Let’s go back in time again to January. January was when we were nearly at war with Iran, and Australia was burning, and Trump was in the middle of his impeachment, and we thought wow, the 2020 season is starting strong, lots of big news, maybe the rest of the year will be quiet. Well here we are. When I thought ‘quiet’ I didn’t mean ‘stuck at home for months, no travel, no sports, school from home, working from the bedroom, uncertainty and unhappiness, paranoia and panic, anxiety and antagonism’ but here we are. Oh well. Above is a sketch I did of the Silo at UC Davis, scene of a million sketches of mine, place of having lunch. They were redoing the roof, it’s all done now I think. It was freezing cold that day; a few days before I had been swimming in the middle of the Pacific on Maui, so chilly Davis was a comedown. Fast forward to June, Davis is 100 degrees Fahrenheit now and I’m stuck in my bedroom.
Here are some people, sketching around the Silo in January, along with the following obligatory comment about “ooh they aren’t social distancing, we didn’t even know what that was back then, oh how the world has changed” etc: Ooh, they aren’t social distancing. We didn’t even know what that was back then! Oh how the world has changed. But this is not a drawing of a crowd, each of these people was drawn individually at different moments. I could have drawn them standing on each others’ heads but they weren’t. So don’t worry about it, it’s not a photo of Bournemouth beach or anything. That said, yes it was back in January, and while none of these people have them on, a lot of our students and faculty from China were already wearing masks, having experienced outbreaks of contagious disease before. Fast-forward to now, I like wearing my mask, personally. I can’t use it while exercising, which for me is running, but I wear it when I’m outside even walking the neighbourhood. I rarely go into shops but I wear it there. I did have to run some soccer tryout events this past week, following strict protocols on social distancing, and I had to wear it at almost all times in my capacity as a coach (I took it off to run during the warm-up – it was 100 degrees out! – and to drink my water, but kept it on while attempting to give loud but muffled instructions). The mask means I can do funny voices more, like Bane or Doctor Doom or Brian Clough. (Can you imagine Brian Clough as Doctor Doom? “Oh that FOOL Revie, oh he may have beaten Galactus but it doesn’t count because he did it by CHEATING. If superhero battles were meant to be fought in space God would have put New York city streets in the sky. Now I wouldn’t say I was the best scientific mind/super-villain/supreme god-emperor in the Marvel Universe, but I’d say I was in the Top 1.” Brian Von Doom. They both liked wearing green. I can’t imagine Cloughie wearing a mask though, but I bet Don Revie wished he did.
I drew this, the Academic Surge building next to the one where I work, during a lunchtime in later January. They really like large rectangular arches. There was a sale on at the large rectangular arch shop, and it was buy one get one free at the dark window store, so with the money they saved there they got the biggest massive cylinder they could find at Massive Cylinders R Us.
The day before I went to the gym (remember the gym?) which at UC Davis is the ARC, where I would go regularly while exercising and losing weight. Now the only only exercise I am doing is running – I set myself goals in terms of miles per month that I have been hitting, although now I have to run early in the morning or not at all, to beat this damn heat – and eating doughnuts. Technically that last thing isn’t exercising but there’s a global pandemic on, what you gonna do. But I would love to get back to the routine of going to the gym, going on that elliptical thing (where I watch Netflix Formula One shows or that amazing Dark Crystal series), doing the rowing machine, squashing all my stuff into a small locker. This is the blue Aggie fire truck. It’s not an in-use fire truck any more, but belongs to the UCD Athletics dept. I have drawn it before. They sue it in the big parades and to promote sports at UC Davis. Kids love fire trucks. My son went through the whole fire truck phase, it’s when I started drawing them loads. He loved visiting the fire station, meeting the firefighters who were always happy to meet the local kids, they even had special ‘baseball cards’ with each of the firefighters on which kids could collect. They were fun days, when you could make their day by just walking past the fire station and seeing the doors open so you could see the ladder truck and all the others. Those really were the days. I’ve a lot of respect for firefighters, especially in the past few years where fires have been such a terrible thing in California (and elsewhere), but I do really like to draw a firetruck.
