“Je bent in de aep gelogeerd”

Amsterdam In'tAepjen sm.jpg
If I was continuing the silly a-themed alliterative titles I would call this post “Apes and Ale in Amsterdam” but the phrase I am using, “je bent in de aep gelogeerd”, is more than appropriate. Ape-proriate if you will. This is ‘In’t Aepjen‘, a celebrated historic brown cafe in the heart of Amsterdam, near the red light district. It was on that Friday of the Symposium when I was totally wiped out by the heat, I had gone back to the hotel for a rest in the evening, to spend some time in air-conditioned comfort. But I got hungry, so I went out to find some food. It was still stupendously hot. I wanted to eat some Indonesian food, but I was passing an Indian restaurant near my hotel that just looked really nice, and I can never resist a good Indian. It was absolutely delicious. I sat in there for a while writing my diary, sweat dripping from my brow. There was a couple on the table next to me, who asked if the food was too hot for me, I said no it’s just the weather! They were visiting from India, and they said the food was like back home, it really was very good. Happy to have found a delicious meal, I went for a wander about Amsterdam. It was already after 10pm by this point, so I didn’t want to go down to Amstelhoeck with the other sketchers, so I went for a walk. I had wanted to find a proper old ‘brown cafe’, and maybe get one last sketch in. I ended up coming across ‘In’t Aepjen’, which was small and full to the brim with character. Brown cafes are old Dutch pubs, called brown due to their dark and cozy interiors, usually wooden and often stained with decades of smoke. No smoke any more, thankfully, but the brown was very much in this cafe. It was decorated with lots of monkey themed items, and barrels and ships and other knick-knacks. I decided to continue drawing with a brown Pitt brush pen, and knocked out the panorama above, which took me just one beer to draw. The beer in question was the ‘Aepjen Bier’, red and tasty. Click on the image to see it in more detail. I chatted with the barman, who told me the story of the bar, its name, and that Dutch phrase.
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The brown cafe was opened in 1519 on Zeedijk, so it was celebrating its 500th year, and the name means “in the monkeys”. It was a place that would give lodging to sailors, many of whom would have been returning from distant exotic lands, like Indonesia, this being the Dutch Golden Age of Exploration, bringing back many things, including monkeys. To pay for their lodgings they would sometimes give the monkeys to the owner of the cafe, who would then sell them to a local whose animal gardens would be what became the Amsterdam zoo, but in the meantime there would be monkeys all over the shop, and it wasn’t a great place to sleep when you’ve got monkeys jumping about all over you, with their fleas and lice and banana skins and PG Tips and so on. In fact people would get sick from staying there, bringing rise to a common phrase in Dutch, “je bent in de aep gelogeerd”, which meneertje barman told me translates as “you are fucked up by the monkey”. I suspect ‘gelogeerd’ is probably closer to ‘lodged’ but the barkeep’s colourful local translation is better. Its written on all their stuff, and I’m assured this phrase is well known in Dutch, and that it does actually originate from this cafe. To be “fucked up by the monkey” is to be having bad luck or be in trouble. I went home having learned a new Dutch phrase, repeating it to myself as I walked through the narrow streets back to my hotel in the Scheepvaarthuis.
Amsterdam In'tAepjen 2 sm

I really wanted to come back to In’t Aepjen and sketch another time, so a few days later when I was less heat-exhausted I returned for a couple of beers and to draw in more regular pen. I spoke again with the barman, and he told his story (reluctantly this time) to some female American visitors who wanted to know about it. I also chatted to a guy from Glasgow who was visiting on business (I think he was in the toilet paper business, but I couldn’t think of any good jokes, apart from “how do you make a bog roll? Push it down a hill” but I didn’t say that because one, it’s rubbish, two they might not call it bog roll in Scotland, that might be a London thing, and three he might have actually explained to me how you do make bog roll, what with him being in the bog roll industry). So I just told him the story about “je bent in de aep gelogeerd.” It’s a conversation piece alright. I might start making up similar stories in London pubs. “Oh yes, the Olde Cheddar Cheese, that gave rise to the popular phrase “to get the cheese stuck on your elbow”, which basically means to be confused about what time it is,” or if I’m in the Good Mixer, “ah well this is where the very common phrase “you have been good-mixed up” which is when you can’t find your wallet but a stranger buys you a beer and a round for the whole bar”, or actually I’m going to not think of any more now. I drew as much as I could, adding a little bit of colour, but my eyesight wasn’t great and I wanted to sleep so I added the rest of the colour later on. These are a couple of my favourite of my many bar-sketches, and if you’re in Amsterdam you should look for this place, there is lots to see and sketch, and the atmosphere is good. Just don’t get fucked up by the monkey.

