“You can’t handle the roof!”

Manetti Shrem panorama Jan2018 sm
This is the courtyard of the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at the UC Davis campus. In January we had our monthly sketchcrawl here in Davis (we missed February; the next one will be on March 17, details to be posted later today at facebook.com/letsdrawdavis), and it was held at the Manetti Shrem. Regular viewers will recall that I drew this building from its first days of construction right through to the grand opening, and I was even invited to the big fancy party for artists and donors on the night before the opening, which was amazingly fun (the ice cream lollipops made on slabs of nitrogen were incredible). It’s a complicated piece of architecture, and I have not drawn it very often since, so I was overdue a sketch. After a morning of coaching a game of under-10 soccer (we lost 9-2 that morning, ouch) I needed to spend some time on a complicated panorama. This is a complicated panorama. Fun though, and it was nice having chats with people passing by, either other sketchers, or local Davis people I knew who happened to be visiting the museum, or students who were interested in art. One young bloke asked me about perspective and how I approach it. Well, get me on that subject! I told him about the multiple vanishing points, both up and down, and the horizon, and the sphere, curvilinear perspective, but said that with a building like this you just have to throw caution to the wind and say, ah just draw it all and see how it comes out. Don’t worry about it. Also another trick, on a two-page spread when the big valley is in the middle of the page, I used the large yellow pole that was in the foreground as a good place for a middle. Saved all those lines getting screwed up in the centre, falling down the gap. On the right, across Vanderhoef Quad, is the Mondavi Center. We’ll be going to see John Cleese there later this month. I’m sure he will be all grumpy

You can click on the sketch for a closer view if you like. Or maybe if you are in Davis, for an even more close view of the museum why not visit? It’s really cool there: https://manettishremmuseum.ucdavis.edu/

Also, try to draw that roof. Honestly, it is fun, like a puzzle. And if drawing that roof gets too much just put on a Jack Nicholson voice and say …


a campus in my sketchbook

SciLec Jan2018 sm
If you keep a sketchbook, or maybe several at once, you are keeping a record of things that are in your head, just like a diary. The diary might be an internal monologue of how you are feeling, inward-looking and for your eyes only, or it might be one like a politician or a journalist might keep, their own observations on the world they see. They may be a place to work on your writing, to find your voice, to figure out your thoughts and expand your ideas. Sketchbooks can be very much like that. Sketchbooks can be whatever you want them to be, and for many are a mixture of the two, a sketched journal. I have tried that myself, writing out pages alongside the drawings, but I often have a hard time mixing the two; people can be so differently affected by text than by image. Image is often undermined by the text, which can be a distraction. Text, even open-ended and vague text, sometimes tells the reader what to think about the drawing around it. So I usually reserve my own text for the blog post when it is a step removed from the drawing, and very much a take-it-or-leave-it thing. You can look at my entire website without reading a word and it wouldn’t matter. In fact on my old iteration of my blog from a decade ago, every time I would post a sketch I would shrink the font of the accompanying nonsense writing to about size 8, so not to distract from the sketch itself. Anyway, I thought I would share this thought with you. I think of my own ‘main’ sketchbooks, which are produced very much with the idea that someone would look through them, as visual diaries. I would never let someone read a written diary (not without heavy editing), it gives too much away. (In fact when I was younger and wrote pages and pages in my diary nightly, I wrote in a different alphabet that I invented when I was about 13 or 14; hey you were interested in girls (or boys), well I was interested in alphabets). So my main sketchbooks are ways for me to relax and draw the world that I live in. I do have non-realistic more fantastical drawings too, but I do those elsewhere. Since I live in Davis, my sketchbook is filled up with images of Davis, and since I work at UC Davis, well I can say that I have a campus in my sketchbook. All of which is a way to say, I have just started to catch up on my scanning, so here are four recent (January) sketches from the UC Davis campus.

The sketch above (sorry, you need to scroll back up there) is the Science Lecture Theater, or SciLec, which would be a cool space villain name. It’s hidden behind those trees and frat boards. Below though, on a cloudier day, is Robbins Hall. I’m starting to catch up on the buildings I walk past but haven’t yet drawn (yes, there are still a few).
Robbins UCD Jan2018 sm
Underneath, sketched after a morning training class, is Veihmeyer Hall. I last drew this almost a decade ago I think it was, I like the way the shadows cross the white building. I sat in a little garden on a bench and sketched this. When January comes, with its bright chill skies, I get excited because I can finally draw the leafless trees, but sometimes they are a bit intimidating (see the ones of the right). I like it when the trunks are not just that bleached brown or grey, but also have patches or orange or green colouring the bark.
Veihmeyer UCD Jan2018 sm
You cannot get much of a window into my thoughts from looking at the sketches. You can only imagine. I assure you I was probably thinking about soccer (listening to the Totally Football podcast or the Football Weekly podcast), or maybe history, or maybe alphabets. Below is one of Haring Hall, but I kept that uncoloured because I like the big yellow sign.
Haring UCD Jan2018 sm

