as that sketcher!).

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Yeah it was raining hard when I sketched this bike. I was stood beneath a shopfront awning and the rain was still getting to me, so I just painted it quickly. I had wanted to sketch either the large giraffe statue or the giraffe bench opposite this on F Street, but the rain was too heavy to get a decent vantage-point.

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I did have a nice dry spot to sketch the Davis Barber Shop though. I have never sketched this place before, and should really sketch inside some day. I was glad they were open on Sundays. The barber was kind enough to let other sketchers in to sketch, and I think he liked my rendition of the outside. I kept it simple and didn’t add paint, as I wanted to move on.

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I have sketched the Varsity a million times before and this day was so rainy and grey that I didn’t need to worry about that blue sky bringing out the white building or the shadows cast beneath it, however the pink and blue of the neon sign was too cool to pass up. I added a blueish grey marker to the foreground tree.

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Right, a few items to check off the scavenger hunt list. The street sign, obvious. The bottle, that was at De Vere’s though I had included a bottle on the list just to advertise my show at Putah creek Winery, basically, in case people went by there. And the trumpet, fulfilling the ‘musical instrument’ sketch. Actually it is a coronet, and I sketched it at Watermelon Music on E St, which will be vacating its downtown spot at the end of the year and relocating to West Davis, due to the new landlords downtown forcing all these local businesses to close. Yes, some tough times ahead for downtown. Well, I like Watermelon, and bought some guitar strings as I am inspired now (after seeing Paul McCartney live in Sacramento recently – wow that was awesome! My 12 year old Macca-obsessed past self was smiling down on me that night). Several other sketchers had been in drawing stuff, they didn’t seem to mind too much, and I asked if it was ok if I drew too. I’ll miss them; I probably won’t cycle out to West Davis, see, kinda far for me.

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Yeah, the rain was getting a bit much so time for an interior, and where else but De Vere’s. This time I drew the familiar bar but played a bit with the colours and I LOVE it, that blue and yellow. I’ll do more of that. I had a nice stout, good choice on a drizzly day.

And then we all met up at the end, well about a quarter of those who had started, and I gave out more stickers such as those ones below. I hope everyone had fun! The next Let’s Draw Davis sketchcrawl will be on Saturday November 12, at Vanderhoef Quad on the UC Davis campus, starting at 10:30am. I’ll post a poster soon!

’tis grand to be in new york

NYC Grand Central
Did I mention how cold New York was? It was so cold, even brass monkeys wore gloves. I don’t even get that. It was so cold, I had to open the fridge to warm my hands, no I said that one last time. It was so cold, I lost the ability to think of anything ever. There, that works.

But it wasn’t too cold to sketch.

I tell a lie, it definitely 100% was too cold to sketch, but for the sake of it, for the sake of urban sketching as a thing, I jolly well did it, because, well I’m not in New York every day. Sadly.

This was done on the Saturday afternoon, the second coldest day of the trip (oh wow, the 14th was even colder, it was so cold that it made Frosty the Snowman look like the Human Torch, see I’m just not very good at these analogies and things, I don’t know if that’s really what I do. I would be terrible in one of those schoolyard “yo mama is so fat…” contests you always hear about, I would be like, “yeah, shuttup, you mug, stop being sizeist” or something. Anyway back to the sketch. Yes, I stood in the sub-sub-freezing-cold weather and sketched the scene above. In the goshdarned cold. Oh I was wrapped up warm, unbelievably warm. Multiple layers of clothing, two jackets, gloves, thick hat, thermal longjohns, two pairs of socks, look I’m not going to describe my whole wardrobe here (stripey underpants, ok?) but I was pretty warm. But that cold, man. Amazingly my uni-ball signo um-151 pen held up pretty well and did not let me down. I did all the inkwork except for about half the windows on the skyscraper (it’s the Chrysler Building for those of you who have not heard of New York before) and some of the windows on that other building in the background (I believe the phrase that I uttered when I got to that part was ‘sod that’), and then added the paint once I got inside somewhere warm (I went to an igloo on Pluto). This is Grand Central Station.