Alleviating All Anxiety of Amsterdam

Amsterdam Dancing Houses sm
Moving on to the next day and the final day of the Symposium, I woke up Saturday morning definitely feeling the heat exhaustion. I decided to skip my final workshop (I did go and let them know so they wouldn’t be waiting for me) and find a spot to sketch peacefully. I hadn’t yet drawn the dancing houses along the banks of the Amstel from Groenburgwal, so I found a nice bench and drew away. I met another sketcher doing the same. It was quiet, the weekend heat had not yet started cranking up, and my stress-headache was clearing up immediately. I didn’t need to be in a class, stopping and starting and rushing, being “on”, I needed to be in “breathe-in, breathe-out, sketch” mode. It worked. I had met Lapin earlier the morning, and I was going to go and sketch with them (as it turns out he and Gerard and co went to sketch my hotel), but I decided to draw the Dancing Houses. They are impressive. Many houses seem to ‘dance’ in Amsterdam, leaning this way or that – my perspective tip of following the windows to find the vanishing point on the horizon doesn’t work as well here, where the windows follow lines more suited to more Marty Feldman’s binoculars (Young Frankenstein reference). Crooked buildings are fun to draw. By the way I did overhear one sketch instructor scoff at counting the windows on houses in Amsterdam, but counting the windows really helped the composition of each element, and also helps get the scale right. Besides, in Amsterdam they are usually three windows across as a rule. The patchwork nature of the architecture breaks up the monotony you find in many cities, it’s just so fun to draw. Looking back I probably could have had the energy to do some more group sketching and plough on, be a bit more sociable and awake, but mental health came first and I look at this sketch and immediately I feel more relaxed. Breathe in, breathe out, sketch.
Amsterdam Montelbaanstoren sm

I wandered about a bit more, bumping into the occasional sketching friend, I met Nina Johansson (long term urban sketch idol of mine since the beginning) teaching a class nearby here, the tall Montelbaanstoren. It was pretty peaceful over here too, a couple of blocks from my hotel, in fact the workshop I had skipped was being taught close by, but I decided not to join late. I sat by the canal and drew the tower as best I could, with a bike in the foreground. I was going to add full colour, but stopped at the blues, it just felt right for the relaxed mood.

After doing a few sketches of the hotel (I posted those already), I wandered over to Niewmaarkt to enjoy one of my favourite discoveries in Amsterdam – poffertjes. Little mini pancakes, from a friendly guy called Tony Benson. I spoke with Tony and a woman who was with him, we talked about Belgian footballers (maybe because I was wearing my Belgian shirt again), she was really inot Eden Hazard and asked who my favourite Belgian player was (Super Jan Vertonghen obviously!). The poffertjes were small but delicious. I could eat some of those now.

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In the afternoon, there would be another sketchwalk, over near the NEMO center, culminating in a huge group photo (the ones I usually miss at every symposium), and then the final reception over at the Muziekgebouw. I was going to meet up with everyone there, but at the hotel I realized I really needed more rest, not more rushing around in the heat. Here’s how I rested:

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I also rested by spending an hour or so in the amazing blue-tiled pool in the hotel’s basement, and relaxing in the hot-tub. Best decision I ever made. Matt Brehm was right, you don’t have to draw.
The sketchwalk was nice, and although I turned up too late for any sketching, I did meet up with a lot people I had not seen during the symposium. Many of the local groups got together for their local group photos – I am one of the Californians, but I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo with them. I did at least make the final group photo, but there are so many people in the picture that I obviously can’t be spotted, even with my bright red Belgium 1984 shirt. Actually though, in this photo of the whole group (by Belgian friend and photographer Marc Van Liefferinge) I can be spotted near the middle of the back. Proof I made it there.

