Hampstead on a Sunday Morning

Hampstead High St

It was Sunday morning, and my restless nature meant I had to get out of the house and onto the tube. I decided to get off at Hampstead, one of my favourite hill-based places for a little bit of sketching and shop-going. I love Hampstead in the morning. People going out for breakfast, a tour guide bellowing history to a group of Americans outside the tube station, the little lanes off the High Street filled with cute houses. One of my life’s ambitions was that if I ever got rich I’d live in Hampstead, but you have to be really quite rich to do that nowadays I think. The other ambitions are still a place in Highgate and a place in the South of France, along with California of course, and I have at least lived in those places at some point along the way. I stood across the street from the station, putting my uphill perspective games to good use, not quite believing my good weather luck. Another of my ambitions, which I think would make a good book, is to location-draw every single station on the Northern Line, from Edgware to Morden and back up to High Barnet. Hampstead tube station, the deep red glossy ox-blood tiled building on the corner above, is London’s deepest station, regularly publishing philosophy, attending jazz poetry nights, and having meaningfully long walks along the beach. There are no long escalators here, no, you must use the elevators, or ‘lifts’ as we prefer to call them. After all this time away from England my mind’s vocabulary is slowly starting to flip Stateside – only now do I see the ‘Way Out’ signs on the Underground and think, Hahaha, it’s ‘Exit’, you Hippies. After sketching I went to the EE phone store to try and figure out why my unlimited texts plan was given me so far zero texts, only to find that the EE Store was closed on Sundays, because the Dark Ages. (I ended up finding an open EE store in Edgware, but they couldn’t figure out my texting issue, which is another story I won’t go into here, because it’s not interesting). I did get to go to Waterstones and spend money on books, because I can’t help it, and also go the Cass Arts and spend money on Seawhite of Brighton sketchbooks, because I can’t help myself.

The Flask, Hampstead

I did have to get back home though (via an unproductive pitstop at the EE store in Edgware – so I have an unlocked iPhone 8, and I could call and use data, and text other iPhones through iMessage, but for some reason could not send any texts to other non-iPhone phones, even with EE’s unlimited texts plan. I was unable to solve this the entire time I was back. I tried all sorts of settings on the phone, and the EE man in the store also could not figure it out. I didn’t have this problem with my older Nokia last time I was back.) I had to get back to meet my newest family member, my baby great-niece Frances, for the first time. However I did have some time to do a very quick sketch of the Flask pub in Flask Walk. Last time I came here I was ghost-hunting with my son a few years ago. Didn’t find any ghosts (what with the laws of thermodynamics pretty much disproving their existence – thanks a lot, thermodynamic party-poopers). I didn’t sketch much as you can see, and decided to leave it in the completely unfinished state rather than go back and do more, or finish off from a photo – this was too unfinished to do that. Besides, you get just enough with a sketch like this. That easel at the end of the lane, that was an oil-painting artist who I presume didn’t have to go and sort out his EE unlimited texting plan nor meet a new baby. He is unseen though, like a ghost. Also unseen, the ghosts of late morning brunchers, brunching away, many of them lined up outside the cafe to my right, a popular choice for the Hampstead brunching set, which if my ambitions are ever realized I will be one of them, brunching with a little dog at my heels, still sweaty from my jog across the Heath. Can you still afford brunch if you live in Hampstead? Is the existence of brunchers disproved by the laws of thermodynamics? Well they don’t appear in the sketch so you’ll have to make your own mind up. Brunching makes you feel good.

Hampstead Map

I drew a little map in my sketchbook. The colour scheme implies this is all fields, but of course it isn’t. To the north-west is Holly Hill. Up there somewhere among the ghosts and brunchers is the Holly Bush pub, which I have never been to, though I’ve always wanted to, both to have a drink and also to sketch. I’ll save that ambition for some future trip.

a farewell to dippy

Dippy NHM London

Well the New Year is here and I am still posting sketches from November. I know you just can’t get enough of 2016. These are the sketches I did on our brief sojourn back to London over Thanksgiving. It was a week of family fun more than sketching outings (I did most of my UK sketching in the summer) but I managed a few. Above is a sketch from the Natural History Museum. My son really wanted to go there to see the geology exhibits (he loves rocks and minerals) and we wanted to see our beloved Dippy one last time before he is removed from the main hall and replaced with a whale skeleton. Dippy, for those who don’t know, is the giant Diplodocus skeleton in the Hintze Hall. Dippy’s been in the NHM for over a century and has been in that hall since I was a little kid, when I would go there all the time with school or my big sister; I do love the Natural History Museum. Well Dippy is leaving! This very week in fact. They are replacing Dippy with a large blue whale skeleton that will hang from the ceiling. Dippy will go on a tour of the UK (see here for details). My son and I found a seat in an alcove to sketch, but we couldn’t see the whole Dippy so sketched what we could see.