Moving around campus, it was a very rainy day when I stood under a tree and tried to draw this end of Freeborn Hall, home of the legendary local radio station KDVS. I have known several people involved with KDVS over the years, it is a proper institution, and I’ve always wanted to go and sketch their record room, where they keep all their huge supplies of music, it looks amazing. However I must confess, I don’t listen to the radio. I haven’t listened to the radio in years. When I was a kid I would listen to the radio a lot, in fact when I was 10 I wanted to be a radio DJ. In 1986, a radio DJ was approximately the number 1 job in the country, right up there with The Queen or Gary Lineker. I liked Capitol Radio, and used to listen to Steve Wright, and I would record songs from the radio and then with my twin cassette player. You remember those! One of the tape decks would be just play only, the other one had play and record (hold them down together), and don’t forget to put the little tab out of the cassette so you can’t tape over it later. Come to think of it, I only had a single tape player, my mum had the double player, I used to borrow it all the time to copy-record tapes. Remember having to do that, to record a tape or make a playlist you’d be playing the whole thing, listening as you go along, a much more organic way than nowadays with your digital playlists. Look how much we have gained, but what have we lost?! Anyway I would record myself talking like I was on the radio, no idea what I would have said back then. I probably put on that radio voice too, the one where all “t” sounds become “d” sounds, my mum would listen to Capital Gold. Remember Capital Gold? This is one for Londoners. It played all the old songs from the 60s, which to me then as a kid in the 80s seemed like a million years ago. Tony Blackburn was on it, and David Hamilton. One of my favourite radio-themed things though was a board game I had, Mike Read’s Pop Quiz. It may be one of the most 1980s things you ever see. I also wanted to be a football commentator. It’s funny because I really don’t like listening to recordings of myself speak. Fast forward to 2020 (and we all remember how slow fast forward was on those old cassette players) and we have Zoom and so on, and I had to record a presentation where I gave a virtual sketch tour of Davis for new students, and I really say “um” and “er” a lot, even when I’m scripted. I have considered making YouTube videos about my Davis sketches, a tour of the town and a little sketch demo, but I can’t listen to myself talk right now. Maybe I need to do more funny voices. So, no radio DJ career for me, but that’s ok, I haven’t turned on a radio in years. I do listen to a lot of podcasts though.
Ok nearly done with January campus sketches now, this is Roessler Hall, as drawn from next to the Physics building. Always reminds me of the brilliant East German striker Uwe Roessler, who used to play for Man City back when they were heroic and rubbish, but had amazing Umbro and Kappa kits. I think that 97-99 Man City kit is one of the greatest kits of all time. They also had this player from Georgia back when foreign players were still a bit new, and Georgia was a new exotic independent country: Georgi Kinkladze. He was on the City team at the same time as Roessler, and they were exciting to watch, but ultimately terrible, getting relegated in 1996. Roessler and Kinkladze stuck around as they failed to get promoted, but eventually City came back up to the Premier League a few years after they both left, in the year 2000 (this is like talking about the 60s to a kid in the 80s, I feel like Tony Blackburn) (Wait till you hear about Blackburn Rovers!), but then went straight back down again, because City were really bad, like way worse even than Spurs were at the time. Now they have tons of oil cash and Pep Guardiola and Noel Gallagher has a secret portal to their dressing room, but I quite liked them when they were heroically shite.
And finally, a quick sketch of the Student Housing building. I drew a lot in January. Right I’m off to play Mike Read’s Pop Quiz, with my mask on.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Recently I went to Berkeley for the annual UC Academic Advising Conference (UCAAC). I’ve been going to this conference most years since 2007, which was hosted by UC Irvine at the Disneyland Hotel. Each year a different UC campus hosts the conference and this year Berkeley got the chance. I sketched the opening remarks at the morning breakfast, before the break-out workshops began (fun note: I won a Starbucks gift card for this sketch!). The theme this year was ‘Building Bridges’, because, as you know, lots of bridges near here. The Bay Bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Carquinas Bridge, loads of bridges. But yes, yes I kept thinking if Ian McKellen’s Magneto delivering his Magnetoesque line from X-Men: The Last Stand: “Charles always wanted to build bridges.” He said that as you know just after ripping the Golden Gate Bridge from its base and dumping it on Alcatraz for some reason. I love Magneto.
This sketch of Bancroft Avenue was drawn early in the morning, after getting off the train. There is always a lot to sketch in Berkeley.