You know what, there are loads of sketches you can find from other symposium attendees, if you go to Flickr and search through the tag “amsterdam symposium“. Of course most people now just bounce them out on Instagram and so on too. There are a LOT of Amsterdam sketches to be found. I went over to the final reception (a very very long walk, I went with Mauro and Fabien, though Fabien stopped on the way for a beer and to wait for Gerard, they were not coming to the reception but actually driving back to Liège that night). At the reception I caught up with all the people I had not spoken to as much so far, such as Gabi, and Liz (we snuck up on Paul Wang and got our annual symposium pic of the three of us, guerilla-style), Elizabeth, James, and of course Rita, and did a little people sketching, but mostly chatting. I also got to meet Danny Gregory for the first time, he was there with all the Sketchbook Skool lot, that’s a big thing now. I had been a chapter in one of his books years ago, the one with my drawing of Vipins ont he cover, and we’d tried to arrange a video interview to go on his website but it was always dinnertime in my house and we never did it, so it was nice to finally meet. (Though I suspect I he didn’t remember who I was). I also met a number of people who I’ve since started following on Instagram, it’s what these whole events are about really. And then in the end, it was the gathering off for dinner, I went off with a big group of the usual sketchers, and we had a great evening. The best bit though was finishing off with some late night or early morning) car sketching. A bunch of us led by Lapin sat in a narrow street by a canal and drew a couple of classic Citroens. This is apparently a tradition at the Clermont Ferrand festival. My habit of sketching fire hydrants at 3am when I travel does not seem so odd now; these are my people. One of though people though, Hugo Costa, nearly fell in the canal when his stool broke – lucky escape! Here’s what I drew, and a photo of some of us sketching in the darkness of Amsterdam.
Amsterdam Night Car Sketching sm

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Now this little fire hydrant I actually drew at night on the first night in Amsterdam, but I’ve saved until now because why not. As for the blog post title, “Alleviating All Anxiety of Amsterdam”, I mean it says it all but seriously I might come back and change all these titles some day.
Amsterdam Hydrant sm

And that was it for another Symposium. I have more Amsterdam sketches to share here, plus a bit more Belgium, a bit of Disneyland Paris, a few from London, and then loads more of Davis, then some from Santa Monica, and Portland again, and Hawaii. But after this long day of relaxful sketching Citroens by lamplight, I had a well-earned lie-in on Sunday. After all the heat, there was a little rain coming, but so were my family.

Above and Around Amsterdam

Amsterdam Waag
First workshop day of the Urban Sketching Symposium! We got a big bag of goodies this year, loads of paints and pens and sketchbooks. I still have goodies from the first symposium in my art cupboard. This year symposium attendees all got bright red bags to carry our gear, which also made it easy to spot the other symposium people. The first thing I drew in the morning was the castle-like building called ‘Waag’, in the Niewmaarkt. I think everyone sketched this. It sits there nice and sketchable. I drew it from the most obvious angle. Perhaps I should have sat closer and made more of an effort, but I was in a hurry, I needed to get to my first workshop: “Amsterdam Rooftops” with the very nice Hugo Costa. I met Hugo in Porto, so was eager to take one of his workshops, and he really had an advantage over the other workshops, in that we were going to be looking out over the top of the city, but also sketching in a cool air-conditioned rooftop restaurant, “Blue”. I drew him introducing the workshop below.
Amsterdam Hugo Costa Workshop Demo
For the class we had to bring large sketchpads, like A3 size, which of course is not my usual thing but I wanted to give it a go. Definitely enjoy attacking something so big and detailed on a large piece of paper. I decided against adding colour, but just added a bit of shade. I took this photo of it. I submitted this into the end-of-symposium auction, and it sold! Most of all, I enjoyed observing Amsterdam from above. There is something so peaceful about sitting above a city, counting the spires, watching it stretch to the horizon. The Netherlands is a very flat country. When I was a kid I had a map of Amsterdam on my wall, and I loved how the canal rings curved around the city centre. It’s amazing I have not spent that much time in Amsterdam in my life, but I have never really spent much time in many of the places I used to read all about when I was a kid (I had a map of Sydney too, never been to Australia, as well as those little Berlitz books about Hong Kong, New Zealand, Norway and the Rhine Valley, none of which I’ve been to. YET.).
Amsterdam Rooftops
This is one of my favourite photos from the symposium, the various workshop attendees from all over the world all huddled together in an elevator going up to Blue, all ready to sketch. I made some silly joke about “watch out for pickpockets!”. This was a really nice workshop experience, we had some nice conversations.
In elevator at Hugo Costa's workshop at USk Amsterdam 2019
Here is Hugo taking a look at some of the sketches.
Hugo Costa's workshop at USk Amsterdam 2019
Amsterdam from Blue
After the workshop many of us stayed for lunch. I caught up with Daniel Green, always nice to chat with him, and sketched the view looking down what I think is Regulierbreestraat. This is a city I would love to explore so much of, maybe in a slightly less busy time of year (whenever that is!).

