An Englishman in New York
British artist and illustrator Pat Vale moved to New York four years ago to immerse himself in the city he has been drawing since he was a kid. Between exhibiting internationally, selling to collectors and working with select clients like Apple, BMW, Pentagram, BBC, The Chicago Cubs and MGM (to name but a few) Pat is never without a pen in hand.
Finding inspiration in the faces across from him on the subway and the streets of the city, Pat started a sketchbook project which has seen him complete 40 + books full of people he observes whilst traversing the city. This was noticed by Björn Ulvaeus of Abba and the two have recently collaborated on a book, with Pat drawing a collection of Björn’s life stories.
We asked Pat for tips on navigating NYC and finding gems of the past hidden in the hustle of today.
My Dad used to travel here a lot when I was a young lad and would come back armed with photographs and picture books of the cities he’d visited. I was a kid who would draw all day everyday, and so these pictures of American cities and life became a source of inspiration to me as they looked so different from the UK cityscapes I lived in and knew (not so much these days perhaps!) I also loved taking on complicated drawing challenges and cities like New York provided me with a complex visual narrative to immerse myself in, albeit just from photos. As I progressed though school, college and starting out as an artist, New York was always a subject that I would go back to and investigate further. It has been a constant in my life as an artist so I guess it was inevitable that I would end up living here. The move also happened at a time when my work was going in several directions, and what better place to be than here to transition into other areas and re-invent yourself slightly.
How does New York compare to London?
London and New York are very similar in many ways, so moving wasn’t too much of a transition for me. Big cities like these clearly attract open-minded, hard-working people from all over the world who together create a thriving and relentless energy which is fun to tap into and immerse yourself in.
Obviously London is so much older. When I get off the red-eye flight back home after being in NYC for a while and see London in the morning light everything feels so much softer visually. You see and feel the history immediately in a different way from NYC. I completely took that for granted when I lived there.
Another thing, and this is slightly silly I guess, but people in London - maybe it’s a British thing generally - are so much more lairy (drunk!) than here in NYC. When you live in London, you are in it and perhaps don’t notice it as much but moving away and coming back I really notice it now. Most of the time this is harmless and hilarious, but you certainly don’t see the Friday/Saturday night craziness here in NY like you do back home.
My day to day life in New York is pretty quiet. I don’t have to do the grind/commute as such. I have a loft in Brooklyn in a quiet area which doubles as my workspace. My workload is usually pretty heavy but my relationship with the city is very relaxed. I don’t have to travel around too much, and when I do I get to draw so I look forward to it.
I like to make marks on a surface quickly, whether that’s with pen, ink, pencil, paint or a stylus on a tablet. I like to work from life, from what I see in front of me. When I moved over here I decided it was an opportunity to get into good drawing habits again, which sounds crazy because I draw every second of every day already. I wanted to get really good at drawing people, so I asked myself how I could be drawing more live subjects without it impacting on the work I already had to do. I bought a small pocket book and decided to keep drawing whenever I’m not in the studio. It’s habitual now. I’ve finished 40- 50 books and have literally drawn thousands of people - just quick sketches of life. These books are what I feel the most precious about out of all the projects/paintings I have ever made. They’re something I can pass on to someone one day.
Four blocks from my apartment is the Brooklyn Bridge, and even closer is the Manhattan Bridge. Every time I walk outside it’s like, “Holy shit, that’s the Brooklyn Bridge.” The Manhattan Bridge looks like it is made from Meccano. I walk by the East River every day. I am so lucky I live a stone’s throw away.
One thing I love about the river here is it’s still heavily used. You see huge oil tankers coming down and you feel connected to the past because you know that’s how it was when the city was built. Nothing oversteps here including the river traffic.
RUN FOR IT
I run down to Red Hook a lot and that’s a pretty amazing area or up to Greenpoint, which is also lovely. They are doing a lot to open up the riverside which is fantastic. Prospect Park in Brooklyn is a great place to run as well.
The best sandwich in NYC hands down for me is at Bread and Spread in Dumbo. Trust me go visit.
MODE OF TRANSPORT
Subway if I want to do some drawing. Or I just get on a city bike. Or I walk.
I am not usually in a rush. I love biking around this town. It’s a great way to explore. I’ll decide where to go for lunch, head in the general direction and explore on the way.
Honore Club on Irving Ave in Bushwick is the best bar I’ve been to in ages.
ONLY IN NY
Having dinner sitting at a bar and not feeling weird.
Find time to walk. Put your phone away and take a look up.