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Davis, California

Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Artist: Pete Scully discusses urban sketching

Pete Scully talks about his life as an artist

Ever since urban sketch artist Pete Scully was able to pick up a pen in his self-proclaimed “funny way,” he remembers drawing. The earliest drawings Scully remembers creating depict America through skyscrapers in New York. When Scully was around five years old in Burnt Oak of North London, his idea of a skyscraper was slightly different from what they are: he drew extremely tall buildings with broomsticks sticking out from the top in order to scrape the sky. Scully’s fascination with drawing and with drawing cities, started from this young age — despite the slight confusion regarding skyscrapers.

Scully, who previously worked as a graduate programs coordinator, is currently in the Department of Statistics as the management services officer. He left North London and has lived in Davis for the past 13 years, providing him ample opportunity to draw locations all over the city. His sketches started as a way to document and remember everything exciting and novel about the new place in which he lived and worked.

“It doesn’t feel so exciting now after 13 years of drawing the same buildings,” Scully said. “However, I haven’t stopped drawing Davis. I’m still finding things to draw […] When I’m drawing the same thing for several years, I’m drawing it differently. I’m drawing a different stage in its existence — it might look different. I’m also drawing it at a different stage in my existence.”

Take the Davis Farmers’ Market. When Scully first saw it, he sketched it to reflect his excitement at how it was bursting with color. In a recent sketch from 2018, only the people are in color.

In 2007, Urban Sketchers was founded and Scully was selected to be a Davis correspondent. The group was small in its inception, about 20 to 25 correspondents around the globe, and was set up to encourage on-location drawing. He has quite a few urban sketching heroes whose work has inspired him greatly, including Portland-based UC Davis alumna Rita Sabler, whose work he described as “vibrant and energetic with lots of storytelling.” Despite the name, urban sketching doesn’t necessarily need to be in an “urban” setting, which Davis definitely isn’t.

“I joked at the time, ‘it’s going to be more urbane sketching than urban sketching,’” Scully said. “It’s not exactly gritty here.”

Scully described urban sketching as “the art of going out and drawing your world,” something he tries to do on an almost daily basis during his lunch hour. Close to his office in the Mathematical Sciences Building is the Silo, where he enjoys eating the “gorgeous” food from the Shah’s Halal food truck. The Silo also houses his favorite spot to sketch — the Bike Barn.

“I think I’ve probably sketched the Bike Barn more than any other building on campus,” Scully said. “I have watched as that’s changed over the years. It’s still got its classic Bike Barn  element look to it […] that’s one of the first buildings I drew on campus. I wasn’t drawing as much back then but it was my very first fall quarter here on campus after I was working here for a few months […] it was a good stress reliever. I went to the Bike Barn […] I still hate drawing bikes, to be honest, I’ve never liked drawing bikes, but I’ve found myself drawn to that building more than any other.”

Scully generally uses pen for his sketches, his current favorite being the brown black uni-ball Signo DX. His backpack holds sketchbooks and a pencil case, full of a variety of materials including his pencils, pens, water brushes, brushes and a small watercolor set.

“I always carry a sketchbook with me,” Scully said. “Whenever I feel the need, I whip it out and draw stuff.”

Scully has worked on multiple large-scale projects; he has documented the redevelopment of the Boiler Building into what is now the Pitzer Center, the construction of the Manetti Shrem Museum and currently the renovation of Walker Hall. The Boiler Building was one of Scully’s favorite buildings on campus, and he sketched it from a variety of different angles and was there almost every day of construction.

“Now I’ve got this record of this old building going down and a new building coming up on the same spot,” Scully said. “It’s recording a period of Davis’, specifically UC Davis’, history. I was just really proud of that.”

Ten years of Scully’s sketchbooks were featured in “Conversations with the City” in 2016 through the UC Davis Design Museum, which interestingly enough was previously housed in Walker Hall. His Walker Hall sketch series started as a personal project, but Graduate Studies has requested that he continue it for them. With the Walker Hall construction, Scully gets to see parts of the building’s history that will never be seen again, just as he noted when he worked on sketching the construction of the Manetti Shrem Museum.

“I wouldn’t get an opportunity to see that building [mid-construction] again,” Scully said. “It will never look like that again. It will look like the finished product for a long while, but it’ll never look like that again […] so that was really exciting. I really wanted to make sure I drew that. It was important [to me] to draw it rather than just take photos because then I’ve got my personal view of it. When you draw something, you’re having a relationship with it.”

In 2010, Scully started a monthly sketchcrawl called Let’s Draw Davis. Through it, he’s been able to reach out to the local art community and meet other sketchers and artists. By offering monthly meetings, he believes it allows people who can’t attend every session to remain involved whenever they have the time.

“I want to encourage people to draw,” Scully said, “I want to encourage kids to draw, encourage adults to draw [… ] it’s nice because we have a regular group of people that come most months and we’ll go somewhere in Davis and sketch around.”

Scully says his attitude toward sketching has changed since he first came to Davis and was urban sketching, in his words, “all the time.”

“It was about recording the world I lived in,” Scully said. “I want[ed] to record this place, I want[ed] to record it so I [would] remember it, and 13 years later, I remember it because I’m passing by it every day. It hasn’t gone anywhere.”

Scully has been in Davis long enough to see significant changes in and around the city of Davis, particularly on the UC Davis campus. More than drawing for the sake of remembrance, he hopes to capture a moment in time. Though similar, he considers his new goal to be subtly different.

“The point is that it [is] personal,” Scully said. “I was trying to draw things as I was experiencing them, but my experiences are going to be different from the next person […] I’m trying to create a record, but it’s really a record from my perspective.”

Beyond the mechanics of perspective, Scully concluded with his thoughts on the intimate relationship he has with drawing.

“I’m just obsessed with drawing,” Scully said. “It’s something I have to do.”


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