Variety Hatters

Varsity Theatre...without its sign

This is the Va… wait what? This is the [insert name here] Theatre on 2nd Street in Davis, which as you can see is currently going by The Theatre Known Formerly as Varsity. (Sorry, “Theater”). Regular listeners will recognize this building from the 500 or so times that I’ve drawn it before, but there was one big difference. Can you tell what it is yet? (Um, that sounded a bit like Rolf Harris, you might be a bit more careful with your catchphrases) That’s right, the ice cream shop is closed. No I’m kidding, it’s the historic “Varsity” sign which ahs been taken down temporarily to be cleaned, or fixed or something. The movie theatre itself has been closed during this pandemic you might have heard about, though coming soon, folks, coming soon we will have cinemas open again. I miss going to the pictures. Nobody says that now, “going to the pictures”, it sounds like something people said in the 1930s. “Oh you’re going to the pictures, eh grandad? Don’t forget your penny farthing and your flat cap!” Oh right because “movies” doesn’t sound old-fashioned at all, like you have to make a distinction between watching a film that moves and one that doesn’t? “The movies eh grandad, well see ya later gramps, I’m off to the talkies“. In Britain we generally say “film” rather than “movie” (though my nan, who was from Dublin, used to pronounce it “fill-um”) and “cinema” rather than “movie theater”, and “theatre” rather than “theater”, and that is the end of today’s unwanted transatlantic vocabulary lesson. But I miss going to the pictures, it was something I used to do a lot. I’d go and see a film / movie here in Davis at one of the three cinemas / movie theaters in town, and then go for a pint / not quite a pint* at a local bar / pub. (*They like a 16oz “pint” in America, as opposed to a 20oz pint in British pubs). And of course I would then sketch the bar/draw the pub. As for the Varsity, I wonder if they will “accidentally” rearrange the letters when they reinstall the sign, Fawlty Towers/Watery Fowls style? It could say “Travisy” maybe, or “Sir Vyta”, or “Sty Vira”, , or “Rayvist” (which sounds like a magazine for techno -clubgoers), or “Stray IV” (people might think it’s a sequel movie about a cat, from the streets, who makes it big against the odds, and in this one he has a catfight against a Russian cat – wait, I might have to sit on this idea, it is Hollywood gold), or “Artsy VI” (about six artists stuck in a room with only one brush, one pot of paint, and a lollypop) or “Try Visa” if they want credit card sponsorship, or “Try Avis” if they want sponsorship from car rental companies. Or maybe sponsorship from the Swedish crispbread sector and call it “Ryvitas”. Do it, Varsity people! This is our chance for some Flowery Twats style silliness.   

varsity town

Varsity June 2020
This is a familiar building. It was the first sketch I drew downtown in three months, and I felt awkward out there drawing after such a long time. I still do to be honest; we have a sketchcrawl coming up this Saturday and I’m nervous about it, although I’ll be wearing a mask with one of my sketches on (see those here!). I was masked up standing on the corner wearing this, I could hear that screeching violin music coming from a block away making me wish I’d worn earplugs as well as a mask, but it was a comforting view to draw. The Varsity Theater always reminds me of first coming to Davis, working across the street at the bookstore, doing some of my earliest Davis drawings of this 1950s exterior. The last film I saw there was Jojo Rabbit, one of our favourites, and in fact after cycling home from sketching this, stopping off in the Co-op to get some cheese and wine on the way, we watched another of Taika Waititi’s earlier films, “Boy”, which was brilliant and crazy. We’ve been on a Taika movie marathon lately, not a bad way to spend time at home.

midtown, downtown, train back to my town

Ok…this one goes back a while. Back to March, in fact. In my defense, I only got the sketchbook back recently, so I could not write a post about it at the time. Well I could have, but stories without pictures? I was invited by Prof David Del La Peña of UC Davis to take part in a special sketchcrawl, which was to be part of the annual conference of CELA (the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture) in Sacramento. The sketchcrawl would move from midtown Sac and end up in Davis, linking up by train between the two. I joined them after lunch in Sacramento, and we were given accordion Moleskines to draw a series of fast sketches in, on location, at various spots about downtown. Also in attendance was Chip Sullivan, who I was not familiar with but he is very well known as a sketcher and educator and knows James Richards well. So I started off by drawing him and David near the conference center in midtown.

Sac sketchbook p1
Sac sketchbook p2

“Where Are We Going” it said on the sculpture near K Street. Well it turns out we were going down to the Cathedral, and I sat behind the large open angel wings of a statue. I remember drawing this Cathedral (Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament) years ago, 2006 or 2007, back when Pyramid Brewing was right behind, and California was so new to me. I remember trying to draw the Crest back then as well, the classic movie theatre a little way down the street. As we stopped for a moment to mention something about sketching I drew the sign, taking just a few minutes, before we moved on.

