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Tuesday Jan 22, 2013

Cape artist captures the buildings of Woodstock and Observatory

Artist Mark Hilltout's terracotta-tanned feet tell the story of the past few months.

During those days he has undertaken the mammoth task of drawing every single building and house along a 14km strip from Woodstock to Observatory - stretching from New Market Street, along Albert Road, and on to Observatory, and from the bridge on Sir Lowry's Road all the way to Trill Road in Observatory.

Artist Mark Hilltout stands outside the old OK Bazaars building in Woodstock with his pen-and-ink drawing of it.

With a simple wooden chair and some black pens and paper, he has become "a little bit famous" in the area, as he sits on his chair, facing each building in turn, then creating little black and white sketches of their façades.

Buildings include the Bijou Theatre, Andy's Boat Shop and all of Woodstock's little shops and businesses.

The Bijou theatre.

In the four months, his skin has darkened from hours in the sun.

"I get up at 6am. I've had to contend with the wind, which has gusted up to 48km/h, the rain from August to October, and the heat," he recalls.

And over the months, people in the area have come to know him well.

"People call me Mad Mark, they think I'm a fruitcake, but I'm not," he says.

"People are generally interested and polite. Some are stupid, others ask for money. One guy was telling me about this famous designer who drew buildings and, as I was getting interested in the story, he asked me: 'Do you have any money for me?' "

He's had his pencil bag and his wooden chair nicked in just the few moments it took to step away to secure a better view of a building.

"But with 32 second-hand furniture shops in the area, they probably saw a way to make a very quick buck," Hilltout concedes.

Driving around the area in his powderblue 1971 Mercedes Benz, which he has named Amelia after his mother, he points out his favourite buildings.

He knows the best fish shops, where to buy the best, fresh-baked bread, and how many bicycle shops (five) there are. Inside the car, a picture of his mother holds the licence disc in place.

Albert Hall and the previous home of Superette.

Hilltout, who is best known for his metal frames and artworks made from rusty and recycled corrugated iron, is brimming with excitement over the area he calls home.

He refuses to call himself an artist, preferring "a graphic designer with artistic qualities".

It was never his plan to draw all the buildings in this way.

Originally, he planned to design a map of all the little businesses and shops there, as a way to introduce people to the area.

He hired recent graduate Rosemary Bangham, who spent two months walking the streets, drawing up a list of businesses.

But the idea of drawing all the façades on a scroll-like map just didn't make visual sense, and so Hilltout whittled the list of businesses down to about 450 in various categories, then drew a few around the frame of the map. Maps will be on sale soon at various outlets in the area, for R80 each.

Hilltout was then offered an exhibition of his drawings, and when it opens in Woodstock on January 31, all 14km of buildings will be displayed in two bands around a large loft space at the Alex Hamilton Studio Gallery.

With the help of graphic designer Torgny Hylén, the images have all been digitised. Hilltout says: "I'm 65, I don't know anything about computers."

But the journey has been a labour of love.

Industria House in Victoria Rd, Salt River.

"I wanted people to come to this area and experience it. I wanted to increase the foot traffic into the small businesses that have started up here. I hope this is a catalyst to bring more people into the area," he says.

The Faces of Woodstock, Salt River and Observatory will run from January 31 to February 27 at the Alex Hamilton Studio Gallery, 9 Barron Street, Woodstock.

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