Such as Sather Gate. This is a very ornate gateway on campus, and I did draw it many years ago, but wasn’t happy with it at the time, so I’m pleased to report, I like the newer version. There were quite a few students in graduation garb walking around taking photos, as you do. It was that time of year. Below, I drew a detail of the gate. Making a heart.
I did those between workshops, but I also did a bit of sketching after the final workshop on day two, when I wandered campus a bit after lunch. Below is the University Library, which is just a massive, grandiose epic structure. A lot of UC Berkeley is like this, full of grandeur, far more than UC Davis. Berkeley is Davis’s parent school of course, with UC Davis being founded as Berkeley’s offshoot University Farm. Our library is also massive, but this one looks far grander.
Below is the Sather Tower, the large campanile (bell-tower) at the heart of the Berkeley campus. It’s nice up the top of there by the way. I just had to draw it again.
And the fire hydrants. Like in Davis, the city has a different colour hydrant from the campus, but unlike Davis, it’s the campus that has the yellow hydrants while the city has the white ones. I know! You don’t care! But I think that is funny. The yellow one there is outside the Playhouse on campus, while the short white one is on Shattuck Avenue next to that discount bookstore.
This is the Crocker Nuclear Lab at UC Davis, which is located right next to where I work, so I didn’t have to go very far for my lunchtime sketch. The building itself is called John A. Jungerman Hall, but the lab has been home for the past 50 years to incredible machinery such as the 76-inch isochronous cyclotron. I know, right? Ok I don’t know what that is but it sounds great. I’m actually very interested in particle physics. I’m quite particular to it, no that doesn’t work. I like listening to podcasts and watching TV shows about particles, the old bosons and quarks, all the particles, they’re great. I do sort of understand it, for sure, but I think I just like hearing all the words being said, I like to know someone is out there doing the science. I loved physics when I was a kid, I wasn’t very good at it but it was such an exciting science (conversely, I got great grades in biology but was always bored with it) (we don’t talk about chemistry though. I was scared of the Bunsen burners). Except I had a teacher called Mr Vilis, who I always liked, but he would get very angry if anybody opened the window in class if it was hot, he would go and furiously slam it shut. He did do a very good turn as the Laughing Policeman at a school show one year though (along with my form teacher Mr Singer) so I always knew he was a joker at heart. I do remember the Van Der Graaf Generator in his classroom though (I’m probably getting quite far from particle physics and radiation now I think), making our hair stand on end. Not exactly a hard trick with me, my hair always stands on end, it’s why I keep it short. Van Der Graaf Generator were a really good band back in the day, I say really good, I only knew one song but I did meet one of the band members when doing a thing years ago at Union Chapel with Shape Arts. I remember telling him, oh wow I’m a really big fan, but only of that one song, which I heard recently on a compilation album free with Uncut magazine. So not a really big fan then. But I would be because I like your band’s name, because I like physics, event though I’m not very good at it.
So anyway this is the Crocker Nuclear Lab at UC Davis, home to the cyclotron (which you can learn more about at cyclotron.crocker.ucdavis.edu), and I’ve walked past it every day for over a decade, so here it is. Well not every day obviously, I do have weekends off, and vacations, and half the time I cycle, not walk…etc etc
This is University House, one of the oldest buildings on the UC Davis campus. It was built in 1907/1908 as the house of the farm director when the campus first opened as University Farm, an agricultural research offshoot of UC Berkeley. You can see the sloping roof of South Hall behind it, one of the first dorms. This is near the Quad. Sketched in the Stillman & Birn “Beta” landscape sketchbook. That is a nice book, I’m almost done with it.
A couple of weeks ago, I was in Los Angeles for a conference with work. It was at the UCLA campus in Westwood, and I had never explored UCLA before, so I made sure to bring my sketchbook. UCLA’s campus is pretty big, but it feels even bigger because it’s got a lot of hills and steep climbs; I think if I worked here, I’d be a lot fitter. UC Davis is very flat, very bikeable, spread out but nothing too far from anywhere. I did get a little lost at UCLA. At one point, while wandering about with my map, one student did stop and help me out. I’m glad he did, because I was convinced I was in one place but was in fact in the complete other direction. I found my way around in the end. The conference was just for one day, and the workshops were short. One particular time slot had nothing relevant to me (except for one slightly interesting workshop that filled up immediately), so I took that opportunity to get briefly lost on campus before finding Royce Hall (below), an epic building in an epic location. I sketched away as quickly as I could, before dashing back to the next session, and added the colour later on.
