Monday, June 28, 2010


I haven't mentioned yet that standing inspection was the bane of most military conscripts' lives. The weekly inspection was held on Monday mornings, which meant much of the weekend was taken up with washing and ironing clothes and cleaning the old "geweer", or rifle. As recently as last night, I have had ongoing nightmares about this particular aspect. Indeed, while I saw no active conflict, I still have regular nighmares about simply being in the military - interminable months of time wasted in that awful environment. Anyway, preparing for inspection offered more cannon fodder for my eager pen, and even the odd watercolour.

I can still picture this oke, an Afrikaans guy who was meticulously spick and span. Here I did a quick watercolour sketch as he ironed his clothes. Note the little orange cup of water on the left, which he would have used to dampen the clothes.

Invariably, if you happened to be at one of the ironing stations, a mate would join you for a chat. Here I caught a guy, possibly at the same spot as the one shown before this, in a few fineliner lines.

Hand-washing your clothes was another drag. Note how, in this ballpoint sketch, the guy's head is shown in two places. That is the beauty of drawing. You are able to follow life as it happens.

On occasion some people, somehow, even in a "white" military base, managed to "outsource" their labour to willing black okes, like this guy doing some washing, complete with beanie.

Another view of the same black guy washing.

Inspection was, of course, not only about your clothes. In this quick sketch I suspect the guy is putting the finishing touches to his bed. Often okes would sleep in their sleeping bags beside their perfectly made beds the night before a major inspection.

This flurry of lines I suspect depicts a guy polishing his boots. I quite enjoy the feeling of frenzied activity.

The shiny floor of our massive bungalow in Kimberley. About 110 people were arrayed in six or so rows of beds/steel cupboards in this former aircraft hangar. Here I've drawn the one electric polisher we had at our disposal on a shiny section of floor.

I think this is a guy called Trevor Keyter, mentioned earlier, hard at work with that polisher. Again, I like the free-flowing lines here.

Two more quick sketches of Mr Keyter hard at work.

Mr Keyter again, putting a final glow on his boots.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Around Kimberley

While I did not often manage to get out of 1 Military Intelligence base into the inhospitable semi-desert around Kimberley, apart from the odd route march, I did do a few sketches of my surrounds, including some watercolours.

Using watercolours is often fraught with failure, but sometimes you strike it lucky. I don't really like using super-absorbent watercolour paper, but prefer to paint on ordinary card, as I did here.

Using the same green paper as earlier, I think this drawing, while not great, does capture something of the stark quality of the terrain, where the koppies loom like distant waves in a sea of sparse, sandy, semi-desert.

While the area is very dry, when the summer afternoon thunderstorms come they bring vast quantities of water, which often lead to unusually verdant outcrops of organic growth, like this one, which stand in stark contrast to the otherwise flat landscape.

Here a koppie looms like a giant wave in the distance, offering at the same time a foundation for a tall communications mast.

I have no idea who lived in these humble homesteads near the base, but at least it showed there was life beyond those borders.

Drawn from the base rugby field stand, this is a view over buildings towards a water tower, with a koppie behind.

Media centre

Working in the media centre at 1 Intelligence Unit in Kimberley, having been ditched from the real military intelligence work due to my being an obvious security risk, I was able to draw my colleagues on a regular basis. Pencils were often to hand, and the line quality achieve using pencil is unlike any other.

This, if I recall correctly, is Corporal Craig Glenday of Cape Town, who was in charge of our little outfit of about 10 people, havng succeeded a Maritzburg oke, Callie Shimwell. I really enjoy this sort of loose drawing style.

I am now truly drawing "for the pot". When they work, I believe, sketches like this one of a guy I recall having the surname Selkirk, can stand on their own as works of art. My one concern is that the paper, after some 30 years, is already starting to age badly.

Another of my colleagues hard at work in the media centre. This time a purple koki pen was conveniently at hand.

One of the characters in the centre was this guy, whose surname was Keyter. I think I achieved the pose quite well with a handful of lines.

Using fine-liner again, I captured two colleagues, one a corporal.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On pass

While on pass, much time was spent either on the Bonza Bay beach, a favourite haunt since my childhood, or in the Hobnob ladies' bar at the Bonza Bay Hotel. Sadly the hotel was demolished in the 1990s.