After lunch I headed back to the hotel and then went out to see something I just had to see – the Ajax Arena. Well it’s called the Johan Cruijff arena now after the most famous footballing son of Holland. I wanted to go there because I love Dutch football (well, I like it) and have always admired Ajax, but maybe the real reason is that my team Tottenham knocked Ajax out of the Champions League semi-final in a most dramatic last-minute way in 2019, and I wanted to wear my emerald-green Spurs top there, just for a laugh. I got a few comments in the club shop, “oh you can’t wear that here.”

Amsterdam Ajax Stadium sm
I didn’t get to go inside the stadium but that is ok, I just sketched outside. I did meet one Ajax fan though who was not a fan of Tottenham, let’s say. I was standing outside a restaurant next to the stadium which was called “Burger Bitch” (one of the burgers was called “That’s a huge bitch”) and he came dashing out to tell me, no you cannot wear that Tottenham shirt here. Not so much for us beating them, which he blamed completely on Ajax, more for how he and other Ajax fans were treated by the police when they visited our new stadium in the first leg (he never got to see the game because some English hooligans attacked them, and so the police just took them away and sent them to Leicester Square, no game for them). I felt bad for the guy, we had a good chat about footy, but yeah at first I thought he might chase me away. He told me of his other stories about traveling with the Ajax, such as when they were in Turin and the Italian ultras of Juventus would attack them with knives, and a guy he knows got one of those infamous knives in the buttock that are popular with Italian calcio hooligans. I had heard of this being a thing. He told me that was the worst thing because they cannot sit. Actually he might have said “cannot shit”, it was hard to tell the way the Dutch sometimes say their “s”, but either way not a nice injury to have. I didn’t tell him about when my brother in law fought against Ajax fans in the early 80s on a canal boat in Amsterdam and he was attacked by a guy with a samurai sword and had to jump ship. I’ve always wondered about that story. Anyway after all this fun chat I went back into central Amsterdam, and decided I might not wear my Tottenham shirt out to the pub that evening.

A couple of photos. I was particularly proud of my quip when I saw the picture of Danny Blind holding hands with a young Daley Blind, two generations of Ajax player, when I said “D. Blind leading D. Blind”. But nobody was there to hear or care. And there it is, Burger Bitch, to prove it’s a real actual place.
Amsterdam Hertha Berlin Fan smAmsterdam passenger on Metro sm

I had to wait ages for the metro. The station at the Arena was absolutely packed, largely with people traveling home from work, but the heatwave was causing more delays I think. I sketched a little. When I got back, I rested for a while at the hotel before getting back to the sketching job. I drew the Zuiderkirk from the banks of the Zuiderkerk from Kloveniersburgwal canal…
Zuiderkerk from Kloveniersburgwal sm
…before drawing the sunset at the Amstelhoeck. I then spent the rest of the evening drinking beer and hanging out with sketching buddies, another very fun evening. A very hot but very productive day. The next day was even hotter…

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walker hall, second half of 2019

Walker Hall UC Davis
We interrupt the tales of my summer in Europe with an update on Walker Hall’s redevelopment at UC Davis. Well I say an update, what I mean is a bunch of sketches I did last year. The place already looks very different (but it’s not yet finished). As ever I can only draw it from certain angles that I can actually see into, I’ve not been back inside it in well over a year now. Above and below, this is how Walker Hall looked in August. On the one below, you can see that some glass was put into the side windows already.
Walker Hall UC Davis

Below is the front side, which as you can now see has the glass windows installed on this side.

Walker Hall UC Davis
And here is the front side again as sketched in December, when the leaves were colourful and falling. I’m still sketching it, but I’ll add my 2020 ones in a later post. It will be finally opening this year as the new Graduate Center, when the staff from Graduate Studies will be relocating from Mrak Hall, where I’ve always known them, into this shiny yet historic new home.
Walker Hall UC Davis

breezing through brussels

Brussels Grand Place
It has been a dream of mine to sit and sketch the whole Grand Place in long panoramic form, to spend about three hours sat drawing all the details, but I think it may be a detailed panorama too far. It is so ornate, so mind-bogglingly overwhelming, I may need to carve out time on another trip. the main reason though is that I keep just wanting to wander off and eat frites, drink beer, explore. This is Brussels, where exactly twenty years ago I would come and walk about exploring on the weekends when I wasn’t in Charleroi. This wasn’t my first trip back since then – maybe my third? – but certainly my first time back in Brussels in over a decade. Brussels is still Brussels, maybe a few more beer-crawl weekenders dressed in matching silly costumes, but the busy wide Boulevard Anspach that cuts through the heart of the city is now pedestrianized, which was a big shock to the system. It took me a few minutes to remember where all the winding roads lead, it’s easy to get lost in Brussels, but finding my way to the tall spires of the Grand Place is easy, and from there, Brussels is my oyster, or perhaps my mussel.

