May 272018

Earlier this month, Julia and I spent a pleasant week on the island of Santa Catalina, where we both did a lot of sketching. I wasn’t able to finish all my sketches on site but finished a few at our hotel on the island (and the rest at home). I finally scanned them all:

Though the weather was always sunny it was quite a bit cooler than nearby Long Beach, only an hour away by ferry. We stayed in a hotel on the waterfront in Avalon, one of only two towns on the island, with great views of the iconic Green Pleasure Pier. 

In the 1920s/30s heyday of Catalina there were two such piers, delivering vacationers from the mainland, but these days half the sightseers are deposited by cruise ships anchoring offshore. The island was bought in 1919 by William Wrigley (the Chicago chewing gum guy) and he developed the island as a vacation resort, and place for his Chicago Cubs to do spring training.  

A playground of Hollywood stars long ago, Catalina’s biggest town Avalon is mostly for the Jimmy Buffet hoi poloi these days. The bay is dominated by the Catalina Casino, and the word ‘casino’ is not used here in its Vegas usage but in an older meaning, as a meeting place for people to have fun, which in this case was to dance and watch movies (not gamble). We learned all this during a tour of this great old building. 

The beautiful old cinema on the ground floor was apparently the first cinema ever built specifically for ‘talkies’, which were the latest thing when the casino was built in 1929. Above the theatre is a massive dance floor where all the big bands of the 20s-40s came to play live for as many as 1200 dancing couples. The cinema is still in use, and while the ballroom isn’t used for nightly dances anymore, it is often used for private events. 

Getting around the island is expensive; it cost $45 an hour just to rent a little golf cart. A few day trips to sketch & picnic would get very expensive very quickly at those prices (and put a lot of pressure on the sketcher!) so we abandoned early plans of driving to sketch further afield, and confined our attentions to anything walkable within Avalon.

Thankfully, there were plenty of scenic things to draw right close by nice places to eat & drink, and fantastic views from the balcony at our hotel. 

Our trip back home to San Francisco was delayed, allowing me time to doodle a view from within the very pleasant Long Beach airport.

Apr 292018

I just tidied up and scanned some sketches drawn a few months ago while staying in Sonoma.

My Brother Jo and his wife Priscilla were visiting Northern California wine tasting with a group of their friends, and invited Julia and I to meet them on the Sonoma leg of their trip. Julia found us a posh AirbnB near Sonoma town square, and off we went for a weekend of dining and doodling. While Jo & Priscilla and their crew were visiting wineries during the day, Julia and I got in a drawing sesh in the square just a few minutes walk from our lodgings, then met them later for dinner. I also drew a study of the twee knick knacks in our B&B. 

It was only a quick trip but one of the fantastic aspects of living in the Bay Area is having so many wonderful day trips so close to home.

Jan 102018

Here is a watercolour sketch of German Christmas ornaments seen at Julia’s parents house.

Her parents live on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, where we spent Julia’s birthday on a rainy New Year’s Eve, just last week. Each time we’ve visited beautiful Bainbridge I’ve always wanted to sketch, but the weather is often too cold and/or rainy rainy to sit outside for long, hence choosing this cosy interior view instead.

Happy New Year everyone!

Jul 252017

Sell ticker rain jurrs, wee chwonn?!” Said he. “Huh? Oi dahnd unnerstehnn wotcha saiyin!” Said I. It was my first day at primary school in Glasgow and a mutually unintelligible clash of regional English accents was under way; Glasgow Scots vs Rural Aussie. Like me, the other kid was a knock kneed 9 year old Celt, but wearing a belligerent expression on his pasty dial, and I had no idea what his agitation was about.

Another ginger haired Scots tyke told him that my incomprehension was because I was Australian, at which my stroppy interrogator huffed off someplace, muttering (I think) about kangaroos. Dad later decoded this tense exchange for me after school, as we trudged home along the Crow Road shivering in the clammy gloom (Glasgow nightfall was as early as 3:45pm in winter, meaning that it was already twilight when I got out of school, and pitch dark by the time I’d walked home). Dad said that my adversary had been asking “Celtic or Rangers, which one?!“ but this was still utter gibberish to me, even when I understood the individual words. Dad explained that the boy’s question had challenged me to swear allegiance to either of two local soccer teams who were mortal enemies. What I know now but didn’t yet understand back then was that the important subtext of the question was that one of these teams was historically Catholic and the other was Protestant, and my inability to understand the question had probably saved my head from being punched in, as I was Catholic. The wrong answer in that area. More to the point, I didn’t (and still don’t) give a toss about sports anyway, but as luck would have it, I’d soon assert myself as a soccer savant purely by accident.