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We also visited the Harry Potter tour at the Warner Bros Studios, at Leavesden, just outside London. We are big Harry Potter fans, and my son read the books and saw the movies this year for the first time so it was an exciting visit to go and see the real sets where they were filmed. We only had time for one sketch (so much to see! We could have been there all day) so I sketched the entrance to Dumbledore’s office while he drew the big pendulum thing. I got a Gryffindor scarf. According to the Pottermore website, my son and I would both be in Gryffindor (my wife got sorted into Slytherin!). We went there with my mum, sister and nephew, and it was a really fun family day, I do recommend it.

Hogwarts Griffin Stairwell, WB Studios, England

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One other place I was eager to visit was the new Switch House at the Tate Modern, the new tall extension to the gallery on the South Bank. It only opened last summer. My son kinda enjoyed the gallery (we saw both my books in the shop! But he was more excited about the tiny Slinky he bought) but was nervous about going to the tenth floor observation deck. When we were up there though he loved it, and again we sat and sketched the view. This is now my favourite spot in London and I will definitely come back with a few hours on hand to do a big detailed panorama. It was amazing there. Here is what I did sketch, of the view across the Thames to St. Paul’s Cathedral:

St Pauls from Tate Modern

The scene below is of drinkers at the very intimate pub off Trafalgar Square, The Harp. I came here with my friend Roshan, as they do good beer; one day I’d like to sketch the whole bar. As it was, I sketched these happydrikers while Roshan popped to the loo. Less-than-five-minute people sketching!

People at Harp pub, London

And here is Burnt Oak tube station, in the area my family live (and I am from. Looking as it has ever done. I was going to finish this, but I wanted to get back and have a cup of tea, and never finished it at home.

Burnt Oak Station

One last sketch, which is of course the in-flight drawing on the Virgin flight coming home. It was one of the newer planes, and unlike in the summer, this time I didn’t get completely squashed up and have a bad back for several weeks afterwards. Which was handy. Farewell again then my London, until next time!

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up kentish town

kentish town station
This is Kentish Town station, in north London. I came here when I was meeting up with my friend James one evening, and stood outside a curry house opposite sketching as buses and cars trundled up Kentish Town Road towards Tufnell Park and the Archway. There are a lot of old tube stations that look like this, with the dark ox-blood red glazed terracotta tiles and the typical arches, and one day I swear I would love to sketch them all (hint hint London Transport, a fun book commission?), though I hurried through this one a bit, not drawing the whole length of the building (it would make a really good panorama…) and added the colour when I got home. It was designed by Leslie Green, who built many of the iconic London Underground stations over a century ago, and is on the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line. It’s a pretty interesting place, Kentish Town, and this was my first time here in years, other than passing through. Though in fact I did end up passing through, ending up meeting my friend in nearby Camden Town, where we swapped world cup football stickers.

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sketching jack’s london: part 2, aldgate east – brick lane

Aldgate East
After sketching the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, I walked down to Aldgate East, and stood opposite the magnificent building above the station, and the lovely Whitechapel Art Gallery. I didn’t have time to go inside, but I have been before, like twenty years ago. Traffic was heavy on the street, this being rush hour on the outskirts of the City. I thought I might spot some of the other sketchers on the ‘crawl, but I did not; everyone had already headed towards Spitalfields. I did bump into one other sketcher while sketching this.

Aldgate East
Then, up to Brick Lane. Brick Lane is more commonly thought of these days as the hangout of hipsters, but thankfully much of the street was still devoted to the greatest thing in Britain – curry. This is the heart of “Bangla Town” – there is a large Bengali and Bangladeshi community around here – and many street signs are doubled in Bengali. When I was studying up in Mile End in the late nineties I would come up here fairly regularly for a curry, and often to this very place, the Standard Balti House (as well as the Curry Bazaar, a few doors up, and also still there). I met with another urban sketcher, Isabelle Laliberte, and we sat on the street opposite sketching away at the old brick and colourful signage, while employees from each curry house tried to entice people in, as they’ve always done. And yet, I did not have a curry! Can you believe it? It was a hot day, and I just wasn’t feeling hungry. I come thousands of miles to get to Brick Lane, and I end up not fancying a curry. Something is wrong with me! Maybe next time, when it’s cold outside…