When I first starting drawing Davis in my sketchbooks, I hadn’t been here long and the idea was that I was drawing the world around me to remember it after I had left. Davis, I am still here, and still finding more to draw.

tree’s last stand

The Barn UCD pano Jan18 sm

One damp grey day last month I ate my lunch and went over to The Barn (an old building on the UC Davis campus) to draw, surprise surprise, a panorama. I approached it in the following way. I mapped out the scene with a few light guidelines in pencil, so that I could be sure to fit the whole building in, and then went straight into pen with the drawing itself, drawing the large, heavy leaning tree. I started there. I knew my lunchtime was short (I had eaten at Shah’s Halal food truck by the Silo, spicy chicken over rice, so good) and that this would take more than one lunchtime. Normally I would draw the front of the building first but it’s always easier to draw on the left page when standing, back to the wall, holding a landscape-format sketchbook. For some reason I always struggle a bit more sketching the right page while standing. So I drew the big tree, it was just too interesting. I did the tree, left the rest, went back to work.

I came back two days alter to continue, and THE TREE WAS GONE!!! Totally gone. The place was all cordoned off while the tree-chopper-people finished off chainsawing it up, and I stood there looking at my page like, “but…but…”. I don’t know how old the tree was, but look at it. It was really leaning over. It was an aging ballerina, tumbling in slow motion as time froze around it. I’m sure the tree was older than me. And I had sketched its very last days. This scene no longer looks like it does in this sketch. I carried on drawing the rest of the scene, The Barn itself, the buildings behind, the lines of the bike path. I was going to add paint but, I don’t know, it didn’t seem right. That tree was drawn at the end of its life. I wonder what it was thinking at the time? “I’ll Be Bark”

what’s the story autumn glory

Autumnal Colours Hutchison UCD sm

Tonight (January 3rd) it is raining here in Davis. It’s the first proper rain in ages, it feels like. Of course all I’m worried about is whether the city fields will get closed for our soccer practice this weekend (I hope not). It’s been a pretty dry spell. But that is now. My lack of posting sketches lately means I am still going back in time, this time back to mid-November, when the trees outside Hutchison at UC Davis were ablaze with oranges and reds. A lot has happened in the world since then. The Last Jedi came out, for example. I’ve seen it twice, and need a third time to really get my feel for it, but I will delay discussing it here until that third viewing, but not because I want to approach it like a conscientious and objective critic, but because I want to wait until I have some Last Jedi Lego sketches to go with it (and yes, I have some Last Jedi Lego, the old Luke and Rey training set (with a Porg) is sat on top of the scanner right now). So sorry, it’s going to have to wait. It doesn’t feel right to post about it under a picture of some trees from a month and a half ago. But what can I talk about instead? Foliage? I could talk technique I guess. For this sketch, I actually added the paint first, and then added pen lines over the top. Whoah there Scully, what the fuh? Since when was that a thing you do? Well you know what sometimes I like to mix it up a bit, live a little, not just do exactly the same thing over and over like a scratched record. I’ve not done it since (I’m not that adventurous you know) but I did take a couple of pics at the time wile sketching that I thought you might like to see, below. It’s not exactly a ‘step-by-step’ but it’s to the point. Maybe some day I will do more ‘step-by-step’ type posts, even a video or two, but those usually slow me down a lot, which is why I never think to do them. Now at the October ‘Let’s Draw Davis’ sketchcrawl (have I posted about that yet? I’m so behind!) I did do a little sketching demo for the gathered group of sketchers before the ‘crawl began, demonstrating how to sketch a fire hydrant. When I say ‘demo’ I mean like an example of how I do it, not like a protest march with banners and stuff, though I would do that too.

Speaking of ‘how-to’, I was looking at the reviews of my 2nd book, “Five-Minute Sketching People” on the Amazon, most of them are very nice (thank you!) and I mentioned before that 1-star review (yeah cheers for that), well I noticed a newer 2-star review, that contained the following sentence:

The author’s explanations are so boring, by the time he gets to the point you already forgot what he was talking about“.

