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.


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