some time at UC Davis (summer 2022)

UCD construction panorama 081122 sm

As we catch up from last summer, here are some of the things I drew on campus. There was a lot of work done on the roundabout junction between the Silo, Chemistry and Bainer, so I stood behind the wire and drew the construction machines and the workers putting the street together. The standing stones in the foreground on the right have been there for ages, I’ve drawn them before, I’ve drawn everywhere before. It’s interesting to draw the in-between moments of these places, as they go from looking one way to another.

UCD Bainer pano Aug2022 sm

The next view is very close by, from a different angle, where there’s no work going on, and it hasn’t changed in years. I drew this one pretty fast; it was the difference in the high-summer greens that made me want to put it to paper.

TB UCD 082622 sm

Another one drawn on a super hot day while stood in the shade, this is an old campus building called TB-9, which sounds like the name of a protocol droid in the Star Wars universe, but TB stands for ‘temporary building’. I mean, astronomically or geologically it is temporary, as are well all and all our thoughts and fears and politics, but in this case, the building was born in 1958 and is now on the actual National Register of Historic Places, no less. So it’s probably not going anywhere, but it might tempt fate to call it ‘Permanent Building 9’. If you want to know more about this building, check out this article:

UCD 082222 sm

This next one is primarily about the cacti in front of the Student Community Center, looking out at the Silo area. Another hot day, they all blend into one now. What even happened last August? It feels so long ago already.

UCD SSS lobby 090122sm

A week or so later, while it was a sizzling 102 degrees outside (in the weeks that would follow, 102 would feel like a bit of an ice age), I sat inside the Student Community Center and ate lunch, and drew the lobby area. Among other things this building is home to the UC Davis Cross Cultural Center, and there are colourful murals inside. We hold our annual department holiday party here too.

silo 092722 sm

And finally, the end of September, summer was over and the new Fall quarter had begun. So everyone was back, and we all got busy again, and the Silo area had new blue and yellow sun-shades over the tables. The academic year started. I still have a bunch more sketches from summer to post, from Davis and a few other places, and some from Fall too, but this was the summer on campus. Most of the staff in our department worked remotely except for one day a week, so I was there by myself for a lot of the time, but it’s nice when there are more people about again giving the campus its life, with all the students rushing about and bikes everywhere.

but now these days are gone

EOP building from Olsen 011023

I have not done a lot of sketching yet this 2023, much less than in previous Januarys. I think there are a few reasons. The weather was awful, with all those storms, which felled so many trees. Normally I’m like, well yeah but I’ll still draw, but I haven’t as much. Secondly, I’ve been busy with work. Yeah but normally when I’m busy with work, my sketching output increases, and January is always busy, but I’ve been feeling a bit more stressed and a bit more tired. I guess when you slip out of day-to-day sketching even for a week or two it’s harder to slip back in, I always like to have ‘runs’ of sketches, it takes the pressure off that first sketch. Sometimes I lose confidence in sketching how I want to, even though I draw fast. I’m getting that thing where in my lunchtime I will be like, do I have enough time now to draw? Is this enough time to get something done that I actually like? Usually when I run out of time, I’ll just finish off later, but I am finding that I’m becoming the king of finish-off-later. Then there’ my ageing eyesight; for some reason, sketching outside, normal light, I’m still fine, but I find it a bit more irritating drawing at the desk at home now, I have to either get my face close to the page with glasses off, or sit way further back, and indoor lighting just doesn’t seem to cut it (I know I’m getting to the point where bifocals would probably help with that, but for some reason they always remind me of those school secretaries you used to get who would peer down at you for being late or send you to talk to the head; I thought it was just me that imagined this imaginary character, but then my Mum said the exact same thing when she was talking about bifocals; funnily enough we did go to the same school, some decades apart, but I doubt that this imaginary school secretary with bifocals was actually there either in the 80s or the 60s. Maybe it was someone we saw on TV). Anyway I don’t mind my bad eyesight when sketching out and about, because that’s part of the view, but when drawing at home from a photo (more so than the finish-odd-later thing, where I’m finishing off colours or leaves from memory anyway) I have to shift my focus a lot more. I don’t know, “fortyitis” my optometrist called it. I actually had to look that up, thinking it was a real condition. So I’ve not been doing any desk drawing at home either. And then there’s the weekends – I really really want a day out sketching, down in the city maybe or somewhere else completely (…London?…), but for one reason or other I’ve not been able to.