La Grand Place, Brussels
It was evening by the time my Thalys rolled into town, and rather than jump on the metro I foolishly decided to walk from Midi to downtown, a walk I used to know well. This time there was a huge funfair in the way, and I was thrown off by how the exits look different now; I have never really liked Bruxelles Midi station much (known in Flemish as Brussel Zuid), and I’d get to spend even more time there later in the trip, but I was so excited to be back in Brussels I didn’t care. My hotel was not far from Grand Place, and I had enough evening light left to do the sketch at the start of this post, which despite all the details was done really quickly. I then popped into the old fast-fooderie Quick, which wasn’t as good as I remember, and sauntered up the Rue Montagne aux Herbes Potageres to one of my favourite cafes in the world – A La Mort Subite.
Brussels A La Mort Subite

“Sudden Death”, that’s what it means. You may have heard of the beer, especially their slightly sweet gueuze or their very cherry kriek.I was so excited to find my old favourite seat, right by the door and the window, was open for me to sit and sketch when I got there. I used to sit in that seat when I would come here 20 years ago, Saturday afternoon, frosty or wet outside. I remember coming here to meet another English teacher in Belgium, Barry, and playing chess on a little wooden set I bought at Grasshopper, a toy shop nearby, which I still have. I remember coming here in 2008 with my mate Roshan and sitting in the same spot, remembering times when I had come back before and remembered other times. Some people drink to forget, I drink to remember. I had the gueuze of course, followed by a Ciney, and sketched the old interior. When I first came here, people still smoked inside bars and so there was a foggy air which yellowed the walls. These days the air is so much nicer. The cafe was opened in 1928  by Theophile Vossen, and 91 years later the Vossen family still run this cafe. I remember when it was only 71 years old. I am so happy to finally come back and sketch this old place again.
A La Mort Subite, Brussels
A La Mort Subite, BrusselsBrussels

I walked about the streets on the way back to the hotel, tracking the changes that two decades had brought. I came across another place which was significantly less old than A La Mort Subite but where I used to go quite a lot back in 1999, the Irish bar Celtica. I popped in to see if that had changed over the years, and passing the security staff throwing out an extremely drunken sod on the way in, indeed it had not. Live music was being played by Father Jack from Father Ted, and it was full of people young and old, locals and others, it really wasn’t any different. It brought back more memories – this place, as with many others, tended to never close during the night, so you could go there on a Saturday night and leave in the early daylight hours, it would still be packed. Celtica was a useful place to hang out and wait for the first Sunday morning train back to Charleroi on a night out in the capital. I remember arriving in Brussels once or twice by Eurolines coach, at the Nord station, and getting in too late for the train home, so I would come here, sometimes with all my bags (one time I was bringing my guitar), chat to people (I remember meeting staff from NATO once, I asked them if they could let me know where was being bombed the summer after because I was making travel plans; it was 1999), drink very slowly, listen to an old soak bellowing out Whiskey In The Jar on the little stage. I didn’t stay long this time, I was getting jet-lagged (I had arrived on a first-class flight from LA that morning in Paris; 1999 me would probably not believe that, 2019 me barely does), so I walked back to my comfy hotel bed, and I was up early and refreshed for a nice morning run around empty streets the next day before leaving to go to Ghent and then Liege, a whistle-stop tour of my favourite small country.

galaxy’s edge

Galaxys Edge at Disneyland!
In June, we went to Galaxy’s Edge, the brand new Star Wars land at Disneyland California. It was fun – expensive – but they have a huge life-size Millennium Falcon, and since it’s the fastest hunk o’ junk in the galaxy well, you have to sketch it. It was busy, for sure, though at that time Galaxy’s Edge were still only letting in limited numbers, I think it’s more open now. It’s very hard to get a reservation for a drink in the Cantina, that took some queuing up, but that was fun as well. Could have used more people dressed as aliens. The Millennium Falcon ride was good, flying in the cockpit, people saying “punch it” like that phrase is the new “may the force be with you”. Oh, the whole place is called Baku, and is named after the the city far, far away where they held this year’s Europa League final, forcing two teams and a few fans all the way from London, through asteroid fields and pursued by bounty hunters. Sorry not Baku, it’s called ‘Batuu’, which sounds very similar. As I sketched this I stood on a box that I had been sitting on, and a space-uniformed Batuu lady came up and said that climbing is not permitted in Batuu. They really sell this place as a real place (and people really buy it, with real non-Batuu currency). It’s pretty big too, and they are going to expand. The level of detail is epic even for Disney, and I tried a quick sketch in the restaurant (below) but there was so much to draw.
Galaxys Edge at Disneyland!