Due to scanner constraints, this is only part of a page of sketches done one day on the beach at Bonzies. The Great Dane was irresistable. I also captured a surfer in movement across the sand and, at the bottom, a not-so-well drawn woman with a nice hollow wave breaking at what we used to call Big Left. A friend, goofy-footer Peter Evezard, would ride this wave to perfection.

I recall the guy on the left as being my late brother, Alistair, or AB. The guy on the right, though I can picture him, I can't remember his name. I like the suggestion of bottles and glasses front left, while AB is clearly enjoying a fag, which was of course allowed in pubs in those days.

This is one of the waiters who we got to know quite well at the Bonza Bay Hotel, though his name too eludes me.

The barman at the Hobnob during this period, around 1980. His name, too, is lost in the mists of time, and no doubt a bit of alcochol as well.


During two years of so-called national service, one was forced to become acquainted at close quarters with a fairly sizeable portion of the country. Apart from travelling with the military by train from East London to Ladysmith in the then Natal and then from there to Kimberely, during various monthly passes I travelled to Johannesburg, Durban and, probably a dozen times back home to East London, and then back again to Kimberley. Sometimes I was lucky and organised a lift, but often I would hitch-hike the 800km trip - 200 to Bloemfontein, 200 toAliwal North, 200 to Queenstown and 200 home. I think we got off from the Thursday afternoon and had to be back again on Monday morning. This meant I spent the whole of Sunday hitching back to Kimberley. The eight-hour journey was often made a whole lot longer if lifts weren't forthcoming. Anyway, on a few occasions when I cadged a lift with mates, I took the opportunity to sketch the odd koppie along the way.

This was drawn on a sketch pad I obviously slapped together from waste paper. Drawn while travelling at speed, it would have been done in a few seconds.

I rather enjoy the sense of movement in this drawig of koppies, again done in a few seconds while travelling.

On one occasion, when I had no paper to hand, I grabbed an Afrikaans newspaper that was lying around and found a page with small type, using this as a backdrop to the sunset behind very rapidly drawn koppies.

Again drawn on newspaper, here I managed to get more detail in the koppies. But again it was drawn in a few seconds as the sun sank in the west and we hightailed it home.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


During my three-month intelligence officer's course at 1 Intelligence School in Kimberley, I blotted my copy book several times. On one occasion I remember standing up in a crowded hall and asking the dominee, who was a colonel, whether it was not correct that in the end a political solution would have to be found in South West Africa/Namibia. He responded that he could not talk politics. On another occasion I mentioned, during one of our "lessons", that I had heard that in the recently independent Mozambique the standard of healthcare for the ordinary people had improved markedly under the Marxist Frelimo government. Anyway, the upshot was that when the rest of the group, about 500 to 1000 people, were sent to northern SWA to do what it is they were supposed to do, I was told I was not going.

Incredibly relieved at this stroke of luck, I was deployed to the base media centre, where I ended up making flow-charts for courses and various other odd painting and sign-writing jobs. All pretty boring, but what it did do was put me amongst a lot of paper and pens, pencils, felt-tip pens and so on. My drawing arsenal was fully equipped, and I let rip with a plethora of drawings of the people around me. The following is a cross-section of those drawings.

I had mounted this drawing on red card, hence the line down the right, the product of poor cropping. These were two Afrikaans guys I worked with in the media centre. I think my use of felt-tip pen, or fineliner, led to some interesting and bold linework.

I remember this situation, sometime probably in late 1979 or early 1980. It was the unit's athletics day, held I think at a stadium in Kimberley, or possibly at their own rather lavish rugby/athletics field. The large oke was our sergeant-major, Blignaut, "die baas van die plaas". He is chatting to fellow NCOs, I suspect, at the bottom of the stand, thus seen slightly from above. I think this ballpoint pen drawing shows you don't need to spell out detail to make a work interesting.

In the bungalow, initially shared with about 100 others, there were faces galore. I just kept sketching. I enjoy the yawning line on the right.

This guy I distinctly recall as a pugnacious little oke from Durban. The English-speakers from the Last Outpost refused to kowtow to the Afrikaners, who ruled the roost.