I also, well, get a bit bored of drawing Davis. I know, I’ve been here before. I always find something else to draw, some other way of looking at old things. It’s just I’ve been finding it hard to stay motivated to keep documenting the same place, when I really need to get out and travel more. I think posting my sketchbook from the summer of 2022 this past couple of weeks has not helped with that, it’s just made me yearn for more travelling and sketching. Looking at other people’s sketches online, while usually a massive inspiration, has also made me feel frustrated for not being out sketching interesting places more. The Urban Sketching Symposium is finally back this year, and while I was super excited about it, I then made the (possibly stupid, surely regrettable) decision not to go. It’s in Auckland, New Zealand, a place where I’ve wanted to visit since I was a teenager at school. When I was 13 or 14 I had a pen-pal in New Zealand actually, in Lower Hutt near Wellington – though I can’t now remember their name, I remember they did send me a letter once inside a plastic bottle, that was sent through the post across the world to me in north London. Our school had this scheme where they would arrange pen-friends for students in different countries, and I loved writing letters across the world. I had one in New Zealand, another in Koblenz in Germany, another in Naples in Italy, and another in Vienna, in Austria, who I was pen-pals with the longest. I never met them in person, but it was a fun way to learn about people in other countries at a young age. These days it would be harder because it’s so much easier, with email and social media, it would probably be nowhere near the same. Anyway I’ve still never been to New Zealand. It’s in April, which is an awkward time for work when it can be busy. I also feel somewhat overwhelmed by the large symposia these days – they are such huge events now that I sometimes just want to wander off on my own anyway. I really enjoy meeting new sketching people and talking sketchbooks and styles, and I always love hanging out with those sketchers I’ve been meeting with since that first one back in 2010, the originals. I still get shy though, and I never feel quite confident enough though to propose teaching a workshop, or even a talk, so I just lurk about with my sketchbook drawing as much as I can, always obsessing that I have not yet drawn enough, I need to get more, to ‘catch up’.

So this drawing above was done on one lunchtime where I was like, no come on Pete, you really do have to draw, it will help. And it did, and there was no ‘finish-off-later’ to fall back on. It was on one of the off-days when the storms cooled off and the rain stopped a bit, but I went up to the second floor of Olsen Hall and draw the EOP building at UC Davis shielded away from any possible rain interruptions. This old tree is still there, with its large bulging bit in the middle. And I tell you what: I will -WILL- draw today. Especially when things are stressful (and are they!) I have to remember that the place I go to put that stress is a little 8.5″ x 5″ book with a nice blank page. Whatever comes out, comes out, even if it is the same old thing I’ve drawn a thousand times. Hey, that thing I draw might not be there next time I draw it.

atmospheric river / bomb cyclone

010123 tree carport sm

Before we return to the sketches of summer 2022, here’s 2023 so far. Here in California we are going through some of the worst wave of storms I’ve seen since coming here, knocking down more trees than I’ve experienced before (in my life that would be since the Great Storm of 1987 in the south of England, the Michael Fish Not-a-Hurricane). We knew the ‘Atmospheric River / Bomb Cyclone’ was incoming, but weren’t expecting it to cause so much damage. Atmospheric River and Bomb Cyclone sound like two flavours of anti-perspirant spray, or maybe a double A-side twelve inch from a 1980s dance group. With all these trees down I wasn’t not sure whether to call it ‘Arbor-gedden’ or ‘Arbor-calypse’. The situation has been pretty serious though.. The first biggie was on New Year’s Eve. It was pouring with rain and the wind was picking up, but we weren’t going anywhere, just played some board games and ate a nice roast dinner, and then noticed that the internet had gone down. We watched a movie saved on the iPad (the new Pinocchio, funnily enough) We could hear some big crashes not far away, but couldn’t tell what that was, maybe a big tree limb had snapped off. Just before midnight, the rain and wind had stopped revealing a bright starry sky. My son and I took a little walk around the neighbourhood and saw some trees had come down, but turning back towards our road the lights were out, but we could just about make out that a big tree had fallen and totally crushed the carport opposite. That’s it above, as seen first thing next morning. The car was just missed. Then walking away from that we nearly walked right into a huge tree that blocked the entire street, twice as big as the other fallen tree, and that had taken out the street lamp too. We found a way around and went back home. Power was out through much of Davis, but we were ok. The next morning I saw that the huge tree that came down had also totally flattened a car and pulled up the pipes from beneath the street, right outside our neighbour’s house. The sound of chainsaws had started at about 2am, before crews even made it out, there were neighbours just cutting away branches so that people could get past. Another enormous tree came down on top of all our mailboxes (that stopped the junk mail for a few days). I walked around, and saw that trees were down everywhere, a huge one already cleared from the main road, plus one house which had two trees fall on it, one damaging the roof and another crushing a car (I know the owner actually; he told me that they heard the first tree come down and went out to see, and only narrowly missed getting hit by the second tree which took out the car – so very, very lucky). This was just in our few blocks, trees were down everywhere. I’ve seen a lot of trees fall in Davis, but never this many all at once.