The school had one soccer pitch where multiple games were played concurrently during our lunch break. Exactly how many only became clear by counting the number of goalies in each goal mouth, often upwards of four. These kids had to make sense of multiple matches and call any game headed toward goal as “MINE!” when other goalies would briefly step aside to let him face the oncoming storm. I was running in this swirling melee myself, trying to understand crisscrossing swarms of tykes in the exact same school uniform kicking a multitude of soccer balls every which-way, when a ball cannoned out of nowhere, savagely caromed off my face and into goal. By pure luck, it was the ball from the game I was associated with and won a point for my team. With ears still ringing and my face throbbing five shades of red from chin to hairline, I did my best to pass off this fluke as a famous Australian header technique, and was hailed as the athletic hero of the day by one and all. I further cemented my schoolyard network when it turned out that a few classmates were Cub Scouts.

I had been a Cub Scout in Australia, and after my family moved to Scotland I joined a Cub Scout pack near our new home in Glasgow. I was a novelty right away because of my old style blue uniform and distinctive Australian merit badges. The Scots wore khaki/green outfits and their way of denoting rank was ARROWS on the sleeve (like sergeant’s stripes) whereas in Australia it was BOOMERANGS. I’d earned a bronze boomerang by accumulating a few art/craft merit badges and my one great Cub Scout achievement; raising the most money in a ‘Bob a Job‘ fundraiser. In every other field of Cub Scout endeavour, requiring bushcraft or physical coordination, I was mediocre at best. Like a dog pack, a Cub Scout pack could sniff out the status of other Cubs by merely looking at this resume of little boy achievement on our uniforms. (If this merit badge system continued into adulthood you’d know immediately if your date was worth your time by his ‘Good Boyfriend‘ badge — semiotic icon: peeing with seat UP). In my brief time in Scottish Scouts I attended weekly meetings where two grown men referred to as ‘Akela & Baloo‘ (in kilted scout outfits) tried to channel the energies of their pack of little wolves toward the high minded ideals of the organisation (a lot of ‘Queen & Country’ bollocks in hindsight) while the pack itself often focused on a simmering rivalry with a similar organisation of tribal brats a few blocks away (that variation on the ‘Lord Of The Flies With Supervision‘ concept was called Boys’ Brigade).

The main memory I have of my time in Scottish Scouts is of a several-day trip to the Scottish Highlands. After a bus drove us Cub Scouts all the way up there, we slept in a large empty hall, rather than tents as I’d done at similar Jamborees in Australia (called ‘Coroborees’ down our way) but inside camping worked well in the Highlands, as the weather was shitty most of the time, and the pack went rambling on moors and craggy coastlines between intermittent downpours. One afternoon we Cub Scouts were dodging rain and amusing ourselves back at the hall when I noticed a concerned huddle of Akela & Baloo. They glanced furtively at me and discussed some paperwork, before quietly taking me aside and asking me; “are you Catholic?” in hushed tones of concern and fear, as if asking “do you have ebola?” Weeks earlier my parents had filled out a permission form for me to go on the trip, with the usual stuff (medical issues, allergies, and so on) and even though the religion section clearly stated that I was Catholic, Akela & Baloo appeared to need further verbal clarification from me to believe this particular detail (apparently unnoticed until we were already on the trip). Upon careful consideration, I had to admit that I wasn’t exactly sure, but; “Maybe I might be Catholic?” Their tension eased a little; “So your family doesn’t go to church, then?” they enquired. “Oh no“, I corrected, “We go every Sunday“. Their shoulders sagged. “Where?” I described the drive from our house in Glasgow to our church, and Akela & Baloo drooped even further, exchanging looks. They seemed to know where I meant, but I could not decode their reaction.