Sac sketchbook p3Sac sketchbook p4

And then we moved to the newest part of downtown, the area around the Golden One Center, the massive basketball arena. We saw Paul McCartney there a couple of years ago, an amazing show, one of the first performances held at the stadium. Macca sang for three hours and was incredible. I remember when this was part of the downtown mall, I would come here occasionally, but it is long gone now. You’ll notice I decided to deraw in pencil that day. I find that in those accordion moleskines I find drawing in my usual pen to be frustratingly difficult. The paper, the size of the page, the fact that it’s flopping all over the place, plus the extremely limited time in each spot – so I just went with pencil, which moves so fast across the page, and splashed on watercolour when I could. It was a sunny day with great clouds.interesting shadows, but cool enough for scarves. My favourite weather. We walked from there over to the Crocker Art Museum, not with much time to do a larger sketch (such a tight schedule, and distances to cover!) but enough time to pop into the gift shop. Oh but I did get a sketch, of another sketcher in a red coat. And then we went to old downtown…

Sac sketchbook p5
Sac sketchbook p6

Old Downtown has lots to sketch, I really should go sketchign there more often. This time I decided to draw some of the fire hydrants, one with a yellow cap, one with a green cap. This was followed by fast sketch of the Pony Express statue, before we walked to the Amtrak station.

Sac sketchbook p8Sac sketchbook p7

Sac sketchbook p9

I sat with a couple of the people attending the conference, Penelope and Tatyana (I think one came from Texas, another from California, but this was in March and my memory has faded). It doesn’t take long to get from Sac to Davis, but there was a table and a defined amount of time to sketch. You can see from the window that the Causeway was still full of water, after all the rain we got last spring. I have sketched the inside of Amtrak trains a few times before.
Sac sketchbook p10

And then we got to Davis, with just enough time to draw that iconic and sketchable Davis building, the Varsity Theatre on 2nd Street. And then we relinquished our sketchbooks, and walked back to the UCD campus.

Sac sketchbook p11 (davis)

The books were shown at an evening event during the conference, I was unable to go to it, but it would have been fun to see how everyone else interpreted the afternoon. Everyone sketches at different speeds and with different amounts of detail; I consider myself a fairly quick sketcher but it was hard to keep up! My feet were pretty tired afterwards, and I needed a good rest that weekend.

sketchcrawl sunday scavengers


Last Sunday we held the latest “Let’s Draw Davis!” sketchcrawl in downtown Davis, starting at the Amtrak Station and finishing up at Mansion Square. This one was, unlike the other ones I’ve organized in Davis, a “scavenger sketch-hunt”. I provided everyone with a list of things at the start, things which could be found in that section of downtown Davis, and they had to draw between 8-12 of them to win a sticker at the end. In truth, just getting to the end meant you got a sticker, but it’s a good fun way to explore and have ideas of things to draw. I think everyone really enjoyed it! I was told it helps some people get over the “what should I draw” conundrum, like Inktober or Every Day Matters – little prompts, totally optional. I’ll do that again.


The list is as follows:

  1. The Amtrak Station (or part of)
  2. A Fire Hydrant
  3. A Bicycle
  4. A Piece of Public Art (sculpture, mural)
  5. A Giraffe
  6. A Public Pay-phone
  7. A Musical Instrument
  8. Another Sketcher
  9. A Barber’s Shop
  10. A Bottle
  11. A Street Sign
  12. The Varsity Theatre (or just the sign)

For the record, I managed eight of them – numbers 1, 2 (obviously, come on), 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12. Here’s why I didn’t get all 12 – I draw fast, but not that fast. No, not just that. IT RAINED ALL DAY! Unusual for Davis. But I spent some of the summer sketching in Manchester so it felt a little familiar. It wasn’t raining when we started, and we had quite the turnout (around 25 sketchers) despite the threat of rain. A lot of people set up across from the station to sketch it, and I sketched some of them – and then the rain came, and it didn’t stop until, haha, right after the sketchcrawl finished. Like, immediately afterwards, blue skies. Ah well. So, here are my sketches of the sketchers Jesse, Omar and Emily:


As you can see, splotches of rain started slowly splashing onto the page as I sketched Omar and Jesse; I had to duck under cover when adding colour to Emily’s sketch.


Here is my sketch of the Amtrak Station, sketched in a dry spot next to the building opposite. Most sketchers had ducked for cover, but there is one with a brolly (a few others held umbrellas and sketched too but didn’t last as long as that sketcher!).


