Artist's old sketch books - what's in them?

Sketch - "Jamboree Train"
My collection of sketch books dates back several decades, and sometimes I get the urge to have a tidy up. But try as I might, whenever I pick up any of the old books to.... well what? Dispose of them? No, I can't. So I end up fatefully thumbing through their dog eared pages the contents within bringing back the moments of time. Memories, they’re full of memories!

My first attempts at drawing in sketch books was courtesy of my Dad who recognising I always had a pencil in my hand as a child, encouraged me to draw from nature instead of my imaginings which, typical of boys of my age were dominated with the infatuations of trains, cars and space travel!

Some of the first sketch books survive to this day, and looking through them brings back pretty clear recollections. Indeed some of the pages are filled with the draughtsman-like pencil drawings of my Dad himself.

Some such books I dragged out recently date from the late 1950s. Turning a page reveals a rendition of One Tree Hill, (there were two trees there in those days).

Over leaf is a more controlled drawing of the tall Maori memorial on the top. In a larger sketch book is a drawing of John Logan Campbell's historic Acacia Cottage done on the same day on the way down from the top of One Tree Hill. The cottage is viewed from the back! I'd been in too much of a hurry to study the house from all angles, then realising what I'd done, I see I'd made another drawing from the front. The second drawing was done at speed. Having taken the afternoon off, climbed to the top of the hill, then stopped on the way back, I now had to go for it to get back on time. On time for what?

I was one among thousands of Scouts at the biggest Scout camp ever staged in New Zealand; the Pan Pacific Jamboree. It was January 1959, Cornwall Park, Auckland. And no I didn't quite make it! `Dickson, you're late!' The Contingent Scout Leader bawled at me. I'd been granted camp leave for the afternoon to go off wandering with my sketch books. `Right you're on fatigues for the rest of the day and tomorrow!' So fetch the water, tend the fire, clean out the billies, pick up any rubbish lying around. And no camp leave!

The experience of the Jamboree with all its international and New Zealand wide visitors wasn't all bad however. Continuing through the pages I see drawings made on the way back to Wellington. Special trains were laid on to transport the boys from and back to Wellington and the South Island. My attempt at the inside of the railway carriage returning to Wellington shows quite clearly that the lines of perspective representing the luggage racks and seat edges were decidedly broken by an incredible array of coats, bags, souvenirs and other boys' paraphernalia strewn from carriage end to end! As I drew, an audience gathered. and one lad from my local Troup wanted to have a go with my pencil. His sketch features in my old book as well and it's a commendable effort.

My Mum, Dad and sister were in Auckland at the same time visiting Dad's old Mum, and in another drawing in another sketch book from that time there's a delightfully executed picture by Dad. It shows he was looking fo'ward from one of the Auckland Harbour vehicular ferries almost certainly travelling with the car between Birkenhead and the City. Cars on the deck feature in the drawing, and my sister is standing looking over the bow. The drawing clearly shows the ferry is about to go under the as yet unfinished Harbour Bridge. Only the final span linking up the coat hanger centre is missing. (The Harbour Bridge was opened in May 1959).

Interestingly, another drawing I made some years later while overlooking the harbour from Devonport shows the floating cranes fitting the extra hanging lanes, (the so called Nippon Clip ons) to the Harbour Bridge. The date: 1968. Four lanes were never going to be enough. Indeed eight lanes haven't been enough since! And now another arterial crossing of the harbour is being planned.

Phil Dickson

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