Disney Sketch Crawl #3

It was pretty hot at the Magic Kingdom today and I can use that as an excuse I suppose, for not doing very well. =/

Or maybe I’m just grumpy right now because of it and I’ll like these more later. In any case, I only managed three drawings in four hours and since the park was packed, I had to spend money every time in order to claim a seat in the shade.

Can't see the Matterhorn for the trees?

Zocalo Restaurant. Suffered through a bad Mexican salad for this one.

Plaza Restaurant, Main Street. I like the tree.

Disney Sketch Crawl #2

Well, I should be on my fourth Disney sketch crawl by now, but various projects have kept me from braving the traffic down to Anaheim. I finally did it though, and yesterday I chose California Adventure for subject matter. Once again, I’m not entranced with any of these, but as Dory from Finding Nemo is wont to say – “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”

Ramone's Body Art, Radiator Springs

Hollywood and Sunset

Paradise Pier

Eureka Gold and Timber Co.

Sketch Crawl – Disneyland

Well, this year I checked one more big thing off my bucket list – getting an annual pass to Disneyland! For 20 or so years I’ve wanted to have the luxury of going to Disneyland and sketching, but was only ever there for a day or two during vacations when I really wanted to take part in all the attractions. Recently, I moved to SoCal and finally it makes sense for me to buy a pass. My plan is to go once a month and spend a day sketching, and my first attempt at executing that plan happened last Wednesday.

What I learned from this first visit was that:
1) Disneyland = sensory overload
2) It’s very easy to get distracted by fun things and not want to draw
3) You can easily waste all of your drawing time walking around trying to choose from literally millions of subjects

In four hours I only got four sort-of drawings done and I’m not happy with any of them. My goal was to avoid line drawing and focus solely on light and shade, but as you can see, I eventually fell back on what’s easier. Should’ve slapped my own drawing hand.

Tom Sawyer Island


Hyperspace Mountain

Hyperspace Mt, value study

Exacerbating my disappointment in my own efforts was a fantastic exhibit on Main Street of some of the most brilliant pre-construction concept drawings. Called Drawing Disneyland: The Early Years – Imagineers Who Helped Bring Walt’s Dream To Life, it features some incredibly talented illustrators. If you’re over at the Magic Kingdom, you really owe it to yourself not to miss it.

E3 2015 Day 3 – An Introvert’s Lament

I slept till 9 today, and I could tell myself that was because I was tired out by yesterday’s work. What it really was though, was my subconscious trying to keep me away from the convention center.

I finally dragged myself there around 2 pm (after going to breakfast in the floral district at Poppy & Rose) loitered in the press room for another hour, and at long last, decided to brave the game-crazed masses. It took me all of an hour to breeze through both exhibit halls. I’ve never enjoyed big crowds, but the last few years E3′s crowded craziness has gotten to be more than I can take.

Partly it’s me getting tired of seeing the same games (more or less) every year. I still get excited on a daily basis about smaller games I find on Steam, but my heart no longer goes pitter-pat at the sight of another hundred million dollar space battle, car chase or monster slaughter. Partly it’s that there’s no way in Hell I’ll stand in a 2 hour line just to see a game demo. And partly it’s my strong dislike of being pressed between sweaty guys dressed like Mario.

Fortunately for me, I had an event to attend in the late afternoon–a screening of an upcoming documentary about ESports called All Work, All Play: The Pursuit of ESports Glory–at an independent theater near my hotel, and that gave me an excuse to leave. Somehow I managed to avoid being sucked into “The Taylor Swift Experience”…

Think it's anything like The Jimi Hendrix Experience?

…on my way to the venue, and I got to check out a good chunk of downtown L.A. Despite the grunge, (the entire area smells like it was boiled in urine) and the constant fwap-fwap-fwap of police helicopters, downtown L.A. is pretty interesting. I found some great-looking restaurants, a fantastic market that’s been there since the early years of the 20th century…

Grand Central Market - since 1917

The coolest oyster bar in the world.

I shouldn't say it but I have to. Holy Mole!

…and this cool mural of Anthony Quinn doing his Zorba dance for a clothing company.