Wow! It’s like they know me! That is totally what I am like in real life. Not on my blog of course (sarcasm emoji). The irony is that this is a review of my writing when edited down into very short, bite-size chunks. For example, “Contour means outline, so start by simply sketching someone as a basic silhouette“, as seen on page 82 in the US printed version. Now in the full unexpurgated Pete at 2am* version you would get “Contour, your basic contour, means outline, like a line that is outside the thing, not the Thing like Ben Grimm from the Fantastic Four (the super hero team not the German hip-hop group Die Fantastischen Vier) (in case you were wondering), so start simply sketching someone slowly as a subtle simplified smart silhouette structure**. When I say contour, I don’t mean like the big bird thing that lives in the Andes…” etc etc. (* I did actually write a lot of that book at 2am) (** Did you spot all the alliteration in the final sentence of the original version? That’s all that Anglo-Saxon poetry I used to read, clearly).

But that’s a brilliant line isn’t it, “The author’s explanations are so boring, by the time he gets to the point you already forgot what he was talking about“. Honestly, geezer has no idea; he should listen to me talk about Germanic Philology. Or read any of my more nonsensical going-on-about-nothing blog posts (like this one, or this one, or any post where I talk about “A Street”, or this very blog post you’ve just read) (hello if you are still here!) (hello again if you are that person!). My mate from London said yeah, he should try going out for a drink with me; mm cheers for that, cheeky beggar. Admittedly many of our conversations in Camden Town’s establishments have tended to go in all sorts of directions. The Good Mixer. The Elephant’s Head. Doing impressions of Michael Caine playing Han Solo. What was I talking about again? Damn, I’ve forgotten…


Mrak lawn UCD oct2017 sm

Have I posted this one? I don’t think I have. I know, all these UC Davis sketches start blending into one after a while. Trees, blue sky, bikes, building, etc etc. This was sketched over a couple of lunchtimes outside the Chemistry Building, looking towards Mrak Hall. It’s from Fall, and as you can see those leaves haven’t quite turned yellow and red yet. What happened after this is that they changed colour, and then fell off, and now they are leafless. In a couple of months leaves will come back and the whole things starts over again. Repetitive, predictable. Not many people. This seems like ages ago now, yet at the same time it could be any time. I don’t know; I’ve been in Davis for 12 years now. It’s hard to find new things I want to draw. I suppose I could look at the same world in a new way. To be honest, I just dream of travelling. I want to go everywhere. Well not everywhere, there are some places I don’t want to go. But I want to go most places, and mostly to go and sketch them. I have a wishlist going, top of which is Tokyo, I really want to sketch in Japan. Bruges, I’ve been years ago but I wasn’t sketching back then (1999?). Florence, in fact all over Tuscany. Porto (the urban sketching symposium will be there next year), that would be amazing. For countryside, New Zealand. I don’t know, I want to go everywhere. It’s January, time of wanderlust. I’ve been watching travel shows on YouTube, lots of Rick Steves talks. It’s 2018, twenty years since my five-week train-trip around central Europe. I was 22, I went from London to London. Ok, the trip started in London at Victoria Bus Station, then onto Paris, Strasbourg, Luxembourg, Trier, Copenhagen, Aarhus, Hamburg, Lubeck, Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, Krakow, Budapest, Lake Balaton, Vienna, Bratislava (barely), Bodensee, Zurich, Geneva, Lyon, Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Epernay and back up to Paris and then London. That was fun, but I really wasn’t drawing those places then (I’d have seen less if I were!). Well, now I’m at the other side of the world, still getting in a fair bit of travel, but there are always more places to go. In the meantime, I’ll keep drawing Davis…

Let’s Draw Davis! October 21, 2017

Let's draw Davis! Oct 21, 2017
Join us for a Let’s Draw Davis sketchcrawl on the UC Davis campus! Free and open to everyone of all ages/skill levels, it’s just an afternoon of sketching on location around campus with other people who like to draw.

DATE: Saturday October 21,
START: 12:30pm, Memorial Union North Courtyard
FINISH: 4:30pm, Memorial Union North Courtyard

We’ll start outside the M.U., where the I will do a quick demo of how I sketch my favourite subject – fire hydrants – and then we will sketch about campus in groups or alone, as you prefer, before meeting up again at 4:30pm to have a look at each other’s sketchbooks.

This will also be a SCAVENGER HUNT – I will give out a list of things to look for and sketch. You don’t have to follow it, but if you do, you’ll get a sticker…

As always, this sketchcrawl is FREE and OPEN TO ALL. All you need is something to draw with and something to draw on! (And if you run out of those, the campus bookstore has great art supplies!)

I’ve been organizing ‘Let’s Draw Davis’ sketchcrawls here since October 2010, originally monthly, then less frequently, but now they are back to being monthly again, and co-organizes by a couple of other local sketchers; October is back to my turn, and what a great month to be sketching in, when the leaves are turning and the weather is cooling.

I hope to meet you there!

Facebook event page
“Let’s Draw Davis!” Facebook Group