on the tracks and in the sky

Roma to Venezia
And so we left Rome on a fast train from Termini station, speeding through the Italian countryside (and what countryside!) on one of the nicest trains we’ve been on. I once spent a summer travelling Europe on the trains and this was nicer than all of those as well (that was in 1998 mind you, and most of them were overnight trains in central Europe). It took us over 3 hours to reach Venice from Rome, stopping in Florence on the way (but not getting out and looking around, we’ll save that for next time). My son was proudly sporting his brand new AS Roma shirt that he bought with money his Nanny in England had given him (it’s by far his favourite souvenir from Italy!) (when I say Nanny I mean my Mum, not a Nanny like in someone who looks after kids for a living) (international translations here). I wore my Sampdoria shirt so we were the Serie A Boys. The Calcio Kids. On our way out of Italy, flying back to London, we were both wearing our Tottenham Hotspur shirts and the border guards immediately called out to us with big smiles, “Eh, Harry Ka-ne! Totten-ham!” We had to wait while they looked up something, it turns out they were just trying to look up the name of Tottenham’s stadium, but were confused to see that it was now Wembley. They were very excited about Spurs.

Speaking of airports, while I am showing you my in-train sketch of Trenitalia Frecciarosso 1000, here are the other transport sketches from our summer trip. First off, Oakland to Gatwick, which started with a 3.5 hour delay, which was fun. On mt left was a woman who when I first got on board hurriedly picked up a bunch of items from my seat before I sat down, I assumed they were her things. Then when she just sat there holding them I asked, are those mine? (Blankets, headphones) “Yes, I picked them up for you,” she said, “and you are lucky, I don’t usually do nice.” Which was an odd thing to say to a complete stranger. She was British. “Ok, thanks,” I said, taking back the blankets in a bit of a puzzle. I’m not really one for conversations with fellow passengers. I noticed as we sat on the runway she was reading through not only the Daily Mail but also the National Enquirer, which I’d never seen people actually read before, so you see something new every day I suppose. We were in Economy Plus – these BA flights from Oakland to the UK are so much cheaper than we usually pay that we upgraded for a bit more legroom – but still it was a long and hard-to-sleep-on flight. I did at least get my sketch in. I had time…
Oakland to Gatwick

We flew Ryanair to Italy, from Stansted to Rome. As you may remember I call Ryanair “Difficultjet”, and this time the difficult bit was that they don’t let passengers from the US (or non-EU at least; good luck Brits, in a few years) use paperless boarding passes, unlike for example Easyjet, who do. Which means if you are travelling and need to print your boarding pass a day ahead (because you have to check in online nowadays, no other choice) and don’t have access to a printer, as we didn’t, you have to pay loads of money to Ryanair for them to print it out for you, at least fifteen quid a ticket. So that’s annoying. In the end we did find someone with a printer, but most travellers wouldn’t necessarily have that option. Otherwise though I don’t mind Ryanair, they fly to a lot of places and are cheap. It was exciting flying over Belgium, Germany, Austria; my son asked if he could check these off and say he’d been there now, but no, flying over is not the same as being somewhere. If it were, then we’ve been to Greenland loads of times.
Stansted to Roma
Venice to Luton was on Easyjet, which was pretty easy. My son’s hair in this sketch looks red like mine, bu it really isn’t, it’s more light brown/blond. However my paints were very much stuck in the Easyjet colour scheme. Boy we were tired after that trip.
Venezia to Luton

And the final flight of the vacation! This was a trip in which we went through SIX different airports (Oakland, Gatwick, Stansted, Roma Ciampino, Venice Marco Polo, Luton) which of course is my favourite thing, I love airports, SOOOOO much. This was a decent flight home. I had no stranger with a Daily Mail next to me (although my son put the brown BA blanket over his head, making him look like a Jedi). This little Miquelrius sketchbook/random notebook, which I’ve had for five years now, has a lot of in-flight travel sketches in now. Lots of Bon-Voyages.
Gatwick to Oakland

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…

take a france on me

Ryanair June 2015
This is the inside of a Ryanair flight to the south of France. It took off from Stansted Airport on a warm Thursday morning, bound for Marseille. It had two big wings, it flew in the sky and I don’t need to write in such an obvious style, I’m not Dan Brown. Perhaps I’m nervous because I am finally posting my sketches from my trip to France. It was a big deal to go back to France this year, because I was going back to two different cities that mean a lot to me, but both of which I hadn’t visited in over a decade. Since I moved to California, France has become significantly further away.

I decided a while ago that I was done with the in-flight sketch, that no longer held an interest for me, but since I was off to France to sketch and sketch and sketch, I wanted to keep my pens sharp. The cities I was headed for, by the way, were Aix-en-Provence and Strasbourg. Aix was where I was going first, the ancient capital of Provence in the deep French south. I spent a year there between 2001 and 2002 which ultimately turned out to be a pretty pivotal period (spoiler alert, I met my future wife there, and ended up in America). On the other hand Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, where many people still speak a German-related language called Alsacian, was a trip much further back in time. I first went to Strasbourg twenty years ago in 1995 on an exchange trip between my college and a Lycee there, and totally fell in love with the city (I was a teenager, it was a good looking city). Besides, the 3rd Urban Sketchers France National Meeting was taking place there, and I really wanted to rub shoulders with the French sketching community, and test just how low the depths of my French language skills have sunk this past decade or so (spoiler alert, pretty low). This was a solo trip, a sketching trip, and I was pretty excited. Allez les Bleus!

up above the streets and houses

SFO-LHR
Whenever an urban sketcher flies he or she is compelled to sketch the plane. You’re sat there for hours inside this huge metal perspective trick, usually with little else to occupy your mind than movies you don’t really want to see. Our flight to London was mostly ‘night-time’ (lights out for sleeping, though daytime outside), but I did get the sketch in, while my son coloured in a superhero colouring book that I drew for him. This year, trans-Atlantic flights are a LOT more expensive than they’ve been since I moved out here, so we flew Virgin Atlantic, who are slightly more expensive than United, but are about a million miles more worth it. The flight itself was smooth and pleasant, the cabin crew helpful and amiable, and the entertainment system, as always with Virgin, was top quality, though I didn’t watch anything myself other than an Alan Partridge special. The food was very tasty, and plentiful. It was cramped of course, as all these flights are (I love how at the end they make you walk through first class, to show you what you could have enjoyed if you had just been a little richer). As you land, the Virgin crew come around and give you sweets, and not just any sweets, but Love Hearts. Virgin is the best.