fallen tree outside MSB 010423

It took a while for the internet to come back on at home but I went into work a few days later, to find that the massive tree in front of our building had fallen too. Other trees have gone down outside the Math Sciences Building over the years but this was the biggest, a huge pine I think it was, and the roots had pulled up the sidewalk too. Crews have been out there ever since with chainsaws and shredding machines pulling it all apart, the the huge stump is still on its side and roped off. Several other trees around the building have had large parts come off. In front of Mrak Hall, two historic trees, oaks I think, fell on the main path. I walked through part of the Arboretum, mindful about loose branches, and saw one of the big Redwoods in the old Redwood Grove had fallen too. A lot of old trees fell on New Years Eve, a lot of history (and some much-needed shade) went with it; it made me feel sad. However, we were told that this was only a taster, that the really big storm was coming on Wednesday evening, with the worst hitting on Thursday afternoon. I got a little bit drenched cycling in on Thursday morning, but by about lunchtime it was another calm lull. In the early afternoon however I could see from my fourth floor office window a long black line against the sky, ominously stretching from north to south, moving fast in our direction. By the time it reached Davis, it was like we were suddenly engulfed in a giant grey wave, with the view from my window being a wall of water across the city. I had to quickly sketch while watching this deluge.

rainy view from MSB 010523

Thankfully the storm didn’t bring quite as much damage to our area as on New Year’s Eve, but still caused chaos around the state, and there have been big floods already with the region on high alert for more. There was another lull on Friday, and then on Saturday night (last night) the next wave hit, and boy was there some wind. It reached around 65 mph here, and I was pretty nervous watching as best I could from my bedroom window, as the silhouettes of large trees dancing around like jelly against a sky illuminated by flashes of lightning, to the constant pounding drone of the winds. The one tree that is right outside my window was giving it all that, mouthing off and getting lary, but by sunrise the tree had sobered up and acting as if nothing had happened. I took another walk this morning to survey the damage around our part of Davis, and while there were some big branches down and at least one tree it didn’t seem quite as bad, but I can’t speak for the rest of town and the news showed that midtown Sacramento got pretty badly hit. Our electricity was on, unlike for much of town after some power lines went down, but the internet was out. I cycled down to campus during today’s lull to check that power was on in our building, thankfully all ok (first day of the quarter starts tomorrow!), but didn’t sketch anything. All along each street there are piles of branches, and chopped up tree trunks, or the scars of where they crashed.  Last night was pretty scary, but the news is telling us the next wave of this Atmospheric River will hit tonight, the winds of the Pacific stretching out its long arm to give us another clobbering, and this one will be even worse than last night? It’s nature’s way, sure. Fingers crossed that tomorrow will be ok. I’d say ‘touch wood’ but frankly I want to keep as far away from any wood as possible…

’til you drag your feet to slow the circles down

Rock Hall 062722sm

Still catching up with the summer sketching, here are some UC Davis sketches from in between the two Europe trips. I have actually done more drawing this year than last, although I am forever miles behind on scanning and posting. These first couple were done in June – June! A million years ago – and the first one is Peter A. Rock Hall, formerly Chem 194. As I write in the latter half of September, that roundabout is likely a wild mess of cyclists going round and round until they have the courage to veer off without causing a spaghetti bolognese of bike chains.

