This story is about my path as an artist and my life as an illustrator. An underlying theme here is the idea that anyone has the ability to carve out a wonderful career by staying the course and becoming really good at one thing.
It didn’t start with a business plan. It didn’t even really start with a plan at all. If anything, it was equal parts circumstance, happenstance, being ready for an opportunity, a competitive spirit and plain old fashioned hard work. In every person there’s a voice, a vision that is unique. As a teenager you can’t see that, but when you’re able to look back, or look sideways at those with success, it becomes obvious.
David Crighton circa 1972
Yorkville AvenueThis story starts in 1972 when my teacher gave my class the assignment to go out around Toronto and draw architecture. I was 19. My friend and I decided to go shoot pool on instead.
You have to first understand the culture that was the Central Tech art department. It was very much a come-as-you-go atmosphere. I would think nothing of wandering the halls between classes. That was totally cool. Everyone did. The art department did not seem to have much in the way of structure. From my point of view, this was everything I always hoped school could be.
Central Tech was a massive school that had turned out legions of technical students since the turn of the century. I don’t know that there is anything quite like it in Toronto. Staring up at the grand entrance you’d swear you were about to enter the halls of an Ivy league University.
No one can deny the school’s regal structure, but the art department was anything but structured. Unlike the technical students who turned out to instantly fill a job position, most of the art students were expanding their thinking about art and growing up all at the same time. It was more like a college in that it was largely left to us to supply our own drive and find a direction to pursue.
Don’t get me wrong, Central Tech is not without its pedigree, A.J. Casson, Joyce Wieland, Robert Steward Hyndman, and Aba Bayefsky all studied in these halls. Highly respected artists such as Charles Goldhammer, Doris McCarthy, Bobs Cogill Haworth, Elizabeth Wyn Wood, Donald Neddeau, and others all taught at Central Technical School.
A bit of history. In 1929, Peter Haworth a Royal College trained artist and designer from England, was appointed head of the art department. The conditions of his hiring included and encouraged the development of his own personal creative work. To this day, the majority of the art staff devotes a sizeable amount of time towards the development and promotion of their own work. This feature is significant to the school’s tradition. The legion of graduates often became ranking artists in Toronto, and made national names for themselves in all artistic disciplines, including graphic design, illustration, stage design, painting, sculpture, and ceramics.
Around the start of the 20th century, the northwest limit of the city was essentially Bloor and Spadina. It was here that the horse-drawn trolleys of the Toronto Street Railway turned off Bloor Street and made their way south towards the lakefront. Early suburbia!
Where Central Tech now stands was a large apple orchard owned by members of the Saywell family. As early as 1888, the Association of Stationary Engineers had requested the City Council to consider the establishment of a school for technical training to meet the need for skilled workers for Toronto’s booming industries. Originally the school mainly catered to older students with the classes being held in the evenings so that employees could attend after work. In 1955, Charles Goldhammer, painter, illustrator and draughtsman became Head of Art. Under his leadership, the new art building known as the Art Centre was built in 1961. In this new facility, fully equipped studios were designed to accommodate a new generation of students. This wing is where I spent much of my time.
However the assignment of the day was to get the heck out of the school and go draw something! It wasn’t as if we’d been chained to our desks, but this opportunity practically begged for some extracurricular activities. I must say that Carlos and I started out with nothing in mind. Nothing in mind but to get as quickly away from school before someone changed their mind about this idea…