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Brian’s quick on the draw

Care Services Connectedness Positive Ageing Stories
  • Brian Todd has a natural talent for sketching cartoons
  • He is a self-taught cartoonist who started drawing for a career change after he was injured in an industrial accident
  • Brian also plays the banjo and piano
  • Brian drew a series of over 300 cartoons for nurses at Moruya Hospital which the hospital is working on turning into a book
16 May 2022
IRT Sarah Claydon's Brian Todd is handy with a pen and piece of paper.
“I didn't know that I could even think about drawing a cartoon and at 40 years of age it was a very strange thing for me to go and learn to do.”
Brian Todd
IRT Sarah Claydon resident

There’s a new artist in residence at IRT Sarah Claydon Aged Care Centre. Brian Todd, 76, moved in recently and has impressed the staff and his new neighbours with his talent for sketching cartoons.

In his short time at Sarah Claydon Brian has already sketched more than a hundred cartoons of his neighbours, their visitors and the staff.

“I mainly draw people, situations, anything anybody asks for. It’s a pretty wide scope. I try to draw in a positive way so it’s uplifting for the person who’s getting the cartoon,” Brian said.

“Everything I do is self-taught. I do the cartoons adlib. I try to draw whatever the person says, by picking out the best thing they’ve said to me and starting to draw. I start with the hairline and while they’re talking I keep drawing. It takes up to about three minutes for me to finish a cartoon.”

Brian says he learnt to sketch when he was a kid.

“We never had TV when I was a kid. There was a lot of wet weather in Kogarah in Sydney and we were near Botany Bay so there was always a shower or rain. So we had a lot of drawing days at home and I used to have competitions with my brothers and sister. I was always the worst, I failed miserably!”

Brian explains that when he was older and working as a locomotive driver he was in an industrial accident and was crushed. He couldn’t drive the trains anymore and needed to find a new career.

“The government was trying to find a new career for me. They had done a series of tests on me at Wollongong University and they said I should be a cartoonist.

“I didn’t know that I could even think about drawing a cartoon and at 40 years of age it was a very strange thing for me to go and learn to do.

“The government had no recommendations as to how I could learn except to just go and do it. So without a lesson, away I went to the Ettamogah Pub near Albury. That’s where they sent me.

“When I arrived the boss said, “What? Where’s all your paper and pens and things? You need paper and pens to draw a cartoon, don’t you?” – he thought I was a cartoonist already.

“I didn’t know what I needed because I’d never drawn cartoons before! You should have seen my boss, he went right off the bean pole.

“After that he got me textas and A3 paper and sat me down outside the door of the cafeteria where they sell the souvenirs and told me to get to work.

“At about midday, I’m drawing a sign that says cartoons drawn on the spot for $7 and no one even looked at me. $6, nup. $5, no. $3, a bloke sat down and said “Can you draw me?” I said, I wouldn’t have a bloody clue, mate!

“But I gave it a go and by the time I finished, which was about in two minutes flat, he was absolutely astonished at what I was doing and so was I! But so were the public and I had a line cue up instantly and they stayed there until I drew them all. All for $3 each.

“Anyway, I got $27 in a few minutes and I packed up and went home in shock.

“The next day was better and I got $5 a drawing and the next day I was back up to $7. I also started doing different things like Mr Squiggles where I would put a mark on the page and turn it into whatever they said. I never really failed with a Mr Squiggle, they loved them all.”

Brian eventually left behind the Ettamogah Pub in Albury to move further north where it was warmer. He rang around to all the newspapers all the way up to Townsville looking for work as a cartoonist.

He secured an interview at a paper in Townsville and travelled up there using government petrol vouchers in his $1000 old Galant station wagon and made it to Townsville blowing a head gasket on the way.

“I still kept driving even with one head gasket. I thought it was a hole in the muffler, haha!

“When I got up to Townsville, the editor of the newspaper didn’t want me as a cartoonist. He wanted me as a salesman. My good feeling wasn’t there and I couldn’t be a salesman. I failed dismally as a salesman.

“So I ended up down a wharf in the Great Barrier Reef Wonderful in the middle of Townsville with a sign ‘Cartoons Drawn – $7’. I became quite famous up there. I soon went into the middle of the city in the shopping centre there and they allowed me to go wherever I wanted. So I set up the little desk I had and I spread into doing instant oil paintings for $20.”

Brian’s creative talents extend well past sketching cartoons and into playing musical instruments including the banjo and piano. He will often play the banjo outside in the mornings at Sarah Claydon and has played the piano for the other residents.

“It’s all self-taught. I first played the banjo when I was nine years old. It was Dad’s, but I dropped it and broke it. After that Dad bought a piano full of termites, so he put it in the backyard in a big shed we had for the chooks.

“The piano didn’t have any white notes that worked. Only black notes. So I learnt to play in sharps and flats. After that, whenever I touched anything musical it was in sharps and flats. With the banjo, you don’t have to worry about the black notes. I just play it and if it sounds right, it usually is.”

Before Brian moved to IRT Sarah Claydon Aged Care Centre he had been in Moruya Hospital for six weeks and several times before that. While he was there, he drew a series of cartoons for the nurses who treated him, all for free because they were looking after him.

Each visit, he added more to the collection of cartoons and each visit there were new nurses and each of them had heard about Brian and his cartoons.

“I got swamped every time I turned up trying to be sick!”

They say it was drawing the cartoons that made Brian better. He ended up drawing about 300 cartoons and Moruya Hospital is working on making the cartoons into a book to be sold to raise funds for the hospital.

Brian says he never wanted anything out of it, he just did it because it was good for his health.

“If I can do something good for somebody else, it makes me feel twice as good.”

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