could frame thy fearful symmetry

downtown davis colours

Summer is here, and with it comes 90-plus degree weather and fans and sunscreen. It just suddenly arrives in Davis, acting as though it were here all the time. I was out yesterday (looking for things to sketch on Drawing Day 2010) and drew some images that struck me downtown, the colours especially. That first one, the yellow dress, is in the window of Pinkadot on E St; the last, the South African football shirt (World Cup starts in less than a week!), is in the window of Soccer & Lifestyle. That is a football (soccer) short shop and one of my favourite places in Davis (indeed it was the discovery of this shop that helped in our initial decision to give living in Davis a go). The red cars were on E and 3rd respectively, and were begging to be sketched. I wanted to give this spread a kind of comic book quality, and I was originally going to add words, I let them speak for themselves instead.

may the sixth be with you

The UK General Election is upon us. Unlike in the US, where the election date is known years in advance and the campaigning goes on for about three hundred years, filling the airways with irritating paid-for campaign ads, British elections are called with only about a month of soapboxing and eggfacing until the big day, and the long swingometer-filled night. Also unlike America, Britain is not electing a President, but a party to govern. We’ve all become very comfortable with being uncomfortable at how ‘presidential’ our Prime Ministers are getting (ie, they brush their hair and grin a lot), so with thought in mind, which of the three below do you think will become our next ‘presidential’ PM?

gordon brown

See, I’m glad Gordon Brown (above) is not a smiler, and has unbrushable hair. Makes him less presidential. David Cameron (below) on the other hand, old Etonian, friendly chap, cheeky grin, America will love him like they loved Blair. Like so many pop groups before them, our PMs probably feel they can only be truly big if they can break America.

david cameron

He has a big forehead doesn’t he. By the way, America, if you’re following the UK Election, Blue means Conservatives and Red means Labour. Red is the traditional colour of international socialism; it’s only the US that has that the other way round, where it means the colour of Limbaugh-loving necks.

And then in the Yellow corner there is the Other Bloke, who by all accounts won the UK’s first presidential – i mean, prime ministerial – debate (it’s not like they don’t already debate in the House of Commons though, is it). These debates mean nothing, the Liberal Democrats aren’t ever going to really win a general nick cleggelection, because they are deliberately ignored by the Murdoch press (the true rulers of the UK). Unless…surely not? Nick Clegg (right) is apparently becoming swiftly popular, and let’s face it, Brits (like Americans, to whom we gave most of our reality TV shows) love nothing more than an instant overnight popular political hero – oh, what am I saying, there is one thing Brits like more, and that is knocking said hero off his perch and dragging said hero through the razor mill of the tabloid press (hello again, Mr. Murdoch). 

No, he’s not smaller because my Murdoch-payroll editors have instructed me not to get in the way of their Tory revival saga (I’m not The Times, you know). More that the sketch simply looks nothing like him, but hey, I don’t really know what he looks like, or stands for. I know he looks a bit like Philip Schofield, David Duchovny, Kilroy and Jim Davison (shuddering at the thought). Time for me to do some reading up on this election. I won’t get to vote, but I also won’t get to live through the consequences, now I’m over here in Obama-world. I do really miss British politics, honestly I do, I want to watch Paxman, I want to watch Dimbleby, I want interactive 3d Swingometers, I want to see eggs on faces and Prescott punches (whoever the modern equivalent of Prescott is), staying up all night and watching the results of Haltemprice & Howden and Cannock Chase and other places I’d never heard of. This election even looks like it might actually be a three horse race (unlike the last few, which were definitely one-horse races). I drew a political cartoon which got onto the Channel 4 web site last time (Goldilocks and the Three Unbearables), I need to sharpen that pencil again (Last of the Summer Whine: Foggy, Compo and Clegg would be a start, cascading down the hill in a tin bath).

At least this time I won’t need to stay up all night. I’m eight hours behind, so hopefully it’ll all be decided by midnight. I suspect Labour may have to do a deal with the Lib Dems to keep the Tories out of Number 10; if not, Brown won’t have a Clegg to stand on. May the Sixth be with you.

a learning curve

shields library

I had a pen in my bag I’d bought in London, a uni-pin fineliner I got in the big Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road, and wanted to run it down. I have wanted to draw the Shields Library on campus for a while but never found myself a good angle. I have also wanted to mess about with curvilinear perspectives for quite some time but have not done so. Until now; I sat at lunchtime in the shade among the bicycles opposite the library and started drawing. I’ve made it look like a baseball stadium or something. It is a very big library, and very well stocked. It was my destination of choice when I first moved here, way before I started working on campus, when I was just coming off from my Master’s back in the UK, where I had gotten quite used to spending hours locked away in the polished silence of the Maughan Library on Chancery Lane, or the high-up dustiness of Senate House. As a medievalist and germanic philologist I enjoyed the privelige of being in those quiet parts of the library that nobody went to, because usually nobody else was studying what I was studying (similarly I had little problem with borrowing books). I’ve not dusted off those books in some time.

I showed this to my two-year-old, and he was immediately impressed that I’d drawn a picture of a bicycle. He’s one for the small details (bit like me).

cake that

half-eaten 2nd birthday cake

It was my son’s birthday; I made the cake. Here it is, half-eaten (or is it half-uneaten, whichever is the more positive sounding…) It was very nice cake. I thought this wasn’t going to become a food-blog? I haven’t baked a cake in years, I mean years. I was all for doing a nice Victoria sponge with jam and buttercream in it, but for some reason couldn’t pluck up the courage. Besides, ingredients here always seem to have different names from their British recipe counterparts when I get to the store.

