need a little time to rest your mind

Virgin Atlantic to LHR July 2016 sm

Transatlantic travel can leave you feeling cramped up for days. Well, it does now I am 40. I don’t remember it happening so much when I was 39, a few months ago. Ah well, a week of non-stop sketching and wandering both London and Manchester clutching sketchbook to my body in that peculiar way that I do probably added to the effect somewhat. I have not started all the scanning yet from the many sketches I did at the Urban Sketching Symposium in Manchester (July 27-30), as well as the Sketching Wren’s London sketchcrawl (July 24) and the Let’s Draw London sketchcrawl at Trafalgar Square (July 23). Here though are the sketches in transit, starting with the Virgin Atlantic flight to London from SFO. As usual I barely slept a wink, my knees being squashed against the seat in front. I love flying Virgin Atlantic, but their legroom in Economy truly sucks.

Virgin Train to Manchester July 2016 sm

Virgin Trains on the other hand had pretty good legroom, and the train up to Manchester was a very pleasant journey. I sketched again in the “Lapin” Miquelrius notebook and listened to music from Mancunian bands while the countryside whizzed by.

Virgin Train to London July 2016 sm

On the train back from Manchester I sat by the window and sketched a much larger panorama; I had taken Paul Heaston’s workshop in Manchester and realized I do need to stretch that curving perspective a lot more. While I do love a bit of the old curvilinear as you know, I don’t stretch it quite so often as I might, and it’s a good game to play.

Virgin Atlantic to SFO August 2016 sm

And in this last one, the squashed flight back to California. I watched Force Awakens as you can see, and Civil War (while wearing my Captain America hoodie). I also watched Zootopia, or rather, “Zootropolis” as it is called for some reason in the British release. Stay tuned for the sketches from England. There are a lot of them…

digital sketches from the UCAAC

Here are a few different types of sketches from the recent UCAAC in Santa Barbara. I don’t know if they need to be presented in this odd tiled fashion that WordPress has but I quite like it; click on the images to get a bigger view. I’ve been trying to use my iPad Mini to sketch, using an app called Paper by 53. Digital sketching is a whole new ball game and I am very much learning as I go along. I have a little stylus, nothing fancy, it just has a soft rubbery nib. It’s not an expensive iPencil and this isn’t a top of the range iPad Air or a Surface Pro or any of that. There is a very slight lag in time when making my digital marks and working out what the different tools do, the few there are, is interesting. It’s different from the stuff I do in MS Paint, which is more pixel by pixel football shirts, and quite unusual compared to using actual paper and actual pens but it is relatively quick, coloring in using big blocks of colour is intensely fun, you can go back if you accidentally put a big thick turquoise line through the middle (yeah, touchscreens) and you don’t need to scan them. Hey, you DON’T NEED TO SCAN THEM! That is actually huge. Literally years of my life have been lost crouched over my scanner pressing sketchbooks against glass while a slowly moving light trundles underneath me. But I’m a digital beginner, and still exploring, tentatively. If you need any tips…well, there are more experienced digital sketchers out there, but I hope you like these. I’ll enjoy looking back on these early efforts in years to come. The big one is the keynote speaker of the conference, Lester P. Monts of the University of Michigan, who gave a very interesting talk about being a Global Citizen. I included the pre-coloured-in version of that sketch so you can see what it looked like before the colourful blocks were added. The other sketches, two are very quick ones of breakout sessions I attended, and then there is a quick sketch of a curvilinear grid with a sketch of the room I was in (I won’t say the session but it was less fun than some of the others, I was starting to think about going to the pool). The other sketch is one I did in the observation carriage of the Amtrak Coastal Starlight train I took from Davis to Santa Barbara. Fun times!

rails, whales and tales

Train to Santa Barbara sm.jpg

Recently I went to Santa Barbara for the UCAAC (University of California Academic Advising Conference). I took the train down from Davis, an 11 hour journey on an Amtrak which didn’t have wifi, but did have amazing views. For an eleven hour trip it went by quite quickly. Zipping past the ocean, I even saw some whales, poking their heads and their tails out, an exciting sight. I spent at least half of the trip in the observation train, which was bright and roomy, and so I sat at a table and sketched. What else would I do? Sketching on trains is a good way for you to practice perspective. Also to practice steadying your hand while everything is bumpy. I caught the train at 7am, the first time I had taken one of these Coastal Starlight trains in California. They go right down from Seattle to San Diego, passing by many cities on the way. There were people who were making the long trip, a few interesting characters, and the announcers on the train liked to give the occasional piece of commentary. We crossed the Delta, went down the East Bay, through the Salad Bowl, horseshoed around a massive prison outside San Luis Obispo, paraded down the rocky coast before finally reaching the palm trees and beaches of Santa Barbara. It was a big ol’ train, a goliath on the move. I’d take the trip again. I did another on the less-lengthy train journey between Santa Barbara and Burbank Airport a few days later, sat in a regular seat. I’ll post my Santa Barbara sketches next, as I’ve finally started scanning them. Santa Barbara has a lot of red tiled roofs.

