Election night 2020, it’s been a long year, it’s been a long night, I think it could be a long week. Been a long few years to be honest. The TV has words spewing out of it, the “Road to 270” is still very tight. It feels like watching a Spurs match where we’re holding on to a narrow lead but we keep giving away free kicks on the edge of the box. What a year this has been, and it ain’t over yet. Here’s another living room sketch, done in the new watercolour Moleskine (“sketchbook #38”). Fingers still crossed, but I’m not the optimist in the room.
I have started sketching outside more lately, even though the weather is hot again (94 degrees yesterday, in mid October, that is not normal but what is). But earlier in the month I needed to sketch one evening, and even though I am thoroughly bored of drawing the living room I just went ahead and sketched anyway. I sat down to watch a replay of the Spain-Portugal friendly game (not knowing the score, and not knowing what an immensely boring game it was). Not an epic. More ‘claw my eyes out wish I’d spent my time watching something else’. Oh well, there have been a fair number of overexciting Premier League games lately. I’m thinking of changing the pictures on the wall going up the stairs, maybe taking down the prints of my cathedral drawings (three of them aren’t even really cathedrals, I should just call them big churches) and replacing them with my classic World Cup posters, perhaps to remind me occasionally that international football can be fun, even if the most fun parts are just the posters, the sticker albums and sometimes the kits.
I should have watched Star Wars. I’ve been listening to some Star Wars podcasts (well one, called Full of Sith) and I’ve been thinking a lot about Star Wars, especially the prequels. I love the prequels, and even more so now the sequels are all done with (I was much less impressed with those – although I loved Force Awakens, I was undecided on Last Jedi, but I really disliked The Rise of Skywalker, despite a few good bits, it was overall poodoo). I might some day write an unnecessary blog post about it accompanying some tangentially related sketch. But I love the prequels, I have a lot of good feelings and memories around those, and I love them even more knowing that a lot of people are very sniffy about them. That said I love that one episode of Spaced where Tim is really annoyed about Phantom Menace. Maybe I should have watched Spaced, been a little while since I saw that series. Or maybe Shawn of the Dead, or Hot Fuzz, I love those films. I was less impressed with the final ‘Cornetto trilogy’ film, The World’s End, but maybe I should watch it again. I did watch a film last night, Knives Out, which was directed by Last Jedi director Rian Johnson, and starred Captain America and James Bond, it was a whodunnit sort of film. Why do we say “whodunnit” rather than “whodidit”? Speaking of the genre, you know the board game “Cluedo”, in America they just call it “Clue”. So why do we Britishers call it “Cluedo”? What about “Ludo”, do Americans just call it “Loo”? If only there was a way I could ask them. What about Ronaldo, is he just called “Ronal” over here? I’ve never thought about it. I wish I had thought about it during that Spain v Portugal match, because that would have made the game slightly more interesting.
We’ve been having a heatwave in northern California over the past week or so, with temperatures hitting up to 108 degrees at the weekend. And then came some storms, at first bringing some drops summer rain, but mostly they brought hot winds and dry lightning strikes. Lots of them – one night was constant rumbling, low rumbling mostly, with flashes echoing in the sky. It kept me awake, fascinated by the electrical storm but nervous about what it might bring to this big dry state. Fires did break out as we could see from the thin layer of smoke in the sky next day, giving everything a dirty orange hue, so I drew from the dining room table before dinner (above). This is where my desk is now, I’ve moved back down from upstairs, much to the annoyance of my cat who has gotten used to sleeping the afternoons in my desk chair. I am not sure I like being closer to the kitchen again, closer to the snacks, but I was crammed into a small space in the bedroom for quite a while and needed a change. I’ll go back up again at some point, if I get bored. I coloured this in using some new fancy Daniel Smith paints, which I’m not really used to yet. Wednesday morning I went outside to cycle to the office, and while there were blue skies, the air smelled dense with smoke. Ash was falling everywhere like snowflakes, and the sky away to the west was filled with billows of dull grey. This was the LNU Lightning Complex fore, which is around Napa/Vacaville and now beyond, a terrible and huge fire that even jumped across Interstate 80 cutting off the freeway. Evacuation zone has gone up as far as Winters, next town over, which is a lot closer than any other fire yet. I didn’t cycle any further than the next block, I went straight back home, and stayed inside. Ash has been falling ever since, and the house is generally filled with that orange/ochre light, turning red as the sun sets. Above is a sketch I did of one of the cats, Whiskers I think, on his high perch by the back door, while the dirty air outside casts an alien glow. This was done on the iPad. Cat don’t care, he sleep. Below, this was a quick sketch of the sun in the sky outside our window, looking like a sore red boil. We’ve had lots of wildfires in California the past few years, and fire season is long and scary, and our skies have been blanketed in unhealthy and hazardous smoke, especially a couple of years ago. But this is the closest we’ve had a big fire that I can remember since I’ve lived in Davis. We packed some bags in case the evacuation zone increased, not a bad idea, though given our location it’s pretty unlikely. Lots of people have lost their homes, and some historic state parks have been seriously damaged by the fires. And more dry lightning is expected over the weekend. The firefighters do an amazing job, they are real heroes, I just hope it doesn’t get even worse.
