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Where Was I? A collection from 60 years of drawing and painting

by John Haycraft

A Book Review

by Frank M. Costantino

John Haycraft is one of Australia’s premiere architectural illustrators and artists. John’s work has been the gold standard of drawing for his profession for nearly a half century. His recent humorously titled book, Where Was I? A collection from 60 years of drawing and painting, eatures a comprehensive overview of his varied styles, media, and scope of commissioned illustrations, together with a somewhat chronological sampling of travel and observational sketching from around the world, both of which has been his lifelong joy & obsession.
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Cox Richardson house design for China

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Lijang, China

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Sauburu Warrior, Kenya

Not unlike most practitioners in the independent field of architectural illustration, John is a self-taught artist, who was challenged by his first employer (prior to employment) “to learn how to draw properly”. The early works John has included as evidence of his feverish learning showed even then a confidence in his hand, with an energetic style and freshness of technique. Because of the rigorous and “proper” perspective training from his mentor, John Ambler, Haycraft’s keen eye helped him produce exceptional compositions. The striking range of imagery and color also evince an innate sense of the dramatic for these works. John understood that his illustrations worked best when they had “sizzle”. From the numerous examples of enormous urban projects, his work must have been instrumental in helping to change the face of cityscapes throughout Australia.

For architects and their illustrators, John’s variety of projects - from master plan aerials, to urban views, to eye level views, and interiors - demonstrates the incredible value of his imaginative and skillful techniques to the design profession. These works span a number of representational periods over his lengthy career, covering the gamut of media. A particularly attractive spread is the graphically elegant compositions of four house designs for Cox Richardson.

The book’s well-reproduced imagery demonstrates an equal facility with opaque mediums, watercolor, pencil, and pen & ink renditions, whether for commissioned work or his own fine art interests. The wonderfully portrayed seascapes and landscapes in a broad stroke, chisel pencil technique are all unfailingly sensitive and balanced tonal studies,, presented in a variety of sizes. His quick travel studies in pencil line and tone, whether from the outback or the Piazza San Marco, are an instructional manual for various styles of sketching. The notations in suggesting some subjects are so spare, yet carry so much space, they are minimalist gems.

John must have known where he was when, indulging his childhood interest in Africa and its wildlife, he traveled to Kenya to record some of the most accomplished sketches of moving subjects – elephants, cheetahs, lions, zebras, monkeys and other exotic creatures – both in pencil and watercolor. One stunning portrait of a Samburu warrior alone is justification enough to buy his book. This artist’s versatile set of drawing skills are equally applied to a series of sketches from China, although unceremoniously sequenced after the African works.

However, the most passionate and best represented pieces are those of Venice and Italy. John introduces this dense gallery of accomplished vignettes and scenes with an acknowledgement of the masters whom has admired, and gives reverent accord to Charles Reid, the great American watercolorist, with whom he studied. Anyone who has been to Italy knows the captivation that ensues from even one visit. John has been captivated for 30 years, and the amour oozes from all these pieces. Multiple series of deft watercolors, interspersed amongst sketchbook leaves and drawings of various sizes, are worthy of lengthy study and appreciation. In the watercolors particularly, all of John’s prodigious studio skills are brought to bear in these exceedingly fine and potent plein air distillations of so many decades of drawing and seeing.

The second of his three publications, John Haycraft’s 200 page, self-published book is almost a personal scrapbook of a dedicated artist, who has drawn all his life, for his livelihood and his enjoyment. It should take its place amongst the collection of anyone’s library, whether architect, illustrator, artist or fancier of fine drawing. John would be delighted to provide signature copies on request to AAAI and ASAI members, or other such affiliated groups from around the world.

Although short on text, all of John’s meaning is even more convincingly conveyed in the very full compendium in
Where Was I? A collection from 60 years of drawing and painting.

Frank M Costantino, ASAI, JARA, FSAI
Co-Founder & President Emeritus,
American Society of Architectural Illustrators