Memories from My Sketch Books

By: Joel F. Charles

Volume 16, Issue 5, May 2021

It did not take much encouragement from Susie Smith, Editor of TI Life, for me to get back into writing, and with the first installment of this potential series of short stories completed and headed for publication, I am back at it.

This is a drawing of me, doing that thing, "drawing"; as if you were standing behind me in our office-studio-sewing room.

This is a drawing of me, doing that thing, "drawing"; and as if you were standing behind me in our office-studio-sewing room. It's a little like those photos of a mirror view into infinity, only this is a mental image, since you can’t see the actual drawing or photo on the screen in the drawing.

When we moved in with our daughter, Cynthia, she gave me space in their upstairs loft for a small studio, brightly lit by two windows on nice days, and by a SAD light on not-so-nice days.

The last month has brought some different conditions to our house, in that we needed to isolate ourselves from other family members who are now going out more, and of course, that means exposure. Cindy came up with a plan. They moved upstairs where their bedrooms are and converted the large loft space to their living room. My studio moved to our old living room downstairs.

While we were waiting for an opportune time to make this move, I was drawing at the computer hutch you see in front of me, since drawing takes up little space. So, I decided to draw what I was doing from a photo of me doing it. It only lasted for a week, fortunately. The poor pull-out keyboard drawer was confused! This is what it looks like now. The cat seems pleased with the move. He now has his own sofa.

Going Home Again: yes, you can.

Carol and I first started getting serious about going back to Clayton from Tucson in the summer of 2001. The next drawings are from photos I took then, of my family's houses from 1946 to 1960. Carol was in Arizona, working for Alaska Airlines, and would join me in a week for my class reunion. I spent the first week at Mil's Cottages, going out every day and taking photos of things that triggered memories of those sixteen years I lived in Clayton. Before leaving the cottage, I would have coffee on the deck and spend a couple of hours scanning old Clayton Central (CCS) Calumet yearbooks and organizing the photos by year on a hard drive. Joe Muggleton was the yearbook advisor, and he, "Prof" DeStefano, and George Closter, encouraged me in my photographic interests. Joe made me editor in 1960, and I took many of the 1959 and 1960 yearbook photos. I guess you could say I was recreating my Clayton experience that summer of 2002.

I'm sure people wondered who this guy wandering around town, snapping shots of all kinds of things, might be. The photos come in handy now. Last month, I wrote a story about the Beecher Street house we rented, and our next house, at 737 Graves Street, for the Thousand Islands Sun. Within a week of its publication, I got text messages from the present owners of those houses and had some pleasant conversations about them and their history. My father was the principal of the school less than a block away from both places, and I've kept the photos where I could get at them whenever I needed a memory boost. The drawings are both of the 15-to-20-minute sketch variety, so detail and placement are not exact. I could almost create them without the photo. "Almost" being the operative word. The Graves Street house was my favorite, as I got to spend both a part of my childhood and my "growing up" years there. We always had animals, primarily cats, but also two dogs. I always wished I could go back there and live.

Beecher Street Graves Street

School Days

The school (I'll refer to it as CCS) is another building I could "almost" draw from memory. I was four when we moved to Beecher Street. We had previously lived for a year on John St and another a couple of years on Jane St, catty-corner from the Methodist Church. It was in the latter house that as a three-year old, startled, no, frightened out of my wits, by the siren at the top of the hose tower of the Clayton Calumets Fire Department building, not a hundred or more feet away. That house is now gone, replaced by another, newer one. So, I have no photo from which to draw. And to be honest, I can't recall which one we lived in on Jane St., except that it was on the east side of the street between Union and James Streets. I was only three at the time.

Like the other buildings in Clayton that I recall so well, the school has many memories, and as the son of the principal, I probably spent more time there than most kids do, when they begin life. The custodial staff and the bus drivers were all used to my wandering around, and even before I started school there myself, I was familiar with the building. I think it would be fair to say that my dad thought it was safe to let me do so because he knew those kind men would keep me out of mischief. You could say they babysat me from around the age of four to when I was in first grade, and probably beyond. Those are pleasant memories, and still to this day, I can smell gym sealer and floor wax and be taken back there. I sketched this recently from a photo on the last printed page of the 1960 The Calumet, when I was a senior at CCS, and the yearbook editor. I likely took the photo, but I don't recall. I still like to go back and wander the halls. In the four years at French Creek Marina, I was living right across the road again, and the building fascinated me and still does. We used to lunch at the Castle, and I would bore Carol with stories.

