With just a bag on his back, a few pencils and a book, Edward John Jacobs moves around the city centre, finds a comfortable spot, draws inspiration from the people around him, and sketches.
“Sometimes people approach me to sketch them or their families and they pay me, but it is so difficult to survive as an artist. I do odd jobs here and there, but I survive,” he told CapeTowner.
Edward was born in Constantia, but “with the forced removals during apartheid, we ended up in Manenberg,” he explained.
“I was three years old when my family moved there.”
When he was six years old, he said, he met a boy who had also just moved to Manenberg.
“He had a book that he sketched in. He was seven years old at the time.
“I was always interested in what he was drawing. He would draw the musical bands, and I was so fascinated.”
Edward said he then also tried to draw. “I started drawing from the Sub A books, like Boet en Saartjie.
“Afterwards, I moved to drawing from old magazines, drawing the film stars. I quickly became good at it.”
He said it had been difficult to finish school because of a head injury he sustained when he fell in a park.
“I had to work, so I found a job as a general worker at the post office in the city centre.
“The environment is different than it was back then.
“I think people were more free then. They just came to the city to do their thing and went home. There is so much more crime now and people hanging around in the CBD.”
He said he worked at the post office for two months before he got a job in Epping.
“I was a knitting machine operator, but after a while the company had to retrench people and I was one of the unlucky ones. I then moved to another company in Lansdowne, doing the same work.”
All the while, Edward had been painting and knitting.
“Someone then saw one of my paintings and asked if I wanted to help paint murals to support South Africa for the 2004 Olympics.
“We painted murals in Sherwood Park and in Woodstock.”
Thereafter, he became a freelance artist and now moves around the city centre daily where he sits in public spaces and sketches.
“I also have a display board at the Central library.
“One day I was sketching outside the library and the security noticed me.
“He took me to the arts librarian and she provided me with board space.
“I’ve been displaying on the board for three years now.”
Edward said he loves drawing and painting portraits.
“I draw people because I like to see their character. Sometimes the portraits are not exactly like the person I am sketching, so I tell people that they should pay me what they feel they should. My hands move according to the person’s spirit.”
Edward spends a lot of time at the Central library, where he browses through philosophy books.
“I don’t read all of them, I basically draw what I can from books.
“I also need to change my display board often so I look for things that inspire me.”
He said he spends a lot of time in the city – more than what he does in Manenberg.
“My work is here, and the ideas are here.
“I move around constantly and I meet lots of people.”
However, he said, not everyone is happy to be his inspiration.
“If I decide to sketch a random person, they will come up to me and ask me why I’m drawing them, and will assume I am making money from it. There are too many rules nowadays, with red tape and things.”
Edward said he also tries to assist other artists by advising them on techniques and how to improve their work.
“I try to give them advice because I also started like this – my friend gave me advice. Each artist has their own way of doing things, but I just give my opinions.
“I may not be the best, but I’ve learnt a lot over the years. After all, I was very young when I started.”