After the documentary (which was well worth seeing, btw) I was pretty peckish, and as luck would have it, two blocks from my hotel I found the Nickel Diner. What an awesome place! I had a great steak salad with homemade mint lemonade and then the waitress talked me into the S’mores cake. She even blow-torched the meringue right at my table.

Kate Goslin expresses shock and awe.

What luck eh? Such a fantastic end to a day that could have been all flashing lights and mob mentality.

E3 2015 Day 2: Live Streams, Celebrities and Skingrafts

Spent the entire day staring at a TV monitor watching press conferences via crappy live stream. Hooray!

Aside from the official information I was asked to impart re: the pressers, here’s a couple of unsolicited observations:

1. Publishers must enjoy torturing us with embarrassing celebrity appearances. Ubisoft once again won the Awkward Silence Award by hiring Jason Derulo to screech out a tune. Please god, make it stop.

Click here to suffer through Derulo’s ear-splitting performance.

Angela Bassett’s appearance during the same press conference was actually kinda cool, but I’m sure she was thinking, “I gotta get a new agent.”

2. Sony was really phoning it in this year. Their presentation was disjointed, informationally imbalanced, and poorly executed. I doubt anyone noticed though, since they were too busy frothing at the mouth over The Last Guardian, the Final Fantasy VII remake and the Shenmue III Kickstarter.

3. Someone needs to kick the crap out of the pre-show commentators. Twitch’s panel was about as engaging as the ladies on The View but less informative.

The work day wasn’t over for me until nearly midnight, but on the way back to my hotel I was reminded that only in L.A. can you see an otherwise normal-looking woman in a strapless sundress standing stunned in the middle of an intersection, a 20-something dude on a bus wearing a 1920′s straw boater….

…and a high-fashion clothing boutique called “Skingraft.” /shudder

E3 2015: Day 1 – United Airlines, official airline of the 9th Circle of Hell

Today’s trip to LA was a total ordeal thanks to United Airlines’ exhaustive crew of apathetic clowns. They, along with a recalcitrant check-in kiosk started my journey to customer service Hell.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. This memorable trip began this morning with my cab driver, who I found crashed out in my driveway. There he was, with the seat reclined all the way back, passed out in a dirty white t-shirt. I woke him up and he graciously popped the trunk, allowing me the pleasure of stowing my own bag. The ride to SFO was lackadaisical, and he yawned hugely at multiple points. Right before the airport, he asked offhandedly if I was going to China Airlines or Singapore Airlines.

“United,” I said.

“I was joking with ya,” he responded like I was totally thick.

Hrm. Cabbie humor.

While his “joke” didn’t grab me, what was amusing was the way he pressured me to ask for him on my return trip. Twice he said emphatically—“Ask for Marty. Or number 206,” in a tone that said my safety depended on it. Right dude. Because you and your t-shirt provided such stellar service the first time?

The Universe was in a funny mood today I guess, because this narcoleptic cab driver gave me the best service I’d have all day. I got to SFO 2 hours early, expecting to check in and have time for coffee, breakfast and a little unwinding before my flight. United had other plans.

The kiosk refused to check me in, so I was directed to a line. I waited there for half an hour only to be told by the goon behind the counter that he couldn’t help me and I had to go to another line. Another agent pointed me to the line reserved for people with serious problems – totally canceled flights, missed connections, people carrying enough baggage to take the entire population of Micronesia on vacation – the kinds of issues that take ages to resolve. I tried to explain that I didn’t have that kind of problem, and this is how the agent (and every agent subsequently) looked at me.

I gave up trying to explain, stood there 40 more minutes, my flight time ticking closer and close. FINALLY, an agent who moved and talked so slow it was like she was underwater, checked me in and pointed me – what a surprise – to a really long security line. /cry

With fifteen minutes to get to my flight, I tried to get them to fast-track me, but no dice. I got stuck behind two families with babies in strollers and I was freaking out about how long they were going to take, when an agent branched the line off and sent me in a different direction. Halleluiah! (I thought.)