Brick Lane

More Jack’s London sketches and photos to come…

sketching jack’s london…part 1

Whitechapel map with names
And finally time to report on the sketchcrawl in London last month! “Sketching Jack’s London“… I had decided, after reading ‘From Hell’ (the graphic novel by Alan Moore, not the terrible movie upon which it is based) that I wanted to do some sketching around Whitechapel, an area of London I had not been to in more than a decade, but which I used to go frequently in mySketching Jacks London: sketchcrawl, July 17 student days for curry. So I announced a sketchcrawl; while the London of Jack the Ripper is mostly gone, some things remain, so it would be fun to try to look for old Whitechapel in the guise of a sketchcrawl. Now, this sketchcrawl was a bit different, as it was midweek and started at 3:00pm, to go on until the evening. It was a hot and sticky day, perhaps the hottest yet, and my journey on the tube to Whitechapel was squashed and uncomfortable. A good group of us gathered outside Whitechapel tube station, several sketchers I had met before and many I was meeting from the first time. Among the global urban sketchers were Alissa Duke visiting from Sydney and Sue Pownall who lives in Oman, both of whom I met for the first time a few days before in Barcelona. I was also meeting London Urban Sketcher James Hobbs for the first time. My superbly talented cousin Dawn Painter was there too. Too many great sketchers to name! Here’s a photo of the starting group:
Sketching Jack's London July 17, 2013

Everybody got a hand-drawn map and guide made by myself, as well as a small micro-sketchbook that I also made. I introduced the sketchcrawl; I’m not much of a Ripperologist (though I do get the online journal, an one of my sketches appeared in it once) but I love a bit of urban history, especially exploring it with a sketchbook. As I said in the guide, if you don’t want to look for the Ripper’s city, you can always just sketch the hipsters. As the sketchers all dispersed, making a slow exploration towards Christ Church Spitalfields, I stuck around the tube station to greet any latecomers and sketched the entrance to the tube station. I don’t imagine Jack the Ripper coming by tube, but the station dates back to the 1870s so it’s not impossible. I wonder how he would have felt about the extortionate ticket prices. “What a Rip-off” probably.

whitechapel station

I mooched around Whitechapel, which was busy and not massively different from how I remember it, and eventually made it down to the Whitechapel Bell Foundry. Established in 1570, this is in fact the oldest registered manufacturing company in Britain – or the world, as the various bike tour guides passing by would say. Still, they have a magnificent history (see their website) – this is where the Liberty Bell was cast (though it broke, of course), as well as the bells of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the bell from the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, and perhaps the most famous bell of all, Big Ben, a bell so famous that most people think it’s a clock. Big Ben is also the biggest bell they ever cast here. I didn’t go in, but sat in the shade of a tree outside while locals stopped and said, oh wow man, and offered to give me cold drinks.

whitechapel bell foundry

I must admit, I love this type of sketch probably more than any other, a bit of old brick and history. This is such a London sketch, a London palette and London lines, quickly made.

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More Jack’s London sketchery to come!

just a northern song

tube sketch

While back in London in December, I spent about six million pounds just on travelling on the tube. Or at least, it felt like it. The Oyster Card was well used. Lots of urban sketchers sketch on their urban transport systems, so I of course had to do some as well. Being a Londoner of course and therefore absolutely terrified at the thought of interaction with any other person, I usually sketched when the tube was near empty. I am from the Northern Line, Edgware Branch, that was my highway. Years ago, before the trains very nicely started telling me where I was, I could tell I was getting closer to home because of the way the stations were painted – Hendon Central was sky blue, Colindale was yellow – ah, red! Burnt Oak. Time to get off and get some fried chicken. They’re all painted the same now, though the signs help.

Trains still stop inexplicably outside Golders Green for like, ten minutes though. “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of the tube stopping for no reason whatsoever outside Golders Green for ages,” as Johnson once said.

luke on the northern line

Someone enjoyed watching those dot matrix displays on the underground train (above). I remember when they brought those in, that was nice, and nowadays they even work! He got to know the voice that announces the stations very well (“this station is Belsize Park. This train terminates at Morden, via Bank“). Best of all though was the ‘Mind the Gap’ announcement, which in many places is a nice gentle FYI, but in others it is still the one I remember as a kid, the booming, authoritative ‘MIND THE GAP’, which I always imagined was the voice of the Supreme Being. Yes, the one from Time Bandits.

more tube sketching

I do miss the Tube sometimes. Even after so many years and years of it annoying the hell out of me, even though certain ticket office staff seem to deliberately make an effort to be unhelpful, even though it’s overcrowded and unreliable and ridiculously expensive…um, sorry I forgot what I was talking about.

because you’re mine, i walk the line

just unnoticed

Part three of a series. Presumably this means I will have to make more. This is the outside of a very famous station. Well it’s not that famous but many thousands of people have heard of it, maybe millions. More people over the course of seventy years have heard of it than, say, Jordan and Peter Andre. And they’re pretty famous for not doing anything particularly noteworthy. I suppose you could say this station has spent it’s entire life on the line. The Northern Line. Anyway here it is in line and wash.