answers on a postcard

south silo uc davis
Well, what else has been going on on the UC Davis campus this summer? Building work, hot days, Delta breezes, summer sessions classes, and lunchtime drawings in a post-Manchester-symposium sketching-energy spike. Actually more of a pre-UC Davis-Design-Museum-Sketchbook-Exhibition sketching sketching-energy spike. Yes, my sketchbook exhibit is opening next month, it will be called “Conversations with the City” and will run at the Design Museum in Cruess Hall from September 19 to November 13. So exciting! See for more details. I will be displaying sketchbooks ranging from 2006 to 2016. The exhibit is Curated by James Housefield and Tim McNeil of the UC Davis Design Department, and I will also be giving a talk about my urban sketching work (and why you should keep a sketchbook) on Thursday October 6th, from 6-8pm. I will place an announcement in the sidebar on my website, but if you are in Davis then do come by!

In the meantime…here are some recent sketches of UC Davis. Above, the South Silo, undergoing a major refurbishment and upgrade of that whole area. New eateries will be going in, the paths will be widened to create a new vista, already we have seen some big improvements (despite the removal of an old funny-shaped tree, which was kind of in the way – it’s easier to cycle around Bainer now). You can see the oft-sketched Bike Barn there too on the right. It will be fun to see how different it all looks here. Below, part of the same building, still functioning despite the big renovations next door, the UC Davis Craft Center. I drew it one lunchtime before taking a Diversity training class in the building opposite. I added the paint later on.Not a lot of shaded spots to sketch this view from but I stood beneath a small tree.
craft center uc davis
Below is Nelson Hall, which is home to the Della Davidson Performance Studio. It’s on Old Davis Road, next to the Arboretum, and this used to be called the University Club. Last time I was in here was during the UC Davis Centenary celebrations (2008-09); in fact I took my new staff orientation here a decade ago. I’ve been on campus a long time now. I always felt like these little snapshots of Davis were my ‘postcards’ being sent back to those I left in England, so they can see where I live now. After almost eleven years in California there have been a lot of these postcards…
nelson hall uc davis
This building below has been on campus a lot longer: TB9, aka Temporary Building #9. It’s long been an arts studio and home to decades of ceramicists such as Robert Arneson. Fun story, first ever sketchcrawl I did in Davis (Dec 2005) I ended up outside here, sketching sculptures in the back yard area. Recently, TB9 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places – see the news announcement – due to its importance in art history. About time I sketched it properly then huh! It is right next to the Pitzer Center so has cropped up in the background a few times. With the Pitzer Center no longer being a big closed off construction site I was able to get stand off the road and get a better view without being run over by trucks.
TB9 uc davis
Even older still is Wyatt Pavilion Theatre, below, a decent-sized performance hall built in 1907 (that’s right, 1907! Here is some history and info). I came and saw a play here a few years ago, Richard III; I really should go and see more theatre. I do have a degree in Drama you know. Ah that explains a lot I hear you say. Well it was French and Drama if you must know. I actually did a fair bit of foreign language acting when I was at college, though usually in German. Acting in German is way more fun; you get to do Brecht!
Wyatt Pavilion UC Davis

See that blue poster on the wall of the Wyatt? That is actually advertising my exhibition! Among other things, my that is at the top, which is exciting. So anyway, come and see my “Conversations with the City” when it opens, and take a peak at my sketchbooks. I hope you like it.

never hung poison on a fouler toad!

richard III, wyatt auditorium
Last Saturday, I went to see a free production of Shakespeare’s classic play Richard III at the Wyatt Auditorium on the UC Davis campus. I’d never been to this venue before, but since I do enjoy this play and have a particular interest in the historical character of King Richard III, this gave me a great chance to sketch this old building from the inside, and watch some great drama too. This was produced by undergraduates in the UC Davis Theater & Dance department, a company called ‘Shakespeare on a Shoestring’ (‘SOS’), directed by acting professor Bella Merlin, formerly with the National Theatre in London, and Kevin Adamski. When I was a student of drama back in my own university days, I participated in a large production of Richard III, not as an actor but as the props and art assistant. I helped design this vast stage floor composed of newspaper cuttings, I drew maps of battlefields, and I remember having to go to my local Territorial Army center to borrow some militaristic gear from the quartermaster, which included a massive and very heavy wooden table, which – me being without a car or van – I carried by myself for nearly a mile. I had actually intended on bringing it across London on the tube; that never happened. I’m not so daft these days, I hope. This production, however, was a little more spartan – and that is how I like it. The direction was excellent, so even in the rare moments when the acting was less consistent a beat was never lost, and the scenes were almost always compelling. Richard (aka the Duke of Gloucester) himself was excellently played by Ryan Geraghty, every bit the villain Shakespeare’s text intended him to be. The most striking element was the music, inventive percussion provided at dramatic moments by the beating of simple objects, wooden blocks, plastic drums, metal pipes. The play was performed in its entirety, from what I could tell, clocking in at two and a half hours (with a brief interval). Naturally, I sketched.

I hadn’t intended on sketching on the program itself, but it just seemed like the appropriate thing to do, though it wasn’t suited for watercolour, obviously. One problem with sketching a performance, even of a play you know, is that you are never quite sure how long the scene will remain in the position you decide to sketch. Therefore I concentrated most of my time on the theatre itself, with its half-round seating broken by large wooden posts that often obstructed what I could see (there is no getting around that, for almost any spectator). So the scene I chose was the corpse scene between Richard and the widow of the late King, though Richard was actually hidden behind one of those posts for much of it. Therefore when I sketched him, I waited until a later scene when he was giving a more prominent speech to the audience. I drew him again, later in the play, on grey paper – though halfway through this sketch the lights went dark (having been unchanged the entire play) for the ‘ghosts’ scene, so I finished it in the battle scene (adding in his metal fighting stick, and those famous lines). It was a fun finale, with high-tempo percussion over a slow-motion duel between King Richard and Richmond, the future King Henry IV, founder of the Tudor dynasty (I must admit I was rooting for Richard). I can’t wait for the next one, Richard IV!
richard III

Of course, King Rick has been in the news of late, as you may have heard, in quite amazing circumstances. His body was lost for centuries, his true character – of which we mostly know Tudor accounts – lost to myth and dramaturgy, his demise known to us only that he was the last English king to die on the battlefield. That battlefield – Bosworth – was also lost to history, until just a couple of years ago, and last year a skeleton was dug up in an archaeological dig beneath a car park in Leicester, part of a medieval church long since buried. Once it was realised this was the church where the defeated king had been buried, it was an exciting coincidence when a skeleton was found which had the fabled curvature of the spine which Richard was alleged to have (but many believed this to be simply an imagination of the Tudors). This ‘deformity’, as Shakespeare would have us believe, destined him to be the pantomime villain, who would go on the murder his nephews in the Tower. When it was announced recently that, after extensive DNA study, these remains were of the lost King, it proved he did have scoliosis of the spine, making one shoulder appear higher than the other. We were also able to learn more about the manner in which he was killed, where each blow hit his body, and how his face was spared so that they could identify the body to prove that Richard III was dead. They didn’t have DNA mapping or CSI teams back in 1485. After all these centuries however, this enigmatic and controversial figure of English history is really and truly back, and still being talked about. Though Shakespeare’s play is undoubtedly a Tudor fantasy, its contribution to Richard’s legend and legacy is unavoidable,

“And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days…” (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 1)