Another Natal-ite, this is from that original lined notebook. It was drawn while on one of those long route marches through the Drakensberg foothills. I quite enjoy the ballpoint pen line.

Bruce Goldie was this guys's name and he came from Lyttleton in Pretoria. A pipe major at Pretoria Boys' High, I remember how impressed he was when he heard a tape I had of the Irish band The Chieftains, which features the uilleann bagpipes. I quite enjoy the contrast achieved here between light and shade.

This is another soul from those first three months of basic training at Ladysmith with 5 SAI Battalion in late mid-1979.

While still drawn on lined paper, this was done in Kimberley, because I recognise this overweight oke as having been part of the media centre.

Still at Ladysmith, this was one of the quaint sausages in our tent, whose faces lent themselves to being somewhat caricatured.

At Kimberley I made myself a sketch pad from green waste paper. This was one of the products.

Each portrait requires a different technique, which is rarely decided on consciously. Here the face is partially silhouetted. I think the beret adds a fine military touch, much as I despised the military.

If I recall correctly, this was a guy called McCann, son of a boilermaker from the mining town of Carletonville. He was a real character and often walked around with a fag in his mouth. Once he shaved off half of his moustache and saw how long he could go without anyone crapping on him.

Another media centre character, I like the distortion I achieved here.

Pensive. I can't recall who this was, but I enjoy the distortion, including a lip which seemsdetached. It's part of the character of the drawing.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Really drawing now

Ensconced at 1 Intelligence Unit in Kimberley, in the course of our officer's course, as it were, we were still expected to stand guard regularly. Many more sketches were done during this tedious pastime. Now, for the first time since conscription began about five months earlier, I find I have drawings done on plain white paper, albeit from some cheap notebook, as opposed to the lined variety of before. And I think the drawing quality is improving all the time.

Liberated by the lack of ruled blue lines, finally my own lines are allowed to sing alone, and I think they show some interesting improvements on previous efforts. This is late 1979, some four years after I first started learning to draw. At last, I believe, all the years of struggle are starting to bear fruit. I like the way the drawing does not seek to show an exact likeness of the oke reading a book in the guard room, but rather exists purely as a work of art in its own right.

The linework here, I would humbly suggest, is a synthesis of many of the lessons I underwent while at art school, and subsequently honed in, of all places, the army. I particularly like the hand, which shows the sort of line quality noted earlier on this blog, which comes of drawing while not looking down at the paper for more than is absolutely necessary.

While the line quality is perhaps not as good, I think this one captures something of the forlorn nature of standing guard, where a night is spent in a sort of limbo of semi-sleep.

Early in the evening, before 10pm I think it was, we could sit and watch the television in the guard room churning out the SABC's diet of mediocre entertainment (there were rare exceptions) and propaganda. I like the array of profiles here, achieved with a few lines.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Another town, another church. After three months of basic training at 5SA Infantry Batallion in Ladysmith in the then Natal, I was put on a train to Kimberley. I had achieved my first objective - getting out of the infantry. Or so I thought. All graduates - I had a higher diploma in art and design - were given the opportunity of going on various officer's courses. I had heard that "Burgersake", or Civic Action, was a good bet, but only realised after arriving at 1 Intelligence Unit, outside Kimberley, that this was to be the heart of the SADF's military intelligence operation, for which I cared not one iota. So I must have trundled into Kimberley around early October, 1979. And sure enough, one Sunday I was back in church. This time it was a venerable old Anglican church, or even possibly a cathedral, it looked so larnie.

The facade, if I recall correctly, of the Anglican cathedral in Kimberley, which would have been an escape haven on Sundays during the next part of my conscription ordeal - a further three-month officer's course at 1 Intelligence Unit.

I suspect this was a view inside that Kimberley cathedral. Note the focus on a young woman's radiant blonde hair on the left. I have always enjoyed the interiors of old English churches like this one.

One of my favourite drawing ploys is to make a distant object, like the clergyman here, the focal point, with the images closer to the viewer drawn increasingly loosely.

The loose lines of the congregants on the left make, I believe, a nice contrast with the more detailed minister and pulpit in the distance.

The austere surroundings here makes me think this was drawn on a bizarre occasion when I attended a Dutch Reformed Church service.