Yesterday afternoon, clocking off a little early after the smoky air gave me a headache, I sat on the couch watching Agents of SHIELD until dinnertime, my son played on his device, so I sketched him, that awful sky washing in. Step outside and it’s choking, like being in a north London pub in the 90s, I feel like putting the Charlatans on the jukebox and buying a pint for under two quid, then getting some cheap fried chicken and falling asleep on the night bus. My throat is dry, and the ash keeps floating around outside. So when my Apple Watch scolds me for not having my exercise ring further along than usual, I’m like, not now, Apple Watch, not now. There’s a global pandemic on, and it’s election season, and now the world’s literally on fire.
Well after the flood thing we finally got a new floor and repaired walls and a return of the living room. Good opportunity to move a few things around. I’ve since put shelves back next to the telly and the coffee table back in the middle, I’m going to get a new dining table and have a think about the desk situation. Meanwhile cat furniture is being moved about, our poor cats just want the living space back. Our cat Sawyer was sick again, and had just come back that day from another stint in the hospital, needing lots of rest and recuperation. I celebrated getting both the couch and the cat back by watching some Shakespeare online – I’ve been enjoying the Globe Theatre’s productions aired on YouTube, so I thought I’d watch The Winter’s Tale. Unfortunately I wasn’t really into it, and my family thought it was a bit boring, so in my Winter’s Tale discontent I switched on one of my favourite bits of Shakespeare, the Ian McKellen version of Richard III from the mid 90s. Brilliant from start to finish, and I’d forgotten how many names were in that film. A younger Robert Downey Junior playing himself as Rivers, an about-the-same-age-as-ever Jim Broadbent playing himself as Buckingham, and an ageless Maggie Smith playing herself as the Duchess of York. So many more big names. Been years since I saw it. I did take part in a production of Richard III in my first year at university, not acting, I was on the art side of things, I helped with the props and drew maps and took part in making a huge floor for the stage, covered in newspaper clippings. I then helped with the stage management and getting actors’ costumes ready, just doing what I was told. The stage manager was a third year student who was a little bossy – I suppose you had to be – but she really liked yelling at us first years helping out (there was one moment where she did say “you’ll be like this when you’re my age”, though I pointed out I was older than her). She was alright though and the whole production was really well done and a fun experience, though I’ll never forget trying to pull a large wooden table I borrowed from the Territorial Army along with other props all the way down Deansbrook Road, and then I never used it (was I expecting to bring a table with me on the tube across London to Mile End?) I can’t recall the art director’s name now but she was really nice and I loved helping with all of that stuff. I did quite a few other productions at university during my time there but that was the biggest and most properly done. Unlike the version of Caucasian Chalk Circle by Brecht which I co-directed. A very fun experience, all acting in German, but this time it was my turn to be the bossy one. I was at first just playing Azdak the Judge, maybe the best role ever written, and perfect for me. In the first half of the play (before Azdak appears) I decided not to act in other roles but did all of the artwork instead. Since we had very little budget for a set, I took an overhead projector, some sheets of acetate and five coloured pens, and drew out entire sets to be projected behind the actors. I also drew a few people to be extras, moving around alongside the actors, and operated the projector from the front row. It was very Brechtian, I suppose. And then some people would always miss rehearsal, or show up way too late, and so when the director asked me to be co-director I just replaced their small roles with cartoon people projected on stage. It was a chaotic and highly silly play but immense fun and time well spent with some great people. It’s been a really long time since I did anything like stage work, and I’ve often toyed with the idea of getting into it again. but I think not. It takes me forever to set up a stage for a Lego animation, let alone anything bigger. Still, I do have ideas for some Lego animated Shakespeare (that isn’t three hours long) that I would like to do some day, but right now, I’m just enjoying having a new floor, never mind a stage.