Latitude UCD 062922 sm

This is Latitude, a food place for students on campus. I like the roof, it looks like statistics, maybe of a pandemic, maybe an opinion poll, maybe the results in a Tottenham season (start well, go up, lose to Burnley or someone, start to dip, sack the manager, get a new manager, win against Man City or someone, start to rise, don’t win anything; as every Spurs fan knows, the real trophies are the managers we sacked along the way).

Silo 070522 Above is The Silo, you’ve seen me draw this before. When I need to draw something with a pointy hat, we don’t have any wizards or wizard-school castles near here, so I draw the Silo. It used to be covered in greenery, but that has been shaved off to reveal a dull concrete torso. Someone sped past on one of those motorized stand-up scooter things. We never got actual hoverboards here in the future, did we. No, we got those electric scooters, that cut silently up the sidewalks and streets. I would fall on my Aristotle if I rode one of those about. I wasn’t even good on a skateboard. I had a skateboard for a bit when I was a teenager. It probably needed better wheels, better bearings, probably a better board, definitely a better person on top of the board. I just couldn’t make the thing go. I’d see other people, they seemed to just stand on their skateboard, tilt their head slightly and they’d be flying off, moving it telepathically. Never mind all the tricks, like the one where you jump off it and it spins around off a railing, and you land on it again like it was no big deal. If I ever did that, I would expect the win Sports Personality of the Year or something. I really wanted to be a skateboarder too; one day me and my friend Kevin, who also had a skateboard interest and a similar set of skills to me, met up in Harrow or Wealdstone or somewhere and skated a bit at some skate park, falling over, sending my board flying into a group of people before deciding, right, we’ve done that and are shit at it, so let’s go to the actual main skateboarding site in London, that area with all the graffiti on the South Bank in London, near Waterloo Bridge. We went that same day, got the tube down, and when we got there and saw all the kids doing tricks and flips, we basically stopped being skateboarders any more, and went back to just talking about football. Less Tony Hawk, more Tony Hawks (or is it the other way round).

Cruess UCD 070822 Finally, this is Cruess Hall, which had those bright pink blooms on the trees outside in early July. Cruess is where the Design Department live, and that’s where I had my 2016 show at the UC Davis Design Museum, ‘Conversations With The City’, a ten-year retrospective of my sketchbooks. That was six years ago this Fall. I have drawn quite a bit since then. If I just look at the past six years, on campus and outside, I’ve probably drawn more than in the previous ten years. I think I was quite happy with my drawings around the years 2014-2016 though, that was a good period of sketching for me. I’m still sketching, trying to get better, hopefully a better sketcher than I was a skateboarder.

back from london, back to the heat

Mrak Hall panorama

So, after my trip to Europe I returned to Davis and we had a heatwave where it was eight days straight of 100°+ weather. That’s been forgotten now, as we just got off a wave of ten days over 100°, of which eight were over 105°, and four were over 110°. The highest was around 116 (definitely hit 117 in Sacramento). It’s been a very very hot summer. Even on our second trip to London the temperatures were up in the records, but here it’s been oppressively hot. Thankfully it is cooling off at last, back down into the (whelp) 90s, although the fire season is on and we have had smoke in the sky from a fire in the foothills, and a soccer tournament in Tahoe cancelled (again). Back at the start of summer, it was a very hot day when I drew this panorama of Mrak Hall, UC Davis. I actually got sick that first week after returning from the UK; I had tested negative for Covid twice before flying (in fact the day I flew home was the first day they removed the testing requirement) and then negative again when I got back to Davis at our famed campus testing center. Then a day or so later I suddenly started getting ill, with a fever, a headache, a sore throat. Kept testing negative though, with various tests, so it wasn’t the Covid, but I still tested positive for ‘feeling like crap’ and stayed in bed. It took me a few days to feel ok again, but that heat was hard to do things in. I stood in the shade next to King Hall, but even then it was too hot, so I coloured it in and did all the scribbles for those trees later on. Mrak Hall is one of the main administrative centers for the campus, and Chancellor May has his offices in the top floor. I used to come to Mrak a lot when I was working with graduate students, when Graduate Studies was based here, but they moved recently to their new home in Walker Hall (you might remember all my drawings of the place). This was June, right at the start of the long hot summer; it’s now nearly mid-September, and the UC Davis Fall quarter is a week away. Our campus summertime is over. Everything gets busier now, a lot busier. Prepared? Haha.