Train to Burbank

a stitch in time

on the amtrak full of knitters
I took the train down to San Francisco this weekend past. It’s a lot more expensive than it used to be. However, it’s nice to get out of Davis after a busy, busy week. I had no plan, and only decided to get that early 7:55 train shortly after waking up. I rushed to get to the train, my hair a mess, not even taking the time to stop at the bank for some cash. The train itself was packed with knitters, chattering and knitting, on their way to some big knitting thing in Santa Clara, Stitches West. I was sketching, and not chattering.
Gotts Roadside SF

When I got to the city I stopped at Gott’s Roadside at the Ferry Building for breakfast, before setting off aimlessly for some sketching and walking.

by the california northern railroad

train engines under covell
Beneath the Covell overpass in north Davis, behind the Little League fields, train engines – diesel switchers, I believe though I’m no ‘spotter – lie in wait. They are very colourful. Freight trains pass this way going north to Oregon, Washington, Canada, the North Pole for all I know. The Eastbound trains travel on the other track, nearby our old apartment. The first night I spent in Davis, almost seven years ago now, I was kept awake by the mile-long freight train rumbling through at one in the morning. I got used to that pretty quickly. It wasn’t that loud, but even at a distance I could feel the ground shaking a little. We have our freeways and our bike paths and watch airplanes cruise overhead, but something about the railway makes us feel connected to the wider continent at large. I may never get the time to do a big train journey across America – to paraphrase Cars, these days travel is about making good time, not having a good time (I blame the shorter vacations you get here) – so it’s quicker and easier (and occasionally cheaper) to fly. I like sketching train engines though. Maybe that makes me a trainspotter? Anorak on standby.

el cerrito has a del norte?

sketching on the BART
Sketched on the BART last weekend. BART is the underground/subway system for the San Francisco Bay Area, and on this occasion I got the Amtrak to Richmond (at the end of the BART line) and BARTed it to San Francisco. Good idea. I also did the return trip in the evening, good idea, and I made sure I went with plenty of time to connect to my Davis train at Richmond. Except…I didn’t get off at Richmond, I got off at the station just before Richmond, El Cerrito Del Norte. I knew there was an El Cerrito after Berkeley, but assumed the station after that was my one. When literally everybody in the carriage got off, I couldn’t see the station sign from the BART train and assumed it must be the last stop. Even getting off the train, I couldn’t tell it wasn’t Richmond, and there weren’t exactly big clear signs around (like you get on the Underground). I followed the crowd down the stairs, got my ticket out and was about to go through the barrier when I realised: this looks…unfamiliar. Pretty sure this isn’t Richmond actually. So where is it? Still no sign. I walked back up to the platform, and saw the sign at last, located inconspicuously up above the platform. There was also a display that told me the next Richmond train was in 19 minutes, meaning it would get into Richmond about two minutes after my Amtrak, the last of the night, was scheduled to leave.

I believe I said the word “bugger” several times.

Faced with the prospect of spending the night in the Bay Area somehow, I just waited. I didn’t want to sketch, rather I wanted to focus my thoughts – the train will come soon, and I will not miss my connection. I don’t normally make these sorts of mistakes, believe me, it’s very unusual (except when I am asleep on the London Night Bus, but that’s different). How did I not realise El Cerrito had a Del Norte? It’s not like I don’t have a BART map, and a BART app. Evidently a lot of people live there because the train completely emptied. Think positive, use the bloody Force if I have to, wish upon a bleedin’star; after nineteen long minutes the train came. I stood by the door the whole time, preparing myself for an Olympic style dash from BART to Amtrak, hoping that I hadn’t already missed it. As the BART pulled into Richmond I could see no Amtrak on the adjacent platform, meaning, well I didn’t care I just ran. I got to the top of the stairs to the Amtrak platform…and saw the lights as the train rolled in. Massive sigh of relief, no need to brave a night in Richmond (which, I’ll have you know, is nothing like the Richmond in London). The jolly Amtrak conductor even said that the train had been delayed by a few minutes leaving San Jose, so I truly was lucky (though perhaps the Force had something to do with it).

My own silly mistake, getting off at the wrong station, but the bad signage did not help. I am used to London’s big signs, clear and visible from the train itself, along with the onboard display and of course the automated announcer. So BART, please make it more obvious which station we’re at. Paint great big letters all over the platform walls or something.

the brass bands play and feet start to pound

northern line
More from London; that’s what you can expect for a while, still more to scan! These were drawn on the Northern Line, my line of the London Underground. It’s not easy to draw while the tube is bumping all over the place, though I see many people who seem to manage it just fine. How do they do it? I have no idea. But I gave it a go, and of course the bumping-about effect is really just part of the experience, added into the ink. The Northern Line is a lot better than it used to be. back in the olden days when I was a lad. That isn’t to say it’s not still without its considerable faults – coming back as an occasional visitor it works like a dream, but put me on it day in day out and the full experience would all come back. And it’s an expensive business, travelling on the tube. On this past trip alone I spent, ooh I have no idea but it was a lot, updating the Oyster Card. But that said, as a Londoner I almost have to complain about it, like the changeable weather, but I’m eternally thankful we have it at all.
northern line