At the time, I was oblivious to the pickle that me & my form had dropped them in. I did not yet understand the distinction between ‘Catholic’ and ‘Protestant’ at the age of 9, but in Britain of the early 1970s, with the IRA tossing bombs about the place, and Catholics being occasionally shot by military forces in Northern Ireland, it was a very important distinction indeed. Later that same year my family saw ground zero of this Catholic/Protestant clash in Belfast. I still have jagged impressions from that day, of a broken grey town, spooled with barbed wire, patrolled by grim-faced troops wielding machine guns & driving Saracens, all seen through the wide goggling eyes of a small boy from a small town half a world away. At numerous checkpoints our family car full of 4 tiny children was inspected by armed soldiers, as my family drove through Belfast on our way to connect with a ferry back to Scotland. It was the first time I’d seen a real machine gun, and by the end of that day I’d seen quite a few. 21st century Britain is afraid of Muslim terrorism, but in 1974 Muslims were simply the people who sold us comics and sweeties at our corner store, and terrorism was the exclusive speciality of Catholics.

These many years later, I understand this context for the furtive glances and kid gloves that Akela & Baloo handled me with back then, when I was a little boy; Catholics were clearly testy nutjobs, and God only knew what the Australian variety might be capable of. Better find this kid a Catholic church pronto, unless his roo-riding parents launch an Aussie Left-Footer fatwah on the Jordan Hill scout hall. However, even in Glasgow we had to drive a long way from where we lived to attend a Catholic church (I remember my family picnicking near this church after mass, when a throng of angry blokes in orange shawls appeared. “What are those men yelling about?” I asked Mum & Dad. “Us!” they replied, as Mum gave me my sticky bun). Way up in the remote Highlands, Akela & Baloo had less options for finding me the right flavour of church to kneel in.

That Sunday we Cub Scouts got up VERY early before church and went for a long drive in our bus out into the beautiful heathered bleakness of a Scottish Highland moor. To my surprise, the bus stopped at an intersection out in this barren landscape and Akela gestured at a tiny rustic chapel, saying this was the right church for me, that they would pick me up after mass, and to please be patient as it might take a while. I got off the coach and walked over to the tiny stone chapel out in the backside of beyond, as my Cub Scout pack zoomed away to attend their own brand of Church on time. Imagine that classic scene in a western where all the owl hoots in the Dodge City saloon turn to see the new gunslinger walk through the swinging saloon doors. Now substitute the dusty saloon with a tiny rundown chapel on a Highland moor, for the piano player swap a Celtic crone seated at an organ, replace the bar patrons with a few elderly parishioners, and the new kid in town standing backlit at the door is me, in my garish Cub Scout uniform. Thinking back on it now, I must have been a bizarre sight from the point of view of these Highland parishioners waiting for mass. Outside they’d heard the squeal of brakes, the pneumatic hiss of an opening door, and turned to see a solitary sawn off creature in blue crossing their threshold.

In total silence I took a pew at the very back of the tiny chapel and waited. Slowly, more craggy Highlanders came in and took their seats. It was only then that I realised I’d broken with some local protocol. Unlike my parish, these Highland Catholics preferred that all lads sit on one side of the aisle and all lassies on the other, and I had been sitting amongst the womenfolk (though I fixed my mistake after communion). When the service got under way I had great difficulty in understanding what was being said. I’d eventually learned the rhythms of Glasgow speech, but this Highland Scots accent was impenetrable to me. It occurs to me only now that the service may have been in Gaelic, depending on where I was, but I couldn’t even guess where it might have been. Wherever I was, it was a long way from everywhere else, and my Cub Scout pack had gone well out of their way to get me there. Thankfully, although the priest’s words were opaque to me, I knew the rhythm of a Catholic mass by heart, and when to stand, sit, kneel, mumble or be silent.

After the mass ended, the tiny congregation quickly dispersed and hobbled away into the mist. I’m racking my memory as hard as I can now to remember if anyone queried me after mass. Even though it seems reasonable that somebody might be curious to know the identity of the mysterious tiny stranger in the blue uniform festooned with arcane symbols, I don’t have any recollection of even one of this taciturn crew talking with me, not even the priest. Let’s assume however that the good Father did check in with me, if only briefly, and after I assured him that I’d be picked up presently, he too hightailed it back into the Highlands. Thereafter, was a very long wait in the misty middle of nowhere until the rest of my Cub Scout pack returned.