All in all, it was fun. My bubbling drink at the Cantina was crazy. I know Star Wars has been part of Disneyland for a long, long time (Star Tours is still one of my favourite things) but now Disney owns it and decides on its direction, well I do miss George Lucas, and when I asked my young nephew recently who his favourite Disney character was and he said “Darth Vader” well, a little part of me sank. But they did a pretty good job on this park. It’ll be expanded with a new ride soon, so I’m sure we’ll be back.


Up next…sketches from the summer trip…

 

long walks, conversations and cocktails

SF Palace of Fine Arts
I usually sketch standing up, except when I sit down. On this occasion, I had just walked two and a half miles from Fort Point along Crissy Field and over to the Palace of Fine Arts. I needed a rest. I sat on the grass in the shade. The last time I sketched this building was in about 2007 I think. Yes, a quick look through Flickr and here they are. It’s a nice spot that I evidently only go to every twelve years. See you in 2031.
palace of fine artson a bench

I walked down Chestnut and had a delicious lunch at Squat and Gobble, before jumping onto a bus and heading to my favourite part of the city, North Beach. I usually sketch standing up, but on this occasion I brought my little lightweight fold-up stool with me. At least two people stopped while I was sketching just to take a photo of this little stool, and enquire as to where this mystical object could be purchased on the wild realm of the internet. It was about $15 on amazon, a no-name brand, it is super light and fits into my small bag and I haven’t yet fallen off of it. I have lost weight recently which helps. Anyway I found a little nook beside a church on Columbus and drew the Italian deli Molinari, another favoured sketching subject of mine.

SF Molinari

Yes, there it is below, as sketched back in 2014 from an entirely different angle. On that occasion I pretended to be a traffic warden for an older lady who wanted to park her car there while she popped in to get some cheese or something, she said that if I looked like a warden then other wardens wouldn’t give her a ticket. I’m just there with my sketchbook so I’m like, yeah fine, but no other wardens came up and ticketed her.

SF: Molinari

On this occasion though, on the other side of Columbus, I had several non-stool based and non-traffic warden based conversations. One was with an old student from our department who happened to be walking by with her son and her sister, that was a nice surprise. There was another couple who were late for early dinner, and I used the power of the internet to help them find their restaurant, like a street wizard. There was an older fellow who I thought was homeless, who came and sat next to me for a bit with his big bin-liner, and it turned out he too was an artist, and showed me his incredible location drawings of North Beach (this is what was in his big bag), including Molinari sketched from the same spot (but in greater detail). I was very inspired. We talked about drawing out in the street, I told him about my attitudes toward urban sketching, it was a very nice meeting. And then after that I chatted with a monk, in full monk’s robes, who worked at the church next to where I was sketching, and he showed me a sketch of the church someone else had done for their newsletter, and we talked about San Francisco’s trees being different from the ones in Davis. Sometimes it is nice to talk to people in the street in a city like this.

SF Jackson St

I moved along, and down into Chinatown. I wanted to draw one specific row of buildings in Jackson Street. I didn’t have time to draw it all so I captured the essentials. I got enough. When I say I didn’t have time, it’s because I wanted to factor in time in the rest of my day to hang out at an old North Beach drinking establishment that I have never before been into, the Comstock Saloon.