My page is my stage. I like to think about the act of urban sketching in relation to performance, both the physical act of being out as part of the urban environment and also the creation of art on the page too. Years ago I would hide away, under the cloak of invisibility, until the first Symposium gave me the confidence to be part of the scene itself, and not worry if people came and looked at what I was doing, but to embrace it. The act of seeing other people out sketching can be a catalyst to go sketching yourself – someone else is doing it, I should not be afraid to do it too. There’s a whole road of ideas I’ve been thinking about on this subject, the crossover between performance/theatre and urban sketching, particularly the relation between community sketching events such as sketchcrawls and interactive theatre. The act of several sketchers positioned around a scene such as a few stalls at the Farmers Market turned those stalls into something else, a performance to be viewed, it doesn’t have to be a scripted performance but we are watching it, and recording it, telling its story through sketches. There’s a lot to unpack and I might get around to writing it all down some day; it was a topic I was going to explore in a talk at the Hong Kong Symposium this year, before that was cancelled, but I’m still developing the ideas. In the meantime, as the local shelter-in-place order starts to draw to a close, I’ll finish drawing around the house and finally get back to sketching outside.
A couple more on the iPad drawn in the bedroom, or the Bedroom Office as it now is. Both drawn before we got our living room back (which was over the weekend, hooray!) so this was also the dining room and watching tv room. It’s also where I draw and write (haha, I hardly ever write at the moment), and it would be where I do my Lego animations but I’ve not done those in a while either. I felt like installing a running track around the bed and using it as a gym too. With all stuff from downstairs shelves all over the floor it would have been more like a hurdle track. Ah well, it’s where we are right now. I notice from some of my fellow sketchers in Europe that things are slowly beginning to open up there, and I think that they will here too soon, but extremely cautiously. Well most of us, some aren’t. I also can’t wait for the shelter-in-place to be over, because then the walking and running paths around here might not be so busy, people might stay in more. I don’t know, I want to go places, get on a train and wander about the City, but I don’t know how we’ll all feel. I have a nice mask. Lately I’ve been obsessed with the idea of going on week-long hikes along the national trails of England, as if that should ever happen. I used to think about that sort of thing when I was young but never got around to it, except my time in Cumbria when I was 17 doing the Outward Bound thing. In the meantime, stay at home, it’s very hot outside again in California. These two sketches were done on the iPad, sat on the bed, the one below while watching Revenge of the Sith (I do love ‘Sith’, one of my favourite films), the one above while monitoring an online seminar/workshop for our department. The bookshelf was moved from downstairs during the flood but I am going to keep it there as I like having books close by my bed. I have already moved the dvd shelf downstairs and replaced it with my old collection of Fighting Fantasy books. And right now, I’m watching the Bundesliga, as football has returned to Germany, albeit in empty stadiums. Unlike the quiet first round of games, the Dortmund-Bayern game has crowd noise pumped in, and the tv cameras are angled to show as little of the empty stands as possible. I’ve watched so many old World Cup games lately it is nice to watch some actual real new games. I feel like a teenager again, when I would rarely leave my room, just stay in there drawing and watching football or Star Wars or reading. Still on top of the recent flood which left us without a living room for a month, one of the cats got sick and was in hospital a couple of times, he’s recovering now the poor thing, but he did wee all over my side of the bed one night. Go home 2020 you are drunk! One thing all of this disruption and time at home has given me is time to go through things and organize stuff, get rid of what I don’t need, and one day I might get started on that.
In the meantime I’ll draw round the house. Tomorrow our local sketching thing Let’s Draw Davis will have a virtual get-together, less of a sketchcrawl and more just the show and tell bit, showing what we have drawn while stuck at home during this whole thing. I had an idea over the weekend that I might put a video together of my stay-home sketches, and the I thought I could do a series of YouTube videos giving a tour of Davis through my sketches, focusing on a different area or theme each time, make about 8-10 of them. Summer project.