Later, when I got back to Glasgow and Mum & Dad heard about Akela & Baloo’s furtive pre-church interview, the efforts my Cub Scout pack had taken to get me to a Catholic church, get to their own mass, and then drive back to pick me up, it became clear that none of it was necessary. Though touched by these efforts, Mum & Dad wouldn’t have minded in the slightest if I’d been taken to a church of another denomination. However, Akela & Baloo had never encountered someone of my peculiar breed in their Cub Scout pack ever before, and decided the best policy at the last minute was to be sensitive to causing offence. Everywhere in Scotland was a clan and/or a feud. Were you Catholic or Protestant? Celtic or Rangers? Campbell or MacDonald? Cub Scout or Boys Brigade? Highlander or Sassanach? Akela & Baloo clearly knew the protocols of dealing with Scots clans, and erred on the side of caution.

Our school too was divided into clans of a sort, the separate competing school houses (Harry Potter style). My schoolmates with classic Scottish surnames displayed their traditional clan tartans with utmost pride, on scarves, socks, hats, and other clothing accepted in school uniform rules. Not just clans, but hierarchies too were important. As a school newbie, I initially sat in the seat closest to the classroom door, and it took me a while to understand why the teacher (a fierce though loveable Scottish war hammer who could’ve been the model for Professor Minerva McGonagall) would rearrange our desks every fortnight. I eventually learned that placement of students within the classroom denoted their academic rank (a variation on the the at-a-glance merit badge ranking system used by Cub Scouts). Everyone knew exactly where you were within the hierarchy based on seating order; the front seat closest to the door (where I’d started) was for dummy numero uno, and the kid sitting over by the window at the back was class brainiac (for the record, I’d almost climbed to my traditional academic sweet spot of ‘the middle’ by the end of my time in Scotland).

With this pecking order humiliatingly displayed for all to see, each child asserted their own hierarchies in constantly revised lists taped to the underside of their desk lids. Not just the standard lists of fave bands, movie stars, athletes, and so on, but also best friend lists. These were prominently displayed as each student opened their desks to retrieve a book, when surrounding classmates would check to see whether their own currency had risen or fallen in these multiple social stock exchanges. My own ranking, if I made any lists at all, was once again ‘bottom of the middle’. It was all a lot to keep track of; the ‘LIKES’ of 1970s social media.

It was while in Scotland that I learned about British comics (such as Valiant, Beano & Dandy) and my drawing made a quantum leap as a result. I eagerly digested daily TV helpings of Brit Sci-Fi (Doctor Who, Space 1999, UFO) and Supermarionation (Captain Scarlet, Joe 90 and Thunderbirds). In Scotland I belatedly learned to ride a bicycle, camped by Loch Ness (fervently seeking Nessie) visited real castles and torture dungeons, and was impressed by many other things that made indelible impressions on a little boy. But my time there was extra special for personal reasons too. Though raised in Australia by Australian parents, I’d actually been born in Scotland (in Edinburgh while my father studied there) and my mother was of Scots ancestry on her father’s side. She was a STUART (clan Stuart of Bute) and during the year I turned 10 years old and my family briefly lived in Glasgow, I learned about my mother’s clan so fierce and proud; THE SCOTS.

May 212017

In December Julia and I went to San Francisco’s Dickens Fair, which I’d often heard about but never attended. Despite being surrounded by a constant jibber-jabber of lame Cockney accents that would make even Dick Van Dyke wince ( ‘Cor Blimey Mary!‘ ) it was a lot of fun. Seen here are some sketches done in the PreRaphaelite Artists Salon, where we got art instruction from cosplay versions of Whistler, Rossetti, Leighton, and Waterhouse, and our models were ersatz versions of their 1800s posse.

When I first arrived in the USA to work, I heard about a Marin County Renaissance Fair, which I assumed to be a lame Reeboks under the bodkins affair, but was pleasantly surprised by how well done it was, when I eventually attended. There was great attention to costume detail, with people battling in full chain-mail, knights on horseback really jousting, and of course ye olde ‘meade tarvernes’ aplenty, although once again the Brit-accents were atrocious ( ‘Gadzooks! Thou base knave‘ etc ). Likewise, The Dickens Fair was attended by loads of people who’d obviously spent many years (and a lot of money) assembling elaborate Victorian costumes, but thankfully there were also people like us wearing their 21st century civvies, and there to watch the fun. The Renaissance Faire is held outside, in a setting that fits the theme of a 15th century jousting tourney and is very pleasant to attend, but the Dickens Fair is held inside. Although great effort is taken to create ye olde London Town, there is only so far you can go with that illusion when the stockyards at The Cow Palace is your venue.