Yeah it was raining hard when I sketched this bike. I was stood beneath a shopfront awning and the rain was still getting to me, so I just painted it quickly. I had wanted to sketch either the large giraffe statue or the giraffe bench opposite this on F Street, but the rain was too heavy to get a decent vantage-point.


I did have a nice dry spot to sketch the Davis Barber Shop though. I have never sketched this place before, and should really sketch inside some day. I was glad they were open on Sundays. The barber was kind enough to let other sketchers in to sketch, and I think he liked my rendition of the outside. I kept it simple and didn’t add paint, as I wanted to move on.


I have sketched the Varsity a million times before and this day was so rainy and grey that I didn’t need to worry about that blue sky bringing out the white building or the shadows cast beneath it, however the pink and blue of the neon sign was too cool to pass up. I added a blueish grey marker to the foreground tree.


Right, a few items to check off the scavenger hunt list. The street sign, obvious. The bottle, that was at De Vere’s though I had included a bottle on the list just to advertise my show at Putah creek Winery, basically, in case people went by there. And the trumpet, fulfilling the ‘musical instrument’ sketch. Actually it is a coronet, and I sketched it at Watermelon Music on E St, which will be vacating its downtown spot at the end of the year and relocating to West Davis, due to the new landlords downtown forcing all these local businesses to close. Yes, some tough times ahead for downtown. Well, I like Watermelon, and bought some guitar strings as I am inspired now (after seeing Paul McCartney live in Sacramento recently – wow that was awesome! My 12 year old Macca-obsessed past self was smiling down on me that night). Several other sketchers had been in drawing stuff, they didn’t seem to mind too much, and I asked if it was ok if I drew too. I’ll miss them; I probably won’t cycle out to West Davis, see, kinda far for me.


Yeah, the rain was getting a bit much so time for an interior, and where else but De Vere’s. This time I drew the familiar bar but played a bit with the colours and I LOVE it, that blue and yellow. I’ll do more of that. I had a nice stout, good choice on a drizzly day.

And then we all met up at the end, well about a quarter of those who had started, and I gave out more stickers such as those ones below. I hope everyone had fun! The next Let’s Draw Davis sketchcrawl will be on Saturday November 12, at Vanderhoef Quad on the UC Davis campus, starting at 10:30am. I’ll post a poster soon!

why the panoramic face?

2nd street may 2016 sm
Long weekend here in America, which meant longer drawings. Ok, a horse with an injured tail walks into a bar. “Why the long weekend?” asks the barman. No, no it was a bank, he walks into a bank on a holiday. “Why the long weekend?” asks the bank clerk. Maybe not an injured tail, maybe his tail was all overgrown rendering it useless for whatever tails usually are for, hence not being as strong as his front end, for example. So a horse with a less strong, very hairy tail walks into a bank, while on holiday, and the bank clerk says to him, he goes “why the long weekend?” Maybe there’s nothing wrong with his tail at all, maybe he had just been in a race, and had originally been one of the front-runners (that’s a horse racing term) but towards the end he had started to tail off (that’s another one), finally just ambling over the line, not even trotting, just going really slowly, like he had no energy, maybe he was already thinking of his holidays on the beach, before finally he walked into a bar, I mean a bank, and the bank clerk who had been watching the race on the TV, he asks him “why the long, weak end?”. Or maybe, maybe the horse is Bryan Singer and the race is X-Men Apocalypse and I am the bank clerk and maybe I asked exactly that question after seeing that very movie, which I in fact did, not long after finishing this drawing that you see here. (You see I was going somewhere with all of that, I wasn’t just ambling on, or trotting). This is Second Street (though in my opinion, it’s first), Davis. I sat on the corner of F Street (which in my opinion is more of a B+) and drew this familiar scene. In the middle there, the Varsity Theatre, historic centre of the Davis downtown, right opposite the Avid Reader bookstore. I sat drawing for a couple of hours, drawing furiosuly with my uni-ball signo UM-151 brown-black pen, and doing some of the water color on site and the rest at home; pizza dinner awaited me. And then, X-Men. While it was not a bad film (it was not quite Batman v Superman level of “what-the”, there was no “Clark Kent gets into the bath with his shoes on” moment), and it had some good moments and good call-backs to the previous films, it really suffered in its storytelling. I know that sounds ironic given that I spent five minutes trying to tell a joke about a horse at the start of this post but my budget is a little lower. I just felt the narrative started to fall apart somewhere around the middle of the film. It doesn’t stand up to the other X-films. A few good bits – well X-Men The Last Stand had good bits too but overall gets a terrible rap (deservedly if we’re honest). Even “X-Men Origins – Wolverine” was a good idea, though Logan’s (spoiler alert) cameo in this is (spoiler spoiler spoiler) totally unnecessary, inconsequential and utterly shoehorned into the film (you might say it spoiled the movie). Still, Magneto saying “Who the fuck are you?” to Apocalypse was fun. Everyone knows I love Magneto. As I say though, the ending of the film was long and weak, and since it could be said (not by me, but I’m about to say it so I suppose it is by me) that Fox is flogging a dead horse, then that brings us nicely back to “Why did the chicken cross the road? To stop the rights going back to Marvel.”