It’s what first frustrated me when I moved here. I remember back then, I forget what I was making, but I couldn’t find double cream anywhere, had no idea what Americans called it. Out went half my recipes. No coriander? Well I’ll use cilantro instead. Biscuits are a type of bready thing you get at KFC, not something you dip in your tea. Even now I’m still not sure if America has any swede in any of its grocery stores (I’ve had mashed-swede-&-carrot-free roasts for over four years now), it may be disguised as something else. The perils of being a Brit abroad. 

But cake, on the other hand, is surely cake! So I used a cake mix, from a box, Betty Crocker, just add eggs, oil and water. Kind of cheating I know. But it was bloody good, I will say, and my son (who had been looking forward to this much-hyped birthday cake for days) was super impressed, and that’s the main thing.

Drawn in the moleskine diary.

cyclepathic tendencies

red bike on campus

If you didn’t know, Davis is a cycling capital. There are bikes everywhere, and I mean everywhere – especially just before and after classes on the UC Davis campus. they come from left and right and behind and probably from above and below too. They’ll cut you up, whizz through stop lights, pay no attention to other cyclists turning, and occasionally mash each other up around the roundabouts (which can be entertaining). Just this morning a guy cycling behind me flew off his bike at speed while turning a puddle-riddled corner. I noticed he had headphones in both ears (oooh, that’s against the law). You see a lot of people texting while cycling too. WTF? There is a bike cop on campus who gives cyclists the odd telling-off for riding in no-cycling zones, and occasionally cops will stop cyclists who actually do follow the rules of the road, and give them a reward for their good behaviour. It’s true, I read it in the paper.

Sometimes, with all these bikes, there is just nowhere to park. The owner of this red bike just chained their road-bike to a lamp-post. That was nice of them. It gave me something to draw at lunchtime.

lunchtime bells

lunchtime bells

My envelope-filled recycling bin overfloweth; I know how Jimmy Saville must feel now. Well not quite. Anyway the drawing continues, this manila envelope piece, cut out and glued into the moleskine, had three bells on it (pull the other one), the so-called US ‘forever stamps’ (in England they’re all called that, ‘cos it takes forever for your letters to get there). This is of course the Silo at UC Davis, today at lunchtime. It is still gloomy and damp here in California.

on a chinese envelope

uc davis, on a chinese envelope

I wanted to draw on some different surfaces, try out some new things. I get a lot of mail from all over the world in my job, mostly from China, and my recycling bin is chock full of interesting looking envelopes waiting to be drawn on. So I cut one up, pasted it into my moleskine and drew the view from the stairwell today, the UCD water tower on a foggy January lunchtime. I don’t remember which university this envelope came from, nor do I read Chinese, but I thought the effect of the red writing looked really cool on the brown paper. Oh, and yes I know it is upside down.

your golden section

golden square, sohoAnother from the afternoon sketchathon in Soho. We made our way through art shops (I love Cass Arts on Berwick St, and Cowling & Wilcox on Broadwick St) and questionable alleys to the slightly more upscale edge of Soho at Golden Square. I had forgotten how early the Sun goes down in England in November – it was getting dark at half past three – and it was getting colder too, so we sat in the square and drew some architecture, while the Moon shone down upon us (that’s that little white circle up in the sky on that sketch there).

pete, sketching in golden square, soho

There I am, uni-pin fineliner in hand. After this, another old pub, The Old Coffee House on Beak St.

pillars of hercules

manette street, sohoI love sketching in Soho. You can do a sketch of something, and then just pop into an old pub and sketch in there. Sketch, and repeat. There are so many old pubs in soho to choose from. My friend Simon and I sketched down in Manette Street, just by Foyles Books (one of my favourite bookstores in the world), which as you may see I have called Mallet Street. Mallet Street is in fact somewhere else; oh dear, my A to Z London memory is starting to fade. We sat in the cold outside the Borderline club, a regular haunt of mine in the mid to late 90s (those indie nights) and I drew the back of the Pillars of Hercules pub, with the covered alleyway leading into Greek Street. Fingers freezing,  we finished up and went inside for a pint of ale. I must say: though I love old English pubs, I’m not really a fan of the beers here any more. I’ve been rather spoiled by the West Coast micro-brews. Oh I don’t dislike them (in fact give me a Youngs or a Fullers any day), but these Adnams ones, well I would much rather have had a Fat Tire or an Anchor Steam. I think if I had English pubs with West Coast beers, I’d be a very happy man. And probably hung over quite a lot.

pillars of hercules, soho

whenever i walk in a london street

tottenham court road

…I’m ever so careful to watch my feet. Sometimes though it is good to stop and look up. So this is Tottenham Court Road, by Goodge Street, looking out at BT Tower. I was meeting my friend Simon one chilly Friday for an afternoon of sketching in Soho. They don’t sell Micron Pigma pens in London (I asked), so before I depleted my supply I popped into Paperchase on Tottenham Court Road and picked up a Uni-Pin fineliner, which works very nicely. I did find, on my sketching outings, that I would often have to use several pens in each sketch – they don’t react too well to freezing temperatures and often give up the goat (or is it the ghost, I forget), so I would have to put one in my jacket pocket to warm up while a subsititute would come on for a little while. I tended to rotate three pens on an given sketch. It reminded me of playing football when I was a kid and they would take you off for a while to give another kid a go while you put your warm coat on. Anyway, it was with cold fingers that I drew this scene, thinking about when I used to catch the bus home up here, the 134 to Archway, several years ago.

Passsers-by were very friendly. Several people stopped and asked me about the buildings I was drawing. I told them, in this city so few people look up, just staring at shop level or avoiding the masses of bears who wait at the corners all ready to eat the sillies who tread on the lines in the street, and though those old facades are grimy and ridden with pigeons and pollution, the architecture hidden in plain sight is really very interesting.

also posted at urban sketchers