The space was at times overwhelmingly crowded, and the interior acoustics were such that many amateur drama-club improv scenarios were constantly colliding and overlapping; ‘Get yer cockles and mussels!‘ ‘Stop thief! ‘Why, you young urchin!‘ ‘Good morning to you, Mrs Fizzywig!‘ ‘please sir, may I have more soup?‘ and so on. We enjoyed it enough to want to attend again, but arriving early in the day before the crowds is definitely the way to go.

There aren’t many cosplay options in the Marvel Universe for you unless you’ve got a body like a Superhero, and the universes of Harry Potter, Star Wars and many other fantasy worlds are also surprisingly limited in their own ways. But take heart all ye dumpy and portly folks of all ages; Renaissance/Dickens Fairs provide plenty of opportunities for the rest of us, from toddlers to grey beards, to dress up and have some fun too.

‘Gawd bless us, every one!’

Apr 162017

Here’s a sketch I just scanned that was drawn last year when Julia and I went drawing in San Francisco’s Castro neighbourhood.

A week or two earlier we’d eaten nearby at a great little restaurant called FRANCES and we’d noticed that the neighbourhood had a lot of pretty houses, and came back later to draw the area.

Oct 182016

Since 2001 or so, I’ve occasionally published silly comics about ROCKET & PROFESSOR, but I’ve doodled the characters even longer than that. The few comics I’ve actually completed belie the fact that I’m always drawing the characters, and thumbnailing & planning stories. Real life sometimes got in the way of following through, but lately I’ve been trying to assemble a fraction of these scribbles and notes into a plan for a 96 page full color book.


To call it a GRAPHIC NOVEL is way too grandiose for the silliness I have in mind, but hopefully it will have a somewhat coherent narrative shape. Taking all the pages I’ve published so far and combining them with new material, I hope to weave it all into a meandering story, telling how Rocket & Professor came to live and work in San Fiasco. Even at my best, a 96 page full color book would have been a massive undertaking and in my current reduced circumstances it is a very ambitious project indeed, but will make a wonderful physical therapy project so I’m committed to working my way through it. Comics are a fiddly and demanding medium, requiring many skills together; writing, drawing, composition, design, acting, coloring and so on. If I can pull this off and manage to make new left-handed artwork that is compatible with old pages that I drew years ago with my right hand it will be huge, and I’ll consider myself well and truly back. As a professional cartoonist at least.


The old stories were laid out on a 3-tier page of typically 6 panels. When I did my Sephilina color comic book a few years ago I found that a FOUR tier page worked well, because by cutting each page in half they could be cleanly displayed online. I’m planning to do the same thing with this book. The RE-laying out of pages is fiddly but I think it is worth the effort, and gives me a task I can do while my drawing skills return. Hopefully by the time the layout and coloring of the old B/W pages are complete I will be ready to tidy up the thumbnails of the new material.


It will take me years to chip away at this project, and in the interests of getting something complete sometime soon, the 96 page tale is broken down into 6 parts, and they are sub-divided into 6 to 8 page chapters. So with any luck, I may get something short completed within the next year.

Mar 012016

A few weeks ago, Julia and I went back to the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, for another free day of relaxing and sketching.


On our previous visit, I sat in the mezzanine (and sketching a dodo bird) and this time I visited that exact same place, but sketched instead a view of the T-REX skeleton in the lobby. It’s a quiet spot with chair & table where I could work undisturbed, and I was able to apply most of the watercolour on site. After a short break for lunch, we returned to that old fave sketch are, the diorama room. Julia sketched the BONGO on her new iPad (and Apple Pencil) while I sketched the LION diorama.


When the Academy closed we met our pals Bosco & Steve at nearby San Tung restaurant for their yummy signature dish of dry fried chicken for our dinner!

Jan 252016

In the final days of 2015, we flew to Washington State to celebrate Julia’s birthday (which is also known as New Year’s Eve in the rest of the world).