Hope you had a nice Memorial Day weekend.

varsity, again

varsity theatre, davis
At the end of last month was the 10th annual Davis Feminist Film Festival. Unfortunately I was away in Los Angeles so I missed it, but I donated a sketch for their silent auction, and this is it. This is the Varsity Theatre, as you probably know, I have sketched it before once or twice. I sketched it one lunchtime and was so pleased that red Mini was parked in front. I have no idea if it sold (the auction was silent!) but it was fun to sketch. Of course, the festival didn’t take place here at the Varsity, but at the Veteran’s Memorial Theatre, so the sketch was thematically apt but geographically wide of the mark…

Davis Feminist Film Festival:

you know that i gotta say time’s slippin’ away

varsity davis
Another view of the Varsity, but this time from the side. It’s a bigger one than usual at 8″x10″ (on Canson illustration board – lovely for the pen, bit too smooth for a nice wash) sketched while sat on one of the benches outside. I’ve not drawn from this angle before, and yeah it was a fun angle, but I also realized that the bit of the Varsity that I like drawing the least – the underside of the roof – takes up most of the drawing. I’ve always hated that bit, with it’s peculiar angles, uneven shading and lights I can never quite line up. You don’t want these buildings to be easy now do you. Oh Varsity, I’ve been sketching you for years now, I feel like I am doomed to draw you forever, but you’re a great building, and in many ways I’ve only started. I did take a pretty long time drawing this though, longer than I’d have liked (funny how bigger drawings take longer). Hard to tire of this iconic structure. All it needs though is a holographic shark to come out and try to swallow me up.

the varsity, but bigger

Varsity Panorama
Hey remember a couple of weeks ago I went and drew a panorama in my Moleskine of that stretch of 2nd St with the Varsity Theatre? I intended to redraw it larger, in colour, and submit it to the Pence Gallery for their annual Art Auction next month. I got cracking on it this weekend past, and learned an important but obvious lesson – larger drawings take longer to do. But it means you get to spend more time enjoying it!
big scully
Which meant a couple of late nights, but I couldn’t sleep anyway. I drew on a large sheet of thick Strathmore watercolour paper, whose inherently rougher feel than my watercolour Moleskine made my micron pens cry a little bit, but the uniball signo dx um-151 super-accurate-fineliner-pen and the trusty laugh-in-the-face-of-watercolour-paper uniball vision micro came to the rescue (yes there should be a superhero comic about pens, and I might write it) when the microns were starting to feel the strain, like relief pitchers. I took photos for a step-by-step, in case you absolutely have to know whether I drew left to right or right to left or middle to out (it’s that one, though I painted it in reverse order).
varsity, step-by-step
And here is the final thing, framed and ready to go. Larger than I usually draw, at roughly 10″ x 20″. I hope it sells!
2nd Street Davis

in the middle of our street

varsity theatre, davis
On Sunday I had to get out to draw. I cycled downtown and stood on a bench (yes, stood, so I could see over the large vehicle in the way) on 2nd Street and drew a famiiar scene, but this time as a double-page spread in that lovely brown pen I have. I do like drawing these panoramas. This took about two hours, maybe less, stood in the shade on that bench. The funny thing about standing so high is that people don’t look over your shoulder quite so much. One other thing about sketching these panoramas is you have to scan them in two sections, stitch them together, and then they are so hard to post. If you want to see a bigger version, click on the image above. Below, you can see how big it is in real life. And the thing is, I intend to redraw this as a bigger and more colourful drawing.
sketching 2nd street

Here is a close up of the middle section, for those who can read the tiny writing and are interested in the movie times…

look around, round, round

January 2012 Davis 2nd & F
(Click image to see larger size)
Here is something I drew a while ago (Martin Luther King Jr Day, in January, hence the flags), in my panoramic accordion sketchbook, but did not scan and stitch together until now. I sat out there for a couple of hours, followed by another hour or so on a day later that week, and just sketched and turned and curved as best I could. It’s a good exercise, but tricky all the same. It looks even more different now it’s on a computer screen. The plan is to fill the whole book with similar scenes from Davis as the seasons change. Other seasons may be more colourful, but this represented sunny winter. There is a detail below. All drawn on an accordion sketchbook from Cass Arts in London in uniball vision micro pen.
January 2012 Davis 2nd St detail