Compare that to our United experience in 2012. Ouch. I vowed never to fly United again – rude, uncomfortable, poor entertainment (tiny screens, terrible movies), lack of food (by which I mean they ran out of everything except beef, which I cannot eat), rude (by which I mean the cabin staff slammed the beef dish onto my tray and told me I had to have it, and had no right to complain – all I had said was “no chicken or vegetarian?”), the plane felt like it was falling apart, rude, the obnoxious smell of the toilets wafting through the cabin and – most of all – rude. I don’t like flying at the best of times, but Grrr, United. I don’t want no beef. I put their rudeness down to the fact that City had just pipped them to the League. At least it got my drawing energy fired up, as you can see from last year’s sketches.

United SFO-LHR
United LHR-SFO

In a review of transatlantic airlines, here is all you need to know: United give you beef, Virgin give you Love Hearts.

get to portland

steel bridge, portland
This weekend I am going to be in Portland! The one in Oregon, not the one with the Lighthouse and the Bill and the Fear of Rabbits. Just a weekend away sketching, food-carts, micro-brews, book/comic-shops, sketching. And bridges, I must sketch bridges. And old signs. I was last there for the first Urban Sketching Symposium in 2010 and loved it, but didn’t get to explore as much as I would have liked. I never even had a single Voodoo Donut. So I will be remedying all of that, and I don’t care how much it rains (after this long hot dry Davis summer, a bit of rain would be welcome*)

So, any sketching/local-beer/food-cart/comic-shop tips would be welcome!

Also, if you are Portland-based and fancy meeting me for some sketching I will be meeting the some of the Portland Urban Sketchers this Saturday Oct 27 for some sketching around the Saturday Market in the morning, and then perhaps some bridges and river (or some food carts or some old town) in the afternoon. We will meet at 10:00am at Floyd’s Coffee, on NE Crouch St. I am looking forward to it. They have a great group of sketchers in Portland, and were one of the original ‘regional’ Urban Sketchers blogs to be set up.

Also, on Sunday evening I’ll be going to Dr.Sketchy’s Anti-Art-School event on SE Morrison, at 7:00pm. I’ve never been to one of these before so it will be intriguing. Details about that can be found on their Facebook page. There will apparently be pirates to draw. Something different to fire hydrants and bridges!

PDX here I come! If you see me, say hello.

*that said it finally started raining in Davis yesterday after many months, and there was a tornado warning!

here am i sitting in a tin can

LHR - PHL

I think I still have some Lisbon sketches (and a few London ones) yet to show you but in the meantime I’ll fast-forward to the air-travel. I sometimes wish that airports would only happen to other people, or that heathrow airportteleportation devices could be invented a bit more quickly. Until that happens, air travel is the only way I’m getting around the planet. So be it.

I must say that I actually enjoyed flying with US Airways. The planes were comfy with lots of leg-room (better than Virgin, BA and United), even on the domestic flight. I had to change planes, sure, but there are worse places to change than Philadelphia airport, and I was able to fly back into near-to-home Sacramento rather than the miles-away San Francisco.

A word of warning to any flying urban sketchers though – occasionally, just occasionally, your micron pen will burst in mid-air leaving a splat of pure black mess all over your page (and all over you if you’re not careful). I left the mess on there, and in fact blew it about a bit to make an interesting shape, and just drew around it (see top drawing). It just adds to the atmosphere after all, though it looks a bit like a Dementor is serving the coffee.

Prior to getting on that flight, I sketched the last page of my London/Lisbon moleskine, a drawing of the plane itself. and what should be in front of it? A day-glo fire hydrant! since they’re unusual to see in England I was happy to have spotted it. I feel a bit like Bill Oddie sometimes, if Bill Oddie liked fire hydrants and had red hair.

I tell you one thing about Heathrow, for some reason Terminal 1 no longer has a football shirt shop. I was looking for ages for that, and had to make do with looking at William & Kate mugs at the Harrods shop, toy underground trains at the Hamley’s shop and what seemed like one of the last chain record stores in Britain, Heathrow’s branch of HMV, where I picked up (appropriately) the Rocky box-set on dvd for like eight quid. Philadelphia airport has Rocky t-shirts and Clubber Lang shot-glasses and stuff, but didn’t have that, so round one to LHR. 

PHL - SMF

I was pretty exhausted by the time of my final flight (the sixth of the trip), listening to a young guy in the aisle opposite talking to an older lady about all the places he’d visited in Europe, before putting my headphones on, turning up the music and trying to chip my way through A Dance with Dragons (spoiler alert, GRR Martin fans, I’m still none the wiser on this series; I think the butler did it, but GRR Martin is yet to introduce the all-important butler character who will be more important than all the characters you’ve followed for five books, and then kill him off just as you start to wonder if reading his chapters was worth it…). Anyway, after all this travelling, all this sketching, it was nice to get off the plane and be back with my family again.