So we are still at home here in California, sheltering in place. As it turns out, I’m glad I drew the living room so often when this coronavirus period started, because it looks totally different down there now, I say as I type from the desk upstairs. This sketch is from nearly a month ago – time flies when you’re having fun, huh. The Global Shared Experience is evolving, as different countries and different areas grapple with different rules and reasons. I want things to return to normal but they will not do so just because we want it to. So we carry on. It’s hard to believe it is mid-May already. I should have been preparing for the Davis World Cup next weekend. As it is I’ve been watching lots of old FIFA World Cup games, including the one pictured on my iPad above, Argentina v Cameroon from 1990. A classic game I last watched while getting my hair cut in the barber shop behind Tesco in Burnt Oak when I was 14. This is – was – my desk downstairs, my workspace working from home, and my workspace when doing anything else as well. Bit close to the kitchen snacks, mind. Well, a couple of days after drawing this scene, late on a Friday afternoon, I stood up from my seat and felt a splodge at my feet. There was water coming up through the laminate flooring, getting worse toward the wall, and it was obvious there was a huge leak coming into our house from next door. It’s a good job I was home, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to get all our furniture out of the way in time, and get someone out to do something about it, there was nobody next door. They had some sort of bad leak in there, thankfully it was stopped but it soaked our walls and floor. So, they brought in big noisy air dryers and dehumidifiers to try and dry the place out. I moved that desk, and put the bookshelves in a different spot. We stopped the water getting any further.
I sat up that night with a beer and sketched the view from the couch, while one of our cats lay on the top shelf, not really minding the noise I guess. I drew some of the noisy green machines in our dining area. I set up a new desk area upstairs. A few days later our landlords sent us a large pod to put our furniture into while the floor is torn up, and prepared for more drying of the walls – another week of noise.
Eventually they took away the air dryers, satisfied the moisture had gone, and our living room looked like this. We’re basically living and working in just one half of the house now, not ideal. People have come in and patched up the wall, they’ll be doing more this week, and hopefully giving us a new floor too. So all this has been fun during this already fun time. I’m glad I drew the living room so much now.
The dishes keep piling up don’t they, during this Shelter-In-Place. No sooner have you turned on the dishwasher, the kitchen fills up again. Even when I wash a cup for my next cup of tea, I find that I have somehow used several others, and it’s just me that drinks loads of cups of tea. Don’t get me started on forks. The trick is to make sure that you have some cutlery left out of the dishwasher so the couple of hours that it’s running you aren’t desperately seeking teaspoons. Ever tried making a cup of tea without a spoon? Pouring the sugar in from the sugar bowl like some heathen, stirring it with whatever cheese knife you can dig out of that draw where you put all the odd kitchen stuff you never use, the apple core devices and the blunt pizza cutters and the wooden skewers, you know the one, you all have one of those. Thing is about the kitchen, it’s where all the snacks are. I’ve started wearing my face-mask in the house now, to stop me from snacking so much. So, this is the kitchen. I’m sketching all the rooms at some point. I might not sketch the toilet though. However all of this home sketching has been ultimately useful – in the past week or so most of our downstairs (living room, desk area, dining room) has all been taken apart so work can be done on the floor, so now everything looks completely different, and of course we’ll probably arrange it all differently when we put it back in place. Except the kitchen, which is pretty much just the same. The coronavirus age continues…
Here’s an iPad sketch from a few days ago. Sorry, a couple of weeks ago. Where the hell did April go? March was about eight years long, April was about eight minutes long. I have been watching a lot of old sports. Well mostly football and formula one. Ok, only those sports. Here is the classic 1986 World Cup quarter final game, you might have heard of this, Argentina v England. I was ten when I last watched this game. We’ve all seen two clips of this game a million times, the Hand of God, Maradona’s famous handballed goal, and his subsequent brilliant mazy dribble. I was ten when I saw this game. Maradona was the best player in the world. While family members and friends all swore loudly and often, I knew this was a special player. We all did. Mexico 86 holds a lot of great memories, the first World Cup I really followed. I still have my Panini sticker album, defaced with felt tip pen by me and my neighbour, unfinished but still enough memorable characters such as Antal Roth, Randy Ragan, Cha Bum Kun, Yannick StopyRAAAAAA. Giuseppe Bergomi’s massive monobrow. But back to this game, we were at a friend of the family’s house, I was playing with the