Sorry, sorry, I meant Grand Central Terminus. What? ‘Terminal’? Right ok, it’s Grand Central Terminal. Only an out of town bumpkin like me would call it ‘Station’. In fact I think it’s one of those things whereby they go around telling people it’s ‘Station’ just so that when people repeat it to New Yorkers they can get laughed at. Actually I think none of this is  true at all, this is in fact entirely a conversation I had in my head while sketching, in fact the imaginary conversation turned a bit ugly at one point and I had to break up the imaginary out-of-towner who was all, “you think you’re better than me, huh” and the imaginary New Yorker who had dropped his imaginary banter and moved straight into an imaginary aggressive “huh, wiseguy, huh, well things are gonna get real ‘terminal’ for you soon buddy”, and well I just left them to it frankly, this completely imaginary conversation that didn’t happen. I went indoors, and sketched in there instead.
NYC Grand Central Terminal

I did wonder where Avengers Tower was, since my New York is so bound to the imaginary. Being inside the immensely impressive Grand Central reminded me of that scene in Avengers when Thor and Hulk take out those Chitauri, and then Hulk punches Thor sideways. It also reminded me a lot of the Lego Marvel video game, the bit where you have to fight Sandman. I liked standing in here sketching, and I had intended on adding colour as well, but the day was moving along fast and I wanted to get back and go for dinner. I was told afterwards that there is an amazing place in the downstairs food court for beer and oysters, and I wish I had tried it, but that just gives me an excuse to go back to New York. Hey, do we even need an excuse to go back to New York? It’s an amazing city, with more sketching to be done there than I can possibly imagine (and yeah, punchline coming, I can imagine quite a bit).

(Except when talking about the cold)

drawing davis, last saturday

sketchers at davis amtrak station
A nice peaceful scene, sketchers sketching in the shade. Last Saturday, several of us Davis sketchers met at the Amtrak station for the latest ‘Let’s Draw Davis’ sketchcrawl, which was going to go along 2nd Street. It was a very nice meet up, with several new faces, some of whom I had met at my recent talk at the bookstore, and some highly proficient kids too – much faster and more detailed than me! One boy’s sketches reminded me of how I would draw when I was a kid, just going for it with confidence and speed, and that is something we urban sketchers all need to remember. I always have to remind myself, thinking takes up most of the time it takes to do a drawing, so better to think less and just trust yourself. Nevertheless, I still struggled a bit to get the sort of sketches of this station that I want, as evidenced by my next efforts, which do the job of saying where we are but don’t quite do what I was hoping:

davis amtrak station
I have always struggled sketching the Amtrak station. It’s those arches, they’re really hard to line up. It really is a lovely building, but I’ve never been able to do it justice. One thing I can sketch however are those metal pipe things that come out of the ground, backflow preventers. I love sketching those. However I chose to sketch this one, lodged in between the Hunt Boyer mansion and Mishka’s, right at the end of the day and so ran out of time. It was too hot out to finish (I went home with a headache and went straight to bed), but I like the unfinished look. I did do another sketch, while eating lunch, but I’ll post that separately, as thematically it looks different from all of these.

backflow next to mishkas

Many thanks to all who came, it was great to meet and sketch with you! One fellow sketcher it was particularly nice to see again was Robin Carlson, who I met at the Portland symposium back in 2010 (she coloured in one of my sketches at the first workshop there), nice to catch up.

Now hopefully we will have a July sketchcrawl in Davis though I’ll not be organizing it, but stay tuned. The worldwide sketchcrawl is on July 13, and there is a large gathering of urban sketchers happening in the San Francisco Bay Area that weekend which you may be interested in also. Me, I will be at an even larger gathering of urban sketchers in Barcelona

across the tracks

davis amtrak station

Attempted Davis Amtrak station again, from a different angle this time.  Went downtown on Sunday morning to do some sketching, and it rained! Not much, spitting really, but it was difficult to sit and draw in the rain. Sure I’ve done it before, but under shelter, not when the drops are getting on the page. So I gave up and did most of this back at home.