SF Comstock Saloon

This old bar is beautiful, and they are very good at mixing their drinks here. For this reason I wanted to have a couple of cocktails. Now I usually stand when I sketch, but here I wanted to sit. I sat the bar, wrong angle to draw. I sat at a seat by the window, with a barrel for a table, again not super comfy. So I sat at a taller table, excellent angle. However I felt very conscious that people coming in might want to sit at that table, which is better for two or three than for one. I don’t know why I felt so conscious of that here. It felt like a nicer place. Also, I noticed that occasionally some of the tables would have a little ‘reserved’ sign on them, which I think was to deter single patrons from using spaces that a pair or trio might use. So, I drew very fast, and then just relocated myself to the bar. The staff were well dressed and clearly professional barmixologisters or whatever the phrase for them is. When it comes to mixed drinks I am clueless and need a list. I had an absolutely amazing daiquiri, totally beautiful after a day of sketching. The second drink I had was a Mint Julep I think, it was less to my taste but nice nonetheless. You can taste quality. The best mixed drink I ever had was in Hawaii, the Monkeypod Mai Tai, and it was amazingly fresh. I feel a bit posh drinking anything that isn’t beer, or Pepsi Max, or a cup of tea. Libations libated and sketches sketched, I walked back to the Amtrak bus and took the long journey back to Davis. I felt a bit more creatively refreshed, San Francisco is good for that.

skyscrapers and the golden gate bridge

Embarcadero and Mission SF
Perspective, detail. I like those things. I arrived early in San Francisco, and found a spot on the Embarcadero looking up Mission Street. I remember wanting to sketch this view years ago when I used to wait for the Amtrak bus here, the only that no longer stops there, but I am glad I waited a few years as there are way more buildings to sketch in the background now. I went to the Ferry Building, but the place which sells the nice bomboneri and cannoli I like so much was no longer there, sadly. So I got a travel book to read on the train at Book Passage. Reading doesn’t make me fat, though it weighs down my bag a bit. Actually the book I got that day, a collection of travel stories, I also took to Europe with me and read some while on the rails, but I left it on a bookshelf in a hotel in Brussels for someone else to enjoy. I was being weighed down, so had to get rid of some unneeded items. The stories I kept in my head, however I don’t really remember that many of them now, except for one, about a couple staying at a hotel in Tierra del Fuego or somewhere, and the electricity all went out, so they took that opportunity to engage in a little bit of what used to be called ‘how’s your father’ back in the 50s, only to be embarrassingly interrupted by another family coming into the wrong room. That’s all I remember. There was another story about a music writer travelling to Prague who got taken for a ride by a local who had an automatic gun, but let’s get back to my own less-interesting stories of travel shall we. I stood at this spot in San Francisco and drew this picture, and then went somewhere else. There, that’s the whole story.

SF Golden Gate Bridge

I ended up at Golden Gate Bridge. I haven’t been there in ages, not to sketch anyway. It was a nice day, a bit windy, much cooler than Davis. There is something about standing somewhere so iconic and impressive, you feel really lucky to have this within reach. I remember when Magneto used it to get his villainous brotherhood from the north bay over to Alcatraz, all because his friend Juggernaut said he couldn’t swim. I mean a boat would probably have been easier but the Master of Magnetism does like grand gestures. Shame he lost his powers before he could help rebuild. I do like X-Men: The Last Stand, despite the clumsy script. But “Charles always wanted to build bridges!” is a classic cheesy line, even for him. He just couldn’t think of a suitable line for a boat. “Charles would be ferry impressed!” Enough X-Men chat. Actually I am reminded of when, in the comics, Magneto (him again) used his powers to prevent an earthquake in the city, and also when he sat up on Mt Tamalpais nearby and went deep into his powers to project them into space and rescue Kitty Pryde from the big planet-bullet thing, oh comics. Anyway, the Golden Gate Bridge. I included Fort Point down below because that is where I was headed. I have never been to Fort Point before, a building that predates the bridge itself. It was built at the height of the Gold Rush, to protect the Bay and as a formidable naval defense for the young United States. I enjoyed it in there, I didn’t sketch any of the cannons but I liked wandering about and peering through the small windows in the thick brick walls, and catching glimpses of the bridge. It was a lovely day, lots of sunshine, but super windy. I sketched up on the roof there, before climbing down the steep narrow staircase that made me feel a bit nervous. I got down, and then took a nice long walk along Crissy Field. More to come…

