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

under the sea to paris

Eurostar to Paris

We went to Paris!! It had been a very long time, for me at least; France 98 I think was the last time, except when passing through en route to somewhere more southerly. We took the Eurostar from St.Pancras; my four-year-old son had been looking forward to this for a long time, the TGV Eurostar that goes under the sea all the way to Paris. He was so excited he had the hiccups. “This is the first time I’ve been to Paris with the hiccups!” he said. When we sat down however his window seat didn’t actually have a window; thankfully the kind French lady in the seat behind offered to swap seats, so he got his wish. We really had to go back to France this year; it’s ten years since my wife and I first Rue Daubentonmet in Aix, and we have been away too long.I sketched the above drawing in my Miquelrius ‘Lapin’ sketchbook, in dark blue micron and watercolour. I have taken the Eurostar many times to Brussels, but only once before to Paris. It’s quicker now, and St.Pancras is a beautiful station, but I do miss the old Waterloo departure, seeing the Thames as you rumble out of London.

We got to Paris, and packed onto the RER and the Metro to our apartment down in the 5th arrondissement. We rented an apartment in the Latin Quarter rather than stay at a hotel, and I must say it was an excellent decision, though we were only there two nights. This part of Paris is completely unknown to me, and I just loved it straight away; it’s nice south of the river! There was a bakery on the corner of the street, opposite the Metro, and a small supermarket around the corner, which was like heaven – so many familiar everyday things from ten years ago: my favourite French cereals, all the different Oranginas, all the different cheeses. It’s the miscellaneous details I like. The area had lots of shops, and I particularly love French bookshops (except that I can never work out the prices of things due to their card-shop-esque coding system). I picked up for my son a story book about the Eiffel Tower running away to see the world.

I had to draw the view from the apartment at night, and got a large bottle of Leffe Ruby (which was a lot fruitier than I expected it to be, and bubblier – it fizzed all over the place, so I only had less than one glass) and some cheese. It’s nice to be in Paris. Must go back more regularly!

More Paris sketches to come…

duel of the freights

2nd st freight train

I finally got around to drawing the freight trains. Ever since moving to Davis I have lived near the railroads, and every day and every night epically long trains of freight cars rumble away across the continent, where if they’re lucky travelling hobos and cats will stow away on board and tell stories through the night until they arrive in some dusty town in Georgia. Well that is how I imagine it. This is a really big place, America. The trains really can be more than a mile long and I got used to their ever-present rumbling a long time ago. These freight trains are moored on the railroads that run alongside 2nd Street. Sometimes we drive down there so that my freight-train-loving son can see them. And yes, if you look closely, some of the graffiti says ‘Feck’. I don’t know what the rest says, but it probably says ‘Drink’ and ‘Arse’. 

Drawn on strathmore hot press paper with a uniball vision micro, and watercolour. I drew it on sunday, the 9th, but wrote the date wrong. I did that in my drawings all weekend. Perhaps I’m ahead of my time? Or maybe I just need to check the calendar every now and then.

she may not look like much but she’s got it where it counts, kid

train engine in davis

I had wanted to draw this train engine, moored on the railroads near the Co-Op, during the last Davis sketchcrawl but it was not there. I went back a week later and there she was. I drew an engine like this (in brown pen on cream paper) as part of my Davis Moleskine (it may have been the same engine, I’m no trainspotter) but really wanted to show its bright, patriotic colours. I sat in the shade and sketched with my uniball signo un-151 pen, which actually does take a wash pretty well, but more importantly it draws like a dream.

Drawn on Strathmore hot press paper. Including colour (added later) it took about two hours, mostly in the on-site drawing. There is the penwork below.

train drawing

getting to where you should be going

sacramento to philadelphia
The first few of a good many “travelling” sketches. The first above was sketched on the flight from Sacramento to Philadelphia. I must say US Airways were pretty good. The last time I flew with them (to Vegas in February) the plane was small and couldn’t carry the weight of all its passengers. The ones I took for these longer journeys on the other hand were modern and spacious, and more than capable of carrying a few extra big-macs. When I got to Philadelphia airport, I had more than five hours to occupy myself. There are only so many airport stores to look in and departure lounge seats to draw, so I took the train into downtown Philadelphia, a very grand East Coast city with nice yellow traffic lights and ornage fire hydrants (wait for the next post!).

philadelphia train

Finally I left Philly, and got my plane back home across the Atlantic. I didn’t watch any of the offered movies, but I did play a few games of chess against the airplane computer. And beat it almost every time (except for one in which I did all I could to get a stalemate, and I got it – I aint losing to the back of a chair). Sleeping was a little more difficult. It always is. I can fall asleep on a five minute bus ride, and miss my stop, but put on a flight across the Atlantic and I’m like a Bizarro Rip van Winkle.

philly to london