Favorite Places

We have always enjoyed eating out while on vacation. When we moved to Clayton for the summer of 2004, the restaurants in town were only a short walk away. One of my favorite places to have breakfast, was the Koffee Kove. This sketch is from a few years after we sold our trailer, and started doing two and three week stays, instead of living in Clayton. I got up one morning and decided to have breakfast out, by myself.

In one of those, "I have to photograph this moment", I quickly shot a sneaky photo of the inside of the Kove from my table while I was waiting for my order. I say "sneaky" because I did not want the people around me to think I was photographing them, when my intent was to capture a crowded, popular, and memorable place. In the photo, you can't identify anyone, and that was the intent. It was the place I wanted to remember. I knew who some of the people were at the time, but I left Clayton a long time ago. During the summers we lived there from 2004 to 2009, we worked most days, with little time to visit old friends, who were full time residents carrying on with their daily lives. and often unavailable for visits anyway. We were once again mere tourists, visiting the town by the River we love. I somehow felt compelled to draw this digitally on my iPad, and last month, I decided to sketch it from the photo. My memories seem to come out of my hands when I sketch, and apparently, this one was accurate enough for people to know right away where it was.

Some may recognize this sketch of Bella's near the first year it was open. There's more seating, the front end has changed, and now you can sit right down by the water to dine. My brother, Jack, sister-in-law Marylou, and their family breakfast there in the summer, and we have enjoyed being there with them. We had dinner down by the water one year with the two of them on a pleasant riverside evening. Carol and I went to an art class there one night a few years ago and we painted two different ships, I think, from the same photo. Hers was better than mine, and I'm the artist!

This drawing is from a photo on a day, like most mornings early in the summer of 2005, when I was looking for work, and I needed a cup of coffee and a pastry to get me going. At the time, the case visible on the right contained my sugared treat of choice, Napoleons. With one of those and a cup of coffee or a latte, I could sit out on the back deck and watch the boat traffic or read my book until they needed the stool I occupied. Carol was working at the Magical Swan in Alex Bay, and until I started with Antique Boat America, in June, this was my morning routine.

Even though I have mostly lost my sense of taste, I can still remember those Napoleons. I can't get them anymore, but the memory is still there. This sketch has gone through three evolutions. It started out like the one on the left, in pencil, on canvas. I painted over it after photographing the drawing and have never been totally happy with the painting. As a result, I took the drawing as you see it and re-did it in digital format, in color. I like the digital version.


I hope that you’ve enjoyed these little memory sketches. I have many more to share, if it turns out you do. I sell my work, but I have created so many things that are special, mostly to me, that I have not really invested the time to work on the selling. I sometimes give them away to friends. They are memories and a way to pass the time.

I don't "work" at my art. I do it. "Working at it" would mean that it is a job, and I don't see it that way. It is the same with my writing. If you like my art, I do enjoy hearing from people, so feel free to contact me via Facebook at "Clayton, New York fans". People tell me I should not freely share my art in this way or online. I reply as above. I enjoy the sharing as much as the creating.

My last sketch in this piece is a whimsical drawing from a photo that I saw online by Will D. Curtis, of a devoted fisherman on a wintry day at the Clayton Riverwalk. Any day you can fish is a good day.

By Joel F. Charles

Joel Charles graduated from Clayton Central School, where his father was Principal for 17 years.  He graduated from Syracuse University. He was active with the Boy Scouts for 25 years and Rotary for 20 years. Joel holds the BSA Silver Beaver Award and the Rotary Paul Harris Fellow Award. His career spanned teaching and working in the insurance industry. When he retired to Tucson, AZ, he took up acting, directing, painting and building sets for several Tucson theater companies. He has continued his painting and writing with articles appearing in the “Thousands Island Sun.” He has been a photographer since high school, with his favorite subject being the St. Lawrence River and the Thousand Islands. See his article "It Started in School with Prof…" October 2017, TI Life.

Answer from the Editor:

In our January 2021 issue of TI Life we published Joel's Memory Sketches. I told Joel I would love to see more of his memories, saying the sketches are great fun and the memories reminded me of my memories too! I ended by saying, "Keep it up."  I am so glad he did, and I bet we will see more in the coming months!

Posted in: Volume 16, Issue 5, May 2021, Artists, Essay

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