Drawn to houses: Jason Smith on his architectural passion
The architecture enthusiast of St Ives
For Jason Smith, sometimes the ugliest buildings can be the most compelling to draw.
Smith, an artist who goes by Jasonic, grew up in St Ives and still pays tribute to the area that inspired his passion. “I love walking the older streets of St Ives, looking at the beautiful houses. I grew up in Cambourne Avenue so I have always loved venturing into the bush to the Cascades and even up the other side to Belrose. There are stunning caves and creeks down in the national park, so there are many excellent places to explore.”
But it’s not the natural beauty that occupies most of his focus. As part of his 1000 House Drawings project, Smith lets loose on his inner “frustrated architect” and has made it his mission to “combine a love of sketching with a love of houses”.
“My passion for architecture means a respect for all styles and eras of architecture, including those styles and eras that I don’t personally like,” he admits. “I’m not a utopian idealist; I recognise that many buildings and houses will be lost for various reasons, but I fear losing too many of the buildings that are a part of our architectural heritage. As I like to say, nobody’s building old homes anymore, so once they’re gone, they’re gone. So I made a commitment to myself to preserve homes by drawing them.”
His interest started young. Smith’s father and builder grandfather constructed his childhood home when he was three, which kindled a fascination with how they were designed. “As a child, my first memory of this was watching TV shows like The Brady Bunch and Happy Days wondering why the internal layout didn’t fit the outside of the house.”
His mother would take him to display homes on weekends, with his interest further fuelled when his parents developed some property in the Snowy Mountains. “I spent my teenage years crawling over building sites in Jindabyne. It’s only natural that I would gravitate to drawing homes,” he says. “I do enjoy drawing other subjects like landscapes, streetscapes and people, however, I keep coming back to houses and built heritage.”
While most drawing skills can be taught, it’s a passion that drives the motivation to continue to improve, he says. The other elements are being observant – “I notice tiny details about floor plans or buildings that capture my attention” – and patient. “I recently drew some 1930s office buildings in Melbourne that took me over 20 hours each. Without patience and a strong desire to complete the task, nothing would get finished.”
Most works start as pencil on cartridge paper before he uses a fine line marker for the linework. Colour comes from either Copic markers or, rarely, watercolour. Some older buildings warrant a charcoal treatment for a “visually and metaphorically” darker appearance.
The biggest challenge is often which house to draw next from the hundreds he’s documented by photograph over his neighbourhood wandering and travels, and even from historic records. (“I almost never draw a home/building in person,” he explains. “They usually take 2-3 hours per house minimum, so sitting out the front of someone’s house for that long would be a little weird.”)
“Often I choose the ‘road less travelled’, the homes and buildings that most people wouldn’t want to draw. These might be the homes that are often overlooked like red brick homes from the 1960s, fibro houses from the 1940s or brown brick and orange tile homes of the 1980s. It probably describes my character: when everyone is heading in one direction, I’ll go the other way,” he says. “Sometimes it’s my mood. I’ll select the kind of house I feel like drawing. If I enjoy drawing it, I’m likely to draw it well.”
Smith also takes commissions from people who want to preserve their home on paper. “As a lover of architecture, I’m thrilled to draw any type of home although there are some that I wouldn’t personally draw. Maybe their grandparents built it, or it was their childhood holiday home, or it was their family home and their parents have now passed away. Knowing these homes are emotional for people is what makes me passionate about drawing them. After all, homes are more than just bricks and mortar, they are part of our narrative.”
Can you help?
Smith is looking to satisfy some childhood memories, which is where St Ives locals might be able to help. Do you have photos of any of these now-demolished buildings?
Doctor’s surgery: “A brown brick cottage on Mona Vale Road between the Ampol service station and the shopping centre.”
Two-storey house: “On the northern end of College Crescent there was a two-storey home which we always called the spooky house. It always looked dark and unoccupied and we used to imagine that it was haunted and inhabited by a scary old person. We would dare each other to go up and knock on the front door but I don’t think any of the local kids were game.”
Pre-apartment houses on Mona Vale Road between Memorial Avenue and Sturt Place; “there were several beautiful homes that would have dated from the 1940s”.
Children’s clothing store called Licorice: Formerly part of the Gillott’s garage building, now Pattisons Patisserie (corner of Stanley Street and Mona Vale Road). “My mum worked there in the 1970s. If I could find a photo of it from that time, I would love to draw it.”
Scoop Supermarket on Mona Vale Road: Before Saturday and Sunday trading, “if you ran out of milk on Saturday, you had to wait until Monday. But you could always go to Scoop! It was located on the other side of the laneway from Chadwick Real Estate.”
Farmhouse around number 340 Mona Vale Road, “there stood a two-storey farmhouse with Cape Cod windows. It was beautiful and sat proudly on acreage”.
Stone home behind the high fence at 123a Mona Vale Road, plus 111, 136 and 142 Mona Vale Road.
Primary school on Warrimoo Road near the tennis courts.