other kids, coming in and out to watch the screen with the sweary drinky people. International games in those days were so glamourous, far away, bright un-English sunshine, ridiculous big stadia nothing like the crammed in barns we saw on The Big Match, the commentary echoing of far away phonelines. This was the greatest game of all time wasn’t it, England were robbed weren’t they, if they had managed to not get cheated out of this game they would surely have just won the World Cup easily right, their first in twenty long years of hurt, right? Watching it again, I am reminded of how boring some of these games can be, especially back in the old days of the 80s. It was nice seeing Peter Reid again, always liked him, maybe a bit less seeing Steve Hodge, never a big fan. And England really weren’t all that, Argentina were always winning this game, all the momentum was with them. Who know, perhaps if the game had not swung their way, England may have nicked it, but the Hand of God shook the cradle, Shilton failed to outjump the famously not tall Maradona, Diego punches it into the net and I remember vividly that sweary drinky room of family and friends all jumping up as one shouting “HANDBALL!” and other jingoistic phrases, and I remember thinking at the time, ten years old in 1986, “you know if only we had VAR, we would have nothing to talk about over and over again for the next thirty-something years”. My favourite bit about rewatching it was that FIFA added different commentary than the one I remember, and the commentator is clearly speaking years later but pretending like he doesn’t know what happens, as if adding some doubt about the handball. He actually says, while pretending to be actually at the Azteca in 1986, “well here we are in the hot and sweaty Azteca stadium in Mexico City and Diego Maradona has just scored a goal with what might be his hand! Or his head. It might have been either. He is celebrating so it must be his head. If it was his hand England will be aggrieved about that for years until they win the World Cup which might not happen ever now. I’m sure he’ll make up for it later in this game with a much better goal to prove that he really is the best player in the world, in case we think it’s Platini who might make a good UEFA president someday with his honesty. Well it looks like the famous Hand of God goal will stand, so that’s another goal for Maradona and wait til you see him in the semi final against Belgium.” Other than that it was faultless commentary. Even describing the second goal as the Best Goal of The Previous Century didn’t give it away. I have a pair of socks with little images of that Hand of God goal all over it, if we had VAR I might not have those socks. the best bit about that game though was not the Hand of God, nor the Amazing Best Goal Ever, nor even Gary Lineker Pulling One Back, but the shadow of that big windmill spider thing that was cast across the pitch. It was such a memorable feature of that World Cup that it was almost like another character in the film. 1986. You’re only ten once, you can never be ten again. When I was ten I watched football all the time, drew constantly, had Lego all over the place and regularly freaked out about the daily world news. You can never be ten again.
So, after all of this is over, we are all just going to go back to normal, right? We’re all going to be just fine, yeah? Day one back to work, shaking hands, get the bowl of chips out to share, totally borrow someone’s pen, casually touch the handrail without thinking, all back to normal, right? We’ll all be jumping back into crammed airplanes, crowding into cinemas to watch the latest blockbuster, squeezing in shoulder to shoulder at the local bar? It’s only been a few weeks, or is it a month, I am forgetting, but if this whole thing ever comes to an end, I don’t know what the social and mental hangover will be. As for the very real current events, well those numbers just keep getting worse, and that’s already a lot to think about. I look at the date of the sketch above, March 29, and think about how much worse it has gotten just in the two weeks since then. And yet, while March felt like the longest month, April is already half over and I don’t know where that went. Perhaps because so much of it was in the Current Routine of not going anywhere, and knowing that this will be the case for the next few weeks for certain, as the shelter in place order has been extended until May, and we’ll very likely be here for another month or two. This timeline sucks. Above, I’m on my bed, watching YouTube videos about maths (with Hannah Fry, who being similarly British also calls it maths, which is of course the right way) (actually I pronounce it ‘maffs’ because I’m from Burnt Oak). Maths it turns out is very interesting. I don;t remember it being quite as interesting when my old Maths teacher Blindty was drilling it into us, old-school. It wasn’t really my subject. I liked (surprisingly I know) Art and Languages most at school, though I did enjoy History (except when I was spectacularly not very good at it at A-Level) and English (although I had a teacher who told me I would not pass the GCSE; turns out she was wrong, and I ended up getting a Master’s degree in it). Still, if she saw my writing now she’d probably say the same, and the way I ramble on I can’t really blame her.