It seemed as if she’d sent me to a shorter line, but then she changed her mind and combined the lines, thus putting me not only behind the two stroller families, but behind ten other people as well! I swear to god I was being punk’d.

I dashed to the plane, got there just in time, and then the gate agent told me there was no room for my bag. I felt my face morph into Clint Eastwood’s…

…but handed it over. They put it next to a couple of strollers so I thought I’d at least be able to pick it up at the gate upon arrival in LA. We landed, and surprise! The strollers were there but my bag wasn’t, and yet another Satan spawn–er, United agent told me I had to pick it up at baggage claim.

So yeah. What should have been a super-simple hour-long trip was a huge headache – the kind that can’t be gotten over without something good to eat, at least one beer, and maybe a voodoo curse.

Conveniently located right near my hotel.

World of Warships Trip: Day 4 – There is such a thing as too much borscht

Most of our last day consisted of a visit to the offices of Lesta Studio, Wargaming’s development partners, most of which I’ll write about in my professional pieces. I can though, make non-work comments about (what else?) today’s food.

First…lunch. We had lunch at Lesta Studio’s canteen and once again our starter was borscht. That was my third bowl in as many days, and although it wasn’t bad, when I was done with it, I was pretty much borscht-ed out. Of course what came after the borscht kinda made me want more borscht.

Lunch’s main course closely resembled something freshly squeezed, and I don’t mean juice.

It wasn't easy to dig into that, believe you me.

So, anyway, I haven’t been impressed with lunches here, but dinners, I’m happy to report, seem to fare much better. After the Lesta office visit was done, we went for dinner to Russkaya Ryumochnaya No. 1 where we sampled a range of interesting starters, such as meat-flavored jello:

Pineapple's for amateurs.

Pickled ears–er…mushrooms:

The onions kill the eariness.


Soooo salty.

And veal cooked to the consistency of shoe-leather. (Admittedly flavorful shoe leather, especially with the fatty brown gravy that came with it.) To wash it all down I had Russian Kvas, some kind of lingonberry-like juice and a range of different vodkas, starting with one made locally:

In Russia, vodka drinks you.

…as well as a cherry flavored vodka, a vodka made the “old way” (sounded from the waiter’s description like the vodka equivalent of moonshine) and best of all – a horseradish vodka. The last was seriously good although the smell could set your nose hair on fire.

Alas, after today my visit is nearly done. I’m going to do my best to get up early tomorrow and walk around for a couple hours before the bus comes to whisk me away to the airport.

World of Warships Trip: Day 3 – MORE Fun With Fortresses

So. Upon learning I’d be traveling to Russia, I was a little concerned about the food. I’ve since learned that the stereotypical bad food is not all-pervasive, but our lunch (sorry Wargaming! No offense!) totally met expectations.

During the tour, we stopped at a restaurant with a festive nautical theme (that part was really cool).

On the tables were “salads,” (a small, dry and unseasoned piles of raw veg), and we were brought something akin to borscht with some kind of meat in it. For our main we were offered “fish or meat;” for some reason I took meat, not knowing what that even meant. “Meat” was two little disks with the texture of cottage cheesey tofu accompanied by a handful of extremely salty potatoes.

Spongy, but then again, mealy.

Dessert consisted of dry, unadorned crepes with a stingy lump of jam(?) and our beverage (which came at the end of the meal) was a vaguely berry-flavored pink liquid with a grainy finish.

So yeah. Let’s just pretend lunch didn’t happen.

Post-lunch, we got in the bus and headed for Kronstadt Fortress.

Once the center of Russia's proud naval defense.

Now this was a pretty cool adventure, and I do mean cool. We took a boat to the island fortress and were greeted at the dock by a salty old seadog. No really, a sea…dog.

Aside from the dog, the best thing about this picture is the brick wallpaper.

Afterward, a guide took us around the fortress ruins and waited for us to turn into icicles. Ok, not really. What he actually did was tell a a group of steadily freezing and progressively less attentive game journalists as much as he could about the fortress’ place in history. The building itself was very cool in a crumbly, unsafe, “bricks could fall on your head at any time” kind of way. Currently, it seems to serve mostly as a place for Russian teens to hang out and drink Miller Lite.