Earth and Physical Sciences

EPS UC Davis

A little pause in the travelogue, somewhere between France and Belgium, to come back to California. I drew this in June, the building across the street from where I work. It’s the Earth and Physical Sciences Building, drawn for a colleague from that department who retired at the end of June. There’s the water tower in the background. We are right now in the midst of a long hot summer, I’m not really a fan of hot weather. I actually drew this from a photo (you can usually tell), though I’ve drawn this view a few times from similar angles. This one was from a photo taken in the middle of the street. The building has big rocks outside, all around the edge, because they study geology here (in the Earth and Planetary Sciences department). I sometimes wish I’d been a geologist. Actually I say that, I don’t really, but it is an interesting profession. We didn’t have geology at my school, at least not when I went there. Some of the older boys at the school talked about having taken geology at some point, but it seemed like something long gone in our school curriculum by 1987, and we just did boring old chemistry, physics and biology. I think we did learn about rocks in geography, come to think about it, but I probably thought that was boring too. My son likes geology, and when he was smaller and had to come to my office during summer breaks in years past we’d sometimes talk a little walk around this building to see the big rocks.

in line at the whole earth festival

whole earth festival 050622 sm Here’s another one from the UC Davis campus, this was sketched at the Whole Earth Festival in early May. The Whole Earth Festival is back in-person, and this is a popular annual event in Davis, with lots of vendors and food and music all around the UC Davis Quad. I went over on the lunchtime with many of the staff from our office to sit and have lunch with each other, I got an absolutely delicious mushroom burger, all vegan, really tasty. I started this sketch while I was in line, and went back after eating to draw some more (I had to keep saying to people “no I’m not in line”). If you like drawing people quickly, lines for food are usually a good spot because they will usually be still for a bit. I might have mentioned that in my book “Five Minute Sketching: People”, but if not, I’m saying it now and you can just write it in there of you have a copy. One thing, people are a little less likely to leave the line to come and see what you are sketching, because they don’t want to lose their spot, and they are hungry. Another tip, this one told to me by my sketching friend Rita Sabler, if sketching people at a bar, look at their drinks and sketch the ones with full glasses, because you know they will be there for a while. It’s a good tip. I was going to add colour to this sketch, but never got around to it, and now I prefer it just like this. But the Whole Earth Festival was pretty colourful, although we didn’t stop for much of the music, as we had to get back to work.

you know the place where nothing is real

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As I play catch-up on my sketch posts, I may as well do one of those where I just post a bunch of the drawings I did on campus in Spring all at once, so here they are. It’s probably a lazy way to do it, but it saves you from reading through all the stories I feel the need to write to go along with them (but you can skip by the stories anyway, I’m not actually very interesting). Above, that’s the Silo, which long term readers will recognize as I have drawn it before, like a million times.

UCD Tri Co Ops

This next one, that was the Tri-Co-Ops, which I have drawn before but not as much as the Silo, so it still feels new. I’ve never drawn it with that spiky arched structure in front of it though. I suppose the structure isn’t actually spiky, it’s the plants behind it that make it look spiky. It’s made of metal and yeah, it looks interesting.

CoHo UCD 042822 sm

This is the UC Davis Coffee House, or CoHo as it’s more commonly known. This was one of those days where I just needed to sketch something but didn’t know what. I get a lot of those on campus. After all these years I’m often a bit uninspired for new things to draw. Sometimes I draw the same things in different ways, but if it’s something that requires a lot of thought like a ridiculous perspective, often I’m like, I need to eat, there’s not much lunchtime left, don’t want to do something that makes me think too hard. I was listening to a football podcast while drawing this.

UCD Calif Ave 041922

Another from April, this is along California Avenue, I cycle along here every day. They were doing some construction work, so I had to draw that because I can’t help myself. It looks different now already. There’s always some construction going on. Be nice if they constructed us a new building, we’re running out of space (us and the rest of this growing campus). I liked the people walking by eyes glued down at phones. The mind needs constant engagement, I get it.

