The Palmerston project
Toronto artist Tobin Garrett plans to sketch every house on the street
When Jake Tobin Garrett moved to Toronto six and a half years ago, he was itching to get to know Palmerston Blvd., in part because it often flashed onscreen during one of his favourite television shows, Being Erica.
But what he found on the five-block street, between Little Italy and Koreatown, was more than a deeper adoration for the CBC hit. He fell in love with the boulevard’s signature iron gates, sprawling silver maple canopy and Victorian houses, luring him to the spot constantly.
Now, the parks and policy worker who dabbles in art is turning his visits into a project by drawing every home on the strip, releasing pieces on Twitter and Instagram as he sketches them.
The Every House on Palmerston project, Garrett said, was born out of the feeling that “we can often walk down streets every single day in the city, not really looking or seeing anything, especially if it’s a street you go down a lot.
“Drawing something and spending a lot of time on one street is a way to experience the city in a way we don’t normally.”
His project was partially inspired by Daniel Rotsztain, another local artist, who previously illustrated all 100 of the city’s libraries for a colouring book and is currently drawing Toronto’s 95 city-designated historic sites.
Like Rotsztain’s, Garrett’s pieces are drawn with pen and ink in a simplistic, black-and-white style meant not to capture every brick, but the main flourishes of each home.
That means Garrett will toil over plenty of gable roofs and bay windows, and even the balconies and roan columns on the mansion that once belonged to baker George Weston, the patriarch of the famed family behind Loblaws.
Garrett admits he avoided counting the number of homes he will draw until the day he spoke to the Star, when he quickly used Google Earth to come up with about 140.
“If I counted them all before, I wouldn’t have wanted to draw them all, but I guess I’m committed now,” he said laughing.
By Halloween, he had finished six but was already lamenting his timing, which will leave him drawing in winter’s bitter cold.
To combat having to hunker down by snowbanks and sketch with frostbitten fingers, he’s been visiting properties frequently and snapping photos to ensure he can accurately capture the architecture when he draws from home.
“I think I am probably creeping out whoever lives inside,” he said, recalling one woman who looked at him suspiciously when she spotted him loitering as she entered her home. She came back out later to ask what he was doing and was not only relieved but pleased to hear about the project.
So far that’s been most people’s reactions, said Garrett, who’s already had inquires about whether he will compile his pieces in a book, sell prints to the homeowners, or arrange them in the order they appear on the street and show them in an exhibit. (He’s yet to decide whether he will do anything beyond share them online.)
Amidst the praise, there have also been a few people bemoaning the absence in his first few drawings of the boulevard’s beloved cast-iron lampposts, dating back to the early 1900s. To them, he says not to worry. “(The lampposts) will appear at some point. I just haven’t gotten to them yet.”
And there’s something else they’ll have to wait for: his sketch of the apartment building featured on Being Erica that brought him to the street in the first place.
“You know how smells or songs can take you back to a certain time in your life?” Garrett said. “Seeing that apartment building does it for me . . . I’ll definitely be excited to draw that.”
Artist Jake Tobin Garrett with his drawing of the house behind him, 533 Palmerston Blvd.
Jake Tobin Garrett uses pen and ink to draw the homes.