SF GG Bridge from Fort Point

sketch the day away

Amtrak to Bay Area
But before we get to the European trip, I still have some other sketches to post, other stories to tell. Galaxy’s Edge in June, San Francisco in July, and a whole bunch of sketches at an Indigo Girls concert that I probably won’t post for some time yet. I sometimes think that the blur of life is not a story worth telling, or maybe one not worth listening to, but I suppose that the reason I like to sketch is because everything is worth taking an interest in. Sometimes I’m not sure this makes a lot of sense. I like to draw to keep my habit of drawing sharp, to push myself further in my sketching, but mostly because I just like to draw things that I see. It is ok not to draw. It is ok not to feel the need to sketch experiences, just because we have the ability to do so. But drawing illustrates the world I live in. It gives me a chance to spend time looking, really looking, observing and understanding, even with my poor eyesight and distracted mind. I look at other people’s work and I get inspired to keep going, to do more, to expand my skill set and keep sketching, but it’s hard not to compare, to feel like I need to ‘catch up’, to get frustrated at my own deficiencies and inefficiencies, and forget what actually makes my own sketching unique to me. I go through phases where I’m highly uninspired by my own work, maybe it’s the paper, maybe it’s the materials, maybe I need to mix it all up again, maybe I am drawing myself into a corner. Other times I feel like I knock it out of the park inning after inning while blowing bubble gum. A few times I am so pleased with a sketch that I hear Hermione Granger’s voice in my head saying, “you’re a great wizard Harry.” Other times I get so frustrated with a sketch that I hear Severus Snape saying “ten points from Gryffindor”. Sometimes I just get bored drawing Davis; sorry Davis. If it makes you feel better I am sure I would get bored drawing London too, even London, if I lived back there. Sometimes I get bored of drawing, for about five minutes or so. What’s it for, all this sketching? Because I like sketching, that is always the answer. It’s not for a book, it’s not for a workshop or a demo, it’s not in the hope of selling it, it’s not for anyone else. I show it here because I think it’s important to share our sketches and inspire each other, as I always learned from seeing the sketches of others online, and seeing their progressions too, seeing how they learned. That is how Urban Sketchers started, and why one of the core tenets was sharing your work for others to see. We learn from each other. That’s why I like to run sketchcrawls as non-judgemental spaces, places to come and draw and encourage each other, just enjoy the art of location drawing. We pick up all sorts of things from seeing others work. My love of slightly shaky lines for example comes from something I saw Martha McEvoy doing on a sketchcrawl in Berkeley in like, 2007, and I just liked the style. Of course in the above sketch it’s partly because the train is moving but that then seeps into the sketch, as opposed to taking something away. The experiences you feel are part of the result. So anyway where am I going with all of this? Yes, why we sketch, or why I sketch. We humans are complicated beings and for me, sketching is mostly about finding my calm place. Sometimes I beat myself up about going somewhere and worrying about sketching too much, like I need a certain number of sketches before I can feel satisfied. Like as if I need to show people afterwards that look, I got five good sketches so it was worth expending the day, whereas actually I could have just spent a bit less time sketching and more time looking through the corners of that old bookstore. It’s good to find a balance. Often when I travel with my family I find the balance by getting up early and sketching before they wake up, or sketching when they are resting, or even after they have gone to bed I will go out and night-time sketch. Anyway, there are days, like on the 6th of July this year, when I get up super early and feel the need to catch a 6:25 train out of Davis and down to San Francisco for a day of exploring and sketching. So that’s what I did. Am I bored of sketching on the Amtrak train yet? Evidently not, so there’s the sketch, with a little bit of story to go with it. It’s not story in which anything happens, there’s no great anecdote or a hilarious yarn about a ticket inspector’s wig falling off and being stolen by a chihuahua, but nevertheless it’s words on a page. I have more sketches from the day to come, and I covered a lot of ground that day, but I’ll save all that for another post.

back from the old world


I’ve just returned from a long trip to Europe, to France, Belgium, Holland and of course to England. I was in Amsterdam for the 10th Urban Sketching Symposium – it’s come a long, long way since the first symposium in Portland in 2010. I was in Belgium, visiting five cities. I was in Paris, and then later in Disneyland Paris, which I enjoyed a lot more than I expected. I was back home in London, which had its highs and lows, but we got to see a game at the new Spurs stadium. I filled a sketchbook, and started drawing with some new materials (Zebra brush pens, Nero pencils). It was hot, very hot. I had a lot of different foods, a lot of different beers, and lots of fresh juice from Holland. I stayed in eight beds (including six different hotels), took eleven trains, four planes (including one first class across the Atlantic – more on that later!). I have a lot of sketches to scan. This will take a long time, so the stories will have to wait before I post them here, but I hope you tune back in to catch up with me on my summer travel. It was a journey alright, in a lot of ways, and I definitely learned a lot. If you travel and do not learn, you may as well stay on the couch. But now I’m back in Davis, preparing to get back to work, proper work, I have a couple of drawings I need to draw, a workshop proposal I need to write, soccer coaching plans I need to prepare, maps to draw, sketchcrawls to plan, and explore some other new art-based ideas I had while I was gone. The rest of 2019 is going to fly by.