UCD Water Tower 042222 sm

Finally, this is the Water Tower, drawn down by the Earth and Physical Sciences building. I was leading a lunchtime sketchcrawl event for the Sustainability Office (we’ve done that for a few years now, close to Earth Day), and I did have a couple of other quick sketches to go with this but this was the main one. Thanks for joining me on this brief campus outing. More sketches still to come…

love and bridges

Arboretum UC Davis

Another break, I was in Europe again recently, so I have many more sketches to post and stories to tell. But we are about four months behind, so you get those ones first. Here are a couple of bridges over the creek in the UC Davis Arboretum that I drew during the Spring quarter. I like a bridge. The one above is fairly newly renovated, having had a big upgrade in the past few years. The one below is a footbridge only, and people put those little padlocks with hearts and names scratched on onto the railings, which I am not a fan of. There’s that one in Paris isn’t there where so many of those silly padlocks have been attached to the bridge that the bridge starting creaking under the extra weight. “Oh I love you dear, I know, I will leave a stupid little padlock I bought off a guy for twenty quid on this bridge in a place we don’t live so that if we ever come back we can see if it’s still there or if it’s been cut off by council workers due to it being vandalism, just like the thousands of people have done before.” “Oh thank you dear you are so romantic and original.” “Well I try. Do you still have that single rose I bought you for a fiver from some guy bugging us at our restaurant table?” “That must have been someone else.” I put a lot of thought into these imaginary character conversations. In fact last week (late July) I was in Paris and that bridge there doesn’t allow those silly love-locks any more, but that doesn’t mean the stupid love-lock industry is dead, because they put them every bloody where else. Up at Montmartre, it felt like every metal fence was covered in them, you could see the cheap brass glistening in the light, and scrawny men were wandering about with bags of them trying to sell them to people. And they are mostly heart-shaped now as well. Honestly there are so many of them it would become utterly tedious to try and look through them when you return with your partner years later to find it, this unique special thing, yeurch. Anyway don’t do that. Don’t carve your initials onto trees either, nor into rocks, or write hit records for them, or build huge domed palaces for them or travel the universe gathering infinity stones so you can wipe out half of all existence with the snap of a finger for them, or any of that cheesy stuff, just be cool.

Arboretum Bridge 050422 sm

Anyway, I better start scanning the new sketches and coming up with more interesting things to say. I’ve done some travelling in the past few months and my legs hurt, but it’s the height of hot summer now and time to start catching up. Stay tuned.

jungerman and bainer

Jungerman UCD 040722 sm

Before we get to the Grand Canyon, a couple more UC Davis sketches to tide us over, sketched just a few yards from each other (albeit facing in a different direction). Above is Jungerman Hall, which houses the Crocker Nuclear Lab. They do lots of stuff with their Cyclotron. I can’t pretend I know what the Cyclotron does but I imagine it’s what the Autobots would have turned into if they had landed on Earth before cars were invented, and they just transformed into bikes. Still, I bet it would be cool to draw, hint hint. Below, the side of Bainer Hall, which is where lots of Engineering types can be found. From above, it kind of looks like a chunky Y-Wing fighter. Not everything is about Star Wars, of course. That strange rocket shaped tower protruding from the roof looks nothing like anything in Star Wars, because as we know vehicles in Star Wars don’t rely on rocket propulsion to leave their respective atmospheres. I’m not an engineer, nor a science fantasy writer, so don’t quote me on that. “Jungerman and Bainer” sounds a bit like it could be the name of a cop show, neurotic perfectionist Jungerman partnering with brash no-nonsense Bainer, the pair not getting along at all when the chief puts them together to investigate some serious crime, having a hunch they’ll make a good team to crack the case, but they end up getting caught by the main villain and tied up, where they form a bond and use engineering know-how mixed with blunt force to escape and – let’s face it the pilot of this show is totally getting cancelled, isn’t it. Still more interesting than Jurassic World Dominion. Maybe the TV execs are cancelling it because there’s not enough dinosaurs. Anyway, enough of that tangent. I’m done scanning all the sketches from my recent European trip, so hopefully those will all be posted here soon, probably over the course of the next few months at my rate.

UCD Bainer 041522 sm