And so I’m continuing to draw the house. I’m also occasionally looking out of the window. We had some great storms pass through recently, dropping a lot of rain and making me feel much better about being indoors. I looked out of the window last Sunday and sketched the view. I don’t spend as much time looking out of the window as when I was a kid, when I’d stare at the sky above my part of north London, but now I mostly see trees. You can see the head of my guitar in the bottom corner. I bought that in December 1996 at Macari’s in Charing Cross Road. It’s my dearly beloved acoustic, but I don’t play as much as I used to. I really should. Should I though? Maybe not. I was never that good at it. I enjoyed music more when I was younger, and had a good ear for picking things up. I let that slide too much years ago, and ah well. It’s funny, while This Whole Thing* is going on we might all feel a lot of pressure to start doing all of these things we should be doing, start playing an instrument, learn a new language, make hilarious quarantine videos with the whole family (people were doing that after like one day, weren’t they?) but there’s so much anxiety I can barely do anything at all some days, except what I usually do, which is work and draw. And drawing really helps. Lately I have started a new drawing project, to fill an entire book with google street view sketches of the whole of Britain. Problem is I am already finding it hard to decide where to draw and what to miss out. The book can fit at most 60-something sketches, so I’m capping it at 66. It’s a mystical number in Britain after all. I’ve just reached Devon. There’s a really long way to go until John O’Groats…
*I realized that “This Whole Thing” is what I have been calling this whole thing. That’s my name for it. I have been writing down a list of some of the phrases I have heard or read. Strange Times. Odd Times. Unusual Times. Extraordinary Times. These Difficult Times. Uncertain Times, Unfamiliar Terrain. Unprecedented Times. Living Through Something Extraordinary. The Current Health Situation. The Current Virus Thing. Twenty bastard twenty. (I made that last one up).
The confinement continues. I don’t watch the news, not as much as I should, but I watch the numbers, and the numbers aren’t looking great. So I sketch. I’m really drawing this house a lot. It’s relaxing to sketch. Above, the view from the couch. We were watching Spider-Man Homecoming, which is one of our favourite films. We had just watch the original Tron movie from 1982, which I had never seen before, and I must admit I wish I had not seen yesterday either. It was not just the early 1980s slow computer generated scenery, surely technically advanced for the day (though even as a kid, I remember it looked naff and didn’t really want to see it), but the uninteresting story and barely perceptible storytelling. The only thing I enjoyed about it was that the bad guy was played by Evil from Time Bandits, David Warner, whose voice I could listen to for hours. He actually played two characters, a human bad guy who looked like Arsene Wenger, and an computer-game bad guy dressed like a cybernetic prawn. Other than that the movie was just bats, and gave me a headache. So watching Spider-Man afterwards was much more of a palette cleanser.
Above, this is my desk area. Working from home, this is where I sit. I’m there right now too. I’m here a lot. This was another late evening sketch, drawn from the dinner table. On the screen are the latest coronavirus numbers. Even though this was only a few days ago the numbers are so much worse; we are no closer to flattening this curve. Not going to lie, I’m very much not enjoying this whole timeline. And like you all, I’m snacking way more while at home, so there’s another curve I won’t flatten. I haven’t been for a run for a few days, mostly because I am staying up too late (sketching, and worrying) and feeling too tired next day. I keep saying to myself, I’ll go to bed earlier, I’ll get up early, run before breakfast, energy and positive for the day. But I find it’s harder than I think.
Here is the other view from the couch, looking at the desk and the table behind it. That box of tissues on the coffee table is in each picture. That coffee table is nice and big. We used it tonight to play Carcassonne. I just got that game last week as something new we could all play together. I really liked it, I want to play it more. I’ve never played it before so we are still learning. I’ve not really played any of those European-style table-top games before. Any more time at home and we’ll end up playing loads of them. I hope you are all doing well out there, at this crappy time. Let’s hope we’re out of this soon.