I did do some sketching during the workshops, but this one below was of the Keynote Speaker. This was the UC Academic Advising Conference, and the speaker was Laura Hamilton of UC Merced, talking about her research into the inequalities inherent in the university system in the US, and how we can meet the needs of underprivileged students. It was a fascinating talk and worth the trip down there alone. I took a lot of notes.
After the final workshop was over we all dispersed, and I headed back up to where Royce Hall was to do a bit more. I also sketched the beautiful building opposite, Powell Library (see below, and the top image of this post). I stood in the cool arches of Royce Hall, in this very tranquil spot. As someone who has sketched UC Davis rather a lot, it was fun to be able to draw a different campus in our UC family. UC by the way means ‘University of California’. These particular buildings date back to when the Westwood campus opened in 1929 (though UCLA itself is a little older). Here is a little history of UCLA: http://www.ucla.edu/about/history.
And of course, a UCLA fire hydrant! Sketched at the end of the day on the way back to the hotel. I did quite a lot of sketching while down in LA, and am still scanning it all in, so stay tuned for more LA-themed posts coming up…
Last week was the event of the 44th Worldwide Sketchcrawl. Regular listeners will know I have been on many of the worldwide sketchcrawls over the years in many cities. Last Saturday morning I woke up, and decided: I’m going to Berkeley. The sketchcrawl was on the UC Berkeley campus, which for me was significant as one of the first sketchcrawls I ever took part in (it was in fact the second, the first being in Davis at the end of 2005, but I did not do much that day) was at UC Berkeley, in March 2007. On that day I sketched a lot but kept to myself, too shy to talk to other sketchers. I’m not so shy these days, but I did sketch solo, though it was great to meet and talk to other sketchers. I also remembered just how much I love being in Berkeley. The theatre above, the Calfiornia, I sketched in the morning before meeting the sketchcrawlers. I remember one of the last times I was in Berkeley saying, I must sketch that next time. That was five years ago, so I got there eventually.
Above, my first sketch of the day. It took about an hour and a half, and I had intended to colour it but I haven’t yet. All of the colouring in I did was done later, because I didn’t bring a little jar of water for my paints (of my two small jars, one was lost and one broke, I haven’t found a good small one since). I don’t really do the waterbrush thing any more. So, it gives me more time for penwork, diving into the details. This is South Hall. Davis has one of those too, but it’s not as nice as this. This radiates grandeur.
This is a building I have sketched before, Bowles Hall further up the hill. It looks like an old English country public school (Americans note, ‘public’ school in England is actually what we call private schools; our public schools are called ‘state’ schools. Mine was always in a state, anyway). I sketched it in 2007 on a much sunnier day (sunnier, but through the fog I actually still got burnt last week, stupid deceptive weak bay fog). This time there was construction going on in front of it, so I imagine this view will look different next time.
I went down the hill to the southern edge of campus, to the corner of Bancroft and College. This building is called the Free House I think. I was enticed by the colourful newspaper boxes which again, I had to colour in later, but spent a good deal of time (just over an hour) sketching all the little marks on each one. By the time I was done it was time to reconvene with the other sketchers, back at Sather Tower. There was quite a gathering. Here I am with a few fellow sketchers (left to right) Jana Bouc (one of the SF Bay Area Urban Sketchers and whose own sketchblog Jana’s Journal in fact inspired me to start this very blog you are reading); Pete (that’s me there with uncoloured version of sketch above); Gary Amaro (also an original Urban Sketchers correspondent, see his work online at garyamaro.blogspot.com); and Flory Nye-Clement, a sketcher from Benicia (who by the way is organizing a sketchcrawl at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park on August 23, starts at 11am). Results of the sketchcrawl in Berkeley are being posted on the forum at sketchcrawl.com.
I’ve been quite a hermit lately in terms of sketching, and I must say it was very nice to get back out there and meet fellow sketchers again. It’s always good to rub shoulders with other people on this planet who ‘get it’. Hey, there are a lot of us urban sketchers out there!