Whooo! I can't feel my face!

We were supposed to go to a second fortress, but because of the cold (or perhaps because we were driving the guide nuts by dragging our heels everywhere) we instead got on the bus and headed back to the heart of the city. Unbeknownst to us, rush hour in St. Petersburg makes rush hour in L.A. look like a cakewalk.

It took roughly 2 hours to get back to where we were having dinner, and most of us gave up the consciousness fight on the way. It was worth the gridlock though, since we were treated to a nice dinner on a boat – sort of a dinner cruisey kind of thing – with beautiful views of the city and some excellently prepared food that more than made up for our lunch debacle.

10:20 p.m. This is as dark as it gets.

Well, that’s one seriously full day. Tomorrow we visit Lesta studio and see some World of Warships. Wheee!

World of Warships Trip: Day 3 – Fun With Fortresses

Today began at 3:45 a.m. with my calf muscle bunching itself into an extremely painful ball. Nothing like a wee hours Charlie horse (or in this case, a “Чарльз horse”) to get that jet lag going full steam.

Even with 4.5 hours of sleep, I was jazzed for our city tour however, so after a stop at the hotel breakfast buffet – which was pretty extensive and featured miniature blinis:


…and baked beans, I hopped on a bus with the Wargaming group. It was definitely colder than the forecast had predicted, so despite the disappointment of passing by so many interesting sights, we were fortunate to have the bus. (Little did we know how fortunate. More on that later.)

One of our first stops was this bakery/ice cream shop/seller of all things meat/cheese/alcohol. It was inside an art nouveau building and was really just an incredible fantasyland of delicious treats, including this fantastic white chocolate bust of Lenin.


After the sweet shop, we went on to the Fortress of Peter and Paul, which is in the middle of the city and features a hare for a mascot.

So THAT'S what the guide meant when she said 'hare piles.'

It also featured one of the most bizarre sculptures I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s of Peter the Great, known among his detractors as “The Tsar with the Tiniest Head.”

He looks like David Byrne in his big suit.

The tsars are buried at the cathedral inside the Fortress, but my main takeaway was the souvenir stand’s generous display of macho Putin T-shirts.

Hat, fur coat, aviators? Take your pick.

Amazing stuff. And all before lunch!

World of Warships Trip: St. Petersburg Days 1&2 – Mansatlantic Crossing

Days one and two of such trips tend to consist almost entirely of traveling, and as such, are thin on anecdotes. In fact, the highlight of my transatlantic flight was sitting next to a guy with a terminal case of Manspread.

There should be a law.

Wtf is wrong with people? How can they think it’s OK to invade someone else’s tiny, cramped airline space like this? This dude’s knee was a third of the way into my space the entire 11 hour journey to Frankfurt, and just in case that wasn’t irritating enough, he’d periodically punctuate his rudeness by kicking my bag, which was under the seat in front of me. Oh well. At least he didn’t spend the entire trip staring disapprovingly at me like the Russian grandma did on my last ocean-crossing.

She didn't trust me. No sir, not one little bit.

After surviving the Manspreader, the transfer from Frankfurt to St. Petersburg was hiccup-free (aside from the hour it takes getting from one gate to another in Frankfurt airport) and we landed in Peter the Great’s swamp-turned-city around 5 o’clock. It was cold enough to see our breath, and the overall atmosphere was worthy of a Russian novel – grim, gray and drizzling.

From the plane the countryside was lush and pretty: the man-made stuff, not so much. Buildings are blocky and drab, ad signage is simple and void of design. Fortunately, we by-passed the more industrial areas and arrived at our hotel which is in a more historic area.

Hotel Angleterre lobby

St. Isaac's Cathedral

And hey, when I got to my room, there was a cute little boat floating in my sink, courtesy of Wargaming. :)


Before retiring, I enjoyed a hot shower–or I was enjoying a hot shower until the steam made one of the lights in my bathroom start strobing. All of a sudden it was Studio 54 in there, and I shut off the water in a hurry. All I needed was an alarm to bring an angry Russian housekeeper to my door.