Although it was quite chilly in Washington (by Californian standards anyway) we were blessed with some beautiful sunny weather, and Julia and I both did a little sketching near the Winslow Wharf Marina on Bainbridge Island, where Julia’s family lives. Alas, despite new coats gloves and scarves (bought specially for a Washington winter) we were only able to fit in that one chilly sketch session before the cold got too much for us. Thereafter, we caught the Ferry several times across Puget Sound for beautiful sunny trips into the wonderful city of Seattle, one of my very favourite American cities.


Jan 032016

In summer of 2015, Julia and I went to Chicago to visit her family and enjoy that great city. We both did a lot of sketching on that trip, but I only just scanned mine recently and here they are.


Julia’s Sister and Brother in Law were attending an out of town wedding and we volunteered to hang with their two boys while mum & dad were away. This was a great excuse for Julia to spend quality time with her nephews and visit some of her old Chicago haunts. Together with Julia’s mum and nephews, we stayed at a hotel on Michigan Avenue for a few days of exploring Chicago’s fabulous downtown. A highlight of our trip was a visit to The Art Institute (across the street from where Julia got her own art education at The American Academy of Art). The only doodle I managed at The Art Institute was of the cafe courtyard (above) while eating lunch. The next day, while the others were running about hither and thither, I sketched another courtyard, an oasis of quiet just steps away from bustling busy Michigan Avenue (below).


Then it was back to the South Side to welcome Julia’s sister and brother in law home from Mexico. Julia and I met some of her college cronies for drinks, and I was able to hook up with my fave Chicagoan, Jon McClenahan, an early animation mentor of mine who became a lifelong friend. Jon recently left the animation biz to run a farm in Missouri, but as luck would have it he was back on Chicago’s South Side while Julia I were there, and it was great to see him again.  Julia’s sister and brother in law then surprised us with a few nights in a super swanky hotel by the Chicago River back downtown, which gave us the chance to visit the wonderful Field Museum.


My first time in Chicago was early 1989 when I lived downtown at Jon McClenahan’s Startoons Studio (before it later moved to the South Side). After Jon and his studiomate (illustrator John Hayes) had knocked off each day and gone home, I’d simply sleep in the studio on a couch and it was then that I fell in love with exploring Chicago, wandering about on evenings and weekends. Till then, the only US cities I’d experienced were Los Angeles and San Francisco, but Chicago was the first time I’d visited a city that matched the fabled American City I’d had in my mind’s eye since childhood. Elevated railways clattered through streets while clouds of steam emanated from beneath from the sidewalks, distinctive water towers atop the buildings.. you’d look up and almost expect to see Batman leaping about the gothic skyscraper spires as you chewed on your bratwurst. I’d seen such views in comic books and movies and TV shows since I was little, and here they were in person at last.


One recent improvement to the downtown since my first days in Chicago is The Riverwalk. I’m not sure why it took Chicago so long to realise what a wonderful urban leisure space was hidden in plain sight, but glad that the realisation finally came. Perhaps some Chicago city planner saw the beautiful walks along The Seine, or Portland’s own lovely riverwalk, and thought ‘we can do that too.’ By adding pontoons and landscaping the riverbank, the Chicago River is transformed into a winding park of relaxing coffee shops and eating spots away from, and yet close to, the bustling energy of the ‘City That Works‘, just a staircase away.


Julia and I spent a few days just lazily walking the Riverwalk and stopping to sketch views from the riverbank and drink coffee and/or grab a mimosa as we saw fit. The weather was perfect and many people were enjoying the river; canoeing, taking architecture tours (as we ourselves had done) or lounging on the decks of their powerboats. The Riverwalk has been opening section by section over the past few years, with more sections still planned, and the most recently opened section was where our hotel was conveniently located.


It was pleasant to have enough free-and-lazy time to get more than our typical amount of sketches done. Simply sitting and chatting while drawing lazily for an hour or two, before getting up and walking to a new location where we’d go through the cycle again. The sketchbook I used for these drawings was about half as small as the sketchbook I was using previously, which necessitated that I work even more loosely and in a way this was good for me. The drawings were pretty squiggly, and in some cases would be almost indecipherable to anyone but me, but a few simple watercolour washes helped clarify the scenes.


Chicago is a wonderfully picturesque place and is one of my favourite American cities. I look forward to visiting it again sometime soon.