It’s the time of year when the Frat Boards are out in force. Not just for Fraternities, but Sororities and other organizations too. I have lived in Davis for seven years and they are all still a mystery to me. Obviously not all these societies are ‘Greek’ (or maybe they are), or rather they don’t all have mystical Greek acronyms, but many of them have big frat houses and spend a lot of October pursuing recruitment activities and initiations (such as ‘hazing’). Fraternities are national, with chapters at many big American schools, and some societies are very old indeed. Some are specialist organizations, such as the ones for Pre-Med students or Latino students, or that fraternity for those really into boating (Rho Rho Rho) and another one for dairy farmers (Mu Mu). (There is probably one for really crap old jokes too, Tee Hee Hee).
Speaking of the Greek alphabet, I was listening to an excellent podcast today, the History of English Podcast by Kevin Stroud. As an avid and excitable enthusiast of language history I was giddy to discover this recently, and listened to all the podcasts so far almost every day on iTunes. It is a history of the English language alright, but is starting from the very beginning, in a super comprehensive way that you do not get in standard English language histories. It does not start from the usual “Angles, Saxons and Jutes crossing the North Sea” angle (excuse the pun, just this once), but from the roots of Proto-Indo-European. As the series has progressed, Kevin Stroud has neither skipped a connection nor simply narrowed the focus into proto-Germanic, but includes anything that is relevant to the development English and shows us why. There was one episode devoted solely to the letter ‘c’. Now I understand that this may not excite you in quite the same way it excites me, but I have listened to that one quite a few times and have already started doing some reading again. I studied Germanic philology as part of my MA in Medieval English and so the episodes on sound shifts and Grimm’s Law made my heart race, as all those hours spent pondering dusty books and dictionaries in Senate House and the Maughan Library came flooding back to me. This was my passion, more so even than drawing, and one I have not had time for these past few years (though I was interviewed on ABC radio in Australia about the topic of my MA thesis last year). Today’s eagerly anticipated episode was about the alphabet, and its origins in Phoenician and subsequently Greek. The move from a syllabic-based script to an alphabetic script was huge, as it made learning to read and write a lot easier, there being far fewer phonemes or letters in a language than syllables. Imagine if we’d stayed with Cuneiform or hieroglyphs, and that show Countdown would have been very different (“a scarab please Carol, and a bird, and a river…”). As I say, Stroud always ties it to English, as that is the podcast’s name, and since we use that alphabet every single day the origins of it are of immense importance to the history of English. If you have an interest in such stuff, I strongly recommend this podcast. More than anything, it is good to listen to while out and about sketching, especially when you sketch Greek letters and can say, ‘Alpha’, ah yes, that used to be a consonant, not a vowel.
The Death Star, or ‘Social Sciences and Humanities Building’ as some pedantic people call it, is one of UC Davis’s most loved/hated/bloody annoying buildings. I’m not a fan myself, having been lost and confused in there on too many occasions, making me late for meetings. It’s like being lost in an Escher painting. I am glad it’s there though, it’s such an oddity. It’s so complicated you would need two R2-D2s to hold its schematics. Even the maddest 1960s British council estate designers wouldn’t come up with something so utterly mental. I sketched it last week while braving the pollen and the dark side (notice how doorways are big here, so stormtroopers can’t bang their heads), and you can sort of see how I hold my pen as well.
On Friday lunchtime, I sketched inside the Robert Mondavi Institute for food and wine and other stuff, because I needed to get out and sketch and it’s a couple of minutes from where I work. I have drawn inside here before, from a different angle, and they have an incredible garden full of all kinds of plants and herbs and lemons and what not. There’s a nice smell as you sit and sketch. It’s called the Good Life Garden. I’m not making it up; I was expecting Richard Briers and Felicity Kendall to turn up, or at the very least, Neil from the Young Ones.
I used a white gel pen to emphasize the bare trees. This sunny February weather is amazing! I want to do a long sketch of the building from the new vinyards at some point, but I think time of day is importnat. Lunchtime sketching can be a little frustrating – even though the light is still great, it’s better in the early mornings and late afternoons. At least I have this sunlight. Some places are grey and cloudy and drizzly at this time of year.